Saturday, 21 February 2009

Who’s bluffing whom? India rattles its sabres..

(Photo: The Swat valley in northern Pakistan, where the Pakistan military has cut a ceasefire deal with Taliban-linked militants, allowing them to impose Shariah courts in Swat)

If you can’t walk the talk, don’t talk the talk. India’s toothless sabre-rattling after the Mumbai attacks damages its credibility internationally, and does a disservice to its own people.

by Ajai Shukla
Defence & Security of India
February 2009

The chilly rhetoric between India and Pakistan following the November 26 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, with New Delhi continuing to indicate that military force remains an option, goes hand-in-hand with an incongruous confidence amongst officials on both sides that push will not come to shove. Indian policymakers admit, off the record, that tensions are not nearly as high as when Parliament was attacked in 2001. And Pakistan’s new German-speaking ISI chief, Lt Gen Ahmed Shujaa Pasha, in a carefully chosen interview with German newspaper Der Spiegel, smoothly dismissed the possibility of armed conflict, remarking, “There will be no war… we are distancing ourselves from conflict with India, both now, and in general.”

Nor, evidently, is the international community as worried as it was after the Kaluchak terror strike in Jammu in May 2002, when a series of top American and British diplomats shuttled between Islamabad and New Delhi to stave off a conflagration between two fully-deployed armies. This time around, the desultory efforts of the US State Department --- both outgoing and incoming --- seem directed more at keeping the Pakistan Army’s nose to the “war on terror” grindstone. British Prime Minister Gordon Brown visited Islamabad three weeks after the Mumbai attacks, but to partner Pakistan, not admonish it; Britain and Pakistan signed up for a “pact against terror”, funded from London to the tune of 6 million pounds. And British foreign secretary, David Milliband, in a gaffe that has sections of the British government staring at their shoes, declared that the masterminds of the Mumbai attacks should be tried in Pakistan. [Editor's note: Since the article was written, Mr Richard Holbrook, President Obama's Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan has tried, with his customary enthusiasm, to turn the heat on Pakistan; there is little evidence so far of any real success]

But Delhi’s tough talk continues. It doesn’t take a Sun Tzu to identify this as a ham-handed attempt, in an election year, to deflect public attention from the appalling security failures that bestowed such spectacular success on the Mumbai attacks. If threats were a substitute for effective intelligence and policing, the NDA government would, with Operation Parakram in 2001/02, already have provided India with absolute security. The UPA government had criticised the failure of that lengthy, costly and eventually fruitless military mobilisation; now, driven by the electoral compulsion to appear decisive, but without the time, ideas, resources, or will to create an anti-terror shield, the Manmohan Singh government has in turn chosen the easy option of flexing muscles at Pakistan.

While pointing the finger at Islamabad may be good politics, it is a self-defeating strategy. No agency in Pakistan can risk being seen to deliver under Indian threat; even the few moderate elements in that country will be left with no choice but to close ranks with rabidly anti-Indian forces. Suspicion of India runs deep in Pakistan, even at the best of times. Overt Indian military threats fan that country’s deepest existential fear: that India has never reconciled to its existence. In such a situation the issue at hand, in this case Pakistan’s inability or unwillingness to prevent attacks on India, is lost in a fog of insecurity and hostility.

In addition to crystallising anti-Indian feelings in Pakistan, war drums from New Delhi are also damaging Indian credibility. Western intelligence knows well—and Pakistani intelligence knows even better—that Indian forces are thoroughly unprepared for selective strikes, which are today the only viable kind of military operation. Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal precludes the option of a conventional Indian military mobilisation followed by full-scale combat operations. That was amply illustrated during the Operation Parakram crisis when India mobilised its military after the December 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian parliament. From December 18 2001 when India mobilised, to October 16, 2002 when the troops were ordered back, there was only a ten-day window at the end of December 2001 when India could have prosecuted a war with clear advantage, because the Pakistani Army defences were still not prepared. Once the Pakistani mobilisation gathered momentum, a war could have had only two outcomes. If the fully deployed Pakistan Army managed to hold up against Indian thrusts, grinding battles of attrition would have produced no clear winners. On the other hand, if the Indian thrusts had made rapid headway, the war would have quickly moved into the nuclear realm.

