Wednesday, 31 March 2010

India’s Light Combat Helicopter makes first flight

The first flight of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), at the HAL airstrip in Bangalore on Monday

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st March 2010

As the helicopter taxied slowly along the airstrip, a little knot of designers and executives from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) watched silently, the sweat beads on their foreheads from more than just the Bangalore heat. The 29th of March, had been selected for a landmark attempt: the first flight of the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Already a year late, and facing criticism for having gone several hundred kilograms overweight, the LCH had much to prove.

Attack helicopters involve the most complex aeronautical, stealth, sensor and weapons technologies. HAL’s state-of-the-art LCH aims to gatecrash an exclusive club of light attack helicopters that includes Eurocopter’s Tiger and China’s ultra-secret Zhisheng-10 (Z-10). In high-altitude performance, the LCH will be in a class by itself: taking off from Himalayan altitudes of 10,000 feet, operating rockets and guns up to 16,300 feet, and launching missiles at UAVs flying at over 21,000 feet.

At 3.30 p.m. the twin Shakti engines roared to a crescendo and the LCH pilots, Group Captains Unni Pillai and Hari Nair, lifted off the ground. The futuristic helicopter, all angles and armoured sheets, flew for a distance just a few feet above the runway; then cheering and clapping broke out as it climbed to 50 feet. Over the next 15 minutes, Pillai and Nair put the LCH through its first flight test, doing a clockwise and then an anti-clockwise turn, hovering motionless and circling the airport four times.

“It is a big day for all of us, especially those involved in the LCH’s design and fabrication”, Ashok Nayak, Chairman and Managing Director of HAL told Business Standard. “We were going to have the first LCH flight in December but, for one reason or another, it kept getting delayed.”

A feared predator in the modern battlefield, the attack helicopter is a key weapon system against enemy tanks. Once an enemy tank column is detected, attack helicopters speed to confront them, flying just 20-30 feet high to avoid radar detection with enemy rifle and machine-gun bullets ricocheting off their armoured sides. Hiding behind trees or a ridgeline, they pop up when the tanks are about 4 kilometers away to fire missiles that smash through a tank’s armour.

Excess weight has been the main reason for the delay in the LCH programme. The heavy armour needed for protection against enemy fire conflicts with the need for a light, highly mobile helicopter that can twist and dodge and hover stationary to allow pilots to aim and fire their missiles. The LCH was supposed to weight just 2.5 tonnes when empty; but the design team found that it actually weighed 580 kg more than that.

At lower altitudes, this would not be a significant drawback. But, at the LCH’s flight ceiling of 6000 metres (almost 20,000 feet), this would significantly reduce the LCH’s payload of weapons and ammunition.

Last September, the chief of HAL’s Helicopter Complex, R Srinivasan, told Business Standard that the LCH’s weight would be progressively reduced over the first three Technology Demonstrators (TDs) of the LCH. “We will find ways of cutting down TD-1 by 180-200 kg; TD-2, will be another 100 kg lighter; and TD-3 will shave off another 65-75 kg. That would leave the LCH about 200 kg heavier than originally planned, but the IAF has accepted that.”

HAL chief, Ashok Nayak, today confirmed to Business Standard that this schedule was on track. “The weight reduction that we had targeted for TD-1, which flew on Monday, has been met. The second prototype, TD-2, which will make its first flight by September, will be lighter still.”

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has said that it needs 65 LCHs; the army wants another 114. If the development programme is not delayed further the LCH will enter service by 2015-2016. To meet its needs till then, the MoD floated a global tender for 22 attack helicopters. With only three companies responding, that tender was cancelled last year.

But HAL remains confident since most of the key technologies in the LCH --- e.g. the Shakti engine, the rotors and the main gearbox --- have already been proven in the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), 159 of which are being built for the army and the air force.

Simultaneously, the LCH’s weapons and sensors are being tested on a weaponised version of the Dhruv. These include a Nexter 20 mm turret-mounted cannon, an MBDA air-to-air missile, and an EW suite from SAAB, South Africa. India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is developing an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) for the LCH. Based on the already developed Nag ATGM, the HELINA (or HELIicopter-mounted NAg) missile can destroy tanks from a distance of seven kilometres.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Arjun tank outruns, outguns Russian T-90

Left: With Maj Gen HM Singh, who spent three decades of his career as a tankman, guiding the Arjun development

Right: A comparative chart, snapped by me at the CVRDE, Chennai, comparing the performance of the Arjun with the world's major Main Battle Tanks (MBTs)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Mar 2010

India’s home-built Arjun tank has emerged a conclusive winner from its showdown with the Russian T-90. A week of comparative trials, conducted by the army at the Mahajan Ranges, near Bikaner in Rajasthan, has ended; the results are still officially secret. But Business Standard has learned from multiple sources who were involved in the trials that the Arjun tank has outperformed the T-90 on every crucial parameter.

The trial pitted one squadron (14 tanks) of Arjuns against an equal number of T-90s. Each squadron was given three tactical tasks; each involved driving across 50 kilometers of desert terrain and then shooting at a set of targets. Each tank had to fire at least ten rounds, stationary and on the move, with each hit being carefully logged. In total, each tank drove 150 kilometres and fired between 30-50 rounds. The trials also checked the tanks’ ability to drive through a water channel 5-6 feet deep.

