Sunday, 17 November 2019

Exercise “Tiger Triumph”: US Marines to showcase skills for the first time in India

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Nov 19

For decades, elite troops of the United States Marine Corps (USMC) have protected Washington’s embassy in New Delhi. On Sunday, for the first time ever, the USMC will showcase its professional skills in India, as the joint US-India tri-service exercise “Tiger Triumph” hits the sea at Kakinada, off Visakhapatnam.

Over the next five days, Indian and American soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen will operate together in a simulated “humanitarian aid and disaster relief” (HADR) situation – jointly providing succour to an Indian Ocean country that has been hit by a natural disaster.

But the HADR scenario is only a convenient backdrop. In fact, the two militaries are honing their capability to work together in an amphibious landing – such as a joint invasion of an enemy coast; or an operation to free one’s own territory that has been captured by an enemy country, a terrorist group, or mercenary force.

Ironically, it was a joint US-Indian HADR effort – in the wake of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 – that birthed the current era of US-India military cooperation. Operating with the Indian Navy to deliver relief to Indonesia and Sri Lanka, the US Navy reported to Washington that here was a regional partner worth having. The next year saw the US-India defence cooperation agreement.

HADR and a real combat beach landing require similar military resources. The Indian side will deploy its biggest amphibious assault ship, INS Jalashwa; a tank landing ship, INS Airavat; and INS Sandhayak, a survey ship that will function as a hospital ship. 

The US Task Force will include the naval landing ship USS Germantown, which is equipped with landing craft and amphibious assault vehicles needed to land large numbers of marines onto a beach. Specially trained troops from the Third Marine Expeditionary Force – a specialist unit for combat beach landings – will be accompanied by a medical team.

The exercise will involve sailing from Vishakhapatnam to Kakinada, and then staging a shore landing and setting up a joint command centre and a joint relief and medical camp. 

For the Indian Army, this will be a chance to learn from amphibious landing masters, whose tactics date back to the Pacific Campaign in World War II, where they captured one island after another from the Japanese – Midway, Wake Island, Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal.

For the exercise, India is fielding a battalion group, from 19 MADRAS, and BMP-II armoured vehicles from 7 GUARDS. The Indian Air Force (IAF) will deploy one C-130J Super Hercules aircraft, Mi-17 transport helicopters and a Rapid Action Medical Team.

While Exercise Tiger Triumph is an early step in learning, and is therefore being carried out with fewer resources, a full-scale, tri-service beach landing operation is the capability that India is seeking to build.

In such a combat operation, INS Jalashwa, or another Indian landing platform dock (LPD), would carry a battalion of soldiers (850 men), with armoured assault vehicles, to within 30-50 kilometres of the beach, from where smaller, flat-bottomed landing craft mechanised (LCM) would carry the invasion force to the beach. 

To protect the invasion force during the beach landing, the Jalashwa’s six helicopters would heli-drop marine commandos behind the enemy troops that are defending the beach. In addition, naval frigates or destroyers would provide fire support, with their 100 millimetre main guns plastering the enemy’s coastal defences. Simultaneously, IAF fighters, operating from shore bases, might also support the beach landing.

Since 2000, the navy’s Maritime Warfare Centre in Visakhapatnam has been refining these tactics. An Indo-US planning exercise, called “Habunag” has coordinated expeditionary HADR activities with the US navy. Now the USMC will have its word. 

Friday, 15 November 2019

Bhadauria backs indigenisation, is first IAF chief to fly an HAL prototype

Bhadauria straps up for a "six spin" test on the HTT-40

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Nov 19

Signalling a new, positive attitude in the Indian Air Force (IAF) towards indigenous aircraft, its recently appointed chief, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria, test-flew the prototype Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) at Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Bengaluru on Thursday. 

Bhadauria became the first serving IAF chief to fly an HAL-developed aircraft at the prototype stage. Bhadauria, himself an accomplished test pilot who has test-flown the Tejas fighter, was taken through the gruelling “six-spin routine” in which the HTT-40 prototype was allowed to spin six times before the pilot recovered it into level flight.

For a prototype trainer aircraft, the “six-spin” test is considered the most conclusive landmark that signals the aircraft is ready to go into operational service.

“The air chief expressed his satisfaction with the aircraft performance and appreciated the design, project and flight test teams for having achieved commendable progress”, stated HAL after the flight.

The HTT-40, which will be used for training rookie pilots of the IAF and navy, has now completed all major test points and met the performance parameters spelt out in the IAF’s Preliminary Staff Qualitative Requirements (PSQR). During testing the HTT-40 has completed stalls, engine re-lights, inverted flying, acrobatic flying and systems testing. 

“The project now needs to be speeded up for certification and HAL must target setting of modern manufacturing facilities with high production rate from the beginning,” stated Bhadauria.

HAL is now looking forward to receiving a Request for Proposals (RFP) from the IAF for manufacturing the HTT-40. An estimated 106 basic trainers are needed to supplement the IAF’s fleet of 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainers that were imported from Switzerland.

For years, the IAF has tried to shut down the HTT-40 programme, demanding the import of more Pilatus trainers instead. But through this period successive HAL chiefs have backed the HTT-40, committing Rs 350 crore of internal HAL funds to the project. 

Over the last five years, a team of young, talented HAL designers have worked without IAF assistance or funding, backed to the hilt by former defence ministers, AK Antony and Manohar Parrikar. 

