Saturday, 26 February 2011

Broadsword quiz... level "challenging". What is happening in this photo?

Here is a quiz to truly test the technological awareness of the much vaunted Broadsword fraternity... as well as your knowledge of the Tejas!

Friday, 25 February 2011

Coming up: The Dhruv goes to Siachen... an astonishing story of high altitude helicoptering

Stand by for the story... coming up with lots of never-before photos of spectacular Siachen footage As the saying goes... only on Broadsword!

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Defence Minister AK Antony on the Kaveri engine, replying today to a question in parliament

Here is the latest position on the Kaveri engine, straight from the horse's mouth... Defence Minister AK Antony, in parliament today.

Pasted below is the official Press Information Bureau release.



New Delhi: Phalguna 04, 1932
February 23, 2011

So far, nine prototypes of Kaveri engines and 4 prototypes of Kaveri Core (Kabini) engines have been developed. About 1975 hours of testing has been conducted on Kaveri and its Core engines at ground and altitude conditions.

Kaveri engine prototype (K9) has been integrated with IL-76 Aircraft at Gromov Flight Research Institute, Russia. After adequate Engine Ground Runs, taxi trials, the maiden flight test of Kaveri engine with IL-76 Aircraft for over one hour has been successfully completed on 3rd November 2010 followed by 3 more flight tests. These flight tests covered 6 Km altitude and a speed of 0.6 mach.

Kaveri engine development project was sanctioned on 30th March 1989 with a Probable Date of Completion (PDC) of December 1996 and a cost of Rs.382.81 crore. The project cost was revised to Rs.2839.00 crore. Some of the major reasons for time and cost overruns are ab-initio development of engine, lack of skilled manpower in engine manufacturing, enhancement in the scope of project during development, lack of infrastructure for engine manufacture testing and component/system level testing within the country, Flying Test Bed (FTB) trials was not originally included as a milestone in the project, engine and component failure during testing which is inevitable in this kind of projects resulted in changes in design and material, based on various reviews, less priority from foreign manufacturing agencies in view of Minimum Order Quantity (MOQ) vis-a-vis the production order quantity from other engine houses and US sanctions imposed during 1998 affected the delivery of critical systems and components.

It is proposed to develop production version Kaveri (K10) engine on co-design & co-development basis with M/s Snecma, France. The technical evaluation for this proposal has been completed. Tender Purchase Committee (TPC) with members from DRDO, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Indian Air Force (IAF), Indian Navy (IN) and Integrated Finance (R&D) is negotiating the commercial aspects.

This information was given by Defence Minister Shri AK Antony in written reply to Shri Shri N K Singh in Rajya Sabha today

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Needed: domestic aerospace for combat

A test pilot of the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) readies for a test flight. The NFTC, crucial for future fighter development programmes, was set up for the Tejas.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Feb 11

The recently concluded Aero India 2011 air show in Bangalore highlighted the growing success of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, or LCA. Stuck for years in a quagmire of funding shortages, international sanctions and the painful accumulation of technologies and infrastructure needed for building a modern fighter, the success of the Tejas provides a positive occasion to reflect on what needs to be done to take India forward towards self-sufficiency in building its combat aircraft.

This is especially so, given the mind-boggling cost of next-generation fighters and India’s growing requirement for more. Adding together the impending purchases of 200-odd medium fighters (the initial tender is for 126 aircraft) for some US $18 billion; another 250 fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) that will be co-developed with Russia and built in India for US $30-35 billion; the fabrication by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) of 200 or so Tejas for US $ 8-10 billion; and the indigenous design and fabrication of another 200 Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) for a roughly estimated US $12-15 billion, India will buy an unaffordable US $75-80 billion (Rs 360,000 crores) worth of fighters over the next couple of decades.

Going forward from there, things will only get more expensive as unmanned combat aircraft --- stealthy, pilotless drones that carry tonnes of smart weapons --- become the norm. While bayonets and boots will continue to determine success on the ground, technology is rapidly becoming the key differentiator between victory and defeat in the air battle. Some of those technologies will simply not be purchasable; others will be unaffordable. India’s need for credible conventional deterrence leaves it with little choice but to develop expertise in designing and producing sophisticated, yet affordable, combat aircraft, which can shape the future battlefield to our advantage.

This involves one simple process and several extremely complex ones. During the development of the Tejas fighter, the complex challenges have, to a significant degree been overcome. Project management skills, and expertise in systems integration, have been acquired by the Aeronautical Development Agency, which has also gathered a stable of aeronautical designers. A network of DRDO laboratories has gained crucial expertise in writing the complex algorithms of fly-by-wire systems; in developing mission computers; in radar technologies; and in avionics software. A world-class flight-testing agency, the National Flight Test Centre, has been set up. Production agencies, in both the public and private sectors, have learned the precision machining that is needed for aerospace components (like spacecraft and submarine parts, aerospace components have to be certified as suitable for use in aircraft); the art of fabricating components from composite materials; and the forging of technology partnerships with foreign companies to quickly import and absorb useful technologies. Creating this complex mosaic of building blocks was the difficult challenge in creating an aerospace industry.

