Saturday, 31 October 2015

Book review: Seizing Shangri-La

In recounting the power play that led to Sikkim’s absorption into India, the author’s bias towards the deposed king is straightforward

Sikkim: Requiem for a Himalayan Kingdom
by Andrew Duff
Publisher: Random House India, 2015
Pages: 389
Price: Rs 599

Much of the western media and numerous authors in the 1960s and 1970s portrayed Sikkim as an exotic Himalayan Shangri-La. Interest in Sikkim was especially piqued after Hope Cooke, an attractive, young American woman, romanced and married Palden Thondup Namgyal, who quickly became Chogyal (hereditary ruler) of Sikkim. American readers, long fascinated with royalty, found in Hope Cooke echoes of the alluring Grace Kelly, who had, in the previous decade, married the wealthy Prince Rainier of Monaco. But while Kelly made headlines with her high-rolling European lifestyle, Gyalmo (queen) Hope Cooke and her Chogyal husband were caught up in the Himalayan power play that ended with the 1975 absorption of Sikkim into the Indian union.

There have always been two versions of this Sikkim story. The first, an idealistic and morally loaded interpretation, is about the benevolent monarch of an idyllic mountain kingdom who was cynically undermined and deposed by a large and powerful neighbour, India, which was actually treaty-bound to protect his dominions. A second version, grounded in political realism, tells of the ouster of an out-of-touch ruling elite from a privileged Lepcha-Bhutia minority that was lording it over the ethnic-Nepali majority. Both versions are variations of the truth.

Unquestionably, New Delhi acted opportunistically in absorbing Sikkim. Indian leaders of that period were guided less by considerations of morality than by the conviction that militarily blocking a looming China required full control of Sikkim, which controlled strategic parts of the Sino-Indian border, especially the Chumbi Valley. Given Nepal’s reluctance, already evident during that period and even more so now, to allow India freedom of action on the Himalayan border, India’s absorption of Sikkim was a pragmatic act of realpolitik.

In 1984, the journalist, Sunanda Datta-Ray, recounted the moral version of the story in his book, Smash and Grab: the Annexation of Sikkim. As the name suggests this book, which the Indian government duly banned, portrays an unscrupulous and heavy-handed New Delhi. Andrew Duff’s version borrows heavily from Datta-Ray, drawing extensively on the Chogyal’s own account of events. But while Datta-Ray had a single-minded thesis --- New Delhi’s perfidy --- Duff’s account is rather more nuanced. It draws from wider sources, including the personal correspondence of two Scottish women, both palace intimates, who provide revealing glimpses into palace gossip, albeit coloured by the prejudices of the British elite of that day. Duff has gone to some length to access diplomatic accounts of that time, including correspondence put out by Wikileaks. But his interpretation is naive, especially of American and Chinese conversations about India, which, during the Nixon-Kissinger-Mao-Zhou period, reflected deep hostility towards India on every subject, not just Sikkim.

Duff’s bias towards the Chogyal and his palace coterie is as straightforward as his antipathy towards the democrats who eventually took power. Scotswoman, Martha Hamilton, who describes the Chogyal as “a dear old man, dressed in a beautiful silk brocade”, is portrayed as “a tall, spirited, single, 28-year-old Scottish missionary”. In contrast, another Scotswoman, Elisa-Maria Langford-Rae --- the activist wife of the democratic leader, Kazi Llendup Dorji, who became Sikkim’s first chief minister in 1975 --- is described as “a shadowy Scottish woman who orchestrated events on behalf of her husband, the leading politician in Sikkim who harboured a lifelong grudge against the king”.

Even so, the intelligent reader who keeps in mind these biases will find this book a highly readable and fast-paced account of that crucial period when independent India consolidated its Himalayan borders. After extending administration to the North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) in the 1950s, the development and management of the Nepalese, Bhutanese and Sikkimese borders was an important concern in New Delhi, especially after the debacle of the 1962 Sino-Indian war. The author presents not just the story of Sikkim, but usefully connects it with developments in the other two countries, illustrating why Sikkim joined India while Nepal and Bhutan remain independent countries.

In telling this story, the author overcomes the disadvantage of not having been present in Sikkim during those days, bringing to life a wide range of characters: the autocratic, out-of-touch, yet fundamentally decent Chogyal; his plotting sister, Coocoola, who German explorer Heinrich Harrer considered “the most beautiful woman in the world”; the young, confused Gyalmo Hope Cooke; and an array of Indian officials, many still alive, who played key roles in Gangtok during that time. Notwithstanding his sympathy for the Chogyal, Duff acknowledges his alcoholism and many political blunders.

An Indian diplomat who was a key protagonist in Gangtok through that period points out that, notwithstanding Duff’s conviction that India did not play fair by Sikkim, the proof of the pudding is in the eating: Sikkim is today one of India’s most developed, progressive and integrated states and its people far happier than they were under the Chogyal. He wonders: “Did India, the world’s biggest democracy, have any choice but to back democratic forces in Sikkim? And ‘smash and grab’ is certainly not an accurate description of New Delhi’s actions in Sikkim. Our moves during that time would be far better described as ‘dither and fumble’.” 

Friday, 30 October 2015

Broadsword Quiz: Identify the helicopter!

