Sunday, February 27, 2011

New Official Schematics Of India's Concept Regional Jet

These are the official new schematics of India's National Civil Aircraft (NCA), under conceptualisation by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) in Bangalore. The effort is part of an ambitious government-funded campaign to create and build a regional airliner for India and the world market. While little is known about where the programme is currently, there is already debate about whether the limited resources of the aerospace establishment need to be invested in such a large programme, especially when NAL's existing programmes -- the Saras, the NM5 and others -- are nowhere close to completion. Others suggest that such a programme is precisely the sort of thing India's aerospace establishment needs -- something big, solid. Vote below (poll open for 48 hours) and have your say. Let's keep the arguments credible please.

New Stuff On The Indo-Russian Multirole Transport Aircraft

Images Copyright Ilyushin

MMRCA The Final Stretch: The Eurofighter Typhoon

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: India's Hand-launched SLYBIRD UAV Flies

Two significantly different prototypes of India's SLYBIRD hand-launched mini-UAV during initial flights. The drone was revealed at Aero India earlier this month (and first here on Livefist). The National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), developer of the drone, says, "The 2-kg class mini-UAV is currently under development. The requirement is to fly with an endurance of 1 hour, a range of 10-km for both telemetry data/video imagery, and an altitude of 300 m above ground level (service ceiling of 15,000 ft). Initial flights of the mini-UAV are complete. The integration of an indigenous autopilot and daylight camera/IR camera is under progress."

Saturday, February 26, 2011

MOD to HAL: Build Tejas Mk.2 With Export In Mind

India's Department of Defence Production has asked agencies developing the Mk.2 version of the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft to plan ahead to position the aircraft for export. HAL is understood to have been asked to conduct a study assessing interest in the light fighter. A previous study, conducted by DRDO in 2005, made no specific observations except to say that the aircraft had "elicited international interest and could be positioned as an export item on the lines of the Advanced Light Helicopter".

The export of defence equipment has been a highly sensitive subject in India. The country has never exported lethal defence equipment as part of a commercial contract (it has, as part of operational assistance pacts, for instance, to Sri Lanka) and the idea that India should exploit successful defence programmes in the international market and frequently looked at as unthinkable, in keeping with the country's "peaceful" image. However, the DRDO has frequently held that there is a reasonably high level of interest in many of its weapon products, including guided missiles and ammunition.

Friday, February 25, 2011

On Third Try, Boeing Wins $35-billion US Tanker War

Boeing Statement: The Boeing Company [NYSE: BA] has received a contract from the U.S. Air Force to build the next-generation aerial refueling tanker aircraft that will replace 179 of the service’s 400 KC-135 tankers.

Without CISMOA, U.S. M-MRCA Contenders Come Minus Kit

Without a communications interoperability and security memorandum of agreement (CISMOA) or information security (INFOSEC) agreement between India and the United States, the Boeing F/A-18I Super Hornet and Lockheed-Martin F-16IN Super Viper -- both contenders in the IAF's $12-billion M-MRCA aircraft competition -- won't come with certain pieces of equipment that are categorized under the highly restricted US C4ISR list. While a specific list of the withheld equipment is not yet available, my sources sent me this list:

* IFF transponder equipment (Mode IV IFF CRYPTO)
* "KY" radios
* Data links
* Sensor source codes for all AN/APG

According to the same sources, US rules dictate that exceptions can be made on a case by case basis, and that India doesn't need to sign the CISMOA if it is granted a waiver by the US government. However, that may not be the case any more. To quote from a 16 March 2006 policy memorandum authored by USAF Lt Gen (Retd) Jeffrey B. Kohler, then head of the Pentagon's foreign military sales agency (and since 2008, VP at Boeing IDS for international strategy):

