Wednesday, 27 August 2014

New naval base for nuclear subs, aircraft carrier, coming up near Visakhapatnam

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Aug 14

The navy has lifted the shroud of secrecy over a major new sea base being built on India’s eastern coast, which will be home to the first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, and an armada of warships under the Eastern Naval Command.

The new base, on the Bay of Bengal, will also house India’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) force. Current plans involve building six SSBNs, to form the underwater leg of the country’s nuclear triad. The first, INS Arihant, will soon be operational; the second and the third are currently being built.

For years, the ministry of defence (MoD) has refused to even acknowledge the existence of the secret new base, which will come up around the coastal hamlet of Rambilli, 50 kilometres south-west of Visakhapatnam. The plan is code named “Project Varsha”.

Divulging that the new base will house conventional as well as nuclear warships, Vice Admiral Satish Soni, the head of Eastern Naval Command, told Business Standard, “We don’t talk about it much for obvious reasons. There are plans for a new base, and we hope to see one in a matter of 7-8 years.”

India’s eastern seaboard on the Bay of Bengal, with deep water and harbours with over 10 metres depth of water, is far better suited as a nuclear submarine and aircraft carrier base than the western seaboard, where the shallower Arabian Sea is barely 4 metres deep along the coast.

Like China’s massive nuclear submarine base at Hainan Island, the depth of water at Rambilli will allow submarines to enter and leave the base without being detected by satellites. This secrecy is crucial for SSBNs, which must remain undetected when they leave for months-long patrols, carrying nuclear tipped ballistic missiles.

China’s rapid naval build-up, and its belligerent handling of maritime disputes with smaller neighbours in the South China Sea and East China Sea, has caused New Delhi to focus keenly on enhancing the operational posture of the eastern fleet, which must counter any threat from China.

The same concerns had, in 2001, led to the creation of the tri-service Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), 1,225 kilometres from Visakhapatnam in the Bay of Bengal. The ANC dominates the Malacca Strait, and the shipping routes between West Asia and South-East Asia.

Visakhapatnam is home to the eastern fleet, India’s biggest, with 50 warships. The new base at Rambilli will decongest Visakhapatnam --- also a major commercial hub --- and provide a secure base that is removed from population centres.

Western Naval Command already has such a base, INS Kadamba, built in 2005 to decongest Mumbai. Located at Karwar, near Goa, it is home to the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, and much of the western fleet. Being built in several phases, that project is code named “Project Seabird”.

With INS Vikrant harboured in Rambilli after the aircraft carrier is commissioned in 2018, the naval air base at Visakhapatnam --- INS Dega --- is being expanded to house the Vikrant’s MiG-29K and Tejas fighters and its helicopters, when the aircraft carrier is not at sea.

Soni says the government has approved Rs 200 crore for infrastructure at INS Dega for the Vikrant’s MiG-29K fighters; and another Rs 200 crore for the navy’s Hawk trainers that will be based at Visakhapatnam.

Visakhapatnam’s importance as a naval aviation centre has been boosted by the recent identification of a secondary airfield, to which aircraft can be diverted in case of emergencies or bad weather at Visakhapatnam. Soni says land acquisition has begun, and the state government has provided an NOC to the navy.

“We are looking at Bobilli, a disused, World War II airfield about 45 nautical miles from here (Visakhapatnam). We will have fighters flying from here so we will need an alternative base, to which flights can be diverted. Bobilli is north west of Visakhapatnam towards Vijaywada”, said Soni.

Currently, the diversionary airfields around Visakhapatnam are: Vijaywada (157 nautical miles); Bhubaneshwar (212 nautical miles); and Shamshabad (279 nautical miles). 

MoD nails Finmeccanica, protects current contracts

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Aug 14

Three days ago, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley promised a new policy that would punish dishonest vendor companies without blocking Indian acquisitions and the flow of spares. On Tuesday, the ministry of defence (MoD) issued a directive on how it will deal with group companies of Italian defence giant, Finmeccanica, whose chief executive, Giuseppe Orsi, was arrested in Italy last year on charges of bribing Indian officials to facilitate the sale of VIP helicopters to India.

The Finmeccanica group companies that are covered under this policy include marine specialist, Whitehead Alenia Sistemi Subacquel (WASS); radar and communications specialist Selex Electronics Systems (ES); aerospace giant, Alenia Aeromacchi; armaments major, Otomelara; and AgustaWestland itself.

