Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Off to the Line of Actual Control (LAC)

Folks, just to let you all know that this blog will be largely inactive over the next two weeks, as I'm off on a trek-cum-familiarisation visit to the McMahon Line in Arunachal Pradesh.

The photograph posted above is from my last visit to where I'm going again.

Will try and make up when I'm back. Meanwhile, good luck and good reading to all of you.

Saturday, 21 September 2013

India's missile story

How did the DRDO's missile programme succeed, while its other programmes struggled?

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Sept 13

Observers of India’s struggle to design and build defence equipment might wonder why the indigenous missile programme has been so much more successful than many other projects that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has taken up. Even as the ballistic missile programme struck another bulls-eye on Sept 15 with the successful second test of the Agni-5 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the DRDO’s other flagship projects --- the Arjun tank, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and an airborne early warning (AEW) system --- make much more laboured progress.

What began as the modest Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) in 1983, has delivered to the military a range of missiles, both strategic and tactical. The ballistic missiles includes the Prithvi (350 kilometres range); its naval version, Dhanush; the underwater-launched ballistic missiles, and the Agni series with ranges between 1,000-5,000 kilometres. The latest arrow in this quiver, the Agni-5, will enter operational service as a canisterised, road-mobile  missile that can deliver nuclear warheads to targets across South, South East, Central and West Asia, China, most of Europe and large parts of Africa.

Simultaneously, development has begun of the Agni-5’s successor, the Agni-6. This intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range of over 6,000 kilometres will carry a massive three-tonne payload (current Agni payloads weigh one tonne). This will consist of several multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs), each one capable of being aimed at a different target. Each warhead --- termed maneuverable reentry vehicle (MARV) --- will perform evasive maneuvers as it hurtles down towards its target, making it difficult for enemy air defence systems to shoot it down.

India has pointedly steered clear of Tactical Nuclear Weapons, which are smaller bombs delivered by shorter-range missiles. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent relies on a TNW --- called the Nasr, or the Hatf-9, with a maximum range of 60 kilometres --- to counter India’s Cold Start Doctrine. This allows India to retaliate to major Pakistani provocations, like a terrorist strike or a political assassination, with punitive strikes deep into Pakistan by armoured battle groups. Pakistan hopes to deter such strikes with the threat of small TNWs. India, like China, believes that TNWs are inherently dangerous. Since they are short range battlefield weapons, they are vulnerable to theft by terrorists, or to being launched by renegade military commanders. India’s nuclear deterrent, therefore, consists of longer-range weapons that target enemy cities (i.e. counter value targeting), not military formations (counter force targeting).

Even while eschewing TNWs, India’s ballistic missile programme has spun off a range of subsidiary missiles. These include the Shaurya, a hybrid missile that has both ballistic and cruise missile profiles, and which is a twin of the indigenous submarine-launched K-15 nuclear-tipped missile; the Prahar, which has a programmable path; and the Nirbhay cruise missile that has just entered testing. There is also an anti-ballistic missile (ABM) programme, which features two types of interceptor missiles destroying incoming enemy ballistic missiles before they can do any damage --- an exo-atmospheric interceptor, which intercepts enemy missiles at altitudes up to 150 kilometres; and an endo-atmospheric interceptor that intercepts at 30 kilometres and below.

Finally, there is the Akash surface-to-air missile (SAM), which can detect and quickly shoot down enemy aircraft at ranges of 30 kilometres; the fire-and-forget Nag missile, which destroys tanks at ranges of 4 kilometres; and the air-to-air Astra missile, which can shoot down modern fighters at ranges of 44 kilometres. This is being developed into an Astra II, which can strike enemy fighters up to 80 kilometres away.

* * * *

A long road

This success has not come easy. Top DRDO officials, such as the previous chief, Dr VK Saraswat, say that the foundation of the missile development programme’s success was laid in 1982, when Prime Minister Indira Gandhi took the crucial decision that India must develop and build missile systems within the country.

Well before that, in the 1960s and 1970s, DRDO laboratories like the Hyderabad-based Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL) had explored the development of anti-tank missiles and sounding rockets. After the Pakistan Army’s US-supplied “Cobra” missiles took a heavy toll of Indian tanks in the 1965 war, the army extended support to DRDL for developing a missile. Over the next five years, anti-tank missile prototypes built by the fledgling laboratory were flight tested by the army. But, not for the last time, the army decided to abandon the indigenous option and, instead, import the French SS11B1 missile “to meet an urgent threat.”

