Saturday, April 30, 2011

Who'll Buy This Fulcrum Now?

They're pronouncing its doom already in the Russian press. Predicting that the official elimination of the MiG-35 from India's M-MRCA fighter competition means curtains for the programme, such as it is. If that's true, the MiG-35 will be the one Fulcrum that nobody ever bought.

The facts are pretty brutal. A victory in the Indian tender was virtually mandatory for MiG to be able to generate the economies of scale that would allow it to sell 72 MiG-35s at an affordable unit price to the Russian Air Force. A Russian government indent for a certain number of MiG-35s was hinged to the platform's selection by the IAF -- not the other way round. With the MiG-35 officially out, the programme could effectively collapse, with structural implications for RAC-MiG Corp too. Chances are that the MiG-35's reported performance in the MMRCA competition (it was rejected with 14 flaws, most notably pertaining to its engines reports suggest) will likely kill its chances, if any, with other potential customers in Asia and Latin America. At the risk of invoking a touch of sentiment, after half a century of doing business with the Indian Air Force (it started in 1963 with the delivery of the first MiG-21-F13s), this may just have been MiG's last chance to sell India aircraft. There's even talk that in the continuing consolidation in the Russian aerospace industry, the Mikoyan-Gurevich identity may be gone forever in a merger. MiG's fortunes have been rough for years. The MiG-35's failure in the M-MRCA (I find it hard to believe the Russians really held on to a hope) may just have been like Kano's fatality in Mortal Kombat.

The ubiquitous No.154 (the visible MiG-35) is more a proof-of-concept platform (previously designated MiG-29M/M2; see photo above-right from Aero India 2005) than a type, and this was raised at various times with the UAC. The company did however field prototypes for the FET phase. There were several things that the MiG-35 had going for it: the IAF already operates MiG-29s (and could therefore appreciate the advancements in the new Fulcrum, not to mention inventory/infrastructure savings), the MiG-35 was competitively priced (~$40-mil a pop) and was closer to the definition of an M-MRCA than at least three of the others. But, as we now know, the aircraft was simply outperformed across the board during field evaluation. The two MiG-35 prototypes (No. 961 and 967) participated in trials in India (Bangalore, Jaisalmer and Leh) in October 2009 and in Akhtubinsk and Zhukovsky in April last year.

Among the many things that weighed against the MiG-35 -- apart from its field performance -- was the fact that India would in the next couple of years have a sizeable and growing fleet of souped up MiG-29s -- 62 old MiG-29s are being upgraded to the UPG standard, which gives the fleet the Zhuk-M2E radar, the Thales Topsight helmet mounted sight, Sagem navigation system, OLS-UEM infrared search and track sensor, an Indian DARE EW suite and a new glass cockpit featuring colour MFDs.

It will be interesting to see what those 14 flaws were that the IAF found in the MiG-35 -- those should be out sooner rather than later.

Photos 1&2 ©Livefist / By Shiv Aroor / 3 from

Friday, April 29, 2011

VIDEO: NDTV Discussion On MMRCA Knockout Decision

Copyright ©NDTV

Tejas Goes Night Hunting

The LCA Tejas programme clocked significant trial points this week with one of the limited series production (LSP-5) aircraft undertook a series of six flights at night. Sporting a modified Israeli-Indian hybrid multimode radar and a Litening pod, the LSP-5 is reported to have conducted mock targeting and attack drill to test simulated avionics release and integration of weapons and sensors. Night flights will continue for the next two weeks.

The DRDO put out a statement to the press in Bengaluru yesterday saying, "The preliminary results indicate that the integrated system performed very well, meeting the requirements of night operations." The statement also said that the flights tested the helmet mounted display and instrument landing system.

