Thursday, 31 July 2008

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, 29 July 2008

An appeal: "Paki" is not a term of abuse... please keep the debate polite

Dear Bloggers,

This blog will not be one where dissenting views are dismissed as "Paki" or "anti-national". Going by the way Pakistan's establishment has nurtured the Al-Khalid MBT, there is much to learn from them. So henceforth, "Paki" is not a term of abuse.

For a vibrant debate --- and I"m positive all of you want one on the Arjun --- the anti-Arjun viewpoint is as important as the pro-Arjun argument. Do come in with anti-Arjun views as well. Anyone who thinks that there is any tank without ANY minuses, is not familiar with tank design... because designing a tank is all about trading off between Firepower, Mobility and Protection.

It's called the Iron Triangle, and tank designers since World War I have discovered that you can have no more than two sides of that. So the Arjun can validly be criticised... just like the M-1 Abrams can. The weight issue is an important one, and I will ask a prominent AFV design expert to post an article exclusively on the Arjun's weight.

So do please confine the debate to the Arjun tank, rather than to the nationalities of those posting. I have (with great regret) deleted two posts that were using particularly offensive language.

I will post a detailed response to the valid --- indeed, the vital --- question, "Why is the Indian Army resisting the Arjun".

Keep the ideas flowing!

Monday, 28 July 2008

It’s War! And you can win it for the Arjun…

If so many of you are willing to argue so passionately for the Arjun (more than a hundred intensely argued posts on my article below) I’ll keep putting out the facts. And here is the first bunch of clarifications… about some of the misconceived arguments being made in some of the posts.

Falsehood No. 1: “70 Arjuns have been rolled out in 8 years!”

Wrong. These 70 tanks have taken less than two years to manufacture. The Arjun’s series production didn’t start in 2000… it only began last year. And the Arjun production line is already very close to producing its installed capacity of 50 tanks a year.

Falsehood No. 2: “Quality speaks for itself.”

Wrong. Quality speaks for itself only when the system is actually in service. But when the equipment is being evaluated, quality is entirely subjective. It is easily buried… in trial reports, which are subject to various pressures and pulls. If the Directorate General of Mechanised Forces makes it clear that the Arjun tank isn’t what they want, if the brigade, division and corps commanders of the units conducting the trials let it be known that they don't think the Arjun should look good, only the occasional stubbornly upright CO will insist that it's a quality tank. Most will make sure that the trial report buries the tank.

And the problem today is that most of those senior officers haven't seen the Arjun today; they still remember the Arjun of 10, 5, even 3 years ago. So perception and institutional memory is loaded against the Arjun.

Secondly, trials can be structured in a manner that tilts the scale dramatically against the equipment being tried out. In the case of contentious equipment like the Arjun tank, the best way to make trials somewhat objective is to hold "comparative trials"… in which two or three pieces of equipment are put through identical routines. Even that can be fiddled, but it is far more difficult to do so.

Falsehood No. 3: “T-90 production delays are due to the Ordnance Factory Board.”

Wrong. The T-90 is still not at the point of production. And that's because the Russian manufacturers haven’t transferred technology. My earlier article (see below) explains the exact position.

Falsehood No. 4: “The army is not taking over the Arjuns because they are defective.”

Wrong. The army is not taking over those tanks, period. They haven’t yet undergone a transfer inspection, so nobody on the planet knows whether they are defective or not.

That having been said… those tanks might well be of a standard below that of the "Pre-Production Series (PPS) Arjuns. That is because of the well-known difficulties in transitioning from "prototype to production”. That involves changing the mode of production from single piece production to mass production; this gives rise to quality control issues all over the world.

As an example, when the T-72 started being manufactured at HVF Avadi, the quality of those indigenous T-72s (called the Ajeya) was so bad that one of our frontline regiments --- 88 Armoured Regiment, an excellent outfit being commanded by an outstanding officer --- was officially declared “Unfit for War”. It was unprecedented! No armoured regiment had ever been declared “unfit for war” before that. And the reason was simple: productionising the T-72 threw up problems of quality control during mass production.

The Arjun could well face similar problems. But they weren’t used to cut down on the T-72 programme, and --- if they happen with the initial batch of Arjuns --- they shouldn’t be used to curtail the Arjun programme either. It’s an issue that happens, and then gets resolved with a little bit of effort.

Falsehood No. 5: Buying the Arjun is equivalent to “sending soldiers to their deaths in sub-standard equipment”.

Firstly, we haven't yet established that the Arjun is sub-standard. If the army's reluctance to hold comparative trials is any indication, it might well emerge that the T-72s and the T-90s are the substandard equipment in this ball game.

Secondly, the armoured corps is not going to war in a hurry, so we have the time to experiment and nurture an indigenous tank. The last time tankmen went to war was in 1971. If you ask any senior officer when the next time will be, they won’t have an answer. So India DOES have the time to accept the Arjun, iron out any production wrinkles (and we are only ASSUMING that there will be some) and, very importantly, to absorb the know-how for operating the Arjun.

