Wednesday, 30 April 2008

Navy brass throws joint training overboard

by Ajai Shukla
Dateline: Pune
Business Standard, 30th April 2008

The National Defence Academy (NDA) at Kadakwasla, near Pune, is internationally admired as the world’s only military academy that trains cadets for all three services --- army, navy and air force --- all together. With different operational roles, traditions, and serving in separate bases, the three services remain linked by a common ethos, instilled over the last 60 years in tens of thousands of officers during their three years at the NDA.

But now, the Indian Navy has struck at the very idea of a common foundation. The Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, who is also the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC), has passed orders to NDA that from July 2009, the navy’s cadets will follow their own syllabus, and that they will stay at the academy for just two years. The army and the air force cadets will continue with the old three-year course.

Behind this order, which has created dismay in the army and air force leadership, is the navy’s decision to provide every naval officer with a Bachelor of Technology (B.Tech) degree before they are commissioned. Now naval cadets at the NDA will study technical subjects instead of a common NDA academic syllabus. After two years at NDA, they will transfer to the Naval Academy at Ezhimala, in Kerala, where they will study another two years to get their B.Tech degrees.

NDA has been given no choice but to fall in line. If the academy is unable, or unwilling, to implement the new syllabus, said Admiral Mehta, the navy would no longer send its cadets to Khadakwasla. Instead naval cadets would go to the Naval Academy, Ezhimala, for their entire four years of training.

This move has created chaos at the NDA, which is now struggling to rework a training syllabus that was fine-tuned over decades. First, there is the need to compress three years of basic military training into just two years. Senior officers at the NDA believe that the basic training laid down in the charter of NDA --- instilling leadership qualities, an honour code, character-building, and an appreciation of the inter-service aspect of the armed forces --- simply cannot be imparted in a truncated time frame.

The navy insists that it can. In a statement, the Indian Navy told Business Standard that, “The only option is to undertake two years of joint training at NDA followed by technology upgrades for two years at NAVAC (Naval Academy, Ezhimala). This would provide us the opportunity to inculcate the spirit of jointness over the two years of training at NDA, and yet meet the Navy’s requirement of B. Tech education.”

And so NDA is putting together a B.Tech syllabus and hiring academic staff to impart it. The beleaguered academic department in Khadakwasla is already functioning without a principal, a vice principal or a registrar. Instead of the 120 lecturers authorised, NDA has just 57. Outdated and inadequate pay scales are making it difficult to retain even the existing academic staff.

Senior officers, steeped in the fierce loyalties that the NDA arouses, condemn the move bluntly. General VP Malik, the army chief at the time of the Kargil conflict, points out that the navy has long demanded a B.Tech for all its officers, but suggests implementing it without undermining the tri-services ethos of NDA. Gen Malik says, “I think it’s a bad move to shift out naval cadets after two years. Whatever camaraderie and joint services spirit exists in the military today can be traced directly to the time spent together at NDA.”

Former naval chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, justifies the need to provide a technical degree to naval officers, but says, “as an NDA man, I’ve always had an uneasy feeling about disconnecting naval cadets (from the academy) after two years. During the Kargil war, I shared the closest of relationships with the army chief, General VP Malik. That was because both of us have known each other since our time together as NDA cadets.”

The NDA is already facing a shortfall of cadets. In the latest course to join the academy, there were just 191 cadets against the normal intake of 300. Since then, 9 more have withdrawn from the academy.

Monday, 28 April 2008

Challenge to 26% FDI cap in defence: Mahindra-BAE Systems apply to set up 51-49% Joint Venture

(Photo: A truck mounted 105 mm Indian Field Gun. The integration was done by the Tata Group, which hopes to foray into manufacturing artillery)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th April 08

India’s impending multi-billion dollar purchase of 155 millimetre artillery guns has sparked a significant challenge to the cap of 26% on foreign direct investment (FDI) in Indian private defence industry, which was legislated by the Ministry of Commerce (MoC) in 2001.

On 21st April, Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS) and BAE Systems, the world’s fourth biggest arms company, applied jointly to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for permission to set up a Joint Venture (JV) in which BAE Systems would hold 49% of the equity. The balance of 51%, and control of the company, would remain with MDS.

Sources in MDS and BAE Systems confirm plans to manufacture important components of the BAE Systems 155mm guns at a new facility near Faridabad. BAE Systems is submitting bids for supplying ultra-light 155 mm howitzers, and a new-generation version of the FH-77B Bofors gun of Kargil renown, which is now made by BAE Systems. If the company wins the contract, it will meet its offsets liability of 30% of the contract value, by producing defence material in the new JV.

