Sunday, 28 September 2008

Broadsword will spend the next one year on the India-China border

Maps above: the Sino-Indian border. The disputed areas are shaded maroon. I will be living and working over the coming year near the border town of Tawang.

Above: a lake near Bum La, on the Line of Actual Control, from where Chinese forces outflanked the Tawang defences in 1962.

Right:  My wife, Sonia, and I during a recent visit to Khinzemane, at the spot where the Dalai Lama was officially received by India when he fled Tibet in 1959.

Bad news for followers of defence hardware, but good news for the strategists and historians. I am leaving on Tuesday, along with my wife and family, to live in Arunachal Pradesh, for the next one year. We will be studying India's border policy and how it is viewed by the people of the border... we hope there will be a book at the end of this year.

The maps posted above show the areas disputed between India and China... in red shading. The close up of Arunachal gives you an idea of where we will base ourselves: in the Western corner of Arunachal, near the border with Bhutan, is the town of Tawang. We will live in a village called Dirang, which is located in the valley between Se La and Bomdi La. You can see both on the map.

While defence hardware will continue to be discussed on this blog, I will not be visiting any defence R&D and production facilities; I plan to spend my time exclusively in Arunachal Pradesh.

I will post on issues that come up during our research... on life on the China border... on the wonderful Monpa people who inhabit that area... and on other matters that come up on the blog.

Any bloggers passing through Dirang... do drop in.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

The Indian Navy’s Dhruv: falling between two stools

by Ajai Shukla

Prodded by questions from visitors to this blog, I have spoken in some depth to the Indian Navy as well as to the designers of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) about why the Indian Navy remains reluctant to accept the Dhruv into service; and also about what HAL has done to address the issues that the Navy has raised.

So here are the findings of this quick enquiry.

Currently there are 8 Dhruvs on the Indian Navy’s inventory. They operate mainly on communications, training and administrative duties from shore-based airfields. The navy does not plan to order any more Dhruvs.

The Navy believes that its helicopters (hereafter helos) must all have the capability to land on the deck of ships. That is in contrast with some brown-water navies that find it perfectly acceptable to operate the bulk of their aircraft primarily from the shore. For a helo to operate from a ship, the navy is demanding three additional “specific-to-navy” criteria

1.   Strengthened Undercarraige.  The undercarriage must be specially adapted for deck landings. Unlike landing on terra firma, where the impact is primarily in one dimension (that of the weight of the helicopter impacting on hard ground) a ship is moving in three dimensions (roll, pitch and yaw) and the undercarriage must be capable of absorbing the impact of landing in all three dimensions. The navy says that the Dhruv’s undercarriage does not meet that requirement.

2.   Folding Main Rotor.  An on-board helo has to be accommodated into a very small hangar space, which means that the main rotors must have a system of hinges, which allow them to be quickly folded before putting the helo into the hangar (and then, equally quickly, unfolded when it is brought out for another flight). The navy’s initially stated requirement was for the rotors to be folded within a width of 3.5 metres.

Furthermore, the navy wants an automatic blade folding facility, of the kind that is installed in its Sea King helos. In this, onboard electrical or hydraulic actuators fold up the blades quickly, rather than having to go through the longer and more painstaking process of manually folding the blades. Remember, that in the smaller warships, the tips of the main rotor blades extend beyond the deck, overhanging the sea. So manually folding them --- by removing bolts and supporting the blades during folding/unfolding --- is an exercise that the navy would rather avoid.

HAL had a problem with foldable blades, as well as with installing an automatic system. A senior Dhruv designer told me, “the requirement of Blade Folding with a width of 3.5 metres was not feasible due to the inherent design characteristics of the ALH hingeless Main Rotor Blade with an Integrated Dynamic System”.

However, HAL worked on the problem and came up with the concept of “segmented blades”, which would be 5.1 metres wide instead of the navy’s requirement of 3.5 metres. HAL says the navy has agreed to the 5.1 metre width, and that the process of manually folding the “segmented blades” has been demonstrated to the navy.

However, HAL has not installed an automatic folding facility. HAL tells me, “Automatic blade folding was not pursued due to weight penalty of about 100 kgs”.

It may be useful here, for the readers’ understanding, to describe what HAL means by “segmented blades”.

“Segmented blades” comprise of two blade parts. The outer part is folded inwards to obtain the desired folded width. The other option is that of “Hingeless blades”, which have no physical hinges. These are made of composite materials, which ensures “virtual hinges”.

3.   More “Time on Task”.  The navy is demanding that the Dhruv must be able to spend 2 hours and 20 minutes on task (i.e. airborne with its task payload), and have an additional reserve of 20 minutes.

The Dhruv is simply not capable of meeting this requirement. HAL points out that, “this (requirement) is beyond the inherent payload capacity of any 5.5 tonne class helicopter in the world and can be met with difficulty by a 10-tonne class helicopter, given the Naval specification and weight requirement.”

If the Dhruv were flying empty, additional fuel tanks could have given it the ability to meet the Time on Task requirements. But the navy demands that the Dhruv must carry a heavy weapons and sensor payload, which rules out the fitment of extra fuel tanks. The need to carry such weapons and sensor payload put most naval helos, e.g. the Sea King, in a much higher weight class (10-14 tonnes).


Despite that, top HAL sources aver that torpedo/depth charge trials were carried out during 2001-02; and sonar, Electronic Support Measures (ESM) and High Frequency Communications Systems (HFCS) trials were carried out during 2004-05. Platform integration for an Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) role has been successfully completed, which includes ESM, sonar/sonics, torpedo and HFCS.

There were some problems faced during the 2004-05 trials with the reliability of the sensors, but HAL points out that the reliability issue needs to be dealt with by the vendors of the sensors, all of whom were selected by the navy.

And finally, there is no truth to the belief that a vibration problem is the navy’s main issue with the Dhruv. HAL designers say that, “With fine tuning of the Anti-Resonance Vibration Isolation System (ARIS), structural reinforcements and the introduction of Frahm dampers, the vibration problem has been resolved satisfactorily”.

Monday, 15 September 2008

DRDO announces successful test firing of Astra Air-to-Air Missile

(Photograph courtesy DRDO)

The Astra air-to-air missile being test fired from a ground-based launch platform on 13th Sept 08.