It's been long since we had an identification quiz on Broadsword. 

Here's a photo of a helicopter, partially covered. Gold Star for first correct answer... and Brownie Point for best answer. Go!

Parrikar going to Russia to finalise deals for Modi to sign in December

TASS says India will lease second nuclear sub in December. (Above: the S-300 air defence missile)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Oct 15

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, on the eve of his departure for Russia, says he hopes to “prepare some [contracts for signing during] Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s annual summit visit to Russia in December."

In an interview on Thursday to Russian news agency, ITAR-TASS, Parrikar elaborated: “(F)or example, the project for joint production of Kamov Ka-226 helicopters. I hope to use my visit to have it inked on paper when the prime minister arrives. Also the purchase of S-400 missile systems. We anticipate these projects to be coordinated by next month.”

Although the Indian defence minister did not state this during his interview, ITAR-TASS is reporting on its website that “Russia (is) to lease another nuclear sub(marine) to India in December”.

In 2012, India had leased a 12,000-tonne Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarine, the INS Chakra, for a ten-year period for $900 million. At that time, then defence minister, AK Antony, had confirmed that negotiations were under way for a second nuclear submarine.

The Kamov-226T is a 3.5 tonne, two-pilot, light helicopter that is specially modified with a new engine for Indian requirements, primarily high-altitude operations along the Himalayan borders.

At their last summit meeting in New Delhi in January, President Vladimir Putin had personally requested the Indian prime minister for Russian Helicopters to be awarded a contract for building 197 Kamov-226T reconnaissance and observation helicopters in India.

This will be built under the “Make in India” initiative. The Indian partner is being decided and is likely to either be Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) or Reliance Defence.

The S-400, known in Russia as Triumf, is an extremely potent, long-range, ground-to-air defence system that is used to protect area targets by shooting down ballistic missiles fired from distances as long as 3,500 kilometres, while those incoming missiles are still 40-400 kilometres away.

Parrikar also said he would press Russia hard for ensuring a high serviceability of Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jets, by a smooth and reliable supply of spare parts and systems. There is concern within the Indian Air Force (IAF) that its Su-30MKI fleet, which will eventually comprise of 272 fighters, has had serviceability rates as low as 45-50 per cent.

Mr Parrikar told TASS: “We have almost 220 of them (Su-30MKI) now and ultimately the number will reach 270, which represents about 40 per cent of Indian Air Force. When you have 40 per cent of air force strength from a particular maker, you are obviously interested in ensuring that they are serviced properly. Those aspects will be discussed and we are coming to conclusions, to solutions to the problem. I hope that these problems will be resolved very soon so service operation is substantially enhanced.”

The proposal for India and Russia to co-develop two major aircraft --- the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft (MRTA) --- has been in trouble for some time. Parrikar spelt out the problems in both projects.

“As for the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, negotiations will proceed further and we have halted ourselves to establish things clear in our minds. But with the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft, there are serious issues needing clarification, let me be frank. There are some serious observations which need to be clarified and reviewed properly”, said the Indian defence minister.

Finally, Parrikar revealed that the IAF intended to finalise the purchase from Russian Helicopters of another 48 Mi-17V-5 helicopters, consolidating its position as the workhorse of the IAF fleet. With this new purchase, the IAF will be operating some 280 Mi-17 helicopters.

Parrikar will leave for Moscow and St Petersburg on October 30, and will meet his Russian counterpart in Moscow on November 2. Later that day, he will leave for a three-day visit to Malaysia, to attend the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting Plus.

Late on Thursday evening, a meeting of the apex Defence Acquisition Council cleared a clutch of acquisitions: four 3,500-tonne multi-purpose vessels (MPVs) for the navy for duties like towing targets and tugs, for a cost of Rs 700 crore each; two Deep Submergence Rescue Vessels (DSRVs) for deep-sea rescue for Rs 750 crore each; 149 BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles to be built in India for Rs 924 crore; two Pinaka multi-barrel rocket regiments for Rs 3,300 crore; and the upgrade of IL-76 and IL-78 aircraft for Rs 4,300 crore. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

First images of India's first Scorpene submarine, INS Kalvari

Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) to green light HTT-40 indigenous trainer today

After stalling HAL’s trainer (above, under fabrication) for years, the Indian Air Force comes around

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 29th Oct 15

On Thursday, the defence ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) will discuss a project the Indian Air Force (IAF) has tried for years to kill. However, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer - 40 (HTT-40) basic trainer aircraft has not just survived but will take to the skies shortly.

The HTT-40 project is alive because, even as the IAF insisted on a Swiss trainer --- the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II --- and on shutting the HTT-40 project to buy more Pilatus trainers; Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) proceeded with the Indian alternative.

In an unprecedented show of confidence, HAL allocated Rs 350 crore of internal funding for the HTT-40, after the IAF stonewalled HAL’s “detailed project report” (DPR), which asked for funds.

On Thursday, in a triumph for “Make in India”, HAL will brief the DAC that the HTT-40 is on track to fly before the financial year-end. Another two years will go in flight-testing and, by March 2018, the HTT-40 will be ready for serial production.

Despite IAF’s insistence that the HTT-40 cannot be built, three successive defence ministers --- AK Antony, Arun Jaitley and now Manohar Parrikar --- have steadfastly backed HAL. Now, their faith is being vindicated.