Transfers of U.S. C4ISR systems to eligible countries and international organizations must support a U.S. Combatant Commander’s (COCOM) interoperability requirements. The COCOM must require the transfer of the capability. A purchaser’s desire to be interoperable with the United States is insufficient justification for release. Additionally, the purchaser must negotiate and sign a Communication Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) or other bilateral INFOSEC agreement (e.g., COMSEC MOU, INFOSEC Equipment Agreement) with the COCOM, prior to physically receiving any U.S. INFOSEC products or services associated with a secure C4ISR system. The COCOM and the purchaser’s authorized official sign the bilateral CISMOA unless covered under a multilateral treaty and/or separate bilateral agreements, which negates the requirement to sign a CISMOA. The COCOM may negotiate exceptions to a CISMOA on a case-by-case basis. A purchaser should be approved for access to classified C4ISR data and INFOSEC prior to submitting a C4ISR Letter of Request (LOR).

Interestingly, a year later on 23 March 2007, Kohler rescinded the earlier policy. In the new one, among a lot else, the line noting the possibility of exceptions to CISMOA on a case-by-case basis was summarily expunged. No exceptions.

When I asked the Indian Air Force chief last in October last year about his concerns with the CISMOA overhang and what it would strip from American aircraft being delivered to his force, he had said it would make no substantial difference. Someone needs to ask him specifically about the M-MRCA.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

As Indian Govt Smoulders Over Trial Leak, M777 Crosses 1,000 Order Mark

As the Indian Army begins an official probe into the mysterious leak of its classified M777 ultra-light howitzer field evaluation trial report, across the world the gun is positively booming. According to a BAE Systems statement today, "An order for 46 M777 howitzers from the U.S. Department of Defense takes the total number of guns ordered to 1001."

Seemingly refuting reports that the M777 failed certain trial parameters in India, Mike Smith, managing director of BAE Systems' Global Combat Systems Weapons business said, ""M777 has passed every development and operational test in vital areas such as accuracy, consistency, operational flexibility and mobility. There is no other modern howitzer which has been subjected to such rigorous examination, or been engaged in such unrelenting operational usage and regular deployment by airborne assets."

Photo / BAE Systems

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Kaveri Update In Parliament

India's Kaveri turbofan engine programme came up in Parliament today. Here's what the House was told: "It is proposed to develop production version Kaveri (K10) engine on co-design & co-development basis with M/s Snecma, France. The technical evaluation for this proposal has been completed. Tender Purchase Committee (TPC) with members from DRDO, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Indian Air Force (IAF), Indian Navy (IN) and Integrated Finance (R&D) is negotiating the commercial aspects."

Photo by Shiv Aroor

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Shiv Aroor's Five Fighter Flights

Audio: Black Star by Carcass

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Astra BVRAAM Captive Flight Trials On Su-30MKI

This video was part of a presentation at the Aero India seminar this year. The last slide is a nifty comparison between Astra and other contemporary BVRAAMs.

See also:
Model Astra on Tejas
Astra test-fired

PHOTOS: The Embraer-DRDO AEW&C Aircraft Rolls Out For India

Photos Courtesy DRDO

VIDEO: Embraer Unveils New Indian AEW&C Platform

Courtesy Stephen Trimble/The DEW Line

Derby For Tejas A Kosher Deal?

The Indian Tejas light combat aircraft programme's decision to arm the platform with Israeli Derby air-to-air missiles has already raised questions, both from rival missile makers (who have an interest, obviously, since the decision means lost potential business) as well as officials in government. To begin with, a question hangs over whether the selection of the Derby was based on a competitive bid process (sources say it wasn't) by the Aeronautical Development Agency. Second, the rather adverse observations that India's national audit watchdog made last year on Rafael's supply of the same missile to the Indian Navy for its Sea Harrier limited upgrade package. One person I spoke to in the IAF wondered how such a deal could go through when the operational capabilities of the weapon had been specifically called into question.

In the shadowy world of India's weapon acquisitions, defence deals with Israel are particularly secretive (and uniformly government-to-government). And despite the Israeli MoD's efforts during Aero India this time to "open up", involve and brief the press, I hear it turned out to be a thumpingly boring affair, with no questions entertained on specific deals, and just lots of Powerpoint on products. Pity.

