Thursday, June 30, 2011

A Day With America's War Dead

Did something today that I've wanted to for a very long time -- visit the Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington D.C., where 300,000 (and counting) veterans and military casualties lie buried. It is an astounding site -- you've seen it in the movies -- of tombstones running off as far as the eye can see down rolling hills over 624 acres. Signboards everywhere remind hundreds of daily visitors that these are "hallowed grounds", and therefore to conduct themselves with "dignity and respect at all times". To say that the site is intense doesn't quite cover it. It also made me really sad, thinking about how differently we honour our war heroes and military casualties in India. I mean, do we even have a national war memorial yet?

Photo by T. Singh

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Boeing Begins Final Assembly Of India's 1st P-8I

From Boeing's statement today: The start of assembly work follows delivery of the plane's fuselage from teammate Spirit AeroSystems on May 29. Boeing workers have begun installing systems, wires and other small parts onto the fuselage. The P-8I's engines and wings will be installed later this summer.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Bhim Not On Track After All

Trust DRDO not to put out the full picture. The Indian BHIM 155-mm tracked self-propelled howitzer was recently noted by DRDO to have been "evaluated" and "accepted" by the Indian Army. Well, it turns out the DRDO was referring to its nearly decade old evaluation/acceptance by the Army when the BHIM had a Denel T6 gun turret. After Denel was blacklisted by the Indian government following apparent evidence of malfeasance in a separate deal for anti-materiel rifles, the BHIM became effectively gun-less, and has remained so ever since. Efforts have been made twice to give the BHIM a gun, but those efforts are nowhere close to complete. And when I checked with DRDO, they told me they were "planning to" restart efforts to find the BHIM a new gun. So, no new gun. It's just a couple of Arjun chassis stored away somewhere.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Indian C-17 Deal Done! Here's Boeing's Statement

Just received this from Boeing: Boeing today announced that India's Ministry of Defence has signed an agreement with the U.S. government to acquire 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifters. The Foreign Military Sale - approved by the U.S. Congress in May 2010 - establishes India as the C-17's largest international customer.

According to the agreement, India will take delivery of its C-17s in 2013 and 2014. "The C-17 will elevate India's leadership in the region," said Dinesh Keskar, president, Boeing India. "With its tactical and strategic capabilities, the C-17 fulfills India's needs for military and humanitarian airlift. The important transaction reaffirms our close relationship of several decades with India and also highlights our commitment to the strategic partnership between the two countries."

"This agreement is a reflection of the outstanding partnership India's Ministry of Defence has with the U.S. Air Force, which worked very hard to help India strengthen its airlift capabilities with the C-17," said Jean Chamberlin, vice president and general manager, Boeing Mobility. "The aircraft's ability to transport large payloads across vast ranges, land on short, austere runways, and operate in extremely hot and cold climates makes it ideal for the region."

Boeing will support India's C-17 fleet through the C-17 Globemaster III Sustainment Partnership, a proven multinational Performance-Based Logistics program. The GSP "virtual fleet" arrangement ensures mission readiness by providing all C-17 customers - with varied fleet sizes - access to an extensive support network for worldwide parts availability and economies of scale when purchasing materials.

"Boeing is pleased that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has selected the C-17 to support its airlift mission," said Mark Kronenberg, vice president of International Business Development for Boeing Defense, Space & Security. "We look forward to partnering with India as we move forward with the agreement's 30 percent offset program, which will help strengthen India's aerospace and defense capabilities."

During rigorous field evaluation trials in India in June, the C-17 met all of the IAF's airlift requirements.

A tactical and strategic airlifter, the C-17 can land combat-ready troops in remote locations or airdrop them directly where needed. The C-17's ability to back up allows it to operate on narrow taxiways and congested ramps. With a maximum payload of 164,900 pounds (74,797 kg), the C-17 can take off and land in 3,000 feet (914.4 m) or less.

Boeing has delivered 232 C-17s worldwide, including 22 with international customers. The U.S. Air Force - including active National Guard and Reserve units - has taken delivery of 210 C-17s. Other customers include the United Kingdom's Royal Air Force, the Qatar Emiri Air Force, the Canadian Forces, the Royal Australian Air Force, the 12-member Strategic Airlift Capability initiative of NATO and Partnership for Peace nations, and the United Arab Emirates Air Force and Air Defence.

U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. DeNoris Mickle: Airmen from the 14th Airlift Squadron fly over South Carolina's beaches from Joint Base Charleston, S.C., as a Boeing-built C-17 Globemaster III sheds a shadow on the water below.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Finally, India's Carrier Fighter Ready To Fly

The carrier variant of India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA Tejas) will make its maiden flight in July. It should be said that confidence for the LCA Navy's first flight has taken its time coming. The programme team had initially aimed at getting the naval trainer prototype NP-1 airborne in December last year.

The DRDO's chief controller for aeronautical programmes Dr Prahlada was recently quoted by a newspaper as saying, "Being the first flight of the LCA naval programme, we want to ensure that everything is put in place before the first flight and that the programme is as successful as the Indian Air Force (IAF) version which has had no accidents since it started flight tests on January 4, 2001."

The LCA Navy programme team has faced challenges in strengthening the platform's landing gear and refining its sink-rate parameters.

