Wednesday, 22 May 2019

Indian, Myanmar navies jointly patrol maritime border as New Delhi cements leadership role

Myanmar naval warships UMS King TabinShweHtee and UMS Inlay at Port Blair

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd May 19

Highlighting the Indian Navy’s cooperative relations with its regional counterparts, two warships from the Myanmar navy arrived in Port Blair on Monday for the 8th Indo-Myanmar Coordinated Patrol. 

Over the next four days, these vessels will patrol the 725-kilometres India-Myanmar maritime boundary alongside an Indian warship, INS Saryu and maritime patrol aircraft from both navies.

During this so-called “coordinated patrol” (CORPAT), neither country’s warships will cross the International Maritime Boundary Line (IMBL) into the other’s waters. But they will co-operate “to address issues of terrorism, illegal fishing, drug trafficking, human trafficking, poaching and other illegal activities inimical to [the] interest of both nations,” stated the defence ministry on Tuesday.

The Indian Navy began CORPATs with Myanmar in Mar 2013 as a tool of naval diplomacy and to assert India’s assumed role as a “net security provider” in the Indian Ocean. 

India currently carries out CORPATs with four regional navies: Myanmar, Indonesia, Thailand and, most recently, Bangladesh.

The 33rd IND-INDO CORPAT, in partnership with Indonesia, was conducted in March-April; and the 27th Indo-Thailand CORPAT was held in January.

The first CORPAT with Bangladesh was held last June, after naval relations with Dhaka flowered with the settlement of their long-standing maritime boundary dispute. In 2014, an arbitration tribunal under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) ruled in favour of Bangladesh, awarding it 19,467 square kilometres of the 25,602 square kilometres in dispute. New Delhi quietly implemented the award, underlining its credentials as a responsible maritime power that respected the rule of law.

India’s acceptance of the UNCLOS arbitration award contrasts starkly with China, which has rejected similar arbitration, citing “historical” claims. China currently rides roughshod over the maritime and territorial claims of South China Sea and East China Sea countries – including Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines.

In this context, CORPAT slots neatly into New Delhi’s overarching policy rubric of SAGAR (Security and Growth for All in the Region) and its “Look East” and “Act East” policies. With this backdrop, the navy conducts diplomacy through joint naval exercises (one with Singapore is currently ongoing), port visits and discussion forums like the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium (IONS), which currently has 35 member states, mostly from the Indian Ocean littoral.

The Indian Navy has also offered regional states the opportunity to enhance their “maritime domain awareness” by joining the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean region (IFC-IOR). Thi is a high-tech, master control centre, set up in Gurgaon earlier this year, which monitors the busy shipping lanes of the Indian Ocean using a range of space-based and terrestrial sensors.

IFC-IOR is an diplomatic initiative that underlines India’s status as the guardian of the Indian Ocean – bringing together regional countries to safeguard global commons, such as freedom of navigation and provide security against challenges such as piracy, terrorism, gun-running, narcotics, human migration and illegal fishing.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

New surface-to-air missile technology reduces radar signature of navy fleet

Indian Navy destroyer, INS Kochi, launches an MR-SAM during the test on Friday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th May 19

The eponymous Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MR-SAM), jointly developed by India and Israel to defend the navy’s warships against incoming anti-ship missiles, achieved a crucial landmark on Friday. MR-SAMs fired simultaneously from different vessels were directed to two different targets by a single warship, allowing a naval flotilla to reduce its give-away electromagnetic signature.

Warships typically switch on their multi-function surveillance and target acquisition radar (MF-STAR) while firing an MR-SAM – usually when an incoming anti-ship missile is still over a hundred kilometres away. The radar guides the missile towards the target, bringing it close enough to allow the missile’s seeker to home onto the anti-ship missile, and strike it precisely while it is still 70 kilometres away.

If a second incoming anti-ship missile is detected, another warship launches a missile to down it. But heavy electronic signatures from multiple radars make the flotilla easily detectable, allowing the enemy to target it with anti-radiation missiles (ARMs). 

This vulnerability was reduced through the “cooperative engagement firing” tested on Friday.  Two navy destroyers INS Kochi and Chennai fired MR-SAMs simultaneously at two simulated incoming missiles. But then, INS Chennai kept its radar switched off, while INS Kochi directed both missiles to the target through electronic data links.

“The missiles of both ships were controlled by one ship to intercept different aerial targets at extended ranges… The Indian Navy has become a part of a select group of navies that have this niche capability,” stated the defence ministry. 

This allows large naval formations – such as an aircraft carrier battle group (CBG), which typically includes a carrier, along with several large warships like destroyers or frigates – to operate with a greatly reduced “electromagnetic signature”.

In a statement of confidence in the MR-SAM, which has been developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) in cooperation with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and manufactured by Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL), the defence ministry announced that the missile system would be fitted “on all future major warships of the Indian Navy.”

So far, the MR-SAM has been operationally deployed only on three destroyers -- INS Kolkata, Chennai and Kochi. Each of them carries 32 missiles deployed in “vertical launch unit” (VLU) canisters. Now they will be fitted on four more destroyers being built under Project 15B and seven frigates being constructed under Project 17A.

IAI has designed and developed about 80 per cent of the MR-SAM, including the Elta MF-STAR radar. The DRDO has designed the missile’s propulsion system, including a sophisticated dual-pulse motor, thrust vector controls, and the electrical harness (wiring).

