Saturday, 23 May 2015

Navy gets INS Sindhukirti back, after nine-year wait

INS Sindhukirti, under refit last October at Vizag, when Broadsword visited

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd May 15

Indian Navy planners heaved a sigh of relief on Friday at the return of a frontline Kilo-class submarine, INS Sindhukirti, which has been missing from the operational fleet through a nine-year “refit” (overhaul) in Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL).

The HSL chief, Rear Admiral (Retired) Nikunj Mishra, confirmed to Business Standard that INS Sindhukirti sailed out from the shipyard at 10:20 a.m. on Thursday and returned to harbour safely on Friday.

“The crew noted no defects, only some minor observations that will be addressed”, said Mishra.

INS Sindhukirti’s refit took so long that many defence experts believed the vessel would never return to operational service. After another of the navy’s eight Kilo-class submarines, INS Sindhurakshak, sank in an unexplained explosion on August 14, 2013, the Sindhukirti’s absence was felt even more keenly.

With its return the navy will have 11 operational submarines. Besides seven Kilo-class submarines of the so-called Sindhughosh-class; there are also four HDW submarines, referred to as the Shishumar-class.

While HSL has been severely criticised for taking nine years to refit Sindhukirti, Business Standard revealed (September 2, 2014, “Russia delayed sub refit to weaken shipyard?”) that the refit might have been deliberately prolonged by Russian experts to ensure that future Indian submarine refits were entrusted to Russian shipyards rather than to HSL.

Earlier Kilo-class refits in Russian shipyard, Zvezdochka, took an average of two and a half years each, and cost hundreds of crore rupees each. Zvezdochka experts who supervised the Sindhukirti’s refit at HSL knew they were assisting a potential competitor, which would indigenise the submarine overhaul business.

As Business Standard reported, each parameter of work that Zvezdochka experts ordered HSL to carry out on the Sindhukirti was several multiples of the work that the Russian shipyard had done while earlier overhauling INS Sindhughosh in Russia.

For example, the most time-consuming and expensive work during a refit involves replacing damaged hull plates. Zvezdochka replaced only three square metres of hull plates while refitting Sindhughosh in Russia. But for Sindhukirti, the Russian experts ordered 39 square metres --- 13 times as much --- hull plating to be replaced.

INS Sindhukirti’s refit has involved extensive modernisation. Like submarines refitted in Russia, its torpedo tubes were modified to fire Klub missiles at surface targets. But Sindhukirti also got additional capabilities: an MCA inertial navigation suite, a Palady nerve system, and a Pirit ship control console. Bharat Electronics Ltd has provided an indigenous Ushus sonar and a modernised CCS Mark II communications suite.

If Russia’s aim was to scuttle further refit orders to HSL, that has been achieved. In October the defence ministry cleared a Rs 4,800 crore refit for six submarines, with two each being refitted in Zvezdochka; in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai; and in Naval Dockyard, Mumbai.

HSL will have to remain content with building two midget submarines, an order worth Rs 2,000 crore that the ministry cleared in February. Known as “strategic operations vessels” or SOVs, these small vessels ferry naval commandoes to enemy coastlines. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Parrikar: “We have to use terrorists to neutralize terrorists”

Parrikar declares money saved on Rafale will buy Tejas fighters to replace MiG-21s

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd May 15

In a statement that will create ripples across the border, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar declared today that India should counter Pakistan-backed cross-border terror attacks with terrorism directed back at Pakistan.

Speaking at the Aaj Tak Manthan conclave in New Delhi on Thursday, Parrikar dropped his bombshell in response to a question about how India would react to another Mumbai-type 26/11 terror attack.

“Rather than reacting to a repeat of 26/11, it would be better not to let such an attack happen. Whatever we have to do, whether it is diplomatic, pressure tactics, or using a thorn to extract a thorn (kaante se kaanta nikalna)”, answered Parrikar.

“We have to use terrorists to neutralize terrorists”, he elaborated, to applause from the audience.