“The IAF is working closely with us and is now willing to fund the project. But we have decided to first fly the aircraft and then move the file for funding. This is HAL’s vote of confidence in the project,” said HAL chairman, T Suvarna Raju.

IAF head, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, addressing the media ahead of Air Force Day last month, publicly accepted the HTT-40. “As we get the HTT-40, indigenously built by HAL as a basic trainer, I think we will be well on our way in making up the deficiencies in our pilot training”, said Raha.

The IAF trains its fighter pilots in three phases. Stage-1 training of rookies, done on propeller-driven basic trainers will be on the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II and the HTT-40, when it joins the fleet. Next, pilots will graduate to Stage-2 training on the Sitara intermediate jet trainer (IJT), which is completing development. Then pilots do Stage-3 training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT), which HAL builds under licence from BAE Systems.

To bring the IAF around to accepting the HTT-40, the defence ministry cut a deal in the DAC in February. It was agreed the IAF would buy 38 more Pilatus trainers under the “options clause” of the May 24, 2012 contract for 75 PC-7 Mark II aircraft. HAL, in turn, agreed to pare down its HTT-40 order to 70 aircraft from the promised 106. HAL said at least 70 trainers were needed for economical production.

Business Standard visited the HTT-40 design centre in HAL Bengaluru, where the first prototype is being assembled in the fabrication hangar. A Honeywell TPE-331-12B engine, a version of which is already flying with the IAF, navy and coast guard on the Dornier-228 aircraft, will power the HTT-40. The engine has arrived and is waiting to be fitted into the first prototype.

The design team calls the HTT-40 a “nice, simple aircraft”, which is unlikely to create problems in the crucial spin and stall trials. These prove that an aircraft a trainee pilot has stalled, or put into a spin, can bring itself back easily into level flight.

“We will set up our production line in HAL Bengaluru, with a rated output of 20 trainers each year. The first year we will build just two aircraft, eight in the second year and 20 aircraft from year-three onwards”, says the design team head.

Since the IAF has committed to buying just 70 HTT-40s, HAL might run out of orders by 2022. However, the HTT-40 could be built in larger numbers if the IAF rejects the Sitara. In that eventuality, the IAF chief has an alternative plan for Stage-2 training to be done using the expanded flying envelope of the Stage-1 trainers.

“As soon as we get the HTT-40… this aircraft will also be used in Stage-2 training if we find that it meets our requirements. If it doesn’t, the HTT-40 will be used only in Stage-1 training”, said Raha. 

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

IAF wants aerial refuelling, jammers, quick turnaround in new Tejas

The SoP-18 Tejas fighter will have a turn-around time between missions of 14 minutes

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 28th Oct 15

In New Delhi on September 23, decades of friction came to an end when key stakeholders in the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) finally agreed on the specifications of a fighter that would join the Indian Air Force (IAF) in large numbers, starting in 2018-19.

Termed “Standard of Preparation - 2018” (SoP-18), these specifications were agreed between four agencies. Besides the IAF, they include the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the Tejas programme; Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which builds the fighter, and the ministry of defence (MoD).

SoP-18 involves four major, and several minor, improvements. As Business Standard reported yesterday (“Cutting edge Israeli radar wins air force approval for Tejas fighter”), a crucial enhancement in the SoP-18 Tejas will be “active electronically scanned array” (AESA) radar, which Israeli company, Elta, will develop with HAL.

Besides AESA radar, the SoP-18 Tejas will be equipped with the capability for air-to-air refuelling; a “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) mounted in an external pod to confuse enemy radar, and an improved layout of internal systems to ease maintenance.

HAL is currently building 20 Tejas fighters to the initial operational certification (IOC) standard. HAL chief, T Suvarna Raju says, over the next three years, production will ramp up from four aircraft this year; to seven in 2016-17; and eight in 2017-18, thus completing the order for 20 IOC fighters. From 2018-19 onwards, 16 SoP-18 Tejas fighters will roll off the line each year.

“Ramping up production to 16 Tejas per year will cost us about Rs 1,252 crore. We have mutually agreed that HAL will provide half the cost, and the IAF and navy will together pay the other half,” says Raju.

Meanwhile, ADA will continue developing the Tejas Mark II, replacing the current General Electric F-404IN engine with a new GE F-414 engine. The IAF remains sceptical about the Tejas Mark II, but the navy is certain the Tejas must have the more powerful F-414 engine to enable it to get airborne from short aircraft carrier decks.

That means that, along with the SoP-18 Tejas that would remain in production till 2024-25, the Naval Tejas Mark II would have to be somehow produced alongside.

Air-to-Air refuelling

The integration of air-to-air refuelling has been regarded as essential to give the Tejas enough reach. Currently, its internal tanks carry just 2,300 litres of fuel, with another 2,400 litres carried in external pods. However, external pods cannot be carried into battle, and they take up two weapon stations, reducing the fighter’s punch. Without external fuel tanks, the Tejas has a combat radius of barely 300 kilometres.

Air-to-air refuelling will step up combat radius to 500 kilometres. Towards that, a late prototype of the Tejas, numbered LSP-8, was fitted with an external fuel probe. This is being integrated and will soon undergo flight-testing.