But the easy part remains to be done. This involves creating an overarching structure that can integrate these building blocks into a result-oriented eco-system. The only organisation that is currently placed to do so --- the ministry of defence --- suffers from a lack of expertise. With decision-making confined to the ministerial and bureaucratic level, crucial technological and scientific inputs tends to be given short shrift or misevaluated. The MoD’s other great drawback is that it has no authority over organisations under other ministries, which could play crucial roles in the realm of aerospace design and production. One example is the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), a highly regarded laboratory under the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). NAL has made a significant contribution to the Tejas programme with its expertise in composite technologies and is, even now, engaged in developing the Saras light transport aircraft. But, with no formal integration into India’s military aerospace programmes, Dr Satish Dhawan often described NAL as “a beautiful bride, all dressed up and nowhere to go.”

In order to widen the net for expertise, it is time to set up a separate Department of Aerospace, bringing together research organisations on the one side; and production organisations on the other. Heading the department should be a scientist, given the rank of a secretary to the GoI, regardless of the objections that might be anticipated from the IAS community. Whether the Department of Aerospace is placed under the MoD, or under another ministry, it is essential that it be empowered to harness research potential countrywide.

This vertically integrated structure for the Department of Aerospace is not a novel idea. Already, the Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Space are vertically integrated, a structure that has served them well. Vertical integration will provide aerospace with the same synergies and prevent the dissipation of resources, especially within the private sector where companies simply cannot afford to put effort into R&D unless it is government-funded or directed so precisely that it will almost certainly yield commercial orders.

In consolidating its aerospace resources under a single structure, India will only be following the global lead. Russia, where individual design houses like Mikoyan and Sukhoi once played wastefully with designs that went nowhere, has now consolidated its resources tightly. The Federal Service for Military Technical Cooperation (FSMTC) provides oversight, while the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) brings together design bureaus and production agencies. It is time for India to bring together its scarce aerospace resources.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Cost of the Tejas: when a sword arm is worth it

The Tejas, fitted with iron bombs, taxiing out for a bomb release test flight from the HAL airfield at Bangalore

By Ajai Shukla
Aeronautical Development Agency, Bangalore
Business Standard, 22nd Feb 11

The spotlight is swinging onto the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). It has been cleared for induction into the Indian Air Force, construction has begun on two squadrons of Tejas (40 aircraft), and the IAF is picking 40% of the tab for developing a more powerful Tejas Mark II. Now its designers are hitting out at critics who charge that the Tejas programme has greatly overshot its budget.

PS Subramanyam, the head of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which spearheads the Tejas programme, has given Business Standard detailed financial figures to argue that the fighter’s development cost has remained within budget. ADA also points out that the Tejas is significantly cheaper than any comparable fighter.

"No overshoot"

Slamming some recent media reports that the Tejas was enormously over budget (e.g. Times of India, 21st Nov 2010, “At Rs 17k cr, Tejas cost zooms 3000%”) Subramanyam reveals that just Rs 6,051 crore have been spent so far on the fighter that performed aerobatics at the Aero India show in Bangalore this month. Another Rs 746 crore (of the sanctioned Rs 3,650 crore) has been spent on the naval Tejas, which will fly from the Indian Navy’s future aircraft carriers.

ADA has provided a detailed cost breakdown. The LCA project began in 1983 (the name Tejas only came later) with a preliminary allocation of Rs 560 crore for “feasibility studies and project definition”. Subramanyam complains that accusations of cost overruns stem from the misperception that Rs 560 crore was the entire budget for developing the Tejas. In fact, this was merely for defining the project and creating the infrastructure needed for designing, building, testing and certifying a fighter.

Only after a decade of infrastructure building did the design work start, when the MoD sanctioned Rs 2188 crore in 1993 (which included the initial Rs 560 crore). This allocation was to fund the building of two “technology demonstrator” Tejas fighters.

“Within this budget we flew the Tejas in 2001, and even built two extra Tejas prototypes”, says Subramanyam. “And that was without any adjustment for inflation or foreign exchange appreciation, though the dollar shot up from 26 rupees to 47 rupees during that period. Our forex component of Rs 873 crore should have been adjusted to Rs 1642 crore.”

Buoyed by the Tejas’ successful test flight in 2001, the MoD allocated ADA Rs 3302 crore in Nov 2001 for Phase 2 of the programme. This was to fund a production line and the building and flight-testing of 8 “limited series production” fighters. Phase 2 will run till 2012, when the Tejas obtains final operational clearance (FOC) for induction into the IAF as a frontline fighter.

In 2009, with the Tejas flight-testing running slow, ADA obtained an additional Rs 2475 crore from the government for Phase II. Subramanyam argues that this is not a cost overrun. “The MoD’s allocation of 2001 contained no protection from inflation. If you roll back our annual expenditure to the base year of 2001, we remained within budget”, says the ADA chief.

The IAF is now confident that its Tejas Mk I will obtain FOC in 2012, within the sanctioned Rs 7,965 crore (Rs 2,188 + 3302 + 2475 crore). All that remains is to integrate a long-range missile; to enable mid-air refuelling; and to enable the Tejas to fly as slow as 200 kmph.

