Monday, 24 August 2009

US and Indian troops to begin training together for war



(Photos: US and Indian troops sharing expertise during previous Yudh Abhyas exercises)










by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th August 09

Since 2004, American GIs and Indian jawans have trained together to combat terrorists and insurgents. Now, the two armies are about to begin training to fight a war together.

Underlining the growing military-to-military relationship, a US Army battalion group of several hundred soldiers and some 50 frontline Stryker armoured vehicles, will travel to India in October and train with Indian strike formation units at the Babina Field Firing Ranges near Jhansi. This exercise, named Yudh Abhyas 2009, will include live firing by heavy combat vehicles.

It will be the first time mechanised units of an Indian strike corps, which bases its power on T-72 and T-90 tanks, BMP-II infantry combat vehicles, missiles and 155-mm medium artillery guns, will train or share expertise with any foreign army. The Indian units taking part will be selected from the Jhansi-headquartered 31 Armoured Division.

The annual Yudh Abhyas exercises (which US soldiers are told is pronounced as “You da Boss”) kicked off in March 2004, when 60 Indian jawans and 55 US soldiers from Alaska jointly raided mock insurgent hideouts in the jungles of Mizoram.

Since then, Yudh Abhyas has expanded each year in size, scope and complexity. Last November, in Yudh Abhyas 08, an Indian Air Force IL-76 aircraft had flown a company (120 soldiers) of Indian jawans to Hawaii for training in counter-insurgency with US soldiers of the US Pacific Command. Their simulated operations were controlled by India’s 49 Infantry Brigade, which set up a command post in Hawaii as part of the exercise.

But Yudh Abhyas 2009 will impart a different trajectory to the military-to-military relationship. This is no longer about raids on insurgent hideouts or terrorist camps; strike corps training is for fighting a full-scale war together. This year, American and Indian mechanised forces will synchronise operations, planning, manoeuvring and firing together to capture a simulated objective.

Senior Indian Army officers have confirmed to Business Standard that the US Army Stryker vehicles and crews will be transported to India by sea. They will come from the US Pacific Command, or US PACOM, which is headquartered in Hawaii and which oversees US military interests from the US west coast to the western border of India.

Starting from Pakistan, and extending across West Asia, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) is responsible for American military interests. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are under the jurisdiction of CENTCOM.

Approached for their comments on Yudh Abhyas 09, the Hawaii-based USPACOM has not responded. But speaking off the record, senior US Army officers have expressed satisfaction at what they term a “quantum jump” in the US-India military relationship.

One US officer notes, “Singapore armoured units have come earlier to Babina to fire their tanks since they don’t have the space to practise in Singapore. Similarly, Singapore air force fighter aircraft fire in Pokhran and artillery units fire near Nashik. But this is not just about firing. Yudh Abhyas 09 will see the two armies practising how to fight a full-scale war together. And the engagement will only grow closer.”

Saturday, 22 August 2009

The Broadsword community MMRCA selection


Photo: A cutaway of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. This aircraft is not in contention in India's MMRCA tender.




Many visitors to Broadsword have expressed strong views on the ongoing selection process for India’s proposed Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). But do we really need an MMRCA and, if so, what kind?

Let’s examine this 11 billion dollar question on Broadsword, based not upon gut reactions but on a cold assessment of our needs and our means.

I invite visitors to post on this subject. Let’s break down the decision-making into the following heads:

How many squadrons does the Indian Air Force (IAF) need?

In October 1962, the Government of India sanctioned 45 squadrons for the IAF, which was later stepped up to 65 squadrons (both these included transport and air observation squadrons). An expert committee later suggested that the IAF needed 39.5 combat squadrons.

Given our operational requirements (which need to be quantified), and the strength of our likely adversaries, what is our reasonable requirement of combat squadrons?

Force multiplication

To what extent would the introduction of force multipliers --- e.g. AWACS, network-centricity, satellite surveillance, etc --- reduce our requirement of squadrons? Please quantify.

Light, Medium and Heavy fighters

How should this total requirement be broken down into light, medium and heavy combat aircraft? After breaking down the requirement, calculate (squadron by squadron) obsolescence schedules and when aircraft of a squadron must be phased out. That will give you a chronological map of when you need different types of aircraft.

Fleet structure and types

What would be the best mix of aircraft that would allow commonality of parts (and hence ease of backup and servicing); interoperability; and operational flexibility.

ALL THIS WILL PROVIDE REASONABLE PREMISES BASED UPON WHICH WE CAN CALCULATE OUR REQUIREMENT OF MMRCA’s.