Photo by Shiv Aroor

More On Eurofighter's Naval Typhoon

More here. And my photos of the naval Typhoon model at Aero India 2011 here. Strange: Boeing, Dassault and Saab (the latter actually came out first with info about the Sea Gripen) being pretty low key on their offerings to the Indian Navy. They're all way too spent on the darn MMRCA. :P

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Could This Be The MMRCA Ranking? :)

These are the poll results of yet another super-unempirical, unscientific poll that I put up here a few days ago. Among the six options was one that reflected in precise terms a ranking that was conveyed to select journalists at Aero India by Indian Air Force officers, who of course asked not be named. They claimed that this one ranking was the one that concluded the field evaluation trial report submitted to the MoD. With the surfeit of hearsay we've had so far, I've decided not to explicitly put out that ranking until it's official or can be attributed to someone in the IAF/government. Obviously, the options above may not be real at all until we know something for sure. That said, the poll I conducted had no real intention. All I really wanted to do is put that unofficial ranking out there, without putting it out there. Obviously, if I tell you guys how well/badly you polled, that would be giving it away. Either way, it won't be long before we know something substantial. So let's wait.

Hindustan Times Correspondent Flies The Gripen

Copyright Hindustan Times

Why US Envoy's Comments On HAL Are Both True And False

US Ambassador to India Tim Roemer's comments, in a confidential cable, that HAL's ability to partner effectively with American firms on the M-MRCA license build was "untested and suspect", has pissed the company off something nasty. The Ambassador's comment is an important one, because I think it at once recognizes the truth, while missing it entirely as well. Here's why:

HAL is part of the M-MRCA plan like nothing else is. It's the only constant. No matter who wins, HAL definitely does because they get to cookie-cut over a hundred fighter jets with licensed technology no matter which of the six airplane vendors emerges victorious. What Ambassador Roemer is suggesting, is that HAL is bad at something which it is actually an expert at -- building airplanes that it has had nothing to do with. In that sense, Roemer is way off the mark. Partnering with foreign firms to license-build airplanes in country is about the only thing that HAL is confidently good at. Roemer's suggestion that HAL's infrastructure is two-three decades behind US aerospace infrastructure is a ridiculous platitude -- duh! -- so we won't go there, and that's not entirely HAL's fault either. The truth is, however, that Lockheed-Martin and Boeing, despite putting out sugary quotes on how much they're looking forward to working with HAL (as if they have a choice), are in reality deeply nervous at the prospect. As a default gainer of business no matter which way the MMRCA competition goes (an atrocious situation from any angle), HAL has had little or no incentive to ramp up infrastructure or improve its systems and processes. But with a massive offset mark-up on the fighter competition -- half of contract value -- HAL will also be pulled in to absorb very large amounts of technology that it may well have simply no way to do. That is a real concern.

While the Indian defence establishment templates the M-MRCA competition to rationalize its procurement policy, offset guidelines and modernize the general way it goes about making large arms purchases, it would do well to consider giving HAL some competition. As it stands, the playing field is ridiculously narrow. While there prevails a semblance of competition among Indian shipyards -- both private and state-owned -- no single company is a threat to HAL's airplane building activity. And that's just bad business.

Photo Courtesy Ajai Shukla

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Effort To Arm Indian Stage-2 Trainer Begins

HAL has initiated a critical phase of the intermediate jet trainer (IJT) programme by calling for bids to weaponise the aircraft. After hurdles delayed the flight test programme last year, the Indian intermediate jet trainer HJT-36 Sitara is on course to obtain initial operational clearance (IOC) in June. Crucial spin recovery tests -- mandatory for the IOC checklist -- are scheduled to begin in the next two weeks. In the meantime, since the Sitara will be used for primary weapon training of pilots in gunnery, rocketry, bombing and weapon aiming, HAL has now invited bids to give the platform a 12.7-mm gun pod (with 200 round capacity) suitable for its in-board wing stations.