For the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer, the successful flight testing of the HTT-40 most likely spells the end of further imports. The HTT-40 falls under the category of “Indian designed, developed and manufactured” (IDDM) equipment, and the MoD cannot import more Pilatus without a detailed explanation of why the HTT-40 is being ignored.

Supreme Court junks Rafale review petitions, but keeps doors open for a CBI probe

The judgment clears the decks for 36 Rafales on order, and participation in a planned tender for 114 fighters

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Nov 19

The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday dismissed a clutch of petitions seeking a review of its December 2018 judgement, which had absolved the government of wrongdoing or procedural impropriety in concluding a Euro 7.8 billion purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft from France in September 2016.

The apex court’s detailed order underlines its reluctance to involve itself in, or adjudicate on, the complex business of weapons procurement or inter-governmental defence contracts. 

“We cannot lose sight of the fact that we are dealing with a contract for aircrafts, which was pending before different Governments for quite some time and the necessity of those aircrafts have never been in dispute”, stated the judgment.

On the crucial aspect of the price paid for the Rafale, which the petitioners – lawyer Prashant Bhushan and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) ministers Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie – contended was excessive, the judgment stated: “The Court satisfied itself with the material made available.” The material referred to was given by the government to the Court in a sealed cover.

Making clear the cursory nature of the Court’s scrutiny, the judgment stated: “It is not the function of this Court to determine the prices… The internal mechanism of such pricing would take care of the situation.”

Issues related to pricing and aircraft configuration “have to be left to the best judgment of the competent authorities,” said the judgment.

Yet, the judges simultaneously claimed: “We have elaborately dealt with the pleas of the learned counsel for the [petitioners]… under the heads of ‘Decision Making Process’, ‘Pricing’ and ‘Offsets’. The judgment stated the Court had satisfied itself with “the correctness of the decision making process.”

The review petition filed by Bhushan, Sinha and Shourie in January 2019 contended their original petition had not sought any investigation by the SC. Rather, they had pleaded for registration of a First Information Report (FIR) by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), which was the agency best qualified and equipped to handle such an investigation.

The judgment, however, rejected this contention. 

“No doubt that there was a prayer made for registration of FIR and further investigation but then, once we had examined the three aspects on merits, we did not consider it appropriate to issue any directions as prayed for by the petitioners.”

The review petition also argued that the SC’s judgment on December 2018 was based on incorrect information submitted by the government under oath, and that additional information – published in the national media – had come to light, making it evident that the government had paid an inflated price for the Rafale, over the objections of its own price negotiation experts.

Responding to that, the Attorney General had objected in Court to the petitioners’ use of classified material relating to internal decision making, which he contended the media published in violation of the Official Secrets Act. However, in an order issued on April 10, the apex court rejected that contention, upholding freedom of the press.

Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi and Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul authored the first part of the judgment. However, the third judge on the bench, Justice KM Joseph, wrote a separate, but concurring, judgment that interpreted differently the petitioners’ prayer for a CBI inquiry.

Joseph opined that the main verdict (by Gogoi and Kaul) would not stand in the way of the CBI taking lawful action on the complaint, which was clearly a cognizable offence under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 2018. However, the CBI would be limited by Section 17A of the Act, which requires the government to accord prior permission for prosecuting an official for an offence carried out in the discharge of his duty.

Joseph’s judgment recognised that attempting to obtain government permission would be “a futile exercise” and that “the petitioners cannot succeed”. At the same time, he left the door open for a CBI inquiry with the statement: “It is my view that the judgment sought to be reviewed will not stand in the way of [the CBI] from taking action… [subject to]… obtaining previous approval under Section 17A of the Prevention of Corruption Act.”

One of the petitioners, Prashant Bhushan, confirms he will be demanding a CBI probe. “I will be writing to the CBI, asking the agency to approach the government for permission under Section 17A to investigate the Rafale scam,” said Bhushan.

Even as the SC deliberated the Rafale issue, the government has already made a major chunk of payment to French firm Dassault for 36 Rafales. The first fighter is scheduled to be delivered in mid-2020. Thursday’s judgment clears the decks for Dassault to offer the Rafale in another on-going Indian procurement for 114 medium fighters.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

The Chinese air force’s long march

In a war with India, the PLA would deploy all its capabilities for full-spectrum war -- cyber, long-range missiles and convention power. India must be ready to meet this threat

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Nov 19

When Mao Zedong declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing, on October 1, 1949, the country had just 17 military aircraft. Legend has it that this little fleet — nine fighters, two bombers, three carriers, one communication plane and two trainers — overflew Tiananmen Square twice each to give the jubilant masses the impression they had an air force. The next month, on November 11, 1949, Mao proclaimed the People’s Liberation Army (Air Force) as a separate service.

How things have changed! The PLA(AF) is now a 400,000-person force that flies some 2,000 combat aircraft – more than thrice the size of the Indian Air Force (IAF). On Sunday, a PLA(AF) video, released to celebrate its 70thanniversary, boasted a range of sophisticated warplanes, most developed in China. These include the fifth-generation J-20 stealth fighter that has begun entering service, the J-16 Shenyang fighter (an advanced version of the Sukhoi-30), the H-6N strategic bomber, which reputedly launches the “aircraft carrier killer” Dongfeng-21D ballistic missile, the Y-20 transport aircraft that takes aloft 66 tonnes of payload, and the KJ-2000 airborne early warning system.