“(Is this the) first time an Indian Defence Minister has hinted at covert response to terror attack?” tweeted Sandeep Unnithan, Associate Editor at India Today, who was in the audience.

Pakistan consistently claims that Indian-backed terrorism is responsible for the unsettled state of Baluchistan, a claim that India vehemently rejects. In July 2009, after a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousef Raza Gilani at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the joint statement a mentioned Baluchistan and recognized terrorism as the “chief threat” to both countries, leading to Bharatiya Janata Party leaders accusing the government of undermining India’s position by equating the victim with the perpetrator.

Separately, Parrikar stated clearly for the first time that the 36 Rafale fighters that Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the French government for during his visit to Paris last month would not be followed by more Rafales. Instead, the money saved by curtailing the Rafale contract would be used to buy large numbers of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

“By buying 36 Rafale fighters at a price less than (what was quoted in response to) the earlier tender for 126 aircraft, I have saved the cost of 90 Rafales. We will use that money to buy Tejas LCAs”, said Parrikar.

This will address the concerns of aerospace experts, who had questioned the plan to buy 126 Rafales (six squadrons) to take the place of MiG-21 squadrons retiring from service this decade. It has been argued that the Rafale is too heavy, expensive and capable to replace a cheap, light, utility fighter like the MiG-21.

“The Rafale is not meant to replace the MiG-21”, said Parrikar, stating that he would instead buy large numbers of Tejas fighters, which he said would come cheap at a price of around Rs 150 crore each.

The Indian Air Force (IAF), which currently has 34 fighter squadrons against an assessed requirement of 42 squadrons, will lose during this decade another 7-9 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s that have already exceeded their service lives.

Yet, the IAF has ordered o just 20 Tejas fighters (one squadron) from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), with an additional order of 20 more promised after the fighter achieves final operational clearance, expected in early 2016.

Asked whether he was satisfied with the Tejas’ performance, the defence minister replied he was “satisfied to a certain level”. The IAF had accorded performance waivers while giving initial operational clearance to the Tejas, but Parrikar pointed out that none of the waivers affected flight safety.

Asked whether he would deliver on his promise to appoint a tri-service Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) within two months, Parrikar backpedalled somewhat. “By June-end, my proposal will be ready. But it is not my decision per se. It has to go before the National Security Council”, he said.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

CAG report overlooks Tejas LCA’s many triumphs

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th May 15

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), in its report for the year ending March 2014 has examined “Issues relating to Design, Development, Manufacture and Induction of Light Combat Aircraft (Air Force)”, the indigenous fighter now called the Tejas Mark I.

Media reports have dwelt mainly on CAG’s criticism of the LCA, such as the delays that led to the fighter --- cleared in 1983 and intended to enter service in 1994 --- eventually taking 30 years to obtain Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) in December 2013. The IOC is a landmark at which the fighter can be inducted into air force service. The CAG report says Final Operational Clearance (FOC) --- which clears a fighter for combat --- of the LCA is likely only by December 2015.

CAG’s criticism

The CAG says the LCA that has got initial operational clearance fell short of Air Staff Requirements (ASR) --- a key document that lays out the LCA’s essential capabilities. With many of these capabilities still lacking, the IAF could grant initial operational clearance only with 20 permanent waivers and 33 temporary concessions. These 33 shortcomings --- which include increased aircraft weight, inadequate speed, reduced internal fuel capacity and the absence of an electronic warfare suite --- are to be made good before final operational clearance is granted, or in the LCA Mark-II, expected by December 2018.

The CAG report nowhere recognises that, in fighter design anywhere, prototypes invariably go overweight while accommodating all the capabilities and weaponry that the users optimistically specify. Then, while paring down weight, some capabilities are diluted, in consultation with the user air force. In this, the LCA has trodden a well-worn path.

The CAG also finds the LCA’s claimed indigenization exaggerated. While the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the LCA project, has estimated the LCA’s indigenous content to be 61 per cent (see graphic at bottom), the CAG says it "actually worked out to about 35 per cent" as of January 2015. In arriving at this percentage, the CAG does not differentiate between essential design-related and high technology aspects of the LCA and readily available products.

