Saturday, 29 March 2008

Hey Shiv... thanks very much!

You might have noticed the new look to Broadsword... the photographs, the layout, and now the new masthead.

My sincere thanks to Shiv Aroor --- my friend and colleague --- who has done this for me, despite his own busy schedule.

Owe you one... er.... many, Shiv!

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Checking out the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) at HAL, Bangalore

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)
An IJT prototype in its hangar at HAL Bangalore; Ajai Shukla with some of the designers in the IJT project.

Sitting in the hangar at HAL Bangalore in its red and white livery, the IJT (also known as the Hindustan Jet Trainer, HJT-36) makes a handsome picture. A first glance brings to mind the Czech L-159 Advanced Jet Trainer, but flight hangar chief, Vishwanath Rao, asserts vigorously that the IJT has been designed ground-up at HAL using advanced CAD/CAM techniques.

Trainee Indian Air Force (IAF) and Indian Navy (IN) pilots will train on the IJT after completing basic training on the obsolescent, piston-engine HPT-32 basic trainer, in which the instructor and the trainee sit side-by-side. The IJT will replace the Kiran trainer, bridging the gap between the HPT-32 and the newly inducted Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) jets. For that reason, the flight characteristics of the IJT have been tailored to lie midway between the HPT-32 piston-engine basic trainer and the Hawk AJT.

Climbing into the aircraft, the first thing that strikes one is the view from the rear seat, which is far superior to AJTs like the Hawk. The raised rear cockpit gives the IJT its “L-159-type look”, but then other differences in the fuselage become quickly apparent. The real selling point, though, is the cockpit instrumentation, which takes the IJT into the front ranks of Stage-2 trainers.

Sitting in the cockpit, the complexity of the display is far closer to an AJT than to a basic trainer. HAL engineers insist, though, that flying the IJT will be simpler than the Kiran. The cockpit design philosophy is to allow the pilot to fly by “feel”, even while providing a more “instrumented” cockpit environment, to prepare for flying the AJT.

I’ve sat in a Kiran cockpit; I can confirm that the IJT is from a different planet. It is a wonderfully crafted, fully glass cockpit, but the Multi-Function Displays (MFDs) are very different from more complex aircraft. Here, the screen provides a digitised image of conventional flight instrumentation; the altitude indicator, airspeed indicator, turn-and-bank indicator, etc, are displayed on the MFD. This gives the trainee a feel of the glass cockpit environment, even before graduating from traditional instrumentation.

All three cockpit MFDs are identically constructed and wired, allowing the instructor to project any information he likes into the trainee’s cockpit. It allows the instructor to simulate flight emergencies, by keying in instrument malfunctions from his rear cockpit. In case of a real MFD failure, the instrumentation can be switched to either of the other two MFDs. This allows redundancy in terms of flight safety, while easing inventory management.

Based on growing confidence during testing, all the instrumentation is now being moved onto just two MFDs, including angle of attack information.

The IJT, on which work began in 1999, has seen the fastest design cycle in any Indian-built aircraft, and it compares favourably with international design cycle times. About 150 design and manufacture stations were used, relying heavily on Computer Aided Design (CAD) 3-Dimensional modelling. Metal cutting began in 2001, and the first flight took place in 2003. HAL engineers claim that it took just 20 months from metal cutting to flight.

HAL also takes pride in the way it squeezed the design cycle time by dovetailing the stages of design, tooling and manufacture. The IJT project engineers say that design drawings were released almost as they were completed, allowing the jigs to be designed and manufactured almost concurrently. As the contours of the IJT were defined, the jig designs were done and the manufacture of the prototypes, therefore, could get underway without any delay.

The design team admits to a series of design problems that had to be overcome. At first, the controls of the IJT were heavy; the design team had to entirely rework the shape of the nose. As the aircraft weight went up, the need for more engine power arose. But the initial specifications of the IJT had deliberately kept the weight low, giving the designers some margin for the inevitable rise in weight during design. As one engineer told me, “When you design an aircraft, it will always end up heavier than what you planned, so the lower the weight you target initially, the lower the final weight will be.”

The engine issue is still being sorted out. The first three IJTs currently use the Snecma Larzac engine, which is also used in the Alpha Jet. HAL bought those three engines from Snecma for the development phase; NPO Saturn was still developing the Russian AL-55I engine in Russia, which will power the production version IJTs. The AL-55I has 20% more thrust than the Larzac. In 2005, HAL and Rosoboronexport signed a $350 million contract to build 250 AL-55I engines under license in HAL, with an option for 1000 more.

The IAF has already ordered the Limited Series Production (LSP) of 12 IJTs. HAL says that the first of them will roll out in 2008-2009. The production rate will go up to 12 per year by 2010. By mid-2010, HAL expects the IJT to be fully certified; at that stage series production will start. In 2011, the IJT is likely to begin its induction into service as a full-fledged trainer for cadets.

HAL estimates that the sale price of the IJT will be around $10 million per aircraft. That will make it the most competitively priced intermediate trainer in the world.

Wednesday, 26 March 2008

Harnessing the private sector in defence

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 26th March 07)

It is seven years since the government permitted private sector companies to manufacture defence equipment, subject to licensing and a 26% cap on foreign holding, but only now are there indications of enthusiasm amongst private Indian engineering giants. If this does translate into meaningful defence production, enlightened policy-making from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) will have less to do with it than growing private sector confidence. With India continuing to pay staggering prices for cutting edge weaponry, several private sector giants now believe that they can develop those systems cheaper than the global majors who currently benefit from India’s custom.

Many of these private players are not newcomers to defence production. But the self-defeating pattern of recent decades had created a hierarchy, which was broadly structured as follows: putting together an overall weapons system --- whether a radar, an aircraft, a tank, or a communications network --- was the preserve of the Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs); the sub-systems and parts were frequently sourced from private companies. The technology for all this came from a global vendor, traditionally Russian, French or British. Despite the rhetoric of “technology transfer”, the proprietary technologies were never given to India. Instead, detailed manufacturing drawings were handed over; the Indian partners merely constructed and assembled according to those blueprints.

This process has been hallmarked by a profound intellectual apathy amongst the “technology recipients”, the Indian DPSUs, to absorb the technology in meaningful ways. Private companies claim that even if they had been handed over nothing other than blueprints, their scientists and engineers would have extracted and absorbed expertise that could have been canalised into new products. But Mazagon Docks Ltd constructed HDW submarines without absorbing the technology; Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd has built MiG series, Jaguar and Sukhoi-30 aircraft for decades, but still struggles to complete the LCA; and Bharat Electronics Ltd, which was transferred expensive technology for night vision equipment, has now embarked on an even costlier purchase of the next generation of the same technology.