Give your inputs. Everyone's ideas are completely valid.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

A detailed look at the Car Nicobar class Water Jet Fast Attack Craft (WJ-FAC), being produced at GRSE Kolkata








(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)
Photo 1 : A view of the INS Cheriyam WJ-FAC from front and left.

Photo 2 : The yard plate in the bridge of the INS Cheriyam






Photo 3 : Inside the bridge on the INS Cheriyam






Photo 4 : A view of the three water jets on the INS Kondul






Photo 5 : A close up of the water jets on the INS Kondul






Photo 6 : The gun controls for the CRN 91 cannon, and the spring-mounted gyro in the bridge






Photo 7 : A look at the 2800 Kilowatt MTU engine, three of which power the Car Nicobar class WJ-FAC

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Gearbox problems delay the Car Nicobar class Fast Attack Craft: Coastal security faces shipbuilding delays



Photo 1 : INS Cheriyam, the third Water Jet driven Fast Attack Craft (WJ-FAC) of the Car Nicobar class, berthed at GRSE.




Photo 2 : The forward deck of INS Cheriyam; the 30 mm cannon is mounted below the bridge.




Photo 3 : A closer look from starboard at INS Cheriyam. The superstructure is made of aluminium to reduce weight.




By Ajai Shukla
Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata
Business Standard, 18th August 09

India’s coastal and maritime problems are growing faster than the fleet of ships needed to deal with them. Here in Kolkata, at Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), two newly built patrol ships have lain for two months, waiting for collection by the Indian Navy. But the admirals insist: first meet the navy’s performance requirements.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister AK Antony travels on Thursday to the Maldives to extend India’s maritime security network to that island nation. And an unauthorised North Korean freighter, espied lurking in Indian waters off the Andaman Islands early this month, underscores the urgent need for more patrolling

GRSE, India’s second-biggest defence shipyard, got a Rs 514 crore order in March 2006 to build ten Water Jet propelled Fast Attack Craft (WJ-FACs), whose high-tech German MTU water-jet engines could propel these sleek vessels through the water at 65 kmph, tackling threats along the coastline for up to 3600 km without refuelling.

After the Mumbai attacks on 26/11, the need for such craft was felt more than ever. The first two WJ-FACs --- INS Car Nicobar and INS Chetlat --- were press-ganged into the navy in February 09, even though they were restricted to just 50 kmph by flawed gearboxes supplied by Kirloskar Pneumatic Company Limited (KPCL).

But now the navy has refused to accept the next two WJ-FACs --- INS Kora Divh and INS Cheriyam --- until KPCL rectifies the transmission systems that it had developed and supplied to GRSE.

Rear Admiral KC Sekhar, GRSE Chairman and Managing Director, told Business Standard that KPCL had already supplied 30 defective gearboxes (three go into each WJ-FAC), but had now taken some back to diagnose and resolve the problem.

“I expect three gearboxes to come back very shortly”, said Admiral Sekhar, “And we have a commitment from KPCL that they will be responsible for their product. Any additional expenditure incurred will be their responsibility.”

KPCL is unlikely, however, to pick up the tab for the growing expenditure on trials. And GRSE supervisors say the morale of workers --- who are pushed hard to get vessels ready for on-time delivery --- suffers when buyers reject a completed ship.

KPCL has not responded to repeated requests for their comments.

As coastal security grows in importance, the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard are acquiring greater numbers of patrol vessels and attack craft. These smaller, lightly armed vessels, like the Car Nicobar Class WJ-FACs, are lighter, cheaper, easier to build, and better suited for coastal surveillance than the capital warships --- corvettes, frigates and destroyers --- that are designed and built for war.

Vice Admiral Arun Kumar Singh, who until recently commanded the Eastern Naval Command in Vishakhapatnam points to the growing importance of coastal security: “The term ‘a balanced Navy’ has now acquired a different meaning altogether; a ‘brown water’ coastal force is as relevant and essential as a ‘blue water’ force.

In recent years, the navy has built 7 Sukanya Class offshore patrol vessels (OPVs), one of which was sold to Sri Lanka; 4 Trinkat Class fast patrol vessels (FPVs), one of which was given to Maldives and one to Seychelles; 7 Super Dvora Mark II class FPVs; and 4 Bangaram Class fast attack craft (FACs). In addition, four Saryu Class offshore patrol vessels are being built by Goa Shipyard Limited.

