Friday, December 30, 2011

Finally, Indian Navy Gets Russian Nuke Sub: Reports

Russia's ITAR-TASS news agency reports that the K-152 Nerpa Akula-II class nuclear-powered submarine was handed over to the Indian Navy on Saturday at the Bolshoi Kamen shipbuilding facility in the East. The navy, which will call it INS Chakra, will operate the submarine on a ten year lease, and ostensibly use it as a test platform to train crews in operating a nuclear submarine. The ITAR-TASS report says the Nerpa will sail for India in January. It's home base will be Visakhapatnam.

File Photo / Copyright

MMRCA Jet Deal Results Expected In Three Weeks

It is understood that the lowest bidder in India's medium multirole combat aircraft (M-MRCA) competition will be declared in the third week of January 2012. After bids of the two finalist contenders -- Dassault's Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon -- were opened on November 4, it has been hectic work by the committee distilling a winner out of the closely fought final battle, a process that's still very much on.

I'm a little unclear over the issue of validity of the commercial bids, though. It was on April 27 that the Indian MoD made its big down-select, inviting only Dassault and EADS Cassidian to extend the validity of their bids till December 31. The two final bids were finally opened on November 4. But their validity expires tomorrow. Does this mean the MoD needs to get the validity of the bids extended again? Or does it go with the bid value on the day it was opened. MoD sources say validity extension is not an issue at present since the bids were opened, and that provisions are in place for such a situation (in effect, an extension would have been mandatory only if the bids hadn't been opened so far). Either way, if a validity confirmation (or other instrument as applicable) is required from the vendors, today is the last day.

Also spoke to both vendors. While one (won't say which) says they've got the same query, the other was satisfied that it wasn't an issue.

Indian Aircraft Carrier Plods On, Floats

The Hindu reports today that the hull of India's first indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC) was floated out of its dry-dock at an unannounced ceremony. The facility, it appears, was required for urgent commercial work at the shipyard. The actual launch is expected to take place a year from now. Timelines have already slipped significantly in what is by far India's most ambitious shipbuilding effort yet. Previously intended for commissioning in 2013, the INS Vikrant (as it will be christened, after India's first carrier) is likely to enter service only in 2015.


Got back from Mumbai last night. New posts from this evening.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Indian Navy Official Film 2011

This publicity film was released by the Indian Navy as part of the Presidential Fleet Review 2011.

By the way, I'm off to Mumbai to anchor Headlines Today's coverage of the anti-corruption campaign by Anna Hazare. Will be in Mumbai for the next four days with my head buried in this thing, mostly. If I manage to surface occasionally, I'll blog, but it'll be rough. Have a good week!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Vikrant Forlorn, But Hope Near

It was pitiful to see the historic INS Vikrant aircraft carrier at the Naval dockyard in Mumbai. The navy looks after her with diligence and affection (and to the extent that it can), but government apathy and a failure to recognize the aircraft carrier's -- formerly HMS Hercules -- historic importance has resulted in the ship standing listlessly inside Tiger Gate, open to visitors only at limited points of time every year. The navy maintains the museum ship from its funds, but this is clearly an unsustainable proposition (and has been for years -- 14 since the ship was decommissioned). Apparently the navy still needs a corpus of funds to generate enough for basic maintenance of the vessel. But I was told there's been movement: two companies have come forward to undertake a Rs 500-crore public-private effort to refurbish the vessel, convert it into a full-fledged museum and monetize the entire undertaking. The company that wins the bid will apparently partner with the Maharashtra Urban Infrastructure Development Company and Municipal Corporation to begin work, already delayed way beyond reason. A mixture of red tape, apathy, security sensitivities, turf battles, egos and skepticism about public interest in the vessel have resulted in the unforgivable delay in keeping Vikrant alive. Let's hope it happens now.

Photos / Shiv Aroor

Thursday, December 22, 2011

RETROPHOTO: India's Original AEW&C Platform

A rare photograph of one of three specially outfitted Avro HS 748s, the airborne test platforms under India's erstwhile Project Airavat, in flight in the 1990s. The 24-ft diameter rotodome contained a radar developed by DRDO and HAL in the late 1980s under Project Guardian. Airavat (incidentally, now the name of one of the navy's new amphibious assault ships) was suspended indefinitely following a tragic crash in January 1999 during a test-flight, in which all eight crew and scientists on board were killed. It was five years later that the effort was revived, and it is the DRDO AEW&C EMB 145I that we know today.