Photo / Livefist archive from 2010 night flights

Top 5 Myths Shattered By India's MMRCA Knockout

The Indian government's decision to eliminate four of six aircraft in contention for the $9.5-billion medium multirole combat aircraft (M-MRCA) competition dismantles -- or at least puts on the stand -- many perceptions that had gathered a sense of unspoken legitimacy in the mythology that surrounded the competition. It's still too soon to call anything, but Wednesday's decision at the very least showed that the following stand refuted for now:

#1. The pervasive belief that any selection in the M-MRCA would be guided more by political and strategic considerations than strictly what the Indian Air Force wanted for its next fighter. And that since strategic considerations overwhelmed all other impulses in the effort, the deal would go to the Americans for three broad reasons: (a) quid pro quo for the substantive political realignment that New Delhi and Washington have engaged in, underscored by the Indo-US civil nuclear deal, (b) the indubitably more meaningful politico-strategic package that the US potentially offered, compared to the other competing nations, and (c) and that considering everything else that India was doing with the US -- exercises, other military contracts, intelligence sharing and a substantive multi-tiered diplomatic engagement -- the MMRCA not going to the Americans would stick out like a sore thumb and damage all the good bilateral work done so far. It would signal an arrogant lack of reciprocity. Why would India risk the bad blood knowing all too well how much the US was politically and economically invested in a favourable decision. This Livefist post earlier this month pointed straight at the death of this perception. The other view is, of course, that choosing the Typhoon and Rafale actually is a political decision: one that gives the IAF what it wants while still signalling to the US that India won't put all its strategic eggs in a single basket.

#2. Another early but powerful perception was that the IAF would hold sacred its requirement for a medium fighter (more or less comparable to the Mirage-2000H), and be wary of selecting heavier jets like the Typhoon, Rafale and F/A-18. The Gripen (a light fighter) and the F-16 campaigns included elements to suggest that buying "heavier" aircraft made little sense for the IAF considering the steady ongoing induction of Su-30MKIs. The two aircraft surviving the downselect come closer to the definition of heavy than any of the others, barring the F/A-18 which is the heaviest of the six. To be fair, this perception was history quite a while ago, but in 2004-06, there were plenty in the IAF who guffawed at Boeing's F/A-18 entering the fray.

#3. The perception that credible operational experience, and the presence of proven AESA radars (a stipulation in the 2007 RfP) would count for a lot, and as a result, the F-16 and F/A-18 being the only two with both, were cruising. The decision takes this perception and puts it straight through a shredder. The government has basically selected two of the three most operationally inexperienced jets in contention -- Eurofighter and the Rafale (I'm counting the MiG-29, since the MiG-35 doesn't exist) -- and neither the Typhoon nor the Rafale has an operational AESA radar yet.

#4. The perception that life cycle / ownership costs would play a meaty definitive role in any downselect or selection. While this has to have been a criterion at some level, the IAF has chosen two large twin-engine fighters. While Saab and Lockheed-Martin have done a great deal to defeat this impression, the fact remains that a twin-engine platform is more reliable, notwithstanding the undoubdtedly enhanced reliability of the new generation engines that power the F-16 Block 60 and the Gripen NG. At the same time, twin engines and life cycle savings aren't exactly best friends. The twin-vs-single engine debate got quite heated in 2009-10, but the government went with two twins in the end.

#5. The perception that considering the complexity of the competition and the inherently disparate types being compared, the effort would take inordinately long. Also, the perception that the benchmarking of substantially different airplanes would raise questions that would delay the process and lend itself to protests. Well, there could still be protests/appeals, but there is no question about the relative swiftness with which the Indian establishment has evaluated the M-MRCA competitors. I'm talking strictly from issuance of RfPs in 2007, and taking into account the hugely altered methodologies that were practically being concurrently conceptualized along with the procurement effort, including but not limited to the algebra of ownership cost and offsets. Also, the usual time it takes for decisions to be made here.

Base image ©

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Damn! India's Intermediate Jet Trainer Prototype Crashes

Unbelievable. The first prototype (S-3466) of India's intermediate jet trainer (HJT-36 Sitara) crashed in Southern India earlier today, but both pilots ejected safe. The HJT-36 aims to achieve initial operational clearance by the end of this year, and has been facing delays as a result of challenges in spin trials. Not sure if today's accident had anything to do with that. This is staggeringly bad news.

This was the same prototype that was severely damaged in a take-off scrub in February 2007 at that year's Aero India show. And now it's gone. What a pity. For the record, this is the third accident involving an IJT prototype, but the first crash.

News9 video report from the crash-site here.