The programme team intends to deliver a fully operational platform to the IAF in 2013. The IAF has asked for over 70 aircraft, but is almost certain to finally order nearly three times that number. The aircraft will be flown by the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) once ready. The HJT-36 will also feature prominently on HAL's export catalogue, possibly as a light attack aircraft as well. Am working on a retrospective of the Sitara programme, with lots of pictures. That should be done in the next week or so.

Exclusive photos of the limited series production HJT-36 here

Friday, February 18, 2011

India's Short-haul Civil Jet Takes (More) Shape

Found these at the National Aerospace Laboratory stall at Aero India. Compare the images above with the ones posted here and here.

For an agency that can't get the troubled Saras off the ground anymore, it's strange how they think they're going to have the resources for a regional airliner. Not sure how much audit oversight NAL is subjected to. Will poke around.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The MMRCA Pecking Order Poll

In the next three weeks, the Indian medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition will move into a decisive phase -- price negotiations. A very specific ranking order exists in the trial report that was submitted to the government following field evaluation trials last year. Journalists at Aero India were selectively leaked information about this so-called pecking order. I've decided to hold out on the specifics until there's greater clarity. However, there's already an overwhelming sense of where the competition is headed. At the same time, there's still some very important work ahead before a final decision can be made. As always, it's never over until it's over. Thought I'd ask you guys what you thought, based on everything that's been reported over the last 10 days. Vote below:

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

IAF Jaguars Face Re-Engine Limbo As Single Vendor Situation Looms

Reports emerged from Aero India 2011 that Rolls Royce planned not to participate in the Indian Air Force Jaguar re-engining competition. The sense you get from the reports is that Rolls Royce has problems with the fact that this is an engine replacement programme rather than an engine upgrade, which if true, would be problematic. Why? Well, as far as the current competition is concerned, the Jaguar engine competition wasn't strictly meant to be an upgrade. It was in fact to be be an engine replacement or "re-engining" effort.

Here, according to my sources, are the facts as they stand now: Rolls Royce's offer was "an optimised cost effective/low risk Adour 'engine upgrade programme which would minimise aircraft integration and would utilise the existing Adour infrastructure in HAL", which basically means that the company had offered to replace/upgrade certain key components and subsystems in the Jaguar fleet's existing Mk811 engines to bring them up to the required performance parameters. In effect, this would be a selective engine upgrade, and not a full replacement. However, the RFP that went out called for a full engine replacement (a point confirmed at the IAF chief's press conference at Aero India). I'm not completely clear yet why the Mk821 can't just be offered as an engine replacement for the Jaguars. The commonality advantage would still, conceivably, exist wouldn't it?

Either way, the situation leaves Honeywell the sole competitor in the 200-engine competition. Does this mean the process gets aborted? Or can the IAF push through a single-vendor purchase?

PHOTO: Stunner From My Rafale Flight

This gorgeous photograph [high rez] by Vishal Jolapara (used here with permission) was taken minutes after the Rafale I was flying in landed on Feb 10 at Yelahanka.

Copyright & Courtesy Vishal Jolapara


Monday, February 14, 2011

Months From Deal, Bomb Drops On Indian M777 Bid

It was this deal that Indian Army chief General VK Singh was referring to when, in January, he assured the press that the Army would conclude a contract for new artillery guns before the year was out. It is this deal, like every other Indian artillery acquisition effort, that now sits under a dark cloud just months away from FMS contract signature between the Indian Ministry of Defence and the Pengaton. A newspaper report today scooped a letter sent to the Indian Army Headquarters, warning that the deal was tainted, the gun had failed field evaluation trials, and that the Army chief continued to process the acquisition at peril to his reputation.

