Friday, 24 October 2014

First Sukhoi-30 overhauled at Nashik, highlights HAL’s growing capability

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Oct 14

Next week, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Nashik will, complete the first ever overhaul of a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter. HAL test pilots will now test-fly the aircraft to ensure that it has emerged from the overhaul as good as new. Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, has been invited to Nashik next month to accept the overhauled fighter back into his combat fleet.

HAL’s new overhaul facility will save the IAF hundreds of crore rupees, while giving leases of life to its Su-30MKIs. Not even Russia overhauls this fighter, a process that involves stripping it to its bare bones, checking every system and sub-system, replacing numerous components, and then reassembling the fighter anew.

A Su-30MKI is overhauled after flying 1,500 hours or 14 years, whichever is first. Over its total service life of 6,000 flying hours or 30-40 years, each fighter undergoes three overhauls. Eventually the IAF’s fleet of 272 Su-30MKIs will undergo 816 overhauls --- three per fighter.

HAL officials say overhauling in India costs far less than what “original equipment manufacturers”, or OEMs, charge --- typically 35-40 per cent of the cost of a brand new fighter.

“OEMs usually price new fighters reasonably, but make their money by charging heavily for repair and overhaul. Establishing overhaul capability in India defeats this pricing strategy,” says Wing Commander Neelu Khatri, a former IAF logistics specialist.

HAL Nashik also stands to benefit from business from other air forces that operate the Su-30. Says a MoD official; “Nashik is the world’s only overhaul facility for the Su-30MKI. Potentially, it could get overhaul orders from countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Algeria, etc, which fly variants of the Su-30”.

Through years of building the Su-30MKI, HAL Nashik has gradually mastered the expertise that makes it one of the world’s most feared fighters. Says the chief of HAL’s Nashik facility, S Subrahmanyan: “More 51 per cent of the Su-30MKI by value is currently made in India, a little more than the 49 per cent agreed with Russia in the contract signed in 2000 to build 140 fighters in India.

Of the 43,000 components that go into a Su-30MKI, 31,500 components --- or 73 per cent --- are now being built in India.

Further indigenisation is blocked since the Indo-Russian contract mandates that all raw materials that goes into the Su-30MKI --- including 5,800 titanium blocks and forgings, aluminium and steel plates, etc --- must be sourced from Russia. The contract also stipulates that another 7,146 items like nuts, bolts, screws and rivets must be sourced from Russia.

HAL has also partially indigenised the Su-30MKI’s giant AL-31FP engines, which are built in Koraput, Odisha. 53 per cent of the engine by cost has been indigenised, with the remaining 47 per cent consisting of high-tech composites and special alloys --- proprietary secrets that Russia will not part with. Even so, HAL builds 87.7 per cent of the engine’s components in India.

Given HAL, Nashik’s growing expertise, it is surprising that the overhaul facility at Nashik has taken 14 years to overhaul its first fighter. This is because the initial contract, signed in 2000 for building 140 fighters in India, did not include provisions for overhaul --- a mistake, say contract lawyers.

The delay was compounded because Russia itself has no Su-30 overhaul facility (the Russian Air Force did not buy the fighter until well after India). Only in 2008 did New Delhi and Moscow sign an overhaul contract. Until last year, aircraft parts and systems were going to Russia for overhaul.

In 2010, the first IAF Su-30MKI fighters, which had joined the fleet in 2000, were due for overhaul, in accordance with the original schedule, which was 1,500 flying hours or 10 years. Since the fighters had flown far less than 1,500 hours, Sukhoi was approached to extend the time period between overhaul. After numerous inspections and “accelerated aging tests”, Sukhoi revised the overhaul schedule to 1,500 flying hours or 14 years, whichever comes first.

“The MoD has sanctioned an overhaul capacity of 15 fighters per year; next year we will overhaul 10-12 fighters and then stabilize at 15 fighters annually. We have already approached the MoD to step up capacity to 30 fighters per year, which will cater for our requirements into the 2030s” says Subrahmanyan.

Of the thirty Su-30MKIs that will be overhauled each year, HAL will do 20, while an IAF base repair depot will overhaul the other 10. 