Ten Years Of BrahMos Fire

Today marks ten years since the first launch of the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile on 10 June 2001. Here's an interview of the BrahMos CEO from two days ago. A seminar is on at BrahMos headquarters right now on "Joint Ventures and Technology Collaborations in Defence Towards Realising World Class Systems", which sadly, I won't be able to go for because I've got to be in the studio.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

India's Prithvi-II Missile Tested Today

India's surface-to-surface Prithvi-II (P-II) missile was successfully flight tested on at 9AM today from the country's missile test range on the Eastern seaboard. The launch was carried out as part of regular training exercises of the Army and nuclear command. Prithvi-II, the first indigenous surface-to-surface strategic missile, capable of attacking targets at ranges of 350-km, hit a predefined target in the Bay of Bengal with "very high accuracy of better than 10 meters", according to a DRDO statement. An Indian Navy ship located near the target recorded the final event. The flight test of the Prithvi-II met all the mission objectives.

Photos / DRDO

Pak Jingo Video Of JF-17 vs Tejas Toss-up!

Previously on Livefist:
- "JF-17 Not As Advanced As LCA, But It Can Drop Bombs": Nawaz Sharif
- "LCA Far Ahead Of JF-17 In Contemporary Technology": IAF Western Commander

Neat Animation Of India's Agni-V Ballistic Missile

The Agni-V is expected to be test-fired for the first time this December.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

IAF Mirage 2000 Upgrade Slowed By Weapons

It has emerged that India's $2.4-billion proposal to upgrade 51 IAF Dassault Mirage 2000H/TH fighters -- widely expected to be cleared by the government's apex approval body this month -- hasn't come up because the attached contract for weapons/armaments with MBDA hasn't been cleared yet by India's Ministry of Finance. India's apex Cabinet Committee on Security will not consider the primary upgrade contract separate from the constituent weapon contract, obviously. It is not clear at this stage if the armament contract remains with the Ministry of Finance on account of normal procedural delays or more specific price concerns. Will update this post.

IAF Receives First Upgraded An-32s, Designated RE

IAF Statement: Four of the first batch of five Antonov An-32 tactical transport aircraft that recently underwent 'total technical life extension' (TTLE), overhaul and re-equipment at Ukraine were inducted into the IAF, albeit with a new nomenclature -- AN-32 RE.

Stating that IAF has been imbibing and exploiting technological advances and adapting to the revolution in military affairs, Air Marshal Joseph Neri, Air Officer-in-Charge Maintenance (AOM) said the re-equipped An-32 RE aircraft would fulfill tactical transport requirements of the IAF up to and beyond 2025.

Air Mshl Neri inducted the first batch of An-32 RE aircraft at a brief induction and handing over ceremony held at Palam airbase in Delhi. DG (Aircraft), Air Mshl RK Vashisht, senior MOD and IAF officials, representatives of M/S Spets Techno Export (STE) from Ukraine and aircrew that flew in the aircraft from Kiev was among those present at the ceremony.

The An-32, the backbone of the IAF's transport fleet, operational since 1984, has flown more than 800,000 hours on various missions. To overcome maintenance challenges due to ageing and obsolescence while still left with airframe hours and number of landings led the IAF to conceive a mid-life upgrade in 2005, and a contract was finalized in June 2009.

The project envisages TTLE from existing 25 to 40 years, overhaul and re-equipment of 40 aircraft at designer certified plants in Ukraine of 10 aircraft annually and supply of material and 'transfer of technology' (ToT) for upgrade of 64 remaining aircraft at IAF's No. 1 Base Repair Depot (BRD) at Kanpur. The upgrade at Kiev is expected to be completed by March 2014 and upgrade at 1 BRD by March 2017.

The special features of An-32 RE include modification in cockpit layout, upgraded avionics equipment, noise and vibration reduction enhancing crew comfort, reliability and maintainability of the aircraft.

Sharing the experience of the aircrew flying the upgraded aircraft fitted from Kiev to India via Ankara, Cairo, Jeddah, Doha and UAE, Gp Capt RC Mohile, one of the captains of the An-32 RE and the team leader described that the new navigational equipment proved extremely useful and made the complex navigation process involved on the international route easy to negotiate.

Ashley J Tellis On Livefist: The MMRCA, Once More

Yesterday, Livefist hosted a contributed column which sought to refute arguments made in a widely read article by Dr. Ashley J Tellis, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a well-known commentator on international security, defense, and Asian strategic issues. Dr Tellis sent me his response yesterday, one in which he seeks to "set the record straight". Here is what he sent me, in full, exclusive to Livefist:

The MMRCA, Once More
by Ashley J. Tellis

I appreciate the trouble Mihir Shah has taken to respond to my recent piece, “Decoding India’s MMRCA Decision.” His response, unfortunately, perpetuates some extant misimpressions, while creating new ones. I would like to set the record straight.

First, although the claim that the IAF has “settled for a plane, not a relationship” has been widely attributed to me, that is decidedly not my personal view. What I did say consistently from the moment that the IAF’s choices became public—in an April 28, 2011 interview with the Hindu from which the quote is drawn—is that many in the United States, including in the U.S. Government, hold that by choosing the Eurofighter and the Rafale as the MMRCA finalists, India settled for an airplane rather than a relationship. The failure to see this critical distinction has led more than a few to wonder how I could urge the IAF to choose the best aircraft in my earlier report Dogfight! and question its choices subsequently.

Second, I have studied the six aircraft in the MMRCA fray quite carefully and I know their characteristics and performance in greater detail than I could ever write about without leaving the reader disoriented. Consequently, I will not reopen here the discussion about the merits of the six airplanes, except to say that Mr. Shah appears to have overlooked my extensive discussion in Dogfight! of the IAF’s threat environment, the operational demands made on the MMRCA in any future war, and the importance of the surface attack mission for success even in defensive counterair campaigns.

In this context, I will resist the temptation of refuting his claims about the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet’s multirole and high-altitude capabilities in order to focus solely on the most important argument suffusing the discussion in “Decoding India’s MMRCA Decision”: based on the standards of aerodynamic excellence, growth potential, longevity of puissance, and combat effectiveness, the IAF chose well in down-selecting the Eurofighter and the Rafale because they were, on balance, the leaders of the pack.