What we got

Subramanyam argues that this money has not just developed the Tejas, but also India’s ability to build serious fighters. “Consider the aerospace infrastructure that we have built across the country, in key DRDO laboratories, defence PSUs, private industry, academic institutions, and test facilities like the National Flight Testing Centre (NFTC). This has bridged a technology and infrastructure gap of 2-3 generations”, he says.

Meanwhile, the naval Tejas will fly within weeks. Significantly different from the IAF version, the naval Tejas must get airborne within 195 metres (the length of an aircraft carrier deck) and withstand the cruel impact of repeated deck landings, in which it must be slammed down precisely where the deck begins. Of the Rs 1,729 crore allocated for the naval Tejas, ADA has spent Rs 746 crore so far.

Encouraged by the success of Tejas Mk I, the MoD allocated Rs 2,432 crore in 2009 for making the IAF’s fighter even better: developing a Tejas Mk II, with a newer, beefier GE-414 engine. Simultaneously, Rs 1,921 crores was sanctioned for the Naval Tejas Mk II. While the navy funded 40% of its fighter from the start, the IAF is a new convert, matching the navy in funding the Tejas Mk II.

“By 2012, the total development cost for an IAF and a naval Tejas --- including a single-seat fighter and a twin-seat trainer variant for each --- will be Rs 9,690 crore. Another Rs 4,353 crore will be spent on the Tejas Mark II, bringing the total cost to Rs 14,047 crore”, says Subramanyam.

The Gripen, a comparable if somewhat more advanced fighter, which Sweden developed during this period, cost US $13.5 billion for 204 fighters, assuming complete tax exemption. A similar number of Tejas fighters entering IAF and navy service would --- provided that HAL holds the Tejas manufacturing price at its current estimate of Rs 180 crore per fighter --- have cost India US $ 11.28 billion.

Given that the Sweden entered the Gripen programme with a mature aerospace industry (coming off the successful Viggen programme), India will have built the Tejas, as also an entire aerospace design and manufacturing eco-system, for 17% less money than Sweden paid for the Gripen.

Broadsword quiz: who am I?

(Photo credit: Ajai Shukla)
As always... the most detailed and accurate answer wins!

Friday, 18 February 2011

Broadsword brings you...the Tejas naval twin-seater!

Answer to the LCA identification Quiz

Not too many people got the answer right... for some reason, most seem to believe that it was the naval Tejas.

The correct answer: that aircraft is the LSP-7, nearing completion at HAL. The fighter will soon be handed over to the IAF (and later LSP-8 as well) for user evaluation.

The winner: Ramu, with his answer: "it must be either LSP7 or 8".

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Coming up: an analysis of the development cost of the LCA

A Tejas is born at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Bangalore! Would my alert readers like to identify this particular LCA?

Broadsword visitors!

I'm sure that many of you have --- like me --- encountered diverse and contradictory figures about how much it cost to develop the LCA. Very confusing.

Also, not having an authentic figure makes it difficult to gauge the true per unit cost of the Tejas, when it comes into service.

I intend to establish the figures authentically. May I request Broadsword visitors who have any thoughts on the matter (i.e. the true cost of the Tejas) to post their views. Also... please post links to the various figures that have come up in the public domain over the past few years.

I like this idea. Normally I publish an article and then you post your views. This time, we'll do it the other way round.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

Men and their flying machine: a day at the National Flight Test Centre with the pilots who test fly the Tejas

By Ajai Shukla
National Flight Test Centre, Bangalore
Business Standard, 12th Feb 11

The headphone crackles in his ears as Wing Commander Pranjal Singh looks out from the cockpit of his Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, codenamed LSP-3, at the sun-baked runway stretching ahead. Once again he blesses the Indian designers who built the Tejas cockpit: in the Sukhoi-30MKI that he flew before test pilot school, he would have been dripping sweat.

“Trims neutral, brakes okay, all systems go from telemetry,” says Group Captain Toffeen’s calm voice.

Toffeen and his flight test engineers in the telemetry room of the National Flight Test Centre will monitor every system in Pranjal’s aircraft right through the flight, poring over radio data transmitted from LSP-3’s vitals. No patient in intensive care is watched so closely. Any serious glitch means aborting the mission.

“Confirm, monitored,” Pranjal acknowledges.

Toffeen clears him to go: “Take off with max AB, rotation at two-four-zero.” In test pilot jargon, that means take off at full throttle (maximum afterburner), rotating the joystick to get airborne at 240 kilometres per hour.

“LSP-3, ready for take-off,” says Pranjal to Air Traffic Control, which clears every aircraft.

The ATC is prompt: “LSP-3, cleared for take-off, wind 270, ten knots.”

Pranjal guns his engine to full power and the Tejas hurtles forward, the acceleration driving him backwards into his seat. In seconds he is at 200 kmph… 220… 240… and, as he pulls the stick, LSP-3 is sweetly airborne and climbing fast. This is the moment that every fighter pilot lives for.