But the JV, both companies emphasise, is not about offsets, but for creating a manufacturing hub in India as a part of the UK giant’s global supply chain. BAE Systems sources say that their participation in the JV hinges on being allowed 49% of the equity.

The 26% cap was imposed through Press Note No 4 of 2001, in which the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) first opened defence manufacture to private industry. Since then, foreign companies have campaigned strenuously for increasing the FDI cap to 49%, allowing them a larger share of the risks and profits and the confidence to transfer sensitive technology to a JV in India.

The MoD, which plays a major role in granting such waivers, has publicly stated on several occasions that it is willing to waive the FDI cap if that would bring significant technology into India. The MoD is encouraged by the Brahmos success story, in which an Indo-Russian 50-50 JV built the world’s most technologically advanced cruise missile. On Wednesday, Defence Minister AK Antony told parliament that the government was processing another 50-50 JV with Russia to co-develop the Multi-Role Transport Aircraft. And yet another 50-50 JV is on the cards, with an Israeli company, for jointly developing the next generation Barak missile.

But there is significant opposition to enhancing FDI limits from private Indian companies with existing capabilities in defence manufacture. These companies, which include large and influential players like L&T and Kirloskars, are lobbying within industry bodies like the CII, and in the MoD to discourage grant of waivers. They apprehend that Indian newcomers to defence could piggyback on foreign technology to bypass their own painstakingly built capabilities. So far, the CII has refused to take a position on this.

Interestingly, in the one instance in which the FDI cap has been waived for a private sector JV --- a Rs 5 crore private sector JV between Rolta Ltd and French company, Thales, in January 2008 --- the possibility of high technology barely seemed to influence the grant of the waiver. In the ministry notings, which Business Standard has reviewed, the MoD barely examined whether India would gain any technological benefit from the JV. The MDS-BAE JV application, nevertheless, rests its case on the transfer of sensitive technology, such as robotics and rapid prototyping.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Friendly fire damages the Arjun

(Photo: At the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment, Avadi, with CVRDE Joint Director, Major General HM Singh, who has ably guided the Arjun Project for over two decades)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 22nd April 2008

The Arjun tank is in pitched battle even before fully entering service with the Indian Army. Ironically, the most hostile fire is coming from the men who will eventually ride the tank into war: the army’s mechanised forces. These experts, it now emerges, have rubbished the tank before Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence; they say they will not accept the Arjun unless it improves considerably. What benchmarks it must meet remain undefined.

The Arjun saga encapsulates the pitfalls in any attempt to build a complex weapons system. It all began in 1974, when the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) undertook to build India’s own Main Battle Tank (MBT). The euphoria gradually waned as the DRDO missed deadline after deadline, eventually losing the army’s trust with unfulfilled promises that the tank was just around the corner. The army undermined the project in equal measure, periodically “updating” the design as technology moved on. DRDO scientists joke that whenever they approached a technology solution, the next issue of Jane’s Defence Weekly would give the army new ideas for upgrading their demands.

Exaggeration notwithstanding, the DRDO has a point in complaining about changes in the Arjun design goalposts. There is logic too in the army’s plea that it could not accept a 1970s, or a 1980s design in the 1990s and 2000. But there was neither logic nor reason in the recriminations that followed. Instead of design and R&D partners with equal stakes in the Arjun, the DRDO and the army locked themselves into mutual finger-pointing: no matter how much the Arjun was improved, there were always some flaws that remained to be sorted.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD), meanwhile, watched mutely. With the Arjun ploughing through endless trials --- 15 Arjuns have already run 75,000 kilometers, and fired 10,000 rounds in the most extensive trials ever --- the army insisted on another tank. In the late 1970s, the army bought the T-72; in the 1990s, the T-90s came along. But despite thousands of crores of rupees paid to Moscow, the Russian tanks have been raddled with problems; now hundreds of crores more are being spent in upgrading their night fighting capabilities, navigation equipment, radio sets, and their armour. Tens of Indian soldiers have died as the barrels of Russian tanks burst while firing.

In contrast, just Rs 300 crores were used in building and developing the Arjun. This is not to say that the Russian tanks are worthless. Operating military equipment is fraught with danger and upgrading is a continuous process. But the army’s tolerance for Russian defects contrasts starkly with its impatience for the Arjun.

