Saturday, October 29, 2011

To Andaman With The Indian Navy

Will be spending the next few days in the Indian Ocean shooting a special report on the navy for Headlines Today. Getting on board with them from Port Blair (Andaman & Nicobar Islands) tomorrow. Amphibious assault, disaster relief ops, coastal surveillance, island protection, the works. Stay tuned for photos, videos and updates. Here's the stuff I pulled during a similar shoot last year in the Bay of Bengal :D.

Photo / Shiv Aroor - April 2005 during visit to Car Nic post-tsunami

Thursday, October 27, 2011

IAF MiG-29 Crash Site Located, Pilot's Status Unknown

IAF STATEMENT: Yesterday, on 25 Oct 2011, the Task Force Commander Gp Capt PK Sharma, coordinating the search for the missing MiG-29 aircraft and pilot, confirmed locating crash site at 15000’ AMSL above ‘Chokhang’ village in ‘Lahaul’ area. He informed that several components of the aircraft have been recovered after digging under the snow and rubble. These are being brought down to base camp for proper identification.

Earlier the crash site was located by aerial search and imageries received from the Remotely Piloted Aircraft and other aircraft which conducted the photo reconnaissance of the area. Though the inputs were correct, however, since the crashed aircraft had disintegrated into small pieces and the debris was spread across the slopes on either side of the ridge it could not be conclusively identified. Subsequently, sarpanch of ‘Thirot’ village had brought back some components with help of locals, identified to be of MiG-29, from the same area. However, the crash site could still not be confirmed as the area came under fresh snow fall. Also, soot and burn marks along the slopes as seen in our recce imagery as well as by villagers also disappeared under the snow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Full Update On Search For IAF MiG-29 & Pilot

IAF Statement: A massive search operation has been launched by the IAF to search for the missing Mig-29 aircraft and its pilot Sqn Ldr DS Tomar that crashed on the night of 18 Oct 11 in the mountainous area of Lahaul Spiti in Himachal Pradesh. Till date 132 sorties have been flown towards search and rescue (SAR) operations. Considering the remote, high altitude treacherous snow clad mountainous region at elevations extending from 15000 ft to 20000 ft above mean sea level and the fact that no radio call was received from the pilot of the missing aircraft has made the search effort very demanding. All available data including that from other aircraft flying in the area, inputs from the formation leader, data on his aircraft as well as reports from civil police received through villagers in the area were collated to ascertain the probable crash site.

REPORT: Russia Loses Indian Attack Chopper Deal

Russia's RIA Novosti news service reports today that the Russian Mi-28N Night Hunter has lost out in the Indian Air Force's competition to acquire 22 attack helicopters. The Mi-28N competes against the American Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow Block-III (photo). The news service quotes an Indian MoD official as saying, "We decided not to choose the Mi-28 for technical reasons. Our experts believe that the Mi-28N did not meet the requirements of the tender on 20 positions, while the Apache showed better performance."

It has been unofficially known for a while now that the Indian Air Force placed the Boeing rotorcraft above the Mi-28N in its staff evaluation report submitted to the Indian Ministry of Defence. IAF sources said the the trial team marked the Apache consistently over the Russian contender in trials that were held mid-2010 at a desert air base in Western India and the world's highest airfield, Leh, in the Himalayas.

Photo / Mad House Photography

India Launches 2nd Home-built P28 Anti-Sub Corvette

Press Release (By PRO Kolkata / Gp Capt Tarun Singha): The Indian Navy's modernization quest under Project-28, to stealthily hunt and destroy lurking enemy submarines, was further bolstered today with the launch of the second indigenous anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette Kadmatt - named after an island in the Lakshwadeep archipelago of India -- built by Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), at Kolkata.

Conforming to the centuries-old maritime tradition of ship launches by a lady, Mamatha M, launched Kadmatt from the GRSE main yard in the presence of her husband, Minister of State for Defence M.M. Pallam Raju, Controller of Warship Production and Acquisition (CWP&A) of the Indian Navy Vice Admiral N.N. Kumar and GRSE Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Rear Admiral K.C. Sekhar.

2nd Indian P28 ASW Corvette To Be Launched Today

India's second indigenous Project 28 anti-submarine warfare corvette will be launched today by the Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) in Kolkata. The ship is to be commissioned next year.

Monday, October 24, 2011

*Flash* MMRCA Bids To Be Opened On November 4

Finally, we have a date! Headlines Today (the station I work for) reports that the final commercial bids in India's $12-billion Indian medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition are to be opened on Friday, November 4. The two finalists, Dassault and Eurofighter, were contacted this week seeking their presence at the Ministry of Defence on November 4 for the authentication and opening of commercial bids. According to procedure, the contents of both bids will be read out to all present and then signed by all members of the Contract Negotiation Committee.