Mr. Shah seems to have overlooked this central point. “Decoding India’s MMRCA Decision” was not intended to be a comparative assessment of the various contestants, but rather a simple explication of the claim that the IAF did in fact make its choices solely on the basis on the four criteria above—“entirely on technical grounds,” I emphasized—rather than on the alternative variables posited by others (which have dismayed many U.S. policymakers and friends of India within the U.S. Government), such as the reliability of the United States as a supplier, supposed U.S. technology transfer constraints, or political considerations in New Delhi about hedging.

Yes, I did question how the IAF scored the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in the flight trials on one or two issues, but these were in the scheme of things largely quibbles. The basic point that I intended to make—and hopefully made—was that far from being guided by other considerations, the IAF made its down-select entirely on the basis of technical factors, as any fighting force worth its salt ought to have done. Given the complexities of the comparisons at issue, I think the IAF acquitted itself in the MMRCA competition with remarkable professionalism, diligence and, my minor criticisms notwithstanding, impartiality and grace.

Nothing I said in this article repudiates my admiration for the IAF and the manner in which it conducted the MMRCA contest. Airpower specialists will argue endlessly about the merits of its choices—I did and several thoughtful Indians have as well—but that does not undermine my basic judgment that the IAF conducted a comprehensive evaluation that was fundamentally fair, a view I clearly expressed earlier in Dogfight!

(Incidentally, Mr. Shah misconstrues my use of the adjective “perverse” when he says I used it to “characterize the IAF and MoD’s adherence to the two-step acquisition process.” Actually, I noted the “perverse adherence to process” when I described the defense ministry’s failure to inform the external affairs ministry about its down-select, which was communicated to the international vendors without prior coordination with India’s diplomats who are tasked with managing its foreign relations.)

Third, the larger point which I did raise, and which Mr. Shah seized on but only partially, was the limitation of the “two-step” procedure. He argues that “a strict and almost pig-headed adherence to laid-down rules and procedures” is necessary to avoid “leaving even the smallest procedural gaps open to exploitation by vested interests,” with all the resulting dangers to India’s war-fighting capabilities.

I think this argument is highly misleading—and actually dangerous. There is no question that India should follow its own laid-down rules and procedures meticulously. I was making, however, a different and more consequential point, namely, that if the “laid down rules and procedures” do not permit costs (and any other pertinent variables) to be assessed at the very first step of the procurement process, there is no way for the acquisition system to judge the true value of the commodities it is purchasing relative to the alternatives. The failure to assess the cost-effectiveness of any given weapon system—which the current two-step procedure produces by definition—results in a potential misallocation of defense resources that could be just as, if not more, dangerous for Indian defense than all the problems posed by personal corruption.

The solution to this problem is to create a structured opportunity for policymakers to price everything that matters in a defense acquisition from the get go—technical characteristics, warfighting performance, technology transfer, offsets benefits, and yes, even strategic partnership—so that Indian security managers get a good sense of what the real direct and opportunity costs of their acquisitions actually are. This exercise has to be conducted by Indian officials themselves—and to insinuate that they are incapable of undertaking such analyses or are likely to fall prey to the lures of corruption during such a process is to sell them and India itself woefully short. That claim is actually more damning than anything I said in my piece.

The limitations of the present two-step procedure constituted the main criticism articulated in “Decoding India’s MMRCA Decision.” In effect, I argued that while the Eurofighter and the Rafale represented the best technical choices in the MMRCA competition—and as such were sensible, nay inevitable, selections by the IAF—the Ministry of Defense, and the Indian state more generally, has no way currently of assessing whether these two selectees represent the best value for the air force and the country at large. Undertaking this kind of an appraisal requires incorporating what matters to the warfighter, but also transcending it—by evaluating how any given acquisition fits into larger national objectives, existing resource constraints, and the strategic question of how India should maximize its advantages in a world of increasing danger.

In the United States, such evaluations are conducted systematically using interdisciplinary tools by the office of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. In India too, such judgments have been made in the past by senior policymakers but on the basis of intuitions and prudential judgment rather than rigorous analysis. Given the resources India will allocate to foreign weapons acquisitions in the future, applying formal analysis to this process will only help, not hurt, and doing so does not require India to sacrifice its “adherence to laid-down rules and procedures,” but it does necessitate a better assessment system that allows Indian leaders to price their multiple, sometimes competing, goals more effectively. It is a pity that Mr. Shah’s critique of my piece missed this fundamental point after all.

Coming Up: Ashley J Tellis On Livefist

Coming up, exclusively on Livefist: Dr. Ashley J Tellis, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a well-known commentator on Asian defence and strategic issues will "set the record straight" on what he says are "misimpressions" about arguments he made in a widely read article he wrote recently in FORCE Magazine on the Indian M-MRCA competition, arguments that were questioned in a
contributed column hosted here on Livefist yesterday. His post goes on at 10AM, Indian time. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

COLUMN: A Response to Ashley J Tellis’ Assessment Of The MMRCA Down-select

By Mihir Shah

Dr. Ashley Tellis, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has written a commentary for FORCE Magazine, in an attempt to explain in some detail the reasons why two American aircraft – the Lockheed-Martin F-16IN Super Viper and Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet – vying for the Indian Air Force’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract worth an estimated Rs. 42,000 crore, failed to make the down-select. While the piece is a must-read, owing to the plethora of facts, figures, and new information presented, the analysis itself falls short on several counts. This post attempts to refute some of his arguments.