While the private sector has been one of the links in this sterile process, the challenge before it is to move beyond in-country manufacture for dominant global corporations. Instead, groups like the Tatas, L&T and Godrej & Boyce, with proven engineering excellence, must actively participate in the entire cycle of weapons development, including visualisation, technology development, engineering, manufacture and integration. Small and medium industries must be actively developed as sub-component suppliers, a role in which they have already displayed their capability.

Traditionally, industry wants little more from government than that it stands out of the way, but building an indigenous “defence industrial base” will require more than that of the MoD. The greatest hurdle to private sector participation in defence is the high cost of R&D for a product that might never be accepted into service. That can be overcome by providing MoD funding for specified defence projects, a measure that has already been recommended by the Vijay Kelkar Committee in 2005. The MoD took the bold step of laying down in the DPP-2006 a procedure for subsidising R&D by nominated Raksha Udyog Ratnas (RuRs) from the private sector, in cases where the government decided to indigenously develop a weapons system. But trade union pressure from the DPSUs has prevented the MoD from nominating the RuRs and, so, that progressive clause stands blocked.

The MoD must also step in to task the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) to develop the costly “enabling technologies” that underpin the systems and sub-systems that go into a weapons platform. With fundamental research from the DRDO, subsidised research on systems technologies by the private sector, and with the DPSUs and private sector companies competing to manufacture and integrate the final product, India’s private sector will be given a meaningful role in developing a world class defence industry.

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Flashing steel at China

Photographs: (courtesy Ajai Shukla)

1.   Top Left:  At the Bum La border, in Arunachal Pradesh, with the Commanding Officer of the Rajputana Rifles (Indian Army) battalion which holds the pass.

2.  Centre Left:   The Indian and Chinese flags fly astride the Line of Actual Control (LAC) at Bum La.

3.   Bottom Left:   The local dog, adopted by the Indian post at Nathu La Pass, in Sikkim, surveys the Chumbi Valley in Tibet.

4.    Bottom:  The Indian and Chinese commanders at Nathu La pose together.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 25th Mar 2008

As a young captain in the Indian Army, I experienced first hand the dynamics of a Chinese power play. One autumn day in 1987, near Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, almost exactly where the 1962 war sparked off, a group of Chinese soldiers crossed the rugged Line of Actual Control (LAC) and sat themselves down in a grazing ground called Wangdung. For days, while India launched diplomatic protests, more Chinese soldiers trickled across; before long, a 100-man company from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had established itself in Wangdung.

The Chinese expected little more; but the Indian Army had long buried the ghost of 1962. With diplomacy scorned, New Delhi ordered Operation Chequerboard, a massive mobilisation that quickly concentrated 100,000 soldiers around Tawang. As the Indian stance grew harder, the Chinese positioned softened. In a similar face-off in 1967 that Beijing would have remembered, Indian jawans had killed over 200 PLA soldiers in Nathu La, in six days of pitched fighting. While China still holds Wangdung, India’s robust reaction forestalled further Chinese encroachments.

Should New Delhi also flash steel in its reactions over the ethnic uprising in Tibet? Chinese statements make it clear that Tibet is seen as no more than a potential embarrassment during China’s “coming out party” at the Olympic Games. Beijing believes that New Delhi’s foreign policy conservatism will ensure that it continues to toe the line on Tibet. But would Indian interests be better served by reminding China that it has painful pressure points at Dharamshala that can be activated.

Contrary to public perception, India has not been entirely pliant when it comes to dealing with the Middle Kingdom. Next year it will be half a century since the Dalai Lama was given refuge in India. Tibetan volunteers, committed to freeing their homeland from the Chinese yoke, form several battalions of India’s Special Frontier Force (SFF), which frequently operates on the northern border. China believes they often cross the LAC for special missions deep inside Tibet. The Indian Army, as its chief, General Deepak Kapoor said, crosses the LAC into “China” as often as the PLA crosses into “India”. The reason, as he clarified, was that neither India, nor China, agree where the LAC lies.

Neither have India’s responses to events in Tibet been free of ambiguity. Foreign Secretary, Shiv Shankar Menon, has met the Dalai Lama recently; New Delhi has a formal consultative arrangement with His Holiness. The speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, met the Dalai Lama and issued a strong statement. It was just the kind of adverse pre-Olympics publicity that Beijing does not want. The police halted the “March to Lhasa”, mounted by the Dalai Lama’s followers, but it garnered headlines nevertheless. And could Tibetan demonstrators have stormed the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi without the tacit complicity of the Government of India?

The big question, of course, is: has New Delhi embarked on a rash course of confrontation? Or is a habitually timid India underplaying its hand?

The backdrop to India’s dilemma is the paradox in its relationship with China. On the one hand, as members of the international state system, both countries share an interest in maintaining the status quo. China’s vulnerabilities in Tibet and Xinjiang are mirrored by India’s concerns in J&K and the northeastern states. But China has never let that shared interest with India hold it back from developing and using the levers of influence. Beijing has skilfully played the insurgency card in Nagaland and Manipur; Naga leader Thuingaleng Muivah admits to training and equipping his forces in China. In helping Pakistan obtain a nuclear arsenal, China has violated the Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Missile Technology Control Regime. And, in the last couple of years --- as the US began viewing Beijing as a possible ally against a resurgent Russia --- China has hardened its rhetoric on the border dispute with India.

India must decide whether its long-term leverage with China lies in multilateral relationships like the US-India relationship. In the recent past, that has been the case; in 2005, when New Delhi and Washington seemed ready to sign both a defence agreement and the nuclear deal, China agreed to a set of “Political Principles” that would form the framework of an eventual border agreement. This agreement noticeably favoured India; China has recently distanced itself from it.

But if multilateral levers are fickle and subject to change, then are there levers that India could create? India’s policy on Tibetan independence cannot radically change. India cannot support the redrawing of borders, and the Dalai Lama himself asks for no more than real autonomy for Tibet. New Delhi, however, does have options even without going back on its recognition of Tibet as an “autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China.” Without repudiating that long-held stand, India can fuel the debate on Tibet’s autonomy. The Tibetan government-in-exile, located in Dharamshala, will respond enthusiastically to the slightest signal from New Delhi. 

For that, India would need to break a Pavlovian behaviour pattern that China has induced. Senior Indian diplomats increasingly realise that Beijing’s rhetoric on the warmth of its relations with New Delhi have imposed on Indian diplomats a certain decorum of behaviour that obscures the underlying adversarial relationship between the two countries. That artificial decorum also makes New Delhi reluctant to play the role of a countervailing power to China. This could be the moment when New Delhi recognises Sino-Indian relations for what they really are as opposed to what Beijing says they are.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The story of the Sarvatra: hurdles for the private sector in defence production

(Concluding part of a four-article series on the private sector in defence production)

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 24th March 08)

The private sector is playing a growing role in defence production, even though the playing field --- when compared with Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) --- remains far from level. During the seven years since 2001, when the private sector was first entitled to licenses for producing defence equipment, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has officially declared that private defence manufacturers would be supported. But the gap between rhetoric and reality has proved difficult to bridge. The story of a military assault bridge, ironically, best illustrates the private sector’s challenges.