The DRDO has announced a successful test of the Astra missile, which is being developed by the Defence R&D Laboratory (DRDL) in Hyderabad. A DRDO release says:

 "DRDO has successfully conducted two flight tests of Astra beyond Visual Range Air to Air missile on 13 and 14 Sept 2008 from Interim Test Range, Balasore as part of second phase of missile development flight trials. The missiles were launched from a Ground launcher. The main objective of these flight tests were to test mid course guidance of missiles towards manoeuvring target Aircraft using secured data link. Simulated aircraft flight parameters were used for these flight tests. All missile systems comprising of launcher, propulsion, Airframe, mission computer, navigation system, autopilot , flight control system, data link and telemetry system have worked satisfactory and as per design.

The team led by Shri Venugopalan, Director, DRDL, Hyderabad, Dr Gollakota, Project Director, Astra, Shri SP Dash, Director, ITR, Balasore, project team and representatives of participating Industry participated successful launch of Astra conducted at Chandipore test range."

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The naval version of the Dhruv ALH

Your many enquiries have been noted about the naval version of the Dhruv, the problems it is said to have experienced, and the Navy's apparent reluctance to accept it into service.

I am trying to get you the facts on the matter for a comprehensive post. Please don't hold your collective breaths. And please don't post irate messages complaining about delays... it'll come when it's here.

Just to let you know!

And yes, alert readers who already have some facts... hit the keyboard.

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Chopping prices in the chopper market: Part 3 of a three-part series on India's thrust in helicopter building

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Right: An elevated view of HAL's Dhruv assembly area. The new ALH squadron being raised has its hangar alongside.

Left: HAL's helicopter test pilots, Wing Commanders CD Upadhyay and Unnikrishnan, after giving me a demonstration ride on the Dhruv behind us.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Sept 08
HAL, Bangalore

At the prestigious Farnborough Air Show in 2006, India’s Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) got a parking slot beside a US Army Apache Longbow, the world’s most feared attack helicopter. HAL’s chief helicopter test pilot, Wing Commander CD Upadhyaya, who was display-flying the Dhruv there, describes the respect between the Apache and the Dhruv pilots. On the final day, after a particularly exhilarating display by the Dhruv, the Apache pilots strolled up and, only half in jest, folded their hands and bowed before the Dhruv. “This guy can fly any manoeuvre that we can”, one said.

Upadhyay has a fund of stories about the splash the Dhruv always makes. At the Berlin Air Show, three months ago, he gave Airbus president, Thomas Enders, a ride in the Dhruv. On landing, Enders remarked that the Dhruv’s glass cockpit was as advanced as that of his flagship Airbus A-380.

This is hardly surprising, considering that the Indian military --- acknowledged as the world’s most discerning arms buyer --- has tested, okayed and bought more than 80 Dhruvs, and ordered another 159 from HAL. But the foreign accolades have not translated into the flood of international orders that HAL had hoped for, even though the Dhruv is a cost-effective buy. At about Rs 40 crores (US $9 million) per piece, it is about 15% cheaper than competitors from market-leader Eurocopter and 10% cheaper than US brands like Bell Helicopter Textron.

So far, besides two Dhruvs gifted to Nepal, Ecuador has bought 7, Turkey has bought 3; meanwhile Bolivia and Venezuela are negotiating for some 23 more. Chile seemed set to buy the Dhruv, but that fell through at the last moment, as Washington allegedly piled on the pressure on behalf of Bell helicopters.

The Dhruv’s only disadvantage is that --- being newly introduced into service --- it is a comparatively untested product. But HAL has a three-fold strategy to bring down the Dhruv’s price to what it calls “an irresistible level”.

The biggest savings are planned through import substitution; 70% of the Dhruv’s price consists of imported components. Savings are expected once the Turbomeca Shakti engine rolls out from a new plant in Bangalore by end-2009. HAL has committed Rs 1000 crores to French company, Turbomeca, to develop the Shakti engine, provide 60 engines fully built, and supply parts for 320 more to be built in Bangalore. HAL plans to rapidly develop local suppliers for Shakti engine parts, thereby bringing down the price.

Next, HAL is banking on economies of scale to bring down the unit price. Mr J Shankar, General Manager, Helicopters, points out that current orders for the Dhruv will almost certainly increase as non-military users discover its utility. He expects paramilitary and police forces to buy the Dhruv, companies that implement projects in far-flung areas, such as hydro-electric projects, and corporations that will use the Dhruv for flying senior executives.

Mr Shankar explains, “The Cheetah and the Chetak (previous generation utility helicopters) eventually sold more than 600 helicopters. The worldwide trend is that the military develops helicopters and then civilians find uses for them. For someone setting up a BPO unit, Mysore is far cheaper than Bangalore. It is four hours away by road, but only 20 minutes away by helicopter.”

And finally, HAL is cutting costs by using common parts across its entire range of helicopters. Orders are in hand for 159 Dhruvs, 76 weaponised Dhruvs, 187 Light Observation Helicopters (LOHs) and at least 65 Light Combat Helicopters (LCHs). All of these will use the same Shakti engine, the same communication and navigation equipment, and common cockpit equipment like pilots’ seats. HAL is also awaiting another order for building 350 Medium Lift Helicopters, possibly in collaboration with a foreign partner.

HAL is not revealing how much prices will fall through its three-point strategy --- import substitution, economy of scale, and commonality of parts. But experts say that if the Dhruv can be priced at around Rs 35 crores, it will become hard for any other helicopter maker to compete with HAL in the growing global market for utility helicopters.

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Light Combat Helicopter to fly soon: Part 2 of a three-part series on India's new thrust in helicopter building

Left and Below: computer images of the final LCH design, produced by HAL's in-house integrated design centre.

Below: a mock-up of the LCH, which was displayed in Aero India 2007. As you can see, it is a lot more clunky and primitive than the final design

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Sept 08
HAL, Bangalore

In the anarchy of the modern battlefield, the attack helicopter is the ultimate predator. Operating from a forward base --- usually a small square of synthetic material tacked down onto a clearing in the fields --- the attack helicopter flies missions against enemy tanks, which are spotted by friendly scout helicopters and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). Flying barely 20 feet above the ground, the attack helicopters close in with the enemy, often with rifle and machine-gun bullets spattering against their armoured bodies. Then popping up from behind a tree line, they fire missiles and rockets to destroy their targets; meanwhile sophisticated onboard electronics confuse the enemy’s radars for the couple of minutes it takes to finish the job. Then it’s back to the base to refuel and rearm, patch up the bullet holes, and leave for another mission against another target.

This is the perilous, high-tech environment of the attack helicopter, where only the best armed, best protected and most high-tech survive. There are just a handful of successful attack helicopters in the world. That number could rise by early 2009, when Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) test flies the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), its first attempt at designing and building an attack helicopter.