The first, and in some ways, most startling assertion by Dr. Tellis is that the IAF’s decision “was made entirely on technical grounds”, and that “in retrospect, this may have been exactly the problem”. While there is nothing wrong with this observation per se, the way in which it is being said appears to suggest surprise on his part that political, strategic, or financial concerns were not allowed to interfere in the decision making process. Indeed, when seen in the light of his earlier charge that India “settled for a plane, not a relationship”, it leaves the reader with the impression that the IAF, backed by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), made a serious error in not letting these other factors influence its decision. This impression is only reinforced by the use of adjectives like “mechanistic” and “perverse” that he uses to characterise the IAF and MoD’s adherence to the two-step acquisition process. Altogether, these comments seem to carry the subtle (and in many ways, dangerous) insinuation that it would have been better for all parties had the process been designed in a way that would have allowed it to be ‘calibrated’ to geopolitical needs and considerations. In fact, nothing could be farther than the truth. The only thing keeping the MMRCA competition from being stymied in charges of impropriety, corruption, or political rabble-rousing like the tenders for 155 mm artillery and light utility helicopters, is a strict and almost pig-headed adherence to laid-down rules and procedures. Dr. Tellis recommendation is a sure recipe for disaster, as leaving even the smallest procedural gaps open to exploitation by vested interests would delay the induction of these fighters by years if not decades. What this would do to India’s war-fighting capabilities is not hard to imagine.

The other argument put forth by Dr. Tellis is that the IAF gave an inordinate amount of importance to air combat manoeuvering at the expense of superior sensors, weapons, and assorted electronics while framing its air staff qualitative requirements (AQSRs). It was this anachronistic focus on things that make a difference in close-range knife-fights, he claims, that led to the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale making the short-list, while the F/A-18E/F, the superior combat system, did not. While it is certainly possible that the ASRs were framed with a strong focus on aerodynamic superiority, Dr. Tellis fails to appreciate the reasons behind such a requirement. In the last decade, the IAF has been steadily shifting its attention towards countering the threat posed by the Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and air defences on India’s eastern frontiers, where the ability of aircraft to operate in hot and high conditions will be of prime importance. The Kargil War only served to highlight the importance of being able to mount high-altitude missions in mountainous terrain, and also introduced the IAF to the unique challenges of doing so. So while Dr. Tellis is probably correct in declaring that “marginal differences in aerodynamic performance rarely affect combat outcomes”, he fails to grasp that even the minutest aerodynamic shortcomings can amplify themselves into serious operational deficiencies in such conditions, and no amount of superiority in sensors or weapons can compensate for these. Indeed, it is not difficult to see why the F/A-18E/F, an aircraft designed to operate from aircraft carriers at sea level, with its well-documented aerodynamic compromises and relatively high wing-loading, would be one of the four aircraft that failed to make the cut in the Leh trials.

Also, while he laments the IAF’s preoccupation with within visual range (WVR) combat, Dr. Tellis is guilty of a similar error in completely discounting the ground attack component of aerial warfare from his analysis. In doing so, he entirely misses the point of the MMRCA acquisition, and knocks down a strawman argument of his own making. If the IAF’s current force structure and future acquisition plans are studied in conjunction with its increasing focus on the eastern theatre, it is not hard to reach the conclusion that the MMRCA will be the primary strike fighter in its arsenal. In that role, the ability to attack ground targets with high precision weaponry and put sophisticated air defence networks out of action will be of prime importance. And the Rafale and Typhoon’s superlative passive sensors, data fusion, defensive aids, and wide range of modern weaponry, combined with their canard-delta configuration and high-powered engines would make these aircraft uniquely suited to take on the might of China’s dense air defence network and the PLAAF in the thin air of the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau. That neither aircraft currently has radar that comes close to matching the impressive performance of the Super Hornet’s AN/APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar remains a problem, but the air force seems fairly confident that these will be available in good time.

Going further into his analysis, Dr. Tellis proceeds to question and attack the IAF’s ASQRs, in the process giving fallacious and simplistic examples of how these requirements were defined too narrowly. One would think that the IAF, like any other professional air force, would define its requirements based on an assessment of how and where its future conflicts would be fought. However, Dr. Tellis only alleges, though in a roundabout way cloaked in elaborate arguments and sophisticated language, that the IAF pulled these requirements out of a hat without fully understanding their implications as far as modern air combat went. Such matters can (and indeed should) be debated in military circles that have access to all the relevant information. But coming from a civilian analyst who was in no way involved with the procurement process, and professes no special expertise or experience in the strategic, operational, tactical, and technological aspects of aerial warfare, the argument merely comes across as indiscreet and perhaps not fully thought-out.

Much of this is in direct contradiction to what he wrote in a comprehensive report [PDF] on the status of the competition in January 2011. At that time, Dr. Tellis spared no superlative in heaping praise on the air force for its handling of the trials. He noted that “the IAF has bent backwards to be both scrupulously transparent and extraordinarily neutral throughout this process” and the reports it submitted to the MoD were “comprehensive” and “impartial to the point of appearing disinterested”. In the concluding paragraph, he wrote: “No matter which way India leans in the MMRCA contest, keeping the IAF’s interests consistently front and center will ensure that its ultimate choice will be the right one. A selection process that is transparent, speedy, and focused on the right metrics will not only strengthen the IAF’s combat capabilities, but it will also earn the respect of all the competing vendors and their national patrons. Some of them will be disappointed by India’s final choice, but those, alas, are the rules of the game.” The process was everything Dr. Tellis would have liked it to be – transparent, speedy, focused on the right metrics, and most importantly, driven entirely by the IAF’s requirements and interests. The professionalism displayed by the IAF had also come in for much acclaim from Lockheed-Martin and Boeing more than once; their statements after the down-select have been just as complaisant and agreeable. The reason why he would choose to essentially go back on his own counsel and vilify the air force in so public a manner, therefore, remains a mystery.