It was originally planned to deploy the MR-SAM in Indian as well as in Israeli navy warships. While BDL has received orders from the Indian navy, orders from the Israeli navy are still awaited.

The MF-STAR radar is built in Israel, as are the VLU canisters.

The DRDO says the MR-SAM project has enabled the indigenous development of a number of new technologies that will feed into new projects, such as the “quick reaction SAM (QR-SAM). Besides the dual pulse rocket motor, this includes a new smokeless propellant.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

India gets its first Apache attack helicopter

IAF to gets 22 Apaches for SEAD, another 39 are planned for the army's strike corps

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th May 19

The Boeing Company handed over to the Indian Air Force (IAF) on Friday the first of 22 Apache attack helicopters that India contracted to buy in September 2015 for about $3 billion at current prices. 

An IAF officer, Air Marshal AS Butola, travelled to Boeing’s helicopter production facility at Mesa, Arizona, to attend the handing over ceremony, alongside US government representatives.

The IAF is buying the latest version of the Apache, designated the AH-64E (I) Apache Guardian. The first batch of 4-6 helicopters will be shipped to India in July, says the defence ministry.

The Apaches are being acquired through a hybrid contract. The helicopter itself has been contracted through a “direct commercial sale” (DCS) with Boeing. However, the radar and assortment of weaponry, including missiles, rockets and cannon bullets, are being acquired directly from the Pentagon through a “foreign military sale” (FMS).

The Apache is widely acknowledged to be the world’s most lethal combat helicopter, having flown about a million mission hours in conflicts from the First Gulf War in 1991 to the on-going fighting in Afghanistan. 

It can operate by day or night with equal effectiveness, flying just metres above the ground and sheltering behind trees and sand dunes. Its advanced Longbow radar picks up enemy armoured vehicles and then destroys them with anti-tank missiles, air-to-surface rockets or a chain gun that sends 625 rounds per minute ripping into the targets. Designed to operate as the airborne component of a highly mobile, armour-heavy strike corps, the Apache has been dubbed the “flying tank”.

“The ability of these helicopters, to transmit and receive the battlefield picture, to and from the weapon systems through data networking, makes it a lethal acquisition,” said the defence ministry on Saturday.

Ground combat experts say the Apache should have been a straightforward buy of a premier tank-killing platform for the army’s three strike corps, instead of joining the IAF fleet. Former defence minister, AK Antony, after deciding that the new “Army Aviation Corps” would fly the army’s tactical support helicopters, succumbed to IAF pressure and allocated them the Apache.

Consequently, the 22 Apaches, distributed between two air force squadrons, will have the wartime role of “suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD)”. This refers to the US doctrine of destroying enemy air defence radars and missile batteries near the border, allowing fighter aircraft to cross into enemy airspace undetected.

Army aviation specialists reject this notion, arguing that the relatively slow-flying Apaches would be quickly picked up by Chinese or Pakistani surveillance radars and then shot down by their dense defensive network of anti-air missiles, guns and fighter aircraft. They point out that the US Army could use Apaches for SEAD only in highly asymmetrical conflicts like Iraq, where the US enjoyed overwhelming air superiority.

Acknowledging the army’s need for the Apache, the defence ministry has kicked off a separate procurement of six Apache Guardians for the army’s strike corps. Last June, the US Congress was notified about the proposed sale to India of six AH-64E Apache helicopters for an estimated $930 million.

These are for the first of three Apache units planned for the army’s three strike corps. Each squadron would have ten helicopters, and a thirty per cent reserve in depots to replenish losses caused by accidents or casualties. 

Separately, the IAF and army are acquiring the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), designed and developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, which is now close to being operationally certified. The lighter LCH is optimised for providing supporting fire to infantry soldiers in high altitude combat. The heavier, bigger Apache is more suited to mechanised warfare in plains terrain.

There is no “Make in India” component, or transfer of technology, in the Apache deal. The helicopter is to be built entirely in the US, then defence minister Manohar Parrikar informed the Lok Sabha on November 28, 2014.

However, the US Army is providing training at Fort Rucker, Alabama to the IAF pilots and maintenance personnel who will operate the Apache fleet.

Army commanding officers are voting on behalf of soldiers, say Leh election officials

The complaint from the Leh administration about commanding officers voting on behalf of soldiers

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th May 19

A startling allegation has emerged on Friday from the election administration in Ladakh about malpractices in voting by army soldiers. 

Avny Lavasa, the deputy commissioner of Leh, who is also the District Election Officer, has written to the army corps commander in Leh stating: “It is alleged that there are malpractices on part of various commanding officers of the Indian Army in the electronic postal ballot system. It is alleged that the commanding officers are telephonically asking jawans for their voting preference rather than supplying to them the ballot paper for casting his (sic) vote.”

“This is a gross violation of secrecy of voting and a malpractice that has the potential to invite strict legal action… Commanding officers may be sensitized about the issue and the sanctity of the electoral process maintained,” says the letter.

If true, this would constitute a serious violation of the right of soldiers to vote in secret. Even more worrying, if a commanding officer is stamping ballot papers, with no way for the voting soldier to check it, there is the possibility that his vote could have been diverted to a candidate preferred by the individual stamping their ballot paper.