The 10 Car Nicobar class WJ-FACs, with their ability to react quickly at high speeds, are purpose designed for coastal security. These 50 metres long, 600-tonne vessels are crewed by 35 sailors. Each WJ-FAC is armed with a 30 mm CRN-91 automatic cannon that can engage targets up to 3 kilometers away.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Duel in the sky: Testing the MMRCAs and rating their chances




Photo 1: An aerial shot of Leh airfield. The fighter pens can be clearly seen.




Photo 2: The Gripen NG fighter, perhaps the contender with the best chance in the MMRCA competition.




Photo 3: (courtesy Boeing) Two F/A-18s, carrying out air-to-air refuelling over the United States.



Photo 4: The Dassault Rafale, which is the only MMRCA contender never to have flown in India.





by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th August 09

Over the preceding weeks, two Indian Air Force aces have busied themselves with what might well be the world’s most expensive video game: sitting at a simulator in the US and learning to fly one of the world’s most advanced fighters: Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet. After the simulator came an even greater adrenaline rush: strapping into a real Super Hornet, gunning its twin F-414 turbofan engines into a deafening roar and hurtling into the sky at speeds touching 2000 kmph.

But this was no game. Through the coming fortnight, those pilots will test-fly the Super Hornet in India, scrutinising every aspect of its performance to decide whether it meets the IAF requirements for a Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) to defend Indian skies, and support Indian ground troops, over the next four decades.

There are six contenders for this massive Indian tender for 126 medium fighters, an order worth some $11 billion dollars. Besides Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin has offered the F-16IN Super Viper; there’s the MiG-35 from Russia’s RAC MiG; the Rafale, offered by French company, Dassault; the Gripen NG, from Sweden’s Saab; and the Eurofighter Typhoon offered by a four-nation European consortium.

Over the next 8 months four IAF pilots will fly and fire all six fighters to evaluate which of them meet --- in every way --- the stringent requirements spelt out in the tender. This duel has been in the making for a full 8 years. That’s how long it has taken India’s notoriously sluggish Defence Ministry to frame its requirements, issue a global tender, and do a paper evaluation of the six responses that were received.

Now the ball is in the IAF’s court; it is time to see how the aircraft perform in the air. Being tested first, over the next two months, will be the two American fighters and the Russian Mig-35. Then, after a five-month winter break, the three European aircraft will be put through their paces.

The world’s toughest testing ground

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has assembled a team of its hottest top guns for evaluating the six fighters in the fray. Overseeing the entire testing process will be Air Commodore Rakesh Dhir, the Principal Director, Air Staff Requirements at IAF Headquarters. He will have two separate teams to do the actual flight-testing. One will test the two US fighters --- the F/A-18 and the F-16IN --- and the Russian MiG-35. The other team will be responsible for evaluating the three European aircraft: the Gripen, the Rafale, and the Eurofighter.

These teams will vie to uphold India’s reputation as the world’s toughest testing ground for military equipment. Each of the six fighters will fly in three types of terrain: hot and humid Bangalore, the desert heat of Jaisalmer, and the freezing high altitude desert of Ladakh. Any failure anywhere could signal the end of a campaign that will set back each of the contenders around $25-30 million.

Two Boeing F/A-18 will land this weekend at Bangalore, the home of India’s secretive flight testing agency, the Aircraft and Systems Testing Establishment. Like Boeing, each contending company plans to bring in at least two fighters, in case of technical problems. Accompanying the fighters will be fully equipped maintenance teams to iron out niggles daily, after the Indian test pilots finish throwing their fighters around the sky.

Jaisalmer: heat and dust

After the testing in Bangalore, each team will travel for two days to Jaisalmer to test aircraft performance in the desert heat. During the Jaisalmer leg, each contender will also drop unguided bombs at a ground target placed in the Pokhran Range. But the really high-tech weaponry --- guided by radar, infrared or laser --- will be tested in each aircraft’s home base. Switching on airborne radar is a strict no-no when there is the remotest possibility of it being recorded by a foreign country. An aircraft’s radar signal is as unique to it as a fingerprint is to an individual. Every major air force, India’s included, maintains a worldwide “library” of radar signals; aircraft in those libraries can be quickly identified whenever they switch on their radar.

But the sting has been taken out of the desert trials; the summer is practically over. Months of MoD inactivity, caused by the general elections, has resulted in “hot weather” trials being scheduled in a balmy 35-40 degrees Centigrade, rather than the searing 50 degree heat of a real Jaisalmer summer. Officials from Eurofighter, which sailed through summer trials in the Saudi Arabian desert, grumble that the MoD lost an opportunity to discover the contenders vulnerabilities.

