Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Two Boeing Birds

Checked out Boeing's rotorcraft facility in Mesa, Arizona today (I first visited in 2008). Scoped the AH-64D Block II and Block III lines and the upcoming AH-6 Litte Bird line. Boeing plans to begin briefings on the AH-6i to the Indian Army by the end of this year (by which time they expect to win the IAF attack copter competition with the Apache -- that is still unknown). Impressive little chopper, the AH-6i, but couldn't quite figure where it would fit with the Army's requirements, what with the ongoing reconnaissance and surveillance (RSH) helicopter competition and HAL's Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) effort.

On the Apache, the variant on offer to the IAF is the Block-III. The specimen fielded for three-week trials was a modified Block II with a great deal of Block III parts, including composite rotor, fuel tanks etc. The platform had the performance of a Block III, says Boeing, but without the avionics (the Boeing folks say the only spare they needed to use over those three weeks was an adhesive bond-on trim tab for the composite rotor). Boeing hasn't received word on how many Longbows the IAF is interested in (one in three US Army Apaches is a Longbow).

Am at Long Beach, California now. Tomorrow is the 'major join' ceremony of India's first C-17 where the forward, aft and fuselage sections will come together along with the wing assemblies. Stay tuned for photos and updates on the C-17 programme -- the largest Indo-US defence contract so far.

Photos / Shiv Aroor

Monday, July 30, 2012

FIRST IMPRESSION: What The IAF C-17 Will Look Like

Got this neat bit of official Boeing art depicting the C-17 Globemaster III in Indian Air Force colours and livery. Will be at Long Beach, Home of the C-17 on Tuesday for a full update on the programme.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Apache, Little Bird Tour Tomorrow

Off to Mesa, Arizona for briefings by Boeing on the AH-64D Apache Block III and AH-6 Little Bird, and a tour of the facility. The Apache is poised for an expected win in India's 22 attack helicopter competition, but curious about the inclusion of AH-6 in our tour programme. Will know more tomorrow. Stay tuned. (For those who may not know, I usually livetweet from locations and briefings -- what goes up here on the blog later in the day is usually in addition to what I've tweeted.)

VIDEO: 32nd Launch Of BrahMos

Up Close With The Indian Navy P-8I

Had a brilliant tour of Boeing's P-8 Poseidon Mission Systems Installation and Checkout facility in Seattle yesterday. As we entered the facility, the first thing we saw was a gleaming P-8I. The airframe we saw was the second P-8I for the Indian Navy that made its first flight out of Renton to the Boeing Field earlier this month. The aircraft is now having mission systems installed before it checks out and joins flight test. Picked up some interesting new bits of information on the programme:

The first P-8I will be delivered to the Indian Navy in May 2013, after which flight acceptance trials will be conducted at a yet unspecified range in June/July 2013. Boeing says it will deliver the first three aircraft in 2013.

The two major components that the Indian Navy has asked for on the P-8I, that are absent on the P-8A for the US Navy, are an aft radar (Telephonics APS-143 OceanEye) and a magnetic anomaly detector (MAD).

The base of the P-8I's vertical stabilizer houses a DRS Technologies emergency locator transponder designed to detach from the fuselage and float on the surface in the event of an accident over water.

With certain communications and encryption equipment withheld on the P-8I as a result of the lack of CISMOA, the Indian Navy nominated the following replacement systems: Data Link II, IFF interrogator by Bharat Electronics Ltd, IFF transponder by HAL and speech secrecy system by ECIL and mobile SATCOM by Avantel.

The Indian Navy didn't ask for the P-8I to be mid-air refuellable from the IAF's standard drogue-hose system. However, Boeing has built in
Universal Aerial Refueling Receptacle Slipway Installations (UARRSI) in the fleet for India at no additional cost. This slipway makes the P-8I capable of receiving fuel from a boom tanker. This, Boeing was candid enough to admit, would make its new generation 767 tanker a future prospect for the Indian military.

While India is expected to exercise options for four more P-8Is once deliveries begin next year, Boeing internal projections see India signing on for up to 30 or more aircraft, keeping in mind the Indian Navy's "tremendous maritime domain awareness needs".