The letter, dated May 10, follows a complaint by two contesting candidates – Sajjad Hussain and Asghar Ali Karbalai – in the Kargil parliamentary constituency. It has also been addressed to the Commanding Officer of the Ladakh Scouts Regimental Centre, which would indicate that locally recruited soldiers from the Ladakh Scouts were allegedly deprived of their voting rights.

Contact for comments, Army headquarters in Delhi states: “Preliminary investigations indicate that the complaints are unfounded and appears to have been made to tarnish the image of the Army.”

Promising an “in-depth investigation”, the army states: “Army remains apolitical and we hold this core value in letter and spirit.”

Lavasa is a highly regarded Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer from the 2013 batch. She is the daughter of former IAS officer, Ashok Lavasa, who is currently an Election Commissioner.

While this is the only instance where an election officer has raised an allegation of voting malpractices in the army, there have been similar reports of commanding officers voting on behalf of their troops in other sectors. In Jammu, there were reports that a signals regiment commanding officer had diverted all his subordinates’ votes to a particular political party.

Flat navy budget means fewer eyes on the seas

Fewer Sea Guardian drones, P-8I Poseidon maritime aircraft to watch over Indian Ocean

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th May 19

The navy’s critical mission to watch over the Indian Ocean is being undermined by a capital budget that has declined on a real basis. Plans to buy a fleet of Sea Guardian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – commonly called drones – and more than double the P-8I Poseidon multi-mission maritime aircraft (MMAs) fleet, have been pared down say navy planners.

India was planning to buy 22 Sea Guardian drones for the navy, a purchase worth $2 billion. There was another $4 billion plan to expand the P-8I Poseidon fleet up to 28 aircraft, to build an adequate fleet of long-range maritime reconnaissance assets.

But now the navy is buying only 10 Sea Guardians and expanding its P-8I fleet to just 20-22 aircraft. Part of the surveillance task will be taken up by launching a dedicated surveillance satellite that all three services – army, navy and air force – can share. 

However, the Sea Guardians now being bought are more capable UAVs than earlier envisioned. Navy sources say the “price and availability” details received recently from Washington are for a Sea Guardian that can carry out long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance, as well as the “hunter-killer” role with its on-board missiles.

Furthermore, the navy’s purchase of drones will be done alongside their purchase for the army and air force as well. US firm, General Atomics, which builds the Sea Guardian for maritime surveillance, will also supply an unspecified number of the MQ-9 Reaper drone – a non-maritime version – for the army and air force.

With Washington having green-lighted the purchase of the fully loaded Sea Guardian and MQ-9 Reaper, the military is preparing a “statement of case”. Based on this, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) will clear a tri-service procurement, with a single contract for drones for the army, navy and air force.

With India last year joining the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and signing the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) with the US, US export control hurdles to this sale have been significantly lowered.

Currently, all the navy has by way of long-range maritime surveillance assets are eight P-8I Poseidon’s that Boeing delivered between 2013-2015. That $2 billion purchase was supplemented in 2016 with a billion dollar purchase of four more P-8Is, deliveries of which will start in 2020-21. Thereafter, the navy will order no more than another 8-10, capping the P-8I fleet at 20-22 aircraft.

“The P-8I is the world’s premier maritime aircraft, but we must scale down, partly to reduce costs. But we will share surveillance responsibilities across platforms,” says a senior admiral in New Delhi.

The P-8I and the Sea Guardian complement each other in watching over vast ocean expanses. The P-8I, which is based upon the Boeing 737 airframe, carries a larger weapons payload, including heavy torpedoes and the Harpoon anti-ship missile that can sink submarines and surface warships. However, being a manned platform, crew fatigue limits the P-8I’s endurance to 8-10 hours.

In contrast, the Sea Guardian drone can watch for as long as 24-36 hours over a patrol area 1,000 kilometres from its base. Its pilots and weapons operators work in shifts at a ground station ashore, connected with the drone through a two-way data link. With crewmembers relieving each other every 6-8 hours, the Sea Guardian’s endurance is limited only by its fuel capacity.

While the Sea Guardian is not as heavily armed as the P-8I, the ones being supplied to India carry two small anti-ship missiles to strike any targets that appear. Alternatively, the ground station on shore can home in a P-8I to strike the target, or direct fighters like the maritime strike Jaguar.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Late and over-budget, fourth Scorpene submarine is launched

INS Vela at its launch ceremony on 6th May 2019

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th May 19

Indian Naval Ship (INS) Vela, the navy’s fourth Scorpene submarine, was launched into the water in Mumbai today. Mazagon Dock Ltd is assembling six Scorpene submarines in partnership with French shipbuilder, Naval Group (formerly DCNS). 

The first Scorpene (French for Scorpion), INS Kalvari, was commissioned into operational service by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 14, 2017. The second and third, INS Khanderi and Karanj, will join the fleet soon, after completing their on-going sea trials. 

The remaining two boats (as submariners refer to their vessels) are at an advanced stage of outfitting and would be delivered by mid-2021.

“[INS Vela] will undergo rigorous tests and trials, both in harbour and at sea, before delivery to the Indian Navy,” announced the defence ministry after the launch.

Naval operational planners are welcoming the Vela, given their dire shortage of submarines. Against a requirement of 24 conventional submarines, the navy makes do with just 13, which include four HDW German-origin, Shishumar-class boats that are in their fourth decade of service. There are also nine Russian Kilo-class boats, some of them older than three decades.