Ladakh: hot and high

From Jaisalmer, the fighters head for what could be the trickiest part of the trials: the “Hot and High” trials at the spectacular Leh airfield, in Ladakh. On the face of it, there isn’t much to do in Leh: each fighter must land with a specified load of weapons and fuel; switch off its engines and systems; the pilot must alight and do a quick visual check of his aircraft, during which the cold starts to seep into the aircraft components; then after getting back inside, he must start up the fighter’s engines and systems, without external help, and then take off.

Sounds simple! But this is the phase that is giving the contenders nightmares. At 10,682 feet, which is the altitude of Leh airfield, oxygen levels are so low that there is a real danger of the aircraft engines not starting up after they are switched off. And, once started, the oxygen-starved engines will strain to lift the fighters off that short airfield, even with a reduced payload that would be child’s play at sea level.

The testing teams: IAF top guns

A specially selected IAF test pilot of the rank of Group Captain will head each of the two test teams. He will actually fly each of the three fighters that he is responsible for evaluating. Flying in tandem with him will be another junior pilot; it will quickly become clear whether the fighter can be handled comfortably by a less experienced pilot. Each team will also include a clutch of technicians: an avionics system engineer to check high-tech gadgetry like the on-board electronic warfare equipment; a flight test engineer for performance related issues; and a maintenance engineer to observe how much maintenance each fighter needs before and after each sortie.

Making up the rest of each 8-10 person team will be: a logistician to evaluate how easily the spare parts and consumables can be kept flowing; technicians from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, where the fighter will eventually be built; and officials from certification and quality assurance agencies.

Who wins, who loses?

The MoD rulebook that governs defence purchases --- the Defence Procurement Policy of 2008 --- reduces the medium fighter competition to three simple steps. Firstly, the IAF specifies exactly the performance it wants from its proposed medium fighter. Next, it flies and evaluates all the aircraft on offer to see which ones meet all those requirements; and finally, the MoD buy the cheapest of those that qualify.

The most challenging of these steps is the first. Each detail of a fighter’s performance --- the runway length it must take off in; its rate of climb; turning radius; maximum and minimum speeds; range of operation; the weapons payload, its radar pickup; and dozens of similar parameters --- must be painstakingly quantified. Once all those are down in black and white, Step 2 becomes easy: the IAF test pilots fly each aircraft, checking each parameter one by one to see whether it matches up to what the IAF has laid down. The fighters that fail to meet the bill are eliminated from contention.

But there’s a hitch in the medium fighter competition, a problem of plenty! If the aircraft companies are to be believed, there’s a good possibility that all six aircraft might qualify. That would make the price the final determinant. The cheapest aircraft --- with costs calculated over its entire life of 30-40 years --- will walk away with the order.

This situation has arisen because the IAF has --- to use an automobile analogy --- set out to buy a Maruti-type car, but invited Rolls Royce, Jaguar, BMW and Audi to the bidding, along with Maruti and Hyundai. Four of the fighters in the fray (F/A-18, MiG-35, Eurofighter and Rafale) are expensive, two-engine powerhouses in the 25-30 tonne range. The other two (F-16IN and Gripen) are single-engine aircraft and, therefore, lighter (15-20 tonnes) and cheaper. And since avionics, sensors, radars and missiles are compact and light, the single-engine fighters are almost as combat-capable as their bigger rivals.

Experts agree that if the MoD plays by the rules, the Swedish Gripen --- the lightest and apparently cheapest contender --- will walk away with the contract. The single-engine F-16IN may be very close behind.

The superior range and weapons payload of the heavier fighters will earn them no brownie points for being far better than the tender requirements. To return to the automobile analogy, if the buyer specifies a top speed of at least 100 kmph, the Jaguar and the Audi get no credit for clocking twice that speed. If the Maruti can clock 100 kmph, it will be selected being the cheapest.

But the vendors fielding the twin-engine behemoths are confident about their chances. Admitting that their purchase price may be higher, they declare that when the “Cost of Ownership” is calculated over 30-40 years, their lower maintenance and spare parts costs, and higher aircraft availability will tilt the economics in their favour.

And Eurofighter chief, Bernhard Gerwert, told Business Standard in Delhi last week that superlative flying and combat performance would definitely count. He said, “The feedback that we have gotten after meetings in Delhi with the MoD and the IAF is that they will test more than just compliance with the tender. The IAF will take into account the performance excellence of each aircraft.”