Today, India doesn’t even have that weeklong window; Pakistan has mobilised pre-emptively, even pulling back forces from its Afghanistan border. The “marginal conventional conflict” that India’s army chief General Deepak Kapoor mentioned as an option is no longer a possibility. Pakistan’s early deployment of troops at battle stations means that combat operations will quickly escalate all across the border.

That leaves India with just one other option: air and missile strikes against terrorist targets in Pakistan, combined with ground raids by Special Forces. But Indian defence planners have failed to build the specific capabilities needed for such cross-border strikes. India neither has pinpoint intelligence about the targets that need to be struck, nor has it developed the wherewithal—surveillance equipment, electronic jammers, Special Forces and precision munitions—needed for cross-border air and ground raids.

The Indian right wing admires Israeli strikes in Palestinian, Lebanese and Syrian territory and asks why India cannot do the same in Pakistan. India is held back for two reasons. Firstly, it does not have the human intelligence resources that Tel Aviv has deployed against anti-Israeli organisations. Israeli-nurtured moles, infiltrated over decades into groups like Hamas and Fatah, provide Tel Aviv with information about the movement of top militant leaders, including details about timings, routes, car colours, models, and even car numbers. This provides Israel with identifiable targets to strike. Indian intelligence on the other hand, after 25 years of fighting Pakistani-based terrorists, has failed to infiltrate groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammed to an operationally significant degree.

Secondly, an Indian cross-border operation would be both risky and costly. Pakistan’s relatively small defence budget (at $4.39 billion for this year, barely one-fifth the size of India’s) is biased towards inexpensive, defensive systems like anti-air defences, which most experts believe are considerably more watertight than India’s. In contrast, the bulk of India’s defence budget is frittered away on heavy warfighting equipment, usable mainly in the full-scale wars that are becoming increasingly more improbable. The hardware and electronics needed to get past Pakistani air defences comes lower down in India’s shopping list.

This is why, even as the Indian public is misled into believing that the government means business, New Delhi’s sabre-rattling evokes international scepticism. Threatening military action without the means to back the threat does incalculable harm to India’s credibility; and the damage is greater each time the threat is made. Even as India seeks the status of major power, such crises tend to hyphenate India with Pakistan, bracketing the two in strategic calculations across the world.

And so, even though the world knows that the Mumbai attacks were masterminded from Pakistan, New Delhi’s response must be logical rather than emotional, anticipating the outcome of what it says. So far, India’s threats have produced only one clear winner: Pakistan. At the time of the Mumbai attacks, that country was at war with itself. The clergy was ranged against the establishment; the huge majority of Pakistanis were seething over a perceived sell-out to America. The Pakistan Army was taking heavy casualties in anti-Taliban operations in the tribal areas of the NWFP; the generals were wracking their brains to explain why devout Muslim soldiers were taking on the mujahideen of Islam. The chickens had come home to roost and, for once, India couldn’t be blamed for Pakistan’s troubles.

Now, with a belligerent New Delhi popping up conveniently, it’s back to business as usual. The traditional enemy sits nicely in everyone’s comfort zones. The jehadis are heaving sighs of relief; the Taliban has actually offered to fight India shoulder to shoulder with the Pakistani military. The Pakistan Army is negotiating ceasefires with brutal Taliban commanders like Baitullah Mehsud and Maulvi Fazlullah, who are now being billed as “patriotic Pakistanis”. The generals are happily contemplating winding down, or at least slowing down, bloody counter-militancy operations, and returning to the army’s old pastime of sitting on the Line of Control and pushing militants in to do the dirty work.

In bringing the Pakistani Army back to centre-stage, India’s tough talk has undermined Pakistan’s civilian government. In the months since Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, Pakistan was slowly beginning to deploy the instruments needed to confront the jehadi factory that had taken root in that country. President Asif Zardari was in the process of creating what India’s government has so far only talked of: a top-class federal anti-terrorism agency. Pakistan’s Special Investigation Group, or the SIG, was originally set up by President Musharraf in July 2003 as a crack squad to foil terrorist attempts to assassinate him and his generals. Zardari was moving to reinvent the SIG on the lines of Britain’s highly regarded Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.

