Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Gripen Beats Rafale & Typhoon For Swiss Deal

Big news. A Swiss newspaper Tagesanzeiger has reported that Switzerland has chosen the Saab Gripen as its next fighter, beating the Dassault Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon in a three-year battle to replace its Northrop F-5s -- one of the most keenly anticipated decisions in recent European aerospace contracting. As is thunderingly obvious, the Gripen has won out over the two fighters currently in contention for India's huge M-MRCA contract. The Gripen was eliminated from the Indian competition in April this year. The Switzerland win is a crucial victory for Saab, and Switzerland will be the sixth air force in the world to operate the Gripen after Sweden, Czech Republic, South Africa, Hungary and Thailand (the UK Empire Test Pilot School also operates the Gripen).

Reports suggest that the Gripen was chosen because it was identified as the most cost-effective choice given Switzerland's severe budget constraints. Gripen's win is only another "no" to Dassault's Rafale, which some reports suggest was adjudged the best performer in field evaluations; the Typhoon competed only towards the end.

Official word from Saab: "The Swiss type-selection confirms that Saab is a market-leader in the defence and security industry and that Gripen is a world-class fighter system that provides the best value for money”, says Håkan Buskhe, President and CEO Saab.

Photo: Shiv Aroor in a Gripen-D / by Stefan Kalm (Saab)

Can Kill J-20 & T-50, Says Eurofighter

Found this interesting piece in the latest edition of Eurofighter World as part of the Typhoon programme's pitch to the Middle East and Far East. The author sweetly praises the F-22 Raptor, before bringing it down. :)

Copyright & Courtesy Eurofighter World

US F-35 Offer Comes Up In Indian Parliament

"The US has not offered India a partnership in the development of the world’s most advanced fighter plane, F-35 joint strike fighter," Indian Defence Minister A.K. Antony told Parliament today. Enigmatic? Not really.

Photo / Lockheed-Martin

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Troubles Slow Tejas Again

The photo above, taken at the National Aerospace Laboratory's wind-tunnel, shows testing this year of a Tejas model with various stores configurations. With LCA Tejas final operational clearance slipping to 2014, and the programme still struggling to meet performance specs for the second phase of initial operational clearance (IOC-2), the aircraft project has dipped into another difficult phase. According to sources, several requirements (that were watered down during IOC-1 in January), are still to be met. The parameters include wake penetration certification, all weather clearance (ironically, tests were stalled because of the monsoon earlier this year) and lightning clearance. Earlier this month, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne said again that final operational clearance was delayed by a full year -- moving down to 2014. Meanwhile, the first prototype of the LCA-Navy is preparing for a first flight -- hopefully before New Year.

Photo / NAL

Indian Forces Set For Big, Mean Wargame

One of India's largest military wargames, Exercise Sudarshan Shakti, begins. Tanks and fighter aircraft will manoeuvres over India's desert sector near the Pakistan border. Approximately 50,000 troops along with T-90, T-72, Arjun tanks and BMPs will carry out simulated assaults on their objectives with artillery and IAF providing the support. According to an Army statement today, "This exercise will be a trendsetter for the Integrated Theatre Concept. The transformation of the force is at making the Army a more agile, versatile, lethal and networked force. In this exercise, we will be trying out new structures, strategies, and test beds of an integrated, seamless air-land battle."

Photos / DPR Defence & Indian Army

Saturday, November 26, 2011

[UPDATED] Magazine Plagiarises Livefist Content & More

As Livefist readers, it is important that I share the following with you. An Indian defence and strategic affairs magazine Geopolitics has plagiarised a Livefist post from September this year, verbatim, word-for-word and without credit. The short piece appearing on p.26 of the November edition [PDF] of the magazine is a straight reproduction of a September 27 post following a meeting I had with Rolls-Royce executives in Delhi. The photograph printed by the magazine with the snippet is also mine, though the magazine has correctly provided me with a credit. This, I should perhaps point out, is because I complained to the magazine's editor last month regarding the use of at least two my original photos in the earlier edition without a credit (use of my photos is permitted without prior permission, but always requires a credit). For instance, in the October 2011 issue of Geopolitics, p.62 has a photo of a special forces commando that I had taken at Aero India 2009 (coverage on Headlines Today) and posted here on Livefist at the time. After the magazine's editor apologized for the oversight on mail and assured me this would not happen again, I now see my written content being lifted by the magazine.