But Pranjal is more than a combat fighter pilot, operating within tested and certified performance limits. As a test pilot for the Tejas LCA programme, his job is to push the performance envelope of India’s new fighter, checking how it reacts as he nudges it into uncharted territory.

“Each flight is a mission into the unknown,” explains Air Commodore Rohit Varma, Project Director, Flight Testing. Rohit, a tall, greying veteran who has spent a lifetime flying the unforgiving MiG-21 fighter, explains how each test flight deliberately takes the Tejas faster, slower or higher than it has ever been before, or on a mission like firing rockets or missiles, which could shut down the fighter’s engine by sucking up all available oxygen.

Business Standard is at the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC) in Bangalore to spend time with the pilots who test the Tejas, India’s first attempt to build a modern “fourth-generation” fighter aircraft. Since the first fledgling Tejas lurched into the sky in 2001, they have flown it to the limits of its flight envelope, but without rashly endangering the aircraft. While there are disasters in almost every fighter development programme, the Indian MoD’s zero-risk approach would make a Tejas crash a programme-threatening disaster.

Finely honed judgement is the first hallmark of a test pilot. Chatting with these men in the briefing room, I am struck by their maturity. This is no bunch of swaggering top guns, but experienced professionals in whom brash youth has given way to an impressive calm that must prevail in a life-threatening flight emergency.

Group Captain George Thomas, built like a bull, has commanded a squadron of Su-30MKIs. Group Captain Ritu Raj Tyagi, the most experienced of the group and a former Jaguar combat commander, ran the last Mumbai marathon as a diversion from flight testing. Captain Jaideep Maolankar, who cut his teeth flying Sea Harrier fighters off naval aircraft carriers, commanded warship INS Ganga as it chased pirates off the Somali coast. Group Captain Venugopal, like Varma, has commanded a MiG-21 squadron on the Pakistani border.

Even Pranjal, the baby of the team, is by conventional standards a veteran pilot, having commanded a Sukhoi-30MKI squadron. Now learning the ropes at the NTFC, he will extensively test the first two Tejas fighters that Hindustan Aeronautics Limited delivers to the IAF this year.

The LSP-3 streaks into the sky. Pranjal’s mission is to test a new smoke winder--an under-wing pod that trails smoke. The device will help the NFTC test the Tejas’ reaction when it flies into a jet wake, a deadly 250-kmph blast of air emitted by a jet engine flying ahead.

Jet streams confuse fly-by-wire fighters like the Tejas, which are kept stable by on-board computers. Swedish company Saab crashed one of their Gripen fighters during testing when it flew into one. But these NFTC pilots seem to believe that flying the Tejas into a jet stream is just another day at the office. This matter-of-fact approach to the unknown leads NASA to choose most of its astronauts from the test pilot community.

“Test flying only seems glamorous from the outside,” says Thomas, dismissing my suggestion that every young IAF fighter jockey must idolise him. “Our daily routine involves a great deal of what any fighter pilot would consider drudgery. There is plenty of daily paperwork, and loads of study across the aerospace domain.”

But the passion for flying keeps these aces motivated. “We have all finished commanding our fighter squadrons and would normally be moving on to flying a desk,” says Jaideep. “This allows us to stay in the cockpit longer, connected with the business end of combat aviation. We are a few metres away from a fighter plane at all times.”

Varma explains exactly what a test pilot does. “An operational pilot in a combat squadron does not have the luxury of criticising his aircraft. Whether he dislikes the cockpit layout, whether he finds the controls sluggish… he just does the job with whatever the nation provides him. But when he becomes a test pilot, all those years of frontline experience go into improving the aircraft for the frontline pilots.”

“The test pilot is classically the bridge between designer and field. That is his role. He needs to be able to talk the language of the pilots in the field, and translate their requirements into language that the designers can understand. He must bridge the disconnect between design and operations,” elaborates Thomas.

In western air forces, like the US Air Force, test pilots do nothing but flight testing. But while specialisation allows them to stay in close touch with test programmes, pilots become disconnected from combat flying. The IAF’s philosophy is different. “Our tactics are evolving so quickly that we feel it is better to keep moving pilots between test flying and operational squadrons. That brings the latest operational doctrines into aircraft development,” explains Thomas.

In the telemetry room, Toffeen controls Pranjal’s mission. The atmosphere is charged; hawk-eyed technicians are glued to their monitors to detect the first sign of trouble. Toffeen has done this for 21 years. “It is a really interesting job,” he laughs, relaxed and confident. “Every day is a new day.”

Pranjal’s voice booms over the speakers that broadcast all communication between pilot and flight engineer. The smoke winder has been successfully tested. Toffeen tells him to head back to base. There is no cheering or clapping; this is business as usual.

“Do you guys ever party, get drunk, let your hair down?” I ask Rohit.

“Not this week, definitely. We will be doing Tejas aerobatics twice daily and, as an article of faith, we don’t drink for 48 hours before flying.” But then the professional mask slips just a fraction and there is a gleam in the air commodore’s eyes. “But don’t go away with the impression that these guys are loners. Test pilot school parties are famous in the air force.”