Simultaneously, in 1969, the Indian Air Force (IAF) initiated a project to reverse engineer the Soviet Union’s SA-75 surface to air missile (SAM), because Moscow was not supplying spares in adequate quantities. This venture, called “Project Devil”, never came to production, but allowed the DRDL to build the experience and knowhow that eventually gave birth to the Akash missile.

In April 1982, a Missile Study Team (MST) was formed under the chairmanship of the DRDO’s upcoming hard-driving young star, APJ Abdul Kalam, who was appointed Director, DRDL. Under Kalam, the MST analysed the country’s missile requirements in a succession of plenary meetings the military and the ministry.

Finally, at a fateful meeting in a South Block conference room in New Delhi in autumn 1982, Kalam presented his findings to the defence minister at that time, Mr R Venkataraman (both went on to become President of India). Also present were the three service chiefs, the cabinet secretary, principal secretary to Indira Gandhi, and the DRDO chief, Dr VS Arunachalam. Kalam recommended the phased development of five missiles --- the Trishul and Akash surface-to-air missiles; the Nag anti-tank missile; the Prithvi short range ballistic missile; and an Agni technology demonstrator to validate re-entry technology.

If Kalam was a hard-driving visionary, so too was Venkataraman. Dismissing all talk of a “phased programme”, he ordered all programmes to be taken up simultaneously. With the imprimatur of the prime minister on the project, the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP) was formally sanctioned in July 1983, and funds were pre-allocated for a 12-year period up to 1995. Its executive head was Kalam, with the title of Chairman, Programme Management Board (PMB).

* * * *

The men behind the machine

Those were heady days for the DRDO’s idealistic young scientists, buoyed by the 1971 victory over Pakistan and the “peaceful nuclear experiment” of 1974.

In 1972, two young IIT graduates, VK Saraswat and Avinash Chander joined the DRDO just ten days apart. They were amongst more than a hundred young scientists who joined the DRDO’s missile complex after graduating from premier institutions like the IITs, and Jadhavpur University. Within three years, Saraswat was heading propulsion development; while Chander spearheaded the development of navigation and guidance systems.

“Our success in missiles was due to three factors. Firstly, this batch of young scientists came with a work culture, thought processes and confidence that they could do almost anything. They built everything from scratch,” says Chander.

“Secondly, Dr Kalam unleashed thought processes and the freedom to function, reinforcing creativity with excellent review mechanisms. Thirdly, Kalam created an eco-system where DRDO laboratories worked together in clusters. Research and Development (Engineers), Pune developed launchers, Defence Electronics Research Laboratory (DLRL) developed radars, Armament R&D Establishment (ARDE) built the warheads --- people across the country worked for the IGMDP.

The DRDO’s internal records show that the IGMDP started in 1983 with eight laboratories, but then quickly expanded to involve 24 DRDO labs. Even today, the missile cluster consists of just four laboratories --- the venerable DRDL, the Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), and Research Centre, Imarat (RCI) at Hyderabad; and the Interim Test Range and Chandipur, off the Orissa coast. But, in fact a host of DRDO laboratories across India support missile programmes.

And as programmes become more complex, oversight is increasing. From early September, the missile cluster, as well as the DRDO’s other six technology clusters, began functioning under a “director general”, who will have executive powers for the various missile programmes being pursued by his laboratories.

* * * *
Sanctions and self-reliance

Most senior DRDO scientists, including the last two chiefs, are emphatic that the rigid technology denials that the IGMDP faced were critical in catalysing success.

Dr VS Arunachalam, who headed the DRDO when the IGMDP was set up, wrote: “What remains in my mind after so many years… (is) enormous pride in our building the necessary critical technologies, in the midst of embargoes and denials; and these projects were not easy and these roads were less travelled and painfully hard. Global meetings between scientists were forbidden (to Indian scientists), commercial and committed orders were cancelled and professors from our academies were denied visas to attend scientific conferences and political pressures were applied to cancel the projects and programmes.”

Rahul Chaudhary, CEO of Tata Power SED and an astute observer of the Indian defence industry, points out: “Wherever we have worked without the option of import --- be it on strategic missiles, nuclear weapons, atomic energy or the space programme --- we have achieved self-reliance. In the super-secret world of electronic warfare, where import is not an option, we have built world-class systems. We should ourselves ban imports, and we will indigenise. Necessity is the mother of invention.”

Instead of banning imports, the DRDO is opening up to the world. Today, a technologically confident DRDO missile complex is co-developing tactical missile systems with overseas partners. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) bans the sale or supply of missiles and unmanned aircraft with ranges of more than 300 kilometres, but permits this for systems with lower ranges. India has set up the Brahmos joint venture with Russia to build a supersonic cruise missile (with a range of 295 kilometres!); the DRDO is cooperating with Israel Aerospace Industries to build two surface-to-air missiles; and Washington has offered to co-develop the next-generation version of the Javelin anti-tank missile with India. Whether this equips the DRDO with more advanced capabilities across the board, or confines it to narrow domains where it has already developed expertise, remains to be seen.