Failing to reach Geopolitics editor Prakash Nanda (Twitter handle @prakashnanda) on his cellphone today (he is apparently in Paris), I spoke to Geopolitics managing editor Tirthankar Ghosh over the phone at his office. He apologized over the phone and assured me that action would be taken. He was gracious and polite, and I thanked him for saying he would look into the matter. After speaking to him, as a matter of record, I sent an e-mail with my complaint to Geopolitics editor Prakash Nanda, and copied to Mr Ghosh. Here's what followed:

In response to my e-mail today, Geopolitics editor Prakash Nanda responded: "I think it is a small news item; we collect content for these items from many sources. Was the content exclusive to you? Anyway, since they have given credit to you for the photo, you should not be that sensitive."

Assuring Prakash Nanda that the post was exclusive to me, I responded: "Mr Nanda, Intellectual property is a serious issue. It would be appropriate if you did not advise me on being "sensitive", considering that your magazine has lifted my written work verbatim without a credit (a highly serious offence if this was done in the US or UK). And by giving me a photo credit in the current issue, please note that your publication has done me no favour -- you have only done what is correct and just, and pointed out by me in my previous complaint to you on use of my photos without credit. With due respect to your long years in journalism, I find it surprising that you would consider the provision of credit such a light matter."

Mr Nanda then wrote back, "A small news snippet does not deserve the reactions of the intensity from your side. It was a news item. I am hereby asking my colleagues not to look at your blog (I do not)."

About my photographs that his magazine used without credit, Mr Nanda added, "I was told by my staff that they did not take the photo (about which you had mentioned in your first mail to me) from your blog; it was readily available in many places and none of them mentioned that it was yours. In fact, they did not know that you had a blog."

This is patently false. The Geopolitics twitter account follows the official Livefist twitter account (I have saved screen grabs of this, in case they unfollow me). More significantly, the magazine's Editor-in-Chief K. Srinivasan also follows Livefist on Twitter. Therefore to say that his staff "did not know" that I had a blog is obviously an exaggeration.

My final response to Mr Nanda: "The least I would expect from a professional organisation such as yours is a brief credit in your next edition, mentioning that the HAL LUH piece was written by me, and was taken from my blog. That is only fair. Obviously, if you choose not to, that is upto you. It is of no concern to me whether your colleagues or you look at my blog. How is that the point? The fact is my work has been plagiarised and used without credit or attribution, and that is my ONLY concern."

This is where the e-mail exchange ends. I felt it was important for me to share this with readers of Livefist. I should say here that I was perfectly willing to let this go with a simple apology and corrigendum credit in the magazine's next edition. But given the brazenness with which the editor of Geopolitics has justified his magazine's plagiarism of my work, I may be considering other options. Will keep you all posted.


Well, it turns out that Geopolitics doesn't lift stuff only from humble little blogs like Livefist. Thanks to Jay in the comments section of this post, we now have an instance of the magazine (same issue, Nov 2011) lifting a full article -- word-for-word, verbatim again -- from Times of India, India's largest English-language newspaper. Page 53 of the edition has a piece called 'NSG Commandos Go Hi-Tech', copied word-for-word from this piece in Times of India by journalist Dipak Kumar Dash, titled 'New-look NSG Commandos Go Hi-Tech'. They've even lifted the headline!

And since this dispute needs to be above board, here goes my mail to Geopolitics editor Prakash Nanda, in light of this fresh revelation:

My email: "Mr Nanda, It appears the Nov 2011 edition of Geopolitics has also plagiarised word-for-word an article from the Times of India! In the November 2011 issue, on page 53, the story "NSG Commandos Go Hi-Tech" is once again a direct verbatim lift of this article by TOI correspondent Dipak Kumar Dash. Surely you cannot claim that TOI content is simply floating around on the net, or that your staff/you do not read the Times of India. I have posted on my blog on your magazine's act of plagiarism, as also the responses you have sent me by e-mail, since you do not appear willing to (a) show any willingness to correct a grave oversight, and (b) acknowledge that something very wrong has been done by your magazine/staff."

UPDATE: Mr Nanda responded, saying, "I appreciate you read Geopolitics so carefully. That means my magazine is doing the rounds. Could you please tell me the site of your blog; I have never bothered to look at it. I would see how authentic and original it is. Then i will reply to you."

Again, my final response: "Mr Nanda: Actually, the acts of plagiarism on your magazine's part were pointed out to me by readers of my blog (since I do not subscribe to your publication). I have provided you with links to my blog ( in my past e-mails as well. Your magazine's twitter account follows mine, so clearly your staff keep a track of my work (contrary to your assertions). And I am honoured that you think that my having investigated your journal for more instances of plagiarism/theft means your magazine is "doing the rounds". For an otherwise decent journal, you really must set the bar a little higher than that. Feel free to look at my blog (or not) as you choose. But remember that your journal has stolen my work."