This shortfall of submarines is exacerbated by the six-year delay in Project 75, as the Scorpene programme is called. The contract in 2005 required all six Scorpenes to be delivered by 2015. Navy sources say even 2021 is an optimistic target now.

Time overruns are accompanied by cost overruns. The original Rs 18,798 crore cost of six Scorpenes has now gone up to Rs 23,562 crore. 

In wartime, the navy’s surface warships – aircraft carriers, destroyers, frigates and corvettes – obtain “sea control”, by dominating the ocean with superior numbers, sensors and firepower. Meanwhile the submarine fleet engages in “sea denial” by preventing enemy warships and submarines from leaving harbour, or entering the waters in India’s vicinity.

In a hypothetical conflict with China, Indian submarines would block the Chinese navy from crossing from the South China sea into the Indian Ocean by interdicting the major south east Asian straits – Malacca, Lombok, Sunda and Ombai Wettar.

In a war with Pakistan, the Scorpenes would operate in the shallow Arabian Sea, where large submarines cannot move freely. They could blockade Pakistani harbours, or prevent shipping from West Asia from entering the Arabian Sea.

A submarine’s key attribute is stealth, since it can be torpedoed once detected. Stealth comes from reducing noise from the engine and the boat’s internal systems. The Scorpenes have a quiet “Permanently Magnetised Propulsion Motor” that drives it underwater at 20 knots (37 kmph), or 12 knots (22 kmph) when surfaced.

Confusion has attended the purchase of torpedoes, the Scorpene’s primary weapon. The navy had chosen the Black Shark torpedo, built by Italian firm, WASS. But the defence ministry banned contracts with Leonardo group companies (including WASS) after Italy began investigating corruption by Agusta Westland (a Leonardo company) in selling VVIP helicopters to India.

Consequently, the Scorpenes make do with the old, Surface and Underwater Target (SUT) torpedo, acquired in the 1980s for the four Shishumar-class submarines. 

Besides the outdated SUT torpedo, the Scorpenes carry MBDA Exocet SM39 missiles – a deadly option for striking ships and targets ashore.

There were plans to equip the last two Scorpenes with “air independent propulsion” (AIP), allowing them to remain underwater for much longer, making them harder to detect. But, with the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) late in developing an indigenous AIP, the plan has been pushed back to the next six submarines that will be constructed under Project 75-I.  

Naval tradition holds that warships inherit names from earlier, illustrious vessels. The Scorpenes have taken their names from the Foxtrot-class submarines that India bought from the Soviet Union, which were decommissioned at the turn of the century. The first four Foxtrots, commissioned between 1967-1969, were INS Kalvari, Khanderi, Karanj and INS Karsura. The second batch, commissioned between 1973-1975, included INS Vela, Vagir, Vagli and Vagsheer.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Budgetary woes put India’s super-carrier “INS Vishal” on hold

INS Vikrant (seen at its launch) will join the fleet in 2021. Then, if the MoD has its way, there will be no third carrier

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th May 19

Global shipbuilders and analysts were abuzz on Sunday after the British media reported that New Delhi had approached London to buy the detailed blueprints for the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth. 

According to the “exclusive” report in Mirror, the plans will be used to build the Indian Navy’s second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2), which is called INS Vishal. 

In fact, INS Vishal has remained stalled since 2017, with India’s ministry of defence (MoD) declining to accord financial clearance. The MoD believes the coming years’ defence budgets cannot cater for the exorbitant cost of an aircraft carrier.

INS Vishal was conceived as a 65,000 tonne aircraft carrier, embarking 55 aircraft and costing Rs 60,000 crore. After the MoD objected to the cost, the navy downsized the proposal to a 50,000-tonne carrier costing about Rs 50,000 crore. But the MoD remains unwilling to accord funding or sanction. 

The Indian Navy has been talking to multiple prospective partners about providing design partnership for INS Vishal. Besides UK-headquartered BAE Systems and Thales, which built HMS Queen Elizabeth and are now working on a second carrier, HMS Prince of Wales; the Indian Navy also has a joint working group (JWG) with the US Pentagon for designing an aircraft carrier. In fact, the proposed design of INS Vishal bears a strong American signature, with advanced features like the “electro-magnetic aircraft launch system” (EMALS) that exists only on the latest US aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R Ford.

The navy believes that, since the US Navy is the acknowledged global leader in carrier-borne aviation, it would be the best possible partner.

However, in 2016, navy headquarters decided to go in for a conventionally powered aircraft carrier, rather than a nuclear-powered carrier like those the US Navy operates. Since HMS Queen Elizabeth is conventionally powered, the navy entered tentative talks with its builder, BAE Systems, for design consultancy on the propulsion system.

However, the Indian Navy has ruled out operating the F-35B Lightning II fighter, which the Royal Navy carriers embark. Those “short take off and vertical landing” (STOVL) aircraft are the most troubled variant of the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) programme. Therefore, the Indian Navy favours the F-35C “catapult-assisted take off but arrested landing” (CATOBAR) variant, or the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet that currently equips US Navy carriers.

That effectively amounts to an indigenous aircraft carrier with a conventional propulsion system similar to Royal Navy carriers, and an aviation complex based upon US Navy carrier design.