Visited the truly astounding Boeing commercial aircraft facility in Everett this morning, scoped out the 747, 777 and Dreamliner lines. An Air India 787 sat in a corner waiting for its engines. Nice.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

At Boeing's P-8I Line

Just took this picture of the 2nd P-8I at the Boeing Field facility in Seattle. Had a nice tour of the jet (this airframe joined flight-testing recently). Lots of fresh information about the Indian platform -- will update tonight.

Friday, July 27, 2012

50 Years In Service, Chinook's Next Hope Is India

On August 16, the Boeing CH-47 Chinook achieves the formidable feat of being 50 years in service. It was on that date in 1962 when the first CH-47A was delivered to the US Army. Amazingly, the airframe is still flying. In fact, it recently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan, and is now being remanufactured, refurbished (35% of the original platform will remain) and prepared for redeployment back to Afghanistan by the end of the year. Boeing in fact believes that with prospective orders from the US Army, the USAF for combat search and rescue copters, and foreign customers, the Chinook could well be in service for a century.

The CH-47F, as is well known, competes for an Indian Air Force contract against the Russian Mil Mi-26 T2, the world's largest helicopter, for a heavylift copter contract. Trials on both platforms happened in 2010-11. Mark Ballew, director for Rotorcraft Business Development at Boeing Defense in Philadelphia says, "The Mi-26 is still in the competition, so we have no reason to believe that they didn't perform well in the trials."

I got the sense that while Boeing is fully confident of a win in the IAF attack copter competition (will be touring the Apache facility in Mesa, Arizona on Monday), it is still only cautiously optimistic on the heavylift bid that calls for 15 helicopters. Also, the Indian Air Force already operates a small number of Mi-26s from its Chandigarh station. Boeing sources say the Chinook's versatility, availability and deployment patterns have persuaded the IAF on the advantages of a tandem rotor system.The Chinook on offer to the IAF is very similar to the one operated by the US Army, but, as with all equipment, will be without speech encryption, certain sensors and communications kit protected under CISMOA.

And of course there was a question about this photograph ;)

Landed in Seattle today. Tour of the P-8A/I facilities in a few hours.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Osprey Sparks Indian Interest. Again.

Just did a tour of Boeing's Philadelphia rotorcraft facility where part of the V-22 Osprey is built (the rest is built at Arlington, Texas by Bell Helicopter). Mike Rolecki, director of the programme, says the Indian government has been given a couple of introductory presentations on the programme and system, and that Bell-Boeing was awaiting guidance on any concrete requirement (nobody's holding their breaths). Boeing, which says it hopes to wrap up the first international sale of V-22s by the end of this year, believes the V-22 could serve in a variety of roles with the Indian forces. Will update this post later tonight. Leaving for Seattle in an hour where I'll be filming the Indian P-8I and some other kit.

Photo / US Marine Corps.

Without CISMOA, The Indian Navy Works The P-8I

WASHINGTON D.C. / July 25: By now, it seems pretty clear that military interoperability agreements like the Communications Interoperability & Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA) are on ice as far as Indo-US relations are concerned. I've posted quite a bit in the last two years about the equipment and kit that the US government is constrained to withhold from India as a result of Delhi's resistance to entering into a CISMOA with Washington. This has typically included encrypted voice, IFF and advanced secret communication equipment, all administered by one US armed service or the other. So far, even though the Indian military has said the lack of equipment protected by agreements like CISMOA, didn't make the platforms contracted any less capable or effective, there was no real sense about how the military was actually filling those gaps. Let's be clear: those were gaps, despite what certain military chiefs said.

Well, that's where the slide above comes into play -- it was in a presentation that Boeing made today to a group of us visting journalists in Washington. It illustrates just how the Indian Navy has plugged the CISMOA-induced gaps on the American platform -- notably, speech secrecy kit by India's state-owned Electronics Corporation of India Ltd (ECIL), IFF interrogator and transponder by BEL and HAL respectively, mobile satellite system by Avantel and fingerprinting kit by BEL. All very interesting.