I wish I could say "I'm gonna speak to my lawyer", except that I don't have one :) So I'm going to get one and see what my legal options are. Will keep you posted. If any of you have any constructive ideas of how you think I should proceed on this dispute, feel free to let me know. Write to

It is important to point out here that Geopolitics sends out unsolicited complimentary copies of its magazine to several media houses, including to mine, though we are not subscribers. Though I have noticed the magazine in my office newsroom -- along with the several other magazines that usually come in every week -- my only interface with its contents has been through its online edition, linked here severally in this post.

Plagiarised Clippings from Geopolitics Nov 2011

Config Studies Of India's 5th Gen AMCA Commence

Computational fluid dynamics-based aerodynamic configuration studies of India's fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft began recently -- this grab is from one of the routines at the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) in Bangalore where the studies are being carried out.

See also:
New model of AMCA unveiled
The Stealth in India's AMCA
Evolutionary technologies in India's AMCA

Photo / NAL

3rd Anniversary Of 26/11 Terror Attack On Mumbai

Photo / Shiv Aroor, November 26, 2008 (Outside the Oberoi Trident, Mumbai)

Friday, November 25, 2011

First Flight Of India's AEW Aircraft Next Month

Early next month, India's own AEW&C platform makes its debut flight. The first of three modified EMB-145 platforms will begin a schedule of flights to validate performance and handling. As reported on Livefist earlier, the start-up flight tests will be carried out in Brazil by Embraer and a team from the Indian Air Force's Aircraft & Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) in association with Brazil's Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil and India's CEMILAC.

The first flight test aircraft, scheduled to make its first flight next month (sources say there have been unspecified delays of ), is complete with Dorsal Unit (DoU) containing dummy electronics, ECS, IFR, auxiliary power units, internal fuel tanks, SATCOMs and antennae. India's Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) -- the laboratory spearheading the programme -- supplied Embraer with the dorsal unit (with dummy electronics) and the Ku-band SATCOM dome, while the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), CABS and the Defence Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL) supplied in antennae for ESM, CSM and U/VHF.

While the EMB-145 with the configuration above will undergo flight tests in Brazil, the configuration for ferry to India a few months later will be the aircraft with only the dorsal pylon (minus the actual unit), ECS, IFR, APUs and internal fuel tanks.

Once the first aircraft reaches India sometime next year, it will undergo a rigorous flight testing schedule by CABS, ASTE and CEMILAC in association with Embraer. After a few flights in India, the aircraft will be integrated with a dorsal unit with real electronics and other mission system equipment, including operator workstations (five), avionics racks, rest crew seating, seats and cabling.

On June 23 last year, EADS Defence & Security (now Cassidian) announced that it had been awarded a contract to supply consultancy services to CABS for developing the AEW&C's system architecture with particular regard to certification and mission equipment optimisation.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

PAK FA Moves Ahead, 3rd Prototype Flies

The third prototype of Sukhoi's T-50 joined the Russian 5th generation PAK FA fighter test programme, flying for the first time on Nov 22 for a little more than an hour over Komsomolsk-on-Amur in Eastern Russia. In October this year, the IAF revealed that it intended to order 214 of the aircraft -- 166 single-seaters and 48 twin-seaters and hoped make its first inductions in 2017.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Missile Deal This Week, Mirage Upgrade Starts Next Month

As revealed by the IAF chief last week, two Indian Air Force Mirage 2000s will leave for France next month to begin the long-delayed Mirage upgrade programme that India signed with Dassault, Thales and HAL in July this year. The Indian upgrade team has been in France for a while now training and absorbing the upgrade routine. A deal for MICA air-to-air missile, which remained unsigned when the Mirage upgrade deal was concluded, is also expected to be cleared this week.

Photo / IAF

Friday, November 18, 2011

FIRST PHOTOS: IAF An-32 Lands At Vijaynagar, Arunachal Pradesh

Former Indian Army chief and curren Governor of Arunachal Pradesh, General (Retd) JJ Singh accompanied by IAF Eastern Commander Air Marshal S Varthaman inaugurated the Advance Landing Ground (ALG) at Vijaynagar in India's north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh today. The inaugural flight of An-32 landed at Vijaynagar ALG today putting a remote part of the North-East into the web of air connectivity in India, the IAF said in a statement.

The Indian Air Force operated Douglas C-47 Dakotas and De Havilland DHC-3 Otters from 1962 and the role was transferred to the An-32 in 1984. This ALG was made of perforated steel plate (PSP) sheets. Air maintenance operations had to be discontinued a few years ago as a result of deterioration in the surface. Subsequently extensive repairs were undertaken and the entire runway surface was renovated by the IAF with the help of the PWD Arunachal Pradesh. This ALG will now facilitate routine and regular air maintenance.