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Government takes note of Su-30MKI’s poor serviceability

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 14

Even before an Indian Air Force (IAF) Sukhoi-30MKI crashed on October 14, near Lohegaon Air Base outside Pune, concern has been mounting over growing numbers of crashes, incidents involving engine failure, and the worrying fact that, at any given time, barely half the Su-30MKI fleet is available for combat missions.

According to ministry of defence (MoD) figures accessed by Business Standard, the serviceability rate of the Su-30MKI was just 48 per cent till last year. The remaining fighters were undergoing repair or maintenance.

Today, availability has risen slightly to 55 per cent, far lower than advanced western air forces, which generate 80-85 per cent availability rates. In terms of aircraft numbers, only 106 of the 193 Su-30MKIs that the IAF flies today would be available in war. The remaining 87 fighters, each worth Rs 358 crore at current prices, would remain on the ground.

“That’s more than Rs 30,000 crore just sitting there in hangars”, notes a senior MoD official.

Last month, the MoD held two high-level meetings to find solutions to this problem. According to figures presented in those meeting (a) 20 per cent of the fleet, i.e. some 39 Su-30MKIs, are undergoing “first line” and “second line” maintenance or inspections at any time, which is the IAF’s responsibility; (b) Another 11-12 per cent of the fleet is undergoing major repair and overhaul by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL); and (c) 13-14 per cent of the fleet is grounded, awaiting major systems or repairs --- the technical terms is: “aircraft on ground”.

For decades, the IAF has accused HAL of poor workmanship and maintenance. At the MoD meeting on Su-30MKI serviceability, HAL turned the tables on the IAF.

The MoD was informed about serious problems with the IAF’s management of spares. By standard norms, a fighter fleet consumes 5 per cent of its worth in consumables and spares each year. By that benchmark the Su-30MKI fleet, currently worth about Rs 69,000 crore --- 193 Su-30MKIs at Rs 358 crore per fighter --- should consume spares worth Rs 3,450 crore annually. Yet, IAF orders from HAL add up to less than Rs 50 crore, including ground handling equipment.

Without competent inventory management by the IAF, and with spares ordered piecemeal when defects arise, Su-30MKI fighters spend weeks on the ground awaiting spares.

To ensure that 13-14 per cent of the Su-30MKI fleet is not grounded for want of spares, HAL has stockpiled spares worth Rs 400 crore in Nashik. According to S Subrahmanyan, the chief of HAL’s Nashik facility, the inventory is based on a study of consumption patterns of Su-30MKI spares over the preceding five years.

HAL says this buffer stock includes spares that are still purchased from Russia, because low consumption volumes make indigenisation non-cost-effective. Even so, non-availability of these spares could ground aircraft.

Simultaneously, HAL has proposed to the MoD that the IAF must order spares required over a 5-year period, stocking them at 25 Equipment Depot, the IAF’s holding depot for spares at Nashik.

Separately, HAL has offered the IAF “Performance Based Logistics” (PBL) for the Su-30MKI fleet --- a solution common in advanced western air forces. PBL would bind HAL to maintain the Su-30MKI, providing the IAF a specified serviceability rate --- calculated in flight hours, or as a percentage of the total aircraft fleet --- in exchange for an annual service charge.

Besides saving maintenance costs for the IAF, PBL has been found to encourage quality manufacture, since manufacturers know they will be responsible for keeping the aircraft serviceable through its operational life.

MoD officials say the IAF dislikes the PBL model, because outsourcing maintenance to HAL threatens a large maintenance empire built around “base repair depots”, manned by IAF personnel. In 2008-09, the IAF rejected HAL’s proposal for a PBL contract for maintaining the Hawk advanced jet trainer.

HAL is confident that it can deliver higher serviceability rates for the Su-30MKI than the current 58 per cent. The company has argued that raising aircraft availability by 20 per cent would make 40 Su-30MKI additionally available to the IAF, effectively adding two fighter squadrons to its strike power.

The Su-30MKI fleet, which currently numbers 193 fighters --- 50 built in Russia and 143 built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Nashik --- will rise to 272 fighters by 2018-19, when HAL delivers the last of the 222 fighters it will build.