Business Standard had an exclusive, and detailed, first look at the LCH project, which is coming off HAL’s design centre in Bangalore. And despite the long trail of failures marking worldwide attempts to design attack helicopters --- e.g. Boeing-Sikorsky spent US $6.9 billion on the Commanche attack helicopter before the programme was cancelled in 2004 --- HAL is remarkably confident that the LCH will be successful and on time.

The Chief Designer of the LCH programme, B Pandaji Nath Rao, spelt out the milestones: the LCH design was finalised and frozen this March; the first technology demonstrator (TD-1) will fly by March 2009, testing the LCH’s flying systems: by July 2009, the second technology demonstrator (TD-2) will fly, fitted with all the weapons and electronic sensors. By the end of 2009, the Indian Air Force (IAF), the primary users of the LCH, will be conducting flight tests on the TD-3.

HAL believes that it has overcome the biggest bugbear of new aircraft projects: long development times mean that technologies become obsolescent before the aircraft reaches the users. Mr Rao points out that most of the LCH technologies are already being validated in the new version of the successful Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). Other technologies related to weaponry and sensors are being proven in the armed version of the Dhruv (called the Dhruv-Weapons Systems Integration, or WSI), a prototype of which is already flying. The military has 159 Dhruvs and 76 Dhruv-WSIs on order.

And so the LCH will benefit from the many commonalities between the Dhruv and the LCH. Both are about 5.5 tonnes, which means that the crucial dynamic components --- i.e. the main rotor, tail rotor, and the gearbox --- are similar. But the Dhruv’s greatest gift to the LCH is integration. The Chief Designer explains, “In the Dhruv, we added on systems one by one; but in the LCH, we knew all those systems would be needed, so we were able to integrate them from the beginning. So the LCH is a sleeker, faster, more integrated aircraft.”

But HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja also points out the LCH’s many new features, which have made engineering a challenge. The two pilots in the LCH sit one behind the other, compared to side-by-side in the Dhruv. So all the flight controls, the hydraulics and the fuel system had to be redesigned for the sleeker, heavily armoured LCH. The LCH’s many stealth features also necessitated redesigning the fuselage. And the new crash-resistant landing gear allows pilots to survive even when the LCH smacks into the ground at more than 10 metres/second.

The performance of the LCH will have to match up with contemporary light attack helicopters like Eurocopter’s Tiger or China’s ultra-secret Zhisheng-10 (Z-10). But experts say the LCH’s flying performance will be hard to match, designed as it is for India’s high altitudes. It can take off from an altitude of 10,000 feet, operate weapons up to 16,300 feet, and engage targets like UAVs that are flying at altitudes of up to 21,300 feet.

Monday, 8 September 2008

The great helicopter challenge: (Part 1 of a three-part series on India's new thrust in helicopter building)

(Photos courtesy: Ajai Shukla)

The first prototype Weapon Systems Integrated (WSI) version of the Dhruv ALH. HAL will produce 60 ALH-WSIs for the army and 16 for the air force.

The 20 mm cannon, with both vertical and horizontal traverse is clearly visible here.

On the left, you can see the flare dispensors and, next to it, the housing which contains the radar, IR and missile warning receivers.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Sept 08
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, Bangalore

Wikipaedia, the popular internet encyclopaedia, lists the Indian Army’s Sonam Post, on the Siachen Glacier, as the world’s highest point reachable by transport. Landing in a helicopter at Sonam is a hair-raising experience. As the shuddering helicopter bears down on the tiny helipad atop a needle of ice at 20,997 feet, the rotor blades struggle to extract lift from the rarefied air. This is the ultimate test for helicopters. But the army’s new Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) has proved that it can land at Sonam, bringing in much larger payloads than the Cheetah helicopters that have laboriously sustained the jawans in Sonam for the last two decades.

Now in hot weather trials in Siachen (yes, Siachen is cold even in summer, but trials conducted in summer are termed hot-weather trials!) another Dhruv will test-land in Sonam, powered by the new Shakti engine, which has been especially designed for India’s extreme altitudes by French company, Turbomeca. The Shakti gives the Dhruv enough power to carry to Sonam four times as much load as the TM333-2B2 engine, which has powered the Dhruv so far.

The successful Dhruv-Shakti partnership underpins an ambitious drive by defence public sector undertaking (DPSU), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), to build a range of helicopters to meet the diverse needs of India’s military. And the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has recognised HAL’s growing competence in helicopter design by nominating it to design and manufacture half of the 384 light observation helicopters (LOHs) required by India’s military. HAL has been given till 2017 to produce 187 LOHs. Meanwhile, the military’s immediate needs will be met by buying 197 LOHs from the international market.

Business Standard has learned that the MoD has imposed a strict timeline on HAL, including --- for the first time ever --- a penalty for delay. Top HAL sources say that if HAL overshoots the 2017 deadline, the MoD will procure more helicopters from the global manufacturer selected to supply LOHs; HAL’s order will correspondingly reduce.

HAL is confident it will produce the LOH two years ahead of the MoD’s deadline. HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja explained to Business Standard his company’s plan for completing the LOH by 2015. HAL is already working on the conceptual design of the helicopter, which includes detailed specifications of key systems like the fuel system, the hydraulics system and the cockpit. HAL will design and manufacture the core components like the main rotor, tail rotor, gearbox and weaponry. Meanwhile, HAL will buy less critical sub-systems from specialist manufacturers in the international market.

Mr Baweja explains, “It is wasteful to duplicate the efforts of specialists who make individual systems. For example, there are specialist cockpit houses, which mainly design cockpits. You have Honeywell, you have Rockwell, and you have Thales. Our [HAL’s] role will be that of a top-end designer; we will identify systems and write the software that makes them function together.

“Take fuel systems. Those consist of fuel cells, pumps, cut-off valves, fire protection, etc. We can make all these things. But there are specialist companies that do only fuel systems. All we need to do is to identify them. We’ll control top-end design and we’ll do the certification tests.”

“There is air-conditioning in a helicopter; but should we start designing it? There are half a dozen companies in the world that do air-conditioning, heating, cooling.”

HAL is oozing confidence, coming off two successful designs: the Dhruv ALH which has started selling abroad; and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), the design for which has just been completed. And they now have a clear concept of the LOH to work upon: a 3-ton helicopter, powered by a single Shakti engine (as compared to the dual-engine Dhruv).

