Friday, 31 May 2019

Rajnath Singh is defence minister, faces slowdown in policymaking and arms procurement



By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st June 19

On Friday, the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government announced Rajnath Singh’s appointment as India’s 29thdefence minister. His junior minister will be Shripad Naik, who was elected from North Goa.

This will be the fifth defence ministerial change in five years. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) defence minister AK Antony was followed by Arun Jaitley (May 2014), Manohar Parrikar (November 2014), Jaitley again (March 2017), Nirmala Sitharaman (September 2017) and now Singh.

The 68-year-old Singh, who served as minister for home affairs during the previous NDA government, will continue to operate from New Delhi’s Raisina Hill, shifting office barely a hundred metres from North Block to South Block.

Singh has served as president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, agriculture minister in the BJP government of Atal Behari Vajpayee and, most recently home minister from 2014-19.

As defence minister, Singh will remain an ex-officio member of the powerful Cabinet Committee on Security, which he also attended as the home minister. 

By virtue of his long political experience and cordial relations with opposition party members, Singh is certain to also be a member of the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs.

Yet, as defence minister, Singh could find his operating space circumscribed within the government. He will brush up against Home Minister Amit Shah in matters relating to internal security in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), against Finance Minister Sitharaman in securing funds for defence capital expenditure on modernisation; and in long range planning against National Security Advisor (NSA) Ajit Doval, who heads the powerful Defence Planning Committee (DPC).

The DPC, which was constituted in April 2018, has effectively taken over planning functions of the defence ministry. Convened under the NSA’s chairmanship, the DPC brings under him all the top defence ministry functionaries, including the three service chiefs, the defence secretary and the chief of the integrated defence staff.

The DPC is tasked to “analyse and evaluate all relevant inputs relating to defence planning”, including “national defence and security priorities, foreign policy imperatives, operational directives and associated requirements, relevant strategic and security-related doctrines, defence acquisition and infrastructure development plans, including the 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), defence technology and development of the Indian defence industry and global technological advancement.”

This has effectively shifted many of the defence ministry’s most important functions to the National Security Council.

On Singh’s immediate agenda are elements of both policy and procurement. On the policy front, the ministry must finalise the “defence production policy” (DPrP), the draft of which was issued in 2018 with unrealistic targets such as catapulting India into the world’s top five defence producers, and achieving self-reliance by 2025 in building fighters, helicopters, warships and tanks. Uncertainty also shrouds the mooted “strategic partner” (SP) policy, through which the private sector is to build major defence platforms using technology from global defence majors.

Also languishing are urgent procurements, including those of submarines, aircraft carriers, minesweepers, fighters, helicopters and artillery guns. With the defence budget having steadily dropped over the last five years as a percentage of government spending, Singh will have to negotiate higher budgetary allocations with Sitharaman.

With defence preparedness unsatisfactory, Singh will have to choose between buying foreign weaponry quickly and the slower job of developing indigenous industry. In February 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had stated: “Even a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in imports could directly create an additional 100,000 to 120,000 highly skilled jobs in India.” Ensuring that happens has fallen to the lot of Rajnath Singh.

Naval helicopters to be govt’s first major defence buy, vendors submit responses in Rs 21,738 crore deal

The navalised Kamov-226T (above) is one of the contenders in the navy's purchase of 111 utility choppers

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st May 19

The Rs 21,738 crore procurement of 111 light Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) for the navy is on track to be the first big procurement of the new National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government.

On Thursday, the last day for vendors to submit responses to an Express of Interest (EoI) floated by the defence ministry on February 12, at least three international original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) submitted proposals to build their helicopters through an Indian industry designated as “strategic partner” (SP). 

The OEMs who have responded include Lockheed Martin, Airbus and Bell Helicopters.

Business Standard learns that the vendors proposals were not opened today. They are likely to be opened on June 3.

This NUH acquisition, which the defence ministry green lighted on August 25, is the first one being processed under the SP procurement model. This involveschosen Indian SP firms building major defence platforms in India with niche technologies and production knowhow supplied by a foreign OEM.

“The OEMs have been mandated to set up [a] dedicated manufacturing line, including design, integration and manufacturing processes for NUH in India and make [the] Indian manufacturing line as a global exclusive facility for the NUH platform being offered,” stated the MoD in February, while releasing the EoI.

Business Standard learns that the navy has listed out six “must-have” technologies that the OEMs must transfer as part of the contract. In addition, the vendors will be required to transfer “manufacturing technology” that will drive the assembly line.