The gear on the P-8 platform that was held off as a result of the absence of a CISMOA, are understood to include a Raytheon IFF transponder (Mode IV Crypto), SINCGARS radio, TACTERM/ADVT secure voice (HF) terminals and Rockwell-Collins SATCOM transceivers.

(Am in Philadelphia now. Visiting the rotorcraft systems facility tomorrow where the CH-47 Chinook is built and Boeing's part of the V-22 Osprey is done. Also, by the way, I happen to be live-tweeting interesting stuff from this tour.)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Off On Boeing's Media Tour

Folks, I'm off to the U.S. for the next ten days for Boeing's media tour 2012 as part of a group of Indian defence journalists. We'll be visiting facilities and receiving briefings on equipment already contracted by the Indian military, including the P-8I Neptune and C-17 Globemaster-III, equipment currently competing in tenders yet to be decided (AH-64D Apache Block-III in the IAF's attack helicopter bid and the CH-47 Chinook in its heavy copter competition), and equipment that's been made available but not specifically competing yet, including the V-22 Osprey and Scan Eagle. I'll post updates regularly from there. If there's anything specific anyone wants to know, leave a comment here, and I'll do my best. Have a good week!

Photo / U.S. Air Force

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

2nd Boeing P-8I Neptune for India Completes 1st Flight

BOEING STATEMENT: The second Boeing P-8I aircraft for the Indian Navy completed its initial flight on July 12, taking off from Renton Field at 3:29 p.m. and landing two hours and 14 minutes later at Boeing Field in Seattle. The P-8I, a derivative of the Boeing Next-Generation 737-800 commercial airplane, is the second of eight long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft Boeing is building for India.

The program is on plan and the Indian Navy is excited for the P-8I to join its fleet," said Leland Wight, P-8I program manager for Boeing.

During the flight, Boeing test pilots performed airborne systems checks and took the P-8I to a maximum altitude of 41,000 feet prior to landing. Boeing will begin mission systems installation and checkout work on the aircraft in the coming weeks.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

FIRST-HAND: How A Machine-Gun Saved A Surya Kiran

By Sqn Ldr Vikram Chhibber

It was Oct 07, and we were at one of the most picturesque locations that we could have been in. 3,000 km away from our Nation, our 12 immaculately maintained, saffron coloured, appropriately labelled “Ambassadors of the IAF” Suryakiran Aerobatic Team aircraft, were parked on an island, wing to wing with a plethora of the latest generation fighters. The Royal Air Force RED ARROWS team too was alongside. We were at the Langkawi International Maritime and Aviation Show (LIMA 07), in Malaysia, having flown in via Myanmar and Thailand.

The occasion was momentous, as it was the world that waited to watch our skills – the stakes were very high. It urged us to perform with the highest levels of professionalism, and most importantly - “THE JOSH” – the main ingredient of the recipe in mission accomplishment by all fauji groups. Thanks to oodles of man-hours spent on planning the trip, the ferry to Langkawi island was accomplished with picture perfect precision.

We were on with our routine series of displays, usually two in a day. As the routine demands, the men with spanners (that’s what the technical team are playfully called) were the first to reach early in the morning to prepare the 12 aircraft in various configurations for the display.

Third day into the air show came the moment which changed my approach towards life as an engineer. With 2 years of experience at that time, I undertook a snag rectification, which back home in India we could only dream of accomplishing (though we don’t want such snags to occur at all in the first place). As we walked towards the tarmac with our team of technicians, a usual panoramic glance of all the 12 aircraft to ascertain safety (to rubbish the fear of someone stealing our machines!!) was the usual practice. However, today it left us flabbergasted. What we saw (hold your nerves) was a machine gun, yes a machine gun, standing on its tripod, on the port wing of one of our aircraft, with its bayonet pierced right through the wing surface that had
resulted in a rupture of the aircraft skin. The sight of such a damage shook us to the core. At first sight, from a distance, it looked unreal and improbable, but disbelief turned to reality as we drew up close.

We found out that there had been a para trooping accident the night before. A miscalculated wind pattern had resulted in the paratroopers of the RMAF descending on the tarmac, which sadly resulted in one of them sustaining fatal injuries too. But the show had to go on.
As the SEO of the detachment, I called my Detachment Commander and my Flight Commander to break the news of the incident, and what followed was a flurry of calls to and from our parent base and higher ups back home (I remember it was a Sunday morning).