The Arjun tanks, the observers all agreed, performed superbly. Whether driving cross-country over rugged sand-dunes; detecting, observing and quickly engaging targets; or accurately hitting targets, both stationery and moving, with pinpoint gunnery; the Arjun demonstrated a clear superiority over the vaunted T-90.

“The Arjun could have performed even better, had it been operated by experienced crewmen”, says an officer who has worked on the Arjun. “As the army’s tank regiments gather experience on the Arjun, they will learn to exploit its capabilities.”

With the trial report still being compiled --- it is expected to reach Army Headquarters after a fortnight --- neither the army, nor the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), which developed the Arjun tank in Chennai at the Central Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE), are willing to comment officially about the trials.

The importance of this comparative trial can be gauged from a list of those who attended. Witnessing the Arjun in action were most of the army’s senior tank generals, including the Director General of Mechanised Forces, Lt Gen D Bhardwaj; strike corps commander, Lt Gen Anil Chait; Army Commander South, Lt Gen Pradeep Khanna; and Deputy Chief of the Army Staff, Lt Gen JP Singh. The Director General of Military Operations, Lt Gen AS Sekhon also attended the trials.

Over the last four months, the army had systematically signalled that it did not want to buy more Arjuns. The message from senior officers was: 124 Arjun tanks have been bought already; no more would be ordered for the army’s fleet of 4000 tanks. The comparative trial, or so went the message, was merely to evaluate what operational role could be given to the army’s handful of Arjuns.

“The senior officers who attended the trials were taken aback by the Arjun’s strong performance”, an army officer who was present through the trials frankly stated. “But they were also pleased that the Arjun had finally come of age.”

The army’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF), which has bitterly opposed buying more Arjuns, will now find it difficult to sustain that opposition. In keeping out the Arjun, the DGMF has opted to retain the already obsolescent T-72 tank in service for another two decades, spending thousands of crores in upgrading its vintage systems.

Now, confronted with the Arjun’s demonstrated capability, the army will face growing pressure to order more Arjuns.

The current order of 124 Arjuns is equipping the army’s 140 Armoured Brigade in Jaisalmer. With that order almost completed, the Arjun production line at the Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) in Avadi, near Chennai, needs more orders urgently. The Rs 50 crore facility can churn out 50 Arjuns annually. That would allow for the addition of close to one Arjun regiment each year (a regiment is authorised 62 tanks).

Tank experts point out that conducting trials only in Mahajan does not square with the army’s assertion that they are evaluating a role for the Arjun. Says Major General HM Singh, who oversaw the Arjun’s development for decades, “If they were evaluating where the Arjun should be deployed, they should have conducted the trials in different types of terrain: desert, semi-desert, plains and riverine. It seems as if the army has already decided to employ the Arjun in the desert.”

The Arjun’s sterling performance in the desert raises another far-reaching question: should the Arjun --- with its proven mobility, firepower and armour protection --- be restricted to a defensive role or should it equip the army’s strike corps for performing a tank’s most devastating (and glamorous) role: attacking deep into enemy territory during war? Each strike corps has 8-9 tank regiments. If the army recommends the Arjun for a strike role, that would mean an additional order of about 500 Arjuns.

But Business Standard has learned that senior officers are hesitant to induct the Arjun into strike corps. Sources say that the Arjun will be kept out of strike formations on the grounds that it is incompatible with other strike corps equipment, e.g. assault bridges that cannot bear the 60-tonne weight of the Arjun.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

India's war memorial - Seal the deal

The India Gate, in Delhi, a 1921 memorial to Indian soldiers killed in World War I, currently houses the Amar Jawan Jyoti, India's national war memorial

The Rezangla feature, which dominates the approach to Chushul, was defended to the end by 112 men of 13 Kumaon against a Chinese advance in 1962. This memorial to those brave men, led by Major Shaitan Singh, Param Vir Chakra, was built near Rezangla by 13 Kumaon.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd March 2010

Amongst the many issues that scar relations between India’s military and its civilian overseers — pay scales and pensions; the failure to buy adequate weaponry; and the military’s marginalisation in framing security policy, to name a few — the most easily resolved is the military’s longstanding demand for a national war memorial to honour the 20,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen who have sacrificed their lives while defending independent India. A broad section of the urban public echoes this plea.

The demand is for a prominent memorial on New Delhi’s Central Vista, which can be visited freely by the Indian public, and where wreathes can be offered by national leaders on occasions like the Republic Day, and by visiting foreign dignitaries who choose to do so. The current memorial, the Amar Jawan Jyoti, is merely an add-on to the India Gate, an imposing 42-metre high British structure, built in 1921, to honour the 90,000 Indian soldiers who died in the First World War.

The irony is evident: the British exalted the memory of Indians who died for the empire; but India finds it bothersome to suitably commemorate those who fell in service of the republic.

Anyone who has travelled along India’s borders with China and Pakistan cannot have missed the lonely memorials at the places where Indian troops fought and died. Amongst the most stirring is the stark monument to Major Shaitan Singh and his 111 Kumaoni soldiers who battled to the last, holding up a major Chinese advance on the desolate, windswept plateau of Chushul. This Indian hero, a winner of the Param Vir Chakra, is honoured only in that unvisited war memorial near Chushul. No national memorial is inscribed with the name of Major Shaitan Singh.