The Sarvatra Bridge was to allow Indian mechanised forces (strike formations, equipped with 40-ton tanks and infantrymen travelling in BMP combat vehicles) a quick crossing over canals and rivers that came in their path, in a non-stop advance into the heart of enemy territory. Carried in five giant, high-mobility Tatra vehicles, and capable of bridging a 75-metre canal or river in less then two hours, the Sarvatra would leave the enemy with little time to side-step their forces to block the Indian advance. It is a technological leap over what India presently uses, PMS Bridges of East European origin, which is both cumbersome (one set, which bridges a little over 100 metres, is carried on 57 Tatra vehicles) and expensive. A PMS bridge costs Rs 60 crores; the Sarvatra, being indigenous, costs one-third that amount.

But thirteen years after the Sarvatra project began, it is mired in an ugly battle over who should manufacture it: L&T, the private company which spearheaded its development; or Bharat Earth Movers Limited (BEML), the DPSU which insists that they build the Tatra vehicle, so they should build the Sarvatra. The MoD has backed BEML.

The Sarvatra is a Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) project; L&T was closely associated with the difficult work of creating the bridge which opens, scissors-style, across any obstacle. The major engineering task of mounting the bridge on the Tatra vehicle was also done by DRDO, with the assistance of L&T; BEML’s role consisted merely of providing the Tatras on which the Sarvatra is mounted;

DRDO and L&T sources describe the difficulties in the project. The Sarvatra is made of special aluminium, as strong as mild steel; engineering aluminium structures is a crucial L&T specialisation. Aluminium welding is another L&T strength; each bridge has 1.2 kilometers of welding. In 2002, ahead of time, L&T completed a full Sarvatra bridge, consisting of five bridging vehicles. An impressed MoD asked L&T to build five more full bridges. By 2005, they were ready.

In the Sarvatra programme, there was a heady sense of being on track. With the DRDO satisfied, the army keen on quickly inducting the Sarvatra into service, and L&T ready to execute orders, the stage seemed set for placing an order on L&T. Instead, in 2006, the MoD ruled that BEML would be the nodal agency for manufacturing the Sarvatra.

BEML Deputy General Manager, R Gopinath, told Business Standard that, “We made our case before the MoD that we have the expertise to make foldable bridges. We are making the PMS Bridge.”

BEML made the request despite not having a significant role in developing the Sarvatra, a process largely handled by DRDO and L&T. Mr Gopinath admits, “We were not involved during development. We only provided the (Tatra) chassis on which the bridge was built. But the MoD has appointed us as the nodal agency.”

Top MoD sources recount the firestorm that the decision set off within the MoD. L&T objected to then Secretary of Defence Production, KP Singh, pointing out that a licensed defence company was being discriminated against. KP Singh ruled that L&T should be allowed to compete for the order. But Defence Minister AK Antony overruled him, nominating BEML in December 2007, to manufacture the Sarvatra.

L&T is furious that its expertise, and the expenses it had incurred on development, have been disregarded. The company’s Senior Executive VP, Mr MV Kotwal told Business Standard that, “This sends out a message that there is no future for (private companies) who get involved too early in the design stage. This is symptomatic of the whole game.”

The MoD has ignored a written questionnaire sent by the Business Standard on this issue.

Saturday, 22 March 2008

Private Sector in Defence: Mahindra Defence Systems: the niche player


Left: A Rakshak vehicle, from 6th Battalion Rashtriya Rifles, after an IED attack near Sopore. All six occupants emerged unscathed.

Right Top:  The Mahindra Marksman light armoured vehicle, on display at Defexpo India 08 in February 08.

Right Bottom:  The successful RG-31 Mine Protected Vehicle (MPV), manufactured in South African by BaE Systems. Mahindra Defence Systems hopes to supply this MPV to the Indian Army, and manufacture it at its new plant near Faridabad.

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 22nd March 08)

On a chilly November morning last year, an army Rakshak jeep crawled slowly along a side road near Sopore in J&K. The six Rashtriya Rifles jawans inside were on alert; in that area danger is always just around the corner. But when the attack came, there was little they could do; with a deafening blast, a scooter, parked by the roadside, blew up firing metal fragments into the side of the jeep. Had it been any other vehicle, lives would almost certainly have been lost. But all six soldiers emerged unscathed; they were lucky to be in an armoured Rakshak, one of just 200 that the army uses in J&K.

Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS), the defence division of the Rs 24,000 crore rupee ($6 billion) Mahindra Group, is hinging a major foray into defence manufacture on an anticipated surge in demand for “up-armoured light vehicles”, as security forces --- army, paramilitary and police --- gear themselves up to deal with growing internal insecurity. This June, MDS will inaugurate a brand new factory near Faridabad; it will be India’s first private sector plant dedicated to making military vehicles.

While MDS plans to expand into other, more lucrative, areas of defence manufacture, it understands well the growing importance of its core strength. Brigadier Khutab Hai, the CEO of MDS explains his high-risk strategy of sinking resources into building a factory, when the security forces themselves have been less than enthusiastic about buying Mahindra’s Rakshaks. Hai believes that, “This is the fastest growing segment in defence, given the times that we live in. Before we introduced the Rakshak the army didn’t have a bullet-proof vehicle. It was only after seeing the Rakshak that the army realised the need for such a vehicle. In the years ahead, every small vehicle in militancy-affected areas --- buses, troop carriers, light vehicles, ambulances --- will be armoured. Consciousness is coming in about saving lives. And money is not an issue; this is the kind of low cost modernisation that we will concentrate on.”

MDS has kept costs low by setting up an international supply chain for bullet-proof material, which is fitted onto low-cost Mahindra vehicles. Initially starting with Israel, MDS today sources armour from Israel, France, Germany and Sweden. Run-flat tyres, which function even after being perforated by bullets are made in Buffalo, USA. And now local vendors are being developed to further reduce costs.

But the MDS vision extends beyond bullet-proofing vehicles. Mahindra Group MD and Vice Chairman, Anand Mahindra, revealed at last month’s Defexpo India 08 that MDS would bid for contracts worth over Rs 16,000 crores ($4 billion) over the next 7 years, and hoped to secure at least Rs 4000 crores ($1 billion) worth of orders.