Photos / Indian Air Force & DPR Defence

Final Approval For IAF Pilatus Trainers Next Week

"The Indian Finance Ministry has cleared the deal for 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mk II basic trainer aircraft. The deal will be presented to the Cabinet next week for final clearance. Contract signature will follow soon after," said Indian Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne today. Have tried to get a word out of Pilatus, though the company said it could not provide any information until the contract was signed. The deal is worth $565-million (Rs 2,900-crore).

Photo / Pilatus Aircraft

MMRCA Winner Will Emerge Mid-December: IAF Chief

Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, currently in Bangalore for the station commanders conference, spoke to the press a couple of hours ago, where he was (surprise, surprise) asked about the M-MRCA. Here's what he said: "We're calculating very hard. A lot of work is going on. In another four weeks, we should be able to wrap it up. No matter how long it takes, we have to get it right. There are a lot of complicated figures. But mid-December we should have a good sense of who gets selected."

Photo / Samaylive

China Expands Airbase On Coco Island

That arrestingly beautiful piece of land is Greater Coco Island in the Bay of Bengal, a part of India's Andaman & Nicobar Islands union territory. It is one of only a tiny constellation of islands that belongs to Myanmar. Greater Coco has for long been known to be managed by Chinese, with reports over two decades of signal intelligence facilities, maritime bases, a radar facilities (which is, apparently, all but confirmed) and as a general surveillance hub to keep tabs on Indian military activity (which only really began in a big way in 2001 with the setting up of the Andaman & Nicobar Command at Port Blair).

While I was on assignment on the Andaman Islands earlier this month, there was plenty of talk about how the Chinese were expanding Greater Coco island's airstrip into a modern air base. The Google Earth grab above gives you a splendid view of the runway that the Chinese appear to have built (my sources say the base is close to completion).

Indian threat perceptions aside, this airfield has got to afford one of the most scenic landings of any airport I can think of. What a beauty.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Big Bad Blow To Rafale, UAE Threatens To Punch Out

Calling this bad news for Dassault is like saying Luca Brasi is a rough man. The unexpected words of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed on Wednesday -- released through a series of innocent looking tweets, no less -- will have created an exit wound the size of a grapefruit in the psyche of the supremely jinxed French fighter programme. A splendid fighter plane that nobody wants to buy. With this latest, decidedly rough threat by the UAE, there's no telling where things stand for Dassault.

If you haven't been keeping up, France said it was poised to win a $10-billion deal from the UAE for 60 Rafales, a deal it has negotiating for years. On Nov 12, a day ahead of the Dubai Air Show, it became known that the "near-final" deal wasn't actually a deal at all -- and that arch-rivals Eurofighter had been invited to submit details about the Typhoon (for which they'll be in a mad scramble right now, I imagine). And today, boom. A handful of tweets by the Crown Prince brought it down with all the gentleness of a guillotine. Sample this:

"Thanks to President Sarkozy, France could not have done more diplomatically or politically to secure the Rafale deal. Regrettably Dassault seem unaware that all the diplomatic and political will in the world cannot overcome uncompetitive and unworkable commercial terms." (Somehow, "ouch" doesn't quite say it.)

Reuters says its sources pointed to Dassault's "arrogance" as the reason behind frustration both in the French government and in the UAE. Dassault is presumably in too much shock to comment officially just yet, or may be, at the very least making an effort to confirm that this is indeed curtains in the Emirates -- this is of course a bread-and-butter pressure tactic to force the vendor into shaving off a few euros. Either way, as FlightGlobal's Steve Trimble wrote a few days ago, "[S]uch a loss would surely be long remembered in the industry as yet another can't-miss deal that only the French could mess up."

Like I said, it isn't over yet -- far from it. Dassault remains in "contention" -- all of this might just be the UAE's final attempt to get them to bring their final price down. They were going for the same pressure tactics when they invited the Americans in last year, and Eurofighter earlier this week. Will Dassault buckle and give UAE an acceptable price?

Yeah, we're all thinking the same thing: Where does this leave things on the MMRCA?

Photo / Rafale News

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

At 7.30pm on Headlines Today

Missed it on TV? Watch a (low-rez) version here.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

VIDEO: Today's Successful Agni-IV Test

DRDO Statement: India today successfully test fired its most advanced long range missile system, the Agni-IV. The missile was launched from a road mobile launcher at 9AM from Wheelers’ Island off the coast of Odisha. The missile followed its trajectory, attained a height of about 900-km (??) and reached the pre-designated target in international waters of the Bay of Bengal. All mission objectives were fully met. All systems functioned perfectly till the end encountering re-entry temperatures of more than 3000⁰C.

