Thursday, 31 October 2019

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

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

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Oct 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 25 October 2019

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

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

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Oct 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 24 October 2019

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

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

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Oct 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

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

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

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 22 October 2019

India pitches its defence, aerospace products to foreign countries

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

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Oct 19

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Single agency being set up to process defence exports

Rajnath Singh's defence ministry has been talking up the need for increasing defence exports

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Oct 19

In a new initiative to boost the export of Indian defence products, army chief, General Bipin Rawat will on Friday launch the Indigenous Defence Equipment Exporters Association (IDEEA) in New Delhi.

IDEEA is conceived as a non-profit association, set up under Section 8 of the Companies Act. It has the stated objective of making India “one of the top three defence equipment exporters in the world.” 

The association will effectively be a nodal agency for receiving and processing export inquiries from all prospective customers across the globe. Its director, Major General Prem Mohan Vats (Retired) says: “IDEEA will provide a platform for defence exporters, particularly MSMEs (micro, small and medium enterprises), to air their concerns and to reach customers.”

Sanjay Jaju, the defence ministry official who interfaces with industry,had announced in June the creation of a Defence Export-Import Portal, that “will post export opportunity leads that our sources have obtained, which exporters can follow up and translate into business.” IDEEA, it appears, is intended to meet the same purpose promise.

IDEEA is directed towards achieving the defence ministry’s ambitious aim, stated in the Defence Production Policy of 2018 (DPrP-2018), of exporting defence products worth of $5 billion (Rs 35,000 crore) annually, by 2025. 

Given that defence exports were Rs 11,000 crore in 2018-19, achieving this target requires defence exports to more than triple in six years. The 2018-19 export figure was itself a more than two-fold jump over the preceding year’s exports worth Rs 4,682 crore, according to the defence ministry website.

The ministry assesses that enhanced exports would be essential for meeting the DPrP-2018 target of making India one of the world’s top five defence producers, with an annual defence production turnover target of US $26 billion (Rs 180,000 crore).

India’s current defence production is Rs 90,000 crore per year, says Jaju. Export markets would be crucial for absorbing production levels that are double of this, given that the defence capital allocation is currently Rs 108,248 crore.

The defence ministry has moved gradually towards creating an enabling environment for exports. The first step was to loosen barriers by gaining Indian entry into the four global export control regimes. India has already obtained membership of the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group. New Delhi is now lobbying for entry into the fourth – the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Meanwhile, as an export promotion measure, the government has steadily increased the levels of foreign direct investment (FDI) permitted in defence. If this continues, foreign defence firms might soon be allowed a majority stake in joint ventures (JVs) they set up in India.

In 2016, the prevailing 26 per cent FDI cap in defence manufacturing was raised to 49 per cent through the automatic route. Additionally, FDI above 49 per cent was permitted through case-by-case government sanction “wherever it is likely to result in access to modern technology or for other reasons to be recorded.”

So far, this has failed to spur foreign investment. The defence sector has received FDI worth just $ 0.18 million (Rs 1.26 crore) from April 2014 to December 2017, the defence ministry told Parliament on March 7, 2018.

The biggest recipient of Indian defence exports is currently the US, which has imported nearly Rs 5,000 crore worth of equipment. Next comes Israel, and then the European Union.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

We said, Xi said…

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Oct 19

Notwithstanding the gushy media coverage, which even featured the detailed dinner menu, of last week’s “informal summit” between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China’s President Xi Jinping at Mamallapuram, outside Chennai, this was hardly a breakthrough in the testy relations between the two countries. If there was diplomatic success, it lay in New Delhi’s forebearance in allowing the summit to take place at all. A country less complaisant towards China might well have called off the summit three days before it happened, when Beijing, after Xi’s meeting with Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan, publicly declared that China supported all Pakistan’s “core concerns”. This amounts to backing Islamabad’s claim over all of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) and, in effect, the abandonment of Beijing’s professed neutrality on the Kashmir dispute. New Delhi’s placid acceptance of this, without even a strongly worded rebuke, must have signalled to Xi that New Delhi desired the optics of a Modi-Xi summit far more than Beijing did. This would have been confirmed during the summit when Modi silently heard out Xi’s account of his meeting with Khan.