Journalists Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, no apologists for Pakistan or strangers to its underhand dealings (their book, Deception, is the authoritative account of Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation) have reported in detail how Zardari was transforming the SIG. He had managed to obtain British expertise and funding by promising to set up a special SIG cell to track British Pakistanis travelling home, providing Britain with access to raw intelligence and to terrorists who were tracked down.

The SIG’s focus, report Levy and Scott-Clark, was on Baitullah Mehsud, the NWFP-based commander of the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an organisation variously described as a “one-stop terror shop”, the “Next-Gen Taliban” and “the new epicentre of global jehad”. It is the TTP that has given extra teeth to India-focused groups like the Lashkar-e-Toiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad, by creating an umbrella organisation that draws simultaneously on Punjabi organisational skills, Al Qaeda financing, Arab bomb-making expertise, and young Pathan and Punjabi fundamentalists for suicide missions like the Mumbai attacks. With the Pakistani army and intelligence agencies turning their backs—however unwillingly—on the disparate terrorists that they had nurtured for a quarter of a century, there was little choice for the various tanzeems but to come together in their murderous cause.

Indians are understandably sceptical of Pakistan’s assertions that it is cracking down on terrorists. Call it the “wolf, wolf syndrome”; Islamabad has made such claims before. But something has clearly changed in the last year and a half. It is hard to ignore the ferocity with which terrorists have turned their guns on the Pakistani establishment. The death toll in the Pakistani Army has been estimated to be as high as 1,500 soldiers, a casualty rate higher than the Indian Army’s at the height of the insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir.

Even more revealing of the Pakistani state’s new confrontation with the jehadis is the targeting of the ISI and the SIG. On November 24, 2007 a suicide bomber drove his RDX-rigged truck into a bus in Rawalpindi carrying thirty ISI operatives for their morning shift. All thirty were killed. On March 11, 2008 a suicide attack on the SIG’s headquarters in Lahore killed 25 people, including 13 SIG officers.

All that could now become history if India insists on thrusting itself centre-stage in Pakistan. The ISI chief has just declared that, “terrorism, not India, is Pakistan’s main enemy”. It is surely counter-productive for New Delhi to try so hard to prove him wrong.

The Indian government has enough to do by way of creating anti-terrorism machinery in this country. It need not add to its burden by taking on the task of cleaning up Pakistan. There are enough people on the job, including Pakistanis, Britons and Americans, and none of them are reaping much success; it is a pipe-dream to imagine that India would improve things by leaping into the fray. Instead, New Delhi would do better to focus on putting in place the intelligence machinery, the border and coastal defences, the monitoring and surveillance mechanisms, the police and paramilitary forces, and the quick reaction teams needed to ensure that terrorists do not find the going as easy as they apparently did in Mumbai. And it is equally important for India to build public awareness of the new terror threat that it must live with. Bluffing its own people is a poor way to start.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

THE BIG PICTURE: The path ahead for HAL

Above: A weaponised Dhruv painted in display colours at Aero India 09

Left: A Tejas LCA taxi-ing out for an aerobatics display at Aero India 09

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Feb 09

The recent Aero India 2009 exposition in Bangalore highlighted the successes, as well as the challenges, lying ahead for Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), India’s only major aeronautical developer and manufacturer. On the plus side is the growing acceptance of HAL’s flagship Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH). India’s military has ordered 159 Dhruvs and the air show marked HAL’s first success in a global tender with the delivery of 5 Dhruv helicopters to Ecuador. The Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) also demonstrated, with an exhilarating display of aerobatics, that it has overcome many of the challenges that had stalled it for decades. 