While the MoD’s directive on the Finmeccanica group does not constitute policy, it suggests a more flexible approach than the rigid blacklisting and banning that the previous defence minister, AK Antony, followed. The new approach attempts to ensure that ongoing contracts and acquisitions be minimally affected or delayed.

The directive prescribes six differentiated MoD responses, depending upon the stage that a procurement contract is at.

First, where a Finmeccanica company is executing a signed contract, it should be proceeded with. This will ensure that work continues on the radar systems that Selex ES is fitting on the indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant.

Second, where a contract has been fully executed, but spares and upgrades are required regularly, that can continue. This will ensure the continued supply of equipment like the 76 millimetre naval gun, which Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) builds under licence from Otomelara.

Third, where the vendor has been declared as L-1 (cheapest bidder) after tendering, “all such procurement/acquisition cases shall be put on hold until further orders.” This is the most far-reaching decision the MoD has taken, given that WASS has been declared the L-1 bidder in the tender for 98 Black Shark torpedoes for India’s six Scorpene submarines being built in Mumbai. German company, Atlas Elektronik, had hotly contested the decision. Now, the Seahake torpedo, offered by Atlas, emerges as a frontrunner in the $300 million contract.

Fourth, where the tender process is under way, but no L-1 has yet been declared, Finmeccanica companies will be eliminated from consideration, provided there are alternatives. This relates to tenders like the procurement of multi-role helicopters (MRH) for the navy, where two companies are in contention --- US company, Sikorsky; and European consortium, NHIndustries, which is part owned by AgustaWestland. If NHIndustries is eliminated, Sikorsky emerges as the single vendor --- a situation potentially fraught with other difficulties.

Fifth, Finmeccanica companies are to be eliminated from all acquisitions where tendering is yet to commence, provided there are valid alternatives.

This knocks out Alenia Aeromacchi, and its C-27J aircraft, from the $2.5 billion tender to partner an Indian private company in building 56 transport aircraft in India, to replace the ageing Avro-748 transport aircraft.

Sixth and final, where a Finmeccanica group company is a sub-contractor to another foreign vendor, that contract would continue. This covers upgrades that Selex ES is reportedly handling as a sub-contractor to a Russian company.

Interestingly, the new policy does not cover the procurement of AW-101 VIP helicopters, which is at the root of the current situation. While India has taken delivery of three of the contracted 12 helicopters, it has also recovered most of the money it paid, by encashing AgustaWestland’s bank guarantees worth Euro 228 million. MoD sources say New Delhi is no longer interested in the AW-101, and is looking to sell those.

The MoD directive on dealing with Finmeccanica has already been issued to relevant departments within the ministry. Top ministry sources say delay was caused by the change in government, since the new Attorney General had to be consulted before issuing the directive.

The MoD spokesperson says a copy of the letter has been issued to Finmeccanica. However, Finmeccanica officials tell Business Standard that they have not received the new directive.

Italian prosecutors have alleged that AgustaWestland paid some euro 51 million to middlemen, Guido Haschke, Christian Michel and Carlo Gerosa, to seal the deal for VIP helicopters, funnelling the money through software companies, Mohali-based IDS Infotech and Chandigarh-based Aeromatrix Info Solutions Pvt Ltd. After Orsi was arrested on February 12, 2013, the MoD froze the contract, suspended payment to AgustaWestland, and initiated a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry.

The CBI has filed First Information Reports against 15 people, including former IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi. However no charges have been filed against Finmeccanica or AgustaWestland, which has invoked arbitration over the termination of the contract.

Indo, Pak auto parts makers join hands to boost trade

Bilateral dialogue on hold, LoC aflame, but door opens for auto trade
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Aug 14

With the Indo-Pak dialogue in tatters and both armies exchanging fire across the Line of Control, an unexpected opportunity has emerged for boosting trade between the two countries.

The automotive sector has long presented hurdles to the liberalisation of trade, since the Pakistani automotive industry fears being swamped by their world-class Indian counterparts.

Yet, at Lahore, on Aug 22, manufacturing associations from the two countries signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that opens the doors for liberalising trade in this sector.

The meeting at Lahore, organised by the Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER), brought together participants from Automotive Component Manufacturers Association of India (ACMA) and the Pakistan Association of Automotive Parts and Accessories Manufacturers (PAAPAM).  