Photo ©Rahul Devnath / Bharat Rakshak

Boeing's Statement On F/A-18 Elimination From MMRCA

"Boeing today was notified that our Super Hornet proposal for India’s MMRCA competition was not short listed in the initial down select. We are obviously disappointed with this outcome. Our next step is to request and receive a debrief from the Indian Air Force. Once we have reviewed the details, we will make a decision concerning our possible options, always keeping in mind the impact to the Indian Air Force. We believe we offered the Indian Air Force a fully compliant and best-value multi-role aircraft for the defined mission. We will continue to look for opportunities to help India modernize its armed services and enhance its aerospace industry. "

FLASH! BAE-Bofors Pulls Out Of Indian 155mm Gun Procurement Effort

Just received this statement from BAE Systems:

While we are certain that the FH-77B05 is the most capable 52 calibre Towed Gun available, and it was specifically designed for and demonstrated to meet the Indian Army's requirements as stated in previous RFPs, BAE Systems has, after very careful consideration, come to the conclusion that the company will not submit a proposal. The Ministry of Defence has been informed. This conclusion was reached following a detailed assessment of the new RFP. We found that:
  • The new RFP includes technical and performance relaxations that allow less capable weapon systems to enter the competition.
  • This significantly reduces the competitive advantage FH-77B05 derives from its greater capability. [The FH-77B05 was optimised for the more taxing requirements of the previous RFPs]
  • Therefore, the decision not to bid is a commercial one based on the high investment costs required to participate in a complex artillery competition of this nature, where the win probability has been reduced.
More shortly.

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

FLASH! Rafale & Typhoon Move To Next Level In M-MRCA, Others Out!

It's official! France's Dassault Aviation Rafale and the European consortium's Eurofighter Typhoon move to the next level on the Indian Air Force M-MRCA fighter selection process. Both companies have confirmed that their programme teams have been asked to be at the MoD/Air HQ tomorrow for a meeting where the process will be taken forward. While the two companies have been, in effect, asked to extend the validity of their commercial bids, the other four contenders -- Boeing F/A-18, Lockheed-Martin's F-16, UAC's MiG-35 and Saab's Gripen -- haven't received a message or a letter. This is, in effect, the downselect that you've been hearing about so much. More shortly. [Update @11.59PM - Gripen acknowledges elimination from the competition - PDF].

It must be said that it was TimesNOW's Srinjoy Chowdhry who first reported that the Rafale and Typhoon led the competition, followed by several posts here on Livefist which suggested that the two big European twins were likely to make the semi-final cut. Today's story about the hard downselect broke on Stratpost.

What has happened today is basically scenario 2 in my post from earlier today. The MoD's decision to issue requests for bid validity extension to only two of the six companies -- and by default allow the commercial bids of the other four to expire tomorrow -- could be problematic, but this isn't something the IAF and MoD haven't accounted for. This could be the most interesting phase of the competition, since the four contenders knocked out of the fray will be wondering why in hell the government waited till the end to shaft them.

Livefist has reported extensively on the apprehensions that could guide the Indian government's final decision against the Americans and Russians. Let's just remind ourselves, however, that is a down-select. The process of selection is not nearly over. This is, however, the first substantive decision that has been taken in the competition, and the only one so far that narrows the board. Stay tuned for what promises to be a huge amount of action from here on out. Oh, and here's a picture of the news breaking on Headlines Today's ticker earlier this evening.

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The M-MRCA In Numbers

As the M-MRCA fighter competition winds down, I thought it would be nice to put it down in numbers. Do comment with your additions.

6: The number of contending aircraft.

8: The number of competing nations.

126: The number of aircraft the Indian government officially says it wants to buy.

200-220: The number that sundry analysts believe will be the the "real" order size.

$9,500,000,000: The number of dollars (at the current exchange rate) the Indian government has committed to the deal.

$4,750,000,000: The number of dollars (at the current exchange rate) the winning contender will need to plough back into India as offsets.

18: The number of aircraft that will be manufactured by the winning bidder.

108: The number of aircraft that will be cookie-cut under license by HAL at a spanking new facility.

0: What HAL has needed to do to be the license partner in the MMRCA.

3: The number of years it took the government to decide that a competition made more sense than an IAF-recommended purchase of more Mirage-2000s.

4: The number if IAF Air Marshals who openly rue that decision to this day.

4: The number of companies that received the Indian RFI in 2004 (Dassault, Lockheed-Martin, RAC-MiG, Saab).

2: The number of companies that elbowed their way into the competition shortly thereafter (Boeing, Eurofighter).