The proposal for building 111 helicopters allows the OEM to deliver the first 16 from its home production facility, but at least 95 helicopters must be manufactured in India with an ambitious level of 60 per cent indigenisation stipulated.

The Indian SPs are likely to be chosen from amongst Tata Advanced Systems Ltd, Mahindra Defence, Adani Defence, Larsen & Toubro, Kalyani Group and Reliance. 

While the SP model of procurement was intended primarily for private sector firms, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd (IRHL) – a joint venture set up by HAL, Russian Helicopters and Rosoboronexport to manufacture the Kamov 226T light helicopter in India under an Indo-Russian inter-governmental agreement (IGA) – have also applied to be SPs.

The NUH, which must be optimised for ship usage with facilities like foldable rotors is being procured to replace the navy’s vintage French-origin Chetak helicopters. Flying from warships, the NUH will carry out tasks like search and rescue, casualty evacuation, ferrying passengers from ships and low intensity maritime operations (LIMO) such as dropping torpedoes. 

Naval multi-role helicopter (NMRH)

Also in the pipeline is the procurement of 24 MH-60 Romeo “naval multi-role helicopters (NMRH) from Lockheed Martin on a single vendor basis. The navy has sent Lockheed a Letter of Request and is expecting a Letter of Acceptance this week.

The DAC green-lighted the NMRH procurement on August 25, 2018. This is being acquired through the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route, which means there will be no tendering. Instead, the US Department of Defense (Pentagon) will negotiate a price with Lockheed Martin, based on the price at which the US military procured the most recent tranche of MH-60 Romeo helicopters. 

In FMS purchases, the buyer country typically pays less than the US military did for a platform. The Pentagon charges the buyer country a commission of about 3 per cent for negotiating and overseeing the procurement.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Praise from Geelani, Syed Salahuddin for Al Qaeda fighter raises questions in Kashmir

Unprecedentedly, Hizb chief Salahuddin (above) and Hurriyat chief Geelani eulogised slain Al Qaeda fighter, Zakir Musa

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th May 19

Watchers of Kashmiri separatism are intrigued by an unexplained ideological turnaround by Tehrik-e-Hurriyat leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, and by Syed Salahuddin, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen (Hizb) chief, who also heads the Pakistan-backed separatist alliance, United Jihad Council (UJC).

After years of insisting that Kashmiri separatism had no links with global Islamist fundamentalist movements like Al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS, or Daesh), both Geelani and Salahuddin issued eulogies for Zakir Musa, the Al Qaeda-associated militant, who security forces gunned down in Pulwama, Kashmir on Friday.

For Geelani and Salahuddin, Kashmiri nationalist identity is fundamental to their call for seceding from India, notwithstanding ideological differences over whether Kashmir should become a part of Pakistan or remain independent (azad). In contrast, Musa advocated that Kashmir be absorbed into a global Islamist khalifa (caliphate).

In 2017, Musa quit the Hizb to form the Ansar Gazwat-ul-Hind (AGuH), which Al Qaeda identified as its affiliate in Kashmir. Abandoning Kashmir nationalism, Musa publicly declared: “Kashmir’s war, particularly of the mujahideen, is only to enforce Shariah. It is an Islamic struggle.” 

When Musa threatened to behead the Hurriyat leadership in Srinagar’s iconic Lal Chow, the Hurriyat Conference called Musa an India’s intelligence agent. Geelani declared that “Al Qaeda, Daesh or Taliban have no involvement or role in Kashmir.”

Yet, after Musa was gunned down on Friday, Geelani called for a hartal (shutdown), stating: “Whosoever strives for implementation of divine law in his land with his conviction and dedication, are the real heroes of the movement and nation is indebted to hail their precious sacrifices.”

Echoing this new line, Salahuddin issued a statement saying: “Zakir Musa sacrificed his life for the glory of Islam and the freedom of Kashmir.”

Just a week earlier, the Hurriyat and UJC had remained silent when one of Musa’s lieutenants, Ishfaq Ahmad Sofi was killed by security forces in Shopian. The Kashmiri media did not report his affiliation with the AGuH, nor his frenzied funeral, in which thousands of local mourners pulled off the Pakistani flag that covered Sofi’s coffin and replaced it with the Daesh flag. Remarkably, this took place in Sopore, Geelani’s hometown and bastion.

In contrast, Daesh wasted no time owning Sofi and announcing the setting up of the Islamic State of J&K (ISJK), which it referred to as “Wilayah al Hind”. 