One challenge in trade negotiations has been to whittle down Pakistan’s negative list of 1,209 items that cannot be imported from India.  Automotive components, comprising of 385 items, constitute the largest share of these. 

To allay Pakistani apprehensions, ICRIER conducted a study to identify automotive items on the negative list where the country would face serious competition from India. To everyone’s surprise, the ICRIER study found that Pakistan would face serious competition in only 35 automotive items. Of these, 30 would enjoy protection even if the negative list were abandoned, since they fall under Pakistan’s sensitive list under the South Asian Free Trade Agreement (SAFTA).

“That really set the Pakistani side thinking. Pakistani automotive industrialists have always seen the advantage of integrating their industries with India’s global supply chain of automotive parts,” recounts Nisha Taneja, ICRIER’s points person on Indo-Pak trade and a key interlocutor between Indian and Pakistani industry and commerce ministries.

Taneja says that Pakistani automotive manufacturers have noted that the auto industries of India are setting up shop in Gujarat, and will inevitably find their way to Punjab, creating the possibility of integrated supply chains across the Wagah border. Proximity would make an already strong case for partnership into an overwhelming one.

ACMA and PAAPAM are planning their next meeting in India in October/November. The two associations are also considering the viability of setting up testing facilities in Pakistan and working together on skills development. They are also establishing a regular program of discussion and meetings, and industrialist-to-industrialist contact.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

MoD reconsidering blacklisting policy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Aug 14

In February 2013, Italian prosecutors arrested Giuseppe Orsi, the chief executive of Italian defence multinational, Finmeccanica on suspicion of paying bribes to facilitate the sale of VIP helicopters to India. Since then, the ministry of defence (MoD) has been in a quandary about whether to blacklist Finmeccanica and all its subsidiaries, or only AgustaWestland, the subsidiary that built and sold the AW-101 helicopters to India.

Blacklisting all Finmeccanica group companies --- which include marine specialist, WASS; radar and communications specialist Selex Electronics Systems; aerospace giant, Alenia Aeromacchi; and armaments major, Otomelara --- would undermine several Indian tenders, in which they are important players.

Now, the MoD will decide on this issue. On Saturday, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said the ministry would see how wrongdoers could be punished without blocking acquisitions and the flow of spares.

“It is a very serious challenge. We have to balance between two competing public interests. One public interest is that contracts are meant to be abided with and not violated, even by our suppliers. The other competing interest is the larger public interest in terms of our national security and defence preparedness. It is an issue that we are fully seized of and we are in the process of finding an answer to this and you will hear about this from us very soon”, said Jaitley.

Clearly referring to the AW-101 VIP helicopters, of which India had already taken delivery of three before terminating the contract with AgustaWestland for twelve helicopters, Jaitley said the decision “relates to cases where (a) violations have taken place and (b) the consequences of those violations affect our defence preparedness… particularly where parts and spares are to be made available.”

The MoD has been alarmed by the potential consequences of blacklisting all Finmeccanica subsidiaries. WASS has been selected in a $300 million tender to supply 98 Black Shark torpedoes for the Scorpene submarines. A reconsideration of this would delay the operationalization of the Scorpene, which is already running several years late. When the submarines start joining the navy’s fleet in 2016, it will be armed only with the Exocet anti-ship missile. There will be no weapon to take on Pakistan’s silent new Khalid-class submarines, the French Agosta-90B. WASS is also a contender for a new decoy system for torpedoes.

Similarly, Finmeccanica company, Otomelara, is the licensee for 76 millimetre guns, built by BHEL, which equip all Indian warships. Otomelara is also a leading bidder in the navy contract for heavier 127 millimetre guns, that are considered more suitable than the lighter, older guns. It is also being considered for supplying 12.7 mm stabilised guns.

Another subsidiary, Selex Electronics Systems (Selex ES) is fitting radar systems on the INS Vikrant, the navy’s indigenous aircraft carrier being built by Cochin Shipyard. Cancelling this would cause major delay in a project that is already three years behind schedule. Selex ES is also bidding to upgrade the navy’s Kamov-28 anti-submarine helicopter. It has completed trials for supplying an advanced pilotless target aircraft (APTA), for training air defence gunners.