The IAF, however, flatly refutes this. Senior officers say there are no extra points for exceeding the requirements by, say, 50%. Testing will be confined to a “Compliance Matrix”, with a box being ticked alongside each performance parameter in which an aircraft measures up to the required specifications.

Says a senior officer, “We don’t compare the aircraft with each other. We compare the aircraft with the tender requirements, filling in a Compliance Matrix”.

Amidst this uncertainty, and with billions at stake, the aerospace corporations have launched a media blitz to harness public and political opinion. Journalists, astronauts, corporate honchos, medal-winning athletes and politicians have in turn been taken up for high-profile joyrides. NDTV anchor, Vishnu Som, has flown co-pilot on four of the six aircraft, more than any of the IAF test pilots will be able to claim.

The game is on.


Face-to-face: rating their chances


F/A-18 Super Hornet: Overall chances: COOL

Pros
1. Battle-tested, frontline fighter with the US Navy
2. Powerful, agile, rugged, designed for aircraft carriers
3. Advanced avionics and missile systems
4. Can function as refuelling tanker with external fuel tanks
5. Fields fully-operational and deployed Raytheon APG-79 AESA radar

Cons
1. US restrictions on modifications and end usage
2. Earlier generation design, dating back to 1980s
3. Heavy, 30-ton aircraft, expensive



F-16IN Super Viper: Overall chances: WARM

Pros
1. Tested modern fighter, has logged over 100,000 combat missions globally
2. Single-engine, 19-tonne fighter, price competitive
3. Advanced avionics and missile systems
4. Advanced Northrop Grumman APG-80 AESA radar
5. Four F-16 production lines functioning world-wide

Cons
1. US restrictions on modifications and end usage
2. Earlier generation design, dating back to 1980s
3. Earlier vintage F-16s in service with Pakistan Air Force


Eurofighter Typhoon: Overall chances: COOL

Pros
1. Contemporary fighter, still evolving
2. High performance, high-end technology, including supercruise
3. Offering India development partnership
4. No end user restrictions, easy transfer of technology
5. EADS already helping to develop India’s LCA

Cons
1. No combat experience
2. Heavy, 25-ton aircraft, expensive
3. AESA radar still under development


Saab Gripen NG: Overall chances: RED HOT

Pros
1. Only Eurofighter and Gripen are capable of Supercruise: supersonic flight without afterburners
2. Can land, refuel, rearm and take off in 10 minutes
3. Light, single-engine, highly cost-effective
4. Selex Raven AESA radar with advanced swashplate technology
5. Willing to hand over source codes for high-tech equipment

Cons
1. Has US components, including engines and avionics
2. AESA radar still under development
3. India has never operated a Swedish fighter


RAC MiG, MiG-35: Overall chances: HOT

Pros
1. Dovetails easily with IAF’s MiG-29 fleet
2. Typical Russian fast, agile fighter
3. Vastly improved avionics and targeting system
4. Thrust-vectoring engines option exists
5. Cheapest ticket price of twin-engine fighters

Cons
1. Airframe barely improved from MiG-29
2. Zhuk-Phazotron AESA radar still under development
3. Life cycle cost of Russian fighters is traditionally high


Dassault Rafale: Overall chances: DARK HORSE

Pros
1. Amongst the most contemporary options
2. France deploys on land and aircraft carriers
3. IAF’s Mirage-2000 fleet creates comfort level with Dassault
4. Transfer of technology smooth; no end user restrictions
5. Only non-US fighter with deployed AESA radar

Cons
1. Limited combat experience
2. 25-tonne, twin-engine aircraft, expensive
3. Only contender never to have flown in India

Thursday, 13 August 2009

F/A-18 trials from Monday: MoD sends out mixed messages


(Photos: courtesy Boeing)
US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornets. In the picture on the right, they are carrying out fighter-to-fighter mid-air refuelling










By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Aug 09

This weekend, two Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet fighters will land in Bangalore for flight trials by the Indian Air Force (IAF), an eight-month-long selection process, involving six different aircraft, to zero in on a multi-role medium fighter for the IAF.

India’s defence ministry (MoD) has billed this Rs 42,000 crore purchase, currently the world’s biggest international arms tender, as also the world’s most transparent. The MoD declares that the tender document specifies every detail of what the IAF needs, and whichever company meets those requirements, at the cheapest cost, will walk away with the order.

But now, contradictory messages are emerging; the mantra no longer seems to be “a specified capability for the cheapest price”. Instead, MoD and IAF officers are apparently telling vendors like EADS --- which has offered the high-priced and high-performance Eurofighter --- that extra performance will win extra points.