The proposal for a “National War Memorial”, as I accidentally discovered in the Assam state archives in Guwahati, predates independent India. A confidential memo, issued on March 3, 1945, from the War Department in New Delhi (in File No. 110-C/45, entitled “Indian National War Memorial”, in the Governor’s Secretariat, Confidential Branch) declares that the Government of India (GoI) has been examining “the question of the form that an Indian National War Memorial should take”. The memo orders that “the establishment of a Military Academy on the lines of the United States Military Academy at West Point for the education and basic training together of future officers of the Royal Indian Navy, the Indian Army and the Indian Air Force would be the most suitable form for the memorial to take”.

In short, New Delhi proposed that what was to become the famous National Defence Academy (NDA), which is still the bedrock of Indian officer training, would also serve as India’s National War Memorial.

The British government of India further proposed that “funds for the academy would be provided by public subscription and supplemented by the state”. It urged all provincial governments (as state governments were then called) to support the scheme, establish scholarships, encourage the public to contribute, and to not set up any other war memorials so that the support of the public “may be concentrated on the all-India (war memorial)”.

Shortly afterwards, as the Second World War hurtled towards its denouement in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the War Department in New Delhi directed (vide memo No. F.65/45/W.1, dated June 15, 1945) that the construction of the academy be financed from a gift of 100,000 pounds, received from the Government of Sudan in gratitude for the Indian Army’s role in freeing Sudan from Italian occupation.

An Indian National War Memorial Working Committee was quickly constituted, which sent out a questionnaire to the provinces asking for their views on a range of subjects, including the setting up of feeder schools for the proposed academy-cum-war memorial. The questionnaire asked, keeping in mind the “urgent need in India for leaders in all walks of life, including the fighting services”, should “practical steps not be taken to meet the requirement of the immediate future by the establishment of a certain number of residential high schools”.

Today, 65 years later, the military community, especially officers from the NDA, will recognise that these proposals have been implemented in full. The Sudan Block, a magnificent basalt and granite structure, topped with a Jodhpur red sandstone dome, is the central edifice around which the academy stands. Generations of cadets, including this columnist, have dozed restfully through lectures in the Sudan Block’s cool classrooms. Many of those cadets entered the NDA from 19 Sainik Schools across the country, the network of “feeder schools” proposed in 1945.

Lost along the way, fortuitously, is the proposal for the NDA to constitute India’s National War Memorial. A training academy is a living organism that shapes the leaders of tomorrow; bursting with life, it is ill-suited to be a sombre memorial.

Today, with the government unwilling to concede the space for a memorial on New Delhi’s Central Vista, Karnataka MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, has suggested a Vietnam Wall-style memorial, inscribed with the names of India’s fallen soldiers, on a 50-60 acre site alongside Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial at Rajghat. The design, which Chandrasekhar submitted to the prime minister last week, includes an eternal flame, a 24x7 ceremonial military guard, a memorial wall, a martyrs’ museum, and large, landscaped areas that would allow schoolchildren and other visitors a pleasant day at the memorial. If the army wants the country to know about and to remember its sacrifices, this is the way to do it.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Brahmos missile vertically launched from naval ship... hits target successfully

(Photo: courtesy DRDO, India)
A Brahmos anti-ship missile being launched vertically from the INS Ranvir against a decommissioned target ship, INS Meen.

A press release from India's Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is posted below:


Today at 11.30 hrs BRAHMOS took off vertically from INS Ranvir, hitting the target within minutes.

India on Sunday successfully test fired BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missile from a vertical launcher fitted in a moving warship INS Ranvir from off Orissa coast. The missile performed supersonic maneuvering following the exact flight path and homed on to the decommissioned target ship INS Meen. "The launch met all mission requirements and was 100 per cent successful,'' Dr. A S Pillai, CEO and MD of BrahMos Aerospace, has confirmed.

This would mean that the missile, which has a range of 290-km and flies at a speed of 2.8 Mach, can take on a target lying anywhere in the 360-degree range of the ship. Senior Naval officials who witnessed Sunday's launch termed it a “landmark event.” Honourable President Smt. Pratibha Patil and Defence Minister Shri A K Antony congratulated the missile scientists and naval officers for the successful launch of the supersonic cruise missile.

DRDO along with Russia’s NPO Mashinostroyenia is jointly designing and developing the BRAHMOS missiles which are capable of carrying conventional warheads up to 200 -300 kg and a range of 290-km, to be with the international regulations.

The state of the art Universal Vertical Launcher from which the missile was test fired has been designed and developed by BrahMos Aerospace and patented. The launcher is designed to be fitted under the warship’s deck, thereby protecting it from atmospheric conditions and imparting stealth to the weapon system. It also allows the missile to be turned to cover 360 degree.

Three 15 A Alpha-class ships being built at Mazagon Docks in Mumbai and three more Talwar class ships (known as 1135.6 class in Russia) built at Kaliningrad in Russia will be fitted with similar Vertical Launcher modules, the sources said.

With the latest launch, BRAHMOS has once again proved its mettle to be launched from both Vertical and Inclined configurations from Naval platforms. The Army has plans to induct three regiments of BRAHMOS in near future to use the missile as a “precision first strike weapon.”

Broadsword set to cross a million hits today

This post is just to inform the Broadsword community that, sometime today, the blog will cross a million hits since the time I installed the hit counter that you can see at the bottom of the opening page.

I don't know who the millionth visitor will be, but this is just to say that all of you are equally welcome and important. My thanks to each visitor to Broadsword for making this one of India's widely read and credible defence blogs.

As before, Broadsword will not accept advertising or sponsorship, retaining its independence in finance as well as content.