Our team of technicians assessed the damage on the wing, and the silver lining to the incident was that the gun’s bayonet had missed the fuel tank by about 5 cms. So, now all we had to do was structural repair work on the wings. This is a task that in India mandates an activity from fourth line agencies and specialist structure repair teams. In the case of KIRAN aircraft, this only is possible at HAL Bangalore Division. As per our contingency plans, a team of HAL was ready for airlift, in case required.This was the point where we had to decide expeditiously of what to do.

I quickly contacted the fourth line agency of Royal Malaysian Air Force, and showed them the damage. They assessed the damage, but due to international issues refused to work on our aircraft. However, they offered to provide us all the raw materials required for the structure’s repair. This was a welcome moment for our Airframe tradesmen, who always excelled in their work as usual. Well, a phone call to our mother base at AFS Bidar to take an official nod from our Senior Engineer (Aircraft) and our Chief Engineering Officer, and we were underway with our work in less than two hours of the first sighting of the damage.

A few necessary supervisory checks, and a mandatory ground run to ascertain all hydraulics and fuel system components were fine, and our aircraft was ready for its Air-Test post rectification in less than 24 hours. Being an aerobatic aircraft, which is constantly subject to high G-loads and stresses, any structural work is always very critical and needs to be done with utmost care and perfection. The Aircraft was check flown by our Flight Commander, as the aircraft belonged to his position in the formation (for those who may not be aware, in any formation flying team, the aircraft are generally kept position specific and pilot specific (this is always the endeavour of the technical team).

The aircraft started up and taxied out with shouts of hurray on the tarmac, but the test was yet to come. We monitored the sortie on RT and did not hear anything abnormal, and the aircraft taxied back with a happy looking Flight Commander emerging from it (I was too apprehensive, in retrospect), further enhancing the jovial atmosphere that we always create in adverse conditions. However, the Flt Cdr to our horror at that time remarked “Guys what have you done with the machine?” and here was a moment I must admit, my heart skipped a beat. He quickly sensed the tension and eased it out by saying that the machine infact handled very well in air and an age old snag of an inherent right roll beyond some speeds in that particular aircraft was not present now. The divine stab of the bayonet had killed it!! We all celebrated as this aircraft flew snag free in all displays and ferried back to Bidar successfully, where upon landing it was put down by base CEO for intricate checks by the HAL team specialists who were amazed to see the workmanship of our very own Airframe tradesmen with scarce resources and a few facsimile photocopies of the Airframe Manual to refer to, and had declared the aircraft fit to fly. We learnt the following lessons from this episode as engineers in the field of aviation.

(This account appears in the June 2012 issue of Aerospace Safety)

Friday, July 13, 2012

India's Nuke Command Exercises Agni-1

Agni 1, India’s 700-km range nuclear-capable ballistic missile was successfully launched today by India's Strategic Forces Command at 1006 hrs from the Wheeler Island off the coast of Odisha as part of a training exercise. According to the DRDO, "It was a textbook launch meeting all mission objectives and the missile reached the target point in the Bay of Bengal following the prescribed trajectory. The missile was launched from Road Mobile Launcher System and was tracked by radar and telemetry stations located along the coastline. Two naval ships located near the target point tracked the missile in the terminal phase of the flight. Indigenously developed by DRDO the missile is already in the arsenal of Indian armed forces and was launched by the Strategic Forces Command as part of training exercise to ensure preparedness.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Boeing P-8I For India Begins Flight Test Program

PHOTO / Boeing

Boeing Statement: Boeing's first P-8I aircraft for the Indian Navy began its official flight test program July 7, taking off from Boeing Field in Seattle at 9:15 a.m. and landing three hours and 49 minutes later after demonstrating flying qualities and handling characteristics. The flight went as planned with all test objectives met.