The key achievement of the summit, as prominently advertised by both sides, apparently was that Modi and Xi spent over five hours in one-on-one talks on global affairs, investment and trade, combating terrorism, tourism and people to people contacts. Afterwards, Modi talked up the “Chennai Connect” that, he felt, would usher in “a new era” in Sino-Indian ties. Xi declared these were “heart-to-heart” conversations and that he and Modi were “like real friends.” However, experience teaches that an exchange of national visions between the leaders of two countries does not naturally pave the path to peace, especially when there exists a deep-rooted strategic rivalry between them. Observers with a sense of history would recall the four-and-a-half hours of documented conversations between Mao Zedong and Jawaharlal Nehru in October 1954 in which the two leaders similarly discussed America’s role in the region, the global environment and India’s and China’s place in it. Yet, eight years later they were at war.

Courtesy: Ajay Mohanty, Business Standard

True, New Delhi has little choice but to diplomatically engage an increasingly powerful, wealthy and assertive Beijing. However, it cannot be so distracted by the rhetoric of friendship and fraterntity as to miss the fact that, since the first “informal summit” at Wuhan last year, China has done nothing to allay India’s key security or economic concerns. The Indian Army has been unable to reduce a single soldier on the borders and our military’s deployment posture remains predicated on the possibility of a two-front war. We are no closer to resolving the Sino-Indian border dispute, with the Chinese continuing to stonewall even the first step towards that – which is to exchange maps marked with each side’s perceived alignment of the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the de facto border. Recent delegations from influential Chinese think tanks (which accurately reflect Beijing’s official stance) have recited to Indian audiences the hackneyed formulation that a border solution “should be left to future generations.” The official briefings after Chennai indicate that the Chinese stuck to the same line. With little accommodation in the present, Xi’s proposal for a “hundred-year plan” for cementing ties between the two countries only kicks the can so far down the road that it ceases to be visible at all.

New Delhi’s economic concerns remain unaddressed too, primarily its expanding $53 billion trade deficit with China and misgivings over the terms of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership – a gigantic free trade pact being negotiated between 16 countries that together constitute some 40 per cent of the world’s economy. Here too the can has been kicked down the road, with a “High-Level Economic and Trade Dialogue Mechanism” being set up to tackle these issues. That this is merely a hastily-applied band-aid was tacitly acknowledged by Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale’s admission: “It was a brief discussion.” 

The experience of previous committees warns us to temper expectations. In the realm of border management, the Working Mechanism for Consultation and Coordination on India-China Border Affairs, signed in January 2012; and the Border Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed in October 2013 failed spectacularly to calm the Line of Actual Control (LAC). Instead, there was a three-week-long standoff at Depsang, Ladakh in April 2013; followed by a 16-day face-off at Chumar, Ladakh in September 2014; and then the tense 73-day confrontation at Doklam, Bhutan in June-August 2017. The brief spell of peace on the LAC after Wuhan reverted inexorably to the scattered confrontations of earlier days.

Gokhale told the media that the two leaders did not discuss Kashmir as it is “an internal matter” for India. There was good reason to avoid discussing Kashmir, but it is, in fact, far from an internal matter. China physically occupies about 45,000 square kilometres of J&K state as claimed by India, including 3,000 square kilometres captured in the 1962 war and never returned; and 5,180 square kilometres ceded to China by Pakistan in 1963. If the only J&K issue that remains to be discussed with Pakistan is the return of Pakistan Occupied Kashmir to India, it is hard to justify remaining silent about the return of China Occupied Ladakh.