The 1962 Sino-Indian war was fought entirely between land troops, with neither side using its air force or navy against each other. But in a military face-off today, the PLA’s ungracefully-named military doctrine of “limited war under conditions of Informationization” (gobbledygook for a digitally enabled, highly transparent battlefield) will see a major role for the PLA(AF), operating in numbers from the ten-odd air bases that experts assess have been readied in Tibet. It is, therefore, worth retracing the PLA(AF)’s journey.

The year after its humble beginnings in 1949, the PLA(AF) got a major boost from the Korean War, when Stalin and Mao reached an unholy bargain: Russia would bulk up the PLA(AF) with the mass-produced, highly-capable MiG-15, and train Chinese pilots and technicians to fly and maintain combat aircraft. In return, China would serve as a Russian proxy against the United Nations coalition in Korea, especially the United States Air Force (USAF). Between 1950 and 1953, both sides lost hundreds of fighters and pilots, including dozens of Russian pilots flying in North Korean uniforms. The experience garnered enabled Russia to incrementally develop the MiG-15 into the MiG-17, MiG-19 and the legendary MiG-21; with China eventually building all four fighters under licence. The USAF, meanwhile, improved the supersonic F-86 Sabre fighters into an advanced version that Washington later supplied Pakistan, which used them against the IAF in 1965 and 1971. 

The Korean War gave China its first fighter aces and – more importantly for Mao – a capable, experienced air force. According to accounts from that time, when Stalin complained about China’s reluctance to engage the USAF in air combat more aggressively, Mao expressed his readiness to get a million Chinese killed in combat in Korea, but he would not endanger the existence of his new air force. It is important to note that China’s shiny new air force has had very limited combat experience since the Korean War. Analysts, including those at the USAF-linked RAND Corporation, assess that despite the PLA(AF)’s instructional regime, which seeks to train pilots under “actual combat conditions”, it is ill-prepared to fight and win against well-drilled air forces such as the USAF.

After the Korean war, the PLA(AF) entered a period of steep decline caused by the Sino-Soviet split and by the internal turmoil of the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. After Mao’s death, Deng Xiaoping began reforming the PLA; Communist Party insiders have said he engineered the abortive 1979 invasion of Vietnam only to illustrate the PLA’s deficiencies and need for reform. The PLA(AF) also learned lessons from Britain’s invasion of the Falklands and Israel’s destruction of Syrian air defence systems in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley in 1982. Deng realised the importance of air power and space assets. He allowed the PLA(AF), hitherto focused on supporting the land campaign, to begin developing an independent strategy. 

The dazzling success of the US “AirLand Battle” doctrine in the first Gulf War in 1991 caused the PLA to adopt the doctrine of “limited war under high-tech conditions”, which envisioned wars being prosecuted by relatively small, flexible, heavily armed, tri-service troops. The White Paper of 2004 adopted the current doctrine of “limited war under conditions of informationization”, which envisioned real time advanced communications to digitally integrate land, sea, air and space sensors, and the use of precision munitions to accurately strike the targets thus identified. 

Given this doctrinal backdrop, what role would the PLA(AF) play, and what missions would it perform, in a future war with India? These would be limited by a geographical imperative – the Tibetan Plateau, which consists of a 1,000-2,000 kilometre buffer between the Chinese and Indian mainlands. PLA(AF) aircraft, operating from Chengdu and Kunming, in South China – the mainland bases closest to India – would have a one-way journey of 1,000 kilometres to enter the Assam plains. Even with mid-air refuelling, that would leave the aircraft with little mission time, especially for targets deeper inside India. Consequently, the PLA(AF) would have to operate from Tibet, for which it has created and stocked at least several air bases, including Lhasa, Golmud, Nyingchi and Shigatse. But while these are significantly closer to Indian targets (Lhasa is less than 400 kilometres from Tezpur) PLA(AF) fighters taking off from air bases on the 10,000-feet-high Tibetan plateau would face serious limitations on the weapons and fuel payload they can get aloft with. To overcome this, they would require mid-air refuelling after take-off, a cumbersome process carried out at high altitude, during which they would be easily detected by Indian radar, providing IAF fighters, air defence guns and missile systems ample time to react.

To degrade the IAF’s response time and capability, the PLA would very likely begin the war with cruise and ballistic missile strikes on Indian air bases in Assam, such as Tezpur, Bagdogra and Hashimara, using conventional-tipped missiles from the PLA’s so-called Second Artillery – an arsenal of strategic missiles with either conventional or nuclear warheads. This might be preceded, or accompanied, by a carefully directed cyber attack to disable the IAF’s surveillance network, satellite communications and command and control systems. Given China’s demonstrated capability to target and destroy satellites in space, Indian communications and surveillance satellites would be fair game. A high-technology, broad-spectrum attack of this nature would not just be intended to clear the path for PLA(AF) fighter strikes in support of a ground offensive. Given that Beijing would stage-manage any attack on India as a global demonstration and warning of its Great Power military capabilities – the philosophy of “killing the monkey to scare the chickens” – a full-spectrum attack is a near certainty.