While traditional separatist leaders have said rising Daesh support is a New Delhi constructed plan aimed at discrediting the Kashmiri freedom movement, fundamentalist Islam has found growing acceptability amongst a new generation of Kashmiris.

Evidence has been mounting. In two earlier funerals in 2017, throngs of mourners replaced Pakistani flags on the coffins of slain terrorists with Daesh flags and chanted: “Na Hurriyat wali Shariat, na Hurriyat wali azadi, Kashmir banega Darul Islam (neither Hurriyat-style Shariat, nor Hurriyat-style liberation, Kashmir will become an Islamic state).” 

Last December, masked men climbed atop Srinagar’s iconic Jamia Masjid and posted videos on social media of themselves waving Daesh flags and shouting pro-Daesh slogans. However, the UJC dismissed them as Indian spies. 

With both Geelani and Salahuddin known to receive guidance from Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, officials in New Delhi are evaluating whether their remarkable turnaround reflects a redirection of ISI’s support, from Kashmiri nationalists to fundamentalist Islamists.

Analysts within Kashmir, however, ascribe Geelani’s and Salahuddin’s praise for Musa to “societal pressure” to acknowledge the contribution of fighters who, while ideologically counterposed to Kashmiri nationalism, were sacrificing their lives for the same cause.

“In Kashmiri minds, all these strands are interwoven. Is it a religious struggle, or is it political? Over the years, leaders like Geelani have issued contradictory statements, so they can be interpreted in different ways. When Al Qaeda chief, Osama bin Laden was killed, Geelani stepped forward to hold funeral prayers for him in absentia,” says Mehmood ur Rashid, a commentator for Greater Kashmir newspaper.

This is born out at the operational level, where fighters from Kashmiri nationalist groups like the Hizb coordinate seemlessly with groups like Zakir Musa’s. With Musa killed, Riyaz Naikoo of the Hizb has become the Valley’s most wanted militant.

Meanwhile, there are mixed signals from Pakistan. On May 18, Islamabad reportedly sealed the offices of all 12 Kashmiri separatist outfits functioning from Pakistani Occupied Kashmir under the UJC. This was apparently under pressure from the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) on terrorist financing.

Mirage crash probe puts spotlight on Dassault flight computer’s behaviour

Court of Inquiry into Mirage 2000 crash (above) reveals incidents of erratic behaviour by flight computer

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th May 19

On February 1, two experienced Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots died when their newly upgraded Mirage 2000-I fighter crashed while taking-off in Bengaluru. A Court of Inquiry (CoI) investigating the accident is now confronting the worrying possibility of a glitch in the Mirage 2000’s flight computer that kicks in without warning, causing the aircraft to behave unpredictably.

IAF flight records examined by the CoI have revealed at least four such incidents in the past. In each of these, a flying Mirage 2000 has, suddenly and without command from the pilot, jerked its nose towards the ground. Then, as spontaneously, the nose was jerked upwards. Each time, the aircraft has continued this up-and-down jerking – termed “pitch oscillations” – for several seconds before resuming normal flight.

Members of the CoI from the IAF, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the National Aeronautics Laboratory (NAL) and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) are veering round to the belief that such an incident caused the Feb 1 crash. 

In three recorded incidents, the “pitch oscillations” took place at high altitudes, giving the aircraft time to correct itself. However, on February 1, the ill-fated Mirage 2000-I’s flight computer jerked the fighter’s nose down just after it lifted off the runway. With the aircraft barely five metres off the runway, it had no time, or altitude, to correct itself. In a fraction of a second, the nose slammed onto the runway, the front undercarriage (nose wheel) sheered off, and the aircraft careened across the runway, fatally out of control.

In facing “pitch oscillations” when their aircraft was five metres above the ground, the two pilots who died were unluckier than several predecessors whose aircraft misbehaved at higher altitudes. An incident recorded in 1989 recounts that Mirage 2000, aircraft number KF138, experienced “sudden and momentary pitch oscillations [for] a few seconds” at an altitude of 4,500 feet some 16 minutes after take-off. The oscillations exerted a violent force of “+10.5g to -6g” (“g” indicates the force of gravity) on the pilots and caused the cockpit’s red and amber warning lights to glow.

Similarly, in 1999, Mirage 2000, aircraft number C98, “experienced momentary pitch oscillations… [for] a few seconds at 10,500 feet altitude, exerting a force of 11g on the aircraft and pilots. Exerted over a few more seconds, 11g force would cause most pilots to black out.