Photo / DRDO Archives

Indian Defence: An Official Year In Review

IAF Mi-17 in relief operations
As visitors to this blog will know, the Ministry of Defence issues a "year-end review" around this time every year, a sort of re-cap of all the main events in Indian defence, the armed forces, contracting, operations and milestones. Useful read. Here's the first two segments of the one they issued today:


1. The successful test launch of the 3,500 km range Agni-IV Ballistic Missile on Tuesday, Nov 15, 2011 was the highlight of the year.  A press conference was organised the next day, viz Wednesday, Nov 16, 2011 for DRDO chief Dr. VK Saraswat, which was widely covered by the media, on the launch of Agni-IV from Wheeler island off Orissa coast.

2. Sixth successful test launch of Agni-AI Ballistic Missile from Wheeler Island on Thursday, Dec 1, 2011 by Armed Forces.

3. Successful launch of Dhanush and Prithvi Missiles by the Strategic Forces Command from Interim Test Range, Chandipur, Orissa and a warship off Orissa Coast on March 11, 2011.

4. Successful launch of new Surface to Surface Tactical Missile ‘PRAHAAR’ by DRDO on Thursday, July 21, 2011.

5. Successful flight testing of Surface to Surface Strategic Missile AGNI (A-II) on Friday, September 30, 2011, from Integrated Test Range, Chandipur, Orissa Coast.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Su-30 MKI In Good Hands, Says IAF Chief After Sortie

A week after the Indian Air Force lost its third Su-30 MKI, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne flew a one hour sortie in a Su-30 MKI at the Pune airbase today. Addressing the station, he said, "I wanted to be here to not only fly the Su-30 MKI but also to meet all of you and assure you that our Su-30 fleet is in good and capable hands. Our boys have been doing an excellent job and the momentum of building up the new SU-30 Squadrons needs to be maintained. Our people should remain our highest priority because it is then, that a cohesive team translates itself in to a success story."

The Air Chief was on a working visit to this base, which he had previously commanded as the Air Officer Commanding (AOC), from 2001 to 2003. During his visit he interacted with the Squadron pilots, engineers and all the station personnel and met the key appointments of the station.

Photo / DPR & IAF

COLUMN | On Air Marshal Nur Khan (1923-2011)

By Jagan Pillarisetti
Flt Lt with 4 Sqn, 1945

Much has been written about Air Marshal Malik Nur Khan, who recently passed away in Pakistan on the 15th of December 2011.  Pages and pages of tributes have been written about his days as the Chief of Pakistan Air Force during the 1965 War with Pakistan -- and rightly so. It is to Nur Khan’s credit (and to his predecessor) that the Pakistani Air Force did well in that war, managing to hold its own against a larger adversary. But very little has been written about Nur Khan from his early days when he was part of the undivided Indian Air Force -- and about his time after retirement from the Pakistan Air Force and as the Governor of West Pakistan.

Nur Khan was a highly respected and regarded officer within the IAF before partition. Originally a product of the Royal Indian Military College (now Rashtriya Indian Military College), he was commissioned into the Indian Air Force as a Pilot Officer on 6 Jan 1941. Those were still the days when entrants were given commission on the date they reported to the IAF.  He belonged to the 6th Pilots Course (PC).  6PC was unique in that it had other Muslim officers who later formed the backbone of the new PAF. There was Pilot Officer Asghar Khan, who due to his Army service had seniority, and there was M Akhtar and M M A Cheema , all of who would rise to senior positions in the PAF.

After training at the Initial Training Wing at Lahore till May 41, Nur Khan reported for flying training at the Flying Training School in Ambala, completing his flying syllabus by late November 1941. During this time he was flying types like the Westland Wapiti, Hawker Hart and Hawker Audax biplane aircraft.

His first posting after training was to No.3 Squadron at Kohat in December 1941, then equipped with Hawker Audaxes. Over the following year, he would fly proscription sorties in the Miranshah area, dropping leaflets, flying road opening sorties, occasionally undertaking punitive bombing against villages. In October 1942, he was promoted to Flying Officer, along with Asghar, Cheema and Akhtar who happened to be with the same Squadron as well.