Underpinning those ambitious targets is the worst kept secret in Indian defence: MDS is in advanced talks with the British defence giant, BaE Systems, for a long-term strategic partnership. This would see MDS-BaE Systems joint ventures bidding for the major Indian multi-billion dollar projects like the 155 mm artillery gun, which would then be built in Mahindra facilities in India. MDS is already lobbying the MoD to buy BaE Systems’ redoubtable RG-31 Mine Protected Vehicle, which Mahindra hopes to manufacture at its Faridabad plant. The MDS display at the Defexpo India 08 prominently displayed the RG-31.

MDS is unwilling to name its prospective partner, but admits that negotiations have almost been wrapped up. Brig. Hai told Business Standard, “While others tom-tom every handshake, we have almost completed detailed negotiations that had begun in March 2007. We are discussing with our partner, setting up block by block, a global manufacturing hub…. We don’t have an opportunistic, contract-based approach. We’re looking at the long term, at what India’s requirements are going to be.”

A question mark, though, hangs over whether MDS will contribute technology and R&D to its JV with BaE Systems, or whether the Indian end of the JV will merely manufacture according to blueprints provided by the foreign partner.

MDS has also ventured into naval systems, mainly mines and torpedoes. It has signed an agreement with WASS, of the Italian Finmeccanica Group. A manufacturing unit --- Mahindra Underwater Systems --- has been set up in Chinchwad, near Pune. MDS plans to move that to Vishakapatnam within two years, so as to be near the sea, as well as to benefit from the large number of naval installations in that area.

Friday, 21 March 2008

L&T: engineering a major role in defence

The Nag Missile Carrier (NAMICA) firing Nag missiles at a tank target during recent Nag trials

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard, 21st March 08)

On 26th January 2007, when the sleek, indigenously developed Nag Missile Carrier (NAMICA) rolled down Rajpath in the Republic Day parade, L&T executives and workers watched with satisfaction. The NAMICA, based on a BMP-1 armoured vehicle, had been integrated by India’s biggest private sector engineering company, a project that had begun years before defence manufacturing was thrown open to the private sector in 2001.

That opening, boast L&T executives, off the record, was for lesser companies. L&T, they point out, has been manufacturing for India’s strategic sector since the late 1960s, in nuclear power generation, as well as the space programme. The Mumbai based engineering giant is one of just nine companies worldwide that is cleared to export nuclear power generation equipment to the US and to Europe.

Those decades of association with the strategic sector are now being leveraged, as L&T jockeys for a share of the Rs 2,00,000 crores of business that India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) is likely to generate over the next five years. Unlike other private entrants into defence production, say senior L&T executives, its business strategy is not based on project-specific tie-ups of convenience with foreign defence majors. Instead, L&T sees itself as having covered the learning curve over decades, and now has its own experience and expertise on offer.

Mr MV Kotwal, Senior Executive Vice President of L&T’s Heavy Engineering Division, gives an example from shipbuilding, when L&T was asked to mount the Dhanush missile (the naval version of the Prithvi) on a warship. Kotwal explains how the company grappled with, and overcame, a range of problems, “It was engineering in the most difficult circumstances. A ship rolls heavily, so we developed new technologies in stabilised platforms. We gained experience in mechanical, hydraulic, electrical, electronic, pneumatics… all kinds of technologies. We started integrating those into one, so we became a one-stop integrator. That is the key differentiator for us; we always said we must be a total solution provider, not just one part of a system.”

For pursuing this strategy of building up L&T as a “systems integrator”, or a company that integrates sub-systems and components, often manufactured by other companies, into a complex weapons platform, the company has set up a dedicated manufacturing facility. Last Sunday, L&T inaugurated its spanking new Assembly, Integration and Testing Facility at Talegaon, 20 kilometers from Pune. The company has invested almost Rs 100 crores into the new facility.

The Talegaon plant will eventually be L&T’s manufacturing centre for all land systems. The Pinaka multi-barrel rocket launcher (MBRL) system, radars, missiles, and components for the Brahmos cruise missile will roll out of this facility. L&T hopes that Talegaon will produce Rs 100 crores worth of defence equipment during 2007-08.

This will be the first private sector manufacturing unit set up exclusively for defence. The L&T strategy in setting up dedicated facilities contrasts with the Tata Group’s strategy to spread defence manufacture across the existing manufacturing facilities of 11 group companies.

L&T is also taking a different route from the Tata Group by focusing strongly on naval systems. Besides the Dhanush missile integration and various torpedo systems, L&T is also playing an important role in building India’s hush-hush nuclear submarine project, officially dubbed the Advanced Technology Vessel (ATV). Now, the company is supplementing its largely civilian shipyard at Hazira, with a major new Rs 2000 crores shipyard on the east coast of India.

Commodore Mukesh Bhargava, Head of Marine Business, L&T says, “We hope the Indian Navy will be our prime customer. The shipyard will be geared for the modular manufacture of warships and submarines. But maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) will be a major revenue stream, including major repairs for bigger ships. The new dockyard will have dry docks for an aircraft carrier sized ship of up to 550 metres long.”

L&T was also exploring the purchase of the public sector Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL). Now, however, with the Vishakapatnam-based yard likely to be handed over to the MoD, L&T’s Marine Division is likely to be asked to run HSL on a government-owned-company-operated (GOCO) basis. Sources in the MoD say the ATV project could be moved to HSL, and L&T would continue to work on the hull in partnership with the other organisations that are involved in the nuclear submarine project.

Thursday, 20 March 2008

The Tata Group: leading the charge in defence

(Part 1 of a four-part series on the private sector in defence)

(Photo: Ratan Tata visits the Tata stall during the Defnnce India 08 exhibition in New Delhi in February 2008)

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 20th Feb 08)

The most prominent theme in defence production today is the surging presence of India’s private sector. At the Defence India 08 exhibition (Defexpo), in New Delhi last month, private Indian corporate houses like the Tatas, L&T and Mahindra Defence Systems seriously challenged the traditional dominance of Russian conglomerates, and the eight Indian defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs).

Amongst the most aggressive of India’s hopeful new Lockheed Martins is the Rs 1,30,000 crore (US$32 billion) Tata Group, which has launched a carefully crafted bid to become a major player in India’s defence industry. Since the time defence manufacture was opened to the private sector in 2001, the 98 companies of the Tata Group --- including Tata Motors, Tata Power and Tata Advanced Materials --- have notched up significant successes. Now senior Tata Group executives have told Business Standard the details of a coordinated group strategy to grab a serious share of India’s defence market, worth an estimated Rs 2,00,000 crores ($50 billion) over the next five years.

The first important steps have already been taken, says Sukaran Singh from Ratan Tata’s office: two new corporate structures have been set up to spearhead the Tatas’ drive into defence. Tata Advanced Systems (TAS) will be the umbrella organisation for the Tata Group’s thrust into defence and security.