Some army exasperation was, perhaps, understandable when the DRDO was plugging a tank that was not yet fit for the battlefield. But it is no longer justified when the Arjun is performing well. Army soldiers from 43 Armoured Regiment, which operates 15 trial Arjuns, praise the tank whole-heartedly. Problem solving will remain a part of operating the Arjun, just like with India’s Russian fleet. But while the soldiers and junior officers accept that the Arjun has come good, the generals remain fixed in the past.

As a result the army, incongruously, finds itself defending its Russian tanks from the Indian challenge of the Arjun. The tank’s developers, the Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE) at Chennai, has been clamouring for face-to-face comparative trials, where the Arjun, the T-72 and the T-90 are put through the same paces. After first agreeing --- and even issuing a detailed trail directive in 2005 --- the army has backed away from comparative trials. Instead, it told the MoD that it was buying 124 Arjuns, and trials were needed only to ascertain its requirements for spares. While doing these trials --- which have nothing to do with the Arjun’s performance --- the army has testified before the Standing Committee on Defence that the tank’s performance was suspect.

Contrast the Indian Army’s approach with how other countries approach complex defence R&D projects with long gestation periods, where technology gets outdated during the development cycle. The four-nation Eurofighter consortium bypassed the “technology trap” by agreeing to first develop a simpler fighter, which all participants would buy as Tranche 1 of the project. During Tranche-1 manufacture, newly developed technologies would be harnessed into a newer, more capable Eurofighter. The last Tranche-1 aircraft was delivered last month; the new multi-role Tranche-2 aircraft has been developed meanwhile; deliveries will start now. Clear development milestones and a more accepting approach by the users have made Eurofighter a success.

The army placed an order for 124 Arjuns eight years ago, when the tank was not even a viable fighting platform. Now that the Arjun is pulling its weight (almost 60 tons!) and those 124 tanks are rolling off the production line in Avadi, this order should be seen as Tranche-1. The CVRDE is refining many of the Arjun’s systems with technologies that have been developed more recently, particularly through harnessing India’s growing IT proficiency. Assuring a Tranche-2 order for improved Mark 2 Arjuns, and allocating R&D funding would set the project on a path where India might never need to buy a foreign tank again.

One reason for the army’s judgemental approach to the Arjun is its lack of involvement in the tank’s development. Unlike the navy, which has its own directorate of naval design, and which produces itself the conceptual blueprints of any new warship, the army has no technical expertise --- nor any department --- that designs its tanks. The Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) is staffed by combat officers from the mechanised forces, most of whom see the Arjun not as a national defence project, but as a tank that they must drive into battle. A whole new approach is needed.

Saturday, 19 April 2008

Battle-lines drawn on the Arjun tank: Armed Forces prefer Russian armour

(Photographs: by Ajai Shukla: An Arjun MBT goes through its paces on the test track at the Central Vehicles Research and Development Establishment, or CVRDE, at Avadi, Chennai)

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard: 19th April 2008)

The battle-lines have been drawn. At stake is the future of one of India’s most prestigious defence products: the Arjun main battle tank (MBT). In its 29th report, which was tabled in parliament yesterday, Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence writes that it was “startled” to be told that the Arjun tank had performed poorly in winter trials conducted by the army, and that it was miles away from meeting the army’s requirements.

Business Standard has learned from three different members of the Standing Committee on Defence that it is more than “startled”; it is frankly disbelieving of the army’s deposition. In its last annual report for 2007-08, the committee was told by the MoD 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.”

After the army representative slammed the Arjun, the Standing Committee chairman, Balasaheb Vikhe Patil, as well as the Defence Secretary, and several other members agreed that the committee would formulate a clear policy on India’s tank of the future. Underlying this decision is the belief amongst most members of the Standing Committee that the army is biased against the Arjun tank, and in favour of continuing to use Russian T-72 and T-90 tanks. 

There were clear factual inaccuracies in the army’s deposition before the Standing Committee. The most glaring of them is the army’s suggestion that it is carrying out trials on the Arjun’s performance. In fact, the army has already accepted the Arjun for introduction into service, based upon its driving and firing performance over years. After firing trials in summer 2006, the trial report (written by the army) said, “The accuracy and consistency of the Arjun has been proved beyond doubt.”