Nur Khan stayed with 3 Squadron till mid 1943 at which point he may have been posted for Vengeance Conversion at the Operational Training Unit in Peshawar.

With Flt Cdr Henry Runganadhan
On 8th May 1944, he reported to No.7 Squadron which was at that time operating the Vultee Vengeance Dive bomber under Sqn Ldr Hem Chaudhary. Nur Khan was put in ‘B’ Flight then under the command of  Flt Lt Erlic Pinto. (As a matter of interest - the other flight commander in the Squadron was none other than P C Lal, who would go on to command the IAF in 1971). Nur Khan flew his first dive bombing sorties two days later on the 10th.  Over the next month Nur Khan flew several missions. However his time on the Burma Front lasted just about a month when the movement orders for 7 Squadron came through. By 12th June 1944, the Squadron found itself relocated to Charra. During this time Nur Khan took over the role of the Squadron Sports Officer. In November 1944, the Squadron converted to the Hurricane fighter bomber. Towards the end of January 1945, Nur Khan was posted to No.9 Squadron, which was then on Hurricanes on the Burma Front.

It was here that Nur Khan honed his flying skills and soon made himself quite  famous, sometimes bordering on being a reckless showoff! Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif, who served in 9 Squadron remembers that Nur Khan would show off landing approaches in a Hurricane - while inverted! This involved approaching the runway for landing in inverted position, then at the right moment lower the undercarriage (which in this case would open upwards) and then do a last minute roll before flare out and touch down. Handling a Hurricane in such a regime required utmost confidence and handling skills.

One can easily deduce that Nur Khan was  a flying “hog”, never losing an opportunity to fly a new type of aircraft. Even in his last years in the PAF, he ensured that he was upto speed on all new aircraft being inducted, flying such types as the F-6 and the Mirage III.

After less than six months with 9 Squadron, Nur Khan earned his promotion to Flt Lt Rank and was posted to No 4 Squadron RIAF in June 1945. No.4 Squadron was at Yelahanka flying the Spitfire VIII under the command of Sqn Ldr Boyd-Berry. No.4 soon moved to Japan as part of the British Commonwealth Occupation Force in early 1946. In one of the first display flights over Japan, Nur Khan led a formation of Ten Spitfires in the shape of a “4”.  His stint as a Flight Commander lasted about 18 months and in November 1946, Nur Khan transferred to the HQ BCAIR (The Air component of the BCOF) as a Staff Officer in the rank of Sqn Ldr. When the Indian component of BCOF wound up in Japan, Independence was around the corner. The Indian Armed Forces were being partitioned and officers being given options to join one or the other country. As he hailed from an area of Punjab that is now part of Pakistan, and also for the fact that many of his colleagues that he served with in 3 Sqn and 9 Sqn were going to Pakistan (Asghar, Cheema etc), it was a natural decision for Nur Khan to opt for the Pakistan Air Force.

The rest of his career with the PAF and his long stint with the PIA had been well chronicled, as is his role as PAF chief during the 1965 war with India. Some points however are worth recounting.

When Nur Khan took over command of the PAF in July 1965, he had but two weeks notice about the launch of Operation Gibraltar. He would say later that his staff reacted with disbelief and he was himself perturbed and shocked hearing about the plan from the Army Chief.  But  he went about “doing as he was told”. He got himself immersed in the business of fighting a war which had flared up as Nur Khan expected.   The PAF did well in the war, enough to actually save the Pakistani Army from disaster many times. But the writing was on the wall: Pakistan was ill-equipped to fight a long term war, and Ayub Khan very wisely accepted the ceasefire when it was offered.

The relatively good performance of the PAF masked the actual truth about how close the Pakistan Army had come to running out of gas while fighting. Subsequent chest thumping and propaganda completely overshadowed any effort to take an unbiased and impartial look into how the war was conducted. Nur Khan himself would lament later  that an opportunity was lost by not conducting an impartial study. He opined that many things that went wrong later on would have been avoided if there had been a serious study conducted by the Pakistanis.