In the 1950s, the Red Army’s legendary Marshal Zhu De had famously said, “The kind of war we will fight depends upon what kind of arms we have.” That is now history. New China’s aggressive doctrine now is: “Build the weapons to fight the war that we have to fight.” It is this attitude and the capabilities it has spawned that India’s military must diligently prepare for. As recently as 1999, facing the prospect of a war in Kargil, Indian Army chief, General VP Malik was bravely echoing Marshal Zhu. It would be worth recalling the famous comment of French marshal Pierre Bosquet after he witnessed the suicidal Charge of the Light Brigade in 1854 in Crimea: “C'est magnifique, mais ce n'est pas la guerre." (“It is magnificent, but it is not war.”)

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

With Rajnath in Moscow, 52 Indian private defence firms seek joint manufacture

Defence secretary targets 50 Indo-Russian joint ventures in four-to-five years

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Nov 19

Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, who is visiting Moscow and St Petersburg for the annual dialogue between the two countries’ defence ministers held talks with his Russian counterpart, General Sergei Shoigu, on Wednesday.

On India’s agenda for the 19th India-Russia Inter-Governmental Commission on Military and Military Technical Cooperation (IRIGC-M&MTC) is a concerted thrust to attract Russian “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs) to outsource the building of defence equipment components and assemblies to Indian firms.

Accompanying Rajnath Singh to Russia are representatives from 52 Indian defence firms, looking to tie up deals with Russian OEMs. The Indian delegation includes large companies like the Adani Group and Mahindra Aerospace, as well as a host of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) that manufacture defence and aerospace components.

To this end, the Indian defence minister’s first order of business in Russia was to address chief executives of Russian OEMs at an “India-Russia Defence Industry Cooperation Conference” on Tuesday, and urge them to build in India.

Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar told the gathering to target setting up 50 Indo-Russian joint ventures in the next four-to-five years for building spares and components in India.

The Tuesday conference was also attended by Russia’s Minister of Industry and Trade, Denis Manturov.

While the US defence and aerospace industry, and to a lesser extent European industry, have begun shifting production to small, private manufacturers in India, the Russian defence industry has preferred to co-produce with large defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) and ordnance factories (OFs), to meet indigenisation requirements in multi-billion dollar contracts, such as the ones for building Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, and T-72M1 and T-90S tanks in India.

Unlike the US, Russia has been tardy in developing business-to-business relations with Indian industry. Meanwhile, private Indian defence firms too have preferred to do business with the west. Speaking off the record, Indian CEOs say they encounter difficulties in obtaining full and timely payment from Russian partners.

With little production beyond the assembly of large platforms like fighter aircraft and tanks, the Indian military is still reliant on Moscow for spare parts and components required to keep its vast, Russia-origin arsenal going.

Nudging Moscow to remedy this dependency was a key objective of the 20thannual summit between the Indian and Russian leaders in Vladivostok on September 4. The joint statement issued by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Vladimir Putin called for action to “improve the after-sales service” of Russian equipment and “to encourage joint manufacturing in India of spare parts, components, aggregates and other products for maintenance of Russian-origin arms… through transfer of technology and setting up of joint ventures.”

On Tuesday night, Rajnath Singh tweeted: “We will soon share with the Russian side the list of spares and items, proposed to be manufactured in India. I hope that the Russian side will identify the OEMs in the next few months who can partner in production of these spares.”

Besides spares and components, Russia has several other opportunities to step up manufacturing in India. An inter-government agreement (IGA) to manufacture about 200 Kamov-226T helicopters in India, in partnership with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), has stringent indigenisation conditions that Russia cannot meet without intensified partnership with Indian private industry.

Moscow and New Delhi have also signed an IGA for manufacturing AK-203 assault rifles in India, with Russian firm Kalashnikov in a joint venture with the Ordnance Factory Board. After discussing this, Rajnath Singh tweeted: “I also welcome the strong Russian support for early operationalisation of Kalashnikov joint venture.”

Also discussed was co-operation in submarine manufacture, with Russia contending strongly for Project 75-I, which involves building six submarines, with “air independent propulsion” (AIP) in India. Moscow wants its Amur-class submarines to be selected without competition through an IGI. However, New Delhi insists on proceeding with an on-going competitive procurement, for which Moscow must compete with three European submarine OEMs that have offered their submarines.

From Moscow, the Indian defence minister will travel to St Petersburg on Thursday, which is a major hub of Russian warship building.

Wednesday, 6 November 2019

US technology to convert rice stubble into bio-fuel, not smog

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th Nov 19

While Delhi’s residents work through a blanket of choking smog, caused largely by farmers burning fields of rice stubble in Punjab, the key to at least alleviating this problem was turned in Bangkok on Monday.

The United States Trade Development Authority (USTDA) signed up to allocate a grant of $300,000-500,00 for an Indian engineering firm, The Virgo Group, to carry out a “scoping study” for setting up a plant near Bhatinda that will convert the stubble from harvested rice fields into green “bio-fuel”.

The “scoping study” will determine how much bio-fuel can be extracted from the rice stubble. Based on this study, Virgo Group’s Bhatinda plant will customise “Rapid Thermal Processing” technology from Envergent Technologies – a subsidiary of US technology giant, Honeywell – to convert agricultural waste to biocrude, reducing air pollution and creating a new fuel source.

The project is being strongly supported by the Punjab government, which signed an agreement with Virgo Group on February 11 for facilitating the plant, including with concessional land. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh himself attended that signing.