The ongoing trials in Pokhran that the army is citing are Accelerated Usage cum Reliability Trials (AUCRT). In these, two Arjun tanks were run almost non-stop for 3000 kilometers, not to judge performance, but to evaluate the tank’s requirement of spare parts, fuel and lubricants during its entire service life. In fact, it is the Arjun’s developer, the Central Vehicle R&D Laboratory (CVRDE), Avadi, that has long demanded comparative trials, where the performance of five Arjuns would be gauged against five Russian T-90s and T-72s. The army has consistently sidestepped that invitation.

The army has also testified incorrectly to the Standing Committee about four engine failures during the recent AUCRT. In fact, sources closely associated with the trials say, the problems were with four gearboxes, manufactured by German company, Renk AG. A world leader in transmission systems, Renk representatives are already in Pokhran and Avadi, analysing and resolving the problem.

The army does not mention, but problems were also experienced with four hydro-pneumatic suspension units (HSUs), which leaked after the Arjuns had run 2000 kilometers. But the Arjun’s makers say 2000 kilometers is the service life of the suspension; normally they would have been replaced before the point at which they leaked.

Officers closely associated with the Arjun, as well as several members of the Standing Committee on Defence contrast the army’s approach to the Arjun with the navy’s acceptance of indigenous projects. They say the navy has achieved striking success in building its own warships, by associating itself with the project right from the design stage; warships are accepted into service and many hiccups overcome during their service lives. In contrast, the army is resisting accepting the Arjun until every last hiccup is resolved by the DRDO.

An application to interview the army’s Director General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) was approved by the MoD eight months ago. However, the DGMF has not granted an interview so far because of “scheduling problems.”

Thursday, 17 April 2008


This post is a prelude to an article that I'm writing on the recent controversy over the Army’s statement to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, which was tabled in parliament as a part of the Committee’s 29th Report. The part relating to the Arjun, in Para 8.18 of the report, is quoted below:

8.18. During evidence before the Committee, a representative of the Army clarifying the position regarding performance of the Arjun tank submitted as under:-

“Sir, we have just carried out the trial in winter. The tanks have performed very poorly. There have been four engine failures so far. The tanks have done about 1000 km each. There has been a problem. The Defence Minister has been apprised by the Chief. I think two or three days back, he has written a DO letter giving the exact position. So a lot of improvements have to be done before the Army will be satisfied with the Arjun tank.”

The factual position

During the AUCRT in Pokhran, there was NO problem with either of the two engines. The problems were actually with four transmission systems: supplied by Renk AG, from Germany.

The problem: When the oil temperature went up, the oil viscosity was reduced… and the oil pressure was therefore insufficient. As a result, the bearing gave way, and the main shaft in the transmission also got damaged. Pieces were flying around and, when the transmission gearbox was opened, it looked pretty ugly.

The investigations are focusing on three aspects:

1.    The possibility that the use of indigenous oil, rather than German oil, may have led to a failure of lubrication. The CQA (PP)… that is Controller of Quality Assurance (Petroleum Products)… has examined the oil and said that it is of the same grade as the foreign oil. However, the experts from Renk AG are still not convinced. They have taken samples of the oil to Germany to analyse, are will reach a conclusion by Monday, 21st April.

2.    The possibility that recent changes made to the Arjun’s system of dual gear levers might have led to the problem. The driver has a Mode Selector Switch (with options: Forward-Neutral-Reverse)… and also a gear lever (with options: 1, 2, 3, Automatic). So totally, the tank has four forward and two reverse gears. Recently, when the production series tanks began being manufactured, the Gear Lever options were changed to (1, 2, Automatic). In the new system, gears 3 and 4 engage and disengage automatically. In fact, one school of thought amongst the designers is to have just the first gear manual… and then 2-4 automatic, i.e. (1, Automatic).

The CVRDE’s Transmission Group Team has recommended that another Manual Gear lever be introduced. That would be used while tow starting the tank. There are also problems with the logic of gear change in the Pokharan area where the tests are taking place. Unlike the Suratgarh desert, which had heavy sand, the Pokhran desert has hard, flat ground. Since the driving conditions are different, the logic for gear changing has to be different, and the micro-switches that signal the gear changes have to be calibrated differently.

3.    There is also a possibility that a recent change in the supplier of the bearing that failed might have led to the problem. [Renk AG, which manufactures the gearbox, recently changed its bearing supplier.]

Experts from Renk AG are reaching the trial area and also CVRDE, Avadi, on 22nd April. Renk AG is one of the world’s most respected suppliers of transmission systems and it’s prestige is at stake here. A top Arjun designer says, “Renk’s prestige is at stake. I have no doubt they will fix the problem fast.”