Saturday, 12 February 2011

DRDO, US working on 30 high-tech projects

Some of the action from Day 3 of Aero India 2011 at Bangalore

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
Bangalore, 12th Feb 11

The chief of India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) today made the startling revelation that his organisation is in partnership with US entities in developing at least 30 high-technology defence projects.

Addressing a press conference at the Aero India 2011 air show in Bangalore today, DRDO Chief V K Saraswat broadly described the areas of the joint DRDO-US research. He said they were jointly developing “about 30 programmes related to materials, services, and manufacturing technologies. There are some related to advanced communications systems. There are many (projects) that are related to low-intensity conflict.”

This indicates Washington’s rapid relaxation of the stringent technology denial controls that the US Congress had placed on DRDO after India tested five nuclear weapons in May 1998. Until January 25, several DRDO laboratories had featured on Washington’s “Entity List”, a list of agencies and institutions that are banned from receiving dual-use items from the US. A dual use item is one that has military, as well as civil, uses.

Controversially, Saraswat also revealed DRDO was permitting American inspectors to examine equipment that was being imported from the US for use in DRDO projects. “We already have some agreements with them… what is called post-delivery inspection. Suppose they give some equipment, they can verify… they are at liberty to come and check whether we have used this equipment in the place that I have indicated in my order. It is something like the End User Monitoring Agreement.”

DRDO has worked for years with Russian and Israeli defence companies in developing weaponry, but featuring on the “Entity List” had ruled out cooperation with the US. The US departments of state and commerce, which must grant licences for defence-related export and cooperation, automatically block licenses to any agency on the “Entity List”. Key DRDO platforms, including the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft; the Akash missile; and the Arjun tank, suffered years of delay after the technology denial regime imposed by the US in 1998.

Saraswat said DRDO had long hankered for partnership with US companies. “A lot of technology areas were identified for working with the US, but because we were on the Entity List… clearances were not coming. I presume that there will be acceleration in our research & development programmes with the US.”

Despite the DRDO-US projects under way, Saraswat pointed out that DRDO’s removal from the “Entity List” did not mean that automatic clearance was granted for whatever DRDO needed. US law mandates that all dual-use items, which essentially includes everything related to defence, needs export licences from the US departments of commerce, state and defence.

“That licensing process is the law (in the US) and it will not change. So we have to see in the years to come… what kind of trust is going to develop between [the DRDO] and the US on the issue of licences for dual use items for the DRDO and other defence agencies. That process will become lenient only if there is a level of trust,” Saraswat said.

Meanwhile, Washington has stressed on high-tech cooperation that was one of the highlights of President Barack Obama’s visit to India last November. US Commerce Secretary, Gary Locke, with his delegation of 24 US companies — among them a dozen aerospace and defence companies, including Lockheed Martin, Oshkosh Corporation, Boeing and Aero Controls — has dangled high technology as a carrot to induce New Delhi to provide trade incentives to US companies. Saraswat’s revelations could ease scepticism among Indian defence policymakers about whether Washington intends to part with high technology to India, or to merely cite the sale of high-tech defence platforms like the C-130J as evidence of its commitment.

Speaking to Business Standard, US Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs Andrew Shapiro insisted that Washington viewed India as a strategic partner. “The removal of nine Indian entities from the Entities List was a significant accomplishment,” declared Shapiro. “We’ve just had a successful delivery of the C-130J… and we hope to win the MMRCA competition

Friday, 11 February 2011

IAF chief’s googly on wrapping the MMRCA deals

A panoramic view of Aero India 2011, where the IAF chief has set the cat amongst the pigeons by announcing that the MMRCA contest would be decided within a couple of weeks

By Ajai Shukla
Yelahanka, Bangalore
Business Standard, 11th Feb 11

Electrifying aerospace vendors at Aero India 2011 in Bangalore, Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshall PV Naik, announced today that New Delhi would decide within two weeks about which medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) it would buy, and actually sign the US $10 billion contract by September.

“The CNC (Cost Negotiation Committee) is likely to start in a week or two. Taking that as the datum and giving [the CNC] another 6-8 months, the contract is likely to be signed in September”, declared Naik.

The CNC is a group of officials that negotiates, between the Ministry of Defence and the winning vendor, a final price for the sale.

Naik’s boss, defence minister AK Antony, had stated at Aero India 2011 yesterday that the globally-watched contract would be finalised by the end of the next financial year 2011-2012, i.e. by March 2012. By setting the deadline six months earlier, Naik appears to have put the MoD under pressure.

Asked for a clarification by Business Standard, Naik’s officiating deputy, Air Marshall RK Sharma, confirmed his chief’s announcement. Sharma clarified that the winning vendor would be issued an invitation within two weeks to appear for cost negotiations, while the CNC would actually meet within two months. An invitation to a vendor to appear in a CNC is tantamount to announcing the winner of a contract.

“The DAC (the MoD’s apex Defence Acquisition Council) will formalise the winner soon; we will then invite that company for negotiations”, said Sharma.

Six fighters are competing for the IAF contract: Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet; Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper; the MiG Corporation’s MiG-35; Saab’s Gripen NG; Dassault’s Rafale; and a four-nation European consortium’s Eurofighter. Executives from these companies say they are baffled by Naik’s announcement. Asked in late-2010 to rework their offset bids, and with no date yet given for resubmission, the MoD does not have a key element needed to decide a winner.