This missile is one of its kind, proving many new technologies for the first time, and represents a quantum leap in terms of missile technology. The missile is lighter in weight and has two stages of solid propulsion and a payload with re-entry heat shield. The composite rocket motor which has been used for the first time performed flawlessly. The missile system is equipped with modern and compact avionics with redundancy to provide a high level of reliability. The indigenous Ring Laser Gyros based high accuracy INS (RINS) and micro-navigation system (MINGS) complementing each other in redundant mode have been successfully flown in guidance mode for the first time. The high performance onboard computer with distributed avionics architecture, high speed reliable communication bus and a full Digital Control System controlled and guided the Agni-IV to the target. The missile has reached the target with very high level of accuracy. Radars and electro-optical systems along the coast of Odisha tracked and monitored all parameters of the missile test. Two Indian Naval ships located near the target witnessed and recorded the final event.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony congratulated the DRDO team on its achievement. Avinash Chander, Distinguished Scientist & Chief Controller (Missiles & Strategic Systems) at DRDO and Programme Director, AGNI addressed his team after the launch, and called today's test the beginning of "a new era in modern Long Range Navigation Systems". He said, “this test has paved the way ahead for the success of AGNI-5 Mission, which will be launched shortly."

Agni-IV Project Director Ms Tessy Thomas and her team prepared and integrated the missile system and launched the Agni-IV successfully today. An ecstatic Ms Thomas said today that the DRDO had produced and proven many new state of the art technologies with the Agni-IV like composite rocket motors, very high accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System, Micro Navigation System, Digital Controller System and very powerful onboard computer system. The Agni-IV can deliver strategic warheads, and will be produced in large numbers for delivery to India's nuclear command.

FIRST PHOTO: Agni-IV Tested Successfully Today

Photo / DRDO

FIRST HAND: ALH Dhruv In Maoist Ambush CASEVAC

On April 19 this year, a unit of paramilitary special ops personnel was ambushed in a forest in Western India by Maoists. The ambush was widely reported at the time. I was sent this detailed official account of the risky casualty evacuation that two retired Army pilots, serving with state-owned operator Pawan Hans, mounted to rescue the personnel grievously injured in that ambush. Along with rare photos taken by CRPF special ops personnel on the ground while the rescue was on. We don't get to hear about things like this often enough, and I'm happy to put it up here. Here it is in full (edited only for clarity):

At approximately 3PM on 19 April 2011, a Pawan-Hans Aircrew -- former Indian Army aviator Lt Col (Retd) SK Tewari and Brig (Retd) IK Kanwar received a phonecall from the Superintendent of Police in Gadchiroli (a hotbed of the Maoist insurgency in the Western state of Maharashtra) informing them that a CRPF paramilitary special ops team had been ambushed by Maoists at Khobramenda in the dense forests of Kurkehda Tehsil, and that the fierce fire fight was still on. He reported that a minimum of six personnel had been critically injured with multiple gunshot wounds in the abdomen.

Immediately, a Dhruv helicopter of the Border Security Force (but operated by Pawan Hans) was scrambled. Pilot Lt Col Tewari asked his aircraft maintenance engineer Ilangoan to prepare the helicopter for immediate launch. While co-pilot Brig Kanwar undertook flight planning, allied clearances, fuel checks and meteorological reports, the pilot in command received an intel briefing in the control room, getting an update on suspected naxal locations, strength and the general ground situation -- crucial for a safe in-out casevac mission in extremely hostile territory.

The crew quickly went through emergency routines in the likely event that the helicopter came under hostile small arms fire. The Dhruv was airborne at 3.30PM with two passengers -- one CRPF HF radio operator and a CRPF doctor. The helicopter entered the hostile zone quickly; both pilots clearly identified the hostile zone/suspected naxal CRPF ambush site on the ground and tried to establish radio/visual contact with the troops, but were unable to locate them. The crew then decided to approach the rendezvous point from a different direction, at low altitude keeping well clear of the hostile zone. At 4.12PM, the HF operator made first radio contact with the ambushed CRPF team who were spotted trying to guide the helicopter towards the temporary landing area (TLA).

After several attempts to identify the TLA yielded no results, Lt Col Tewari further reduced speed and approached the area from the north, and made first visual contact with the CRPF team, who were waving a black cloth. Brig Kanwar also positively identified the CRPF troops. Both men quickly discussed the TLA specifications, its security and approach dynamics. The crew quickly made a tight shorter approach to the TLA and touched down. Lt Col Tewari decided to keep the engines running and quickly take as many casualties as possible. Only two casualties had reached so the pilot decided to leave the CRPF doctor at the TLA to administer first aid to the remaining casualties. As he gunned the Dhruv's collective for lift-off, he when he noticed hand gestures indicating that one more casualty has made it to the TLA. At about 4.45PM, with three seriously injured troops on board, the Dhruv chopped its way back to Gadchiroli.