The other entity, Tata Industrial Services Ltd (TISL), which will be looked after by Sukaran Singh himself, will focus on global partnerships, including the growing opportunities from offsets. Uma Pillai, formerly Secretary of Defence Production in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), will head the offsets business.

“Manufacturing and developing capability already exists in the 98 Tata companies… All the resources of these companies, like Tata Consultancy Services, Nelco, Tata Power, Tata Motors, Titan Precision Engineering Division and Tata Advanced Materials will be harnessed by TAS and TISL”, explains Sukaran Singh. “They will bring a new corporate approach to deal with the risks, the global partnerships, and the capital that will be needed for defence… and still remain 100% Tatas.”

TAS has already crossed the first hurdle; it has obtained seven critical industrial licences, broad enough to cover most defence products (see table at the bottom). While TAS has the licenses, the actual development and manufacture will be done across 11 other Tata Group companies, which already possess the tooling and facilities necessary. The Tata Group has no plans yet to set up manufacturing or R&D facilities specifically for defence.

Sanjay Kapur, a former army colonel, now General Manager, TAS, explains the Tata strategy, “Legal understandings already exist between TAS and eleven group companies. When a project comes up, TAS simply leases space from one of those companies, uses their facilities, and pays them. It’s a purely commercial arrangement.”

Business is already coming in. During the Defexpo in February, TAS signed a deal with US helicopter maker, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, to manufacture cabins for their S-92 helicopter. The Tata Group also grabbed India’s biggest-ever outsourcing joint venture, inking a half billion dollar deal with Boeing to manufacture military components for the F-18 Super Hornet fighter, the CH-47 Chinook helicopter and the P-8 Maritime Patrol Aircraft. This is the first time American defence products will be manufactured in India; Boeing hopes that India will buy all three of those aircraft.

“We’ve identified the aircraft parts”, says a senior Tata executive. “By June 08 we will have announced the JV with Boeing.”

Will the Tatas allow different entities from within the Tata Group to compete with each other for a contract? Not yet, explains Sukarn Singh. “Risk allocation issues don’t allow us the luxury of allowing competition just yet. We don’t want resources to be wasted.”

The first big test is the Tatas’ quest for the Rs 4000 crore ($1 billion) project to develop a state-of-the-art Tactical Communications System (TCS) for the Indian Army. In a sign of growing confidence, the Tata Group has asked the MoD not to buy the TCS from the global market. The Strategic Electronics Division (SED) of Tata Power is heading an all-private consortium (which includes Delhi-based private company, Precision Electronics, US major, Raytheon, and European conglomerate EADS-Defence Systems as technology partners) that argues that the TCS can be made in India.

Tata Group licenses for defence production

1.        Battlefield transparency and network enablers
2.       Assembly of ground and naval weapons
3.       Manufacture and ruggedisation of military products
4.       Electronic Warfare (EW) Systems
5.       Ground, naval and air combat and surveillance systems
6.       Field artillery, anti-tank weapons and associated systems
7.       Airborne assemblies, avionics systems, including UAVs

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

Overseeing defence spending

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 19th March 08)

A couple of years ago, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) stopped posting on the internet the department’s annual audit report on defence. That came after the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) lost a large export order from the United States, after US officials read a CAG audit report criticising the OFB. But while the CAG obliged the Ministry of Defence (MoD) by confining its audit report to Parliament and to booklets distributed to officials and the media, MoD officials continue to treat the CAG with disdain. The latest CAG report on defence, which again draws attention to the dismal state of planning and accounting within the MoD and the military, includes telling statistics on the MoD’s lack of cooperation with India’s top audit body. Before finalising any audit report, the CAG must send a draft to the concerned ministry; the ministry’s response must be included in the CAG’s final report. But when the draft audits in this latest report were sent to the MoD, the Defence Secretary ignored them altogether; only the OFB bothered to respond to some of the audits relating to their factories.

The same hauteur surrounds the MoD’s approach to earlier audit observations. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) had mandated that the MoD must submit Action Taken Reports (ATNs) on every audit within four months of the time the report is tabled in Parliament. The latest CAG report lists out 90 audit observations since 1996 for which the MoD has not bothered to send ATNs. Over the years successive CAG reports have been successively stonewalled by MoD officials, who routinely run rings around the PAC while testifying before parliamentarians with little or no expertise in defence. The PAC’s ability to follow up effectively on CAG audits is also circumscribed by the sheer volume of reports that come before it.

Like elsewhere, the judiciary is stepping in to fill the executive and legislative vacuum; the Supreme Court is already hearing public interest litigation based upon the CAG’s report on irregularities in defence purchases during the Kargil conflict. In the absence of effective parliamentary oversight of the MoD, judicial intervention could accelerate. Parliament itself remains noticeably disinclined to discuss, reform or actively oversee the defence of the realm. The defence budget was passed this month without even the most cursory discussion, even though that expenditure was almost twice as much as the heatedly debated farmers’ loan waiver. The Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, under Mr Vikhe Patil, has met an average of twice every month, but there again, in the absence of military and strategic knowledge or experience, effectively overseeing the MoD remains a difficult proposition. Standing Committee members complain that the MoD deploys technicality to obfuscate in even the simplest of questions like equipping the army in J&K with appropriate protective equipment.

Now the MoD must respond before the PAC to the CAG’s report. The PAC can visit military units and installations that have been audited in this report; MoD officials can be called in to testify. Parliament remains the only instrument through which the MoD can be effectively called to account. And CAG’s reports can be used either as an effective flashlight for probing and reforming less visible areas of defence; or, as is increasingly happening, as a weapon with which to embarrass the government of the day and to launch witch-hunts that ill serve the defence of India.

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

CAG: how not to prepare for another Kargil

[Photo: The Denel NTW-20 Anti-Material Rifle, used by the Indian Army against Pakistani bunkers on the Line of Control. Denel was blacklisted by the Indian MoD after evidence emerged that the company had paid kickbacks to secure an Indian order for anti-material rifles. That led to Denel, then the frontrunner for the billion-dollar contract to supply India 155mm guns, being ruled out of the contest]

[Photo: The XM982 Excalibur 155mm round, which is the state of the art in 155mm ammunition. Jointly developed by Raytheon and BaE Systems Bofors, it is being operationally used in Iraq. It has a range of 57 kilometers and a terminal accuracy of less than 10 m.]

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 18th March 08)

In 2001, George Fernandes was in the cross hairs of the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) over the purchase of allegedly overpriced coffins for soldiers killed in battle. Seven years later the CAG has zeroed in on Fernandes’ pet project --- a new ordnance factory in his parliamentary constituency, Nalanda, to manufacture 155 mm ammunition for Bofors guns --- slamming it as a poorly planned project that was rushed through urgently, resulting in an “estimated cost overrun of Rs 628.87 crores and indefinite delays.”