Bernhard Gerwert, CEO Military Air Systems for EADS, travelled last week to Delhi to assess whether it was worth spending millions of dollars to put the Eurofighter through flight trials in India. If Eurofighter’s superlative performance, superior in several respects than the Indian tender requirements, would win no extra credit, Gerwert was prepared to pull out of the competition.

But the MoD provided the reassurance he was looking for. A relieved Gerwert told Business Standard after his meetings, “The feedback that we have gotten after meetings in Delhi with the MoD and the IAF is that they will test more than just compliance with the tender. The IAF will take into account the performance excellence of each aircraft during flight trials.”

After the relieved EADS team departed from Delhi on 7th August, Business Standard again asked senior IAF officials whether a fighter that demonstrated outstanding performance during flight-testing would win extra credits. The IAF’s answer was an unambiguous negative. “We will not be comparing the aircraft with one another. We have made out a “Compliance Matrix”, and we will only require each fighter’s performance to comply with what we have demanded in the RfP (Request for Proposals, or the tender). There are no extra points for having, say, 50% extra capability. Each contender just has to meet the IAF’s laid down requirements.”

This situation stems from the IAF’s unusually broad definition of a medium fighter. This contest has brought into the arena a range of aircraft, with significant variations in performance --- from the 14-tonne, single-engine Gripen to the 30-tonne, double-engine Super Hornet.

At the end of the flight-testing next May, predict experts, the IAF might have four or more aircraft that comply fully with the MoD’s tender. In that case, the cheapest bid will win, with the MoD evaluating costs on a “Life Cycle” basis. That includes all the costs over a 30-40 year life-cycle, adding the per unit purchase price to the costs of technology, indigenous manufacture, infrastructure, repair and maintenance, operating expenses, and a host of other hidden costs. The IAF calls it “Cost of Ownership”; this method of calculation is being adopted for the first time by India for a capital equipment purchase from abroad.

Western vendors, whose military equipment has traditionally had higher ticket prices, claim that the “Cost of Ownership” calculation will tilt the equation in their favour, especially when compared with Russian equipment that they accuse of being maintenance-heavy, demanding vast quantities of spares, and spending more time on the ground than in the air.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

The EVM controversy: old allegations revisited

























by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Aug 09

Today, the BJP and the Shiv Sena appeared before the Election Commission to allege that Electronic Voting Machines (EVMs), which are now used for all Indian elections, can be manipulated to favour a candidate. But old-timers from Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), who perfected the EVMs in the late 1980s, say that all the current allegations have been raised before, and comprehensively disproved.

Colonel HS Shankar, former Director (R&D) at BEL says that EVMs came under fire soon after BEL demonstrated them to Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in mid-1989. Shankar, who attended that meeting, recalls that an impressed Rajiv Gandhi suggested the use of EVMs in 150 constituencies during the 1989 general elections.

The first challenge came swiftly. On 15th October 1989, at a dramatic press conference in New Delhi, Janata Dal chief, Vishwanath Pratap Singh and George Fernandes produced a “computer consultant” to prove that EVMs could easily be rigged. Before a crowd of journalists, the consultant keyed in “3 + 3” into a computer, pressed “Enter” and showed the answer to the crowd. It was 9.

In the charged atmosphere of 1989, the Election Commission scrapped the plan to use EVMs that year. But when VP Singh became PM, BEL launched a campaign to prove the reliability of electronic voting. Eventually, the government created an experts committee to examine whether EVMs could be “fiddled”.

Professor S Sampath of the Defence R&D Organisation headed the committee, which included Dr PV Indiresan of IIT Delhi, and Dr C Rao Kasarabada, Director Electronic Research and Development Center, Trivandrum. Dr Indiresan gathered four of his brightest research students and gave them five days to subvert the EVM’s source code. Their only restriction: there should be no external damage to the EVM.

Colonel Shankar says that BEL gave Dr Indiresan’s team all the EVM circuit diagrams and design drawings; only the encryption-coded software was withheld. “After five days of struggling, they admitted that the EVM was tamper-proof.”

At the core of the EVM is a microcontroller chip, built by Hitachi of Japan, called an OTP-ROM (one-time programmable read-only memory). Onto this, the Indian EVM contractors --- BEL and Electronics Corporation of India (ECIL) --- “burn” the algorithm that makes it record votes. The microprocessor’s “non-volatile” memory ensures that, once the algorithm is written, it can never be overwritten or subverted, not even by the manufacturer.