However, all this remains on hold until the MoD clears the project. Navy planners have pointed out that, while INS Vishal will indeed be the military’s single most expensive defence platform, its Rs 50,000 crore cost would be spread over a ten-year design and construction period, amounting to an annual average of Rs 5,000 crore.

They also point out that New Delhi’s commitment to being the foremost navy in the Indian Ocean makes a third aircraft carrier essential – allowing the navy to operate one carrier each off the western and eastern seaboard, while a third is sequentially in refit and long maintenance.

Currently, the navy operates only a single carrier, the 44,000-tonne INS Vikramaditya bought from Russia. Joining the fleet by 2021 will be the 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant, which is currently being completed at Cochin Shipyard Ltd.

Lobbying strenuously against clearing INS Vishal is the Indian Air Force (IAF), which wants to retain control of combat aviation assets. Since World War II, when aircraft carriers came into their own, air forces the world over have considered carrier-borne aviation an encroachment on their turf.

Following this tradition, the IAF argues to the MoD that land-based fighters, operating from airfields along the coast in peninsular southern India, can project combat aviation power into the Indian Ocean. This argument underlines the vulnerability of aircraft carriers to being sunk, a threat that bases ashore do not face.

“The outgoing government has put this on the back burner. But this will be one of the most pressing procurement decisions on the incoming government’s plate,” says a recently retired admiral.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Private firms lament entry of DPSUs into “strategic partnership” tenders

Mazagon Dock, which is building Scorpenes under Project 75, is being allowed as a "strategic partner" into Project 75-I too

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd May 19

The entry of Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) into a helicopter purchase that was reserved for the private sector has raised controversy over the “strategic partnership” (SP) model of procurement.

On April 26, HAL submitted two responses to the navy’s Expression of Interest (EoI) issued to industry for building 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUHs) for an estimated Rs 21,738 crore. The NUHs are being acquired under the SP model, which involves choosing an Indian private firm to build the helicopters in the country, with technology provided by a selected foreign “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM).

The SP policy states: “Strategic Partnerships seek to enhance indigenous defence manufacturing capabilities through the private sector over and above the existing production base.” 

The Dhirendra Singh Committee conceived the SP policy in 2015, to implement the prime minister’s “Make in India” vision. The policy aimed to develop private sector firms to rival defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) and ordnance factories (OFs), which had achieved only limited success in indigenising weaponry.

To implement the Dhirendra Singh report, a task force under VK Aatrey, former chief of the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), recommended methodology for choosing private SPs in ten technology realms – one SP each for building aircraft, helicopters, aero engines, guns, submarines, warships and armoured vehicles; and two SPs each for manufacturing metallic material and alloys; non-metallic materials; and ammunition, including smart munitions.

The intent was to select deep-pocketed private firms that could be nurtured and encouraged to scale up in size and capability, through automatic orders in their respective fields. 

“In essence, the MoD had a stake in developing its SPs into a globally competitive firms, just as it had built up DPSU and OF infrastructure and facilities, and provided them assured orders on ‘nomination basis’, rather than through competitive bidding,” says an industry CEO who helped develop the SP policy.

But the MoD bureaucracy shrank from selecting private sector firms to be recipients of government largesse. In 2017, when Manohar Parrikar resigned as defence minister, Arun Jaitley hurriedly announced an SP policy that required every contract to be competitively tendered.

The number of technology realms for SP category procurement was also reduced from ten to just four – aircraft, helicopters, submarines and tanks.

“This has already diluted the SP policy. Programmes in this category have now reduced to no more than licensed manufacture, with the government independently selecting Indian and the foreign vendors,” says Jayant Patil, who heads L&T’s defence business.

Private sector firms particularly oppose DPSUs being allowed into SP model procurements, pointing out that their government-builtinfrastructure, transfer of technology (ToT) over the years and “nominated” contracts advantage them over private firms who must raise and service finance over the program duration.

Yet, the SP policy states: “MoD may consider the role of DPSUs/OFB at the appropriate stage(s) keeping in view the order book position, capacity and price competitiveness.” HAL cites this as rationale for participating in the NUH project.

In Project 75-I, which involves building six advanced conventional submarines in India, the MoD is allowing DPSU shipyard Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL) to participate, ostensibly because there is only one private firm – L&T – with the capacity and capability to build advanced submarines.

If the MoD’s concern relates to price benchmarking, that can be broadly established through Project 75 – the building of six conventional submarines that MDL is currently delivering. The only additional factor that must be costed into Project 75-I is its “air independent propulsion”; the cost of which is known since the DRDO is building it.

Patil points out that numerous projects continue being awarded to DPSUs and OFs on a nomination basis based on past decisions. But the MoD dithers and delays procurement of retracts RFPs when there is a single vendor situation.

In the NUH tender, there is not even a “single vendor” situation that requires HAL to participate. Six private firms have bid and at least two – Mahindra and Tata Advanced Systems – appear likely to qualify technically.

“But the flawed SP policy allows HAL to compete. The outcome is clear: the government will have only one aerospace SP and that will remain HAL,” says the CEO of one of the competing private firms, who requests anonymity.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Private sector objects to HAL’s tenders for naval utility helicopters

HAL’s double bid in the Naval helicopter tender lets it offer either the Kamov 226T (above), or the Dhruv ALH

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd May 19

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has thrown its hat in the ring by submitting two separate responses to the navy’s Expression of Interest (EoI) in identifying an Indian strategic partner (SP) to build 111 Naval Utility Helicopters (NUHs) for an estimated Rs 21,738 crore.