(Mihir Shah is a US-based engineer who tracks aerospace issues closely. He has contributed before to Livefist and Pragati magazine. He works at a firm specialising in energy efficiency consulting. Mihir has previously analysed the Pakistani JF-17 programme for Livefist. Views expressed by the author are his own.)

Monday, June 06, 2011

Indian Deal For Ten Boeing C-17s Cleared

The Indian govt today cleared the country's largest defence deal with the US so far. Long expected, the Cabinet Committee on Security approved a $4.1-billion deal for 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster-III heavy transport aircraft. The deal is expected to hold options for six more aircraft.

The deal includes $1.12-billion in offsets, which reportedly includes a high-altitude engine test facility and trisonic wind tunnel facility for India's Defence Research & Development Organisation.

Previously on Livefist:
- Indian $4.1-bn Order For 10 C-17s In Sight
- Done Deal
- C-17 A Carefully Considered Choice: IAF Chief

Also see this presentation on the C-17 [PDF] by Boeing at Aero India 2011.

Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone

Peeved IAF Looks Beyond Russia To Revive Ilyushins

Seemingly exasperated by low-availability/serviceability for years as a consequence of what it has described unofficially as "unpredictable Russian support" and the country's apparent unwillingness to honour after-sales commitments, the Indian Air Force is looking for the first time beyond Russia for long-term maintenance and product support of its fleet of Ilyushin-76 heavy transports and Ilyushin-78M tanker transports at Agra, Chandigarh, Delhi and Nagpur.

In April this year, the IAF broke with tradition and floated a global tender to provide its Il-76/78 fleet "service support to ensure IAF requirements to maintain present airworthiness standards" for a period of five years, extendable to ten. The IAF has been improvising plenty to keep the heavy jets airworthy, but does not believe it can continue to do so without solid support. The Russian OEM, apparently, cannot be relied upon. The IAF has stipulated that bidders need to have the support of the Ilyushin Design Bureau.

According to the tender document, "The primary requirement of the contract is to ensure a minimum serviceability of 70% of number of [aircraft] included in the contract during the currency of contract. Period of contract shall be five years, further extendable for another five years. The vendor is required to meet this requirement by providing all the required maintenance and product support." It further stipulates that, "on any single day the serviceability of each fleet (IL-76 and IL-78) should not fall below 50% of total number of ac included in the contract."

Interestingly, the IAF has offered to pay the winning bidder an incentive if higher serviceability percentage above the minimum specified is achieved during execution of the contract. And they'll be penalised if they fall short of the required mark.

Nine IAF Ilyushins which will be undergoing overhaul and total life extension at the time the contract is expected to be awarded will not be included. An additional unspecified number of Ilyushins has remained grounded indefinitely "for want of spares/aggregates which have become unserviceable or expired their TBO/TTL".

Here's the full IAF request for information.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Finally, A Glimpse Of MBT Arjun In Army Service

Here we go. Perhaps the first proper images of the MBT Arjun in Indian Army service. These photos are from the latest issue of DRDO's Tech Focus journal, which also has the latest Arjun schematics/specs. Over 100 Arjuns have been delivered to the Indian Army over the last couple of years.

Photos ©DRDO

Jinxed Bhim 155mm Gun Finally On Track?

Is India's jinxed BHIM 155mm/52cal tracked self-propelled howitzer back on track? Well, the DRDO has revealed in the latest edition of its Tech Focus journal that "the system has been successfully evaluated and accepted by the user". That's huge. The hybrid foreign gun mated with the indigenous Arjun chassis has had a tough run so far.

In 2005, after Denel's T6 turret was chosen to be the weapon mated to an Arjun chassis, the South African gun maker was blacklisted by the Indian government following allegations of using influence to swing a separate deal. In 2007, I visited the DRDO's tank lab in South India just after an effort to identify a new gun for the Bhim had ended in a single-vendor situation, with only the Samsung Techwin coming forward to bid with the K9 turret. So no go. Sort of lost track of the programme since until I saw the DRDO's journal today (full specs in the PDF).

DRDO describes the Bhim as "one of the finest 155mm/52cal self-propelled howitzers, which is endowed with superior firepower, high mobility and system availability characteristics (sic)."

Will update this post with more from the Army tomorrow.

PHOTOS: DRDO's Combat Improved T-72

The combat-improved T-72 (Ajeya) tank. The soup-up by DRDO includes explosive reactive armour, GPS, an integrated fire detection and suppression system (IFDSS) and smoke grenade discharger. Full specs and schematics in the DRDO's latest edition of Tech Focus.

Friday, June 03, 2011

PHOTOS: IAF Inducts Israel-built Medium Power Radar

Photos Courtesy DPR Defence / IAF

New Light On Why India Rejected The F-16 & F/A-18

ASHLEY J TELLIS, commentator and senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment has a new piece in India's FORCE magazine which quite substantially fleshes out the stated reasons why the two US contenders in India's M-MRCA fighter competition -- the F-16IN and F/A-18E/F -- were eliminated in a late April decision. The Pentagon, Boeing and Lockheed-Martin, which have been quite silent (about the reasons for the elimination) since the decision, appear to have got their side of things across quite amply, and in great detail, in Mr Tellis' column. For starters, they've shown him those rejection letters they got. A highly readable report. Here's some of the juice:

Tellis' report notes that the F-16IN was found non-compliant on five counts: "growth potential, carefree handling (and automatic sensing of external stores), sustained turn rate, engine change time, and assurance against obsolescence over a 15-year period."