Problems with four HSUs

The second problem that the Arjun faced was in some Hydro-pneumatic Suspension Units (HSUs). The Arjun has 7 road wheel stations on each side, which means that each tank has 14 HSUs. With two tanks participating in the trials, there were 28 HSUs that were effectively taking part. Of these, four HSUs failed.

One of them was a genuine failure, in which the HSU’s breather pipe got damaged and sand went in through that. The other three HSUs failed after 2000 km of running. HVF lays down a service life of 2000 km for each HSU, so that was predictable. This was not a problem at all.

It might also be noted that it takes just two hours to replace an HSU in the Arjun. This tank does not have a torsion bar suspension, in which replacing a road wheel station was a major undertaking.

Incidentally, the HSU has been an area where the Arjun’s designers have put in some really serious thinking. The terrain in Pokhran, which is flat and hard, generates in the HSU pistons a low amplitude, high frequency vibration. That is in contrast to heavy sand dune country like Suratgarh, where the HSU pistons undergo a high amplitude, low frequency vibration. In Suratgarh there were no problems, but the resurfacing of problems (albeit after the specified service life) in Pokhran brings to mind the earlier problems in which HSUs were leaking while the tank was being transported by train. The low-amplitude, high frequency vibrations generated by the vibrations of a train were enough to cause the HSUs to leak. That problem was resolved by changing the rings of the floating piston in the HSU. Also, the CVRDE tried out different types of piston rings, including imported ones from Hunger, Germany. Eventually, a life of 2000 km was achieved.

Problems with top rollers

Three or four top rollers also failed. That is being investigated.

Problems with tank Muzzle Reference Sight (MRS)

Of the two tanks undergoing AUCRT, one had a problem with the MRS, which was found to shift when the tank fired. This could have been easily overcome by firing through other means, disregarding the MRS. But suffice to say, the MRS had a problem.

These are very interesting dimensions to the trials in Pokhran, but far more interesting is the way the Army has reacted to them… taking the opportunity to slam the CVRDE for a “substandard” tank. An article on that will be appearing in the Business Standard on Saturday morning.

And, of course, it will be posted here on Broadsword.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Defence shipyards: designing for the world

(Photo: A Scorpene submarine being assembled at the East Yard in Mazagon Docks Ltd, Mumbai. DCNS, the French company that made the Scorpene, is in talks with Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) Kolkata for setting up a joint venture design consultancy)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard: 15th April 2008

For decades, India’s three defence shipyards combined the inefficiency of the public sector with the indecisiveness of the Ministry of Defence (MoD). In Marxist Kolkata, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) also blended in militant trade unionism to ensure that the warships it was asked to build were invariably delayed.

That’s history. Today, with the MoD loosening its hold over its shipyards, GRSE buzzes with a capitalist energy never seen before in the 124-year history of that shipyard. Business Standard has learned that GRSE is at an advanced stage of negotiations with French shipbuilding giant, DCNS (Direction des Constructions Navales Services), for jointly setting up a cutting edge design centre for warships and merchant ships. This will target both the Indian and the global markets.

GRSE’s Chairman and Managing Director, Rear Admiral TS Ganeshan, emphasises that negotiations are still underway, and that the GRSE board must clear the JV before any announcements can be made. But he is upbeat about the potential for the JV to handle design work outsourced from Europe and the US.

Admiral Ganeshan says, “The design centre is being set up with versatile, broad spectrum capabilities so that it can design warships as well as merchant ships. We also expect work from foreign shipyards, which find that the cost of their design manpower is too high. They may get the designs done from Kolkata… and then build the ships in their countries. Our foreign partner will, I hope, bring his work here, get it done and take it back.”

Interestingly, GRSE confirms that a third partner is in discussions for this JV: Indian IT engineering company, Infotech Enterprises, an international name in Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), or tools that allow users to extract information from digitised maps. Infotech Enterprises already designs systems for the US military, through a JV in Puerto Rico. Its 6500 software engineers generated Rs 750 crores in revenue last year.

Refusing to comment on the JV, Infotech Enterprises CEO, BVR Mohan Reddy says, “68% of our revenue comes from engineering. Admittedly 62% of that is in the aerospace sector, but Infotech Enterprises identified marine and shipbuilding as thrust areas a full two years back. We already have 150 engineers who are hardcore specialists in the domain of ship design. And we are looking to expand our footprint in this sector.”