The SP model, under which the NUH is being procured, envisages the indigenous manufacture of major defence platforms by Indian firms (SPs), in collaboration with a foreign original equipment manufacturer (OEM) for technologies and production expertise.

HAL’s entry has fluttered the dovecotes of Indian private defence manufacturers, who the ministry of defence (MoD) has led to believe would not face competition from defence public sector units (DPSUs) and ordnance factories (OFs) in SP category procurements.

The controversy arose on April 26, the last day for Indian firms to submit their responses to the MoD’s EoI for building the NUH. HAL submitted two responses: one proposal to participate as a DPSU; and, alongside that, a second proposal from the HAL-led joint venture, Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (IRHL), which was set up to manufacture the Kamov 226T helicopter for the air force in India.

That exposes private Indian firms, who have little experience in chopper manufacture and none at all in designing and developing (D&D) helicopters to competition from HAL, which has manufactured and developed the successful Dhruv light helicopter and others.

Private firms say this is unfair, given that the SP policy, detailed in the Defence Procurement Policy of 2016 (DPP-2016), specifically mentions: “Strategic Partnerships seek to enhance indigenous defence manufacturing capabilities through the private sector over and above the existing production base.”

One vendor points out that HAL constitutes the existing production base, built up with government support over decades. The vendor says the whole aim of the SP policy is to identify and develop a private sector alternative to HAL.

Furthermore, the EoI specifically mentions that respondents “Should be a private sector company.”

HAL officials, speaking off the record, argue that the SP policy does not rule out public sector participation. They admit the policy seeks to develop the private sector, but it also states: “MoD may consider the role of DPSUs/OFB at the appropriate stage(s) keeping in view the order book position, capacity and price competitiveness.”

The HAL officials point out that their order book position for helicopters is weak, with current orders existing only for 73 Dhruv helicopters and 10 Cheetal light helicopters. They argue that giving the NUH order to a private firm would leave the DPSU’s existing facilities under-utilised.

In case this is not accepted, HAL’s second response, through IRHL, opens the door for it to participate as a private sector entity. IRHL is currently a public sector firm, with HAL holding 50.5 per cent of its equity, while Russian Helicopters (42 per cent) and Rosoboronexport (7.5 per cent) hold the rest. However, IRHL would cease to be a public sector company, were HAL to divest a share of its holding to an Indian private sector firm.

HAL has argued in a letter to the MoD last August that it has already developed the key technologies needed to manufacture light helicopters in the 5-tonne class; and choppers in this category need not be imported any longer. It points to the success of the in-service Dhruv and Rudra helicopters, and the Light Combat Helicopter and Light Utility Helicopter, which are completing their flight-testing.

“The NUH’s specifications are almost identical to the Dhruv. If we develop “tail boom folding” to enable the Dhruv to fit into a warship hangar, the navy’s requirements will be met. The technology already resides in India. Why do we want to import a chopper, pay Rs 1,000 crore for technology, and further huge sums for maintenance, overhaul and upgrade through the NUH’s life cycle? We can do it here”, says a senior HAL officer.

HAL would take three-four years to develop “tail boom folding”, but its executives point out that it would take at least that long to identify an SP and OEM, negotiate a contract and commence delivery. 

(Part II: Private firms argue: “Retain SP projects for private sector”)

Tuesday, 30 April 2019

Generals, step back

Blurring the lines between soldiers and political activity is good neither for society nor for the military

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th April 19

There was a public furore in the United Kingdom in 2009, when aspiring prime minister David Cameron announced the elevation to the House of Lords of the former British chief of general staff, General Sir Richard Dannatt. Even Cameron’s own party men objected to violating a longstanding convention that senior military officers steer clear of party politics, even in retirement. A senior Tory leader pithily summed up the widespread unease, telling The Guardian: “This is unwise. Dannatt is a perfectly decent man. But he has absolutely no political experience. All he can bring to the table is his military experience. How are his successors in the military going to take to his position?”

In India, however, there was scarcely a whimper of disquiet on Saturday, when Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman ceremonially inducted seven senior military veterans into the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in a public function. One of them, Lieutenant General JBS Yadava, declared: “I agree that it is believed that defence forces will not go with any party. But, every person has a right to political thought… We can’t just stay on sidelines.”

Earlier this month, a former army vice chief, Lieutenant General Sarath Chand, was similarly inducted into the ruling party. While in service, he had testified before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence that the government had failed to allocate funds needed to replace the army’s antiquated equipment. Now, less than a year after retiring, here he was declaring: “No one has worked for the military as much as the BJP.”

True, there are no legal or legislative hurdles to a military veteran playing a political role, nor do Indian generals adhere to the British tradition of eschewing electoral politics after retirement. Even so, many military veterans percieve a moral barrier between themselves and active politics. From the day they don the uniform, military personnel are taught to be proudly apolitical – a vital instrument of the state, not of one or another government, and certainly not of any political party. In officers messes, two subjects were taboo for discussion: ladies and politics. These time-tested traditions are the military’s institutional safeguards to keep it out of the political arena. A clear distance is considered to be essential between soldiers and political activity.