Tellis puts the F-16IN's failure to meet the IAF's enging change time requirement down "largely to an idiosyncratic mishap during the field trials". He writes, "It is certain that if the trials were to involve multiple stochastic demonstrations of engine change, the F-16IN would have easily made the mark. Unfortunately, second chances are sometimes not available, and the IAF, for its own reasons, chose not to accept Lockheed Martin’s subsequent evidence of being able to meet the engine change standards laid down in the ASQR."

Tellis also suggests that the "blurry" nature of the reasons why the F/A-18 was rejected give him doubt about whether the IAF gave the Super Hornet an "equitable shot". He notes that the reasons Boeing was given for the rejection of the F/A-18 were four: "the maturity of its engine design, the growth potential of its engine, assorted performance shortfalls, and issues related to special preventative maintenance".

Read the full piece, here. Good read.

Quoted text & image ©FORCE Magazine

Minister Orders, India's Agni-V To Fly Before Year End

Indian Defence Minister AK Antony today said the country must have a ballistic missile with 5,000-km range. After presenting the DRDO awards today, Antony called upon the organisation to quickly deliver the Agni-V missile.

"DRDO must demonstrate its capability to reach the range of 5,000-km at the earliest. The interceptor missile development programme has taken India to an elite club of nations that possess the capability to demonstrate and deploy missile defence. DRDO should now work towards developing a credible ballistic missile defence for our country," Antony said.

Speaking to reporters later, DRDO chief Vijay Kumar Saraswat said that the Agni-V test launch will take place before the end of this year.

Indian Army's 'Hurt Locker' Moment

The Indian Army's 201 Bomb Disposal Company under the Western Command carrying out disposal of unexploded munitions at the Inland Container Depot, (ICD) Tughlakabad near Delhi. The operation, codenamed Sahyog-II, involves handling and segregation of approximately 3,500 munitions lying at depot and transporting them to a range. Over 2500 munitions have been safely disposed. The operation is likely to be completed by end June. The squad has been using a remotely operated vehicle (British-built) and bomb suits to recover the munitions. According to a statement from the Army, "The handling is tricky as the origin of munitions is not known and due to its old vintage the chances of accidental detonation is very high."

Photos / Indian Army

Be Realistic, Helps Us Plan: DRDO Chief To Armed Forces

The Director General of India's Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), VK Saraswat today announced that he would soon be launching new programmes to develop 155mm/52cal artillery guns in both towed and self-propelled configurations. "This," he said, was to "take care of future artillery requirements of the next decade, without having to rely on the vagaries of foreign import."

He also took a traditional swipe at his customers, the Indian armed forces, saying, "The services have always been the single most important factor shaping our programmes. We look to the services not as our customer but more importantly as our partner in development, whose inputs are essential and critical to the course of our development projects. But while we welcome all inputs and guidelines, we also feel the need for the services to firm up realistic requirements at the earliest so that we may properly plan our project requirements."

Thursday, June 02, 2011

India's DRDO Looks Back On A Year

India's DRDO holds its annual awards ceremony tomorrow for technology excellence. The organisation released the following feature today, listing its achievements. Here it is in full:

DRDO has made many significant achievements during the recent past, including the last year. Many important systems were inducted/accepted by the services. The production value of systems based on technologies developed by DRDO (inducted/accepted/orders placed) during the past one decade is well over Rs.1,10,000 crores.

Agni-III, the 3500 km range ballistic missile was successfully launched with user’s participation. Training flights were held by the users for various missiles that are already inducted. These included two flight tests each of Agni–I, Agni–II and Dhanush (from naval ships) and five flights of Prithvi II (P– II). Orders worth over Rs. 25,000 crores for surface-to-air missile AKASH have been placed by the users. These include 8 squadron for IAF and 2 regiments for the Army. Successful flight tests of endo-atmospheric interceptor for 2,000-km class target were carried out. Each flight led to a direct target hit and disintegration of the target. Capabilities of NAG, the third generation anti-tank missile, which is a vehicle mounted system was demonstrated in a series of user trials. Advanced versions of BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, the only one of its kind in the world, were developed and flight-tested. Thus, BrahMos block II with target discrimination precision strike capabilities was test-fired. Similarly, BrahMos block III with capability for steep diving from high altitudes and high maneuvers at multiple points during supersonic flight. Development of advanced missile systems is a continuous effort and requires systematic development of more and more advanced technologies. RLG based Inertial Navigation System was developed, qualified and tested. Active Radar Seeker for advanced missions was developed. A fibre optics gyro was successfully developed and tested on board.

In the area of aeronautics, Tejas, the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) concluded its extensive flight tests including weapon trials, dropping of bombs, jettisoning drop tanks and night flights; leading to its Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) on 10th January, 2011. Over 1,640 flights covering a period of over 969 hours have been completed by Tejas Mk.1. The first prototype of LCA Navy was rolled out and its induction tests were concluded. In tune with changing war of scenario, major thrust has been given to develop unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). Successful flight trials of RUSTOM-1, a UAV with endurance of 14 hours and altitude ceiling of 8,000 meters demonstrated the capabilities for automated/remotely piloted landing/ take-off and associated technologies. NISHANT, another UAV developed by DRDO was ready for induction by the Army. A medium sized aerostat based platform was developed for surveillance applications. A novel method was developed and flight-tested for an in-flight structural monitoring of the manned as well as unmanned aircraft structures. The scheme was flight tested on a NISHANT UAV. Besides, over 100 test flights of a 3,000 gram Micro Aerial Vehicle (MAV) designed and developed by DRDO were carried out. A laser seeker kit SUDARSHAN for 1,000-pound bombs was developed and initial demand for significant number of seekers kits has been received from the users. Major milestones in the indigenous development of fighter aircraft engine was achieved with the completion of “Official Altitude Testing” (OAT) of Kaveri Gas Turbine Engine for simulated operating conditions. Subsequently, the flights of Kaveri engine were successfully carried out on a Flying Test Bed (FTB) proving the technological capability and maturity of the indigenous efforts. This is the first time that an indigenously developed gas turbine engine for fighter aircraft has been flown on a FTB board. DRDO has developed expertise in the field of testing and certification for various components sub-systems and systems as well as complete airborne platforms. Thus, Initial Operational Clearance of LCA and Advanced Light Helicopter Mk.3 were major activities in this area.