2 / 1 / 6 / 1 / 0 / 5: The number of air forces that use fly the F/A-18 Super Hornet / Rafale / Typhoon / F-16 Block 60 / MiG-35 / Gripen.

2: The number of contending aircraft with operational AESA radars.

4: The number of contending aircraft that promise to deliver AESA radars better than the American ones.

2: The number of vendors who explicitly state that they will release all avionics/sensor source codes to the IAF as part of any deal.

46: The number of times in 2006-07 that the then IAF chief Shashindra Pal Tyagi was quoted to have said "buying fighters is not like buying vegetables in a market".

242: The number of times Defence Minister AK Antony, in response to questions about the delayed RFP, nodded genially and said, "It is in process".

3: The number of years it took for the government to send out an RFP after receiving information about potential contenders.

211: The number of pages in the RFP that was released in August 2007.

4: The number of defence journalists who claimed to have a copy of the RFP on the day it was released.

0: The number of defence journalists who actually had a copy of the RFP on the day it was released.

(Still counting): The number of times sundry officials from the IAF and MoD have pointed to "front-runners" in the competition.

4: The number of times competing countries have urged abandonment of the tender in favour of a separate exclusive deal. (-- Saurabh Joshi)

10: The number (on a scale of ten) that depicts just how badly IAF chief Pradeep Naik wants the MMRCA contract to be signed before he retires in July this year.

0: The number (on a scale of ten) that depicts the chances of that actually happening.

0: The optimism co-efficient of vendors that the IAF chief's word holds any more sway.

<1: The chances on a scale of 10 of the deal being concluded this calendar year.

22: The number of times the current IAF chief has expressed his pride over the evaluation process, and said he will patent it.

186: The number of times this blog has posted about the competition. Ok, now 187.

~421: The number of misleading leaks, rumours and patent falsehoods that have been deliberately put out by certain officers in the IAF and MoD acquisition wing.

8: The number of times the IAF and MoD have contradicted each other over aspects of the selection process.

112: The number of times the European competitors have described the Americans as "aggressive".

643: The number of test points evaluated on the six aircaft during field trials.

2: The number of years it took for field trials to commence after RFPs had been issued.

7: The number of times Lockheed-Martin took pot shots at the Gripen.

7: The number of times Gripen took pot shots at Lockheed-Martin.

2: The number of fantasy eliminations - Gripen and Rafale - that turned out to be false.

1: The number of times commercial bids have been revised.

10: Chances on a scale of ten that commercial bids will be required to be extended.

11,441: The number of reports about the MMRCA in the mainstream Indian media.

11,441: The number of reports about the MMRCA in the mainstream Indian media that were based largely on speculation.

Do feel free to add your own.

M-MRCA Commercial Bids Expire Tomorrow, What Now?

The sealed commercial bids of the six competitors in the Indian M-MRCA fighter competition expire tomorrow. I spoke to officials at the six competing companies said they hadn't heard from the government, and were clueless about what happened next. So in under 36 hours, one of the following should happen:

1. The government will in all likelihood asks the six vendors to extend the validity of their commercial bids (though it hasn't asked them at least until the time this post goes on). In the first week of April, the government asked the six vendors to submit revised technical offsets bids. Tomorrow at midnight, the bids expire. In the past, requests for extensions have been provided with fair advance notice. This time, it's 36 hours and the vendors still haven't heard from the government. Foreseeing this eventuality, the vendors have probably kept their paperwork ready for the validity extension. Either way, the government can always ask for the extension after the bids expire, so this deadline isn't really a DEAD-line. Phooey.

2. If procedure permits, the government only requests those found technically compliant to extend the validity of their commercial bids for onward negotiations, and allows the others' bids to expire. An implicit down-select if you will.

3. The government announces its legendary explicit down-select -- fat chance of that happening.

4. The government cancels the M-MRCA tender. Yeah, right.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

India Doesn't Have A Core Group On Unmanned Weapons. But Will Now.

A little baffled that we didn't already have one considering the number of unmanned vehicle programmes currently on. Anyway, India's DRDO will shortly be setting up a core group on unmanned vehicles/weapon systems, bringing together state-owned military laboratories, private industry and academic institutions to draw up dedicated policy and periodically monitor all Indian unmanned weapon programmes and institute public-private synergies where possible. The modalities and structure of the core group are likely to come up at a two day symposium in Pune on April 28-29, organised by the DRDO's R&DE(E) lab, known for its work on the Daksh UGV.