Criticising the slow pace of the LCA’s entry into service, the report notes that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL’s) manufacturing facilities can build just four fighters annually against an envisaged requirement of eight fighters per year. The CAG overlooks the fact that the IAF has ordered only 20 LCAs with another 20 promised after the fighter obtains final operational clearance. Even so, HAL is enhancing production to 16 LCAs per year, a decision that a future CAG report might comment on unfavourably if more IAF orders are not forthcoming.

The media, focused on criticism of the LCA, has overlooked the report’s praise for having successfully developed a modern fighter aircraft. The CAG “appreciate(s) the efforts made by ADA and its work centres in the indigenous development of LCA which is comparable to many contemporary aircraft in the world…”

Getting it right

Essentially, the CAG report is an auditor’s review of a complex, high technology platform development, which involves risks and uncertainties that are not easily captured in a simple balance sheet assessment of targets and budgets. Any assessment of the LCA must start from the fundamental question: what was the objective of developing this fighter? All such programmes choose between two objectives: either utilising readily available technologies to build a fighter that could rapidly enter operational service, e.g. the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder, which is a cleverly re-engineered MiG-21; or pursuing a “technology leapfrog” in building a next-generation fighter, developing new technologies alongside the fighter itself. Obviously, this would take longer, since inevitable delays in the new technology areas would delay the project further.

India’s defence planners went fundamentally wrong in simultaneously attempting both things: building a fighter quickly to replace the retiring MiG-21s, while also attempting, as a “catch-up nation”, to leapfrog technology ambitiously.

From the outset, the LCA was based on fourth-generation (Gen-4) technologies. The first of these is its “unstable design”, which makes it more agile and manoeuvrable than “stable” aircraft that are designed to hold the path they are flying on. Unstable design requires an on-board digital flight control computer that continuously trims the flight controls. A systems failure would be catastrophic, so the flight control system has four levels (quadruplex) backup, a sophisticated design challenge.

Second, the LCA is constructed largely of composite materials that are lighter than conventional metal alloys. This results in a lighter fighter that can carry more fuel and weapons. Third, the LCA has “microprocessor-based utilities”, which means that computers control all the on-board systems like fuel, weapons, environment control, etc. Fourth, the LCA has an all-glass cockpit, in which conventional dials are replaced by intelligent multi-function displays, and the pilot can fly, aim and operate weapons through a helmet-mounted display.

“In our very first attempt, we went in for a frontline, state-of-the-art aircraft. It was complete technological audacity to decide, ‘We’ve never built a fighter before but we’ll start with a Gen-4 design’. Astonishingly, we’ve managed this feat, albeit with delays”, says an ADA official who works at the cutting edge of the LCA programme.

Confrontation, not cooperation

Given the conflict between a high-risk development path and the need to induct fighters quickly, the stage was set for confrontation between the users (IAF) and the developers (ADA, HAL, et al). A former ADA chief says, “The core challenge is managing technology risk. The users demand more and fast; but you don’t have the technology in your hand. This pits the IAF versus DRDO.”

Consequently, the LCA programme has seen more confrontation than cooperation between the IAF and ADA. The CAG notes that, as early as 1989, an LCA Review Committee had recommended the “Need for a Liaison Group between Air HQ and ADA to ensure closer interaction between the design team and the user”. Yet, “no such liaison group was formed and active user (Air HQ) participation in the LCA Programme started only after November 2006, which also impacted the LCA development.”

Even as the IAF criticised ADA, its demands for additional capabilities in the LCA kept delaying the operational clearances. The CAG report points out that in December 2009, the air force asked for the R-73E air-to-air missile to be integrated with the LCA’s radar and the pilots’ helmet mounted displays. The CAG also blames the air force for taking too long to identify a “beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile” for the LCA. Continuing IAF demands for modifications still prevent the LCA design from being frozen for production.