“Is the MoD going to decide the contract winner without examining the offset bids?” asks a bemused executive, from one of the competing aircraft manufacturers.

While no answers are currently forthcoming to these questions, the air chief did explain why little appears to have happened since July 2010, when the IAF submitted its flight trial evaluation report to the MoD. Naik revealed that the last six months had gone by in explaining to the MoD the technical nuances of the flight trials.

“There have been a lot of queries and counter-queries [between the MoD and the IAF]. It is such a complicated deal, and there is so much of technical detail involved… so there was a lot of, shall we say, education to be done so that the report was clearly understood in all its manifestations,” explained Naik.

The air chief also voiced his apprehension that the contract could be delayed by “dissatisfied vendors (who) put a spoke in the wheel”, using allegations of wrongdoing to trigger long-running probes by investigation agencies.

Yesterday, a defensive Antony had announced that political considerations would play no role in deciding the winner. That seemed to suggest that the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), which will be required to approval the contract after the CNC negotiates a final price, would merely rubber-stamp the IAF/MoD decision.

Other than the impending contract for 126 medium fighters to boost the IAF’s dwindling numbers, the IAF chief also announced the impending conclusion, “within this financial year”, of the contract to upgrade the air force’s 20-year-old fleet of 52 Mirage-2000 medium fighters. This upgrade, which has been the subject of bitter negotiations between the IAF and French contractor, Thales, will give the Mirage-2000 another 20 years of service life by fitting on a new radar and a modern cockpit with state-of-the-art avionics and electronic warfare equipment.

While Thales had initially demanded US $52 million per aircraft, the deal has been concluded, say IAF sources to Business Standard, at US 39 million per aircraft.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

European fighters lead MMRCA race

Making a splash at the Aero India show in Bangalore. Broadsword has learned that the European fighters have taken pole position in the MMRCA competition

By Ajai Shukla
Yelahanka, Bangalore
Business Standard, 10th Feb 11

It was a no-holds-barred duel at Aero India 2011 for a $10-billion (Rs 45,500 crore) prize. Turn by turn, four of the world’s most advanced fighter aircraft roared into the sky, keenly aware of the watching eyes of Indian ministry of defence (MoD) officials who would decide which of them was best suited for the Indian Air Force’s order of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).

Their performances mirrored each fighter’s fortunes in the MMRCA race. In multiple interviews with MoD officials, IAF pilots and vendor representatives, Business Standard has learned exactly where the MMRCA race currently stands. None of the contenders have been officially eliminated in the IAF’s flight evaluation report, but the heavy liabilities that some are carrying have already reduced this contest to an all-European race.

The clearest performance was that of the Russian MiG-35, which has not shown up at all at Aero India 2011. After multiple problems during the flight evaluation trials, it is regarded by the IAF as little more than an upgraded MiG-29. The Russian fighter is effectively out of the race.
Only marginally less dismal was the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, which travelled to Bangalore but did not participate in the inaugural aerobatics shoot-out.

Defence minister A K Antony insisted today that political considerations would play no part in the MMRCA selection, but his officials were less diplomatic. “The F-16 is in the race only in name; the US will not be allowed to supply the same aircraft to both India and Pakistan,” said a senior MoD official. “Besides, the F-16 has come to the end of its development cycle. There is no scope for improving it further.”

Lockheed Martin seems to know its India campaign is blighted. Over the past two months, company officials and even the Pentagon, the US defence headquarters, have shifted the focus to the F-35, the fifth generation stealth fighter that Lockheed Martin is developing. But while the Pentagon’s acquisition chief, Ashton Carter, has signalled American willingness to include India in the F-35 programme, the Indian MoD is not persuaded.

On getting a fifth generation fighter from the US, Antony replied, “Already we are engaged with Russia to produce a fifth generation fighter…. No other country has offered us these technologies in the past. We are way ahead now [in the partnership with Russia]. There is no question of going back.”

The other American contender, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, regaled spectators with a superb display of combat manoeuvring, Showcasing its history as a combat fighter, the F/A-18 was the only contender that flew with missiles fitted under its wings, which is avoided in aerobatics because of the resulting drag. But though the Super Hornet was the tightest turner, its aerobatics were conducted at slow speeds. That sluggishness is also true of its campaign in India.

“We scored the F/A-18 poorly during flight evaluation,” says an IAF officer who was closely involved.

That leaves the three European contenders: the Eurofighter (from a four-country consortium), the Dasault Rafale (from france) and the Saab Gripen (Sweden). Each of them put up a superb display of high-speed aerobatics, performing loops, barrel rolls, and spells of inverted flying that clearly pushed the boundaries of the aircrafts’ flight envelopes.

The Gripen showed enormous agility in its vertical handling, something that would allow it to climb above the enemy fighter in a dogfight, to an advantageous killing position. At the end of his display, the Gripen’s pilot displayed how little runway the fighter needs to land, stopping dead in barely 900 ft.