HAL says that, with the LCH design complete, it’s in-house design centre, called the Rotary Wing R&D Centre (RWRDC), is going full steam ahead on the LOH design. A senior designer explains, “Designers work at peak activity until the prototype is designed; then they are free for the next project. So with the LCH prototype ready, the RWRDC is going ahead full steam on the LOH. The design, we estimate, will be ready in a year.”

(Tomorrow: Part II: Soon to fly: India’s Light Combat Helicopter)

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

China's strategic thinking: A gold medal for mental gymnastics

Top:  Posing in front of a street-length screen, placed by the Beijing City Administration to screen off the under-construction area behind it.

Below:  The Forbidden City in Beijing, photographed from the side of Bei Hai Park.

(Photos courtesy Ajai Shukla)

by Ajai Shukla
Beijing, China
Business Standard, 26th Aug 08

Those who believe that the Olympics are Emerging China’s message to the world have missed the wood for the trees. The Olympics are indeed a message, but more to the Chinese people. The message is: you have trusted us to rule you… and behold! We are repaying your trust; hold your head up before the world.

All ye, who wait for the revolution in China --- in the most part, followers of The Economist and the Wall Street Journal --- when an empowered and demanding citizenry will rise against their repressive rulers… take heed! The wait is going to be longer than you thought.

To the discerning visitor to China, far more striking than China’s impressive infrastructure and growing urban prosperity is the astonishing acquiescence of the Aam Chini in his relationship with Zhongnanhai, the home of the Chinese Communist Party and the Government of China.

Democracy, say a growing number of Chinese, especially the young, is not all that it is cracked up to be. Jean Liu, a young woman from Chengdu who now works as a journalist in Beijing, was all Chinese politeness when I brought up the D-word. “Isn’t it dangerous”, she asked, “to allow just any person to talk to the people? Hitler was such a good speaker, that he swept away the Germans with his oratory. And we know what that led to.”

It’s a common argument in China’s chat rooms. I pointed out that Hitler had struck a chord not with his oratory, but with his message of German pride, which resonated with a people humiliated by the Treaty of Versailles. But Ms Liu was having none of it. Like hundreds of millions of other Chinese, she has bought into Beijing’s argument that democracy has hamstrung the growth of countries like India. They remain mired in poverty, while China surges ahead.

Beijing’s enormous propaganda machine powers out the message everyday: “Your lives are getting better; China is emerging fast from its century of humiliation. (China’s invasion and domination by the West since 1840 underpins Beijing’s message.) Democracy will allow some Hitler-style charlatan to take you back into anarchy. Economic growth rests on social and political order.”

And the Chinese people, remembering the chaos before Deng Xiaoping’s reforms and the pro-democracy agitation at the Tianenmen Square in 1989, react to the promise of stability like good Confucians. The government, they agree, must know what it’s doing. Socialism with Chinese characteristics is the answer for us. Beijing rations out --- very deliberately and very cautiously --- economic, political and social freedoms. The official media plays Oliver Twist, asking for more only after the government decides to give it anyway.

The only real protests take place at the levels of provincial government, Beijing’s nod to democracy. It’s been called many things by different dictators: grassroots democracy, basic democracies. But nobody’s yet called it legitimate democracy.

Beijing’s caution is born of a compromise between two perspectives, which have competed in China for centuries. On the one hand is the Southern viewpoint, an internationalist perspective based upon free trade, which was born in the ports and commercial hubs around Shanghai, Canton, Macau and Guangdong. In contrast, the cautious, security-centric Northern viewpoint --- symbolised by the Great Wall of China --- was forged in centuries of invasions from the north by Mongols and Manchus; in this perspective, foreigners are a threat more than an opportunity.

The Northern viewpoint gradually won out, starting from the watershed moment in 1435 when the Ming emperor ordered an end to shipbuilding and naval activity in China. Around 1477, the emperor burnt the records of the seven voyages of China’s greatest mariner, the eunuch Zheng He, who had established Chinese authority as far as Java, Malacca and the coast of Africa.

Today, China walks the finest of lines between the Northern and the Southern viewpoints. Economic activity is Beijing’s lifeline to authority and global influence. On the other hand, it can never be allowed to get out of hand and endanger the established order.

India must watch carefully another contradiction between two conflicting views on international relations, which coexist simultaneously in Beijing. On the one hand, China remains strongly committed to the Westphalian system of state sovereignty, especially after the Tianenmen Square massacre, when the sovereignty was cited as the principle to ward off a global outcry. In fact, Beijing has touted state sovereignty ever since its traumatic encounters with western and Japanese imperialism in the 19th century, as well as after independence through its Five Principles of Peaceful Cooperation. In these, China has used the principle of state sovereignty as a defensive weapon; a shield against foreign interference as well as a sword to strike down domestic opposition.

On the other hand, there is the traditional Chinese view of international relations, a pre-1840 Great Power worldview, which still survives in Beijing. In that view, the power and influence of a country radiates outwards in concentric circles from its capital, gradually diminishing as it proceeds further. This view naturally envisions Chinese domination over (at least tacitly) subservient regional states and neighbours, which --- like North Korea and Pakistan --- accept “guidance” from Beijing. Such regional hierarchies may be confirmed by force, such as during the “punitive” wars in 1962 with India and, in 1979, with Vietnam.

The world watched with admiration as Chinese gymnasts dominated the Olympic gold medal tally in Beijing. Had there been medals for mental gymnastics, China’s count might have been higher.

Saturday, 16 August 2008

Armed forces to fund DRDO projects

Army not happy with the decision of it having to fund 10 per cent of the cost.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Aug 08

The Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) highest body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), has handed a significant victory to the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) in its long-running quest to get the defence services to fund research and development (R&D) into high-technology military projects. As a result, the services could soon begin contributing 10 per cent of the cost of developing indigenous military systems.

So far, the DRDO has funded such projects — which include successes like the Dhruv helicopter, the Agni ballistic missile and the Arjun tank — entirely from its budget.

“The DAC has agreed in principle that such projects should be funded in a 70-20-10 per cent ratio: 70 per cent by the DRDO, 20 per cent by the industry partner that will manufacture the developed product; and 10 per cent by whichever of the three services the product is being developed for,” senior MoD officials told Business Standard.

That 10 per cent liability for the military will amount to no more than Rs 300 crore a year, which is a small fraction of the Rs 30,000 crore spent annually on foreign arms. But the DRDO hopes that this relatively small amount will transform what it calls an unduly critical approach of the military towards home-grown military products. A 10 per cent ownership, the DRDO believes, will transform the military from a detached and demanding buyer into a stakeholder, which regards the projects as its own.