Nur Khan remained PAF chief well into 1968, and would have served more if not for the transfer of power to General Yahya Khan of the Pakistan Army. Yahya imposed Martial Law and offered Nur Khan the Governorship of West Pakistan. Nur Khan bought into the theory that military rule and martial law was good for the country and took up the offer as the Deputy Martial Law Administrator.  Since he could not hold two offices at the same time, Nur Khan resigned his post as the Chief of the PAF and went on to serve six months as the Governor of West Pakistan before resigning in early 1970.  If it hadn't been for the Martial law and the offer of Governorship, he may well have been the air chief during the 71 war (Going by the fact his predecessor served six years at the helm). More importantly he may have had given some sane advice that would have prevented the Pakistani Army from self imploding in 1971.

But from another perspective, it was better for Nur Khan to have retired earlier as he left public service with his stock and reputation still intact. The debacle of 1971 rendered quite a a battering to his successor Air Marshal Rahim Khan. 

Perhaps the results of the 1971 war had reshaped Nur Khan’s views on the earlier conflicts. He had come to arrive at the belief that the Pakistani Army chiefs were the root of the problems that Pakistan had faced throughout. He became a strong proponent of the fact that it was Pakistan which instigated the 1965 war and India was merely defending itself (which runs contrary to the thought process of many Pakistanis). In an interview, when prodded if the conflict of 65 was a “decisive class of arms between Hinduism and Islam”, Nur Khan shot down the idea with a curt “I do not believe there were any ideological compulsions behind the war”. His recent interviews with Dawn TV (available on Youtube) re-iterate these view points again and again. One could not but wish that Nur Khan’s views percolate down to the history lessons that common Pakistani students study, which would result in less hostility between the two nations.

While I never knew Nur Khan directly, several IAF officers have expressed high opinions about him over time. Air Chief Marshal Idris Latif’s comment on his flying skills have been mentioned earlier in this column. Another officer - Air Marshal S Raghavendran, who retired as Vice Chief,  recently wrote that Nur Khan was one of the two of the greatest pilots & commanders of the undivided Indian Air Force that the IAF lost to partition. The other being Asghar Khan who was also well regarded by the veterans of that time. Such respect from officers of the opposing air force does not come easy.

Jagan Pillarisetti, a well-known voice on military aviation and its history, is the co-author of The India Pakistan Air War Of 1965, a seminal work for which he was awarded a Commendation by the Chief of Air Staff in 2007. Jagan is based in the United States. He wrote this obituary exclusively for Livefist on request.

PHOTOS: President Reviews Indian Navy Fleet (Part 2)

From top: Sukanya-class patrol vessel INS Subhadra, Pondicherry-class minesweeper INS Alleppey, ocean tug INS Matanga, Car Nicobar-class fast attack craft INS Karuva, dedicated cadet training ship INS Tir, Kora-class missile corvette INS Kulish, improved Shardul-class landing ship INS AiravatSukanya-class patrol vessel INS Suvarna, Veer-class missile corvette INS Prabal, Shivalik-class stealth frigate INS Satpura, Delhi-class destroyer INS Mumbai.
Photos / Shiv Aroor

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

PHOTOS: President Reviews Indian Navy Fleet (Part 1)

Just got back ashore from the President's Fleet Review (PFR) 2011 off Mumbai. I was on Sukanya-class patrol vessel INS Sharda. Not many better ways to spend a Tuesday morning. Will post all the photos I took in batches.

From top: aircraft carrier INS Viraat, stealth frigate INS Tabar, Class-209 submarine INS Shankush, Kilo-class submarine INS Sindhuratna, INS Viraat, Sea Kings over a frigate, from INS Sharda, Project 17 frigate INS Shivalik and Delhi-class destroyer INS Mysore.

Photos / Shiv Aroor

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Supreme Commander To Scope Indian Navy Fleet

This slick recruitment advert for the Indian Navy was in today's newspapers (I think that's stealth frigate INS Tabar in the picture -- please correct me if I'm wrong). Oh, I'm off to Mumbai tomorrow to cover the President's Fleet Review (PFR) of the Indian Navy's fleet -- including 81 warships and 44 aircraft -- that will be on ceremonial display for the country's Supreme Commander. I covered the country's last PFR in Visakhapatnam in 2006. Stay tuned for photos and updates, and have a great week!