(This is the first of a two-part series)

Sukhois grounded after pilot seats ejected on their own

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 14

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has released disturbing details of why a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter crashed on October 14 near Lohegaon Air Base, Pune, while coming in to land after an uneventful flight. According to the IAF, the fighter’s ejection seats fired without reason, leaving it without either of its two pilots.

The IAF has now grounded its entire fleet of 193 Su-30MKI fighters, to allow a Court of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate the accident. That puts one-third of the IAF’s fighter fleet out of action, a blow for a force that makes do with just 34 squadrons, against an authorized establishment of 39.5 squadrons.

The ministry of defence (MoD) announced on Wednesday: “(A)s is the procedure in such cases, the flying of the Su-30 fleet has been temporarily suspended.  The CoI is in progress and certain specific checks are being conducted on the aircraft.  As and when the checks are complete and the Court is satisfied, the Su-30s will be put back into flying.”

This unprecedented incident has the potential to cause a serious loss of confidence in an unusually safe fighter that is considered the backbone of the air force. The aircraft that crashed --- as evident from its tail number, SB 050 --- was the last of the 50 Su-30MKIs that Russia supplied to India, after building it in Sukhoi’s Irkutsk plant.

The IAF has named the pilots as Wing Commander Sidharth V Munje and Flying Officer Anup Kumar. Both pilots were from the Lohegaon-based 30 Squadron, which calls itself “The Rhinos”.

“In my 40 years of flying, I have never heard of such an incident of automatic ejection. For the morale of the pilots who fly the Su-30MKI, the cause of this crash must be found and remedial measures transparently instituted”, says Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak (Retired), a veteran who has extensively flown the Canberra light bomber.

Fortunately, both the pilots (in the Su-30MKI, one is designated pilot and the other is weapon systems operator) parachuted down safely. The IAF has stated that, “No loss of life or damage to property was reported.”

Miraculously --- and fortunately for the investigation --- the aircraft survived the unpiloted crash without major structural damage. Serving IAF officers say that a bad crash and fire might have destroyed crucial evidence.

Experts say the crash was obviously caused by a technical defect, since both pilots appear to have ejected without any emergency or malfunction. Nor could one of the pilots have accidentally triggered the ejection, since the Su-30MKI requires each pilot to operate his ejection seat independently.

The Su-30MKI is fitted with Russian K-36DM “zero-zero” ejection seats, which allow pilots to safely bail out at zero altitude (i.e. from an aircraft on the ground), at zero speed (i.e. from a stationary aircraft).

Earlier Russian ejection seats, such as those fitted on the MiG-21, often caused spinal injuries during bailout. The K-36DM seat, however, is considered as safe as the most modern western ejection seats.

This is the fifth crash of a Su-30MKI since the IAF began flying the fighter in 2000. There were no crashes in the first 9 years, but the last 5 years have seen five crashes involving the total write-off of the fighters involved. One IAF pilot has been killed in one of these crashes.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Nuclear-capable Nirbhay missile successfully test fired

Success proves Nirbhay sub-sonic cruise missile can strike 1,000 km into enemy territory

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Oct 14

Shortly after 10 a.m. on Friday, October 17, while the prime minister was exhorting an annual meeting in Delhi of top military commanders from the army, navy and air force to be ready for any call to arms, India’s newest missile blasted off from a road-mobile launcher at the Chandipur test range on the coast of Odisha.

This was the Nirbhay long-range cruise missile, which can be launched at a target more than 1000 kilometres away. Flying at treetop level and navigating its way through heavily defended enemy airspace where a manned fighter would be quickly shot down by anti-aircraft missiles and guns, the Nirbhay is better equipped to survive the flight to its target. Its relatively slow flight speed, just 1,000 kilometres per hour, allows it to navigate its way precisely to the target.

In Friday’s test, the Nirbhay demonstrated its entire bag of tricks. Launched from a canister, it blasted off vertically like a conventional rocket, then quickly levelled off into horizontal flight, or “cruise mode”. The solid rocket motor was quickly jettisoned and its second-stage, turbofan engine started up, propelling the missile forward.