Unlike the IAF, the navy adopted the Naval LCA programme from the start, committing personnel and over Rs 900 crore from the navy budget. Says former naval chief and distinguished fighter pilot Admiral Arun Prakash, “The navy knows the importance of indigenisation, having experienced how foreign aircraft like the Sea Harrier fighter and Sea King helicopter were grounded for lack of support. Unlike the air force, we are not critically dependent upon the LCA, since we have the MiG-29K. But we will support it because it is an Indian fighter.”

The cost-overrun myth

Taking on from the CAG report, numerous media reports have suggested that the LCA’s development cost has ballooned 25-fold, from the initially sanctioned Rs 560 crore to the current budget of Rs 14,047 crore. Both figures are incorrect. This newspaper’s detailed analysis of the LCA budget (February 22, 2011, “When a sword arm is worth it”) quoted the ADA chief, PS Subramanyam, who clarified that Rs 560 crore was not the budget for the entire Tejas programme, but merely for “feasibility studies and project definition”, which also included creation of the infrastructure needed for the new fighter.

The infusion of funds for actual design, development and building of prototypes only began in 1993, with the funds allocated under the heading of “full scale engineering development”. (see graphic below)

Equally misunderstood is the figure of Rs 14,047, which includes the cost of developing both the IAF and naval LCA, covering both the Mark I version as well as Mark II. As the graphic illustrates, the air force Tejas Mark I has so far cost Rs 7,490 crore, and is within its budget of Rs 7,965 crore.

Building capability, not just a fighter

For that amount, tiny compared to the billions that get sucked into developing fighters abroad, ADA says it has developed not just the LCA (and built 16-17 flying prototypes) but also an aerospace ecosystem --- DRDO laboratories, private industry, academic institutions, and test facilities like the National Flight Testing Centre (NFTC) --- that would allow India to build advanced fighters in the future.

Pushpinder Singh, noted aerospace expert and publisher of Vayu magazine, points out that the LCA has overcome all its major technology challenges. What remains, he says, is to tackle the final problems of converting it into a product --- issues like freezing specifications, evolving maintenance procedures and manuals, and the continuing challenge of establishing a fast-moving production line.

“Nothing prevents us from reconfiguring the technologies we have mastered through the LCA into indigenous fifth-generation aircraft like the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and the futuristic Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicle (UCAV). The LCA has been an invaluable springboard and the AMCA will galvanise ‘Make in India’ more than anything done so far”, says Singh.


Graphic: Details of LCA indigenisation

(Source: CAG Report for period ending March 2014)

Serial No
Description of work
Indigenisation level projected
Aerodynamic design
100 per cent
System architecture
100 per cent
Structural design
100 per cent
Manufacture of structure
95 per cent
General systems
85 per cent (import: heat exchangers, pumps, sensors)
Metallic materials
80 per cent
Fully imported
80 per cent (import: displays, generators, ring laser gyros, electronics
100 per cent
Flight control system
40 per cent (import: actuators, sensors)
Indigenous (import: electronic components)
Aircraft integration
100 per cent
Ground test rigs
100 per cent
Flight testing
100 per cent

Total indigenous content
61 per cent

Monday, 18 May 2015

Upgrading India's artillery: Private firms eye greater share in ultralight gun manufacture

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th May 15

India’s increasingly capable private defence firms are pushing for more “Make in India” than BAE Systems Inc (BAE) has proposed in the forthcoming contract for 145 M777 ultra-light guns for the army.

The defence ministry last week cleared the purchase of these 155-millimetre, 39-calibre howitzers from the US Department of Defence (Pentagon) for a budgeted Rs 2,900 crore, which BAE sources say could eventually be about Rs 4,650 crore.

The US-based BAE is selecting an Indian partner to assemble imported kits into M777 guns. This would be done in an “Assembly, Integration and Testing (AIT) facility”, using tools and assembly jigs shipped to India from BAE’s now-shuttered assembly line in Hattiesburg, USA.