But IAF officers point out two key drawbacks to the Gripen’s campaign: “The Gripen’s AESA radar is the least developed of all the MMRCA contenders; and, being a single-engine fighter, it carries significantly less weaponry than the big twin-engine contenders.”

The twin-engine advantage was immediately evident when the Rafale and the Eurofighter took to the skies, lashing the spectators with a blast of sound. There was little to choose between both those aircraft, their High-G (sharp turn); High-Alpha (slow flying) aerobatics leaving the spectators clapping.

“The MMRCA contest is now between the Eurofighter and the Rafale,” says an IAF officer associated with the flight evaluation. “It will boil down to price. But if the MoD accepts a smaller fighter, with a radar that has some way to go, the economically-priced Gripen could be the dark horse that wins.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Aero India 2011: inauguration photos

Broadsword at Bengaluru: Aero India takes off today

The Tejas LCA, in display colours, rehearses for its aerobatics display at the opening of Aero India 2011 in Bengaluru today

The Sitara trainer being readied by HAL for an air display at Aero India 2011. The aircraft has undergone a major fuselage reinforcement after it cracked during stress testing

The Flying Bulls, a Czech display team, rehearses the day before Aero India, framed here with the tail of a F/A-18 Super Hornet

By Ajai Shukla
Yelahanka, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 9th Feb 11

Air shows in this country have traditionally been more Russian than Indian, the skies crowded with the Indian Air Force’s fleet of Sukhoi and MiG fighters, Mil helicopters, and Antonov and Ilyushin transport aircraft. But that is changing. Aero India 2011, which will be inaugurated in Bangalore on Wednesday, will showcase a major Indian and American aeronautical presence.

As the first generation of Indian-designed and built fighters, trainers and helicopters nears the end of tortuous development processes, the country’s premier air show will include air displays from the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA); the hitherto unnamed Light Combat Helicopter (LCH); the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) flown by the IAF’s renowed Sarang heli-batics team; and --- a surprise inclusion --- an aerobatics display by the Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT).

America’s growing share of India’s aircraft market will be evident from the presence of the IAF’s recently delivered C-130J Super Hercules, the first of a billion dollar order of six of these transport aircraft. Also participating will be the KC-135 Stratotanker refueller, and the C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlifter. New Delhi is processing a US $4 billion purchase of 10 Globemasters with the US government. Rounding off the US presence will be the F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-16IN Super Viper, both of which are competing for India’s $10 billion tender for medium fighters.

One of the interest points of the show could be the IJT Sitara, designed and developed by Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, to plug a major IAF shortfall of trainer jets. Four years ago, at Aero India 2007, the Sitara had careened off the runway as its canopy burst opened during its take off run, fortunately without injuring anyone. Today the Sitara is a front-runner --- given its all-Indian flavour --- for selection for the IAF’s reputed Surya Kiran aerobatics team, to replace the vintage Kiran trainers that they currently fly.

“The IJT will get Final Operational Clearance by end-2011”, HAL chief, Ashok Nayak told Business Standard. “We have already built the first three of an IAF order of 12 trainers, having successfully integrated the new Russian AL-55I engine. This aircraft is entirely HAL-designed, HAL-built, and we will do all the testing here as well.”

Business Standard has learned that the IJT has just overcome a major setback, in which the aircraft cracked into two during structural testing. In this demanding ground test, the fuselage is subjected to heavy loads to ensure that it can bear more stress than it could encounter during flight. Due to this failure, HAL lost months in strengthening the IJT’s fuselage.

“The reinforced aircraft cleared all the structural tests just a couple of weeks ago. Now it is ready for an air display during Aero India”, said Nayak.

The 8th Aero India show, organised by the MoD in partnership with the CII, will be conducted from 9th-13th Feb at the IAF’s Yelahanka air base outside Bengaluru. Anticipating some 70,000 business visitors and official delegations from 45 countries, some 380 foreign and 295 domestic exhibitors will showcase their aerospace products. The air show is also expected to have 1,75,000 visitors from the public, who can enjoy the air displays from a vastly expanded Air Display Viewing Area (ADVA).

Handily beating previous records, 93 aircraft of various types will be on display. Civil aviation will comprise 55% of the participation in Aero India 2011, including a major presence of business jet manufacturers like Gulfstream, for whom India Inc. represents a major emerging market.

But the star attraction will be the twice-daily aerobatics displays, in which the contenders for India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender will outdo each other in impressing the spectators. The Super Hornet and the Super Viper; the Russian MiG-35; the Swedish Gripen; and the Eurofighter were on display at the last edition of Aero India two years ago. This time the French, Dassault-built Rafale fighter will make its debut in India.

Also coming to India for the first time is the Flying Bulls Aerobatics Team, a private enterprise, which has accumulated a fleet of vintage aircraft that are maintained in impeccable condition. A regular feature in international air shows, the Flying Bulls are expected to be one of the highlights of Aero India 2011.