That conviction has driven some 500 well-respected senior veterans, including former service chiefs, to petition the President, expressing their disquiet over “the unusual and completely unacceptable practice of political leaders taking credit for military operations like cross-border strikes, and even going so far as to claim the Armed Forces to be “Modi ji ki Sena”. This is in addition to media pictures of election platforms and campaigns in which party workers are seen wearing military uniforms…” The petition asks the President “to ensure that the secular and apolitical character of our Armed Forces is preserved.”

This is not to suggest that national security and defence should be off-limits for discussion in an election campaign. Quite the contrary, since the defence of the realm is the first duty of any government. Every party should and must present a detailed defence manifesto and face interrogation about how they propose to build India’s military sinews while diverting as little money as possible from other pressing needs like education and healthcare. In reality, this vitally important debate over a responsibility that consumes some 16 per cent of government expenditure has been crowded out by chest thumping and braggadocio and vulgar threats to potential adversaries that apparently amuse a large section of the voters but do little to deter potential enemies. This is a role that ex-servicemen could usefully play a role in, such as Lieutenant General DS Hooda’s preparation of a National Security Strategy that has informed the Congress Party’s defence manifesto. Unlike the generals who joined the BJP in a blaze of publicity and now find themselves sidelined, Hooda has declined to join any party, content to share his experience and expertise for the national interest.

Within the military, everyone understands the ongoing political gamesmanship in beguiling voters with the rubric of “teaching Pakistan a lesson”. For a military that has, over the decades and under successive political dispensations, been degraded, starved of resources and devalued in relative precedence, there is heady gratification in suddenly occupying the limelight, being lauded by the political elite and deified by the cheering throng. But when the lights dim and the applause fades, soldiers, sailors and airmen can hardly miss the depressing realisation that they are no better off than before. The many promises of bigger budgets, faster modernisation, state-of-the-art weaponry and respect from the ministry or the civil officials who rule their lives turn out to be hot air. As would be vouchsafed by thousands of disabled veterans who are spending their retirement fighting in court for their elusive benefits, it is the government and the defence ministry that stands in their way.

Starry-eyed former generals dreaming of political careers would do well to recognise that political parties have actually fielded only a handful of veterans in elections over the last two decades. Walter C Ladwig III, an India specialist at King’s College, London has compared the percentage of veterans in the Lok Sabha with those in the UK parliament and in the US Congress over the years. In the 1970s, 70 per cent of American Congresspersons were veterans, mainly due to conscription during the Vietnam War. After the draft was ended, this dropped to 50 per cent in the 1990s. Today, long after the era of compulsary service, 19 per cent of US congresspersons are military veterans. In the UK, that figure currently hovers around eight per cent. In India, from the first to the 14th Parliaments, just two-to-four per cent of the elected members had a “professional background”, which includes policemen, military veterans and civilian professionals like doctors and engineers.

This is unlikely to change anytime soon. Election Commission data indicates that 16 veterans were given party tickets in the 1999 general election, a figure that dropped to 10 in 2004, seven in 2009, before rising again to 16 in 2014. The numbers could be marginally higher, since Ladwig has identified veterans through military ranks affixed with members’ names. Those who left out their ranks, such as General VK Singh, have not been counted.

For many veterans who have served an apolitical ideal of the state, the key question today remains: is the military being saffronised; and how much concern should that arouse? It must be remembered that militaries the world over are conservative organisations and, therefore, tend to align themselves with parties like the BJP that propagate conservative social and political values. What is of deep concern though, is the aggressive deification of the soldier evident today, amplified by a jingoistic media. With service chiefs and generals increasingly paraded to endorse government viewpoints, or provide “clean chits” against criticism, there should be worry about the use of the military – and of notions of the “national interest” or majoritarian religious sentiment – to effectively shut down the space for critique or doubt. This device, which is straight from the European fascist playbook, is good neither for society, nor polity, nor the military itself. It is time the generals stepped back.

Garden Reach Shipyard wins Rs 6,311 crore contract

These anti-sub vessels will detect enemy submarines in the unusually shallow Arabian Sea

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th April 19

Kolkata-based defence shipyard, Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) signed a Rs 6,311 crore contract with the defence ministry on Monday to build eight anti-submarine warfare shallow water craft” (ASWCs) for the Indian Navy.

In parallel, Kerala state shipyard, Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) will build another eight ASWCs for the same price. These 16 vessels are being built in two shipyard simultaneously to shorten the delivery period.

The ASWCs will fill a worrying capability gap in the navy: the ability to detect enemy submarines in the Arabian Sea, where the unusually shallow sea bed reflects sonar signals emitted by submarine hunting vessels, masking the signals reflected off the enemy submarine, and making it difficult to detect.

The ASWCs are equipped with sophisticated sonar, with an algorithm that differentiates the signals reflected off the enemy submarine from those bouncing off the sea bed.

These vessels will also have the ability to sprint fast for short bursts in order to maintain contact with a submarine it detects; as well as sophisticated data link networks for sharing information about the enemy submarine with friendly anti-submarine warships and aircraft.

GRSE says these vessels can also be used for search and rescue operations and, in their secondary role, for laying and detecting underwater mines.