In 2014, Mirage 2000 number KF118, about 20 minutes after take off, at about 11,500 feet, experienced “amber failure warning and sudden pitch oscillations… [for] a few seconds.” 

In all three cases, the altitude allowed the aircraft time to recover itself. 

Even luckier was another Mirage 2000 pilot who, as recently as February, experienced similar spontaneous commands from his flight computer while his fighter was taxiing out to the take off point, and was still on the ground.

Those earlier incidents, which the IAF investigated through internal inquiries, were never conclusively explained. Dassault, which supplies the flight computer, offered the explanation that the aircrafts’ “pitch rate gyrometers” – sensors that tell the flight computer the aircraft’s attitude – were not securely fitted. But neither the IAF, nor HAL, is convinced, since the Mirage 2000s behaved perfectly for the rest of the flight when the incidents occurred.

Furthermore, scans and analyses of the February 1 accident debris, which have been certified by NAL, do not support Dassault’s postulation that there might have been loose sensors. Dassault, after making a presentation to the IAF in April, is currently investigating its flight computer in France. 

The company has not responded to a request for comments. HAL and the IAF too have declined comment, stating that the CoI was still in progress.

The upgraded Mirage 2000-I fighters, of that kind that crashed on February 1, have two on-board computers. While one is developed and built by HAL, the computer that controls the aircraft’s flight is made entirely in France.

The Mirage 2000-I that crashed on Feb 1 was undergoing a comprehensive acceptance trial after being upgraded in Bengaluru. After six test flights by HAL, the aircraft crashed on its second test flight by the IAF.

Fighters like the Mirage 2000, which have an “unstable design” for greater manoeuvrability, are programmed to accept commands from the flight computer to keep the aircraft stable – even commands based on faulty sensor readings, which might cause the aircraft to fly into the ground.

Examples of deadly computer override included the two recent crashes of Boeing 737 Max 8 airliners. Investigators now believe both crashes were caused by “anti-stall” flight control systems that repeatedly pushed the airliners’ noses down into the ground after sensors erroneously indicated their noses were pointing upwards.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

An action plan to energise defence

The Tejas production line at HAL -- one of the indigenous design and development programmes reaching fruition

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th May 19

The perception that the outgoing National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government was strong on defence and security was a significant factor in its re-election. In truth, whether in defence allocations, procurement reform, restructuring higher defence management or creating an indigenous defence industry, the NDA only followed in the indifferent footsteps of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government before it. Yet, the NDA generated the impression of strength by actions like the cross-border “surgical strikes” of 2016, the Doklam standoff against China in 2017, the February air strikes on a terrorist camp at Balakot in Pakistan and by talking tough on Pakistan and Jammu & Kashmir. The incoming government knows that, had any of this led to serious military escalation, systemic defence weaknesses could have been exposed. Therefore, to redress shortcomings, here are three suggested action points in defence philosophy, three steps for the medium-term, and three immediate measures for South Block’s 100-day agenda.

Changes in philosophy

First, the government must establish a clear threshold for defence capital allocations, which cater for equipment modernisation. Raising capital allocations is not difficult, even given political compulsions for spending on development and populist schemes. With the existing defence allocations already providing fully for revenue spending, any spending rise would go straight into the capital head, creating an out-of-proportion impact. For example, an in-principle decision to devote 30 per cent of the defence budget to capital procurement (against the current, inadequate 25 per cent) would require a Rs 30,000 crore rise in capital allocations over the interim budget of February. Even with this rise, defence allocations would remain at 16.5 per cent of total government spending, unchanged from 2018-19; and at a modest 2.2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product.


Second, while every government has paid lip service to defence indigenisation, none have thought hard about how to encourage it or what route to take towards building Indian weaponry. Given the technological inferiority complex that plagues our defence ministry and military, they have unwisely plumped for the “strategic partner” (SP) route, in which Indian firms build foreign weaponry based on transfer of technology (ToT) from foreign vendors. In fact, little technology of value is transferred, only “manufacturing ToT” and blueprints, but not the capability to design, develop, test, modify and upgrade weaponry. For that, India must develop systems engineering processes and capabilities, which is achievable through the “Make” route, not the SP route. The latter’s ToT-based manufacture creates dependencies on the foreign vendor that last through the platform’s service lifetime. In contrast, engineering a platform ground-up gives us not just a weapon and the wherewithal to maintain it, but also the design skills, experience and infrastructure needed to evolve that into subsequent generations.