Writes Dr Arunachalam: “The global environment has now changed. Countries are now coming forward offering cooperation in many areas of technology. They talk of sharing advanced technologies and joint ventures. While welcoming them we should not abandon our commitment to be independent in critical technologies.”

Friday, 20 September 2013

Russian experts denied access to sunk submarine, INS Sindhurakshak

Something to hide? Russian technicians, present in Mumbai at the time of the accident, have been kept away

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 13

More than a month after the submarine, INS Sindhurakshak, sank in Mumbai after at least one fiery explosion on board, there is little clarity about what caused the disaster. And with the Indian Navy unable to raise the submarine to the surface, seawater is wiping out evidence of what might have happened in the vessel’s last fateful moments.

Inexplicably, the navy and MoD have flatly refused offers of help from a team of at least five Russian experts who were in Mumbai on Aug 14, when the Sindhurakshak sank at the Naval Dockyard. Zvezdochka, the Russian shipyard that refurbished and upgraded the submarine from 2011-13, had positioned the technicians in Mumbai to respond to any defects during the guarantee period.

Top Indian officials in New Delhi say the Mumbai-based Russian team offered assistance immediately after the Sindhurakshak disaster, but were told by Naval authorities in Mumbai that no help was needed. Nor were the Russians allowed access to the Naval Dockyard, where the Sindhurakshak still lies submerged in 10-15 metres of water.

Moscow also responded to the incident by immediately flying down a senior defence official to New Delhi. He too was told that no assistance was required. Dmitry Rogozin, Russia’s deputy prime minister, also offered assistance in a public statement.

Top Russian officials worry that, in the absence of clarity about the cause of the accident, crew morale would be affected in the 50-plus Kilo class submarines in service across the world.

Kilo class submarines equip the navies of Russia (17 vessels); China (12 vessels); India (9, excluding Sindhurakshak) and several others.

“It is absolutely vital for the confidence of our submarine crews that the cause of the accident be pinpointed, and remedial measures and procedures be instituted,” says Vice Admiral (Retired) KN Sushil, a veteran submariner.

The Indian Navy, contacted for comments, says that it is “in dialogue with the Russians. Further, (the Russians) are and will be consulted wherever/whenever a need is felt. The Navy is committed to using all requisite resources to enable a comprehensive inquiry and to ascertain the cause of the incident.”

The Russian side believes that the only reason why the Indian Navy would exclude Russia from investigations is the apprehension that crew errors might have caused the explosion, not equipment failure or systems malfunction.

“We know every nut, bolt and screw in the Kilo class submarines. What reason could there possibly be to deny us access to the Sindhurakshak?” asks a Russian official who requests anonymity in view of the delicacy of the issue.

Moscow has experience of the sensitivities involved in handling such incidents that are simultaneously tragic and strategic. When the Russian Navy’s nuclear-powered submarine, the Kursk, sank in 108 metres of water in Aug 2000 with 118 sailors on board, Russia declined British and Norwegian offers to help with rescue. Eventually all 118 sailors perished, though evidence was found that some had remained alive for at least several hours, and possibly several days.

Indian statements made soon after the Sindhurakshak incident pointedly note that the submarine had been recently refurbished by Zvezdochka (Little Star) shipyard, at Archangelsk, Russia. Major systems had been upgraded and weapons and sensor packages installed afresh, as specified by India. The new systems included the Klub-S cruise missile system, an Indian navigational system, and the Ushus sonar.

“We have not ruled out an equipment malfunction, possibly due to the recent refurbishment,” says a senior naval official.

Russian officials say there has been mild friction between naval officers of both countries, sparked by the Indian Navy’s insistence on following its own operating procedures, rather than those recommended by the Russian Navy and by Russian shipyards.

Says a Russian official, “This is not necessarily bad. Every navy has its traditions and procedures and the Indian Navy has inherited many from the Royal Navy. But safety procedures are specific to a vessel and to the equipment in it, and cannot be deviated from.”

For now, INS Sindhurakshak continues to languish underwater. The MoD has issued an international tender to lift the vessel back to the surface.

INS Sindhurakshak was a 2,300-tonne, Project 877 EKM submarine (Kilo class is its NATO designation), which joined the Indian navy in 1997. It is manned by a crew of 52 sailors, and has a top speed of 19 knots (35 kmph). It can dive to a depth of 1000 feet below the surface. 