Says a veteran fighter pilot: “As important than the ability to fight is the ability to turn up at the fight. That requires long legs and, for a light fighter, that requires air-to-air refuelling”.

External jammer pod

Tejas designers admit the absence of a jammer to throw enemy radar off the scent is a key vulnerability of the Tejas. While designing the fighter, they simply ran out of space for an internal jammer. With the IAF dropping its insistence on an internal jammer, ADA and HAL have now offered an “external jammer pod”.

While this threatened to reduce the Tejas’ weapons carriage by occupying one of its seven hard points, HAL is overcoming that problem by fitting a “twin-arm” at that hard point. “One of the arms will carry the jammer, while the other will mount an air-to-air missile”, says the designer.


For the IAF, which must mount multiple missions everyday with each Tejas fighter, easy “maintainability” and “low turn-around-time” are key attributes. The HAL chief says the IAF wants the fighter to take maximum 14 minutes between landing after a mission; and taking off for the next mission, fully checked, rearmed and refuelled. Currently, the Tejas takes about 20 minutes.

“The IAF has carried out a ‘maintainability evaluation’ on the Tejas, and provided requests for action (RFAs) to HAL. Each RFA deals with a particular way to improve maintenance. We will be making 27 modifications in the fighter”, says Raju.

The Tejas already has built-in-test-equipment (BITE), which is a software programme that automatically checks the functionality of every crucial system. In case an aircraft system is not working optimally, the BITE flashes a warning light.

On the other hand, if no warning lights are evident, maintenance engineers know that all systems are working satisfactorily. The need to check each one manually is no longer there.

This also involves fitting “pressure refuelling” of the kind that exists in Formula One racing cars, which requires fuel to be pumped under pressure into the fuel tanks. Refuelling the Tejas takes just four minutes, and two more to fill drop tanks as well. 

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Living in nuclear la-la-land

Indian policymakers must incorporate in nuclear doctrine a realistic response to tactical nuclear warheads

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Oct 15

Last week, shortly before US President Barack Obama’s meeting in Washington with Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, its Foreign Secretary, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, acknowledged small-yield, short-range tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) as part of his country’s nuclear arsenal. In March, Lieutenant General Khalid Kidwai, the long-time chief of Pakistan’s Strategic Plans Division (which controls nuclear weapons targeting) had said the same thing in a talk in Washington; but since Kidwai had recently retired, that was not official confirmation. Now Chaudhary has explained that TNWs are Pakistan’s counter to India’s so-called Cold Start Doctrine. This doctrine, the very existence of which is denied by New Delhi, is an operational plan to punish unacceptable Pakistani provocations --- such as high-casualty terrorist strikes in India --- by launching swift, shallow offensives into that country with tank-heavy forces.

Pakistani military planners know that, given India’s powerful tank forces, they would be spread too thin to halt India’s Cold Start thrusts. Inevitably, many thrusts would make headway, capturing Pakistani border towns and creating the impression of an Indian victory. The rapidity of Cold Start offensives would overtake the deterrence time lines that had prevailed earlier. Now Indian war objectives might be met before Pakistan’s General Headquarters (GHQ) at Rawalpindi could signal to New Delhi --- halt, or we will cross the nuclear threshold, using traditional nuclear weapons of 15-20 kilotonnes (KT) or more, delivered by missiles over hundreds, even thousands, of kilometres. GHQ tightly controls these “strategic” weapons, so it takes time to ready and launch them, providing India’s offensive forces the time to achieve their ends.

To speed up their nuclear response, Pakistan developed TNWs --- relatively small nuclear weapons, usually below 2-3 kilotonnes, which are launched at battlefield targets like tank forces, at ranges of 60-100 kilometres, through short-range missiles. Due to the distances between the National Command Authority in Islamabad and the India-Pakistan border, TNWs would have to be located near the border and placed under local corps commanders. This “de-centralisation” renders TNWs vulnerable to theft or, even unauthorised use by renegade commanders. While Pakistan must be developing permissive access links (PALs) for its TNWs --- software codes to restrict their operation to select commanders --- these would take time to implement and perfect. And, in the confusion of a possible battlefield debacle, TNWs could well fall into the hands of unauthorised persons.

Such doomsday scenarios create the insecurity and uncertainty that suit Pakistan. Islamabad hopes that by posing a clear and present danger, it can force Washington’s hand, extracting concessions --- like a nuclear pact --- that would allow Islamabad spin-doctors to claim Pakistani equivalence with India, a cherished strategic objective. Sharif implicitly justified his TNWs by blaming a “hostile” India for forcing his military’s hand. Addressing the US Institute of Peace, Sharif declared that India’s “dangerous military doctrines… will compel Pakistan to take several countermeasures to preserve credible deterrence.” Nobody doubted he was talking about TNWs.

New Delhi has little control over Pakistan’s decision to deploy TNWs. Nevertheless, Indian policymakers must now incorporate in our nuclear doctrine a realistic response to TNWs. Our nuclear doctrine --- issued as a “draft nuclear doctrine” in August 1999, and modified slightly in a gazette notification on January 4, 2003 --- pledges that India “will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with massive retaliation should deterrence fail.”