Thursday, 18 March 2010

India's arms import doubles in five years

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th March 2010

The world’s most credible monitor of the annual US $30 billion international arms trade --- the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI --- reveals in its just-released report for 2009 that India is the world’s second-biggest arms buyer over the five-year period from 2005-2009, importing 7% of the world’s arms exports. Only China imported more weaponry, 9% of the world’s total.

Since the numbers of contracts signed by a country, or weaponry bought or sold by it, can fluctuate significantly from one year to another, a five-year average offers a more stable indicator of trends in the global arms bazaar.

But India seems likely to top next year’s five-year rolling average as China increasingly builds rather than buys weaponry. The SIPRI report clearly points to China’s decreasing dependence on weapons imports. For the five year period under review, China’s annual arms imports declined from $3.5 bn in 2005; $3.8 bn in 2006; $1.5 bn in 2007; $1.5 bn in 2008; to a mere $0.6 billion in 2009.

The SIPRI report notes: “With the exception of a handful of helicopters from France and Russia, no major conventional weapons were delivered to China in 2009, although transfers (including via licensed production) of engines for aircraft, ships and armoured vehicles from Russia, Germany, Ukraine, France and the UK continue.”

In contrast, India continues to import rather than build its defence equipment. From 2005-2009, India’s annual arms imports doubled from $1.04 bn in 2005; $1.25 bn in 2006; $2.2 bn in 2007; $1.8 bn in 2008 and $2.1 billion in 2009.

India’s major capital imports include 82 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and T-90 tanks from Russia, and an A-50/Phalcon Airborne Early Warning (AEW) system integrated by Israel.

The United States, currently India’s sixth-biggest arms supplier, seems likely to leapfrog to second position once New Delhi starts paying for a series of recent and ongoing acquisitions. The period under review does not reflect India’s purchase of C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft for $1.1 billion; or the $2 billion acquisition of P8I long-range maritime patrol aircraft. India has also submitted procurement requests to the US for ten C-17 Globemaster airlifters, worth an estimated $2.4 billion; and for 145 M777 ultralight howitzers worth about $647 million. Initial payments for all this equipment could start this year.

The SIPRI report also highlights how US military aid has sharply boosted Pakistan’s buying power in the international arms bazaar. Islamabad’s annual purchases grew dramatically from $0.33 bn in 2005; $0.26 bn in 2006; $0.6 bn in 2007; $0.9 bn in 2008; to $1.15 billion in 2009.

Pakistan’s recent purchases include two F-22 Jiangwei frigates and the first of up to 300 JF-17 Thunder fighters from China.

Amongst arms exporters, the US has dominated 2005-09, accounting for 30% of international weapons sales. Russia is next with 23% of the global market, followed by Germany (11%); France (8%); and the UK (4%). The big gainer in this group is Germany, which has doubled its share when compared to the preceding five-year period, i.e. 2000-2004. UK arms sales, in contrast, declined by 13% in the same period.

(all figures in millions of US dollars)

China’s arms suppliers 2005-2009: (Total imports: US $ 10892 million)

Russia 9647
France 368
Ukraine 351
Switzerland 325
UK 150
Germany 51

India’s arms suppliers 2005-2009 (Total imports: US $ 8398 million)

Russia 6458
UK 696
Israel 423
Poland 283
France 154
USA 147
Germany 93
Uzbekistan 90
Netherlands 35
Italy 20

Pakistan’s arms suppliers 2005-2009: (Total imports: US $ 3292 million)

China 1215
USA 1164
France 301
Switzerland 156
Germany 123
Sweden 107
Ukraine 58
Turkey 47
Italy 47
Libya 45
Russia 29

The world’s top five suppliers and recipients

United States : 30% of global market
[Key importers were South Korea (14%); Israel (11%); and UAE (11%)]

Russia : 23% of global market
[Key importers were China (35%); India (24%); and Algeria (11%)]
Germany : 11% of global market
[Key importers were Turkey (14%); Greece (13%); and South Africa (12%)]

France : 8% of global market
[Key importers were UAE (25%); Singapore (21%); and Greece (12%)]

United Kingdom 4
Key importers were United States (23%) India (15%) Saudi Arabia (10%)

Monday, 15 March 2010

Indian ABM test aborted after target malfunction

(Photo: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

An endo-atmospheric missile interceptor, being assembled at the DRDO's missile complex in Hyderabad. Such a missile was to have been tested today

A DRDO test, scheduled today to test the performance of an endo-atmospheric interceptor, self-aborted after the target failed to perform according to the test parameters. The DRDO press release is attached below:

DRDO Press Release: 15th March 2010

The flight test under Programme AD was planned to be conducted on 15 Mar 2010 to demonstrate the interception of Tactical Ballistic Missile in endo-atmospheric region. As part of the mission, a target missile mimicking the incoming ballistic missile in terms of altitude and speed, was launched from ITR, Chandipur on 15 Mar 2010 at around 1010 hrs.

The target missile took off in normal way; at T+20 sec (approx) the target deviated due to some onboard system malfunction and could not maintain the intended trajectory, failing to attain the desired altitude profile. The Mission Control Centre computer found that the interception is not warranted as the deviated target did not present the incoming missile threat scenario and accordingly the system intelligently did not allow take-off of the interceptor missile for engaging the target. The cause of the target malfunction is being investigated by analysis of tele-metered data.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

The Russia-India relationship: big bucks, many irritants

The rapport between Prime Ministers Vladimir Putin and Manmohan Singh has not translated into better trade, manufacturing, cultural and person-to-person relations between India and Russia

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Mar 2010

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s 5th visit to India, superficially a success, in fact highlighted the one-way structure of the Russia-India relationship. The four pillars on which the relationship rests --- strategic congruence; defence and space partnership; nuclear power generation; and hydrocarbons --- remain biased in favour of Russia. Putin’s visit gives little hope that this is about to change.