Tuesday, 17 September 2013

US offers to co-develop new Javelin missile with India

The Indian Army has fired 16 Javelin missiles during joint exercises. All have struck the target

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Sept 13

The US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter, who arrives in India on Monday for a two-day visit, has masterminded a proposal that could dramatically boost US-India defence relations. The US Department of Defence (Pentagon) has written to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) proposing that the two countries collaborate in jointly developing a next-generation version of the Javelin anti-tank missile.

India has been offered a specific share of the development programme and requested to respond by a specific date. The Pentagon is going ahead with this progamme on its own if India chooses not to participate.

Last year, Carter had proposed that US companies could join hands with Indian partners in setting up manufacturing facilities for five major systems in India. These include the MH-60 Romeo multi-role helicopter, built by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin; a delivery system for scatterable mines; and the M-45 127 millimetre rapid-fire naval gun. Later, the US proposed co-producing the Javelin missile, which is built by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin;

New Delhi has not yet responded to the co-manufacture proposal. Now Carter has raised the ante with his proposal for co-developing the next-generation Javelin.

India has a successful co-development project with Russia for the Brahmos cruise missile, and with Israel for the Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LR-SAM) and Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MR-SAM). But with the US, India has only bought equipment over-the-counter. American equipment has not even been manufactured in India with technology transfer, far less co-developed.

US officials, speaking anonymously, confirm that the co-development proposal will be on Ashton Carter’s discussion agenda during his meetings in New Delhi on Tuesday. Carter will be meeting a range of Indian officials, including National Security Advisor, Shivshankar Menon.

Top Indian MoD sources confirm to Business Standard that the US co-development proposal for the next-generation Javelin has been received and is being evaluated.

A senior DRDO source also confirmed the US offer, but played it cool. He said, “The DRDO welcomes co-development of advanced weapon systems, provided there is real technological collaboration involved. India needs to fill its technology gaps and co-development should ensure that both partners build upon their mutual strengths.”

Carter’s proposal is part of a 15-month-old American push to intensify its defence relationship with India. Earlier, in response to New Delhi’s interest in the Javelin, the US State Department had observed that fulfilling India’s requirement would “alter the regional military balance.” Worse, Washington refused to transfer key technologies that New Delhi insisted upon as a part of the deal.

That approach changed dramatically since June 2012, when then US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta, nominated Ashton Carter, to break down the bureaucratic barriers in Washington that impeded the US-India defence relationship --- which Washington had determined was pivotal to America’s future in Asia. A formal mechanism called the DTI --- tellingly, the US called it the Defence Trade Initiative, while India referred to it as Defence Technology Initiative --- was set up. Carter co-chairs it along with National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon,

A close watcher of the Pentagon says Carter has pushed the US bureaucracy hard to change their approach to India. Earlier, US officials regarded India as just another non-NATO country --- one with which America did not even have a formal alliance, and which was unwilling to sign cooperative agreements with the US.

“Before Carter got to work, releasing technology to India required a comprehensive justification to be made out. By April 2013, Pentagon officials needed to justify why a particular technology could not be released to India,” says the Pentagon watcher.

The Javelin is now a focus area for Carter. At one stage, the Indian MoD was close to buying a rival missile, the Israeli Spike, for its $1-1.5 billion tender for 8,400 missiles and 321 launcher units for the army’s 350-plus infantry units. But the MoD, wary of a single-vendor buy, ordered a “technology scan” to ascertain that there was no missile on the market other than the Spike.

The FGM-148 Javelin, jointly built by US companies, Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, is the world’s premier man-portable, anti-tank missile. It gives infantrymen, highly vulnerable to enemy tanks on the battlefield, a weapon with which to destroy heavy armoured vehicles from a distance of 2.5 kilometres.

But the Israeli Spike, while not nearly as capable, is likely to be a good deal cheaper. If the MoD chooses price over capability, the Spike is likely to emerge the winner.

“But if the MoD agrees to Washington’s co-development proposal, the Javelin would become the clear front-runner for the $1-1.5 billion Indian contract. That is now a realistic prospect,” says a well informed member of the US defence industry.

Washington extends a hand

The Pentagon's India man, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter is in Delhi for talks today

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Sept 13

Defence ties between Washington and New Delhi have progressed dramatically in the conduct of joint tactical exercises, and in training Indian officers in US military establishments. But in the field of defence equipment the two partners remain locked into a “buyer-seller relationship.” India buys billions of dollars worth of US kit, without gaining a technological or logistical advantage by building the equipment in the country. Russian, French, British and German defence companies have transferred technology to set up production lines in India for manufacturing aircraft, tanks and submarines. We have partnered Russian and Israeli companies for jointly developing advanced weaponry. But in buying weaponry from the United States --- such as the A/N-TPQ-37 Firefinder Radar; C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft; and the P8I Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft bought in the last decade --- India has never negotiated with Washington for the technology to build the equipment in India.