This implies India’s default response to a Pakistani TNW strike --- even against Indian troops on Pakistani soil --- would be “massive retaliation”, i.e. striking counter-value targets (towns and cities) in Pakistan with the full weight of India’s arsenal. However, India’s massive response would only damage, not destroy, Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. According to the well-respected Arms Control Association, India and Pakistan have about 120 nuclear weapons each. Even if India’s “massive retaliation” destroys half of Pakistan’s arsenal (and there is little surety of that), India would then have to absorb Pakistan’s “second-strike” response, which would consist of about 60 nuclear bombs on Indian towns and cities. This would be an unimaginable blow. Yet Indian planners blithely go about their day as if the game would surely end with India’s massive first strike.

Furthermore, few outside Lutyens’ New Delhi swallow the notion that India would respond to a single TNW by reducing Pakistan to a smoking ruin (albeit one that would shortly afterwards reduce India to the same state). Deterrence is a mind-game that one side quickly loses if the opponent does not believe that a threat will be executed.

Former Israeli Air Force chief, General David Ivry, explains deterrence through a formula --- “Power (P) x Intent (I) = Deterrence (D) --- which regards deterrence as the product of two factors. The first, i.e. power, is not the actual capability of the deterring country (India), but what the country being deterred (Pakistan) believes its capability to be. If Pakistan believes, rightly or wrongly, that Indian missiles and aircraft cannot deliver nuclear weapons to Pakistani targets, the P in the equation will be zero, and deterrence will fall to zero too. The second factor, i.e. intent, represents the deterring country’s “political and military willingness to use force”. Regardless of India’s actual strength and intent, if Pakistan believes that Indian policymakers do not have the stomach for obliterating Pakistan with a devastating “massive retaliation”, the factor D, i.e. the deterrence value of the Indian arsenal again falls to zero.

That is why Israel has retaliated swiftly and overpoweringly to every provocation: pre-emptively smashing three Arab air forces in the Six Day War of 1967, rescuing hostages from an El Al airliner hijacked to Entebbe in 1976, pre-emptively destroying an Iraqi nuclear reactor at Osirak in 1981, taking out Syrian anti-aircraft missile sites in the Bekaa Valley in the Lebanon War of 1982, avenging the killing of three Israeli civilians in 1985 with punitive air-strikes on the Tunis headquarters of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, and striking and destroying a suspected nuclear facility in the Deir-ez-Zor region of Syria in 2007. Given Israel’s willingness, even eagerness, to use pre-emptive or retaliatory force, its I-factor is extremely high, raising deterrence.

In contrast, New Delhi’s forbearance pegs its I-factor close to zero. India’s military was poised on the border for ten months after Pakistani terrorists attacked India’s parliament building in 2001, but New Delhi desisted from using force. Similar restraint was displayed after a terrorist squad sailed into Mumbai from Pakistan and killed 165 people in the infamous 26/11 attacks. New Delhi also shrank from retaliating against Pakistan in 1993; after 257 people were killed in serial bomb blasts in Mumbai; and in 2006, when a series of bombs in suburban trains in that city killed 187 Indian citizens. The last time India used force against Pakistan was in 1999, when troops from that country sought to change the border in Kargil.

Without passing judgment on such restraint --- forbearance is often advisable --- New Delhi’s remarkable consistency in avoiding the use of force subtracts credibility from any Indian doctrine of massive retaliation. Pakistan’s formal announcement of TNWs is a reminder for the Indian doctrine to incorporate flexible retaliation, which increases our planners’ options, and complicates the opponents’ calculations. 

Monday, 26 October 2015

Cutting edge Israeli radar wins air force approval for Tejas fighter

Israeli AESA radar for Jaguar, to be upgraded for new Tejas

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bengaluru
26th Oct 2015

The Indian Air Force (IAF), after years of opposing the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), now accepts it is on track to be a world-class light fighter.

The specifications of the new Tejas --- termed “Standard of Preparation – 2018” (SoP-18) --- were agreed in New Delhi on September 23, between the air force and the Tejas’ designers and manufacturers. One hundred SoP-18 Tejas fighters will join the IAF, starting 2018-19.

The key battle-winning capability in the SoP-18 Tejas is “active electronically scanned array” (AESA) radar that Israel will develop jointly with India. This was the clincher that made the IAF agree to buy 100 SoP-18 fighters from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), in addition to the 20 Tejas Mark 1 already on order.

HAL also undertook to equip the SoP-18 Tejas with air-to-air refuelling, a “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) under the fighter’s wing, and to refashion the layout of internal systems to make the fighter easier to maintain. Yet, it was the AESA radar that conclusively grabbed the IAF’s attention. No Indian fighter has this capability yet; nor does any fighter with Pakistan or China.

AESA radar enjoys key advantages over conventional “mechanically steered” radar. In the latter, the antenna is moved manually to let the radar beam scan the sky for enemy targets. In AESA radar, the beam moves electronically, switching between multiple targets so rapidly that it effectively scans them simultaneously, even when they are located far apart --- in the air, on sea, and the ground. By switching its beam rapidly, the “multi-tasking” AESA radar can simultaneously track enemy aircraft, guide missiles to those targets, and jam enemy communications and radar. In modern-day aerial combat, AESA radar would be a key difference between defeat and victory.