The concept of “informal summits” seems here to stay, with Modi having already accepted Xi’s invitation to come and chat next year in China. However, there is little to be gained from a summit that is reduced to a spectacle and where competitive rhetoric far outpaces the reality. If Modi was reduced to writing poetry, China’s envoy to India, Sun Weidong tweeted: “From Wuhan to Chennai, from Yangtze river to Ganges, China and India join hands and stand together. Dragon and Elephant have a tango.” Sun should have known that such saccharine descriptives sound patronising to Indians when China and India still stand far apart on so many issues. If a dragon ever tangos with an elephant, that seems a long way from where we are now.

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

On IAF 87th anniversary: India gets first Rafale, celebrates Balakot strike

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Oct 19

As the Indian Air Force (IAF) celebrated its 87th anniversary on Tuesday, a clear theme was the operations of February 26, when Indian fighter aircraft attacked the Balakot terrorist training camp in Pakistan and skirmished with counter-attacking Pakistan Air Force (PAF) fighters the next morning.

Drawing thunderous applause from spectators at Hindan Air Base outside Delhi was the “Avenger formation” in the fly-past, a three-aircraft formation led by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman in his MiG-21 BISON fighter, flanked by two Mirage 2000 fighters flown by pilots who had bombed Balakot.

Varthaman was shot down and captured by the Pakistani military in that skirmish, but only after shooting down a PAF F-16 fighter, as claimed by the IAF. 

On Friday, the IAF had released a promotional video, celebrating the bombing of Balakot and the subsequent aerial skirmish as major accomplishments.

Meanwhile in Merignac, France, aerospace firm Dassault delivered to Defence Minister Rajnath Singh the first of 36 Rafale fighters the IAF has bought for Euro 7.8 billion. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has claimed that the outcome of the aerial confrontation in February would have been “something very different” had the IAF had Rafales at that time.

Yet, despite Singh’s symbolic “acceptance” of the first Rafale fighter in Merignac, the IAF is still years away from fielding Rafales with the full capability New Delhi has paid for. 

On Friday, the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria, revealed that the first IAF Rafales, a batch of four aircraft, would only reach India next May. That means an eight-month delay from the contracted delivery date of September 2019 – or three years after the contract was signed.

Further, these Rafales, and tens more that will follow them, will not have the enhanced capabilities – termed “India Specific Enhancements” (ISEs) – the IAF has demanded and paid Euro 1.7 billion for. The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report of February 2019 reveals that, until December 2021, the IAF will receive less potent Rafales, built to the lower capability specifications of the French Air Force.

According to the CAG report, the IAF will receive its first Rafale with ISEs installed only in December 2021 – 63 months after the contract signature. Then, over the subsequent eight months, i.e. till August 2022, Dassault (and its French avionics partner, Thales) will install and retrofit ISE capabilities on all 36 Rafale fighters contracted by the IAF. 

The IAF chief has downplayed the eight-month delay in delivering the first Rafales by arguing that IAF pilots would get more time to train in France. 

On Friday he stated: “The aircraft will come at the end of May next year in Indian skies. The advantage is that our pilots will be substantially trained by then. That group of pilots will be near ‘operational’ to take on any task after landing here.”

Bhadauria also dismissed speculation that the delivery of 36 Rafales could be followed by an order for 36 more. He indicated that, to supply more Rafales, Dassault would have to win the IAF tender for 114 “multi-role fighter aircraft” (MRFA).

“Our plan is for building 114 MRFA in the Strategic Partner (SP) model and that is currently being followed,” said Bhadauria.

The tender will involve choosing original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) from seven firms that have expressed interest– Dassault, Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Sukhoi, MiG, Saab and Eurofighter. Simultaneously, Indian SPs will be chosen from private and public sector firms that meet the qualifications. Qualified SPs will then partner selected OEMs and submit proposals to the government.

Aerospace analysts believe Dassault is well-positioned to win the MRFA tender, since it has already amortised many of its costs in the tender for 36 Rafales.