Work on Ordnance Factory Nalanda has been stalled since June 2005, when India blacklisted the project’s technology partner, South African arms major, Denel (Pty) Limited, for corruption in a contract to supply India “bunker-busting” rifles.

The CAG Report No CA 4 of 2008 (Defence Services), which was tabled in parliament on Friday, is another blow to the project. The report finds that only 25% of the project work has been completed so far, though the project was to be completed in 2005. And that work consists only of residential accommodation, open-air theatres, shopping centres, a club, and cars, buses and air-conditioners. No construction has begun on the core technical buildings; the procurement of plant and machinery has still to take place.

The Nalanda Ordnance Factory brings together three controversial elements: defence minister, George Fernandes, who was the driving force behind the project; the Bofors 155mm gun, for which the factory would manufacture ammunition; and Denel, which ongoing investigations reveal, was already making payments as “sweeteners” in other arms contracts it was pursuing.

The CAG has no evidence of under-the-table payments in the Nalanda contract, for which Denel has already received Rs 66.14 crore rupees from the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB). However, the CAG report pointedly notes the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) apparent “urgency to execute the project”. In February 1999, after obtaining a “go-ahead” sanction for the project, the MoD ordered the OFB to divert Rs 15 crores from other projects “to prepare a Detailed Project Report (DPR) urgently, by engaging consultants, if necessary, for approval of the Government.”

That initial haste quickly petered out into major delays and cost over-runs. Defence Minister George Fernandes found that the DPR costing was flawed and that the plant and machinery would cost Rs 847.94 crores, rather than the Rs 531.42 crores that the DPR catered for. So even as fresh financial sanctions were sought, almost Rs 300 crores worth of civil works (86% of the sanctioned amount) went ahead. George Fernandes, it now emerges, has gifted his constituency with an ordnance factory that has no shop floor, 693 vacant residential quarters, and a technological alliance with a black-listed foreign company.

Ironically, just three months after the initial sanctions for Ordnance Factory Nalanda, India found itself embroiled in conflict in Kargil and desperately short of 155 mm ammunition for the Bofors guns that would save the day for the army. It was the Israeli arms industry that bailed out the MoD, pumping in emergency supplies of 155 mm ammunition. Today, nine years later, India would again have to look to Israel if it were faced with another Kargil.

The fiasco in manufacturing 155 mm ammunition has a parallel, an equally dismaying story of delay in buying 155 mm guns to fire it with. The Field Artillery Rationalisation Plan, the army’s long-term blueprint, envisages 3600 artillery guns by 2025. Today, the army makes do with 410 Bofors guns, which it bought before the scandal halted further purchases in the 1980s. Endless trials since 2001 have failed to decide between an Israeli Soltam and a newer Bofors gun. Last year, fresh tenders were called for from dozens of vendors for the supply of 155 mm guns.

For now, both the gun and the ammunition hang in limbo. Bihar’s chief minister, Nitish Kumar, no friend of Fernandes, has pleaded that Bihar would benefit from the Nalanda project. The MoD seems to agree; even while the ban on Denel remains in place, the MoD has told the Lok Sabha, last August, that fresh approvals have been sought for the extra expenditure.

The CAG notes that the original project cost of Rs 941 crores has now been estimated at Rs 1570 crores, an escalation of 67%.

Sunday, 16 March 2008

CAG questions army’s purchase of Rakshak vehicles

(Photo: A Rakshak vehicle in J&K after an IED attack. All six soldiers in this vehicle were unhurt. The Rakshak is the only light armoured vehicle that has been issued to the army in J&K)

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 16th March 08)

The new Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) report on the army’s purchase of bulletproof vehicles illustrates many of the pitfalls that plague defence procurement. CAG Report No CA 4 of 2008 (Defence Services), which was tabled in parliament on Thursday, examines the MoD’s Rs 35.76 crore purchase of 200 Rakshak vehicles in 2005, and 9 armoured Scorpios in 2007, which protect military commanders while they drive around J&K.

The report concludes that both purchases were unnecessarily hurried, saddling the army with underpowered Rakshaks, which perform so sluggishly that they endanger the lives of the soldiers that they are meant to safeguard.

The report observes, “Audit examination disclosed that in both the cases, the procurement process was non-competitive, technical trials were diluted by waiving requirements that compromised the quality of the vehicles.”

With the CAG, the army, and MDS itself in agreement that the Rakshak vehicles are underpowered, the obvious question is: what procedures were violated? Business Standard is in possession of the MoD’s Request for Proposals (RFP), in which it laid down the performance it wanted from the vehicle. Two years of army trials conclusively established that the Rakshak met those specifications.

Clearly, what failed was not the Rakshak. Instead, as the CAG report points out, the MoD’s RFP itself was flawed, asking for a vehicle that would inevitably turn out to be underpowered, once bulletproof armour added to its weight. The RFP number 33(7)/2001-D(GS-IV), issued on 25th July 2001, stipulates that the vendors could not offer a new, more powerful vehicle. The vehicle had to be in service with the military.

The CEO of MDS, Brigadier Khutab Hai, is emphatic that the army was given exactly what it asked for, explaining, “During two years of trials, the Rakshak met every parameter spelt out in the MoD’s RFP. If the MoD wanted higher specifications, or a more powerful vehicle, we could easily have provided that. But the RFP bound us to an in-service vehicle.”

The RFP is a vital first step in any defence procurement, laying down what the vendors must provide. Thereafter, the winner of the contract is not the best product on offer; according to the current “L-1 tender” system, the cheapest product that meets the GSQR must be bought for the military. In a hypothetical contest between a Maruti priced at 2 lakh rupees and a Mercedes priced at 2.5 lakhs, the Maruti must be bought if it has met the RFP in trials.

Even the army has tacitly acknowledged that the Rakshak RFP was flawed. For the next round of purchases of bulletproof vehicles, the army’s Weapons and Equipment Directorate has written to the vendors asking for an upgraded vehicle, with more power, a smoother suspension and a better steering. When asked why it had complained about the 200 Rakshaks already bought, the army told the CAG that they were only “suggestions from users to improve efficiency”.

Confused and unclear RFPs have elicited complaints from several vendors. In last year’s performance audit on defence procurement, the CAG pointed out that RFPs often demand products that exist nowhere. The CAG highlighted many other cases where the MoD issues piece-meal RFPs, denying itself the economy of scale. An example is the on-going procurement of a family of over 8000 light vehicles. The MoD has issued an RFP for only 228 so far.