Photo / Indian Navy

Saturday, December 17, 2011

India's SLYBIRD Mini-drone Payload Flights Soon

The National Aeronautics Lab (NAL) Slybird drone, first revealed earlier this year on Livefist is shortly to begin a second phase of trial flights with a videocamera/IR payload. Its first phase of launches was completed in July this year. The drone is part of the larger micro air vehicle effort funded by the Ministries of Defence and Science & Technology to meet multiple requirements of portable drones for tactical/over-the-hill reconnaisance/intelligence. NAL sources suggest that they intend to create a drone with capabilities comparable to the US Army's Raven. Will post a video of the Slybird in flight soon.

Photo / NAL

EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS: IAF Hawk Trainers At Bidar & Bangalore

Images of BAe Hawk advanced jet trainer flying operations at Bidar Air Force Station and the licensed production line in Bangalore, specifically showing the integration the Rolls-Royce Turbomeca Adour Mk871 engine.

Photos / Rolls-Royce

VIDEO: Sixth C-130J For IAF Departs For India

Video / Lockeed-Martin

Friday, December 16, 2011

Last Of Six C-130Js For India Departs

Just received this from Lockheed-Martin: Number six of the six C-130J Super Hercules ordered by India, under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, departed Marietta on December 15. This aircraft, like its five predecessors, was delivered ahead of schedule and under budget.

The Indian Air Force is in the process of finalising a contract for six more C-130Js, taking its total order of the aircraft to twelve. The IAF's Hercs are part of 77 Squadron Veiled Vipers, based at Hindon Air Force Station on the outskirts of Delhi.

How things change. Today is Vijay Diwas (Victory Day), the 40th anniversary of India's victory in the 1971 war. It was during this war that Indian pilots shot up American aircraft in Pakistan, including, in fact, a C-130 Hercules at Chaklala base by Admiral Arun Prakash (then a young navy pilot on deputation to the IAF).

Photo / Lockheed-Martin

1971 War Official Film On The Battle Of Basantar

Courtesy Indian Army

FILM | Hunters At Dawn - The Air Battle Of Longewala, 1971

Reposting this film today, the 40th anniversary of the Indo-Pak war of 1971. Earlier this year, the Indian Air Force gave Livefist exclusive permission to host a full version of the this documentary Hunters at Dawn - The Air Battle of Longewala. Here it is. The IAF has requested me to notify readers to direct all queries for acquiring a VCD/DVD of the film to or

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

IAF Su-30MKI Crashes, Pilots Eject

The Indian Air Force lost another Su-30MKI this afternoon, its third in less than three years. The aircraft took off from the Lohegaon air base at Pune at 12.45pm, and crashed shortly thereafter. Both pilots ejected safely. The IAF lost its first Su-30 in April 2009, in which both pilots ejected, though one succumbed to injuries sustained during ejection. The second crashed in November 2009, with both pilots punching out safely.

Photo / IAF UAV grab at Exercise Vayu Shakti

Sunday, December 11, 2011

GUEST POST | Why The Beast Was Lost

By Aditya Mandrekar

With news that Iran may have downed one of the United States' most secret spy-planes -- an RQ-170 Sentinel built Lockheed-Martin -- the internet has been abuzz with claims, counter-claims and outright denials that it could have happened. Now that Iran has officially released footage of the UAV in their possession - one that does resemble the 'Beast of Kandahar' from the few photos available - speculation has turned to precisely why the UAV is in Iranian hands.

But first, two things that can be inferred from the video released:
  • The UAV may be a blended wing design, but there are no obvious "stealth" characteristics. A meshed air intake is not enough to make an aircraft low-observable and could simply be there to prevent foreign object damage (FOD). The control surfaces too do not have any serrated (jagged) edges that are needed to spread radio wave reflections; neither do various panels on the aircraft.
  • Amusingly, the aircraft is placed on a plinth instead of its own landing gear. Which means either the gear stayed retracted or was torn off on landing, either pointing to signs that it wasn't made to land in a controlled manner.
So how is the Beast in Iranian hands?