Meanwhile Alenia Aeromacchi, another subsidiary, is a much-desired partner in the project for the Indian private sector to build 56 transport aircraft to replace the obsolescent Indian Air Force (IAF) Avro. Alenia’s C-27J transport aircraft, a proven design, is considered closest to what the IAF desires.

Finally, AgustaWestland itself is a leading contender for supplying the navy with a multi role helicopter in the 12-tonne class, to fly from warships and perform the job that the Sea King 42B has been doing with distinction for decades. Besides, with three AW-101 VIP helicopters already delivered, terminating the contract would create uncertainty about spares and support.

Since the blacklisting of AgustaWestland, the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government failed to take a decision on Finmeccanica. Since it came to power, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has sent out mixed messages.

In June, Minister of State for Defence Rao Inderjit Singh had indicated that he would not favour trigger-happy blacklisting that might hamstring Indian defence procurement by preventing many companies from responding to Indian tenders. Yet, earlier this month, the MoD sent out a circular directing that, while tenders involving Finmecannica companies could continue being evaluated, no Finmeccanica company would be actually awarded a contract.

Contacted for comments, MoD spokesperson Sitanshu Kar stated that Finmecannica had not been officially blacklisted.

India gets its first “90 per cent indigenous” warship

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Aug 14

Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kamorta was reborn in Visakhapatnam today, when Defence Minister Arun Jaitley commissioned the navy’s new anti-submarine corvette, which is billed as 90 per cent indigenous.

The Kamorta, and three other corvettes that will follow it --- the Kadmatt, Kiltan and Kavaratti --- are reincarnations of an earlier line of eleven Soviet-supplied Arnala-class corvettes. The earlier INS Kamorta entered service in 1968 and provided INS Vikrant, with anti-submarine protection when the aircraft carrier blockaded East Pakistan during the 1971 war. It was decommissioned in 1991.

“While the earlier Kamorta was acquired from erstwhile Soviet Union, this one is ‘swadeshi’”, said navy chief, Admiral Robin Dhowan, at the commissioning.

While the Arnala-class corvettes were barely 1000 tonnes, the new Kamorta is a muscular 3,300 tonnes. It is designed to destroy incoming anti-ship missiles and aircraft and striking ground targets, in addition to its primary role of submarine killer.

However, much like the destroyer, INS Kolkata, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned on Aug 16, the Kamorta is joining the fleet without several of these capabilities. The navy says they will be added on later.

So far, the Kamorta cannot fully perform even its primary role of detecting and destroying submarines. It has not been fitted with the advanced towed array sonar (ATAS), which is vital for detecting submarines, especially in the warm, shallow waters of the Arabian Sea. Until the ministry of defence (MoD) is able to procure an ATAS for at least 25 warships that lack it, the Kamorta will remain reliant on its less capable hull-mounted sonar, the indigenous HUMSA-NG.

As crippling for the Kamorta is the absence of an anti-submarine helicopter, for which it has a hangar and a landing deck. The navy has just 10-12 functional Sea King 42B anti-submarine helicopters, insufficient to equip all the warships that require these. The Sea King 42B carries a “dunking sonar”, which it lowers into the water to detect submarines from giveaway sounds; and then drops “depth charges” to destroy the submarine.

The navy has been trying to buy a multi-role helicopter (MRH) for several years to boost its anti-submarine capability, but the MoD has never pushed the procurement forcefully. The chief of the Eastern Naval Command, Vice Admiral Satish Soni, laments that he is “woefully short” of helicopters.

All our helicopters are ageing and need replacement yesterday. The case for acquisition of helicopters has been going on for some time. Hopefully we will have the MRH being sanctioned quickly,” says Soni.

Also deficient is the Kamorta’s anti-missile and anti-air capability. Its surface-to-air missile (SAM) has still not been decided and the warship has two empty canisters where an SAM will eventually be fitted. Without that long-range capability, air defence is left to a 76 millimetre super-rapid gun mount (SRGM), which is built by Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd, and an AK-630 multi-barrel gun that lays down a curtain of lead to destroy incoming missiles and aircraft.

Since the Kamorta does not have a land attack missile, its capacity for shore bombardment is limited to the 76 mm SRGM. The navy, aware that this is only a light weapon, has issued a tender for a heavier 127 mm SRGM. So far, that acquisition has made little headway.