Before flying to Merignac, the defence minister had a 35-minute meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris.

The Air Force Day parade and fly-past at Hindan also saw debut participation from the Apache AH-64E and Chinook CH-47F – both American helicopters that were inducted into the IAF over the preceding year.

Saturday, 5 October 2019

Air Force chief outlines plan to solve shortage of fighter squadrons

Jaguars to retire, additional MiG-29 and Su-30 squadrons being bought

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Oct 19

Four days after assuming command of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria has described in detail what his fighter fleet will look like a dozen years into the future. 

There is already concern that the IAF is down to just 30 fighter squadrons, against the assessed requirement of 42 squadrons. Bhadauria’s plan, unveiled in an interaction with the media on Friday, will only raise numbers to 37 squadrons by 2025, before falling again to 33 squadrons by 2032. 

Behind the continuing shortfalls is the impending retirement of the last of six remaining MiG-21 squadrons when their technical life ends in 2021.

Jaguar to retire without new engines

In addition, Bhadauria announced that six Jaguar squadrons would retire in the early 2020s, since it would be too costly to equip then with new engines needed to extend their service lives into the 2030s.

“We have had to drop the plan for re-engining the Jaguar because it has been delayed inordinately and the cost went too high,” said the IAF chief. 

“The non-BISON MiG-21s will retire by the end of this year, or go up to March 2020 at the most. Only the MiG-21 BISON fleet will be left and will go up to the end of its technical life [in 2021], he said.

Worryingly, the shortfalls could be even worse if there is delay in processing the purchase of 114 eponymous Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA), which an Indian “strategic partner” (SP) will build in technology partnership with a global “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM).

Requests for Interest (RFIs) have already been sent out to prospective SPs and OEMs for this tender.

“The [vendors’ responses] have already been received for the 114 MRFA case. We have started the process for obtaining AoN (Acceptance of Necessity) now,” said Bhadauria. The AoN, which the defence ministry accords, is the first step in a procurement and is followed by the issuance of an RFP (request for proposals) – the basic tender document.

Bhadauria’s plan also includes building 83 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is quick time to fill the light fighter vacancies left by the retirement of the MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighters.

On a parallel track, India would build the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), a fifth generation medium fighter.

More MiG-29s and Sukhoi-30MKIs

Meanwhile, the IAF chief confirmed the IAF would buy 21 MiG-29 fighters that are lying ready built in Russia. “We are going to go in for 21 MiG-29, which has already been informed [to Moscow],” he said. 

Adding those to the IAF’s existing three MiG-29 squadrons, which are undergoing a mid-life upgrade, would take the number of IAF MiG-29 squadrons up to four. In addition, the navy flies two squadrons of the navalized MiG-29K/KUBs.

Bhadauria also confirmed reports that additional Sukhoi-30MKI fighters would be built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) in Nashik. HAL will soon complete delivery of the last squadron of Sukhoi-30MKIs, bringing up the IAF fleet to 13 squadrons.

“We are moving towards ordering 12 more Sukhoi-30s. Whether we need some more in lieu of aircraft that are going to get phased out from 2025 onwards… we will have to take a look later. But at the moment, 12 is what is being followed up straightaway,” said Bhadauria.

The chief also confirmed plans to upgrade the Sukhoi-30MKI, with modern “radar and weapons capabilities and also tackling obsolescence management and electronic warfare aspects.”

No plan for 36 more Rafale

Dismissing rumours that India is buying 36 more Rafales from France, Bhadauria stated: “Our plan is for building 114 MRFA in the SP model. There is no separate plan for this (36 more Rafales).

He confirmed a delay in Dassault’s delivery of the first four Rafale fighters. While Defence Minister Rajnath Singh is going to France next week to accept the fighters, they would only fly to India in May 2020, said Bhadauria.