The military is unhappy with this decision. Sources in the tri-service Integrated Defence Staff say the army argued forcefully against the proposal, when it was discussed in the MoD.

The DRDO chief, M Natarajan, admitted recently the behind-the-scenes battles that preceded this decision. But he underplayed the benefits to the DRDO, telling a gathering of the defence manufacturers that the private sector and defence PSUs would be equal beneficiaries.

Natarajan said, “The DRDO has certainly demanded this, but it is equally applicable to the private sector and the public sector undertakings.”

The defence minister said that while he appreciates the DRDO’s concerns, he would also like to take on board the views of the services. “So the proposal was considered carefully and finally the DAC has given its approval. I think this is a very significant development,” the minister said.

But the new funding pattern has not been included in the new Defence Procurement Policy (DPP-2008), which will come into effect from September 1. The DPP-2008 gives the DRDO responsibility to develop “strategic, complex and security sensitive systems”, which include ballistic missiles and electronic warfare systems that are not normally up for sale. These will continue to be funded entirely by the DRDO.

The new 70-20-10 per cent funding pattern applies to what the DPP-2008 categorises as “High Technology Complex Systems”, which include advanced systems like tanks, fighters and helicopters, which could be bought internationally, but which the MoD wants the domestic industry to develop. The DPP-2008, however, excludes the DRDO from this category, reserving it for “RuRs/Indian industry/DPSUs/OFB/Consortia”.

A similar provision existed in the DPP-2006 but over the last two years only the DRDO has developed “High Technology Complex Systems”, such as the Dhruv helicopter, Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), and Arjun tank. Not a single project has been taken up by any private company or DPSU. In addition, under the “Strategic, Complex and Security Sensitive Systems” category, the DRDO has developed several variants of the Agni missile and electronic warfare systems like the Samyukta.

Senior army sources say they intend to fight the DAC decision on joint funding. The military has already pointed out that the DPP-2008 does not mention the DRDO as eligible to develop “High Technology Complex Systems”. The DRDO admits that the new decision could face delays in implementation if the military decides to stonewall it, citing the DPP-2008.

Thursday, 14 August 2008

More pictures from Georgia of T-72 (and one T-90?) post-hit damage

I've read a lot of comments that seem to suggest that the Arjun would survive most hits from an enemy tank... or even from a missile. The sad truth is that --- in the ninety-year-old contest between tank and anti-tank --- armour-piercing technology is currently ahead of armour technology. The only protection that is effective today is active armour.

In fact, this is the staple argument used by all those who argue today for a 40-ton tank. The argument goes... there is no point slapping on all that heavy armour plate. It's going to get defeated anyway.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

T-72 vulnerability again illustrated in Georgia

My friend, Prasun Sengupta, has kindly sent these two photos --- two of destroyed Georgian T-72BV MBTs and the other of a destroyed Iraqi T-72M --- both all of which illustrate the vulnerability of the hull-mounted auto-loader in the Soviet/Russian MBT designs! Even when equipped with ERA tiles, the T-72M's structure is still highly vulnerable to ammunition blow-up, resulting in the turret separating from the hull. The T-90S has the same basic ammunition stowage pattern as the T-72, so it is unlikely to fare any better.

Prasun Sengupta writes: "It is probably the Indian Army’s worst-kept secret since 1979, but political imperatives have prevented it from being discussed in the open till now. The bulk of the Armoured Corps’ existing inventory of main battle tanks (MBT) — comprising 35 Regiments of T-72M/M1s (totalling 1,572 units) and six Regiments of T-90S (totaling 310 units) — all of which were acquired from Russia’s Nizhny Tagil-based Uralvagonzavod JSC — suffer from fundamental design vulnerabilities. When the former USSR gave its first detailed briefings to Army HQ in the late 1970s, the Armoured Corps had then expressed grave reservations about the T-72’s design philosophy, centred around hit avoidance. What alarmed Army HQ most was the prospect of a detonation of a mine or improved explosive device (IED) beneath the hull, which in turn would result in a secondary detonation or a catastrophic ignition of the T-72’s ammunition reserve (this being stored in a carousel autoloader on the turret’s floor), resulting in the turret being blown off. In the end, Cold War-based geo-strategic considerations and financial constraints prevailed, resulting in the large-scale induction of the T-72 since 1982. The Corps did not have to wait that long to realise its worst fears and in October 1987 a powerful IED detonated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam beneath a T-72M en route to the Jaffna fortress resulted in the MBT’s ammo (stored in the carousel autoloader) igniting and blowing off the turret at least 15 feet high!

History repeated itself 39 months later, this time in the Middle East when Iraqi T-72s were destroyed with ease through a combination of advanced technologies such as thermal imagers and digital hunter-killer tank fire-control systems (TFCS) and kinetic-energy ammunition like the fin-stabilised armour-piercing discarding sabot (FSAPDS). In fact, Operation Desert Storm in 1991 convincingly proved two critical points:

That the traditional Soviet/Russian approach of keeping its MBTs small and low so as to profile the smallest possible target, putting more emphasis on not being hit rather than on survivable most hits, was obsolete. Until the Gulf War, it was possible to regard the Soviet and Western solutions as different approaches to the same problem, each being justifiable and logical in the light of the different requirements and operational doctrines (as well as technological levels and financial possibilities) of the countries involved. By the early 1990s, however, one was faced with the quite surprising conclusion that the Soviet/Russian MBT designers and planners were wrong all along—and dramatically so.

Basically, the overall Soviet/Russian approach to MBT design was found to be flawed on two major counts: namely, the gamble on not being hit rather than on surviving hits, and the refusal to perceive survivability of the crew as a quite distinct issue from survivability of the MBT, with the former having priority over the latter.

The combination of these two shortcomings produced design solutions such as the T-72’s and T-90’s carousel autoloader and ammunition reserve being accommodated on the turret floor. While this indeed allows for a very compact configuration and ensures that the ammunition is less likely to take a direct hit—it also entails a very high risk of ignition or sympathetic detonation should the fighting compartment be penetrated, in which case there goes the MBT and the crew with it. 

This should be compared with the ammunition reserve of a hit-survivable MBT (like the Arjun Mk1) being accommodated in the turret bustle, with blow-off panels plus an armoured bulkhead separating it from the fighting compartment. Though the likelihood of the ammo reserve being hit is indeed much higher, the MBT (or at least the crew!) would survive even a catastrophic detonation. Small wonder, therefore, that when Army HQ first began drafting its General Staff Qualitative Requirements (GSQR) for the DRDO-developed Arjun MBT in May 1974 and redrafted it successively in 1980, 1985 and 1996, it rightly always insisted upon the indigenous MBT being able to survive hits from FSAPDS rounds, instead of trying to avoid being hit.