One swallow, however, or even two swallows as in this case, do not a summer make. HAL’s biggest ongoing helicopter programme, the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), is encountering delays: its first flight has been postponed by a year to the end of 2009. HAL’s ambitious timeline for the LCH rested on a plan to recycle many of the technologies already proven in the Dhruv; the company failed to provide a cushion for the uncertainties of aeronautical design. Such overconfidence runs the risk of undermining the confidence of the military, painfully created by the success of the Dhruv and Tejas programmes.

HAL also faces a crucial test in the MoD order for 187 Light Utility Helicopters, which it must develop and start to deliver by 2015-16. A delay in this programme will not just undermine user confidence, but invoke penalty clauses; for each year of delay, the MoD will reduce the number of helicopter that it will buy from HAL, procuring them instead from the international market.

The new, tough, competitive playing field is changing mindsets in HAL; there is far greater reliance on commercially available foreign components and sub-systems, with HAL playing the role of an integrator and a developer of key technologies that money cannot buy. Even foreign advice is now acceptable; to overcome persistent technological challenges that continue to dog the Tejas programme, it has been decided to hire German-Spanish aeronautical giant, EADS, as a consultant.

While the abandonment of autarky is welcome, foreign assistance comes with its own pitfalls. This paper has already reported the EADS strategy to leverage its consultancy for the Tejas while participating in the multi-billion dollar competition to supply 126 medium fighters to India. It will be HAL’s difficult task to collaborate with foreign partners while simultaneously making decisions based on cold self-interest.

HAL, as India’s only aeronautical manufacturer, must also lead in creating a suitable developmental framework for building the military aircraft of the future. Currently, several government agencies --- the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO); the National Aeronautical Laboratory (NAL); and HAL itself --- compete for design programmes. HAL is negotiating with Russia for building the 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA); simultaneously, the DRDO has outlined plans to build a Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA). Instead, project-specific consortiums need to be built (as it was for the LCA) for each programme, harnessing the individual strengths of each of these organisations, as well as R&D capabilities within the private sector and academia.

India’s military-aeronautical development has only taken its first baby steps. Overconfidence and turf battles cannot be allowed to undermine the creation of structures and processes for building the enormously expensive aerial platforms that consume so much of India’s defence budget.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Kargil redux: A senior Pakistani Air Force officer's account of the PAF's role in Kargil

(NOTE: This article has appeared in the journal, "Defence and Security of India". It is a cold and objective analysis of the kind that we Indians seem incapable of. I am happy that I played a role in getting this article published in India.)

By Air Commodore M Kaiser Tufail (Retd)
Pakistan Air Force

While the Indians were prompt in setting up an Inquiry Commission into the Kargil fracas, we in Pakistan found it expedient to bury the affair in the ‘national interest’. Compared to the Indians, Pakistani writings on the Kargil conflict have been pathetically few; those that have come out are largely irrelevant and in a few cases, clearly sponsored. The role of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has been discussed off and on, but mostly disparagingly, particularly in some uninformed quarters. Here is an airman’s perspective, focusing on the IAF’s air operations and the PAF’s position.

Operational planning in the PAF

Since an important portion of this write-up pertains to the PAF’s appreciation of the situation and the decision-making loop during the Kargil conflict, we will start with a brief primer on the PAF’s hierarchy and how operational matters are handled at Air Headquarters.

The policy-making elements at Air Headquarters consist of four tiers of staff officers. The top-most tier is made up of the Deputy Chiefs of Air Staff (DCAS) who are the Principal Staff Officers (PSOs) of their respective branches and are nominally headed by the Vice Chief of Air Staff (VCAS). They (along with Air Officers Commanding, the senior representatives from field formations) are members of the Air Board, the PAF’s ‘corporate’ decision-making body, which is chaired by the Chief of the Air Staff (CAS). The next tier is made up of Assistant Chiefs of Air Staff (ACAS) who head various sub-branches and, along with the third-tier Directors, assist the PSOs in policy-making; they are not on the Air Board, but can be called for hearings and presentations in the Board meetings, as required. A fourth tier of Deputy Directors does most of the sundry staff work in this policy-making hierarchy.