BAE is talking to several firms, including Larsen & Toubro (L&T); Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division); Punj Lloyd; the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB); the Kalyani Group, and others.

Chief executive officers (CEOs) from three of these companies tell Business Standard that integrating the gun at an Indian AIT facility would be worth no more than 5 per cent of the contract amount, i.e. about Rs 230 crore.

They say, given Indian industry’s capability to manufacture gun barrels, breeches and components, it is tokenism to confine “Make in India” to just an AIT facility. They say the defence ministry --- being the world’s biggest buyer of artillery guns --- should leverage this position to extract more indigenisation from BAE.

“To promote ‘Make in India’, the M777 gun contract must involve indigenous component manufacture, not just putting it together from imported kits”, says Rajinder Bhatia, defence business chief of the Kalyani Group.

To be sure, manufacturing M777 components presents a technology challenge. They are built largely of titanium, which reduces their weight to just 4.2 tonnes, much lighter than conventional, steel 155-millimetre guns that weigh 10 tonnes. This allows the 39-calibre M777 guns to be transported easily, even heli-lifted, over the difficult mountain terrain on India’s northern borders.

Companies like L&T have delivered aerospace-grade titanium parts for Indian defence systems. Other Indian vendors also claim they could build M777 components in India with technology transferred from BAE.

Even so, building M777 components and systems in India would require the government to look beyond the current 145-gun contract and entice BAE with a larger contract based on India’s expansive artillery needs.

The current 145-gun tender would equip only 6-7 artillery regiments belonging to two newly raised mountain divisions. This is only a small part of the army’s need for light 155-millimetre guns in 50-plus artillery regiments in 16 mountain divisions. This 1,000-gun order would be a lip-smacking prospect that would entice BAE to offer far higher indigenisation.

“Mr Modi threw out the procurement procedure in buying Rafale fighters from France. Similarly, by deviating from the M777 tender and insisting upon higher indigenisation in exchange for a 1000-gun contract, ‘Make in India’ could be galvanised in gun production”, says an Indian defence company CEO.

BAE has signed agreements with a raft of Indian companies to discharge its offset liability in the M777 contract, worth about Rs 1,400 crore. Most of this offset work is believed to be unrelated to the M777.

Indian military doctrine involves bringing down long-range artillery fire on the enemy, pulverizing targets so comprehensively that infantry or tanks attacking them face little resistance, suffering far fewer casualties. On battlefields over the last century, artillery has killed more troops than any other arm.

To do so, the artillery policy envisages a large number of 155-millimetre guns, which fire heavier and more lethal shells than the 105-millimetre and 130-millimetre field guns that equip most artillery regiments.

India’s current 155-millimetre gun arsenal is confined to 400 FH-77 Bofors guns. In addition the OFB has just won a contract to build 114 155-millimetre, 45-calibre guns, which could rise to 414 guns if they perform well. Meanwhile, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is partnering domestic firms in developing a new 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun in the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG) project.

Indian generals and defence ministry officials have criticised the M777’s high price, but have decided it is worth the cost. The 105-millimetre field guns that the M777 will replace cost about Rs 2.5 crore each, one-tenth the M777’s Rs 25 crore tag. The OFB’s 155-millimetre Dhanush gun is half the cost of the M777.

In March/April 2014, then army chief, General Bikram Singh, pronounced the M777 too expensive in a defence ministry meeting. Defence Ministers AK Antony and Arun Jaitley told parliament that the M777 acquisition was stuck because of high cost. Now, without any reduction in cost, the defence ministry has cleared the contract.

India is buying the M777 through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. In this the MoD is the buyer and the Pentagon is the seller, negotiating terms with the supplier (in this case BAE), and charging the customer a small fee.

The cost of the M777 has risen steadily, as evident from successive notifications that BAE has provided the US Congress. In January 26, 2010, the contract price was $647 million, which rose marginally in March 2013 to $694 million. On August 7, 2013, the Pentagon notified the US Congress that the contract was worth “up to $885 million”. Company sources say that, without significant delay, the deal would be signed at about $700-750 million.