Advanced Active-cum-Passive integrated sonar system HUMSA NG was designed, developed and installed on various ships of Indian Navy. Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV) capable of navigation was demonstrated at sea. A carbon dioxide curtailment System for submarines was designed and developed. The system has been accepted by the user. SANJEEVANI Mk.2, a device designed and developed to locate victims trapped under the debris was handed over to National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and Kerala Govt. Fire Services.

An advanced facility was created to undertake full scale processing of large rocket motors. The facility was commissioned and the casting of various motors commenced. Development of PINAKA – multi barrel rocket launcher system was achieved with the successful transfer of technology to production agencies, two regiments of PINAKA (worth Rs 1300 crores) have been raised by Army which is likely to place orders for another two regiments. The transfer of Technology (ToT) for multimode grenade was completed, for which Army has placed an order for 10 lakh grenades. Under Barrel Grenade Launcher (UBGL) for INSAS and AK-47 rifle was introduced into service with order for 10,000 Launchers. The state-of-the-art microcontroller based system Instant Fire Detection & Suppression System (IFDSS) BMP-2/2K developed for providing protection against fire to the troops & engine compartment, was accepted by the Army. Production order worth Rs. 168 crores has been received.

MBT Arjun Mk.1 was successfully inducted in the Army and two regiments of Arjun Main Battle Tank have been raised. A Carrier Command Post Tracked (CCPT) vehicle was accepted by the Army for induction. A modified Armoured Amphibious Dozer (AAD) completed its user trials. User trials of remotely operated vehicle (ROV DAKSH) were successfully carried out and LSP order for 20 numbers is being executed. Design of Snow Gallery for protection of personnel and equipment from avalanches and design of Instrumented Composite Tower for studies on avalanches were completed.

In the field of electronics and electro-optics, many systems were inducted/accepted by the services. 3D medium range surveillance radar - ROHINI and its naval variant REVATHI were inducted. 3D low-level light weight radar - Aslesha (for IAF) as well as Bharani (for Army) was accepted by the user. The engineered version of upgraded Weapon Locating Radar (WLR – Swathi) developed by DRDO was realized by the production agency. The electronic warfare system SAMYUKTA (naval variant) and SUJAV were inducted. Orders have been received for the Combat Net Radio (CNR) with anti-jamming features. A holographic sight for rifles/carbines was developed for aiming in closed quarter battle role and was accepted by the users.

Even with the most advanced weapon systems, the man behind machine is the most crucial factor in winning the war. The Life Sciences laboratories of DRDO continued to develop technology to maximize the operational efficiency of our soldiers and provide them with adequate support and protection. Some of the major achievements are highlighted. Three mobile laboratories for nuclear, biological and chemical defence were handed over to the user and rigorous training was imparted to them. An upgraded first-aid kit for protection against chemical and biological agents as well as the nuclear radiation were accepted by the services. Technology for producing DRDO developed kits for detection of swine flu was transferred to the production agency. The Combat Free Fall (CFF) protection system to meet the requirements of high altitude paratrooper’s mission requirements was designed developed and is under limited series production. A Submarine Escape Set (SES) for escape from an abandoned submarine from depths of 100m was designed and developed. Navy has projected a requirement of over 400 suits. Greenhouses were established at power plant locations such as Siachen Base camp, Chushul, Battalik etc and an average of 1400 kg vegetables of high nutritive values were produced in each greenhouse by standardizing the practices and procedures. About 5000 MT of vegetables are locally grown for meeting Army’s requirements A Computerized Pilot Selection System (CPSS) was designed, developed and accepted by the Air Force. Series production of systems for deployment at all the Air Force Selection Boards of the IAF is underway. Yoga Training Modules have been developed for toning up cardio-respiratory, respiratory, endocrine and nervous systems to maintain optimum physical fitness and mental health of troops deployed at high altitude extreme climates. Yoga training was provided to over 2000 personnel who were to be deployed at Siachen Glacier. MoU has been signed with Indian Railways for joint development of Biotoilets to be installed in rail coaches. Biotoilets have been installed in Lakshadweep Islands and NE region of India for safe disposal of human waste and MoUs signed with Indian Railways & Min. of Urban Development for installation in rail coaches & homes. MoU with Ministry of Urban Development is under process for joint development of biotoilets and their installation under mass civilian program.

Advanced materials have been always at the core of weapon systems and military hardware. Significant milestones were achieved in this critical area. A low-alloy steel “DMR-1700” with ultrahigh strength and high fracture toughness was developed as a cost effective replacement of 250 grade maraging steel. The alloy was successfully proven by successful demonstration in the intended application. A 500 ton per annum capacity titanium sponge plant based on DRDO technology was set up at Kerala Minerals and Metals Limited (KMML). The Plant was inaugurated by the Defence Minister on 27 Feb 2011. Light-weight composite armour for Mi-17-IV helicopter of IAF has successfully undergone integration and flight-trials. Technology developed for vacuum investment casting of gas turbine blades for Kaveri engine was extended for making high pressure turbine blades for land-based gas turbine for power generation. The runways at strategic locations often require rapid repairs. Many of these locations are in extreme
cold regions where the normal concrete does not set in easily. Technology for rapid repair of runways in cold regions was developed and successfully demonstrated at sub zero temperature.