This is a paradox, given that the US is the world’s premier repository of advanced military technology. India has complained for years, with some justification, that rigid US export control laws make obtaining technology a lengthy, bureaucratic, frustrating and, all too often, an unsuccessful process. This has kept alive the anti-Americanism that lingers on Raisina Hill, a Cold War afterglow that is fading too slowly.

The logic for reflexively rebuffing American overtures is hard to justify. Today, the US government --- that most notorious of technology deniers --- is practically pleading with New Delhi to let Indian companies partner high-tech US defence entities and build equipment in this country. But India, despite being hungry for cutting-edge defence know how, and keen to emerge from decades of technology denial, is dragging its feet in accepting the American outreach.

US Deputy Secretary of Defence, Ashton Carter, is driving the Defence Trade Initiative (DTI), which has co-chairs with National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon. Last year Carter proposed five co-production projects, in which US companies would partner Indian companies in manufacturing defence platforms at facilities in India. The equipment built in India would meet not just Indian requirements, but also the needs of American forces and the international market. These equipment offered for co-production includes the MH-60 Romeo multi-role helicopter, built by Sikorsky and Lockheed Martin; the Javelin missile, built by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin; a scatterable mine system; and the Mk-45 127 millimetre rapid-fire naval gun.

True, Washington might have calculated that transferring the technology to manufacture these weapons in India would ensure that the original equipment manufactures (OEMs) would benefit greatly since Indian contracts for its requirements in these fields would almost certainly land in the laps of US companies.

But there are high stakes for both countries in cooperatively exploring the benefits of co-production, especially in on-going tenders like the one India is negotiating with the Pentagon for the purchase of 145 BAE Systems M-777 howitzers. If co-production were transferred to India, New Delhi will almost certainly buy between 400-450 guns for its mountain divisions. For America, transferring the production line makes eminent sense, since only the Indian order is on the horizon, and building 400-450 guns in India would be more profitable than building 145 in the US.

For New Delhi, the advantages of manufacturing the M-777 in India are too obvious to miss. A good Indian company that obtains technology from BAE Systems would quickly absorb it and build upon it, becoming a major player in any future Indian artillery development programme. As the joint venture company builds expertise, it would gradually start taking on research, design and development functions from the parent US-based entity, the employee cost advantage driving this as it has in other fields. Next, setting up a production line in India would ensure that spares, maintenance, repair and overhaul would be reliably available in-country for India’s inventory of M-777 guns for as long as they remain in service. Finally, setting up high tech manufacture in India would result in the absorption of best practices that are currently in short supply. Almost incidentally, it would create skilled employment.

Even more indicative of changing times is the US offer (reported elsewhere in this newspaper today) for US companies Raytheon and Lockheed Martin to co-develop the next-generation version of the FGM-148 Javelin missile with an Indian partner. In making this offer, American intentions remain the same: deepening ties with India, while also improving the prospects of the Javelin in the multi-billion dollar Indian contract for an anti-tank missile for its 350-plus infantry battalions. Washington has undoubtedly taken a cue from Russia’s joint venture with India to co-develop the Brahmos cruise missile; and from Israel, which is co-developing surface-to-air missiles with the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO).

A co-development project with the US would be a giant step forward. Never before has Washington loosened its hold on advanced technology or co-developed a frontline weapon with a partner. That it has agreed to do so with India is indicative not just of a maturing relationship, but also of the recognition that declining US defence budgets leave Washington with little choice but to share development costs with an ally that is also a big buyer. No country other than India meets these twin-conditions.

New Delhi must make its decisions based on a cold-eyed estimation of India’s strategic and military needs. If India senses benefit in partnering America in co-development or co-production, this should not be turned down just because the US might benefit too. It is time, in the light of changed strategic circumstances, to revisit our long-held perceptions about the US being an unreliable technology partner.

India must diversify its defence relationships and the US has a disproportionately low profile. The air force and navy have already discovered that the US aircraft that were bought recently offer far greater reliability and availability rates than the other aircraft in India’s arsenal. Best of all, US laws and regulations on corruption are so stringent that not a whiff of scandal or wrongdoing has marred any of the recent deals with the US. If New Delhi can overcome its old fears of technology denial, the US-India defence partnership can fulfil its potential.