But the strategic partnership remains strong, despite Russian dismay about the US-India tango. Moscow shares New Delhi’s concerns on terrorism. The Kremlin, scarred from Chechnya, worries that a radicalised Afghanistan or Pakistan could spread extremism to Russia’s Central Asian underbelly. Secondly, like Washington, Moscow too has deep concerns about the rise of China; India and Russia compare and discuss their perspectives on China. Finally, Moscow would like a powerful Indian Navy patrolling the Indian Ocean, leaving lesser space for the US and Chinese navies.

Based upon this strategic congruence, India and Russia have extended their “Long-term military and technical agreement” for the period from 2011-2020. Indian defence purchases have long been, and still remain, an important driver of Russian defence R&D and defence manufacture. While the MEA has stated that Russian equipment, which used to constitute 70% of India’s military hardware, is now climbing down towards 60%, that is still 35-40% of Russia’s annual defence exports.

Russia’s readiness to supply India strategic platforms and technology that no other country will part with --- such as a nuclear submarine on lease and assistance in designing an Indian nuclear submarine and underwater-launched missiles --- maintains for that country a niche in a lucrative strategic sphere.

In the emerging field of joint aircraft development, the progress is slower than anticipated. It had been hoped that a $600 million joint venture would be set up during Putin’s visit, between India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation (UAC), to develop a Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) for the Russian and Indian Air Forces to transport 18.5 tonne payloads over 2500 kilometres. This expectation was belied, and Business Standard has learned that both sides continue to bargain hard in ongoing negotiations.

Also mired in negotiations is the proposed HAL-UAC joint venture to develop and manufacture 250 fifth-generation fighters each for the Russian and Indian Air Forces. This even after the prototype fighter, named the Sukhoi T-50 or the PAK FA, has already taken to the skies in January 2010.

These disappointments notwithstanding, Russia drew satisfaction from the culmination of two years of negotiations over the price of the aircraft carrier, Admiral Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya, once it joins the Indian Navy in 2013). In supplementary agreements to the original contract, India undertook to pay US $2.33 billion for the Gorshkov, instead of the US $974 million that had been agreed upon in 2004. India also signed a US $1.6 billion deal to buy 29 MiG-29K and MiG-29KUB fighters, over and above the 16 already purchased for operating from the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya. The additional fighters, India’s most technologically advanced, will operate from the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC) that is being built in Cochin Shipyard.

Russia’s multi-billion dollar defence signings were echoed in the realm of nuclear power production (NPP) equipment. The NSG waiver on nuclear trade with India has triggered a Russian campaign to sell reactors in India, co-opting Indian engineering companies in order to bring down costs. With India’s current generating capacity of 4000 MW slated to reach 20,000 MW by 2020, the coming decade could see the procurement of at least 12 nuclear power reactors from foreign suppliers. According to Alexander Kadakin, Russia’s ambassador to India, Moscow hopes to bag orders for at least 6 of those reactors.

During this visit, Moscow and New Delhi signed two documents relating to NPP: a broad “Agreement on Cooperation in the use of Atomic Energy for Peaceful Purposes”, and a specific “Road Map for the Serial Construction of Russian Designed Nuclear Power Plants in the Republic of India.” This road map, sources tell Business Standard, involves adding four more reactors to the existing two reactors at Kudankulam, and then developing another reactor site at Haripur in West Bengal.

Despite these initiatives, Indian officials complain bitterly that Russian officials, particularly in the important middle rung, are simply not interested in implementing Vladimir Putin’s vision of a close Russia-India relationship. Putin has recognised corporate India’s wish to invest in Russia and do business there, but little has been done to facilitate that.

“The relationship was far better during the Soviet era, because when a leader declared something, it was implemented faithfully by officials down the chain”, said a top-ranking government official to Business Standard. “But today, Putin’s genuine warmth is simply not translated into action.”

The unhealthy lopsidedness of the trade relationship will tilt further in Moscow’s favour after India’s purchase of nuclear reactors and supplies of nuclear fuel. The visa regime remains a major hurdle for business.

“Getting a business visa, even for an industrial head like Ratan Tata, involves delays and all sorts of procedural requirements; and Moscow does absolutely nothing to ease that”, says a senior official in the Prime Minister’s Office. “Russian officials are focused entirely on Europe and America. They simply don’t see India as a priority.”

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

MMRCA Thunderbolt: $11 billion in the balance, a no-show by the Gripen fighter

The Gripen fighters that will arrive in Bangalore today for flight trials are not the Gripen NG that the IAF has been offered. Instead, two Gripen-D fighters have reached Bangalore

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Mar 2010

The high-voltage $11 billion contest to sell India 126 Medium Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MMRCA) is reaching the end of the trials phase in a blaze of potential controversy. Today, the last of the six contenders being evaluated by the Indian Air Force --- the Swedish Gripen --- will fly into Bangalore for trials. But Business Standard has learned that the fighters that will touch down are not the ones that Gripen International has offered: the JAS-39IN Gripen NG. Instead, two older-model Gripen-D fighters will arrive.