Admiral Ganeshan says he would have liked the Design Centre to be up and running three months ago, but he expects the JV to be formed by August 2008, subject to clearance from the GRSE board. In racing ahead with its own partnerships, GRSE is proving far more ambitious than the Ministry of Defence --- which believes that the volume of work justifies no more than one Design Centre JV, which would handle design for all three defence shipyards: GRSE, Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL), and Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL)

But with GRSE setting the pace, the giant MDL is also going ahead with its own JV, albeit more conservatively. MDL’s Chairman and Managing Director, Vice Admiral SKK Krishnan told Business Standard that four foreign shipyards have been short-listed and MDL has hired ICRA as consultants to recommend a suitable JV partner and to help with the legalities of the JV. MDL does not plan to bring in a third IT partner, as GRSE is doing.

MDL is in no hurry, because it does not have orders yet that would provide work for a design bureau. Admiral Krishnan says, “The government hasn’t officially sanctioned the next-generation frigate and destroyer projects (codenamed Projects 17-A, and Project 15-B respectively). We know these orders are definitely going to come, but there’s no rush; I don’t see these warship projects coming through for the next six months.”

The MoD’s discomfort with multiple design bureaus is tempered somewhat by the advantage of having more design options. Admiral Ganeshan points out, “If, for some technical or commercial reasons, the new JV fails, it should not become a breakdown point for all the shipyards. If my JV fails for some reason, I should be able to get my job done from the MDL JV… and vice versa. It’s a matter of strategy to have at least two design JVs.”

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Word-class warships; Indian prices

Top:  A unit of the third Project 15-A destroyer in the Assembly Shop at Mazagon Docks Ltd.

Right: The INS Shivalik, readying for commissioning in Dec 2008.

Left:  The INS Satpura, the second Project 17 stealth frigate, in the seconds after its launch. You can still see the flotsam of the launch structure.

by Ajai Shukla
(An abridged version of this post was published in the Business Standard on 15th Apr 2008)

Kailash Colony Market, a middle-class shopping area in South Delhi, is an unlikely headquarters for one of the world’s most successful warship design programmes. A single armed sentry post and a strand of barbed wire atop the boundary walls are all that hint at an ultra high-security installation --- the Directorate General of Naval Design (DGND) --- that has fathered battleships like the INS Mumbai, which turned heads across the globe when it sailed into war-torn Beirut in 2006 to evacuate hundreds of Indians stranded by Israel’s attack on Lebanon. (Author’s note: I sailed into Beirut on the INS Mumbai, on my way to cover the Israel-Hizbollah conflict… ohhhh, the pleasure of sailing into war on your own country’s warship!)

Rear Admiral MK Badhwar, the navy’s design chief, explains how the navy got so far ahead of the army and air force in indigenising its weaponry. Shaken by the 1962 defeat at the hands of China, the army and the air force gratefully bought military equipment from whoever was willing to sell. In contrast, India’s tiny navy took the far-sighted decision to build, rather than buy, its fleet. Today, the army and the air force are playing catch-up; latecomers to indigenisation, they are struggling with a technological leapfrog; attempting cutting edge platforms like the Arjun tank and the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) without having first designed simpler weaponry.

The navy, in contrast, learned to walk before it tried to run. Starting with small landing craft in the 1960s, the learning curve rose through the increasingly complex design milestones of the Godavari class, the Brahmaputra class and the Khukri class frigates. The first big DGND triumph came in the late 1990s, with the muscular 6,700-tonne Delhi class destroyers. Later this year, when INS Shivalik --- the first of three 4,800-tonne stealth frigates --- sails out of Mumbai’s Mazagon Docks Limited (MDL) to join the Indian Navy, it will feature in defence journals as one of the world’s cutting edge warships.

The DGND has gone a long way in developing skills in advanced stealth technology. Admiral Badhwar elaborates, “We do noise levels for each system, and the complete prediction in-house. This is world-class design work and are doing it predominantly in house with the industry in the country.”

India hasn’t just learned to build world-class warships; it’s also learned to make them incredibly cheaply. The three Project 17 stealth frigates being built at MDL --- INS Shivalik, INS Satpura and INS Sahyadri --- will each cost Rs 2600 crores (US $ 650 million). The three Project 15-A Kolkata class destroyers, bigger and more heavily armed warships, will each cost the navy Rs 3,800 crores (US $950 million), including the cost of long-term spare parts.