A dedicated team of DRDO engineers executed highly specialized nature of Civil works at some of the most difficult and hazardous area within the stipulated time frame. Agreements for co-operation / co-development in frontline areas of science, technology and engineering were signed with several countries.


1. Silicon Trophy 2010:
Research Centre Imarat (Programme AD), Hyderabad in recognition of the outstanding achievements of the laboratory in developing a Ballistic Missile Defence System.

2. Titanium Trophy 2010: DL, Jodhpur in recognition of its contribution in the area of camouflage and low observable technologies for the Armed Forces and critical defence equipment.

3. Life Time Achievement award for 2010 has been conferred on Air Cmde R Gopalaswami (Retd), Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL) Hyderabad for the development of liquid rocket engines for missiles and multi-fold array of technology and management initiatives.

4. Technology Leadership Awards for:

Dr. V Bhujanga Rao, Distinguished Scientist & Director, Naval Science and Technology Laboratory (NSTL), Vishakhapatnam for outstanding contributions in the design, development and induction of indigenous underwater weapons, naval stealth products, underwater mines, fire control systems and autonomous underwater vehicles.

S Sundaresh, Distinguished Scientist and Chief Controller Research & Development. Shri S Sundaresh pioneered the development of complex, multi-disciplinary, technology intensive Integrated Fire Control System (IFCS) for the MBT Arjun through successful system integration, weapon system trials and user acceptance.

Dr G Malakondaiah, Distinguished Scientist and Director, Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL), Hyderabad. Dr. G Malakondaiah has made valuable contributions in the development of speciality low-alloy steel DMR-1700 as a cost-effective replacement of maraging steels. AB class naval steels were indigenized under the leadership of Dr G Malakondaiah and are being used in the construction of the very first indigenously built aircraft carrier at the Cochin Shipyard.

Full Text of DRDO statement

More On The Indo-Israeli LR-SAM / Barak-8

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

PHOTOS: IIC Delhi Exhibits Indian UN Peacekeepers

UN Photos

Sent on my BlackBerry® from Vodafone

Indian Forces Offered 'Used But New' Saab-2000s

The handsome Saab 2000 high speed turboprop, which gathered fair attention at the Aero India show in February, will be pitched by its Swedish maker in three prospective Indian military competitions: a bid for six medium range maritime reconnaisance (MRMR) aircraft for the Indian Navy (along with the Saab Bofors Dynamics RBS-15 Mk.3 anti-ship missile), an unspecified number of tactical transport aircraft for the Indian Air Force (I've got a copy of presentation Saab made to the IAF here - PDF), and six maritime multimission aircraft for the Indian Coast Guard (expected to be retendered after a recent cancellation). Saab has made preliminary presentations to the Indian Air Force and Navy on the capabilities of its offerings, and is awaiting the Coast Guard's requirements.

But the Saabs on offer won't be brand new aircraft. Not literally at least. Here's the thing. Production of the Saab 2000 ended in 1999; only 64 of the aircraft were built, with just over 50 aircraft still in active service today. So what aircraft is Saab offering to India? Well, used aircraft, bought back from existing operators, then refurbished and made new. I met Saab's Tommy Hultin in Delhi recently -- he's the man who scouts business for potential military variants of the discontinued Saab 2000. He said, "The Saab 2000 MPA will be re-manufactured from the existing Saab 2000 fleet (total structural refurbishment, extensive corrosion protection, electrical and systems upgrade and modification). Conclusion, the airframe set to zero hours together with the inclusive systems and a minimum of 35,000 flying hours are offered together with a guaranteed OEM support of a minimum of 25 years."

That sounds about right, but I'm just wondering if the Indian establishment -- which typically regards such things quite literally -- would ever look at these aircraft as anything other than refurbished used airplanes. Maybe they wouldn't, but I'm not too sure. The navy operates the very old ex-USS Trenton and will be getting what is essentially a refurbished vintage aircraft carrier in the INS Vikramaditya from Russia, but I'm not sure how they feel about airplanes.

Saab's Tommy Hultin also said, "Saab is always looking into new opportunities, re-start of the Saab 2000 production is being studied and evaluated." I'm wondering if Saab is suggesting that it could think of resurrecting the Saab 2000 production line here in India.

In its presentation to the Indian Navy, Saab indicates that growth potential on the Saab 2000 MPA includes "over-land border surveillance, anti-terrorism, pipeline protection, homeland security and major event security." Performance specs on the platform also exceed the Indian Navy's RFI requirements quite substantially. For instance, the aircraft's stated max endurance of 9.5 hours or more is roughly double the Indian Navy says it requires.

In the Indian Navy competition -- an RfP is expected at the end of June -- the Saab 2000 MPA will likely go up against a de-rated version of the Boeing P-8I, Dassault's Falcon 900 MPA, the Alenia Aeronautica ATR-72 MP and the EADS CASA CN-235 MPA. The navy's RFI puts down anti-ship capability as a requirement, but doesn't mention anti-submarine capability, which could, however, find mention in the RfP.

The other military-specific versions of the Saab 2000 are the Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C and the Saab 2000 AIRTRACER, an ELINT/COMINT surveillance aicraft.

The five Saab Erieye AEW&C aircraft sold to Pakistan are among the only militarised ("special mission") Saab 2000s. Saab put the Erieye radar on platforms bought back from an airline. Hultin says, "Most special mission aircraft based on the Saab 2000 platform are remanufactured in a similar way, always based on customer requirements."

No country in the world currently operates the Saab 2000 maritime patrol version, making India a potential launch customer.