Over the next 70 minutes, the missile navigated its way to 15 pre-designated “way points”, using a sophisticated inertial navigation system, which can take assistance from the GPS satellite network. Halfway through the test, the Nirbhay did a pre-programmed U-turn and headed back to Chandipur. After travelling 1,050 kilometres, the test was terminated and the missile splashed into the Bay of Bengal.

The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) says the missile was monitored throughout its flight, including by an air force aircraft that flew above it.

“The missile maintained an accuracy better than 10 meters throughout its path and covered a distance of more than 1,000 km. The successful indigenous development of Nirbhay cruise missile will fill a vital gap in the war fighting capabilities of our armed forces”, said DRDO chief, Dr Avinash Chander.

This was the second test of the Nirbhay. Its maiden flight test, conducted on March 12, 2013, had to be terminated mid-way when the missile started deviating from its intended course.

The Nirbhay cruise missile is an Indian version of the American Tomahawk, which became an icon of high-tech warfare in the 1991 Gulf War through televised CNN footage of Tomahawks flying through the streets of Baghdad and precisely entering target buildings through open windows.

The Nirbhay has equally sophisticated facilities. It can “loiter” around a target, i.e. fly in circles until it is time to strike. Further, it can precisely distinguish its specified target within a bunch of similar targets.

Defence analysts have long speculated over whether the Nirbhay can carry a nuclear warhead. The missile tested today carried a warhead of 350 kilogrammes; that is the weight of a sophisticated nuclear weapon with a modern design.

The Nirbhay tested today was 7.5 metres long, which allows it to be configured for launch from land, sea, underwater and air. Submarines present the greatest challenge, since a submarine launched cruise missile (SLCM) must be accommodated inside the cramped hull.

Indian submarines fitted with nuclear-tipped Nirbhay missiles would increase the versatility of the underwater leg of the nuclear triad.

A key hurdle to developing a long-range cruise missile like the Nirbhay is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which forbids signatory countries from assisting or providing technology to any other country developing a cruise missile with a range of 300 kilometres or more. India and Russia legally collaborated in developing the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile because its range was pegged at 295 kilometres, just below the MTCR limit. In building the Nirbhay, however, India has had to go it alone.

The key design challenge, which was to develop an air-breathing turbine engine that can propel the Nirbhay, was met by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bangalore.

Pakistan, which has earlier tested and deployed the Babur (Hatf VII) cruise missile, is believed to have been supplied the engine by China, in violation of the MTCR.

Friday, 17 October 2014

Nirbhay cruise missile tested successfully


According to a DRDO press release, the Nirbhay cruise missile, with a range in excess of 1,000 kilometres, was successfully test-fired from the test range at Chandipur, Odisha, this morning. A video of the launch is placed above.

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

India’s crown of thorns

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Oct 14

Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) remains in the news, mostly for negative reasons --- the devastating flood and its aftermath; ceasefire violations on the border; and for what is shaping up to be a communally polarised election. With New Delhi failing to engage Srinagar meaningfully, resentful Kashmiris have dismissed its flood rescue effort as a self-serving gimmick, and blamed Indian bull-headedness for ceasefire violations. The forthcoming elections --- which New Delhi likes to hold up as Kashmir’s acceptance of democratic India --- will be dissed by Kashmiris as an Indian ploy.

If Prime Minister Modi is to drain the Kashmiri ulcer, he cannot be deterred by the strident, pro-azadi rhetoric, which reflects just one side of the Kashmiri brain. Instead, he must reach out to the other side, launching a serious initiative to convince Kashmiris that their future lies with India. New Delhi’s shabby practice for winning Kashmiri hearts has traditionally been to throw money at the valley through leaky schemes that benefits only the venal political-contractor lobby that is India’s constituency in the valley. Most Kashmiris find this practice deeply offensive, yearning as they do for political solutions to the 25-year-old armed uprising and the six-decade-long political struggle.