Okay, I’m wrong in the above para. The last time tankmen were sent to their deaths was when barrels started bursting in the T-72 (and it wasn’t only “made in India” barrels), which turned out to be happening because when we started making the barrels, we weren’t tempering them to the right temperature. But that problem got resolved, it wasn’t used to scuttle the T-72 programme.

Not one Arjun barrel has given the slightest problem yet. But other tank parts might, and they must be fixed at leisure… and we have the time to do that.

Falsehood No. 6: “Offer the Arjun for exports. If it’s good, other countries will buy it.”

Wrong. Traditionally, when a new weapons system comes out, prospective buyers observe how it functions in service with its home military. If the Indian Army turns its back on the Arjun, nobody else will even look at it.

Keep the feathers flying!

First ever pictures of... 64 completed Arjuns lined up at the new Arjun assembly line in Avadi, awaiting collection by the army

Saturday, 26 July 2008

Catchovsky-22: The scandal that is the T-90

On 22nd and 23rd July, tank experts from across the world gathered in Delhi. The occasion was a seminar --- organised by the Indian Army’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) in partnership with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) --- aimed at advising the Indian Army on how best to go about designing its next generation of armoured vehicles: the Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT) and Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV). Despite two years of labour, the army’s tank directorate, the DGMF, has failed to decide on a suitable design.

As many of these experts told me, on condition of anonymity, the DGMF’s problems lie in its decision to start designing an MBT all over again. Instead of building on two decades of experience gained while designing the indigenous Arjun tank, perhaps by framing the requirements for an advanced version of the Arjun, the army is going back to the start line.

Experts at the seminar --- including Israeli tank legend, Maj Gen Yossi Ben-Hanan, who designed that country’s successful Merkava tank --- pointed out that tank design is evolutionary, each design building upon the previous one. The Israelis began designing their Merkava-1 MBT in 1970; today they have the world class Merkava-4. The US Army put all their World War II experience into designing the M-47; that led, through the M-48 and the M-60, to the successful M-1 Abrams design. The Russians started in 1940 with the T-32 tank; the great tank battles on the Eastern Front during the Second World War saw the T-32 fathering the T-54. That led to the T-55; the T-72 followed, which was further refined to today’s T-90.

India, like many religious fundamentalists, has rejected the theory of evolution. The Combat Vehicles R&D Establishment (CVRDE) in Chennai, which has designed the Arjun, is now offering an improved Arjun-2 with more modern electronics. But last month, the army’s top tank-man, Lt Gen D Bhardwaj, trashed two decades of indigenous design work on the Arjun; he declared that the army would buy just 124 Arjuns for its 4000-tank fleet.

On 23rd July, Maj Gen Yossi Ben-Hanan warned the audience, “A decision taken today to build an Indian tank will yield an MBT only 15 years hence.”

And so, for the next15 years, while India grapples with a fresh design and fresh design problems, Russia will fill the Indian inventory, just as it has for the last 35 years. Frustrated army procurement manages point out that Moscow has flagrantly violated the February 2001 contract to supply India with 310 Russian-built T-90s and then transfer the technology, materials and components to build another 1000 in India. Seven years after that contract was signed, not a single T-90 has rolled out of Heavy Vehicles Factory (HVF) Avadi, where they are to be built. Senior MoD sources explain that Russia has failed to provide the critical technologies and components needed for T-90 manufacture.

Russia has not been sued for this breech of contract; instead it has been rewarded. Last December, India ordered 347 more fully built T-90s, at prices far higher than the first batch. (I understand that the first 310 T-90s cost India about Rs 9 crores apiece; the second batch of 347 T-90s will cost Rs 14 crores each, an escalation of over 50%) But most crucially, the December 2007 contract for 347 T-90s will delay the indigenous manufacture of T-90s even further, since the Russian plant cannot transfer any components or materials until it meets the fresh Indian order.

A furious official from HVF Avadi calls it “the perfect Catch-22 situation.”

Meanwhile, the 310 T-90s, which have been delivered by Russia and introduced into service, are far from battle worthy. The crucial tank Fire Control System (FCS), especially the Thermal Imaging Sight, through which the crew aims and fires at the enemy, has failed to function in Indian summers. An obliging Russian industry body, Rosoboronexport, offered to sell India “tank air conditioners”, even though no other tank in our inventory needs or uses air-conditioning.

The Russian air-conditioners were put through trials, which were a miserable failure. The driver of the trial tank fainted from heatstroke. Now the MoD has floated a global tender for air-conditioning the T-90s, as well as the T-72s which have functioned without air-conditioners for the last 29 years.

Meanwhile, the new Arjun production line at HVF Avadi has already churned out close to 70 Arjun tanks. They like there uncollected, even as the rate of production is quickening. The army continues to stonewall the Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) pleas for comparative trials between the Arjun, the T-90, and the near-obsolescent T-72. The Arjun has successfully completed Phases IV and V of the Accelerated Usage cum Reliability Trials (AUCRT) which finished last month, during which the Arjun’s electronics worked flawlessly, without any air-conditioning.