Thus, when the Arjun Mk1 MBT enters service, the Indian Army will have the unique distinction worldwide of being the only one to have two types of MBTs: the T-72s and T-90s on one hand that are designed to avoid, but not survive hits from FSAPDS rounds; and the Arjun Mk1 featuring a design optimised for hit survivability."

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Western doctrine, Russian arms

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Aug 08

India’s new Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2008), unveiled by Defence Minister AK Antony on 1st August, is remarkable only for its lack of movement beyond an equally insipid predecessor, DPP-2006. Typically, Mr Antony pronounced the new policy a perfectly timed triumph, which would go a long way towards removing the exercise of all judgement from decisions related towards defence. Mr Antony genuinely believes that national security decision-making can be reduced to a series of checklists, which can be followed blindly to avoid controversy and debate.

True, DPP-2008 makes changes in the offset policy, notably the permission for offset banking, which will be welcomed by foreign vendors. But the really far-reaching changes that were hoped for, to vitalise India’s indigenous defence capability, simply did not happen.

DPP-2008, like its predecessor, lays down procedures for the capital procurement of defence equipment (Rs 48,000 crores in 2008-09) under three broad heads. The “Buy” procedure, on which most attention is focused, lays down rules for off-the-shelf purchases of defence items from foreign arms vendors. A variation of this, the “Buy and Make” procedure, stipulates rules for buying equipment as well as the blueprints for manufacturing it in India. The third heading, called the “Make” procedure, lays down how India’s domestic defence production establishments --- the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), eight defence PSUs, 40 ordnance factories, some 12 major private industrial houses and 500-odd SMEs --- will produce arms and equipment for India’s defence. The new policy glosses over this section.

It is not difficult to see why. Media reports centre almost exclusively on big-ticket purchases of fighters, submarines and aircraft carriers from foreign vendors. Political mud slinging centres on kickbacks supposedly paid by foreign vendors. And almost every significant foreign purchase gets scrutinised by the CVC. Unsurprisingly, the MoD too focuses entirely on sailing through this “Buy” minefield without blowing a hole in its side.

This unwarranted focus on “Buy” procedures is superficially reinforced by an axiom of defence economics which is: the cheapest way to obtain defence equipment is to buy it off the shelf, a slightly more expensive way is to buy the technology and build it, while the most expensive and risky method is to go in for development.

But this is true only from the shallowest perspective. The real cost of military equipment adds up in far deeper and long-lived ways than the price paid at the time of purchase.

Perhaps the most crippling cost of buying, rather than developing, arms is the doctrinal cost. Every major military power first considers its own reality --- its geography, its likely enemies and their capabilities, its allies, and the capabilities of its own soldiers --- and then frames a doctrine for how it will fight. This is even more important for a country like India, which has multiple geographies, several potential enemies, no local allies, a relatively poorly educated peasant-based soldiery, a high tolerance for casualties, and a very short time window in which to impose a military solution. India’s military equipment must be tailored to those realities.

But it is not. Instead of a well-considered analysis of India’s geography, India’s strategic environment and India’s psyche, the foundation of our planning rests on an unviable hybrid. Our defence doctrine is born of western experience; we are equipped with Russian bloc equipment. Neither of them suits our circumstances.

Take our doctrine first. India’s defensive formations in the plains from southern J&K to northern Rajasthan are based on a discredited World War II Maginot Line-type concept of linear defence based on ditch-cum-bunds (DCBs) constructed along the border. Our desert defences use the western concept of strong points, interlinked with minefields. The plan for our strike corps to take the battle into Pakistan is supposedly the brainchild of General K Sundarji; in fact its intellectual genesis is the 1982 concept of AirLand Battle, spelled out in the US Army’s Field Manual FM 100-5.

To implement this alien doctrine, India has an equally alien military machine. Much of our heavy equipment (tanks, combat aircraft, battleships) comes from Russia. These were carefully designed for a specific operation: a quick sweep across Western Europe, with superiority in numbers making up for a relative inferiority in equipment quality. Russian tanks, guns and radars are designed to function in that battlefield; cold weather, little dust, no need for extensive repair and operating with immense superiority of force. None of these conditions apply to India.

Untangling this dangerous knot must start with designing our own equipment. No international vendor will do this for India. The first step must be the laying down of targets for indigenous design and production. It is nobody’s case that the services be forced into accepting equipment that does not meet standards. But, over the last half century, the military has become used to buying products off the shelf, while judging indigenous products far more stringently. 

All this requires a different kind of discipline; the discipline of development. The military must clearly frame its equipment needs to suit our actual operational environment. It must fund R&D at least partly from its ample budget and specify a minimum order quantity that will allow the developer, whether in the public sector or private, to recover his costs. And finally, when a product is delivered, it must be evaluated with a sense of ownership and the confidence that the developer will provide continuous improvements to suit the actual conditions in which the equipment is deployed. 

Monday, 4 August 2008

India’s new Defence Procurement Policy defines, for the first time, a list of 'defence products' (list at bottom)

[photo: courtesy Ajai Shukla: The DRDO's Bharani Low Level Light Weight (LLLW) radar, which covers gaps in an integrated air defence ground radar network. The radar, which has a range of 40 km against low level intruders, is vehicle portable]

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Aug 08

In 2001, private Indian manufacturers were first allowed into the defence sector, subject to licences. Since then, private industries, as well as the government’s licensing authority, have faced a conundrum: nowhere did the government lay out what constituted “defence equipment”.

In many cases, there is no ambiguity. Warships, fighters, tanks and machine guns are clearly defence equipment. The confusion lies where an item has both military and civilian usage. Explosives like gelatine are extensively used in road building and construction; radio sets are used by the police, by private security guards, and even by civilian corporations; software, with its flexible applications, is even more difficult to categorise as either “civilian” or “military”.

The Defence Procurement Policy of 2008 (DPP-2008), unveiled yesterday by Defence Minister AK Antony, tries for the first time ever to lay down a list of defence products. A single page annexure (Annexure VI to Appendix D of DPP-2008) specifies 13 generic categories that will be treated as defence products for offset purposes.

This list reflects the work of a Ministry of Defence (MoD) committee, headed by former Additional Secretary of Defence, Mr PK Rastogi. But there is no attempt at comprehensively defining defence products. The list confines itself to broad categories such as “vessels of war, special naval systems, equipment and accessories”, and “high velocity kinetic energetic weapons systems and related equipment”.