How does that compare with buying a warship in the global market? Ask Australia, which is buying three destroyers from Spanish shipyard, Navantia. The three 6250-tonne destroyers, fitted with the hot-selling Aegis radar and fire control system, will set Australia back by Rs 32,000 crores (US $8 billion). At about Rs 11,000 crores per destroyer, that is almost three times the cost India is paying for its Kolkata class destroyers.

Despite paying a fraction of the cost, says Admiral Badhwar, the Kolkata class is the more powerful battleship. He points out that, “Other than (the Aegis radar), the Australian warship doesn’t have much…. We have got much more packed into the Kolkata-class destroyer. The price tag is inclusive of all weapons systems, and it is a fixed price.”

Sceptics of India’s warship-building capability point out --- with some justification --- that India’s designs borrow substantially from Russian and even western warships. Without denying the Russian influence on India’s design philosophy, Admiral Badhwar points out, “The Project 15-A is about 90% indigenous by cost. We may have to buy the odd gun from the US, or radar from Russia. But the design itself is 100% Indian. And tens of thousands of Indians earn their living from building warships”

India is in a handful of countries, which retain full-fledged design departments in naval headquarters, as well as design bureaus in the shipyards that construct the warships. The DGND, based on the navy’s operational plans, frames the concept and the functions of each warship; the design departments at the shipyards then translate that into a detailed design, and production drawings, from which they actually build the ship.

Most foreign navies have left design work to private contractors because they simply don’t buy enough ships to justify jobs for hundreds of designers. But then few navies are expanding like India’s. With 37 major warships being inducted over the next 5-7 years, the 500 designers in the DGND will have their hands full, saving India an estimated Rs 2,00,000 crores (US $50 billion) when compared with the cost of acquiring those 37 warships from the international market.

India’s DGND labours under a disadvantage, when compared with a country like the US, whose navy maintains 1000 designers, tasked to ensure a technology lead. Those are in addition to the designers who work with the defence-purpose shipyards. The US Navy draws its designers from some 120 institutions in that country, which teach subjects directly associated with warship design. In India, however, only IIT Kharagpur and Cochin University have naval architecture on their curriculum; India’s annual output of naval architects never crosses 20. And those designers are fiercely competed for not just by the defence shipyards, but now also by private shipyards like L&T and ABG, which are also eyeing the warship building market.

Landmarks in Naval Design

1954 :   Corps of Naval Constructors formed on the lines of the UK Royal Navy.

1964 :   A low-kay Naval Design Bureau is formed in naval headquarters.

1970 :   The Directorate General of Naval Design (DGND) is instituted.

1986 :   A submarine design wing is added to the DGND 

(Tomorrow) Part II: Defence shipyards eye the global ship design market)

Sunday, 13 April 2008

Articles on warship design: coming up soon!

Meanwhile... here's something to keep you occupied. INS Shankush being barged in for a refit to Mazagon Docks Limited, Mumbai

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Coming up: 3-part article on "Major new initiatives in warship design"

(Photo: INS Shalki, barging in for a refit at Mazagon Docks Ltd)

For warship enthusiasts, this is to announce the impending post of  an interesting 3-part series on the direction that warship design is taking in the Indian context.

New developments, new partnerships, brand new ideas!

Also... new photographs of the Project 15-A and Project 17 boats. As you all would be knowing, INS Shivalik will be commissioned before the end of 2008. I'll get you pictures of that cool frigate.

Stay tuned.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Nostalgia: HAL builds the last four Jaguars

(Photos: please credit Ajai Shukla)

One of the last four Jaguars that will be built by HAL is being transferred to the Final Assembly Hangar in HAL, Bangalore

HAL is completing the last four Jaguar fighters, in a production run that has lasted almost 20 years.  During this period, the Bangalore Complex of HAL has built 37 Jaguars. Of these 20 are single-seaters and 17 are twin-seaters.

In addition, the IAF operates 30 Jaguars that were built by BAE Systems. All these aircraft have been extensively upgraded by HAL during their service lives. Upgrading will continue, with avionics developed by HAL and DRDO.

The hangar in which the Jaguars have been built for the last two decades, will now become the Hawk assembly line. The overhaul of Jaguars in service with the IAF will be carried out by HAL's Overhaul Division.