But the DGMF is sticking to its guns; the army refuses to accept more Arjuns.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

DPP-2008 on 1st August: Offset banking okayed for 2 years

(Photo: courtesy Ajai Shukla. The assembly line at HAL, Bangalore, for the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th July 08

Defence Minister AK Antony has confirmed that the long wait for the new Defence Procurement Policy of 2008 (DPP-2008) will finally end on 1st August. A keenly anticipated portion of DPP-2008 is the new defence offset policy, which will immediately govern offset proposals for a Rs 47,000 crores contract for fighter aircraft and, thereafter offsets for defence purchases worth Rs 300,000 crores over the next five years.

India’s offset policy mandates that defence contracts worth more than Rs 300 crores will place on vendors a “direct offset liability” of 30%, making them liable for investing 30% of the contract value in Indian defence companies, or sourcing defence goods or services worth an equivalent amount.

The new policy, Business Standard has learned, incorporates a key request of foreign defence companies; offset banking is now permitted. Foreign vendors can accumulate offset credits for two years preceding the award of a contract. Offsets can only be banked after permission from the government, which will examine all offset banking proposals to ensure that they benefit Indian defence industry. 

This appears far short of the request from global arms corporations for a 10-year banking period. However, in the way the policy has been framed, the 2-year clearance would practically amount to far longer. As long as the vendor links the banked offsets to a government tender (a Request for Proposals, or RfP, as the MoD calls it) the banked offsets will remain alive until that contract is finalised.

A senior MoD official explains how this will be interpreted. Assume that Rs 4000 crores worth of offsets banked by a foreign vendor is lapsing on 1st January 2009. Over the next three months, i.e. before 31st March 2009, the vendor can link those Rs 4000 crores to an RfP to which that company is responding, e.g. the procurement of helicopters. Once the banked offsets get linked to the helicopter purchase, they do not lapse even if the evaluation and trials go on for another five years. In fact, if the vendor continues accumulating Rs 1000 crores worth of offsets credits each year, at the end of the 5-year period, i.e. on 1st January 2014, he will have Rs 9000 crores as banked offsets (Rs 4000 crores + Rs 5000 crores).

If that vendor wins the contract, his offsets liabilities would be immediately reduced to the extent of his banked offsets credit of Rs 9000 crores. If, however, he fails to win the contract, the entire amount would lapse, less offsets for the preceding two years, i.e. for 2013 and 2014. 

The new offsets policy also waives the current requirement for a defence production licence for Indian private defence industry doing offsets business with foreign vendors. DPP-2006, the current policy, defines offsets as the purchase of products from “Defence Public Sector Undertakings, the Ordnance Factory Board, and any private defence industry manufacturing these products or components under an industrial licence granted for such manufacture. The new policy has quietly done away with the phrase “under an industrial licence granted for such manufacture”.

While this is an important liberalisation for the private sector, it appears to clash with the current Government of India policy, promulgated by the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion, in the Ministry of Commerce & Industry. That policy specifies, in Press Note No 4 of 2001, (which has not yet been amended) that, “The defence industry sector is opened up to 100% for Indian private sector participation with FDI permissible up to 26%, both subject to licensing.” The new DPP 2008 does not clarify how this clash will be resolved.

Friday, 18 July 2008

What happened to the Kaveri? Enclosed, please find a press release, dated 17th July, from the DRDO


Gas Turbine Research Establishment, Bangalore of DRDO had been indigenously developing Kaveri engine for propelling the Indian Light Combat Aircraft (Tejas). As a spin off during development, a marine version has been evolved to develop shaft power for propelling Indian Naval ship.

Using the core of the Kaveri engine, the scientists of GTRE have added Low Pressure Compressor & Turbine as a gas generator and designed a Free Power Turbine to generate shaft Power for the maritime application. The Kaveri Marine Gas Turbine (KMGT) as it has been named has been transported to Naval Dock Yard, Vishakapatnam and installed on to the Marine Gas Turbine test bed which is an Indian Navy Facility capable of testing the Gas Turbines upto 25 MW of shaft power through a reduction gearbox and a water brake dynamometer.

The involvement of Indian Navy in the development of the engine including their participation during testing has given a tremendous push to the success achieved so far.

During the recent visit of the Prime Minister of India, Dr. Manmohan Singh to Naval Dock Yard, Vishakapatnam, Shri T. Mohana Rao, Director, GTRE has demonstrated the engine to the VVIP along with the Senior Naval Officers. The engine has been further tested to its potential of 12 MW at ISA SL 35°C condition which is the requirement of Indian Navy for propelling the SNF (Rajput) class of ships. This peak power was demonstrated to various dignitaries including the Scientific Advisor to Raksha Mantri Shri M. Natarajan, Vice Admiral B.S.Randhawa, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, Dr. D.Banerjee, CC (R&D) among others.