Mr Modi must, therefore, reach out to the valley with eye-catching political concessions. The obvious, low-hanging fruit waiting to be plucked is the Jammu & Kashmir Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1990 (AFSPA), the emergency law that legally empowers the army to search, apprehend, destroy property and shoot to kill on suspicion. The generals insist they need the protection of AFSPA in an environment in which militancy has taken control of the judiciary. In 2011, when J&K chief minister, Omar Abdullah, proposed revoking AFSPA in the districts of Srinagar, Budgam, Jammu and Samba, the army’s top commander in the valley, Lieutenant General Syed Ata Hasnain --- an officer acclaimed for his outreach --- flatly rejected the idea as premature.

Hasnain offered a comprehensive rationale for retaining AFSPA. He argued that the peace of 2011, coming after three straight years of mass street agitations across Kashmir, was a separatist strategy to rest, regroup and recruit; before resuming the agitation in 2012. Declaring that Kashmir presented not just a law and order problem but also an existential threat to India, Hasnain said the army’s road lifelines to its defences on the Line of Control pass through Srinagar and Badgam. He pointed out that the air approaches to Srinagar airfield, used by civilian airliners and military aircraft, needed to be secured by the army, as did the Srinagar cantonment, from where war with Pakistan would be directed. Underlying the army’s reluctance to forego AFSPA is the conviction that, once lifted, its reintroduction would be politically impossible, even in a crisis. Neither the central, nor state, governments have reassured the army on this account.

The army steadfastly rejects the proposal to withdraw AFSPA from Srinagar and Badgam, even though the J&K Police and the Central Reserve Police Force protect these districts, neither of which are covered by AFSPA. The generals argue that police and CRPF protection is just one layer of security. As important for keeping these districts safe are “area domination” operations by army columns to keep militants at bay. These operations, says the army, must be covered by AFSPA.

So far the army’s apprehensions have proved to be unfounded. The years since 2011 have gone by without renewed street protests. Now a new spectre has been raised --- the army says the NATO drawdown from Afghanistan at the end of this year could bring jihadi hordes flooding into Kashmir. Next year the bogey could be The Islamic State. One Kashmiri has asked me whether complete, global peace is a pre-requisite for lifting AFSPA and restoring normalcy in Kashmir.

Thinking strategically, rather than merely tactically or operationally, it is hard to dispute that AFSPA has emerged as a potent symbol of oppression, the disadvantages of which transcend any protection that it might once have provided the military. The army understands that, in battle, when a defensive position is under overwhelming attack, it is time to withdraw to a fallback position. Yet the generals have not translated that battlefield common sense to an identical situation on the psychological and perceptual plane. Defending AFSPA is simply too damaging for the army’s own image. It is time to fall back to the next position, by devising operating procedures that do not require the protection of this draconian law.

Criticism of AFSPA, which resonates worldwide, is embarrassing for New Delhi. In 2005, the Jeevan Reddy Committee, established to review AFSPA, termed it “a symbol of oppression, an object of hate and an instrument of discrimination and high-handedness.” In 2013, the Justice J S Verma Committee, which was set up to examine criminal law relating to sexual assault, sharply criticised AFSPA and recommended its immediate repeal. Last year, the Justice Santosh Hegde Commission, mandated to examine extrajudicial executions in Manipur, noted that AFSPA had made “a mockery of the law”. International criticism has been as sharp with several UN special rapporteurs, and international human rights bodies urging New Delhi to repeal the law.

Repealing this law is essential for enhancing India’s moral stature and that of the army. It would substantially defang the criticism of human rights groups and that of Kashmiri separatists. Finally, it would send out an unmistakeable signal that New Delhi is ready for a political dialogue with Kashmir, a prerequisite for restoring normalcy to that troubled state. 

Monday, 13 October 2014

Amnesty changes its style, seeks cooperation with New Delhi

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13 Oct 14

For decades, Amnesty International has been New Delhi’s gadfly in Kashmir, its crusading officials seldom questioning local accounts of human rights (HR) violations, compiled into reports that shone a bleak light on the Government of India.

On March 20, 2005, while US President Bill Clinton was visiting New Delhi, unidentified gunmen massacred 35 Sikhs in Chittisinghpura village in Kashmir. Amnesty International, as was its practice at that time, made a few phone calls and put out a report that suggested that Indian soldiers has staged the massacre.