Since India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) cannot yet miniaturise airborne radar for a fighter’s nose (it has built a larger radar for airborne early warning and control aircraft), the Tejas fighter was equipped with the EL/M- 2032 radar, bought from Israeli company, Elta.

The impending replacement of this manual radar with Elta’s ELM-2052 AESA radar illustrates the symbiosis between Israel’s high-tech defence industry and India’s equipment-hungry military, and how each sustains the other.

Business Standard first reported the IAF’s decision to order 100 improved Tejas Mark 1A fighters (August 13, “With Tejas Mark II years away, HAL asks air force to buy Tejas Mark 1A”, and October 2, “Parrikar cuts Gordian knot to boost Tejas line”). Now, from HAL Bengaluru, comes this account of how Elta’s ELM-2052 AESA radar was chosen.

The decision stems from the IAF’s on-going plan to refurbish its 123-aircraft Jaguar fleet, upgrading those six squadrons of deep penetration strike aircraft to continue in service for another 15-20 years. This involves spending $2 billion (Rs 13,000 crore) on new, more powerful engines (the Honeywell F-125N has been chosen); upgrading 61 Jaguars with HAL’s vaunted DARIN-3 navigation-attack system, and arming the fleet with lethal, smart munitions like the Textron CBU-105 “sensor-fuzed bombs” that India bought from the United States in 2010.

Then, in 2012, Elta sensed an opportunity and offered to equip the Jaguar with its new ELM-2052 AESA radar. This would provide the Jaguar real ability to beat off enemy fighters, even while on its primary mission of ground strike. Says HAL Chairman, T Suvarna Raju, “I was delighted when Elta offered the AESA radar for the Jaguar. Elta wanted neither development costs, nor more time.”

Elta’s offer, however, came with the condition that at least one more fighter in the IAF’s inventory should field the ELM-2052 AESA radar. To sweeten the deal, Elta offered to work jointly with HAL on an improved version of the ELM-2052.

This was a win-win for both Elta and HAL. “Look at the market HAL provides Elta. The 61 Jaguars being upgraded to DARIN-3 would all be fitted with the ELM-2052. At least 100 Tejas would get the improved version, possibly with more to follow. Meanwhile, 50 IAF Mirage-2000 fighters are being upgraded, but with a manual radar that could become obsolescent quickly. So the improved AESA could eventually equip the Mirage fleet too, adding up to 200-plus radars”, says Raju.

Aerospace industry experts highlight other benefits for Elta. While bearing the design and development cost of the new AESA radar, the Israeli company would save a great deal of money by having flight-testing done on IAF Jaguars.

“Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI is Elta’s parent company) and HAL have signed an agreement that says we would partner IAI in developing the improved AESA radar for the Tejas”, confirms Raju.

Defence ministry sources say the agreement specifies that 60 per cent of the new radar, by value, would be manufactured in India.

The Elta proposal is typical of how Israeli defence companies do business, explains a senior HAL manager. The Israeli Air Force operates US-built F-15 and F-16 fighters, which come fitted with US-designed AESA radar. All this comes to Israel free, as US military aid to a crucial ally. That leaves little space in Israel’s military inventory for equipment built by domestic companies like Elta. Yet, the Israeli government insists on nurturing its defence industry, in case the pipeline from Washington ever shuts.

“To stay in business and to fund high-tech R&D, Israeli defence companies like Elta rely heavily on sales to India, particularly the IAF”, says aerospace expert, Pushpinder Singh.

Illustrating Israeli capabilities, the Tejas Mark I was already armed with an all-Israeli combination of the Elta EL/M-2032 radar, the Derby and Python air-to-air missiles, and a data link that digitally interconnected these. Indian test pilots say this was a “world-class” air-to-air combat configuration. But now, the Elta-HAL AESA radar could make the Tejas a more capable air-defence fighter.

(Tomorrow: Part II: Improved Tejas to add range and electronic warfare ability) 

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

A second Tejas assembly line

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Oct 15

As this newspaper has reported, there has been a major breakthrough in one of India’s most ambitious and expensive weapons development projects --- the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) --- with the Indian Air Force (IAF) now willing to accept 100 improved fighters. The Tejas Mark IA, as some call the improved version, will have air-to-air refuelling, improved radar, missiles to strike enemy aircraft beyond visual range and electronic jammers to blind enemy radar. For Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which is struggling to build even the first 20 fighters, the IAF’s acceptance constitutes an embarrassment of riches. Going by HAL’s current rate of assembly, delivering 120 Tejas fighters will take a decade.

The real Tejas numbers will, in fact, be well above 120. Given that the IAF has finally accepted the Tejas Mark 1A as a capable replacement for its 13 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s, it will need at least 250 Tejas fighters before the end of the decade, when the obsolescent MiGs must be retired. Furthermore, the IAF requires another 20 more Tejas Mark 1A for training. The navy, meanwhile, has declared it needs at least 56 Tejas Mark II (with more powerful engines) for its two indigenous aircraft carriers. That adds up to well above 300 Tejas fighters.

It should be obvious to planners in South Block that the Tejas cannot possibly be built in these numbers, in an acceptable time-frame, without establishing another assembly line to double the efforts of HAL’s current Tejas line in Bengaluru. This is the golden opportunity the defence ministry has been seeking for nurturing a private sector competitor to HAL. The ministry must select a private company, transfer to it the technology needed to build the Tejas, and order 150 fighters in short order.