India will become self-reliant in this critical technology of Gas Turbines for ship propulsion with the support Indian Navy as a very active and participating user throughout the development. This will put India in the elite club of Marine Gas Turbine designers amongst USA, Russia, UK and Ukraine.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

The Tejas LCA: improving performance with the current F-404 engine

(Concluding part of a two-part series on the Tejas LCA's engine)

by Ajai Shukla

The selection of the Tejas LCA’s new engine in October --- the choice (as the previous post deals with) is between the Eurojet EJ200 and the GE F-414 --- will provide an extra 10 KiloNewtons of thrust to the Tejas. The new engines, however, will start being fitted onto the third Tejas squadron; the first two squadrons, comprising 40 aircraft, would already be in service with the GE F-404 IN-20 engines.

And so the Indian Air Force (IAF) has asked the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to urgently improve the performance of Tejas LCAs fitted with the GE F-404 IN-20 engines. These will power the first two LCA squadrons consisting of 40 fighters.

I visited HAL’s Bangalore Complex to see how that is being done. HAL has adopted a three-fold strategy:

1.  Improving the air intake. 

Top HAL decision-makers pooh-pooh the IAF’s contention that the LCA’s air intakes are incorrectly designed, resulting in oxygen starvation and incomplete burning and, therefore, sub-optimal engine power from the F-404s. At the same time, however, steps are being taken to improve air intake, without getting into major redesign that could set back the programme by years. Instead, auxiliary air intakes are being provided on the sides of the Tejas engine housing --- similar to those on the Jaguar (see photos).

These auxiliary air intakes comprise of spring-loaded panels that open when engine suction is very high and provide an additional route for airflow into the engine intakes. As you can see in the photos, the spring-loaded panels can be pushed in by manual pressure.

At critical stages in the flight envelope, such as during take-off, rapid climb, sustained turn… and in any case, when afterburners are on… the heavy suction from the engines would open the auxiliary air intakes. When the demand for air goes down, such as in level flight, the auxiliary air intakes would close.

HAL designers aver that this would improve the engine performance only in some portions of the flight envelope. They say that during the most critical moments --- which are during sustained turns, in aerial combat --- the auxiliary air intakes would provide only marginally improved performance, if any at all.

A top HAL designer told me, “There is some merit in [the IAF’s idea]… the designers are considering it. There has been a debate for quite some time… will it really improve to that extent. Where it really matters it may not give added thrust.. in other places it will give.”

Nevertheless, the fitment of auxiliary air intakes is going ahead, partly because this does not require major re-engineering, nor will it delay the Tejas induction in any way. According to HAL, this will take six months to engineer; later LSPs will incorporate the auxiliary air intakes.

2.  Reduction of Tejas' weight. 

The LCA’s designers say that the removal of telemetry instrumentation, which is essential during flight testing, will bring the Tejas’ weight down by as much as 300-400 kilos. Re-engineering some of the displays and sub-systems within the cockpit will lop off another 300 kilos; the weight reduction of 600-700 kilos is expected to allow the carriage of more weapons.

There is a lack of understanding about what the Tejas’ weight is, since all kinds of figures are bandied about. Let me clarify: The 10.5 tons that I wrote about in my last post is the total weight of the Tejas, with full fuel on board; all 7 pylons fitted but not carrying weapons; and two outboard missiles being carried. The maximum payload of the Tejas is 3.5 tons… carried on its pylons. This could be armament or external fuel tanks; if external fuel tanks are fitted, the weight of fuel will correspondingly bring down the weapons load carried.

But there’s a catch! The maximum take-off weight of the Tejas is 13 tons. So if you load the maximum payload of 3.5 tons onto the 10.5 ton fighter, your weight of 14 tons is beyond the maximum take-off weight. So you’ll have to shed one ton… or either internal fuel or external fuel/armaments. That’s what happens when a fighter’s weight goes beyond what was originally planned.

So the reduction of 600-700 kilos may not actually go into making the Tejas more manoeuvrable. This shaved off weight may be made up by allowing the Tejas to carry (close to) its full capacity of external fuel-cum-armament.

3.  Increasing control surfaces. 

The designers say they are considering adding an auxiliary wing (similar to the Eurofighter) to the front portion of the fuselage to increase the control surfaces, and therefore manoeuvrability. This involves major re-engineering, which cannot be done for the first two squadrons. However, it will be grouped along with the re-design that will be necessary for fitting in the new engine for Tejas No 41 onwards.

The Tejas designers are not unanimous about the utility of an auxiliary wing. Some are of the opinion that the added power that will come from the new engine might make the additional control surfaces superfluous. But the option remains on the table.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Finally, a deadline for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft's new engine

Part 1 of a two-part series on the Tejas LCA's engine)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th July 08

For years, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has argued bitterly with the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) --- which is developing India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) --- over who is to blame for the LCA’s low engine power. The IAF accuses the ADA of failing to develop a suitable engine; the ADA retorts that the IAF’s demands for extra combat punch added two tons to the LCA’s original weight of 8 tons. The naval version of the LCA, with its strengthened undercarriage, will be even heavier.

And with the promised Kaveri engine nowhere in sight, the LCA makes do with the underpowered General Electric F-404 engine. An upgraded version, the IN-20, which will power the first two squadrons of the LCA, provides only marginally more thrust.