Also backing the project is US envoy to India, Kenneth Juster, who was at the signing in Bangkok.

“We are extremely grateful to the Government of India, Government of Punjab, USTDA, the US Embassy in Delhi and our technical collaborators Honeywell US in jointly working with us to overturn one of the most serious environmental challenges that India is currently facing,” said Kanav Monga of Virgo Group after the signing.

Another key driver of this project is Punjab’s finance minister, Manpreet Badal, who belongs to Bhatinda, where the Bhatinda Refinery will blend the green bio-fuel with regular diesel. The phrase being used for this ecology-friendly refining is: “eco-fine”.

Honeywell sources say the “scoping study” will take approximately 13 weeks, after which the company can begin customising the “Rapid Processing Technology” plant for Punjab’s peculiar rice stubble.

This initiative brings together two imperatives of the Indian government.In August 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for the country to save $1.7 billion a year on imported hydrocarbon fuel, by blending green biofuels with standard ethanol.

Separately, the Union Cabinet and Delhi government are grappling with the problem of Delhi’s toxic air, caused by rice stubble burning, which has not improved despite measures like taking vehicles off the road through an “odd-even” scheme that allows them to ply only on alternate days. Converting rice stubble into bio-diesel is seen as converting a problem into an opportunity.

Organisations like the Indian Air Force (IAF), whose aircraftconsume 100 crore litres of aviation turbine fuel (ATF) per year are seeing an opportunity in green bio-fuel. If it can achieve its goal to substitute 10 per cent of its ATF with bio-fuels, it would save 10 crore litres of ATF each year.

While only bio-fuel made from Jatropha has currently been certified for aircraft, there is potential to source it from 150 million tonnes of surplus bio-mass feedstock across India, including from non-edible plants like Castor Pongamia, Neem, Mahua, Sal and Kokum. Now rice stubble presents an inviting new option.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

US-India co-development flop show forces new approach to DTTI

The Pentagon's procurement chief and DTTI co-chair, Ellen Lord, outlined the new DTTI thrust in Delhi on Thursday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Oct 19

The US-India agreement on Thursday to co-develop seven cutting-edge defence systems marks the formal burial of six co-development projects announced with fanfare in 2015, but which were never concluded, or even seriously pursued.

The agreement marks the reorientation of the US-India Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI) from a narrow, government-focused approach, to a new realisation that joint development projects should be piloted by defence industry on both sides, while the Pentagon and Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) oversees progress and deals with regulatory roadblocks that arise.

US Under Secretary of Defense, Ellen Lord, who visited Delhi this week to co-chair the 9thDTTI meeting with her Indian counterpart, Secretary for Defence Production Subhash Chandra, acknowledged: “In the past, there have been frustrations with progress under DTTI, but… we are making considerable progress.” 

There are few takers for this, given the abandonment of projects taken up earlier (with the exception of aircraft carrier cooperation), and their replacement with seven new co-development projects on Thursday.

MoD and Pentagon officials have drawn lessons from the earlier DTTI failures. A key reason was that, in entering co-development projects, New Delhi and Washington had divergent motivations, with neither side focused on co-developing usable products.

An example is the co-development of “jet engine technology”, for which both sides constituted a joint working group (JWG) in 2015. On Thursday, Lord admitted that this had been suspended because “We could not come to an understanding of what exportable technology would be useful to the Indians. And we did run into a challenge in terms of the US export control.”

In fact, there was little that India could ever contribute to this “co-development”, with US entities already masters of aero engine technologies, while Indian scientists and technologists were at an early stage of the learning curve, struggling to develop the Kaveri jet engine. What the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) wanted was US solutions for unsolved technology challenges, such as high temperature alloys and single crystal blades for the “hot end” of the Kaveri.

Meanwhile, the American side expected that working with the DRDO would create a relationship that would lead to building US aero engines in India. US engine makers like Pratt & Whitney, or General Electric, would never part cheaply with intellectual property (IP) that had cost billions to develop over decades. Nor would Washington grant export control licences for critical engine technology. The best that could be hoped for was the transfer of manufacturing line blueprints for building engines in India. That would advantage American fighter vendors in on-going procurements of fighter aircraft for the Indian Air Force and navy.

India’s MoD understood this would provide a controversial back door into India’s aircraft procurement cycle. New Delhi has also understood that US engine-makers are guided by commercial, not strategic, considerations. Although India remains a strategic partner, US defence industry, which resides in the private sector, would not hand over “hot end” technology to score a success in DTTI. 

The new approach to DTTI, and the choice of products and technologies now being co-developed, recognises that the Indian partner must bring credible technological capability to the table. In announcing the co-development of “air-launched, small, unmanned airborne systems (UAS)”, Lord acknowledged: “There are some small, very innovative companies here in India that have [this] technology.”

Similarly, it was decided to co-develop a “Virtual Augmented Mixed Reality” platform for teaching aircraft maintenance because several Indian start ups have already developed VAR technology.

A second lesson has been the need for Pentagon-MoD control of DTTI to allow more space for industry-to-industry collaboration. The first step was taken on Monday, when seven American and 20 Indian defence firms attended the new “DTTI Industry Collaboration Forum”, chaired by mid-level defence bureaucrats from both sides.

Admitting that this was “helping us better understand challenges and opportunities”, Lord said this would be “formalized into an industry-to-industry framework” by the time the two defence and foreign ministers met in the “2+2 dialogue” in December in Washington.