The ministry is already attempting to build up a private sector aerospace manufacturer, but in a misconceived project. A Tata-Airbus consortium has been asked to build 56 transport aircraft to replace the IAF’s venerable Avro fleet. There are many problems with this proposal: It does not envisage building an indigenous aircraft; it makes no economic sense to set up full-scale production infrastructure, including an airfield, for just 56 aircraft; a multinational giant (Airbus) will hold disproportionate clout in the partnership, and most crucially, the Avro has never had an operational role beyond ferrying air marshals around the country. Neither will its replacement.

In contrast, a parallel Tejas production line would be a perfect launch pad for a private aerospace corporation. Unlike HAL, which has an aerospace empire sprawling across the country, a private sector aerospace entrant would per force have to develop a network of vendors and sub-vendors, upon which it would rely for systems, sub-systems and components, while reserving for itself only final integration --- assembling the parts and rolling out, inspecting and testing full-built Tejas fighters. In contrast, HAL avoids sub-vendors, keeping profits within the company by farming out manufacture to its own numerous divisions.

A parallel private sector production line would also create competition to make the Tejas cheaper. For this, the private company must be encouraged to partner an established western corporation like Saab, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin or Dassault. Many have signalled interest in partnering India; Saab had even put forward a full-scale proposal that was largely ignored in New Delhi. The chosen foreign vendor should be incentivised to bring in contemporary aerospace manufacturing technologies and best practices.

While HAL’s single production line would not meet even the IAF’s requirements, adding a parallel line would open up exports. So far, with the IAF itself unwilling to accept the Tejas, there has been little prospect of exporting this excellent fighter --- buyers usually reason, “If the home air force is not interested, why should we be?” But, with the IAF now inducting the fighter in numbers, the Tejas can establish a presence in the global light fighter market. Even at its current cost of Rs 240 crore ($40 million), which includes the aircraft, ground equipment, test equipment and spares, it is reasonably priced, given its fourth-generation configuration --- a fly-by-wire fighter, built of composite materials.

The Tejas’ current price can be lowered, given that it is currently planned and built in the most uneconomical manner possible --- with little outsourcing, an inadequate assembly line and orders placed in penny-packets, which eliminates economy of scale. Instead of this, working on an assured order of 100-150 aircraft, with a vendor chain developed deliberately, and the incorporation of international best practices in assembly, would lower the Tejas’ cost substantially. This would boost the prospect of export, especially when backed by an international vendor’s marketing expertise and global marketing chains. This prospect of global export would be an added attraction for international vendors.

In sum, bringing in a private sector company to establish a parallel production line for the Tejas would do more than just create an aerospace alternative. It would also ensure the Tejas is inducted into IAF service at least twice as fast, filling up a worrying operational gap. Second, global standards and best practices would come into domestic aerospace manufacture. Third, modern assembly lines and competition would drive down the cost of the Tejas, benefiting the IAF as well as export prospects. Finally, the entry of the private sector into aerospace would spread dynamism and flexibility across the industry.

There are difficulties too, and the first is to select a private company that would benefit enormously from government largesse --- including access to airfield infrastructure, since demanding that the company establishes its own would raise the cost of entry unrealistically. Given the cutthroat competition between private sector aspirants in defence, the ministry would need a clear and transparent formula for selecting a winner, one that could withstand inevitably bitter scrutiny from the losers. This would naturally involve assessments of financial health, track records in manufacture, core areas of expertise, and past delivery records. Competition will be intense, given that the ministry would be giving the winner a leg-up into the ranks of global aerospace manufacturers, just as it spent taxpayer billions to make HAL what it is today. A clear public rationale will have to justify the decision.

A sceptical HAL unsurprisingly scoffs at the notion of a rival private sector assembly line. Senior executives point to what happened three months ago when HAL, already preoccupied with three simultaneous helicopter programmes (the light combat helicopter, light utility helicopter and weaponised Dhruv), issued a proposal offering the private sector full technology transfer to build the Dhruv advanced light helicopter in India. HAL officials say not a single private vendor accepted the challenge.

HAL also points out that the private sector Tejas line would run for, say, a decade, but the company would have to logistically support the fighter for the next thirty years. This is true, even if it betrays an unreasonable suspicion of the private sector that has a reasonable record of supporting products. What is true, though, is that if the private sector fails to respond to an invitation to build the Tejas, or does not support the fighter through its service life, this would be a black mark forever.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Amidst tension in South China Sea, US, Japan and India ready for naval Exercise Malabar

Indo-US Exercise Malabar to now permanently include Japan

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Oct 15

Confrontation is brewing in the South China Sea, with the Financial Times reporting that the United States Navy (USN) is about to challenge China’s construction of “artificial islands” in disputed waters. By sailing warships next week through a 12-nautical mile zone around these islands, the USN will explicitly reject China’s claim.

Beijing’s maritime neighbours, especially Japan, the Philippines and Vietnam are backed by Washington in resisting China’s increasingly aggressive claims to most of the South China Sea and islands in the Sea of Japan, on which the neighbours maintain their own claims.