Apparently, stapled to the anonymous letter were five xeroxed pages from the Indian Army's classified field evaluation trial report, which purportedly revealed that the M777 had failed to meet certain critical performance requirements. This being a non-competitive, single-vendor, government-to-government deal, the field trials are perceived to be a formality -- indeed the Army has in the past gotten the government to officially provide waivers on deviations (permitted in official procedures) to allow the contract through.

Other facets that have been called into question in anonymous notes to the Army include the very requirement for ULHs, the allegedly fabricated definition of "inaccessible areas" which provided the basis of the requirement, the muting of altitude performance requirements and transportation requirements. As with every artillery bid, there are massive vested interests at play. Will this one flare up too?

Photo by Tech. Sgt. William Greer / US Air Force

Eurofighter's Pitch To The Indian Navy

From Eurofighter World

B'lore Engineering Student Wins Contest, Flies Gripen

22-year-old Shashank HR, a student of a Bangalore engineering college flew in the Gripen on February 13 after successfully going through a series of steps in the Gripen Top Guns contest which was held as part of Aero India 2011. Shashank emerged as the Gripen India Top Gun in the month long contest organized Sweden's Saab for Indian combat aircraft followers and those with a dream to fly a fighter aircraft. The top 5 finalists from across the country tested their skills on the Gripen simulator on Saturday and were judged by four top Indian and Swedish test pilots on their aircraft handling and combat skills.

Congratulations Shashank!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

FIRST HAND: Flying The Dassault Rafale

On February 7 at about 1910HRS, not long after walking away after many hours in an IAF Antonov-32 transporter that shipped me and other journalists from Delhi via Nagpur to Bangalore, I received a brief phonecall from an Armée de l'Air (French Air Force) Group Captain at the Embassy of France. It was a brief message to inform me that I had been invited to fly in the Dassault Rafale fighter on February 10 at 5PM, and that I would be supplied with more information in the next few days. I wasn't expecting the phonecall. Even less, a flight in the Rafale -- arguably the least visible contender in the Indian MMRCA competition. Well, only so far, as it turns out. Dassault is a conservative organisation that I had thought didn't pay much attention to this sort of thing. The only person I personally knew who had flown a Rafale sortie was former Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash. So as I kicked back in my room that evening, the only thing I could think was, "Huh?".

Shaking off all expectations and tradition, the French had flown in two Rafales to the Bangalore air show. The arrival of the aircraft was in the midst of swirling and uncannily consistent rumours that the Rafale and its European cousin, the Typhoon, had topped the Indian Air Force's field evaluation list, and led the MMRCA pack. The offer to take a sortie in this, the least known contender, at a time like this was huge from a news perspective. Apart from getting to fly in the airplane and seeing what it could do, I was most keen to meet the people from the company that made the jet and the pilots who flew it every day. It was a valuable chance.

Sure enough, on Feb 8, I received a second phonecall, this time from a Dassault delegate who asked me to come to the notoriously out-of-bounds company chalet at the Yelahanka show. Here, I was introduced to Dassault Rafale test pilot Sébastien Dupont de Dinechin, a seasoned pilot with 4,200 hours of fighter flying on the Rafale and all variants of the Mirage-2000. A young enlisted Armée de l'Air man got me kitted out to check that everything fit fine for the next day. I had to get fully kitted out to ensure there were no delays. I put on the beige flightsuit first, then the G-suit, and the heavy Armée de l'Air jacket torso harness -- the heaviest I've had on so far -- and finally the flying boots. A Thales helmet was then lowered onto my head, and the mask strapped on. Check.

Next, was a half-hour briefing by Sébastien on the Rafale's cockpit. Not the most refined I've seen, but emphatically functional and strangely appealing -- the one I would fly in looked like something that had just been fighting. Like the F-16 Block 60 that I did a sortie in two years ago, the Rafale cockpit has a right-hand sidestick, though with full "play", rather than the near-rigid one in the Super Viper. This was good. Because while the idea of a sidestick appealed greatly to me when I flew the F-16 in 2009, I could never seriously get used to the rigidity.