The P-8I is one of eight long-range maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare aircraft Boeing is building for India as part of a contract awarded in January 2009. During the coming months, Boeing test pilots will put the P-8I, a Next-Generation 737-800 derivative, through its paces over a U.S. Navy test range west of Neah Bay, Wash., and a joint U.S./Canadian test range in the Strait of Georgia. P-8I flight and weapons testing follows on the heels of similar testing for the U.S. Navy's P-8A Poseidon. P-8I is a variant of the Poseidon. In order to efficiently design and build the P-8I and the P-8A, the Boeing-led team is using a first-in-industry, in-line production process that draws on the company's Next-Generation 737 production system. Assembly is complete on the second P-8I aircraft and it will make its first flight in the coming weeks.The P-8I features open system architecture, advanced sensor and display technologies, and a worldwide base of suppliers, parts and support equipment.

Decision On 197 Light Helicopters Soon

Uncertainty over what is perhaps India's most important helicopter acquisition effort is expected to end in the next two weeks. Wire reports today say the MoD has received a report submitted by a special technical oversight committee that had been set up to inquire into complaints of tender deviations. The apparent fear now, both for the two contenders Eurocopter and Kamov, and the Indian Army and IAF, is that if the MoD is convinced that the deviations were unfair or unacceptable, the effort could be aborted -- a nightmare scenario considering that it was aborted on its first try in 2007 as well.

Indian MoD Clears Path For Rafale: Report

PHOTO / Armée de l'Air
Dassault Aviation will heave a big sigh of relief. For now. The Indian Ministry of Defence has completed inquiries into a recent complaint about the selection of the Rafale in India's M-MRCA fighter competition, according to a Hindustan Times report today, and final negotiations are on.  The final negotiation process had been held up following a complaint received earlier this year.

Responding to a March letter by then Member of Parliament MV Mysura Reddy, defence minister A.K. Antony is quoted by Hindustan Times to have recently responded saying, "The issues raised by you were examined by independent monitors who have concluded that the approach and methodology adopted by the Contract Negotiations Committee (CNC) in the evaluation of the commercial proposals thus far, have been reasonable and appropriate and within the terms of the Request for Proposals (RFR) and Defence Procurement Procedure, 2006."

A separate report in The Tribune today suggests that while the inquiry, conducted by three independent monitors, has indeed concluded that all procedures were followed by the Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC), it is likely that the process will be looked at again by the Department of Defence Finance once final recommendations are submitted.

Monday, July 09, 2012

Scrappy Indian Navy Copter Bid Nears End

PHOTOS: NH90 ©NHIndustries / S-70B ©Savvas Garozis
The Indian Navy's delayed 16 multirole helicopter (MRH) procurement programme is all set for the opening of commercial bids shortly. The programme has the NHIndustries NH90 squaring off against the Sikorsky S-70B Sea Hawk for a contract potentially worth $1-billion. Field evaluation trials were conducted late last year.

Indications are that the Indian government could hand this one to Sikorsky. But nothing is finished yet, and things have been far from smoothe.

As things speed towards the concluding leg of the acquisition, the Navy will be hoping it has seen the last of a controversy that still threatens to put a spanner in the works -- never a far cry in Indian defence contracting. Reports began to appear in the press earlier this year about how AgustaWestland (joint venture partner in NHIndustries, and company lead in India) had written a series of letters to the MoD protesting against what it saw as a lack of fair play -- in other words, preferential waivers on performance/platform parameters/configuration to Sikorsky's bird. The reports also detailed how the Indian Navy had hit back hard, accusing NHIndustries of a variety of misdemeanours, including "twisting" and "falsifying" elements of the NSQR/RFP -- something that NHIndustries denied. As a result of this back and forth, which still incidentally isn't really over, the acquisition already has a shadow over it. Officially, the Navy has clarified that both platforms -- the NH90 and Seahawk -- met NSQRs (though, of course, NHI insists that the Seahawk is compliant only as a result of alleged relaxations).

The chief complaint letter was written by NHIndustries managing director Domenico Vaccari to Defence Minister A.K. Antony following field trials last year, alleging that the S-70B wouldn't have cleared eight particular parameters if the NSQR hadn't been glossed over preferentially. It is understood that Vaccari wrote that letter to Antony since a previous letter by AgustaWestland senior veep for international business development Giacomo Saponaro to Defence Secretary Shashikant Sharma wasn't answered.