The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has illustrated the benefits of ground-up systems integration in its strategic missiles programme. Its liquid-fuel Prithvi and solid-fuel Agni missiles were incrementally improved into more accurate, longer range, canister-launched missiles like the Agni-IV and V. This accumulated expertise then led to the development of an anti-ballistic missile shield, and those technologies fed into the anti-satellite test in March. 

Similarly the DRDO’s Akash anti-aircraft missile and Pinaka rocket launcher are being incrementally improved into more lethal and accurate weapons. The Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGS), which the DRDO is developing in partnership with Kalyani Group and the Tatas, will wean us off buying artillery guns from abroad, since the ATAGS design expertise will constitute the foundation for building future artillery guns. Similarly, the Tejas will create an indigenous eco-system for building the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA). Hence the government must strongly push indigenously designed and developed platforms, permitting SP projects only as interim solutions to bridge capability gaps until an indigenously designed solution is evolved.

Third, to create the eco-systems for indigenous design, development and manufacture, the defence ministry must unapologetically function as a market maker, given that the weapons bazaar is a distorted market characterised by both monopoly (single seller) and monopsony (single buyer). For most weapons, India’s military can support just one domestic source of supply, especially without the backing of large export orders. Even so, the defence ministry must select and develop a private sector rival to each of the eight defence public sector undertakings, while also exposing the ordnance factories to open competition. With no place for two private firms in each weapons area, hard choices must be made. As part of its market maker role, the defence ministry must also create regulatory frameworks, testing infrastructure, certification agencies and a more credible version of the Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap (TPCR) was first put out in 2018 – but lacks credibility within industry. A positive first step was the government’s acceptance last week of self-certification by established defence manufacturers.

Medium term steps

First and most essential, make Indian defence industry competitive vis-à-vis foreign competitors and the public sector by reducing the cost of capital. Given inflation and interest rates Indian firms pay 8-10 per cent more each year than their foreign competitors, severely impacting costs over a product gestation period of 7-15 years. Incentives must also be extended for research and development, which Indian industry enjoyed under Section 35 (2)(a)(b) of the Income Tax Act, but which ends in 2020 under a sunset clause. Finally, defence infrastructure, such as testing and certification facilities, must be granted infrastructure status under Section 80L. Even hotels enjoy infrastructure benefits, but defence and aerospace are ineligible. 

Second, a raft of policies initiated under the previous government, such as the Defence Production Policy, need to be finalised and implemented. The idea of Innovations for Defence Excellence (iDEX), which aimed to encourage innovation amongst small firms and individuals, has failed to link up with actual procurement. Similarly, the Technology Development Fund has resulted in no assurance of orders. Direct linkages must be ensured between development, production and procurement.

Thirdly, the government must kick-start the development of information technology based technologies, which are a natural area of excellence given India’s software skills. An immediate investment of Rs 3,000-4,000 crore must go into developing cyber technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) technology – a huge force multiplier that manages battlefield sensors and the information they gather.

100 day programme

Immediately release procurement orders languishing in the pipeline for indigenous defence platforms that are essentially improved versions of platforms already in service – including the Akash, Pinaka, strategic missiles, Tejas Mark 1A. 

Sanction a mission mode project to create an indigenous data link to connect all three services’ drones, fighter aircraft, warships and land combat vehicles. This crucial command and control software should be overseen by a body that incorporates DRDO, the Indian Space Research Organisation, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, academia and private industry.

In coordination with the foreign ministry and relevant countries, release funding and sanction for defence exports to regional partner countries, such as offshore patrol vessels for Indian Ocean island states, helicopters for small neighbours, etc. Besides their value in defence diplomacy, this would galvanize defence industry.

HAL sees record turnover, order book remains healthy

Orders book caters for three years production on lines like the Dhruv helicopter (above)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th May 19

Public sector aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has achieved an all-time record turnover of Rs 19,705 crores, according to the company’s audited results that its Board of Directors approved on Monday. 

HAL announced it registered a growth of 7.8 per cent for financial year 2018-19 against Rs 18,284 crores in the corresponding period of the previous year. 

The company logged a profit after tax of Rs 2,282 crores, a healthy 14.8 per cent rise over the preceding year’s profit of Rs 1,987 crores. HAL has already paid an interim dividend of Rs 662 crores for the year 2018-19.

The company’s order book position as on March 31, 2019 was Rs 58,000 crores. This includes a Rs 5,000 crore order for building the last 12 Sukhoi-30MKIs and another Rs 10,000 crore order for HAL’s helicopter division for two variants of the Dhruv advanced light helicopter (ALH) -- 40 to the army and air force; and another 32 to the navy and coast guard.