Friday, 4 October 2019

As Project 28 nears end, GRSE feels it’s equipped to build more corvettes

INS Kadmatt, the second ASW corvette built under Project 28, sails into Sasebo, Japan

By Ajai Shukla 
Garden Reach, Kolkata
Business Standard, 4th Oct 19

Workmen bustle over INS Kavaratti, a sleek anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette nearing completion at Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata, on the monsoon-swollen Hooghly River. The last of four corvettes built under Project 28, Kavaratti will be commissioned before end-2019 – three years later than contracted.

Besides being badly late, Project 28 is also over-budget – by an incredible 250 per cent. The four corvettes were sanctioned for Rs 2,700 crore, but INS Kamorta, Kadmatt, Kiltan and Kavaratti will end up costing about Rs 7,000 crore in all.

Even so, there is no complaint from the Ministry of Defence (MoD), or from the usually demanding navy. The admirals regard the delay as an acceptable price for making the Kamorta-class India’s most highly indigenised warships – about 90 per cent “Made in India”.

The ASW corvettes, which are designed and equipped to detect enemy submarines and destroy them with torpedoes, have also ended up far more silent – and, therefore, better equipped to listen for submarines – than originally envisioned.

Project 28 time-and-cost overruns mounted progressively. The first delay was caused by the MoD’s decision that INS Kamorta and its successors would be constructed from indigenous warship-grade steel – called DMR 249A, and manufactured by Bhilai Steel Plant. Developing and producing DMR 249A in sufficient quantities took two years longer than anticipated. 

Then, after constructing the first two corvettes (INS Kamorta in 2014 and Kadmatt in 2016), the navy decided that the third and fourth corvettes would have superstructures (the part above the deck) built from composite materials. 

The lower radar reflectivity of composites makes the corvettes harder to pick up with radar. Also, being far lighter then steel, composite superstructures have reduced the weight of INS Kiltan and Kavaratti from 3,150 tonnes to just 3,000 tonnes, thereby increasing their speed to 46 kilometres per hour (kmph) and their sea endurance to 6,400 km at a speed of 33 kmph.

However, that also imposed another year’s delay, as Swedish firm Kockums taught GRSE workers the intricacies of building with composites. Since composites cannot be welded, sheets must be held together with rivets that are finely calibrated according to the weight they support.

Over the course of Project 28, indigenization levels have reached 90 per cent, says GRSE chief, Rear Admiral VK Saxena (Retired). These include the difficult areas of sensors and weapons, where import content is usually high.

Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd has built the 76 millimetre Otomelara gun, while Larsen & Toubro has built the heavyweight torpedo tubes and rocket launchers used to destroy enemy submarines. The Kavach chaff launchers that serve as decoys for incoming missiles are built by the Ordnance Factory Board in Ambarnath.

Bharat Electronics Ltd has built most of the sensors and combat management systems in the Kamorta-class corvettes. These include the Revathi radar that detects enemy aircraft out to 300 km, the Lynx fire control radar that guides missiles and the Combat Management System (CMS) that integrates all the weapons and sensors.

Kirloskar Oil Engines Ltd (KOEL) has built the four diesel engines that power these corvettes, while the on-board power generation system (consisting of 3 MegaWatt generators) is manufactured in India by Cummins and Kirloskar Electric.

Given the success in designing, manufacturing and evolving a successful ASW corvette, GRSE executives say the MoD should order more corvettes, which the navy badly needs.

Yet, despite the manufacturing eco-system already created, the navy is now evolving a design for the so-called “Next Generation Corvette”. 

“We have taken up a case with the navy and are in talks with them. It makes sound economic sense to freeze the design and specifications of the successful Kamorta-class and build around that,” says Saxena.

The GRSE chief points to the US Navy’s so-called DDG-51 programme, under which it has built 82 destroyers of the successful Arleigh Burke-class. Currently, every one of the US Navy’s destroyers is of this class, which has allowed incremental design and process improvements and economy of scale for vendors and sub-vendors.