Flipping through a laminated spiral-bound booklet with tight-shot photographs of various Rafale cockpit elements, Sebastien showed me where the emergency systems where, and how to operate the head-level display. After a quick run-through of the eject/egress procedures (as always, said in the most matter-of-fact tone -- "please don't eject yourself unless I say EJECT-EJECT-EJECT or if you're sure I'm dead and the plane is falling"). Next, I had a brief chat with a small group of Armée de l'Air pilots fresh from a deployment in Afghanistan who were eager to know if I'd done any fighter sorties before. When I told them about the four previous ones, one of them, Plu Vinage, said, "You will forget all of them tomorrow." Let's see, I thought, as I walked out of the salubrious air-conditioned environs of the Dassault chalet and into the blinding afternoon Yelahanka sun.

Despite a promise to myself that I wouldn't have a late night before the day of my flight, I ended up turning the lights out at 4.30AM. It was a short night.

At 3PM on Feb 10, I arrived at the Dassault chalet as agreed for my pre-flight procedures. I got into my flight suit, after which Sébastien and I were taken to the Rafale pavillion in one of the halls. There, we spent the next twenty minutes going over what we'd be doing during our 45-minute flight. It was a fabulous checklist of items. We were about to do pretty much everything except fire weapons. By 4PM, we left the pavillion and went to the Rafale fight ops centre right next to the flightline. A typical IAF utility room, this one was strewn with flying gear -- overalls, helmets, boots, name-patches, G-suits, torso harnesses, sunglasses, clip-pads with flight log scrawls and a group of Armée de l'Air pilots and personnel. Plu Vinage was there, and he got me into the rest of my kit. As I left the room with Sébastien, Vinage looked at me, his face glistening with sweat, and said, "Remember what I told you yesterday."

Sébastien and I went out to the aircraft and two personnel helped me strap into the second cockpit. All pre-flight systems checks went through fine, and at about 4.50, Sébastien lowered the canopy, as I felt the pressure equalize making my ears pop. But there was a problem. The cockpit lady informed us that our oxygen supply systems were not cleared. Sébastien opened the canopy, conferred with his flightline personnel, who quickly sorted out the snag, and lowered the canopy again. It was time to power on.

The two Snecma M88s began with a low growl, reaching a gothic roar. The aircraft shuddered under its restraints. These were some serious turbofans. Powering to ground, we waited until we were cleared to taxi out to the runway.
I am in no way technically equipped to attest to a fighter's capabilities, and am truly in awe of those who can, but I must say this. However else the MMRCA contenders compare, after four take-offs in fighters, the Rafale's was undoubtedly the most thunderingly powerful one. Lined up and ready, at 1711HRS, Sébastien gunned to mil power and then full reheat as the twin M88s sent the Armée de l'Air Rafale B (No. 104 HD) hurtling down the runway and into the air and then quickly into a steep 70-degree climb followed a second later by a quick roll to starboard. Pitching up further into a vertical climb, the aircraft was then put on its head before a quick level out to zoom out to the sector we'd been asked to get into. I've never experienced a more dramatic take-off routine.

We cruised for a while, climbing to over 16,000 feet. To both my sides, I could see the aircraft's canard foreplanes swivel and twitch with every bit of input. At 19,000 feet, Sébastien asked me to take the stick. I did the first thing I always do when given the stick -- two hard rolls, the stuff that sends your blood sloshing around your body. With all that magnificent power behind it, the Rafale's handling qualities at high speed were superb. As Sébastien communicated with the tower to get a fix on which sector we were cleared to fly in, I put the fighter into some hard turns, getting some serious kicks out of how beautifully responsive this heavy jet was.