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

The capture of Fort Happiness

Photograph: Courtesy Ajai Shukla
Right: Interviewing soldiers at the China border near Bum La in Arunachal Pradesh 

by Ajai Shukla
(Business Standard, 8th April 08)

The uncharacteristic promptness with which Parliament clears pay raises for its members has already proved that nothing brings a divided house together like the prospect of its own benefit. This principle was again illustrated last week when the army, air force and naval chiefs jointly petitioned Defence Minister AK Antony to give the military more than has been recommended by the 6th Pay Commission. Vital strategic issues --- the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), to name just one --- have been put on the back burner because the three services cannot forge agreement. Perhaps a joint campaign for more pay will bring together the generals, admirals and air marshals. 

Their disappointment over the Sixth Pay Commission report is not without basis. There is merit, for example, in the demand that the military must be compensated adequately for its harsh service conditions; and that this compensation must be a part of soldiers’ salaries; and paid antedate from 1st January 2006. There is merit too in the demand that military ranks retain parity with traditional civil services counterparts. 

But much of the disillusionment within the military stems from wider issues than low salaries or difficult and dangerous service conditions. Hundreds of conversations with soldiers, sailors and airmen tell me that they worry most about two major issues. Most troubling for them is the shortage of good schooling for their children, and of family accommodation in many cantonments. And there is equal frustration --- particularly amongst the more intelligent --- about the stifling professional environment of unquestioning obedience, where autocratic commanders can end promising careers with one stroke of a pen.

The latter issue requires fundamental reforms in the system of performance appraisal, and a rejection of the military’s outdated belief that disagreeing with the boss is disloyalty. But encouraging dissent requires secure and confident commanders, and the only one who officially propagated dissent was General K Sundarji, in a letter to every army officer when he took over as army chief in 1986. Having despatched that letter, Sundarji himself remained brusquely dismissive of opposing views. Creating a vibrant professional climate would boost the morale of the services far more than a petition to Mr Antony. But that would require tough decisions and difficult changes; it is far simpler to ask for more salary.

An equal boost to military morale would come from guaranteeing accommodation and quality education in military cantonments. These needs are gaining urgency from social changes across the army’s rural recruiting areas. Traditionally, most soldiers’ families lived in their villages, choosing the security of the joint family over the uncertainties of life in an unknown cantonment. But the erosion of the joint family system is now driving many soldiers to seek family accommodation when they move to peace stations. Soldiers recruited from economically weaker areas also welcome the opportunity to move their families to better housing and to provide their children with quality schooling that would be unavailable in their home villages.

But, according to decades-old scales, only 15% of all jawans are authorised family quarters in a cantonment; and even these have not been built. The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has allotted Rs 17,358 crores towards constructing the shortfall of two lakh married quarters across India’s cantonments, but the time frame of four years for completion of this project has clearly been underestimated. And, once constructed, the family quarters will remain largely empty until the generals address another internal problem: schooling.

Bigger cantonments today house one or more Kendriya Vidyalayas (KVs), but these give jawans short shrift. Governed by rules of the Kendriya Vidyalaya Board, mid-term admissions are seldom allowed, even to the children of soldiers who are posted in from the field. Turned away from the KV, the jawan’s only option is the “Army School”, set up by the Army Welfare Education Society, and run by the local military units. Without educational expertise, without experienced teachers willing to work for a pittance in a remote cantonment, and without steady funding from the army, Army Schools offer no more than an adequate education.

Contrast this with Pakistani cantonments, where the Army Welfare Trust runs excellent schools that have even set up their own system of examinations --- called the Askari Education Board (AEB) --- which has standards higher than the national boards. Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc., a seminal study of the Pakistani military, writes that the army has set a new benchmark by offering AEB accreditation to eager private schools. The Indian Army, fortunately, is not as inclined to expand its roles, but there are lessons to be learnt from the way Pakistan’s military has funded cantonment education, leveraging the excellent campuses, playgrounds and free transport that are also available here.

But while the Indian jawan makes do with whatever is on offer, officers with school-age children increasingly maintain their families in metro cities with quality schools, creating a new series of family, financial and social stresses. A key reason for so many officers wanting to leave service is the cumulative loneliness of years away from the family.

Private companies, like the Tatas in Jamshedpur, have succeeded on a massive scale at providing housing, schooling and a congenial working environment. Why does the military --- with endless tracts of real estate, equipment, enormous funds, the most committed cadre, and unquestioned organisational coherence --- find it so difficult?

Better pay scales and parity with civil services are laudable objectives; but for the military happiness really lies within.