Future state-run programmes include UAVs Nishant-2, Rustom-H and AURA, an unmanned armoured personnel carrier, a remote controlled battle tank and an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV).

Goa Hosts US Navy Los Angeles-class SSN

The USS La Jolla, a Los Angeles-class nuclear powered fast attack submarines docked at Goa a couple of days ago on a goodwill visit.

Photo / American Center Mumbai

Monday, April 25, 2011

IAF Warned Against Aggressive Mkting, Corrupt Vendors

Beautiful timing, coming as it does smack in the middle of the end (hopefully) of the MMRCA journey. In what is indubitably inspired by the recent IAF bribery scandal at Aero India, Indian Defence Minister AK Antony today called upon the top brass of the IAF not to succumb to "corrupt practices indulged by vested interests in the garb of 'aggressive marketing’", demanding that the IAF "strive for probity and fair play in their day to day dealings". The Minister made the same call to the Army.

An IAF wing commander is shortly to be court martialled on allegations that he demanded bribes in exchange for favourable static display spots for aircraft at February's Aero India show (A Dassault executive who called attention on the IAF officer has since been blacklisted by the IAF).

The Minister said, “Time and cost overruns apart, there is always the danger of falling prey to corrupt practices perpetrated by vested interests in the garb of aggressive marketing. I strongly urge you all to stand guard with resolve against any such overtures. You must strive to uphold sincerity, probity and fair play, even in your day to day administrative work.”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Wreckage Of Army Dhruv Found, Four Dead

Tragic news. The Army Aviation Corps HAL Dhruv helicopter which went missing yesterday, had crashed. The wreckage was found this morning. All four personnel on board lost their lives. My deepest condolences to their families and the Army. R.I.P.

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MAG REPORT: The MMRCA And The Indian Navy

Copyright ©SP's Naval Forces

REPORT: India Finally Stands Up To Russia's After-sales Whims

A report by friend and colleague Vishal Thapar in the latest edition of SP's Aviation©.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Indian Army ALH Dhruv Missing, Search Still On

An Indian Army HAL Dhruv helicopter went missing in North-East Sikkim (a state that borders Tibet in the North East) at about 11.20AM today. The helicopter was flown by two pilots, with one Junior Commissioned Officer and one jawan. I spoke to the Army a short while ago, and they said that the helicopter had still not been traced. Bad weather in the area has meant that the Army has been unable to send an airborne search team. Multiple teams are braving weather on the ground to reach the spot where the chopper blipped off. It looks bleak, but here's hoping that crew has survived if the chopper has indeed crashed. Godspeed.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Eurofighter's 'Ground' Realities

It's a thumping irony. On the one hand, you have this overwhelming sense -- yoked along by literally unanimous Indian press leaks -- that the Eurofighter Typhoon leads the pack in India's $12-billion MMRCA fighter aircraft competition. On the other hand -- and you couldn't have missed them -- reports in the British press mercilessly pillorying the airplane programme. A brilliant headline in The Register goes "RAF Eurofighters Make Devastating Attack - on Parliament".

I don't think it is remotely far-fetched or cynical to suggest that the application of the Eurofighter over Libya (or for that matter, the Rafale), and the carefully calculated release of information about its achievements, has as much, if not more, to do with proving a point to its customers, both current and potential, as it does supporting operational alliance commitments (it was only last week that the Typhoon, previously confined to air-to-air operations over Libya, joined RAF Tornados for air interdiction duties).

The Typhoon programme, rather like the Tejas programme here in India, is and has been a deeply polarizing programme, buffeted for years in equal measure by staunch supporters and ruthless detractors. Operations in Libya only happened to cast into stark relief the findings of two reports, one by the British Parliamentary Accounts Committee, and an earlier one by the National Audit Office. Supporters call it a modern, multirole jet that's easy to maintain, has a low logistics footprint, and is one bad-ass in the sky. Critics say it's an expensive, hard to support air superiority fighter with manoeuverability that nobody needs in a BVR paradigm anyway.