The defence minister plays down the Kamorta’s lack of readiness. He said: “If one of the weapons is not there because it is in the process of production or procurement, it shall be installed expeditiously as it is available. This is a process that takes time. It is a learning curve for the defence industry and for our own research institutions.”

The Kamorta has been built by Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE) for Rs 1,900 crore. It was to be delivered in 2009, with the Kadmatt, Kiltan and Kavaratti following at one-year intervals. The project, therefore, is being completed five years late.

Key to the success of an anti-submarine warship is the ability to operate silently. The Kamorta’s engine and gearbox have been mounted on a special platform to kill vibration.

INS Kamorta is named after an island in the Andaman & Nicobar chain. The navy traditionally names warships after rivers, mountains, islands, cities and islands. 

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Signs that India's nuclear command and control structure is evolving

Is India’s nuclear command network ready?

Awards presented by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to two DRDO project teams on Aug 20th in the category of “Strategic Contribution”  suggest rapid evolution in the command and control networks for India’s nuclear arsenal.

(a) A team led by U Jeya Santhi was awarded for “design, development, erection and commissioning of Strategic Command and Control infrastructure comprising a secured, multi-layered, Strategic Communication Network and specialised… hardened structures.”

(b) A team led by K Ravi Sankar, was awarded for developing “Security Solutions for Strategic Communication Networks for securing sensitive data… high-speed point-to-point links which incorporate indigenous high grade encryption algorithms.”

Better innovation for the military: Modi to DRDO

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Aug 14

In an extempore address on his first visit to the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) on Wednesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi threw up four out-of-the-box suggestions to rejuvenate the functioning of India’s best-funded technology research organization.

Lauding the DRDO’s successes, Modi likened its technologists to the sages (“rishis”) of ancient India, who isolated themselves from the world to produce intellectual masterpieces.

Urging close contact between those who develop weapons and those who use them, the PM suggested that the DRDO should consult closely with the soldiers, sailors and airmen, who would provide innovative and practical ideas to pursue.

"Are our scientists getting the opportunity to interface with Army personnel? Has the jawan ever seen the “rishi” who has laboured in a laboratory for 15 years? When this happens, it will be very good,” said Modi.

Accepting the need for high-tech equipment, the PM asked the DRDO to focus on the soldier’s personal kit. For example, a water bottle that weighed, say, 300 grams, could be brought down to 150 grams; the soldier could be given lighter boots to reduce fatigue.

The PM next suggested that the DRDO should empower its younger scientists by manning 5 of its 52 laboratories with scientists who were all under 35 years of age. "We need labs in India which utilize raw talent, which employ people only below the age of 35. Let us allow these young scientists full decision-making power," he said.

Talking later to Business Standard, DRDO chief, Avinash Chander, confirmed he would implement this idea. “Already some DRDO laboratories, especially those dealing with 21st century subjects like cyber security, electronic warfare and underwater systems, are manned almost entirely by scientists under 35”, he said.

Speaking before the PM, Chander had identified the rising age profile of the DRDO as an urgent problem, which could be addressed by recruiting 300 young scientists every year.

Modi’s third idea addressed a key DRDO bugbear: endemic time overruns in developing equipment. The PM suggested that, rather than developing weaponry that is already in service with advanced militaries, the DRDO should focus on equipment still on global drawing boards, and beat other countries in developing these.

"Our big challenge is to complete our work before time. If the world will finish something in 2020, can we do it by 2018?" Modi said.

Interestingly, the PM noted that project delays stemmed from an easy-going national attitude, rather than from any shortage of ability or resources. "I think there is this 'chalta hai' (lackadaisical) attitude".

Finally, Modi suggested that DRDO scientists be seconded to selected universities and academic institutions, where they could direct and mentor student research. He pointed out that award winning DRDO scientists would be an inspiration to research scholars.

The PM was attending the DRDO’s annual awards ceremony. Speaking earlier, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said, “India’s peculiar geographical location cannot be altered. We are located in a disturbed neighbourhood. National security is our topmost priority and, for that, technology is important.”

Jaitley pitched strongly for making India “a hub for defence manufacturing”. He said, “So far we have lived with an error, where we were quite satisfied partly researching and partly manufacturing ourselves, and substantially relying on equipment from outside. I think that equation is slowly changing; but this slow pace needs to be expedited and it is an expedition itself.”