The Operations & Plans branch is the key player in any war, conflict or contingency and is responsible for threat assessment and formulation of a suitable response. During peacetime, war plans are drawn up by the Plans sub-branch and are then war-gamed in operational exercises run by the sister Operations sub-branch. Operational training is accordingly restructured and administered by the latter, based on the lessons of various exercises. This essentially is the gist of the PAF’s operational preparedness methodology, the efficiency of which is amply reflected in its readiness and telling response in various wars and skirmishes in the past.

In early 1999, Air Chief Marshal Parvaiz Mehdi Qureshi was at the helm of the PAF. An officer with an imposing personality, he had won the Sword of Honour at the Academy. During the 1971 Indo-Pak War, as a young Flight Lieutenant, he was on a close support mission in erstwhile East Pakistan when his Sabre was shot down and he was taken POW. He determinedly resumed his fighter pilot’s career after repatriation and rose to command PAF’s premier Sargodha Base. He was later appointed as the AOC, Southern Air Command, an appointment that affords considerable interaction amongst the three services, especially in operational exercises. He also held the vitally important post of DCAS (Ops) as well as the VCAS before taking over as CAS.

The post of DCAS (Ops) was held by the late Air Marshal Zahid Anis. A well-qualified fighter pilot, he had a distinguished career in the PAF, having held some of the most sought-after appointments. These included command of No 38 Tactical Wing (F-16s), the elite Combat Commanders’ School and PAF Base, Sargodha. He was AOC, Southern Air Command before his appointment as the head of the Operations branch at Air Headquarters. He had done the Air War Course at the PAF’s Air War College, another War Course at the French War College as well as the prestigious course at the Royal College of Defence Studies in the UK.

The ACAS (Ops) was Air Cdre Abid Rao, who had recently completed command of PAF Base, Mianwali. He had earlier done the War Course from the French War College. 

The ACAS (Plans) was the late Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz, a brilliant officer who had made his mark at the Staff College at Bracknell, UK, and during the War Course at the National Defence College, Islamabad.

There is no gainsaying the fact that the PAF’s hierarchy was highly qualified and that each of the players in the Operations branch had the requisite command and staff experience. The two top men had also fought in the 1971 Indo-Pak War, albeit as junior officers. 

First rumblings

As Director of Operations (in the rank of Gp Capt), my first opportunity to interact with the Army’s Director of Military Operations (DMO) was over a phone call, some time in March 1999. Brig Nadeem Ahmed called with great courtesy and requested some information that he needed for a paper exercise, as he told me. He wanted to know when the PAF had last carried out a deployment at Skardu, how many aircraft were deployed, etc. Rather impressed with the Army’s interest in PAF matters, I passed on the requisite details. The next day Brig Nadeem called again, but this time his questions were more probing and he wanted some classified information including fuel storage capacity at Skardu, fighter sortie-generation capacity, radar coverage, etc. He insisted that he was preparing a briefing and wanted to get his facts and figures right in front of his bosses. We got on a secure line and I passed on the required information. Although he made it sound like routine contingency planning, I sensed that something unusual was brewing. In the event, I thought it prudent to inform the DCAS (Ops). Just to be sure, he checked with his counterpart, the Director General Military Operations (DGMO), Maj Gen Tauqir Zia, who said the same thing as his DMO and, assured us that it was just part of routine contingency planning.

Not withstanding the DGMO’s assurance, a cautious Air Marshal Zahid decided to check things for himself and despatched Gp Capt Tariq Ashraf, Officer Commanding of No 33 Wing at PAF Base, Kamra, to look things over at Skardu and make a report. Within a few days, Gp Capt Tariq (who was also the designated war-time commander of Skardu Base) had completed his visit, which included his own periodic war-readiness inspection. While he made a detailed report to the DCAS (Ops), he let me in on the Army’s mobilisation and other preparations that he had seen in Skardu. His analysis was that “something big is imminent.” Helicopter flying activity was feverishly high as Army Aviation’s Mi-17s were busy moving artillery guns and ammunition to the posts that had been vacated by the Indians during the winter. Troops in battle gear were to be seen all over the city. Interestingly, Messes were abuzz with war chatter amongst young officers. In retrospect, one wonders how Indian intelligence agencies failed to read any such signs, many weeks before the operation unfolded. 