But now there’s a happy ending in sight. Business Standard has learned that the ADA has a deadline of October 2008 to choose between two foreign engines for powering the LCA. The final choice of engine, which will power several hundred Tejas fighters over the next three decades, is between Eurojet’s EJ200; and the General Electric F-414.

The current GE F-404 IN-20 engine delivers about 82-85 KiloNewtons of thrust, which is adequate for take off and even climbing rapidly, but falls short during combat manoeuvres when the fighter has to turn sharply to fire missiles at enemy aircraft. The EJ200 and the GE F-414 provide 90-95 KiloNewtons of thrust, which the IAF considers adequate.

Both engine manufacturers are lobbying intensively. Which engine is chosen could reverberate beyond the LCA, affecting the selection of the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), an $11 billion purchase for which bids have already been submitted. The Anglo-European Eurofighter, a leading contender, is powered by two EJ200 engines. A single GE F-414 engine powers the Swedish Grippen fighter. Both vendors believe that if their engine were selected for the LCA, that could open the door to the MMRCA contract.

The key factor in choosing an engine will be: which one fits into the LCA with the least re-engineering? Each engine has different dimensions and the inlet and exhaust ports are located differently; this means that the LCA airframe will need changes to accommodate the new engine. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Chairman, Ashok Baweja, explains that, “Any change in the basic structure of the aircraft will mean going through the test and evaluation process all over again. This is a time-consuming business.”

Selecting the engine will involve difficult choices. IAF sources say the EJ200 will demand less re-engineering; but the GE F-414 will give up to 5 KiloNewtons more of thrust.

Re-engineering the LCA to fit in the engine, and obtaining fresh operational clearances, could take up to three years. Meanwhile HAL will manufacture the first Tejas squadron of 20 fighters with the old GE F-404 IN-20 engine. Top MoD sources confirm to Business Standard that the IAF will shortly order a second squadron of Tejas, also with the GE F-404 IN-20. LCA number 41 onwards will be fitted with the new engine.

Comparison of EJ200 and GE F-414 engines:

                                   EJ 200                     GE F-414-400
Power on reheat        90-92 kNewtons             96-98 kNewtons
Inlet diameter            740 mm                          777.24 mm
Cross section              430.1 cm.sq                    474.4 cm.sq
Mass flow (Kg/sec)      74                                     78
Weight                       1040 kilos                       1110 kilos
Centre of gravity         Smaller shift                   Large shift
Design vintage             Late 1990s                      Late 1970s
Growth potential         Up to 30%                       Far less

(Tomorrow: Powering up the first 40 LCAs, with the IN-20 engine... HAL's plan)

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Planning for doomsday: should India send troops to Afghanistan?

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th July 08

It’s called “mission creep”… the creeping expansion of objectives, and the resources that are deployed towards a strategic aim. After a bloody week in Afghanistan --- not just for India, but for Afghan civilians and US forces as well --- New Delhi is confronting an urgent question: should India send in more forces, even the military, to secure our interests in that volatile country?

Accelerating that re-evaluation has been media commentary calling for increased military presence. A respected national daily editorially observed, "After the Kabul bombing, India must come to terms with an important question that it has avoided debating so far. New Delhi cannot continue to expand its economic and diplomatic activity in Afghanistan, while avoiding a commensurate increase in its military presence there. For too long, New Delhi has deferred to Pakistani and American sensitivities about raising India's strategic profile in Afghanistan.”

This dilemma was at the heart of Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon’s Sunday visit to Kabul, ostensibly to rally morale in the embassy. Fortunately there was no discernible sign of mission creep. Menon assured President Hamid Karzai that India will stand fast in Afghanistan, but the primary responsibility for safeguarding the 4000 Indian doctors, engineers, scientists, executives and labourers there remains with Kabul.

The concept of “Indian security for Indian workers” is an attractive one for a country proud of its military, but must be evaluated cautiously, with a clear understanding that Afghanistan is transitioning from insurgency to civil war. Troops are sent into a deteriorating situation only if their presence can transform impending defeat into a realistic chance of victory. The situation in Afghanistan may have moved beyond that point.

India’s engagement with that country, therefore, must be characterised by the deployment of “soft power”, not the military. The palpable Afghan affection for India flows more from its engagement with Mumbai than with New Delhi. Indian films, music, dance, food, and the peaceful generosity of Indians have transformed our country in Afghan minds into an idyll that far exceeds the reality. This perception has been reinforced by clever aid diplomacy; India has sunk three quarters of a billion dollars into Afghanistan’s medical facilities, educational institutions, public transport, irrigation schemes, even that country’s parliament building.

To now throw troops into what will inevitably become a bloody struggle for power risks smudging India’s benevolent image. Even with the mandate to do no more than safeguard Indian workers and assets in Afghanistan, an enhanced Indian security presence will find its role expanding as the environment becomes more hostile. The very presence of an Indian force will be a magnet for renewed attacks.