HAL has already supplied 159 Dhruv ALHs to the army and air force. With its helicopter division building 24 Dhruv’s each year, the current orders will keep its production lines busy till 2022-23.

Another 20 Cheetal helicopters are being built for the air force and eight Chetaks for the navy.

With the Sukhoi-30MKI production lines set to complete delivery of 222 fighters in a year, the Nashik plant where they are built – the company’s cash cow – will switch to overhauling Sukhoi-30MKIs that have completed 1,500 flying hours.

HAL sees its future revenue stream mainly in the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and the eponymous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH).

While it already has orders in hand for 20 more Tejas LCA Mark 1 fighters, an approximately 50,000 crore order for 83 Tejas Mark 1A is “in the pipeline”, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told parliament. 

The army and air force have projected a requirement for 179 LCHs. With its Rs 231 crore price tag, that amounts to an order worth more than Rs 40,000 crore. These will be built on a new assembly line, probably in Tumkur.

“HAL expects fresh orders for Light Combat Aircraft and Light Combat Helicopters in the current financial year”, announced HAL on Monday.

The company is also awaiting big orders in the single-engine, light utility helicopter (LUH) segment. HAL has formed a joint venture called Indo-Russian Helicopters Ltd with Russian Helicopters and Rosoboronexport – Russia’s arms export agency. This is slated to manufacture 200 light helicopters under an Indo-Russian inter-government agreement (IGA).

Meanwhile, HAL is close to certifying its indigenously developed LUH, of which 187 are slated to be built for the three services.

HAL continues to grapple with the problem of large unpaid dues from the air force. At the close of the financial year, these amounted to almost Rs 20,000 crore – a year’s turnover. This causes HAL periodic cash flow problems, with has included being forced to take a bank loan to pay salaries in the New Year.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Air force certifies “green fuel”, could save 10 crore litres of fuel annually

The IAF's workhorse AN-32s, operating from Mechuka to supply Indian Army posts on the Sino-Indian border

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th May 19

During the Republic Day Parade on January 26, the Indian Air Force (IAF) made a bold statement of its intent to go green by including an AN-32 transport aircraft, powered partly by biofuel, in the flypast over New Delhi.

On Friday, the door was opened to powering the broader IAF fleet with a blend of biofuel and normal aviation turbine fuel (ATF), when the Centre for Military Aviation Certification (CEMILAC) cleared the blending of 10 per cent biofuel across the entire fleet of over 100 AN-32 aircraft.

Each year, the IAF consumes about 100 crore litres of ATF to power its varied fleet. If 10 per cent biofuel use is extended across the fleet, 10 crore litres of ATF would be saved each year.

The IAF’s push for biofuel use originates from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call, in August 2017, for the country to save $1.7 billion a year on imported hydrocarbon fuel, by blending it with biofuel and ethanol. 

Over the last year, the IAF has undertaken a series of evaluation tests and trials with green aviation fuel, culminating in official certification today.

Indigenous bio-jet fuel was produced as far back as 2013 by a laboratory established in Dehradun by the Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research in partnership with the Indian Institute of Petroleum. However, the fuel it developed, which is distilled from the Jatropha tree, could not be tested or certified for commercial use on aircraft since there are no test facilities in the civil aviation sector. 

Eventually CEMILAC, which is a Defence R&D Organisation laboratory, has evaluated and tested the fuel to international standards.

“This is a huge step in promoting the ‘Make in India’ mission as this bio-fuel would be produced from Tree Borne Oils (TBOs) sourced from tribal areas and farmers, augmenting their income substantially”, said the IAF on Friday.

On February 11, the government of Punjab had extended this initiative to manufacturing biofuels from rice husk – which is currently burnt in late autumn every year, severely polluting Delhi. Chief Minister Amarinder Singh presided over a ceremony in Chandigarh, also attended by US envoy to India Ken Juster, in which an Indian firm, Virgo Corporation inaugurated a project to produce biofuels from rice husk, using technology obtained from US firm, Honeywell.

While only fuel made from Jatropha has currently been certified, there is potential to source biofuels from 150 million tonnes of surplus bio-mass feedstock across India, including from non-edible plants like Castor Pongamia, Neem, Mahua, Sal and Kokum. Converting edible crops to fuel remains controversial.

To extend biofuel use to civilian airliners, the IAF has recommended setting up an inter-ministerial Bio-Jet Fuel Board, and allocation of Rs 1,000 crore to set up three production plants of 5,000 litres per day, each using a different feedstock.

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.