MiG-29 Pilot Missing For A Week

The search operation is still very much on, though incessant snowfall is making things extremely difficult. Seach parties on the ground are now having to dig through snow to find pieces of the IAF MiG-29's wreckage. Tomorrow, it will be a week since the IAF MiG-29, piloted by Squadron Leader Dharmendra Singh Tomar, crashed in mountainous terrain. The IAF says it is not giving up. Three days ago, it founds bits of wreckage and has managed to identify the general area of the crash, though debris is spread over a fair area. It is unclear if Tomar ejected or didn't.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Indo-Oman Air Exercise Eastern Bridge-II Concludes

The photo shows a formation of an IAF MiG-29 and a mix of IAF and Royal Oman Air Force Jaguars at the close of Exercise Eastern Bridge II. The four day joint exercise between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) concluded on October 21 at Air Force Station Jamnagar (Gujarat).

The exercise was the second in the series, the first held in Oct 2009 at RAFO base Thumrait, Oman, where six IAF Jaguars had operated alongside RAFO Jaguars and F-16s. It is for the first time that RAFO Jaguars have participated in a joint exercise in India. The RAFO contingent comprised six Jaguars and 115 personnel while the IAF's fielded Jaguars and MiG-29s based at Jamnagar. RAFO Jaguars had ferried in directly from Thumrait and landed at Jamnagar.

Friday, October 21, 2011

FIRST PHOTOS: Indo-French Exercise Shakti

PRESS RELEASE: Indo-French joint military training exercise SHAKTI 2011 at Chaubatia from October 9-2 was held under the Indian Army's Garud Division. The French Army had four officers and 50 troops of the 13 Mountain Infantry Battalion while an equal number of Indian officers and troops participating from 2 Bihar under the aegis of the 99 Mountain Brigade.

Exercise Shakti–11 the first ever Indo-French exercise between the two nations which aimed not only at training troops in counter-terrorist operations but also in enhancing defence cooperation and military relations between the two nations. It has provided an ideal platform for the personnel of the two countries to share their experiences on counter terrorist operations; especially in mountainous terrain. The exercise was conducted in the areas adjoining the salubrious town of Ranikhet which provided an excellent opportunity for the contingents of the two countries to practice and rehearse drills and procedures related to operations in this rugged terrain.

IAF MiG-29 Pilot Still Missing

This is Squadron Leader Dharmendra Singh Tomar, who remains officially missing, over 48 hours after the MiG-29 he was flying crashed in the Chokhang mountains of the Lahaul and Spiti valley on Tuesday night. Late yesterday it was revealed that search teams had managed to find parts of the wreckage in the Chokhang area. Snow continues to hamper search operations, which continue today for the third day. (I would like to thank Sqn Ldr Tomar's friends who I've been in touch with, some of whom have been kind enough to share information and photographs of him with me. We continue to pray.)

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

24-Hrs After IAF MiG-29 Crashes, Search Still On For Pilot & Wreckage

24 hours after an Indian Air Force MiG-29 fighter crashed in a mountainous part of India's north, a comprehensive search operation continues for the wreckage. The fate of the pilot, Squadron Leader D.S. Tomar, remains unknown. On Tuesday evening, two MiG-29s from the IAF's Adampur air force base took off Tuesday night for a night combat training sortie over the Lahaul-Spiti valley, an area marked by lofty snowbound peaks and deep, remote valleys. According to local media reports, one of the MiG-29s crashed into a mountainside during a turn, throwing up the possibility of controlled flight into terrain. An investigation has been ordered, but will only be able to get started once the wreckage of the aircraft is found. The IAF has committed two Su-30MKIs, two Antonov-32s, a Dornier Do-228 and two helicopters to scout for the wreckage in an area that, by all accounts, has some of the most treacherous terrain. As of now, the pilot is officially designated missing. Pray.

(Sqn Ldr Tomar flew a MiG-29 as part of a five aircraft arrowhead formation at India's Republic Day flypast in 2010.)

Photo / Indian Air Force

Paramilitary ALH Dhruv Crashes, Three Killed

A HAL Dhruv helicopter crashed today, killing its three-man crew from India's paramilitary Border Security Force (BSF). This was the fifth crash of the indigenous helicopter (not counting hard landings) -- the last, in which four Indian Army personnel perished, was in April in India's North-East. A court of inquiry has been ordered into the incident. R.I.P. pilots Thomas, S.P. Singh and technician Manoj Soin.