After hearing Gp Capt Tariq’s report, Air Marshal Zahid got in touch with Maj Gen Tauqir again and, in a roundabout way, told him that if the Army’s ongoing ‘review of contingency plans’ required the PAF to be factored in, an Operations & Plans team would be available for discussion. Nothing was heard from the GHQ till 12 May, when Air Marshal Zahid was told to send a team for a briefing at HQ 10 Corps with regard to the “Kashmir Contingency”.

Air Cdre Abid Rao, Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz and myself were directed by the DCAS (Ops) to attend a briefing on the “latest situation in Kashmir” at HQ 10 Corps. We were welcomed by the Chief of Staff (COS) of the Corps, who led us to the briefing room. Shortly thereafter the Corps Commander, Lt Gen Mehmud Ahmad entered, cutting an impressive figure in a bush-coat and his trademark camouflage scarf. After exchanging pleasantries, the COS started with the map orientation briefing. Thereafter, Lt Gen Mehmud took over and broke the news that a limited operation had started two days earlier. It was nothing more than a “protective manoeuvre”, he explained, and was meant to foreclose any further mischief by the enemy, who had been a nuisance in the Neelum Valley, specially on the road on our side of the Line of Control (LOC). He then elaborated that a few vacant Indian posts had been occupied on peaks across the LOC, overlooking the Dras-Kargil Road. These would, in effect, serve the purpose of Airborne Observation Posts (AOP) meant to direct artillery fire with accuracy. Artillery firepower would be provided by a couple of field guns that had been heli-lifted to the heights, piecemeal, and re-assembled over the previous few months of extreme winter when the Indians had been off-guard. The target was a vulnerable section of the Dras-Kargil Road, blocking which would virtually cut off the lifeline that carried the bulk of supplies needed for daily consumption as well as annual winter stocking in the Leh-Siachen Sector. He was very hopeful that this stratagem could choke off the Indians in the vital sector for up to a month, after which the monsoons would prevent vehicular movement (due to landslides) and, also suspend all airlifts by the IAF. “Come October, we shall walk in to Siachen— to mop up the dead bodies of hundreds of Indians left hungry, out in the cold,” he said, succinctly summing up what appeared to be a new dimension to the Siachen dispute. It also seemed to serve, at least for the time being, the secondary aim of alleviating Indian military pressure on Pakistani lines of communications in the Neelum Valley that the Corps Commander had alluded to in his opening remarks. (The oft-heard strategic aim of ‘providing a fillip to the insurgency in Kashmir’ was never mentioned.)

When Lt Gen Mehmud asked for questions at the end of the rather crisp and to-the-point briefing, Air Cdre Saleem Nawaz opened up by inquiring about the type of air support that might be needed for the operation. Lt Gen Mehmud assured us that air support was not envisaged and that his forces could take care of enemy aircraft, if they intervened. “I have Stingers on every peak,” he announced. Air Cdre Saleem tried to point out the limited envelope of these types of missiles and said that nothing stopped the IAF from attacking the posts and artillery pieces from high altitude. To this, Lt Gen Mehmud’s reply was that his troops were well camouflaged and concealed and, that IAF pilots would not be able to pick out the posts from the air. As the discussion became more animated, I asked the Corps Commander if he was sure the Indians would not use their artillery to vacate our incursion, given the criticality of the situation from their standpoint. He replied that the Dras-Kargil stretch did not allow for positioning the hundreds of guns that would be required, due to lack of depth; in any case, it would be suicidal for the Indians to denude artillery firepower from any other sector as a defensive balance had to be maintained. He gave the example of the Kathua-Jammu Sector where the Indians were compelled to keep the bulk of their modern Bofors guns due to the vital road link’s vulnerability to our offensive elements. 

It seemed from the Corps Commander’s smug appreciation of the situation that the Indians had been tightly straitjacketed in the Dras-Kargil Sector and had no option but to submit to our operational design. More significantly, an alternative action like a strategic riposte by the Indians in another sector had been rendered out of question, given the nuclear environment. Whether resort to an exterior manoeuvre (diplomatic offensive) by the beleaguered Indians had crossed the planners’ minds was not discernable in the Corps Commander’s elucidation. 