Vendors, both domestic and international, from the private and the public sectors, all complain that the MoD remains unequipped for defence procurement, its desks manned by officers who get posted out just as they begin to learn the ropes. A Group of Ministers (GoM) has recommended, in April 2000, creating a dedicated body for defence procurement. Last year the CAG reinforced that, recommending a specialist body of Acquisition Managers who could develop the expertise needed for smooth and judicious defence procurement.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

HAL Bangalore: Structural Coupling Test on Tejas

(Photos: Ajai Shukla)
Tejas LSP being prepared for a Structural Coupling Test)

HAL, Bangalore
January 2008

Here’s one of the LSP Tejas fighters undergoing the Structural Coupling Test. Structural coupling is the disturbance that is caused by the flexibility in a fighter’s airframe to the aircraft’s inertial sensors. The frequencies that are generated by vibrations in the airframe structure interfere with the frequencies within the Flight Control Systems (FCS). If these frequencies are not neutralised (by introducing phase delays, or by dampers) they can cause serious malfunctions in the flight control systems of modern fighters.

The Structural Coupling Test involves suspending the aircraft by the flexible hangers that can be seen in the pictures. Then the airframe is made to vibrate in the manner in which it would during actual flight… and then the avionics sensors are checked one by one in order to see how they are responding.

Basically, the Structural Coupling Test Facility checks whether the airframe frequencies have been sufficiently neutralised or not.

Incidentally, the two-seater version is about to be taken for this test in a month or so.

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

How much REALLY is India's defence budget?

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 11th March 08)

The defence allocation in the budget that Mr Chidambaram presented on 29th February officially went up 10%, from Rs 96,000 crores (US $24 billion) last year to Rs 1,05,600 crores (US$26.4 billion). But actual spending on defence had crossed the one lakh crore rupee(US$25 billion) Rubicon at least two years ago. 

There is no apparent reason for India to understate its defence budget. No IMF conditions constrain defence spending; military expenditure remains well below the politically correct level of 3%. But India continues to camouflage what other comparable liberal democracies transparently show as defence spending.

Is there an international benchmark for identifying defence expenditure? In fact there is: a United Nations General Assembly resolution (35/142B of 12th Dec 1980) standardised the reporting of military expenditure. This benchmark is accepted almost globally; 115 countries have reported since 1981.

Resolution 35/142B only legislated what transparent governments, defence economists and academics, and people with common sense already understood. Expenditure on strategic nuclear weapons, it says, constitutes defence expenditure; so does expenditure on paramilitary forces that are organised, armed and employed for guarding the borders and which could be used in combat against another country. All expenditure on military personnel, including pensions for retired soldiers, is to be reported as defence expenditure. The construction and repair of structures and facilities used for defence, says Resolution 35/142, is military spending. Command and communications systems for defending the country should be financed from the defence budget.

New Delhi, however, distributes a hefty chunk of this spending across heads other than defence. Within India’s nuclear arsenal, only the missiles that carry nukes to their targets are paid for from the defence budget. The bill for the nuclear warheads themselves is picked up by the Department of Atomic Energy. It is impossible to determine how much of the Rs 3908 crores (US$970 million) allocated (through Demand No 4) to the Department of Atomic Energy goes into nuclear power generation and how much goes into bombs. But even if one-third of the DAE’s budget goes into warhead production and research, Rs 1300 crores (US$325 million) must be added to the defence budget.

India’s plethora of paramilitary forces are allocated money from the Home Ministry budget (under Major Heads 2055 and 4055), even though forces like the Border Security Force (BSF), the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP), the Sashastra Seema Bal (SSB) and the India Reserve Battalions (IRB) are deployed on the borders in defence of the realm. The Home Ministry also pays for the Assam Rifles (AR), even though it is commanded by army officers on deputation, and operates largely under the army. The same is true of the National Security Guard (NSG), the army-manned Black Cat commandos, charged with special missions like anti-hijack, hostage rescue, and anti-terrorist operations. The bill for these forces comes to Rs 7632 crores (US$1.9 billion). This does not include the Rs 4219 crores (US$1.05 billion) budget for the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), of which an estimated one-fourth is engaged in counter-militant operations in J&K, Assam, Tripura, Nagaland and Manipur. 

The Home Minister picks up the tab not just for these forces, but also a Rs 608 crore (US $152 million) bill for fencing the Pakistan and the Bangladesh borders this year. Shivraj Patil also pays Rs 555 crores (US$140 million) for housing the paramilitary forces while they perform military duties. And his colleague, Mr P Chidambaram, flouts UN Resolution 35/142B by making him pay another Rs 404 crores (US$101 million) for a high-tech surveillance and infrastructure network for the borders with Pakistan, China and Myanmar. Another Rs 100 crores (US$25 million) is allocated for “critical infrastructure within extremist affected areas”, which is used largely for security-related construction.

But the most glaring exclusions from India’s defence budget are the Rs 15,564 crores (US$3.9 billion) allocated for pensions (Demand No 20), and an allocation of Rs 2370 crores (US$592 million) for the Ministry of Defence (Demand No 19). The MoD allocation funds a regular army regiment called the J&K Light Infantry, the Coast Guard, and the MoD secretariat itself; it is impossible to argue that this is not defence expenditure. And even in countries as opaque as China, pensions to retired soldiers form a part of the military budget.

Factoring in these hidden expenses, India’s defence budget really amounts to Rs 1,34,133 crores (US$33.5 billion), rather than the Rs 1,05,600 crores (US$26.4 billion) that the government declares; that is a little over 2.5% of India’s GDP. 

While this article seeks to set the record straight, India remains a country where even experts, top government officials, and the legislature do nothing to debate defence expenditure and how to get more bang for the buck. Allocations that are a fraction of defence are discussed threadbare, but widespread ignorance of defence planning means that even an allocation of Rs 1,34,133 crores would probably have been passed by Parliament without a word of debate. In a land of holy cows, defence remains the most blessed of them.


Declared defence budget         : Rs 1,05,600 cr      (US$ 26.4 billion)
Nuclear forces                        : Rs 1,300 cr          (US$ 325 million)
Paramilitary forces                 : Rs 7,632 cr           (US$ 1.9 billion)
Paramilitary housing              : Rs 555 cr              (US$140 million)
Border fencing                       : Rs 608 cr             (US$152 million)
Border infrastructure             : Rs 504 cr             (US$126 million)
Pensions                                : Rs 15,564 cr         (US$3.9 billion)
Ministry of Defence                : Rs 2370 cr            (US$592 million)
Actual defence budget            : Rs 1,34,133 cr      (US$ 33.5 billion)

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Global Hawk UAV

Just thought I'd post this photo that someone sent me of a Global Hawk UAV that returned from Iraq recently. It flew back under its own power... That's Iraq to Edwards Air Force Base in California non stop. 