New Delhi maintains distance from this face off, but only to a point. This week, the navy will join the USN and the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) in coordinated battle drills in Exercise Malabar 2015 in the Bay of Bengal.

One of the four USN ships participating, the USS Forth Worth, was involved four months ago in challenging China’s claims over the disputed Spratly Islands. In May, Beijing lodged an official protest with Washington after USS Forth Worth made a “freedom of navigation” passage through the Spratly Islands.

From October 14-19, the three navies will rehearse scenarios for destroying hostile submarines, surface warships and aircraft. The phrase “People’s Liberation Army (Navy)”, or PLA(N), will not be used in the exercise. Yet, there will be little doubt about what these sailors are training for.

In a major shift for New Delhi, Exercise Malabar, a hitherto bilateral US-India annual event, albeit with foreign invitees, will now be permanently designated a trilateral US-Japan-India exercise. Defence Ministry sources tell Business Standard a formal case has been taken up in New Delhi and an announcement will soon be made.

This will be another overt Indian step towards the western Pacific, one that New Delhi has so far hesitated to take. In 2007, after a five-nation Exercise Malabar, with Japan, Australia and Singapore as invitees to what strategists dubbed a “concert of democracies”, Beijing went on a diplomatic offensive. New Delhi quickly backed off, soothing Chinese feelings by reverting to a bilateral format.

Now a trilateral Malabar is being formalised, and last month, India and Australia held their first-ever bilateral naval exercise, billed as AUSINDEX-15. It is also noteworthy that Malabar is held on alternate years in the western Pacific.

(Courtesy: Shashank Joshi, in The Interpreter)

Analysts like Shashank Joshi (in Australian publication, “The Interpreter”) rightly point out that, going purely by warship numbers, Malabar 2015 --- featuring ten warships --- is significantly smaller than the 2007 exercises that involved 26 warships. Nor is it larger than Malabar 2010, 2012 and 2014, which also involved ten warships.

Even so, Indian admirals say the exercises are growing ever more sophisticated and display growing trust between participating navies. Joshi notes that after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with President Barack Obama in September 2014, a joint statement noted they had “agreed to upgrade their existing bilateral exercise Malabar”. This endorsement was repeated when Obama visited New Delhi in January.

The US warships participating this week will include the USS Theodore Roosevelt, one of the USN’s eleven nuclear powered aircraft carriers. This vessel is nicknamed “The Big Stick”, after Roosevelt’s famous admonishment, “Speak softly, but carry a big stick”. it embarks 70 aircraft: including 44 F/18 fighters, four Growler electronic warfare aircraft, four E-2C airborne early warning aircraft, and 20 combat helicopters.

The USN is also sending USS Normandy, a less-than-cutting-edge Ticonderoga-class destroyer; the USS Fort Worth, America’s newest and most modern littoral combat ship (LCS); and a nuclear powered attack submarine, USS City of Corpus Christi.

India will field a Rajput-class destroyer, a Brahmaputra-class frigate, a Shivalik-class frigate, a fleet tanker and a Kilo-class submarine. New Delhi has never yet fielded an aircraft carrier in Exercise Malabar and --- disappointingly for the US given the agreement between the two countries to cooperate in building India’s indigenous aircraft carrier --- this year will maintain that absence.

Tokyo is fielding only a single warship, the destroyer JS Fuyuzuki. Nick-named the “Japanese Aegis”, this will be amongst the most potent warships in the exercise.

Malabar 2015 will feature cutting-edge airborne maritime surveillance, with the USN and Indian Navy both deploying the world’s most advanced maritime aircraft, the Boeing P-8 Poseidon. The USN calls their version the P-8A, while the Indian version is called P-8I.

This aircraft scans vast swathes of ocean for enemy ships and submarines. When it detects one, it is able to quickly direct friendly ships and submarines onto the contact, using satellite-enabled digital linkages.

The Malabar naval exercises began in the early 1990s, when Washington and New Delhi began exploring a new, post-Cold war relationship. In 1991, the army chief of the US Pacific Command (PACOM), Lieutenant General Claude Kicklighter, held talks in Delhi, resulting in the first modest Exercise Malabar, featuring two ships from each navy.

After a hiatus in relations caused partly by India’s nuclear weapons tests in 1998, Exercise Malabar resumed in 2002, and have been held every year since then.

Exercise Malabar 2015: participants

Serial No

US Navy

USS Theodore Roosevelt
Aircraft carrier, embarking Close Combat Strike Group (CCSG) – 12. This has 70 combat aircraft, including 44 x F/A-18
USS Normandy
Ticonderoga-class destroyer
USS Forth Worth
Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), one of the US Navy’s newest warships
USS City of Corpus Christi
Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN)
P-8A Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft
Will operate from shore base at Arakonam

Indian Navy

Rajput-class destroyer
Guided missile destroyer, built in mid-1980s
Shivalik-class frigate
Multi-role stealth frigate, built in late 2000s
Brahmaputra-class frigate
Multi-role frigate, built in mid-1990s
Fleet support ship
Logistical vessel for refuelling and resupply of the fleet at sea
INS Sindhudhwaj
Kilo-class submarine
P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft
Will operate from shore base at Arakonam

Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF)

JS Fuyuzuki
Akizuki-class guided missile destroyer, known as the “Japanese Aegis”