At 5.25PM, after disembarking the three casualties, the Dhruv got airborne for the second shuttle to Khobramenda TLA. Another set of three casualties along with the CRPF doctor were airlifted from the encounter site, and ferried to Gadchiroli by 6.35PM, five minutes before sunset. All casualties were immediately rushed to the neighbouring district hospital for emergency medical assistance.

Early next day, the pilots were informed that five out of the six rescued CRPF personnel had survived after emergency surgery to remove multiple rounds from their bodies. Tragically, one man, Head Constable Mahendra Singh, succumbed to his injuries while being ferried to Nagpur.

As a result of Lt Col Sarit K Tewari and his team’s meticulous planning and flawless execution in an extremely dangerous environment, all six casualties were extricated in record time from the encounter site with simultaneous administration of first aid in situ, followed by best available medical assistance at the district hospital during the critical golden hour which eventually resulted in five lives being saved: Constable Ashok Kamble, Arun Markande, Shinde, Rajesh Pathariya and Yogesh Kumar.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Now Dassault Filches Gripen's Line, Declares Rafale's 'Independence'

If the gloves weren't off all along, they are now. Just weeks ahead of a final decision on the MMRCA competition, Dassault, which doesn't usually bother with adaptive advertising, has a slew of brand new print ads that tell you a great deal about what they're seeing as the deciding factor in the Indian government's final decision. First off, it must be said, they've pinched the whole "independence" theme from Saab, which pitched its Gripen as the "independent choice" or "choice of independence" ever since it entered the multi-billion dollar competition (and after it was eliminated).

The advert above, appearing in show dailies at the ongoing Dubai Air Show, makes Dassault's so far implicit view of things, pretty plain. "When a single country makes your aircraft from nose to tail, you know what you're getting into. Rafale is not subject to multinational controls.", the copy begins -- a direct swipe at the Typhoon's four-nation heritage. It's the elegance of the business that EADS Cassidian trumpets this very multi-nation backing as a potential coup de grâce in the final stretch. With the commercial offers of both firms understood to be far less disparate than many expected, both firms clearly believe other considerations will come into play. And let's not miss the fact that both have made it utterly plain with their new adverts and statements that they believe, ultimately, in the political decision.

Five Nations Interested In JF-17, Says Pak

The Chinese-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder, operated by the Pakistan Air Force has a daily flight display routine at the ongoing Dubai Air Show. In the words of one British journalist friend (and he didn't include this line in his dispatch), "the Pakistan government might as well slap a price sticker on them". Another friend at the show dubbed it the "Happy Hours fighter" -- in recognition of Pakistan's insistence that you could get three or more JF-17s for the price of one of any other modern production fighter. But that's just air show levity. The country is deadly serious about exporting the jet, and is working hard to make this happen. Pakistan's air force chief Rao Qamar Suleman heads the marketing effort at DXB11 -- he told journalists yesterday that five Middle East countries had shown interest in the JF-17.

The JF-17 has an undoubtedly impressive flight display at the show, and will be shoring up interest. Makes you wonder why India doesn't send a Tejas abroad. Surely it can take one of the LSPs off trials for a few days for the show -- Dubai isn't far. Bah.

Update @2.49PM: A PAF JF-17 crashed in Attock, Pakistan today, killing its pilot Sqn Ldr Muhammad Hussain. R.I.P. (Screen-grab / Khalid Khan)

JF-17 Not As Advanced As Tejas: Nawaz Sharif

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Near 'Finish', UAE Stings Dassault

The Dassault Rafale, in this photo taken yesterday (by Pervez 183A) ahead of the Dubai Air Show 2011, displays none of the turbulence that has defined the run-up to the show. For the Rafale certainly. Undoubtedly the biggest military news ahead of Day 1 of the show was host nation UAE sending feelers to EADS Cassidian for the Eurofighter Typhoon, a gesture that has stung Dassault something nasty -- the French government has, for months, made it plain that a $10-billion deal for 60 Rafales was expected at any time. It is not clear just yet why the UAE has decided to look at other options. Could it be another Typhoon-Rafale war? Not if the Americans succeed in wedging the F-15 in. Interesting times.

The excellent Bill Sweetman at AviationWeek has this comment to make, in response to a report on the development: "Ploy, or a serious move? The UAE will have to look like they are serious if they want to see a counter-offer that will put real pressure on the French. It seems to me that there's a lot here that rides on India. Whoever wins India (and I will say again that I am not sure if I am more sorry for the winner or the loser, because the contract will be a bear to execute) has a fast track to AESA, multi-role, and globalised production and support. That has to be worth money to customers like UAE, who will otherwise be leading the process."