Notice the mission paintings on the fuselage. This UAV has flown over 250 missions. On really long missions the Global Hawk can stay up for almost 2 days at altitudes above 60,ooo feet. It is controlled through satellite communication. The Global Hawk can taxi, take off, fly a mission, return, land and put itself back in the hanger without a pilot inside. 

When the Global Hawk attacks a target, it flies in at very high speed and fires AMRAAMS and other homing munitions... and is gone without ever being seen.

And for those who thought India has net-centric capability, this UAV shows what net-centric really means. It has direct AWACS and satellite input and, therefore, 360 degree situational awareness. When it is assigned to strike a target, everything this is needed --- maps, target recognition, weaponry data, etc --- is fed to it AUTOMATICALLY from the assigned controller.

Saturday, 8 March 2008

Nag missile test: 2006

This test was conducted at the Pokhran Field Firing Ranges in Rajasthan. The tank target was placed at a range of 2500 metres. The Nag has, in other tests, successfully engaged targets at 4 kilometers and above.

For those who need reminding, the Nag is a Generation 3+ (the DRDO says Generation 4) fire-and-forget missile, which is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad. It is one of the five missiles being developed by India's Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) as a part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP). When the Nag is accepted into service by the army, the IGMDP will be formally closed.

The missile automatically conducts a top attack at ranges below 1300 metres. It has a tandem warhead that will defeat any Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) in service today. The warhead has been developed by ARDE, Pune and HEMRL, Pune.

The Nag performed well during the summer trials in June 2007, which were conducted through the BMP-based NAMICA (Nag Missile Carrier). That is the vehicle in the video. Some glitches remained to be sorted out after the June 2007 trials. The army has asked for a higher level of ruggedisation (after one missile failed) and has also asked DRDL to improve user-friendliness: the display on the screens, fire controls and reduced reaction and aiming times.

The DRDL says it is confident that the summer trials in 2008 will validate all the technologies in the Nag. So far, one of the problem areas was in the missile's Imaging Infra-red Seeker, which homes it onto the target. That problem has been bypassed by importing the Focal Plane Sensor in the seeker from SOFRADIR in France.

Bharat Dynamics Limited (BDL) will be the prime contractor for construction of the missile. The production strategy involved getting even the development missiles manufactured by BDL.

The army has also asked for a helicopter borne version of the Nag, the HELINA (Helicopter Launched Nag) with a range of 7.5 km. That is slated to be fitted in the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), which is being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Bangalore.

HAL Bangalore: Main Airframe Static Test on Tejas

Photos: Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
January 2008

A Limited Series Production (LSP) Tejas fighter undergoing a Main Airframe Static Test (MAST)

The MAST procedure involves monitoring every significant inch of the airframe through 4000 strain gauge channels. This is done while simulating actual flight conditions. There is an acoustic system that gives real time warning of failure, even early warning of likely failure.

After going through a MAST, the reactions of the airframe while flying has been pretty much predicted. 

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

HAL, not DRDO, will lead design of new aircraft

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 5th March 08

(Photos: Ajai Shukla)
The Dhruv production line at HAL, Bangalore

The robust new partnership between Hin
dustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and India’s private sector is evident at the spanking new Rotary Wing R&D Centre (RWR&DC) at HAL’s Bangalore campus. This is the heart of the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) project, an HAL-led project in which private aviation design companies will play a key role.

The spacious hall of the RWR&DC is hushed except for the hum of 70 computer workstations. A dozen designers from private software company, Plexion Technologies, are working on Unigraphics computer aided design (CAD) software to create a hydraulics system for India’s futuristic Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). Near by, a team from HAL-BaE Systems is designing the helicopter’s engine cowling. Engineers from Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) work in another corner; they are responsible for the software package that connects all these designers in real time. In a glass-walled office that looks out at the RWR&DC, a team of Indian Air Force (IAF) engineers track the progress of each aspect of the LCH.

B Pandaji Nath Rao, Chief Designer for the LCH, who conducts Business Standard through this exclusive visit to the RWR&DC, explains the benefits of this integrated design centre. A tailor-made team from the private and public sector can be quickly put together; interaction is close; security is simplified; design changes take place in real time.

This HAL-led integrated design centre is a radical shift from the design approach towards India’s flagship aviation project: the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The DRDO-headed Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) was responsible for designing and integrating the Tejas, drawing upon designers from DRDO laboratories spread across the country. HAL merely plays the role of “prime contractor”, responsible for manufacturing the LCA that the ADA designs.

But sharp criticism of delay in the LCA project (the project has run twenty-five years since it began, in 1983) has engendered a new outlook. HAL Chairman, Ashok Baweja, told Business Standard that HAL will no longer rely on the DRDO to manage aircraft design programmes. Instead, HAL will design, as well as manufacture, upcoming projects like the LCH, the Light Observation Helicopter (LOH), the Indo-Russian Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MRTA) and Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). It has already successfully led the development of the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which is in service with the military.

The reason for the delay in DRDO-led projects like the LCA, says Ashok Baweja, lies in the DRDO’s institutional focus on R&D, rather than on delivering a project on time. Furthermore, in contrast to HAL’s corporate structure, the DRDO is a non-commercial government department, hamstrung by procurement rules and practices.

Mr Ashok Baweja explains, “By tradition and practice, R&D labs are less focused on deliverables and project management. (The DRDO) is like an academic institution; it is in the business of teaching and learning. If they are told, now go and make this, you make a product which is deliverable, marketable which they have to get certified by somebody, they won’t know how to go about it.”

Even while rejecting DRDO as a “programme manager”, the HAL Chairman is careful to highlight the major role played by the DRDO in developing the LCA. Key systems were developed by DRDO laboratories like the Aviation Development Establishment (ADE), the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) and many others, who Mr Baweja said would continue to develop systems for the aircraft now being developed by HAL.

In assuming responsibility for both design and manufacture, HAL is reverting to an earlier model. Early aircraft like the HT-2 and Kiran trainers, and the HF-24 were designed as well as manufactured in HAL Bangalore.

Saturday, 1 March 2008

Tejas Light Combat Aircraft: two-seater trainer photo

On popular demand, here's the first photograph of the first prototype of the two-seater trainer version of the Tejas LCA. I took the photograph at HAL Bangalore. Please reproduce only with due credit.

The trainer, HAL hopes, will fly within three months. The under-construction version that you see in the photograph was about to be taken for its "structural coupling test", in which various sensors are excited and the aircraft response evaluated.

Designing the two-seater has taken some doing. The second cockpit has been installed at the place where all the avionics and controls are fitted for the single-seater version. The duplication of controls, and the reconfiguration of equipment has required major redesign.

But anyway, here it is. Enjoy!