A key enabler during the 7 previous editions of Aero India has been the Government of Karnataka, which has adopted the policy of developing the Bangalore area as the country’s premier aerospace hub. More than 900 acres near the Bengaluru International airport have been earmarked for aerospace industries.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

MoD’s offset farce: notes for the CAG

Antony releasing the Defence Production Policy last month, which talks about building up Indian defence industry. The DPP-2011, released the same day, undermines that aim by diluting offsets.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Feb 11

Defence Minister AK Antony’s apparent probity is set to naught by his dismal lack of judgement. In a heated internal debate on offsets that has polarised his ministry, Antony has backed a group of bureaucrats that argue exactly what foreign arms vendors have lobbied for since offsets were instituted in 2005. They agree that India’s nascent defence industry is incapable of executing the offset projects that would arise from our weapons purchases. Consequently, the 30% plough back that foreign vendors were required to make into the Indian defence industry, on all contracts above Rs 300 crore, has now been permitted in civil aviation, internal security and aviation.

The foreign investment that offsets were to direct into the indigenous development and fabrication of high-tech radars, night-vision devices and missile seekers now seems headed for airliner seat upholstery and carpets; rubber panels for baggage claim conveyer belts; cabin crew training; and passenger management systems. All these are permissible under the MoD’s “liberalised” offset policy, promulgated last month. This is over and above an offset policy already in place for civil aviation. Worryingly, civil aviation offsets have never been audited and there are serious apprehensions about who has benefited from them.

Murdering the offset policy has not satisfied global arms vendors; they want it killed with retrospective effect. Currently, offsets relating to tenders that predate the neutered offset policy of 2011 must still be discharged within the defence industry. These include the multi-billion offset liabilities connected with the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA); the C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft; and the P8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMA). Now this coterie of MoD officials is pushing for the new policy to be applied with retrospective effect.

Also on their tables is another proposal that will delight foreign vendors: permitting transfer of technology (ToT) as an offset. This would be a true freebie, since India’s leverage as a massive arms buyer can ensure that ToT forms part of any deal. Besides, as the MoD knows well, an arbitrary price can be placed on most technologies.

The blinding illogic of these MoD decisions will surely be investigated someday, with questions raised over motivations, just as the 2G telecom scam is being probed today. The files will reveal that the MoD was so divided on this issue that Antony referred the further emasculation of the offsets policy to a committee --- that useful ministerial device for passing the buck.

So let us document how the MoD votes on the dilution of offsets. Supporting foreign vendors, and pooh-poohing CII’s and Ficci’s documented insistence that Indian Defence Inc. can absorb offsets in full, are the officials who spend the defence capital budget on overseas procurements: the defence secretary, and his acquisitions chief. Backing them firmly is the Indian Air Force --- the biggest buyer of foreign weaponry. This group regards offsets as an inconvenient obstacle to overseas procurement, a perspective shared and warmly encouraged by global arms vendors.

Opposing this coterie, and urging that offsets be implemented within the defence industry, is a group with professional stakes in building up the Indian defence industry. This includes the department of defence production, backed by the indigenisation-conscious Indian Navy that has traditionally built its ships in India. The army watches and waits, realising the benefits of indigenous industry but not yet clearly committed like the navy.

Highlighting the impatience of the IAF and the acquisitions wing with offsets, is the indefensible clearance, in violation of multiple MoD rules, of Lockheed Martin’s $275 million offset proposal relating to its billion dollar sale of C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. In what most investigators would consider a conspiracy, the IAF left out a C-130J training simulator from their list of requirements; well knowing that this would be required for mission training. Smartly exploiting that gap, Lockheed Martin offered, as an offset, a simulator at an exorbitantly inflated price. The acquisitions wing illegally granted them offset credit for doing so.

French company, Thales, is getting away with an equally farcical offset proposal relating to its supply of radars to the IAF. While sourcing the radar equipment from France, Thales is discharging its offset obligations by buying accommodation tents (including toilets; kitchens; air-conditioners; and microwaves) from a Gurgaon-based company; and by purchasing motorcycles and vehicles for the radar crews. This is a travesty of what offsets were intended to be: a stimulant for domestic defence industry.

This is happening because Antony --- normally an astute guardian of his reputation, but severely endangering it here --- has failed to create within his ministry an organisation to evaluate and manage offsets. In the resulting vacuum, the acquisitions wing and the department of defence production have each tried to palm off to the other the responsibility for handling offsets. To bypass this passing-the-parcel within the ministry, Antony has been persuaded to pass on the parcel to civil aviation.

This is clearly at odds with the government’s own regulations. The MoD’s “Rules of Business” (Serial 12) holds the ministry responsible for: “Development of the aeronautics industry and coordination among users other than those concerned with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Department of Space”. How is the MoD going to administer offsets that arise from defence, but flow into civil aviation, without inter-ministerial coordination?

The logic at the heart of defence offsets is the use of buyers’ leverage to arm-twist vendors into building up what they rightly see as potential competition. But despite their protests, commercial logic would bring the vendors in line. This newspaper has reported in detail how global arms vendors have, over years, systematically protested India’s offset policy even while tying up local partnerships for implementing it. The MoD’s offset dilution of 2011 is an appalling example of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, a tradition once the preserve of our cricket squad.

Was this mere incompetence or a rigged game? Some day, not far away, an investigation will decide.