The Gripen NG, a light, agile, ultra-modern fighter built by Swedish aerospace giant Saab, has always been one of the hottest contenders in the fray. Saab’s default on the MoD’s trial directive, which lays down that the fighter that is being offered must be the one that comes for trials, will delight its rivals --- Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Dassault, Eurofighter and MiG --- since Gripen is now vulnerable to disqualification.

The arrival of the Gripen-D instead of the Gripen NG has a simple cause: the Swedish Air Force, having opted to buy the Gripen NG, has ordered a series of improvements on the Gripen NG prototype. With those under way, Sweden’s flight certification agency, SMV, has ruled that the prototypes require additional flight-testing in Sweden before the aircraft can be sent to India.

Confirming these developments, Gripen International’s Director India, Eddy de la Motte, told Business Standard, “The Gripen NG prototype cannot come just yet to India as it is required in Sweden for testing and evaluation by the Swedish Air Force which is interested in buying the fighter. Indian pilots have not yet flown the Gripen NG, but we will make sure that they get an opportunity at the very earliest.”

Sources close to the Gripen campaign say that IAF pilots will be offered a chance to fly the Gripen NG during a visit to Sweden from 6th to 10th April. Gripen International will also ask for fresh dates for bringing the Gripen NG to India for trials.

Even without having flown the Gripen NG prototype, IAF pilots have been extremely impressed by the fighter’s capabilities. Besides superb avionics and superior flight performance, they say the Gripen NG can land on an 800-metre stretch of highway; and then refuel, rearm and take-off within 10 minutes. This allows each Gripen NG to fly far more sorties per day than any other aircraft today.

The IAF pilots who have visited the Gripen simulators in Sweden have also been impressed by its electronic warfare capabilities and by the training facilities on offer.

The Swedish MoD’s unexpected refusal to allow the Gripen NG to India for trials has blown the race wide open. From a clear front-runner in the eyes of the IAF, the Gripen NG’s very participation in trials now depends upon a decision to be taken by the IAF and the Indian MoD.

Managing India’s image in Af-Pak

India's ambassador to Kabul, Jayant Prasad, with Foreign Secretary, Nirupama Rao, after a car bomb attack on the Indian embassy on 8th Oct 09.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th March 2010

The gunning down on 26th February of Indian workers in Kabul, followed by the stoppage of work by Indian doctors at the Indira Gandhi Institute of Child Health, is a tragic step towards what this column has long predicted: that, as the Taliban inexorably extends its influence, India will thin out in Afghanistan; and pull-out entirely when a Taliban takeover appears imminent (Planning for doomsday, 15th July 2008; and The Indian ant in the Afghan flood, 6th Oct 2009).

Assessing whether it was already time to scale down was part of the mandate of National Security Advisor, Shiv Shankar Menon, during his weekend visit to Kabul. Despite Menon’s brave words about not cowing before terror, New Delhi understands that its public has little appetite for receiving body bags from Kabul. Unable to send in troops to protect its aid workers; India’s options are narrowing.

What will remain after India’s inevitable departure from Afghanistan is an enormous fund of goodwill generated by our billion-dollar aid-driven engagement since 2001. Projecting soft power rather than hard has been a wise and far-thinking strategy. Pakistan’s geographical proximity to Afghanistan; its cultural and religious affinity; and its self-destructive wielding of the instruments of radicalisation, all mean that Islamabad can out-kill anyone in Afghanistan. Most Afghans, including the Pashtuns, distrust and resent Pakistan; but the power to kill and to coerce looms larger in the short term than the power to feed, to teach and to enrich.

But from a longer-term perspective, India will retain enormous influence within Afghanistan, a dormant clout that will survive the power fluctuations that characterise that country. When the environment changes, that influence will flower again.

Inexplicably, the Ministry of External Affairs, the creator of India’s far-sighted and pragmatic Afghanistan strategy, sheds this sophistication while dealing with our more immediate problem, Pakistan. The Indian public is entitled to fulminate about Pakistan’s self-destructive support to cross-border militancy and terrorism. But Indian policymakers, while reflecting public anger, must also have a cooler plan. Instead, while correctly visualising Afghanistan as a patchwork of competing constituencies, the MEA addresses Pakistan as a wall-to-wall bad guy. New Delhi talks to Islamabad, but India remains disengaged from the real Pakistan.

So which Pakistani constituency should India address? The United States, with its penchant for immediate fixes, has invariably chosen to talk to the Pakistan Army. But there is a structural reason why India cannot follow this path: the most fundamental institutional interests of “the khakis”, as Pakistan’s liberal fringe calls the army, has traditionally lain in holding up India as an adversary. The India bogey guarantees status, funding, housing and the freedom to run the country.

Today, India is especially vital as the spectre that will extricate the Pakistan Army from messy counter-insurgency operations in its tribal areas. So crucial is the Indian bogeyman that Kashmir is now getting a back-up for keeping the animosity bubbling. India’s perfidy in water sharing is being dragged centre-stage, most recently by Lashkar-e-Toiba chieftain, Hafiz Saeed, that old and trusted servant of the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi. Without a trace of irony, he calls it “water terrorism”.

If the khakis are ruled out as interlocutors, what about the candle-lighters: Pakistan’s liberal fringe, an ineffectual ménage of rights activists, academics, authors poets and members of the English media. Pleasant individuals for the most part, they have served Pakistan well by masking a deeply regressive society with a patina of western-style modernity. But they have notably failed in bringing change to Pakistan and, because so few are listening to them, are granted their little space in society.