The algorithm makes the EVM function as a vote counter. Each candidate is assigned a numbered button, according to the alphabetic order of the candidates’ names. Each time a voter presses, say, Button No 1, the software adds one vote to the account of Candidate No 1. And since, in each constituency, each political party’s candidate will have different serial numbers (determined by the candidate’s name) there is no possibility of installing a country-wide code that favours one party.

After failing to subvert the software, the Sampath Committee staged a mock election to try and subvert the procedure. Failing to do so, it strongly endorsed the EVM. Chief Election Commissioner, RVS Peri Sastry, discussed the test results with all the political party heads, including BJP President LK Advani, all of whom agreed to the use of EVMs in general elections.

“The reason why all parties accepted the EVM was simple”, explains Colonel Shankar, “We copied the simplicity and transparency of the earlier system, while doing away with its drawbacks.”

Besides the tedious counting of votes, the major drawback in the old system of paper voting was booth capturing. Party goons would take over voting booths and, in a couple of hours, stamp thousands of paper ballots in each booth and slip them into the boxes. EVMs mitigate the effects of booth capturing, since a delay circuit ensures only two votes can be recorded per minute. Even if a booth is captured for an hour, a maximum of 120 votes can be polled.

"Eventually, EVMs were used for the first time in general elections in 45 seats in 1999. Polling in the 2004 general elections was entirely on EVMs. This year, again, 671 million voters got the opportunity to vote on EVMs."

Monday, 3 August 2009

Facing order cuts at home, Eurofighter sweetens India offer


(Photos: courtesy Kuldip Gangwani)

Flight displays by the Eurofighter Typhoon during Aero India 2009)




by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Aug 09



With the four-nation Eurofighter consortium facing the uncomfortable reality of dwindling orders at home, India’s tender for 126 medium fighters, worth some $11 billion, is now crucial. So Eurofighter has reworked some of its most fundamental tenets and structures, to appear more appearling to India.

Next Friday, Eurofighter boss, Bernhard Gerwert, will fly into Delhi to offer a new sweetener to the Ministry of Defence: if India chooses the Eurofighter, it can become a full-fledged manufacturing partner, the first “outsider” to crack a tightly-interwoven four-country manufacturing chain.

The consortium that developed the Eurofighter --- comprising the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain --- had decided upon a unique manufacturing structure. Each part of the Eurofighter is manufactured in a different country; e.g. the right wing is made in Spain, the left wing in Italy. After that, all four partners assemble their own aircraft, bringing the parts together from the plants where they are manufactured.

This EU-style compromise distributed manufacturing jobs (100,000 jobs in 400 companies) amongst the four partners, while creating a mutual dependency.

If India becomes the fifth Eurofighter partner, it will manufacture complete assemblies --- say, as a random example, the front fuselage and tail fins --- for every new Eurofighter across the world. That will include fighters for the air forces of the UK, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria and Saudi Arabia. In addition, Switzerland, Japan, Romania, Greece and Turkey, which are currently evaluating the Eurofighter, could also be on that list.

Kicking off its India campaign in early 2008, Eurofighter had suggested that India could play a major role in the programme, even using the word, “partnership”. But that was never elaborated; only now will India unambiguously be offered a share of the manufacture. All four European partners have agreed to forego a part of their work share to bring India in.

An order like India’s is badly needed. Earlier this year, a budget-strapped British MoD tried to pull out of buying its contracted share of 88 fighters from the latest batch (called Tranche 3). Eventually the UK honoured its commitments only because default would have cost London billions of Euros in penalties. The other Eurofighter partners are equally cash-strapped; all have jointly agreed to cut back on their orders for now.

In contrast to the gloom in Europe, the future in India looks rosy. EADS --- Eurofighter’s major shareholder --- has enjoyed notable success in penetrating the Indian market. Early this year, EADS signed a US $20 million contract to help resolve persistent niggles in India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme. US companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin were ruled out of that bid by Washington’s unwillingness to grant permissions (called Technical Assistance Agreements). EADS points to the LCA consultancy as a major victory that highlighted the comparative ease of doing high-tech business with Europe.

Buoyed by the LCA consultancy, EADS is now focusing on the US $600 million tender --- floated by the MoD on 17th July --- for supplying 99 fighter engines for India’s single-engine LCA. Eurojet, an EADS subsidiary, has offered EJ200 engines, which power the twin-engine Eurofighter. The rival engine is the General Electric GE-414, which powers Eurofighter’s big rival, the twin-engine Boeing F/A-18. Getting the engine selected, both rivals believe, is a sure path towards getting the fighter selected as well.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Project 28: Prestigious Indian anti-submarine corvette project delayed to build up private sector suppliers




(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla. Reproduce only with due credit to Ajai Shukla and Broadsword)

Photo 1:    The stern of the corvette taken from the ground.