According to the Navy, the trials were conducted "professionally, equally" and "without any concessions -- certainly none that were not provided to both contenders on a mutually acceptable basis." The Navy has not commented on specific allegations pertaining to its NSQR.Things are, therefore, delicately poised for NHIndustries. It has already managed to irritate the Navy (quite clear from how the Navy responded to the company's letters to the MoD), though  annoyance should presumably have no bearing at this late stage of the game. There's also deep irony to NHIndustry's allegations that the playing field is anything but level. Just over two years ago, right before the Indian government awarded a prestigious $700-million contract for 12 VVIP transport helicopters to AgustaWestland, Sikorsky (which lost out with its S-92) wrote to the MoD asking for an explanation about certain "concessions" it believed had been granted to its competitor. It's a replay now, only the sides are switched.

In simple words, the Indian Navy's official line is this: The only reason a competitor would protest before a decision is that they're sure they are going to lose or if they did not, for whatever reason, want to compete (i.e. they wanted a government-to-government deal). At this stage, nobody is in a position to judge who is ahead. Both platforms have met requirements.

On the other hand, sources suggest there are extraneous factors that could have predetermined the outcome of this particular competition already. It was only a few months ago that the Indian government informed Parliament that Italian investigations into alleged corruption at AgustaWestland had nothing to do with the Indian deal. But the issue raised enough heat and friction, and the fact that the helicopters were ordered for the country's politicians -- not the armed forces -- got it even more traction. Sources say the government is unlikely to want to take any chances.

The MRH is intended to augment and then replace the Indian Navy's fleet of Westland Seakings. The Navy is also in the process of evaluating upgrade packages for the old Seakings. The 16-chopper MRH competition is to be followed by the N-MRH (just in case nomenclature wasn't confusing enough), a separate tender for 44 helicopters. Lockheed-Martin's MH-60R -- based on the same airframe as the S-70B -- and which was ignored in the MRH, will be a contender.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

LCA Navy Flies, Landing Gear Up

India's LCA Navy prototype has flown three more times since its first flight on April 27, the last one with its landing gear retracted for the full duration of flight.

The LCA's landing gear, as is well known, has been a problem that has delayed the debut flight, with scientists continuing to work on it. The ADA has in fact set up a specific technological committee to sort out issues with the landing gear.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Mission Requirements Of India's Rustom-2 UAV

The Rustom-2, India's Predator-like long endurance hunter-killer drone effort, under the Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE), is set to begin flight testing in February 2014. This official slide here throws more light on the platform's intended capabilities, including extended loiter. It's also the first that depicts the Rustom-2 in its stated role as a strike platform.

ADE chief P.S. Krishnan recently told reporters that ten Rustom-2 platforms were being built on order at a cost of approximately $350-million.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Monday, July 02, 2012

Indian Army To Operate Attack Chopper Units

In what is being seen as a crucial victory for the Indian Army after a long-standing spat with the Indian Air Force, the government today accorded clearance to the Army to operate its own attack helicopter units.

India currently has two attack helicopter units, both under the command and control of the Army, but flown and maintained by IAF pilots and personnel. Seems pretty clear that the government's approval today means (a) that the two Mi-25/35 flights under two helicopter units will soon be flown by Army Aviation pilots (the choppers are in IAF livery) and the IAF will raise new units to house the 22 new attack helicopters (prospectively, the Boeing AH-64D Apache Block III) and, later, the Light Combat Helicopter. (b) The Mi-25/35s will be transferred to IAF command and control, while the Army raises new units and floats fresh requirements (it already stands to receive the Dhruv-WSI), or (c) a status quo on command and control of the current units, until new platforms enter service.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Stealth Air-intake Fabrication For AMCA

These are the first official DRDO images of fabrication of compact advanced serpentine air-intakes, intended for preliminary studies on performance. The DRDO plans serpentine air intakes on its Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and the IUSAV stealth UCAV. Recently posted a new cutaway image of the impression airframe, throwing new light on the aircraft's stealth and design elements. Much more about the AMCA's stealth elements here.