That leaves the Pakistan proletariat, small-town residents and rural peasants, most of who are inimical to India because of the educational, social and political environment that they live in. Their religious environment is even more worrisome, with an increasingly radical clergy preaching the message of global jehad. At first look, this might appear a wasted cause for India; but deeper thought indicates that this is the audience to be addressed.

Admittedly, shaping opinion amongst the Pakistani masses will not yield results in the immediate and directly political way that shaping opinion in India does. In that under-developed democracy, security policy is only weakly linked with public perception. But, just as in Afghanistan, where India has nurtured roots that will survive a brushfire, a carefully targeted perception campaign can temper rural Pakistan’s reflexive anti-Indianism. The most potent weapon in this endeavour is information.

I remember listening, on radio monitoring networks in J&K, to conversations amongst radicalised and indoctrinated jehadis who had just infiltrated across the Line of Control. They had been told in Pakistan that every mosque in J&K had been burnt and that the Indian Army carried off any woman they fancied; all this is uncontested truth in the villages of Pakistani Punjab. It is a reality that India needs to challenge with information.

Such a campaign cannot be mounted by the MEA, which focuses excessively on scoring diplomatic points with Pakistan. Nor can it be an intelligence-led operation, which will quickly lose credibility. What is needed is a multi-disciplinary effort that carefully nuances the message and obtains the means of delivery, perhaps a special organisation under the Ministry of Culture. India needs to think carefully about spreading its message within Pakistan.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Army opts for Nag missile as it enters final trials

The Nag being fired during trials from a BMP based Nag Missile Carrier (NAMICA)

by Ajai Shukla
Hyderabad Missile Complex
Business Standard, 8th March 2010

In Rajasthan, this May, the indigenously developed Nag (Cobra) missile will undergo a final round of trials before entering service in the Indian Army’s arsenal. Developed by the Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL) in Hyderabad, the army is delighted with how the Nag has performed in a series of earlier trials. A senior army officer calls it, “the world’s deadliest anti-tank guided missile (ATGM).

Indian infantry formations urgently want a potent ATGM to handle Pakistani tank forces that now bristle with capable Ukrainian T-80 and Chinese T-85 tanks.

So confident is the army about the Nag that, even before trails are completed, it has budgeted Rs 335 crores for buying 443 Nag missiles, which will be manufactured at the public sector Bharat Dynamics Limited. The missiles will equip Reconnaissance and Support Battalions, mechanised units that locate and destroy enemy tanks.

In trials last summer six Nag missiles were fired at tanks 3-4 km away; each of them hit their target precisely. Next month the Nag must demonstrate its capability at its minimum range of 500 metres.

“Since the Nag travels at 230 metres per second, it has just 2 seconds to align itself to a target that is 500 metres away. But we are confident that the Nag will meet this requirement during the forthcoming trials”, the DRDL’s Officiating Director, Amal Chakrabarti, told Business Standard during a visit to the Hyderabad missile complex.

The Nag is a third-generation (Gen-3), “fire-and-forget” missile; once it is fired, its seeker automatically guides the missile to even a fast-moving tank. In earlier-generation missiles an operator had to guide it all the way, often exposing himself to enemy fire. The world has just a handful of “fire-and-forget” missiles, such as the American Javelin, and the Israeli Spike. The Javelin and the Spike are lighter missiles that can be carried by a soldier; the Nag is a heavier and more powerful missile designed to operate from vehicles and helicopters.

While the infrared seekers of the Javelin and the Spike can be jammed, the Nag’s optical guidance system makes it virtually jam-proof. The indigenous development of an imaging seeker, a highly complex and closely guarded technology, is the Nag’s greatest triumph.

Here’s how it works. Nag missile operators search for enemy tanks through thermal imaging telescopes, which see as well by night as they do by day. Picking up a tank, the operator locks the Nag’s seeker onto the target. A digital snapshot of the target is automatically taken, which serves as a reference image. As the Nag streaks towards the target, at 230 metres per second, the seeker takes repeated snapshots of the target; each one is compared with the reference image, and deviations are translated through on-board algorithms into corrections to the Nag’s control fins, which steer the missile precisely at the target.

This method of firing is termed “lock-on before launch” or LOBL. In the pipeline is an even more sophisticated method --- “lock-on after launch” or LOAL --- for the helicopter-mounted Nag, or HELINA, which can target a tank 7 kilometres away. Since the target will seldom be visible at such a distance, the missile operator launches the HELINA in the general direction of the target. As it flies towards the target, the Nag’s seeker downlinks to the missile operator images of the area ahead; after travelling 3-4 kilometers, i.e. after about 12-16 seconds, the operator will be able to identify enemy tanks. He will lock the seeker onto the tank he wishes to destroy, and the command will be uplinked to the missile in mid-flight. After that, the missile homes in onto the target and destroys it.

The Nag provides its operator with another important tactical advantage. The plume of burning propellant from the tail of most missiles gives away its flight path and allows the target to get behind cover. The Nag, in contrast, is visible only during the first one second of flight, when the missile’s booster imparts 90% of the momentum; after that, a sustainer maintains the missile’s speed, burning a smokeless propellant that is practically invisible.