Instead, Indian planners should be considering that, perhaps three years along, US and NATO forces may pull out of Afghanistan. Hamid Karzai would be history, and Afghanistan itself divided into different zones of control. In that Afghanistan, India’s physical presence may well be reduced to zero. The ITBP would have pulled out; development projects would have shut down; elements politically hostile to India may well control large parts of the country; the embassy and India’s consulates may well have closed shop. This is what happened in 1996; today, only American and European support --- fickle, and already wavering --- prevents a return to that time.

The US and NATO militaries are already losing the battle as they realise too late that the battlefield is not confined to Afghan soil. After the killing of nine US soldiers on Sunday in a Taliban assault on a US post near the Pakistan border, General David McKiernan, the top NATO commander fumed that militants based in Pakistan had staged attacks in Afghanistan “almost every day I have been here.”

Unlike Russia, which faced the same situation in the 1980s --- an insurgency operating from Pakistan’s North West Frontier Province (NWFP) and Baluchistan --- the US and NATO are making strenuous efforts to shut off Taliban support across the Durand Line. On Saturday, the US Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen paid an unscheduled visit to Pakistan. He demanded to meet army chief, General Pervez Kiyani and told him, apparently in the baldest possible terms, that if the Pakistan army was not going to crack down in the NWFP tribal areas, then US and NATO forces in Afghanistan would operate across the border into Pakistan. 

But despite those threats, and the occasional cross-border foray, western forces in Afghanistan can hardly influence events in Pakistan’s tribal areas. Only the Pakistan army can do that, but remains unwilling to. General Kiyani drew Admiral Mullen’s attention to the 800 Pakistani soldiers who have already been killed in counter-militancy operations in the NWFP, suggesting that Pakistan had already done enough. (India has lost close to 7000 soldiers in J&K). The army brass in Pakistan --- which will eventually have the final word on this --- has not yet come round to accepting that the military has little choice but to transform the NWFP from a sanctuary to a battlefield.

Without that realisation in Rawalpindi, a couple of years more of rising casualties in Afghanistan could well trigger a US and NATO pullout. India’s actions today must create influence and goodwill that will sustain itself even without a physical presence. New Delhi must play its own hand in The Great Game in Afghanistan, building bridges with every community and spreading developmental aid across different regions. The Afghan government must be urged to provide the security needed for these projects to continue for as long as possible. And if India is forced to pull out in another interregnum of turmoil, we will continue to reap the benefits of a low-key, aid-driven policy.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Stuck! The wait for India's new defence procurement policy

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th July 08

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has finalised the new rulebook for India’s arms procurement, the Defence Procurement Policy of 2008 (DPP-2008). While domestic defence producers and global arms corporations wait, the unveiling of the policy --- already delayed by several months --- is on hold. That is because the Defence Minister wants to personally announce the new policy amidst suitable fanfare, but he cannot spare the time. Mr Antony is occupied with mustering MPs for the Congress Party’s trust vote in Parliament on the 22nd of July. As a result, many Indian defence companies will be attending the Farnborough Air Show in the UK, from 14th to 20th July --- a major opportunity for defence tie-ups --- without the policy clarity so essential for doing business.

This inauspicious beginning to DPP-2008 raises apprehension that the new policy may fare no better than its predecessor, DPP-2006. The success of any policy is only partly measured by how well it is framed; more important is how it is implemented. DPP-2006 held up as its most important change a new “Make” procedure, through which urgently needed arms or equipment could be developed and manufactured by Indian manufacturers, including private companies. In the lifetime of DP-2006, however, not one piece of equipment was successfully developed under the “Make” procedure.

The MoD must take the blame for that utter failure. Any programme under the “Make” category needs to fulfil a military requirement spelt out under the tri-service Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan, or LTIPP. This 15-year roadmap was originally supposed to detail all modernisation from 2002-2017. Based upon this, the MoD was to plan procurement and funding for the 10th, 11th and 12th Defence Plans for that 15-year period.

None of this happened. A CAG report (No 4 of 2007) reveals that in 2006, with four years of the 10th Defence Plan gone and no LTIPP in sight, the MoD decided to revise the period covered by the LTIPP; it would now be from 2007-2022, covering the 11th, 12th and 13th Defence Plans. The revised LTIPP has still not seen the light of day. Instead, the MoD told the 14th Lok Sabha’s Standing Committee on Defence that the LTIPP would be finalised in 2009.

So the 10th Defence Plan was implemented without the longer-term framework of the LTIPP. The first two years of the 11th Defence Plan have also gone by without an LTIPP. Unsurprisingly, therefore, the 11th Defence Plan, covering the period 2007-2012, has not been approved either. So for the last seven years, tens of thousands of crores have been allocated for defence on a year-by-year basis, without any medium-term or long-term articulation of how this money should be spent.

The lip service being paid to the indigenisation of defence through the “Make” procedure in DPP-2006 and DPP-2008 also stands exposed by the MoD’s failure to nominate suitable private companies as “Raksha Utpadan Ratnas”, or RuRs. These RuRs, promises the “Make” procedure, will get government funding for developing important military equipment. But the nomination of RuRs remains stalled by pressure on the defence minister from the trade unions of defence PSUs, which apprehend that they would be put out of business by a more efficient private sector.