While India has moved incrementally towards greater transparency in sensitive items, defence has remained opaque. In 2004, the Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT) had published the Special Chemicals, Organisms, Materials, Equipment and Technologies (SCOMET) List. This includes sensitive items relating to nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) warfare; special materials; stealth technologies; and aeronautics and rocket materials.

But the SCOMET List remained silent on “defence products”. The list contains seven categories (e.g. Category 0: Nuclear materials, Category 1: Toxic chemicals, etc), each of them spelling out in minute detail the items that would fall within it. But Category 6, earmarked for defence products, remained blank all these years, listed as “Reserved”. Now DPP-2008’s list of defence products will fill that space. 

Most other countries, however, define their defence products far more explicitly. The USA defines a comprehensive “Munitions List” under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR). In contrast to India’s generic mention of “energetic materials, explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics”, the detailed US list individually names all the explosives it considers of military grade; it further specifies all other explosives “with a detonation velocity exceeding 8,700 metres/second at maximum density or detonation pressure exceeding 340 kilobars”.

Senior MoD officials say India’s new list of defence products is guided by the Wassenaar Agreement, a 40-country agreement (of which India is not a part) that seeks to bring about greater transparency in the international transfer of military and dual-use goods.

India had earlier been nudged towards greater transparency in the nuclear field. In July 2005, India had comprehensively updated Category 0 of the SCOMET List --- which spells out nuclear materials --- after passing the Weapons of Mass Destruction and their Delivery Systems (Prohibition of Unlawful Activities Act), 2005. This was one of the pre-conditions laid down by Washington in order to take forward negotiations on the US-India nuclear deal.

List of Defence Products 

• Small arms, mortars, cannons, guns, howitzers, anti tank weapons and their ammunition including fuze. 

• Bombs, torpedoes, rockets, missiles, other explosive devices and charges, related equipment and accessories specially designed for military use, equipment specially designed for handling, control, operation, jamming and detection. 

• Energetic materials, explosives, propellants and pyrotechnics. 

• Tracked and wheeled armoured vehicles, vehicles with ballistic protection designed for military applications, armoured or protective equipment. 

• Vessels of war, special naval system, equipment and accessories. 

• Aircraft, unmanned airborne vehicles, aero engines and air craft equipment, related equipment specially designed or modified for military use, parachutes and related 

• Electronics and communication equipment specially designed for military use such as electronic counter measure and counter counter measure equipment surveillance and monitoring, data processing and signaling, guidance and navigation equipment, imaging equipment and night vision devices, sensors. 

• Specialized equipment for military training or for simulating military scenarios, specially designed simulators for use of armaments and trainers. 

• Forgings, castings and other unfinished products which are specially designed for products for military applications and troop comfort equipment. 

• Miscellaneous equipment and materials designed for military applications, specially designed environmental test facilities and equipment for the certification, qualification, testing or production of the above products. 

• Software specially designed or modified for the development, production or use of above items. This includes software specially designed for modeling, simulation or evaluation of military weapon systems, modeling or simulating military operation scenarios and Command, Communications, Control, Computer and Intelligence (C 4 I) applications. 

• High velocity kinetic energy weapon systems and related equipment. 

• Direct energy weapon systems, related or countermeasure equipment, super conductive equipment and specially designed components and accessories.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

Ministry of Defence releases new defence procurement procedure, DPP-2008

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Aug 08

Defence Minister, AK Antony, today released the new policy that will govern defence procurements over the next two years. The Defence Procurement Policy of 2008, or DPP-2008 for short, supersedes the earlier DPP-2006; the new policy will take effect from 1st Sept this year.

The most important changes in DPP-2008 relate to the new offset policy, which will immediately impact offset proposals for India’s Rs 47,000 crores purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). Over the next five years, offsets will arise from defence purchases worth an estimated Rs 300,000 crores. Any defence contract worth more than Rs 300 crores requires vendors to spend 30% of the contract value on Indian defence goods or services.

The new offset policy accepts a key request of foreign vendors, permitting them to bank offsets towards a future contract liability. The banked offsets can be utilised against any tender that is issued within two years of the date when the offsets were banked. If a foreign vendor joins an offset-related partnership with a private Indian company, the Indian partner will not need a defence-manufacturing license from the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

The new policy also waives offset liabilities on any procurement under the fast-track procedure, which is employed when Indian needs defence goods in an emergency.

Another major step in the DPP-2008 is a two-year “roll-on acquisition plan”, in which procurement projects do not lapse at the end of a financial year; instead, they are included in the next year’s Annual Acquisition Plan. The earlier procedure involved going through the entire procedure of proposals and sanctions for procurements that lapsed.

Another important decision in the DPP-2008 grants procurement powers to the military for purchases up to Rs 50 crores; and the Defence Secretary can sanction up to Rs 75 crores worth of purchases. Earlier, purchases of under Rs 40 crores needed to go to the Defence Procurement Board (DPB); if the purchase was above Rs 40 crore, it needed to go to the Defence Acquisition Council. This not only created delays in smaller purchases (which make up a significant part of the overall defence procurement) but also tied down those important committees in making decisions that have now been deemed within the financial powers of the military.

The Indian military is feared by vendors for the rigorous trials --- in all kinds of operating conditions, in deserts, plains and extremes of altitudes --- which it conducts on any equipment that it proposes to buy. Now DPP-2008 lays down that Requests for Proposals (RfP) must lay down clearly the methodology for user trials by the military. The trial process will also be far more transparent; not only will vendors be given daily briefings on the performance of their equipment, that communication will be confirmed in writing.

There is disappointment amongst Indian companies, however, that the DPP-2008 does not simplify the “Make” procedure, which was envisaged as a way of bringing in Indian companies into the manufacture of complex defence systems. So far, not a single Indian company has manufactured a single defence item under this procedure, but the new DPP does not modify the “Make” procedure to make it more attractive to Indian companies.

The New DPP-2008:

WHAT’S THERE                            WHAT’S NOT

Offset banking                            Indirect offsets
Offset waiver on fast-track            Technology as offsets
Two-year roll-on plan                   Timelines for purchases
More transparent trials                  Improved “Make” procedure
Licensing waived for industry          RuR announcements

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Nailing some more falsehoods about the Arjun tank... and some about the T-90!

False argument No 1: The Arjun tank, after decades of failure, can’t suddenly have turned the corner!