©Photo / Pervez 183A

Friday, November 11, 2011

India's Rustom-1 UAV Makes 5th Flight

The Indian RUSTOM-1 unmanned air system made its 5th successful flight this morning, flying for 25 minutes at 2300-ft AGL at a speed 100 Knots. The 661-kg RUSTOM-1 flew first in 2010. The UAS can attain a maximum speed of 150-knots, 22,000-feet and endurance of 12-15 hours with an operating range of 250 km when fully developed.

Photos / DRDO

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Indian Army's Most Decorated Unit Turns 125

The Indian Army's 2/5 Gorkha Rifles battalion turns 125 today. Going by the motto Shauryam Evam Nishtha (courage and determination), the unit was raised in Abbottabad, present day Pakistan (yes, the same one). Commentator and columnist Maj Gen (Retd) Ashok K. Mehta, who belongs to the unit, has this column today. Many felicitations to the unit on this very special day.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Indian Army Gets 2nd BrahMos Regiment

The Indian Army received its second regiment of the Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile today, ahead of schedule.

Photo / BrahMos Aerospace

On Geriatric Air Forces

The officer grinning in the photo above, standing in front of an IAF Su-30 is Lt Gen Dave Deptula, a retired USAF veteran whose name has begun to appear frequently in the American press for a comment he made to the Wall Street Journal in September: "We have a geriatric air force." His comment has come to represent the massive challenges the USAF faces with an ageing fleet, coupled with unforeseen delays in inductions of new aircraft, specifically the F-35 Lightning II.

I met Gen Deptula in Kalaikunda, West Bengal in November 2005 at the Cope India exercise; at the time he was Vice Commander of the Pacific Air Forces. While I reported only on the Indo-US exercise for the newspaper I wrote for at the time, I also chatted with the General about how India and the US, while essentially incomparable in terms of most parameters, suffered pretty much the same affliction: both are progressively ageing forces with slow inductions that fail to bridge critical gaps. He seemed to agree. My notes quote him as saying, "We've both got very professional air forces. And they have a lot that they can do together cooperatively. It's important that we understand each other and the technology we use. From the discussions I've had here, both air forces have similar strengths. Our two air forces also face similar challenges, including the entry of new generation aircraft and hardware. But there is always benefit to both if we work together. I have personally never seen a more professionally conducted exercise."

Photo / Shiv Aroor

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

COLUMN | F-35: Should India Really Ride The Lightning?

By Mihir Shah
& Aditya Mandrekar

The recent statement by a United States Department of Defence official, that the US would be willing to discuss a possible sale of the F-35 Lightning II to India, or even consider bringing India into the ambitious programme as a partner, has generated a lot of attention in
the Indian media. While this is not the first time the F-35 has been offered to India, the timing of this fresh pitch is interesting. Coming six months after the two American contenders vying for the lucrative Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) contract -- the F-16 and F/A-18 -- failed to make the Indian Air Force (IAF) shortlist, and just days before the bids by EADS Cassidian and Dassault were opened, many perceive this as an attempt by the US and Lockheed-Martin to work themselves back into the equation. Sections of the Indian news media – both print and electronic – have called for the F-35's consideration in the MMRCA tender itself (and some have called for an outright purchase) resulting in a new round of teeth-gnashing over a topic that has stretched over a decade. All things considered, here's why we don't think the F-35 for India is a very good idea.

To be clear, there is no doubt that the F-35 will meet accuracy and modernity standards required from any new-generation military equipment. But does it provide true bang-for-buck that the Indian Air Force needs? The way we see it, not really.

The Lightning II can barely be called a “medium weight” aircraft – the only aircraft heavier than it in the MMRCA competition was the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Now couple this with the fact that its payload just about matches that of the Tejas, and you start to wonder whether it's such a good fit for the IAF. Next, even if it is advertised as a “multirole” aircraft, its capability on the aerial warfare front is still seriously suspect. At present the best it can do is carry four air-to-air missiles internally, less than half the capability of either the Typhoon or Rafale. It cannot operate without air cover as it does not possess a swing-role capability. Also, its stealth is not all-aspect like the F-22’s, and so it cannot be relied upon to make its way in and out of enemy territory unassisted.

Additionally, the F-35 features a significantly smaller combat radius than either MMRCA finalist when on internal fuel and weapons (which also means a smaller payload due to restrictions on space available). There is no official mention yet about external fuel tanks on the F-35, and the moment you hang weapons on external pylons, you can kiss both range and stealth goodbye. There are doubts, too, about its aerodynamic capabilities. The aircraft features thrust-to-weight ratio and wing loading figures poorer than those of any contemporary fighter. One wonders how well it would perform in the key strike role in the thin air over the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau – the likely setting of any future India-China conflict.