None of this is surprising, considering how little mind space politicians or the public have for the hard calculations of national security. Framing DPP-2008 was relatively easy; the MoD’s more difficult challenge remains to make it yield results.

Friday, 11 July 2008

One safe ride for the PM: the US government clears the sale of VIP business jets to India

(Photographs: the Boeing 737-700 aircraft exterior, cockpit, and an interior. The interior of each VIP aircraft is customised according to the wishes of the buyer. Pictures of the Indian VIP jets are not yet available)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th July 08

The Prime Minister of India’s next official trip abroad will be far more comfortable than Dr Manmohan Singh’s visit to Japan. Not necessarily in terms of peace of mind; the political situation back home could still be fluid. What is certain though is that the PM and his entourage will fly in far more luxurious, safe and functional conditions. The US government has cleared the delivery to India of the first of three custom-built, high-security VIP aircraft.

The delivery of these, the first of which is scheduled for the end of July, was held up by Washington’s insistence on adequately safeguarding the top-secret security and communications equipment that is fitted on board. This military equipment --- which includes radar and missile warning receivers, and infra-red jamming equipment --- is similar to what protects the US President and his top officials when they fly into Baghdad and Kabul.

India had strongly resisted the US government’s insistence on intrusive “end user agreements” or EUAs, which gave the US Air Force (USAF) the right to demand entry into the military bases where the VIP aircraft were stationed, and to check that the equipment hadn’t been passed onto any other user. Indian objections to the use of words like “inspections” and “verification” and “confiscation” in the US draft EUA had threatened to postpone, or even derail, delivery of the aircraft.

Now, top-level Ministry of Defence (MoD) sources reveal that the matter has been resolved. After a senior MoD official was sent to Washington to iron out the language, the offensive words have been replaced by the more neutral phrase, “mutual consultations”. 

While the US has accepted the Indian draft, the USAF will still have the right to verify that India is not misusing the high-tech military equipment. Top MoD officials point out that New Delhi’s interests are identical to Washington’s in ensuring the safety and security of the protective equipment. 

The uprated 737-700 aircraft has been manufactured by a joint venture between Boeing and General Electric, called Boeing Business Jets (BBJs). India’s first VIP 737 is the 100th aircraft built by BBJ. 

The “green” (unfurnished) aircraft, which was handed over by BBJ in Seattle in Dec 2006, was then fitted out with a stateroom, a conference room, a communications centre, a living-cum-sleeping space for the VIP and seating for 48 lesser personages. A company called PATS Aircraft did this in Delaware. Such luxury jets are available to anyone who can pay the equivalent of Rs 300 crores.

What money cannot buy is the military equipment needed to safeguard VIPs from missiles fired from the ground and from other aircraft. The Indian VIP jets will be fitted with American equipment --- believed to be an advanced version of the AN/AAQ-24 LAIRCM (Large Aircraft Infra-Red Counter Measures) --- which quickly detects a missile fired towards the aircraft. It then electronically paints a ghost image of the aircraft some distance away, which diverts the missile towards the ghost image, saving the actual aircraft. If the specifications and frequencies used by this equipment are made available to an enemy, it can be countered or jammed.

The VIP aircraft is also fitted with communications equipment, which will allow the PM to communicate with command facilities in New Delhi through satellite channels that cannot be monitored or jammed.

When contacted, Boeing India declined to comment on the sale.

Thursday, 10 July 2008

Book review: Crossed Swords: Pakistan, Its Army and the Wars Within

By Ajai Shukla

Crossed Swords: Pakistan, its Army and the Wars Within
By Shuja Nawaz
Oxford University Press, 2008
655 pages
Cost: Rs 695/-

A trio of books over the last three years has fascinatingly illuminated the inner workings of Pakistan’s power establishment. Musharraf’s autobiography, In the Line of Fire, provided a window into the general’s mind; and Adrian Levy’s and Catherine Scott-Clark’s Deception: Pakistan, the United States and the Global Nuclear Weapons Conspiracy, described Pakistan’s systematic manipulation of the nuclear black market. Now Shuja Nawaj’s Crossed Swords: Pakistan; Its Army and the Wars Within gives a comprehensive insight into that country’s ultimate power centre.

Stephen Cohen has earlier written on the Pakistani army, but he was an “outsider”, granted selective access by a military that was confident of his discretion. Shuja Nawaz’s work is far more comprehensive, combining decades of experience as a journalist and TV broadcaster in Pakistan, the research rigour of an analyst, and an astonishing facility at recording and recalling incidents over the years. And yes! He just happens to be the brother of former Pakistani army chief, General Asif Nawaz, which obtained for him access to secret army records and files inaccessible to the ordinary chronicler.