It hasn’t “suddenly turned the corner”. It turned the corner very gradually, from around mid-2004. A major landmark came in early 2005, when the problem of the hydro pneumatic suspension unit (HSU) was licked. And in June 2005, the Arjun was to prove its capability in comparative trials in the Mahajan Field Firing Ranges (MFFR); the army agreed to comparative trials involving 5 Arjuns, 5 T-72s and 5 T-90s.

That turned out to be a total fiasco! The Arjun’s electronics packed up in the heat and the trials were over even before they began. The generals who came, including the Western Army Commander, laughed all the way back to their helicopters. The chief, who was to fly in for the trials was rung up and told not to take the trouble.


The CVRDE put in a huge effort to heat-harden its electronics, which is something that bears fruit today. While the T-90 is now looking for air-conditioners, the post-2005 electronics in the Arjun can function flawlessly through 60 degrees.

In summer 2006, stringent firing trials by 43 Armoured Regiment established --- in the words of the army’s own trial team --- that the "accuracy and consistency of the Arjun tank was proved beyond doubt".

Later that year, the MoD stated to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence that, "Arjun's firing accuracy is far superior to the other two tanks."

In summer 2007, when the army was being pressured to conduct comparative trials, the DGMF raised another objection: the Arjun should be able to drive for 20 minutes in six feet of water. By the end of 2007, the CVRDE managed that as well.

In the Accelerated Usage cum Reliability Trials (AUCRT), which was held in five phases over the first half of this year, the Arjun had problems in the transmission system (not the MTU engine as widely reported, but the Renk transmission) during the first three phases. Engineers from Renk GMbH, Germany came and fixed that and in the last two phases, which were the really tough, heavy desert, hot weather phases, the Arjun performed flawlessly.

The process of turning the corner has been a slow one, but it symbolises exactly why one should go for an Indian tank: each drawback was analysed by our engineers, fixed according to the users’ instructions, and then delivered back to the users without charging them a penny. Contrast that with the problems with the T-90’s electronics. Nobody is fixing that problem; instead, the Russians are trying to sell us air-conditioners. Added expense, and an inefficient solution compared to heat-hardening the electronics, the way the CVRDE did.

False argument No 2: The manufacturers of T-90 have 5 decades of experience under their belt. The T-90 is drawn from the bloodline of T-72 and T-55, both of which are battle proven.

Even the Russians are not buying into the myth of the T-90. That tank entered service with the Russian Army around 1996 and, till today, there are barely 250 T-90s defending Mother Russia! India has more T-90s in service than the Russian Army… and once we implement the full contract, we will have 6 times more T-90s than the Russian Army.

I wonder why the Russian Army isn’t accepting such a blue-blooded tank with such a fine pedigree??? The Russian Army prefers to use: 2144 numbers of T-72s, 3044 numbers of T-80s, 689 numbers of T-62s (plus 3000 more in storage), and even 1000 rickety old T-55s.

Sorry, but there are no more orders from Russia for T-90s.

False argument No 3: The soldiers who operate the Arjun doubt its capabilities as a frontline tank.

The Arjun tank has been operated by 43 Armoured Regiment since over a decade; 43 is delighted with the tank. I have a very close friend who commanded that regiment and he always argued that a regiment of Arjun tanks was worth two regiments of T-72s. And this was even before the Arjun turned the corner!

After the firing trials in June 2006, 43 Armoured Regiment pronounced itself delighted with the Arjun’s firing performance. As I said above, 43 Armoured Regiment endorsed in its trial report, “The accuracy and consistency of the Arjun has been proved beyond doubt.” The brigade commander, Brigadier Chandra Mukesh, himself from 43 Armoured Regiment, endorsed that report whole-heartedly.

But the DGMF was quick to strike back. Barely three months after that report, the commanding officer of 43 Armoured Regiment, Colonel D Thakur, was confronted by then DGMF, Lt Gen DS Shekhawat. Several eyewitnesses have described to me how Colonel Thakur was upbraided by Lt Gen Shekhawat for “not conducting the trials properly”. Fortunately for Colonel Thakur, his brigade commander, Brigadier Chandra Mukesh, intervened and argued strongly that the trials had been conducted in accordance with procedure.

Talk to the crewmen, the drivers, gunners, operators… and you’ll get an even clearer endorsement. They all love the modular construction of the Arjun, which makes maintenance so easy. Changing a T-72 engine takes a full day; changing an Arjun engine takes a couple of hours.

Minister of State for Defence Production, Rao Inderjeet Singh recounts, “I’ve spoken, off the record, to officers who have gone through the trials. Even the crews (from 43 Armoured Regiment)… who have been testing the tank… I forced them to choose between the Russian tanks and the Arjun. I said, you’ve driven this tank and you’ve driven that tank (the T-90). Now mark them out of ten, which tank is better? And I’ve found that the Arjun tank was given more numbers than the T-90 tank.”

False argument No 4: The army has several objections to accepting the Arjun. Somebody writes, “After all, this is NOT pakistan where the generals are not accountable to anyone.”

The most astonishing part of the Arjun story is that the army (read DGMF) really doesn’t have a clear list of objections to the Arjun. Their objections vary from day to day, and with who they are talking to. Some of their objections --- such as that of the Arjun’s 60-ton weight --- run counter to the army’s own GSQR.

What is clear is that the MoD is happy with the Arjun. According to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for Defence’s last annual report for 2007-08, the MoD testified before the Committee that the Arjun tank was:

• “A product unique in its class”, and “an improved system over the T-72.”
• “Rs 6-8 crores cheaper than its contemporary system in the West”.
• “Far superior (in firing accuracy) to the other two tanks (T-72 and T-90)”.
• “Driven for over 60,000 kms and fired more than 8,000 rounds. There was no problem.”

So you judge: if that's what the MoD is saying... aren't the generals conveying an entirely false impression?

False argument No 5: The Arjun failed the AUCRT this summer

As I mentioned above, the Arjun performed creditably during the AUCRT, once Renk solved the transmission system problem.

But what is far more important is the fact that AUCRT is not a “performance trials”. It is not possible for a tank to “pass” or “fail” the AUCRT. The purpose of the AUCRT is to run a small number of tanks for thousands of kilometres and make them fire hundreds of rounds, basically putting them through their entire service lifespan in a few months. The aim of doing this is to evaluate what spares get consumed during the life-span of the tank; what maintenance and overhaul tasks should be scheduled at what stage of a tank’s life; an AUCRT evaluates a tank’s logistical needs, not its operational performance.

But when the transmission gave some problems in the first three phases of AUCRT, the DGMF was quick to seize the chance to bad-mouth the tank, and to convey the false impression that the Arjun had “failed its trials”.