Acceptance of the Nag missile into service will be a triumphant conclusion to the Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) long-delayed, but eventually successful, Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). Initiated in 1983 by then DRDO boss, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, the IGMDP set out to develop five missiles: the Agni and Prithvi ballistic missiles; the Akash and Trishul anti-aircraft missiles; and the Nag ATGM. Only the Trishul will have failed to be accepted into service.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

MoD sidelines private sector in Tactical Communications System project: to give BEL Rs 10,000 crore TCS project without competitive tendering

The US Army's WIN-T, an on-the-move, high-speed, high-capacity backbone communications network

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd March 2010

The Ministry of Defence is poised to deliver a disheartening blow to India’s nascent private defence industry. After inviting private companies into the Rs 10,000 crore project for developing the Indian Army’s futuristic Tactical Communications System (TCS), the MoD is abandoning competitive bidding and handing over the project to a defence public sector undertaking, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). The reason cited by the MoD: secrecy.

Left in the lurch are six private companies --- Wipro, Mahindra Defence Systems, Tata Power, L&T, Rolta and HCL --- which the MoD had vetted in detail before categorising the TCS project as “Make --- High Tech”. In this category, the government funds 80% of the R&D cost, while the selected vendor contributes 20%. Also sidelined for the TCS are two non-defence PSUs, ECIL and ITI.

The TCS will be a fully mobile network, which can be transported anywhere during war, even into enemy territory, providing the military with a backbone network on which it can communicate and transfer data. The TCS operates much like a cellular phone network, but with two major differences. While cellular phone transmission towers are fixed onto buildings, the TCS’s exchanges and switches will be installed in high-mobility vehicles, allowing them to be transported and set up anywhere. Secondly, messages sent out over the TCS cannot be easily intercepted or jammed since they will not remain on a single frequency; instead, transmissions will hop frequencies, dozens of times every second, in a pre-programmed sequence.

It is to maintain the secrecy of this “hopping algorithm”, or the sequence in which the TCS hops frequencies, that BEL is being handed over the project. The MoD is citing a new cyber policy formulated by the apex National Technical Research Organisation (NTRO) --- a secretive body that functions under the Cabinet Secretariat, overseeing electronic intelligence. The NTRO had mandated that the “hopping algorithm” must remain the exclusive preserve of the government.

The NTRO’s interpretation has been shaped by guidelines issued by Shekhar Dutt, while he was Deputy National Security Advisor. Now the governor of Chhatisgarh, Shekhar Dutt has earlier served as Defence Secretary and as Secretary of Defence Production, with close and longstanding links to BEL.

Now, based on that NTRO interpretation, a special MoD committee is about to recommend that the TCS procurement be categorized as, “Make --- Strategic, Complex and Security Sensitive Systems”. Under the Defence Procurement Policy, this will automatically gift the TCS project to DRDO and BEL.

The six private sector rivals for the TCS project are fighting back against what they consider an unfair proposal. Last Wednesday and Thursday, they huddled together with industry bodies, FICCI and CII, formulating their response to the MoD. Their argument: if the MoD ignores the private sector’s world-acknowledged competence in software, IT and communications, and continues sidelining them to benefit DPSUs, it will be hard to convince shareholders to continue investing into defence.

“We fully agree with the need for security”, explains a senior executive from one of the TCS contenders, “but secrecy can be fully preserved by reserving the ‘hopping algorithm’ for the DRDO and BEL. To safeguard the secrecy of a Rs 20,000 microchip, which contains the ‘hopping algorithm’, the MoD is handing them an entire Rs 10,000 crores project.”

An MoD Feasibility Study Group for the TCS has already discussed the issue of secrecy last year. It was decided that top-secret algorithms in the TCS would be developed by the DRDO’s Centre for Artificial Intelligence and Robotics (CAIR), but the private sector could develop the rest of the project.

Indian private companies have played pivotal roles in some of India’s most secret defence projects. Larsen & Toubro, one of the companies being sidelined in the TCS project, built most of India’s nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, and will have a similar role in building successors to the Arihant. Another private company, Tata Power, which built crucial command systems for the Arihant, also designed the core of the top secret Samyukta Electronic Warfare system.

The Kelkar Committee had recommended that such companies, with a track record and potential in defence production, should be designated Raksha Udyog Ratnas (RuRs) and treated at par with DPSUs in the award of projects like the TCS. But, in an inexplicable volte-face after preparing a short list of candidate companies, the MoD decided against nominating RuRs.

If BEL is awarded the TCS project, that windfall will lead to many more. Applying the NTRO’s logic to other command and control projects in the pipeline --- such as the Battlefield Management System (BMS); the Operational Data Link (ODL); and the Net-Centric Operations (NCO) system --- BEL seems likely to be awarded all of these on a single-vendor basis.

The Ministry of Defence has not responded to an emailed questionnaire from Business Standard on the TCS.

“It is particularly ironic that BEL is expected to safeguard security, when it is well known that BEL systems are built mainly from foreign components”, points out an official from a private company that is bidding for the TCS. “BEL’s Artillery Combat Command and Control System (ACCCS), a system similar to the TCS, has computers and software from Israeli company, Elbit. Whether these have come with malware or switches to render the entire system inoperable will only be known in the future.”

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, too, has raised concerns about such “false indigenization”, where DPSUs have allegedly fronted for foreign companies. The Standing Committee’s report of December 2009 notes that, “a sizeable proportion of procurement takes place through the Ordnance Factories and DPSUs, which are indigenous sources, but have to depend on imports for manufacturing the finished product.”