Yelahanka traffic control crackled in, asking us to head to Sector 3, and away from Sector 2. We broke right, descended and entered a wide open scrubland with gentle hillocks dotted with tall white windmills. "That is pretty," came a heavily accented voice from the front cockpit. It truly was. We dived out and took her low, 700-feet low, Sébastien demonstrating the auto-piloted terrain following mode, as the aircraft smoothly rose and descended, describing the surface of what we were flying over. Perfect for head-level/down work. It was time for some loops. As we pulled up and fed the Snecmas some fuel, the plane shuddered into a blistering climb, completing a perfect loop -- and giving non-fighter pilots such as myself the single most exhilirating view. That of the earth gliding back into view, and the sky slipping away. As the Gs pile up during the climb, and you feel your suit expand to keep your blood equitably distributed, the closing of the loop is as surreal as it gets. I did two loops, the second one with throttle control. "Excellent, perfect," called Sébastien.

Next, Sébastien demonstrated the very nifty Thales nose mounted infrared/TV search and track system. We scoped several aircraft in the area, including the Saab 2000, an An-32 and a couple of light aircraft from the show. We undertook a Fox-3 demo as Sébastien "unleashed" an MBDA MICA from a port hardpoint at an aircraft we'd been tracking. "He's dead," he sniggered. We scoped some territory for an air to ground demonstration, and swooped low to get a visual. With some quick head-level work, Sébastien chose five features. We then proceeded to rain hell on them with tri-hardpoint Sagem AASMs. "We do everything in flight. You can draw full plans in the cockpit," he said, while I imagined the AASMs screaming down at some unsuspecting knoll near the Andhra Pradesh border. The mission computer, I was later told, is built to assume that every mission is a scramble. Get off the ground first. Decide in the air.

Just about the time our Rafale was getting ready for some G, something deeply significant was being announced across the world in the fighter jet's homeland. Thales was busy announcing that the AESA variant of the Rafale's RBE2 radar had been validated in 2010 tests, and that the new radar met all operational requirements and specifications of the French Air Force. Rafales with the new AESA radar, part of Tranche 4, would be ready for delivery by 2013, the French press was informed. And yet, Dassault made no noise about it at Aero India. Not a word. No press statement. To them, as long as the right people knew, it didn't matter. That's Dassault apparently. That's why you don't hear very much about or from them, which can be pretty unsettling for a journalist. I keep trying to think what would have happened if one of the American jets met such a milestone during the air show. Is this a good thing or a bad thing? I can tell you that all the while I was in that cockpit, I had to tell myself this -- a flight in a Rafale -- was really happening.

About 20 minutes into our sortie, it was time for some real G. I had control, and was instructed to take her up to 16,000 feet, which I did with my game face on. Almost exactly two years before, I'd pulled 9G during a sortie in a leased UAE Air Force F-16 Desert Falcon at Yelahanka. I was ready for another rush. Sébastien, first slowly and then with force, pushed the jet into a steep dive. We plunged, and gunned to mil power, watching the ground come up at us. Then, Sébastien pulled up hard and engaged reheat, putting us both in a 9G environment for a couple of seconds, before it tapered. The grey squares mixing with your vision, like blood in water, and then receding as the aircraft levelled off. It was brutal. Brutally good. Sébastien asked me if I was okay. I was fine, breathing hard. I unhitched my mask to gulp some cockpit air. I felt my stomach muscles loosen slowly. Fighter pilots like Sébastien do this for whole seconds. They truly are made of something else.

We'd run out of time and had to head back. But what happened next, I was totally unprepared for. As we cruised low over the Yelahanka strip, Sébastien banked super-hard right, pulled up, engaged full reheat and tore us away. The grey came like a small wave, and then receded quickly. Blood and water.

We came around for approach and touched down, after 46 minutes in the air.

Photos 1,3,4,5,6 & 7 By Wg Cdr RS ChauhanPhotos 2,8 & 9 By Vishal Jolapara
My deep thanks to both for taking these pictures, and for permitting me to use them here.

AERO INDIA Day 5: Fighters Shoot The Moon

Photos by Sitanshu Kar

AERO INDIA Day 5: Images

Photos by Maj VK Singh / DPR Defence