Perhaps it was the incredulousness of the whole thing that led Air Cdre Abid Rao to famously quip, “After this operation, it’s going to be either a Court Martial or Martial Law!” as we walked out of the briefing room.

Back at Air Headquarters, we briefed the DCAS (Ops) about what had transpired at the 10 Corps briefing. His surprise at the developments, as well as his concern about the possibility of events spiralling out of control, could not be concealed by his otherwise unflappable demeanour. We were all also piqued at being left out of the Army’s planning, though we were given to believe that it was a ‘limited tactical action’ in which the PAF would not be required—an issue that none of us agreed with. Presented with a fait accompli, we decided not to lose any more time and, while the DCAS (Ops) went to brief the CAS about the situation, we set about gearing up for a hectic routine. The operations room was quickly updated with the latest large-scale maps and air recce photos of the area; communications links with concerned agencies were also revamped in a short time. Deployment orders were issued, and within the next 48 hours the bulk of combat elements were in-situ at their war locations.

IAF – by fits and starts

The IAF deployments in Kashmir, for what came to be known as ‘Operation Safedsagar’, commenced on 15 May with the bulk of operational assets positioned by 18 May. A hundred and fifty combat aircraft were deployed as follows:

• Srinagar 34 (MiG-21, MiG23, MiG-27)
• Awantipur 28 (MiG-21, MiG29, Jaguar)
• Udhampur 12 (MiG-21)
• Pathankot 30 (MiG-21, MiG-23)
• Adampur 46 (Mir-2000, MiG-29, Jaguar)

One-third of the aircraft were modern, ‘high-threat’ fighters equipped with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missiles. During the preparatory stage, air defence alert status (5 minutes to scramble from ground) was maintained while Mirage-2000s and Jaguars carried out photo-reconnaissance along the Line of Control (LOC) and aging Canberras carried out electronic intelligence (ELINT) to ferret out the location of PAF air defence sensors. Last minute honing of strafing and rocketing skills was carried out by pilots at an air-to-ground firing range near Leh.

Operations by the IAF started in earnest on 26 May, a full sixteen days after the commencement of Pakistani infiltration across the LOC. The salient feature of this initial phase was strafing and rocketing of the intruders’ positions by MiG-21, MiG-23BN and MiG-27 aircraft. All operations (except air defence) came to a sudden standstill on 28 May, after two IAF fighters and a helicopter were lost—a MiG-21 and a Mi-17 to Pak Army surface-to-air missiles (SAMs), and a MiG-27 to engine trouble caused by gun gas ingestion during high altitude strafing. (Incidentally, the pilot of the MiG-27 Flt Lt Nachiketa, who ejected and was apprehended, had a tête-à-tête with this author during an interesting ‘interrogation’ session.)

The results achieved by the IAF in the first two days were dismal. Serious restraints seem to have been imposed on the freedom of action of IAF fighters in what was basically a search-and-destroy mission. Lt Gen Mehmud’s rant about a ‘Stinger on every peak’ seemed true. It was obvious that the IAF had under-estimated the SAM threat. The mood in Pak Army circles was that of undiluted elation, and the PAF was expected to sit it out while sharing the khakis’ glee.
The IAF immediately went into a reappraisal mode and came out with GPS-assisted high altitude bombing by MiG-21, MiG-23BN and MiG-27 as a makeshift solution. In the meantime, quick modification on the Mirage-2000 for day/night laser bombing kits (Litening pods) was initiated with the help of the Israelis. Conventional incessant bombing that started after a two-day operational hiatus was aimed at harassing the infiltrators and denying them respite, with consequent adverse effects on morale. The results of this part of the campaign were largely insignificant, mainly because the target coordinates were not known accurately; the nature of the terrain too, precluded precision. A few cases of fratricide by the IAF led it to be even more cautious.