A third lesson has been that the military, rather than the DTTI, is often the better platform for projects involving operational cooperation. The American and Indian navies are now largely driving “aircraft carrier technology cooperation” (ACTC), which involves US-India partnership in developing the next indigenous aircraft carrier. Lord specifically lauded the “high level of engagement” between them.

Fourth and finally, there is recognition of the need for the DTTI to diligently monitor projects and time-targets. The newly signed Statement of Intent specifies “the need for detailed planning and measurable progress on specific short, middle, and long-term DTTI projects that are identified in the document.”

Friday, 25 October 2019

India, US join hands for making warfighting gear: drone swarms, virtual reality training aids, ultralight small arms

Besides several co-development projects, the two countries are cooperating on India's second aircraft carrier

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Oct 19

Seeking to galvanize the US-India defence partnership, the two countries on Thursday signed a “Joint Statement of Intent” (SoI) that formalised their intention to co-develop a range of cutting-edge warfighting technologies and systems for their militaries.

US Under Secretary of Defense Ellen Lord said the technologies being discussed include “things such as virtual augmented reality (VAR), air-launched unmanned airborne systems (UAS), networked operations, brand-new weapon and light-weight ammo (ammunition) designs.”

Lord is in Delhi for the 9thmeeting of the India-US Defence Technology and Trade Initiative (DTTI), which she co-chairs with India’s Secretary for Defence Protection, Subhash Chandra. The DTTI was set up in 2015 to fast-track defence ties.

During Thursday’s DTTI meeting, both nations agreed to co-develop three specific projects in the near-term, two in the mid-term and two long-term projects. Lord clarified that “near-term” meant about six months.

The first of three “near-term” projects is an “air-launched, small UAS”, which is a drone swarm that is launched from an aircraft to overwhelm enemy defences. 

“There are some small, very innovative companies here in India that have technology that could be applied to air-dropped UAS and swarming. There is a high level of interest on both sides,” stated Lord.

The second “near-term” project is the “lightweight small arms technology” project. This involves building rifles, carbines and machine guns from lightweight polymer cast material. Even the ammunition is cast from plastic, to reduce weight. US firm, Textron, is already working on this technology. It would partner an Indian firm to develop and build small arms for India.

The third “near-term” project is in the field of “intelligence, surveillance, targeting and reconnaissance (ISTAR),” which is command and control software that enables coherent battlefield command. 

Of the mid-term project, the first, which relates to “maritime domain awareness”, is termed “Sea Link Advanced Analysis”. Its software analyses shipping passing through an area, such as the Indian Ocean, and differentiates innocent commercial shipping from hostile warships. This uses artificial intelligence (AI), for which skilled Indian software engineers would co-develop the algorithms.

The second mid-term project is called “Virtual Augmented Mixed Reality for Aircraft Maintenance (VAMRAM).” This is a teaching aid for technicians learning how to maintain a combat aircraft. It involves wearing a VAR headset to walk through the maintenance experience. Several Indian start ups already have the capability to build and customise VAR.

Amongst the long-term projects, the co-development of “terrain shaping obstacles” involves slowing enemy manoeuvre forces by increasing the lethality of traditional obstacles like mines and barbed wire.

Finally, the second long-term co-development project is called the “Counter UAS rocket artillery and mortar” or CU-RAM. This involves developing highly accurate weapons systems to physically neutralise enemy drones or drone swarms.

“This is an area that the US is focusing on and it is interesting to Indians so we believe there are a lot of technologies that could be exchanged there,” said Lord.

Lord explained there is far more US-India cooperation than the seven projects specified in the Joint Statement of Intent. “Aircraft carrier technology cooperation (ACTC) is one of the key areas that we are looking at. It is not on the Statement of Intent, but all projects are not mentioned there”, she said.

Navy sources say ACTC is less about incorporating US systems and platforms into India’s next indigenous aircraft carrier, and more about learning from the world’s premier aircraft carrier operator – the US Navy. They say ACTC is about learning carrier design and operating processes, maintenance cycles and the organisation of combat operations on board the aircraft carrier. 

Lord admitted that the DTTI has faced criticism in the past. This was due to lack of progress on four high-profile pilot projects that were identified for co-development during President Barack Obama’s visit to India in January 2015. 

These included the co-development of Raven micro-UAS; mission-specific interiors for C-130J Super Hercules aircraft; a mobile electric-hybrid power source, and protective clothing for soldiers in a nuclear contaminated battlefield. None of these have seen the light of day.

Lord also revealed that a joint working group set up to collaborate on developing high-performance, aerospace jet engines has now been scrapped.

“We could not come to an understanding of what exportable (engine) technology would be useful to the Indians. And we did run into a challenge in terms of the US export control,” she admitted.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

India to sign deal with US for 24 multi-mission Seahawk helicopters in November

The navy considers this its "most important" purchase, since a generation of warships are functioning without on-board helos

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Oct 19

India is finally concluding a procurement contract for multi-role helicopters the navy has publicly labelled as “most important”. Defence Ministry sources confirm a contract will be signed in November with the US Department of Defense (the Pentagon) for 24 Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawks for $2-to-2.6 billion.