Photo / Rahul Devnath

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

MMRCA Commercial Bids Open Any Time Now

The two final commercial bids in the $12-billion Indian medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition will be opened any day now by an MoD Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC). A designated representative(s) from both finalists -- Dassault and Eurofighter -- will be invited to the Ministry of Defence, where they will be asked to physically authenticate their bid envelope before it is opened. According to procedure, the contents of both bids will be read out to all present and then signed by all members of the CNC. Any day now.

Importantly, the four commercial bids of the contenders, that were eliminated in late April, are still with the MoD. They haven't been returned yet. These will presumably be returned to the eliminated vendors on the day that the two finalists' bids are opened. Or will they.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Week Before Final Indian Fighter Draw, Gripen Makes 2nd Price Pitch

I'm willing to be corrected on this, and I don't know if anyone's noticed, but Gripen is the only aircraft from among the four jets that were eliminated in the MMRCA competition, that still advertises and makes a public pitch. In August, three months after Saab was among four vendors knocked out of the race, it placed an advertisement in magazines talking about cost -- a direct snipe at the high reputed price of the two aircraft the Indian government had selected for the final toss-up -- the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale. And now, just about a week before the MoD opens commercial bids, Gripen had the advertisement you see above, in magazines (I saw this one in Vayu).

This second post-elimination ad hinges on similar themes -- high technology, but not at unwieldy cost. "Leaders must also take responsibility. There can not be too heavy a price for leadership. The Gripen IN's low life cycle cost makes it a responsible leader through its lifetime."

Friday, October 14, 2011

PHOTOS: The C-130J Super Hercules At Hindon

My deep thanks to the very talented Rahul Devnath for these photos of the C-130J Super Hercules at Hindon.

Photos / Rahul Devnath

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Why Did HAL's Veteran Chief Test Pilot Kill Himself?

A question troubling Squadron Leader (Retd) Baldev Singh's many friends in the flying fraternity and air force. There is no information so far on a suicide note. Investigations are currently on, and it's too early to speculate on what happened: was it work pressure (Singh was recently elevated to the position of a Director at HAL), was it something personal. I've interacted with Sqn Ldr Singh on a few occasions since 2004, but I cannot say that I knew him well. I did speak to six people who either knew him well or worked closely with him, and all describe him as a soft-spoken, sober, self-effacing gentleman. This wire service report has several details about what happened today.

My condolences to the family he leaves behind: his wife, Vibhu, and sons Mohit and Nimit, both based abroad. And I will post, as and when I get more information on this deeply tragic turn of events. R.I.P

HAL Chief Test Pilot Commits Suicide

Shocking news. HAL's chief test pilot (fixed wing) and recently made Director (Corporate Planning & Marketing) Squadron Leader (Retd) Baldev Singh was found dead this morning. Possible suicide. He was apparently on holiday in Karnataka's Nandi Hills, where his body was found. More details shortly. R.I.P.

An official profile released recently: Sqn Ldr Singh took over as Director (Corporate Planning & Marketing) at HAL in August. Before that, he was Executive Director Flight Operations and the Chief Test Pilot (Fixed Wing) at HAL's Bangalore Complex.

Singh was involved with the LCA Programme from 1990 onwards and was deputed to the Aeronautical Development Agency for this purpose. On the LCA programme he worked extensively on the development and flight testing of the flight control laws of the Light Combat aircraft. He carried out the flight evaluation of these flight control laws at the Real Time simulator at BAE Wharton in UK followed by the flight evaluation of these control laws on the F-16, Lear Jet and NT-33 aircraft in the US.

Singh had extensive test flying experience on five prototype programmes and carried out the first flights of the HANSA aircraft and the Intermediate Jet Trainer. He has a Total Flight Test Experience of over 6000 hrs on over 55 different types of aircraft. He is a Qualified Flying Instructor and holds a diploma in Aviation Flight Safety from the Naval Post Graduate College, Monterey Bay, California, USA.

He joined the National Defence Academy in 1970 and graduated from the academy in December 1972 and was commissioned into the Indian Air Force in June 1973 as a fighter pilot.

After doing operational flying on Hunter, MiG-21 and MiG-23 aircraft, he qualified as a Flight Instructor in July 1983, and was posted to Air Force Academy at Hyderabad for Instructional Flying Duties on the Kiran Aircraft. In 1984 he did his experimental test pilots course and was deputed to HAL in 1986. He retired from the Indian Air Force in 1989 and joined HAL.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Loyalties Switch, Livefist Readers Now Favour Eurofighter For MMRCA!

In yet another poll (left) I posted here a couple days ago, it turns out that the Eurofighter Typhoon is the favoured contender to Livefist's readers, scoring nearly double the number of votes as the Rafale. Weird, because in a similar poll I conducted about five months ago -- shortly after the big downselect -- the Rafale came out on top (see poll on right). Tells you a lot about these polls. :P