Amnesty’s fanciful report said, “Several witnesses have said that about 20 men, clad in olive green combat fatigues, arrived in the village at 7.15 p.m. They told the people that they were Indian soldiers, and ordered the men out to be questioned…. As they started firing, the gunmen shouted 'Jai Mata Di' and 'Jai Hind'. In theatrical fashion, one of them took swigs from a bottle of rum (liquor popular with the army) even as the killing went on. While leaving, one of the men called out to his associates: "Gopal, chalo hamare saath" ("Gopal, Come with us").”

Since then, numerous analysts, including former CIA official, Bruce Riedel, have been convinced that the Laskhkar-e-Toiba conducted the carnage. Yet, Amnesty’s report still resonates. Most Kashmiris still believe the Indian Army killed the innocents of Chittisinghpura during President Clinton’s visit to highlight Pakistan’s meddling in J&K.

After decades of slamming New Delhi with such poorly sourced and inadequately verified reports on HR violations in Kashmir, Amnesty International has realised that it had marginalized itself in the world biggest democracy.

Since 2010-11, Amnesty --- which won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and has 4.6 million members worldwide today --- has overhauled its structure and style, seeking to work with, rather than talk down to, New Delhi.

Since it was founded in 1961, Amnesty was controlled from London, since a majority of its donors are from wealthy western democracies --- the so-called “Global North”. Now Amnesty wants to extend its influence to the “Global South” --- the less developed countries (LDCs), and growing powers like Brazil, China, India and Russia.

“We want to be taken seriously in India. So we decided to be Indian in character, obtain funds from Indian donors, and be led by an Indian. Amnesty India’s business strategy aims to be fully self-reliant by 2019”, says V Shashikumar, who is joint head of Amnesty India, along with V Anantapadmanabhana.

This new approach has disconcerted Kashmiri separatists who have long been accustomed to pliant HR reportage. When an Amnesty team visited Srinagar in 2012, local newspapers complained that a “compromised Amnesty” could not be fair. Separatists like Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Yasin Malik told the delegation that only foreigners could be trusted.

The militants, including Hizbul Mujahideen chief, Syed Salahuddin, were even more scathing, declaring that Amnesty worked “hand-in-glove” with New Delhi.

“They (Amnesty) are shedding crocodile tears to mislead people. Tell me how many times they have taken the issue of atrocities on civilians in Kashmir by forces to international forums” Salahuddin told Srinagar-based Kashmir News Service (KNS) over the phone on April 7, 2013,

Amnesty India is now a 50,000-member organisation that no longer relies on London for direction or funding. Its team of 80 workers reach out to potential Indian donors and members through a sophisticated social media campaign.

“We have told the government that we are eliminating any dependence on foreign funding. That means laws like the Foreign Contribution (Regulation) Act, 2010 (FCRA) will no longer be a bugbear”, says Shashikumar.

Yet Amnesty intends to continue its “campaigning” approach, releasing reports publicly, and goading New Delhi to act. This contrasts with the “advocacy” approach of other HR bodies like Human Rights Watch (HRW), or the United Nations Commission for Human Rights, which work behind-the-scenes with the government.

In 2011, Amnesty published “A ‘Lawless Law’”, a report on the draconian J&K Public Safety Act, 1978, under which Amnesty says 8,000-20,000 citizens have been detained without charge or trial over the last two decades.

Amnesty is also campaigning against the Armed Forces Special Powers (Jammu and Kashmir) Act, 1990, especially Section 7, which mandates prior permission from the central government to prosecute a member of the military in areas where the AFSPA is in force.

New Delhi remains suspicious. An Intelligence IB report, prepared soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power, has painted foreign-funded NGOs as encumbrances to India’s economic growth --- responsible for a presumptive loss to India's GDP of 2-3 per cent. The report named several NGOs including Greenpeace India, Amnesty and ActionAid, accusing them for stalling industrial projects, such as those floated by POSCO and Vedanta, by operating through local organizations such as PUCL and Narmada Bachao Andolan.