Nawaz’s book also draws relevance from dozens of personal interviews with Pakistani decision makers over the years, shining important new light on events that are still current. That Nawaz Sharif is lying when he says Kargil came as a surprise to him becomes evident from the author’s interviews with Sharif’s foreign minister and close confidant, Sartaj Aziz, and with then ISI Director General, Ziauddin --- whom Sharif trusted enough to hand-pick as Musharraf’s successor. Sartaj Aziz admits to attending an army briefing on 12th March 1999 --- two months before the intrusions there discovered --- in which the army told him that groups of “mujahideen” had been sent into Indian territory. It is unlikely that Aziz would not have informed his PM.

And on 17th May, General Ziauddin --- Nawaz Sharif’s chosen man --- describes a detailed briefing at ISI headquarters in which Sharif was shown on a map the locations of all 108 Pakistani bunkers on the Indian side. Ziauddin recounts that, to his surprise, Sharif even asked questions and finally instructed the army that, “there should be no withdrawal, no surrender, because that would greatly embarrass us.”

Shuja Nawaz also debunks the traditional Pakistani version of the 1947 invasion of Kashmir, in which a maverick General Akbar Khan privately organised Pathan tribesmen, who swept past an effete Dogra army and were stopped at the doorstep of Srinagar only by Indian perfidy. Nawaz draws on Pakistani army archives to paint a new account of the deep involvement of Pakistan’s military in managing the invasion, even a tacit nod from Jinnah. And, most interestingly, the British generals in Pakistan were far more sympathetic towards the invasion than was earlier known. The British commander-in-chief in Pakistan, General Sir Frank Messervy favoured sending a Pakistani regular battalion into Srinagar in plainclothes, to capture the airfield and keep out Indian reinforcements; in December 1947 Messervy allocated a million bullets and Pakistani officer volunteers to the “tribal” invasion. Lt Gen Sir Douglas Gracey, who eventually succeeded Messervy, went even further in his support to the invasion of Kashmir.

Crossed Swords skilfully brings to life individuals like General Mirza Aslam Beg, the army chief after Zia’s death (murder, suggests Nawaz), and one of the murkiest figures in the history of Pakistan. Nawaz describes Aslam Beg as a man who coveted political power, but didn’t have the confidence to grab it; a closet Islamist with military judgement so poor that, even as US forces were scything across Kuwait in 1991, he was haranguing 600 Pakistani officers about America’s impending Vietnam in that country. And that was when his government had sent soldiers to the US-led coalition.

Given Nawaz’s identity as a Pakistani and the brother of an army chief, it would be unfair to expect complete objectivity from the book. It glosses over the truly dark issues of Pakistani genocide in Bangladesh, the army’s involvement in AQ Khan’s generous distribution of nuclear technology, and its direct presence in Taliban-ruled Afghanistan. Nawaz does not convincingly explain how Pakistan lost wars without ever losing a battle; no Pakistani likes the thought of being bested in direct combat with Indian troops.

But Nawaz compensates for those omissions by a highly readable account that will be a standard reference work on the Pakistan Army. At 655 pages, this is not a quickie born of a few months of work in the archives. It is a rich stew that has bubbled for decades in the pot of experience. The Indian Army would be the richer for a similar account.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

LSP-4 and LSP-5: update and pics

The LSP-4 is seen here on the coupling jig, which is where the front, centre and rear fuselage are coupled together. As you can see, LSP-4 has completed its coupling. Once this is done, the fuselage will be taken to the "foreign objects detection jig", on which the fuselage is rotated. If there are any foreign objects left behind in the fuselage by mistake (e.g. tools, screws, keys, spectacles), they will make a sound when the aircraft is rotated.

Foreign Objects Damage (FOD) --- in which a running aircraft gets damaged because of objects left inside it, or on the runway or taxiway --- is taken very seriously in the IAF... and also in HAL.

The next stage after this is to install the engine and the two wings. The LSP-4's wings are being assembled separately; you can see one of the technician who are doing it. Take a look at the individual struts... that are machined from metal billets. The entire "framework" of the wing is a mixture of metal and composites. This forms the skeleton over which the "aircraft skin" is placed.

LSP-4 will carry and test all the aircraft and avionics systems which have not been fitted on LSP-3. From LSP-5 onwards, all the LSPs will carry the entire range of systems which will be fitted on the production version LCAs.

And LSP-5 fuselage is also under way.


Sunday, 6 July 2008

The latest on the LSP-3: from my visit to HAL

The LSP-3 is being assembled at a hanger in HAL, Bangalore. These pictures show a part of the integration process which is underway. The aircraft is likely to make its first flight by Sept/Oct this year, but will be delivered only in December 08.

The new systems which the LSP-3 will incorporate (i.e. which have not yet been tried out in earlier Tejas aircraft) are:

  • Multi-mode radar by ELTA
  • VOR/ILS (by HAL Hyderabad)
  • TACAN (by HAL, Hyderabad)
  • Air Data Computer (by ADE)
  • Beta vane (by BAE Systems)
  • Nose wheel free castor (by Elechronica Aster)
  • IFF (by HAL, Hyderabad)
The Air Data Computer, built by ADE, is the critical new component in LSP-3. Also note the photo of the dummy R-73 missile. That's standard fitment in all versions of the Tejas.

The LSP-3 engine has been fitted... the wiring is being done presently.