These choppers with foldable blades will be stationed on naval warships to perform a range of combat missions. These include anti-submarine warfare (ASW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), combat search and rescue (CSAR), vertical replenishment (VERTREP) and medical evacuation (MEDEVAC). The Seahawk is also used to fly in Special Forces for commando missions.

For decades, the Indian Navy’s Sea King Mk 42B/C helicopters carried out these tasks. But with the Sea King being retired, helicopter hangars on board an entire generation of Indian warships are empty, severely reducing the warships’ combat capability.

The navy’s ten-odd Sea Kings are being shared between an aircraft carrier, 14 destroyers, 15 frigates and three ASW corvettes. Several other warships in production will also require multi-mission helicopters when they enter service.

Given this urgency, the navy is buying 24 MH-60R Seahawks in flyaway condition, and then plans to build another 99 in India through the Strategic Partner (SP) route. 

For building them here, Lockheed Martin, the “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM), will have to transfer manufacturing technology to an Indian SP firm.

Given Lockheed Martin’s burgeoning partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL), it is likely that TASL will be designated the SP for the task. The two collaborate in building a range of aerospace components in Hyderabad and have announced a partnership to build the F-16 fighter in India if the Indian Air Force buys the aircraft.

The first 24 Seahawks are being procured through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route – a US-led process that involves no tendering. Instead, the Pentagon, acting as a paid agent of the buyer (the Indian Navy), negotiates price and supply terms with the OEM (Lockheed Martin).

In most such deals, the foreign buyer usually manages to procure the equipment more cheaply than the US military did for itself. This is because the Pentagon fixes as a benchmark the price the US military paid for its last procurement of that equipment. Upon that, the Pentagon then imposes a price reduction, demanding greater production efficiency and the continual amortisation of overhead costs during the production run.

FMS procurements also come with US government guarantees on weapons and equipment performance. 

The MH-60R Seahawk helicopter – originally built by US firm Sikorsky, which was bought by Lockheed Martin for $9 billion in November 2015 – has had a long production run. Introduced into the US Navy in 2006, there are 300 Seahawks in service, including in the US, Danish, Australian and Saudi Arabian navies. South Korea is considering the purchase of 12 Seahawks.

The Seahawks the US Navy bought have since been upgraded with the AN/APS-153 multi-mode radar, making them highly effective at detecting the periscope of enemy submarines. India will be getting the upgraded version.

Lockheed Martin says the Seahawk has a 98 per cent availability rate and the lowest life-cycle cost in its class (costing less than $5,000 for each flying hour).

The defence ministry gave the go-ahead for buying 24 Seahawks on August 25, 2018. On April 2, the US Congress was informed about the potential sale “for an estimated cost of $2.6 billion”.

This includes the cost of 24 fully kitted and armed helicopters, along with 12 spare engines, six spare multi-mode radars and six multi-spectral targeting systems. The deal includes 1,000 sonobuoys, or portable sonar systems, for detecting enemy submarines; and Hellfire missiles, rockets and torpedoes to destroy surface and sub-surface targets.

A range of communications equipment is also being transferred, enabled by the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) that India and the US signed in September 2018.

Sikorsky has an illustrious legacy in helicopter building. It built the first helicopter to carry the US president and, even today, the US president’s helicopter – designated “Marine One” – is a Sikorsky machine. The famed UH-60 Black Hawk, a variant of which was used in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, is a Sikorsky helicopter. 

In a separate, ongoing, navy procurement for 111 naval utility helicopters, Lockheed Martin is offering its smaller Sikorsky S-76 helicopter. This sale is also being progressed under the strategic partner route, but will not be a foreign military sales (FMS) contract.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

MoD “nominates” DRDO for building Electronic Warfare (EW) systems; Ficci protests to defence minister

The Samyukta electronic warfare system, which has key aspects engineered by the private sector

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 19

The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, on Monday announced it had approved the purchase of Rs 3,300 crores of indigenously designed and developed military equipment. 

The private sector is up in arms. Despite repeated defence ministry assurances that private firms would be allowed to compete for defence contracts on equal terms with the public sector – which includes the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), eight defence public sector units (DPSUs) and 41 ordnance factories – the DAC has “nominated” the DRDO for designing and developing an indigenous “Light Weight Electronic Warfare System for Mountains” (hereafter, Mountain EW System). 

The Mountain EW System “would be designed and developed by DRDO and manufactured by design cum production partner from the Indian (private) industry,” announced the defence ministry.

This denial of a design and development role to private industry comes even as a private firm, Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division, or SED) is building two far more complex “Integrated Mountain EW systems”, a global tender it won in 2013 for Rs 926 crore. An amended order was placed in July, which is on track to be delivered in 24 months.

Meanwhile, a public sector partnership between DRDO and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) is floundering in developing two similar systems, for which they were “nominated” by the defence ministry at twice the price bid by Tata Power (SED).

Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) has strongly protested this sidelining of private firms. In a letter addressed directly to Rajnath Singh on October 10, Ficci wrote: “It is understood that serious considerations are being given to nominate [the Mountain EW System tenders] to DRDO/DPSUs, disregarding the private sector having equal, if not better, capability and skill sets in EW technologies,” wrote Ficci.

“Ficci would request your personal intervention to advise that all the EW programme RFPs (Requests for Proposals, or tenders), like all other capital acquisition programmes, are issued on competitive tendering basis,” the letter said.