There is also an issue that seems minor at first sight, but could throw a spanner in procurement. The IAF has, over the last two decades, gravitated towards two-man crews for any aircraft that will be involved in strike roles beyond close air support. This was highlighted in the Kargil War when IAF Mirages had to perform precision bombing tasks at high altitude while avoiding air defences, staying within the border and keeping an eye on possible interception. It is the reason why a third of the MMRCA batch is touted to comprise tandem-seaters just as all the new Jaguars have been. The lack of a two-seat F-35 means that not only will the IAF not get what it wants for deep penetration strike roles, but it means that any pilot training will have to be done on expensive simulators only.

Another problem is the complexity of the design itself and the fact that many of its technologies are radically new and untried. The USAF is learning the hard way that the F-22’s radar absorbing skin (which the F-35 also uses) is highly vulnerable to rain and dust, and very expensive and difficult to maintain. Advertised as having the computing power of two Cray supercomputers, it is so complex that it can only fly for an average of 1.7 hours before suffering a critical failure. Even six years after it entered service, new and potentially fatal problems continue to surface with alarming regularity. It isn’t too hard to guess how the F-35, whose design borrows heavily from that of the F-22 and even outclasses it in certain aspects, will fare in this regard.

If that wasn't bad enough, it gets worse once we start talking about timelines and costs. As of today, the F-35 (without development costs included) is priced at the same level as the Eurofighter and the Rafale. But while the latter two are combat proven and available today (in a fashion), the Lightning II won't be for a decade. Going by past experience, further schedule slippages and cost overruns look like a distinct possibility. Now, factor in the additional uncertainty created by the possible need to develop a tandem-seat version for the IAF alone, and one quickly begins to see why any optimism regarding timelines and costs could be highly misplaced. In the midst of all these arguments and calculations, the main reason why new medium fighters are being bought is often forgotten: the IAF needs new aircraft as fast as possible to shore up numbers and make up for the rapid obsolescence of a large portion of its fleet, and each delay only serves to make an already precarious situation worse. It is already taking a significant risk with the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) as it is. What is the point of bringing more uncertainty into the equation now, that too to procure a fighter that offers little in addition to low-observability?

And speaking of low-observability, how much will it cost to maintain the stealth features, especially in the hazy, dusty conditions of India? For that matter, will the IAF even get an aircraft that is as stealthy as the ones the US and UK operate? Will it get all the avionics, even watered down versions? The US is reluctant today to provide the UK, the only level-1 partner in the project, with full access to the aircraft’s source code. What are the chances of India getting a better deal?

Finally, there is one additional issue that bears examination in this debate, and that is how procuring the F-35 will affect the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project. Because of the similar roles the two aircraft shall be expected to fulfil, there is a distinct possibility that purchasing the F-35 will kill the AMCA for good, with disastrous long-term consequences. Detractors may argue that the AMCA is nowhere close to completion, and may be delayed by years just like the Tejas has been. That may well be the case, but if the AMCA does suffer inordinate delays, India can always place a future order for an F-35 with many of its niggles hopefully sorted out. There is little reason to make that call now, when the AMCA is still a design on paper.

Having said all that, one can imagine a few scenarios in which the F-35, even with all its problems, would serve a useful purpose in the IAF. For years, the IAF maintained a handful of high-maintenance MiG-25R Foxbats for a niche profile: reconnaissance of enemy territory, out of reach of interceptors or SAMs. Likewise, the IAF could consider one or two squadrons of the Lightning II, for the simple purpose of “kicking the door down” in the first few days of the war, taking out vital air defence nodes, logistics nodes, or AEW&C and tanker aircraft before handing over the heavy lifting to other aircraft that can announce their presence.

And yet, the reason this may turn out to be a bad idea is that in the same way the MiG-25 was replaced not by another aircraft but an indirect replacement – spy satellites – the F-35's role can be performed not by another aircraft, but by missiles. We already operate the ground-launched BrahMos. The air-launched version should be available within the next few years, giving us a 300-km reach anywhere beyond its launch point. Throw the Shaurya into the mix and suddenly we can hit targets deep inside enemy territory without having to risk aircraft or pilots. Granted, missiles cannot do everything an aircraft can but even if cruise missiles provide partial coverage, the costs in maintaining a squadron’s worth of special aircraft and pilots cannot be justified.

This is not to suggest that the F-35 Lightning II is a turkey, or that the US military is making a humongous blunder in buying it. But in the Indian context, we see little rationale behind spending large sums of money today on something that will only arrive a decade from now at the very best, be a difficult fit in our existing doctrine as well as punch a hole in our finances. If Lightning should strike our enemies, we would rather it not have our tricoloured roundels on it.

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.

ADITYA MANDREKAR is an electrical and avionic systems engineer who currently writes embedded software for an electronics company in the UK.

This column reflects the personal & independent views of the contributing columnists | Photo / Lockheed-Martin