Photo 2:   A view of the helicopter deck, looking rearwards at the Hooghly River, taken from where the hangar will be erected. .



Photo 3:  A view of what will be the helicopter deck, taken from the rear. The hangar being a part of the superstructure, has not yet been erected.






Photo 4:   The hull of the Project 28 ASW corvette. 





Photo 5:   A view of the forward main deck. Visible is the opening for the magazine of the Otomelara SRGM and the IRL system



Photo 6:   One of the two engine rooms. You can observe the seating onto which one of the ship's three engines will be lowered.





By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st August 09
Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata

In the hot Kolkata sun, on the banks of the Hooghly River, craftsmen from Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) swarm over what will be the Indian Navy’s most high-tech stealth warship. For GRSE, the navy’s order for four anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvettes is its flagship project. But Project 28, as it is termed, is two years behind schedule.

The first corvette was to join the fleet early next year. Business Standard discovered, during a first-ever media visit to this secretive project, that it will be delivered only in June 2012. The other three corvettes of Project 28 will follow at one-year intervals.

The major reason for the delay: the Indian Navy has stipulated such unprecedented standards of stealth for every piece of equipment on board that suppliers have struggled to develop engines, transmission, air-conditioning and power-generating systems that work silently enough to meet those requirements. Furthermore, the navy mandated that Indian suppliers would provide much of that equipment.

The Project 28 corvettes are 2500-tonne warships that will protect Indian Navy battle groups and coastal installations from lurking enemy submarines. In the deadly cat-and-mouse game between ASW corvettes and submarines, the stealthier vessel is usually the winner, detecting and destroying its opponent after sneaking up undetected. The challenge of Project 28 has been to minimise vibrations and noise from the ship’s machinery, propellers, and from water swirling past the hull.

Success has come late in developing some of this equipment. The Kirloskar group has delivered the engines, albeit after a delay. Earlier this year, DCNS of France supplied the Raft Mounted Gearbox, which almost completely suppresses noise from the power pack. But Wartsila India is still struggling to reduce vibration in the four diesel alternators that will power the corvette’s electronics.

Once all this is in place, six huge spaces will have to be cut open in the corvette’s hull, through which giant cranes will lower monster-sized equipment like the 65-tonne engines. Then the hull will be welded shut once again.

For the navy, which has implemented indigenisation as something of a religion --- the Naval Headquarters includes a full-fledged Directorate of Indigenisation --- the delay in Project 28 is a regrettable, but acceptable, consequence of its twin objectives: building cutting edge warships and, simultaneously, developing Indian warship building industry.

The Navy Chief, Admiral Sureesh Mehta told Business Standard that the navy had carefully laid down stealth standards that were absolutely necessary in war. Admiral Mehta explained, “We cannot compromise operational requirements for suppliers who are having difficulties meeting standards. We cannot come second in war.” 

The navy’s top designer, Rear Admiral MK Badhwar, says the navy is determined to nurture an Indian supplier base, to develop increasingly high-tech products for warships. He points out, “Initially, they (the private companies) had real problems in meeting the sophistication levels that we were demanding. But we insisted and now most of them have done so. This is vital for an indigenous shipbuilding industry.”

All this has taken the cost of Project 28 from a sanctioned Rs 2800 crores (Rs 700 crores per corvette), to an estimated Rs 7000 crores now. This is approximately in line with cost increases for previous Indian-built warships.

GRSE’s Chairman and Managing Director, Rear Admiral KC Sekhar explains, “Fortunately our shipyard will not take a financial hit, since this was a cost-plus contract (in which the actual cost of construction of the first ship will be the basis for paying for the entire project). But we have learned valuable lessons. The complexity of the project was totally underestimated.”

The Project 28 corvettes, when they join the navy’s fleet, will be silent and heavily armed. An Otomelara Super Rapid Gun Mount (SRGM) on the bow can pour 76 millimetre shells onto aerial and surface targets. Flanking it will be two Indigenous Rocket Launchers (IRLs) that can fire at both submarines and ships. Submarines can also be engaged through six torpedo tubes. Two AK 630 Gatling guns, one on either side, can shoot down attacking aircraft. Finally, vertically launched missiles are likely to be mounted for engaging aerial targets.