The most exotic claim is of course 'it was hacked'. This is also the one least likely to be true and ironically the one explanation that the speculators seem to long for. The possibility of a spy plane flying with a datalink continuously active is quite low. There are many reasons for this, but security (exposing the communication channel for long durations) and power consumption (to power the receiver and, in some cases, a transmitter for two-way communication) are chief concerns. UAVs obviously can be fed course correction updates in real time if sudden changes are necessary. But these will be brief and short transmissions that will be irregular and hard to break into - encryption levels are beyond the average supercomputer's power to break in reasonable time, not to mention the possibility of passcodes changing every mission.

This leaves open a possibility where the Iranians could have mimicked a remote command - but then again they would have to have the same datalink equipment and encryption methods as the CIA and an ability to transmit it to the exact spot in the sky they want to, and at the right time. And even if this is the case, the moment an operator noticed the UAV going off course, the CIA would have not hesitated to countermand its last commands and restore communication, this time either on different frequencies or with different codes.

Next, there is speculation that the UAV was "jammed". The response to this is on two levels: What was jammed? And, so what?

As mentioned before, the average spy craft will not always have its receiver running apart from intelligence gathering purposes. So the probability that its control could be "jammed" is insignificant. What is possible, though, is that the GPS receiver(s) on the Sentinel could be jammed with the attempt to deny navigational aid. This is unlikely too because for one, it means flooding the UAV at its operating altitude with enough radio energy on ALL channels (including US DoD military GPS frequencies) from above (since the antennae are on the upper surface) to attempt to disable satellite receivers.

And even if GPS data was lost... so what? Between inertial sensors, magnetic compasses and radio homing beacons, UAVs are not 100% reliant on GPS for navigation. In fact, autonomous flight control software is written with explicit instructions built-in that unmanned aircraft facing loss of critical sensors have to head to a particular location or direction where recovery can be attempted, either through re-establishing system integrity or getting it to land in a controlled location.

Then there is the initial claim by Iran that the Sentinel was shot down. This seems unlikely to me; there is no sign of external damage on the upper body, and more importantly, none on the leading and trailing edges of the aircraft. This leads me to believe that there was no contact between AAA rounds and the drone, let alone a missile proximity explosion.

The more one looks at it, the simplest answer seems to fit the data best - equipment failure. As unglamorous as it sounds, loss of propulsion is the most likely reason for the loss of the Sentinel. Whether an engine failure or a fuel leak, it is most likely that the aircraft lost power and with it, any hope of making it back. The Iraq-Iran-Afghanistan region is one of the least forgiving environments of operation, and it is not hard to imagine dust, sand and gravel causing lasting damage.

There is also the likelihood that power to the control surfaces was lost, but it is hard to believe that the Sentinel does not have at least dual redundant controls. However, the aircraft is smaller than previously imagined, so it may be that the source of electrical power is single. If this is a battery, it could be simply battery failure. If the power was delivered from a turbine-driven alternator, then it is even more evident that loss of engine power would mean a loss of electrical power.

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

This post reflects the independent views of the contributing writer.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

India Tests Mini-Drone With Pulsejet Engine

Engaged with helping design suitable propulsion systems for unmanned air systems across the board, the National Aerospace Laboratory (NAL) has apparently tested a scaled-down (how scaled down is unclear) Rustom-1 airframe with an indigenously developed valved pulsejet engine. This picture was taken during the flight test which possibly happened early this year, or perhaps late 2010, but provides a sense of the things NAL is trying out. The agency is also involved with the Rustom-H MALE UAV and the AURA stealth UCAV programme, in the areas of design, materials and propulsion.

Photo / NAL Annual Report

Friday, December 09, 2011

PHOTOS: Indian Army Rocket Artillery Systems At Sudarshan Shakti

The indigenously-developed Pinaka and Russian 9K58 SMERCH multibarrel rocket launcher systems from Indian Army rocket regiments were part of theater offensive maneouvers at Exercise Sudarshan Shakti in the Thar Desert over the last few weeks. The Indian Army, I am happy to report, is dead pleased with the Pinaka: with three regiments operational and two more in the pipeline, things are looking good. UPDATE: The Pinaka, incidentally, was put through some demo firings in Orissa earlier this week.

Photos / Shiv Aroor