Eurofighter hates the "ground attack" debate. And why not? It remembers how Singapore, which had shown healthy interest in the Typhoon in 2005, bailed and ordered Boeing Super Hornets F-15s instead. All because of questions that swirled incessantly around the Typhoon's efficacy as a strike platform. In 2008, the RAF got one of its Typhoons to light up a tent full of British defence journalists with its laser pod in a decidedly dramatic PR exercise to reassure the press about the aircraft's precision strike abilities.

But that apart, here's what reports, especially the recent ones, suggest: despite all the increments, the Eurofighter does not have mature ground attack capabilities. It's current strike ability is via a LITENING laser designator pod, and its last capability increment was the addition of EGBU-16 bomb avionic release capability. Finally, it will only truly emerge as a full-blown fighter-bomber at some future point this decade. That's the drift.

As far as the Indian fighter competition is concerned, the Eurofighter was put through weapons trials both in Germany and the UK. While EADS obviously won't discuss the details of the trials, Eurofighter boss Bernhard Gerwert says, "Eurofighter Typhoons delivered to the IAF will be the latest Tranche 3 aircraft with state-of-the-art electronic warfare sensors and communication systems. With its proven multi-role combat capability, this aircraft will provide the IAF with unrivalled air superiority and with sophisticated ground attack capabilities."

So where do things stand? What did the Eurofighter demonstrate to the Indian FET team? Did strike trials meet requirements? Obviously, these questions are strictly in the context of what we've been hearing in the last few weeks. I'll update this post once I hear from the folks at EF. As always, let me know what you think.

Photo ©RAF / By Corporal Babs Robinson

Monday, April 18, 2011

Paratrooper Huchong, Shaurya Chakra, Killed 2 Insurgents In Manipur

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Indian Army Bravehearts, Honoured For Anti-Terror Kills

Just met these brave soldiers at the investiture ceremony in Delhi. Gallantry in the face of anti-Indian terror.

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Thursday, April 14, 2011

IAF Hunts For New Medium-range SAMs

With troubles afflicting joint indigenous MR-SAM programme, the Indian Air Force has called for information to support a stop-gap acquisition of medium range surface to air missile systems. According to the RFI, each firing unit (FU) should be able to function independently and should also be able to interact with other Firing Units (FUs) within a common engagement zone to avoid overkill. The FU should have following components: (a) Multifunctional Radar (MFR). This radar should be active phased array radar for 3D target information to the centralised control unit. It should be able to feed the information to the centralised network for overall command and control. This radar should be able to provide Early Warning (EW) upto a long range. It should have capability of Track While Scan (TWS). (b) Fire Control Unit. This unit would be fed with the information from the MFR for exercising command and control over the complete firing system. It should be able to prioritise the threats and allocate resource as per the threat evaluation. (c) Launchers. System should have number of launchers with the minimum numbers to be specified. These launchers should be highly mobile and should have number of missiles. Launch capability should be specified. (d) Missiles. The missiles should have an active seeker. (e) System Simulator. For training of operators one simulator should be an integral part of FU. It should be able to generate all kind of scenarios.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Eurofighter Announces Incremental Strike Capability

PRESS STATEMENT: "Eurofighter successfully added more air-to-ground capabilites last week when partner company Cassidian Spain achieved the first EGBU-16 precision guided munition avionic release. This accomplishment comes immediately after the first Paveway IV release carried out during February in the UK. Both reinforce the un-matched growth potential of the Eurofighter Typhoon and confirm the built-in multi-role capability of the aircraft."

Photo / Eurofighter

Monday, April 11, 2011

Year After Livefist Scoop, DRDO Talks About UCAV Programme

Almost a year after Livefist scooped India's previously unknown AURA stealth UCAV project, the Times of India has a report today (right) on the secretive programme. The report quotes the DRDO's Dr Prahlada confirming all that I've reported here over the past year -- flying wing design, miniature gas turbine engine and other elements. This isn't however the first time that the DRDO is referring to the classified programme, an abbreviation for Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft. The DRDO referred to the programme in a newsletter in November last year.

Here's a chronological list of reportage on the AURA here on Livefist.