With the Pakistani navy already possessing three sophisticated French submarines and in the process of procuring four Chinese submarines, the navy has been pushing for ASWCs. Of even greater concern is Pakistan’s fleet of an estimated six miniature Italian submarines – called the Chariot – which can operate very effectively in shallow waters.

“It was a huge boost for team GRSE when the shipyard was declared successful in the competitive bid for design, construction and supply of eight ASWSWCs,” stated the shipyard on Monday, noting that this was a competitive procurement in which all public and private shipyards were permitted to complete. 

After the ASWC tender was issued in April 2014, it has taken five years to sign a contract. The first vessel is to be delivered within 42 months from the contract, that is by October 2022. After that, GRSE must deliver two more ASWCs annually, completing delivery by April 2026. 

GRSE is simultaneously building three stealth frigates for the navy under Project 17A, completing an order for four ASW corvettes under Project 28, while also building a range of other vessels – landing craft, fast patrol vessels and survey vessels for the navy and coast guard.

The ASWCs displace 750 tons, can sprint at 25 knots and are crewed by a complement of 57 sailors.

Saturday, 27 April 2019

IAF findings that India shot down own helicopter put on hold until after elections (Updated with IAF rebuttal and my response)

The smoking remains of the chopper after it was shot down by an IAF missile near Budgam

By Ajai Shukla
Edited version in Business Standard, 27th April 19

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been told to keep on hold the findings of a “court of inquiry” (CoI) that has conclusively determined that an IAF Mi-17V5 helicopter was shot down by an Indian missile battery that was guarding Srinagar air base.

A senior helicopter pilot, of the rank of air commodore, heads the CoI.

Six IAF personnel and a civilian on the ground died in that “friendly fire” incident on February 27. Top IAF sources say the incident happened after officers from the ground missile battery misidentified the IAF chopper as a Pakistani aircraft on a mission to attack Srinagar.

The disaster took place the day after IAF fighters had struck a Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorist camp in Pakistan to retaliate against a JeM suicide bomb attack 12 days earlier, which killed over 40 Indian troopers in Pulwama, near Srinagar. 

The CoI has found that, with IAF and army units across Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) in a state of hair-trigger alert against expected Pakistani retaliation, two crucial omissions led to the missile battery opening fire and downing their own helicopter.

First, to guard against misidentification of aircraft in the prevailing state of alert, all IAF aircraft coming in to land in Srinagar were required to approach the air base only through a designated air corridor. Ground missile units would know that the aircraft approaching through the narrow “funnel” was a friendly aircraft.

For reasons that remain unclear, the Mi-17V5 helicopter was not in the safe corridor as it approached from the direction of Budgam, to the south of Srinagar. The ground missile units assumed the radar track they picked was that of a hostile aircraft.

Second, IAF aircraft are equipped with an electronic device called an Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) system, which beams out a coded signal that identifies the aircraft as a friendly one to all IAF radars and IFF receivers. The IFF system is required to be switched on, especially in a situation where ground missile units are on high alert.

For reasons that remain unclear, the CoI has found that the ill-fated helicopter’s IFF system was not switched on that day.

IAF officers say they are keen to serve justice quickly and make an example of those found guilty of operational lapses. However, they are held back by a “go-slow” order from above.

They say the reason is: With the Balakot bombing and the Pakistani response, including the alleged shooting down of a Pakistani F-16 fighter, being painted in election campaigning as a major Indian victory, admitting the loss of a helicopter and seven personnel due to friendly fire would present a bleaker picture.

On February 27, the downing of the helicopter was obscured by the media attention on the downing of an IAF MiG-21 Bison fighter and the capture of Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman.

The IAF has declined to comment, stating: “The CoI is still in progress”. Asked specifically about the delay in finalising the findings of the CoI, the IAF said: “The time line of any CoI cannot be predicted.”

It is learned that the missile that was fired was an Israeli short-range surface to air missile (SR-SAM), which can engage incoming targets at ranges out to 20 kilometres. While engaging targets at those ranges, there is no scope for visual identification. Aircraft are merely a blip on a radar.

The incoming helicopter was engaged with the permission of the Base Air Defence Officer at Srinagar, who was required to satisfy himself that targets being engaged were indeed hostile.



In response to this article, the Indian Air Force tweeted at 10:26 a.m. on April 27:

“Today in an article written by Ajai Shukla he has incorrectly speculated that the IAF Court of Inquiry constituted to investigate the Mi-17 V5 crash at Srinagar on 27 Feb has been put on hold. This is his imagination and IAF categorically denies this.”

“CoI of aircraft accidents are meticulous & time consuming. All past inquiries of aircraft accidents bear testimony to this. Proceedings of a CoI are not commented upon by IAF till completion of the inquiry in all cases. There is no connection between elections & completion of CoI.”

Ajai Shukla responds:

This corespondent contacted the Indian Air Force for comments before publishing the article. The report carried their comments: "The CoI is still in progress” and “The time line of any CoI cannot be predicted.”

The IAF accepts the article's basic point: that, two months after the deaths of seven persons in a "friendly fire" incident, the CoI has not been finalised. 

None of the other details in the report, about how and why an IAF missile battery shot down an IAF helicopter, are being rebutted by the IAF.

The IAF claims that a two-month delay in finalising a CoI relating to an operational debacle is normal. However, top IAF officers say the delay in finalising the CoI has been imposed from above.

I stand by the report, which is based on inputs from two highly credible IAF officers.