Invoking Tata Power (SED)’s strong, two-decade-old track record in developing EW systems, Ficci wrote: “Private sector companies were involved in developing the critical command & control software and platform engineering for the integrated EW system Samyukta (in the 1990s). This was even acknowledged by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, then DRDO chief.”

The defence ministry cites “security concerns” to place orders for EW systems with the DRDO/DPSUs. This has been strongly protested by the private sector, which cites its own stringent security protocols.

“Any security concerns raised to justify DPSU/PSU nomination be discouraged as all “A category” licensed private Indian vendors are covered under the same security guidelines issued by the MoD, as are DPSUs,” wrote Ficci.

Business Standard has reviewed Ficci’s letter to the defence minister.

EW systems are a crucial military force multiplier. They are built around a powerful receiver that picks up, records and analyses enemy (or militant/terrorist) transmissions to obtain valuable intelligence. Its integrated direction finder establishes the precise location of the enemy transmitter. That location can then be attacked, using aircraft or ground forces. Alternatively, at a crucial stage of battle, the enemy’s transmissions can be disrupted with high-power jammers, throwing his plan into disarray. Good EW systems allow an army to dominate the electromagnetic spectrum.

The “Mountain EW System” that the DAC cleared on Monday is a lightweight system that can be physically carried to remote locations, or heli-lifted onto high mountains. It is particularly useful in counter-militancy operations.

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

India pitches its defence, aerospace products to foreign countries

Public sector accounted for just Rs 800 crore of last year’s Rs 10,500 crore in defence exports

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Oct 19

In an unusual thrust to meet ambitious export targets, Indian defence officials on Friday made a pitch for defence and aerospace products to over 50 foreign military attaches posted with their embassies in New Delhi.

The Indian officials talked up the growing logic of buying Indian defence products, the export of which shot up from Rs 4,682 crore ($660 million) in 2017-18 to Rs 10,500 crore ($1.47 billion) last year.

The defence ministry is shooting to triple exports over this enhanced figure over the next five years. The Defence Production Policy of 2018 (DPrP-2018) stipulates an annual export target of $5 billion by 2025.

New Delhi considers exports essential for meeting the DPrP-2018 target of making India one of the world’s top five defence producers by 2025. This involves boosting annual defence production from the current Rs 90,000 to Rs 170,000 crore ($26 billion) by 2025, thereby generating employment for two-to-three million people.

Addressing the foreign military diplomats were India’s army and navy chiefs, General Bipin Rawat and Admiral Karambir Singh, Defence R&D Organisation chief Satheesh Reddy, and the defence ministry’s interface with Indian industry, Sanjay Jaju. They underscored New Delhi’s recent policy and regulatory reforms, which they claimed had cut down licensing requirements and speeded up export clearances, enabling Indian firms to compete better for international tenders.

Jaju pointed out that last year’s doubling of defence exports was achieved mainly through exporting aerospace and defence components for global supply chains of foreign aerospace and defence corporations. “We will have to start looking at exporting [weapons] platforms,” he said, referring to high-value, complex, combat equipment such as fighter aircraft, helicopters, tanks and artillery guns.

The defence industry often complains that the Indian military’s reluctance to induct Indian-made weaponry into its arsenal puts off foreign buyers. Jaju asserted that is changing. “Our country now has platforms that have already been purchased by the Indian military, which are world-class and at cost-competitive prices,” he said.

Such platforms include the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), Arjun tank, Akash air defence system, Pinaka rocket launcher and a range of indigenous warships including corvettes, frigates and destroyers.

Babasaheb Kalyani, chairman of Kalyani Group, praised the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), which his company is developing in partnership with the DRDO as “one of the finest artillery guns on the planet.”

Rawat asserted that the Indian military’s processes for testing and evaluating arms and equipment were “of the highest standards”. He offered to test and certify the Indian weaponry that would be on offer at Defence Expo 2020 in Lucknow next year.

A key reason for the meagre sales of Indian weapons platforms abroad is because they are mostly produced by India’s public sector -- the eight Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) and 41 Ordnance Factories (OFs) – which has hidebound and inflexible marketing mechanisms.

Business Standard’s analysis indicates that DPSU/OFs accounted for less than Rs 800 crore of the Rs 10,500 crore worth of defence equipment that India exported last year.

Further, many of these DPSU/OF export orders came through the global marketing networks of private firms like L&T, Bharat Forge and the Tata Group, who then sourced parts and subsystems of these orders from DPSU/OFs – especially weapons systems, which the defence ministry continues to largely reserve for the public sector.

For example, if L&T wins an order from a foreign navy to supply a complete “anti submarine warfare” system, the private firm would build the launchers and the control systems, but be forced to source the torpedoes from Bharat Dynamics Ltd, since that DPSU retains a monopoly over torpedo manufacture.

However, Jaju focused on the defence ministry’s initiatives to hasten approvals. Export authorizations are much quicker, he said, with clearances that earlier took over a month now being given within a week. “Red tape has to be cut down and, to an extent, we have done that. We have become much more customer-friendly and the ease of doing export business will be further enhanced,” he said.

Jaju also highlighted “lines of credit” that the government has offered friendly foreign countries – such as Myanmar, Maldives, Sri Lanka and others – for purchasing Indian defence equipment. Indian DPSU shipyards have built several offshore patrol vessels for regional navies, but they have significant capacity limitations and no warship export orders have been placed on private shipyards as yet.