Clipping Copyright Times of India

Sunday, April 10, 2011

PHOTOS: Indo-US Exercise Malabar In The Western Pacific

Photos by US Navy Specialist 3rd Class Dylan McCord & Kevin B. Gray

Coming Up... A Glimpse Into India's Official Assessment Of The Chengdu J-20

Earlier this year, when the Chengdu J-20, China's fifth generation fighter prototype went from being a grainy internet rumour into a thundering reality, the Indian Air Force commissioned a report by a group of officers. The group was asked to study all available information on the aircraft, photographs, videos and any other material available. Folks from the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and some academic institutions were asked to be part of the report too. I'm privy to a few excerpts from the final report, and will post those once my sources give me the all clear. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Former IAF Chief La Fontaine Passes Away

Air Chief Marshal DA La Fontaine, chief of the Indian Air Force between 1985-88 passed away early today at his farmhouse in the Southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. He joined the Indian Air Force shortly after the country gained independence in 1947. A fighter pilot, his tenure at the helm saw major type inductions in the IAF, including the Dassault Mirage-2000 and MiG-29. The last time I spoke to Air Chief Marshal La Fontaine was in April 2006 for my special report on the IAF's MiG-25 Foxbat fleet ahead of its phase-out. R.I.P.

CNN-IBN REPORT: Eurofighter, Rafale Lead MMRCA Pack

Monday, April 04, 2011

Saturday, April 02, 2011

"M-MRCA Selection To Showcase Independence & Professionalism": Indian MOD

"If you think extraneous factors are going to guide our decision, then you may be surprised by the result." The words of a senior MoD officer who spoke to select journalists recently about the Indian medium multirole combat aircraft (M-MRCA) competition. As the decade-stretched competition plods toward a decision, tentatively scheduled in the next few months, the near unanimous sense -- from rumours, reports, leaks, hearsay, background briefings -- is that the big European twins, the Dassault Rafale and the Eurofighter Typhoon -- are the IAF's two most preferred aircraft, and in that order [It was news station Times NOW's senior editor Srinjoy Chowdhry who first suggested this in a report last year].

The MoD officer quoted above also said, "There is no political pressure. This is such a large deal that it is apt for showcasing the excellent and professional job India has done in making an informed decision which is independent of any factors, including strategic and geopolitical. The air force is the customer, not the Ministry of External Affairs."

The question now is whether there will be a full-fledged down-select -- where two, or three, aircraft will be kept in the game -- or if only the one leading aircraft will be picked out for commercial negotiations and the others asked to have a good flight home. Both possible, say sources. In the first scenario, there is speculation now about the third spot. Different versions suggest that in third place is either the Gripen or the F/A-18.

After a decade of staying studiously below radar, and quietly emerging a supposed frontrunner, the Dassault campaign will be kicking itself for the ugly mess it now finds itself in -- the blacklisting of the company's Indian face for "embarrassing" the air force. Last heard, the French Embassy in Delhi was doing everything it could to get the IAF to reconsider, and allow Dassault's PV Rao to meet them. For what it's worth, the MoD has said the development doesn't in any way affect the M-MRCA selection process, seeing as it has nothing to do with the competition, but let's face it -- what Dassault has in effect done is to seriously piss off the customer in a competition it simply cannot afford to lose.

Taking off from IAF chief PV Naik's fears expressed during Aero India in February that losing vendors could delay the competition with protests and appeals, Defence Minister AK Antony has reminded the M-MRCA team to ensure that the companies are kept briefed about all decisions at every step. Once a final decision is made, the Minister has directed, that an extensive briefing will be held with all vendors, and all questions/queries sorted out in the shortest possible time.

If the Chief of Air Staff had his way, we'd have a decision on a downselect/elimination by April. The month has begun. Don't hold your breath too much.

Friday, April 01, 2011

India's Anti-Tank HELINA To Spawn Longer Range Strike Weapon

India's Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL) plans to extend the range of the HELINA (Helicopter-mounted Nag) anti-armour missile into a >20-km range strike munition for combat aircraft and helicopters. HELINA project director KS Vara Prasad has indicated that his team is building a "miniaturised inertial navigation package" to enhance the existing weapon without adding weight or too much cost.

The HELINA, an air-launched variant of the Nag anti-tank missile, has a range of 7-km and has been captive flight-tested, with a scheduled first firing for later this year. The programme director has also revealed that a feasibility study is officially on to integrate the HELINA onto the Rustom-H MALE UAV. More details soon.