By 16 June, the IAF was able to open up the laser-guided bombing campaign with the help of Jaguars and Mirage-2000. Daily photo-recces along the LOC by Jaguars escorted by Mirage-2000s, a daily feature since the beginning of operations, proved crucial to both the aerial bombing campaign as well as to the Indian artillery, helping the latter to accurately shell Pakistani positions in the Dras-Kargil and Gultari Sectors. While the photo-recce missions typically did not involve deliberate border violations, there were a total of 37 ‘technical violations’ (which emanate as a consequence of kinks and bends in the geographical boundaries). Typically, these averaged to a depth of five nautical miles, except on one occasion when the IAF fighters apparently cocked a snook at the PAF and came in 13 miles deep.

The Mirage-2000s scored at least five successful laser-guided bomb hits on forward dumping sites and posts. During the last days of operations, which ended on 12 July, it was clear that delivery accuracy had improved considerably. Even though night bombing accuracy was suspect, round-the-clock attacks had made it untenable for Pakistani infiltrators to retain posts. Photo-recces of Pakistani artillery gun positions also made them vulnerable to Indian artillery. 

The IAF flew a total of 550 strike missions against infiltrator positions, including bunkers and supply depots. The coordinates of these locations were mostly picked up from about 150 reconnaissance and communications intelligence missions. In addition, 500 missions were flown for air defence and to escort strike and recce missions.

While the Indians had been surprised by the infiltration in Kargil, the IAF mobilised and reacted rapidly as the Indian Army took time to position itself. Later, when the Indian Army had entrenched itself, the IAF supplemented and filled in where the artillery could not be positioned in force. Clearly, Army-Air joint operations had a synergistic effect in evicting the intruders.

PAF in a bind

From the very beginning of the Kargil operations, the PAF was trapped in a circumstantial absurdity: it was faced with the ludicrous predicament of having to provide air support to infiltrators already disowned by the Pakistan Army leadership! In any case, it took some effort to impress on the latter that crossing the LOC by fighters laden with bombs was not, by any stretch of imagination, akin to lobbing a few artillery shells to settle scores. There was no doubt in the minds of the PAF Air Staff that the first cross-border attack (whether across the LOC or the international border) would invite an immediate response from the IAF, possibly in the shape of a retaliatory strike against the home base of the intruding fighters, thus starting the first round. The PAF’s intervention meant all-out war: this unmistakable conclusion was conveyed to the Prime Minister, Mr Nawaz Sharif, by the Air Chief in unequivocal terms. 

Short of starting an all-out war, the PAF looked at some saner options that could put some wind in Pakistan’s sails after the doldrums had been hit. Air Marshal Najib Akhtar, the Air Officer Commanding of Air Defence Command, was co-opted by the Air Staff to sift the possibilities. Audacious and innovative in equal parts, Air Marshal Najib had an excellent knowledge about our own and the enemy’s Air Defence Ground Environment (ADGE). He had conceived and overseen the unprecedented heli-lift of a low-looking radar to a 14,000-ft mountaintop on the forbidding Deosai Plateau. The highly risky operation became possible with the help of some courageous flying by Army Aviation pilots. With good low level radar cover now available up to the LOC, Air Marshal Najib, along with the Air Staff, focused on fighter sweep (a mission flown to destroy patrolling enemy fighters) as a possible option. 

To prevent the mission from being seen as an escalatory step in the already charged atmosphere, the PAF had to lure Indian fighters into its own territory, i.e. Azad Kashmir or the Northern Areas. That done, a number of issues had to be tackled. What if the enemy aircraft were hit in our territory but fell across, providing a pretext to India as a doubly aggrieved party? What if one of our own aircraft fell, no matter if the exchange was one-to-one (or better)? Finally, even if we were able to pull off a surprise, would it not be a one-off incident, with the IAF wising up quickly? The over-arching consideration was the BVR missile capability of IAF fighters, which impinged unfavourably on the mission success probability. The conclusion was that a replication of the famous four-Vampire rout of 1st September 1965 by two Sabres might not be possible. The idea of a fighter sweep thus fizzled out as quickly as it came up for discussion.

While the PAF looked at some offensive options, it had a more pressing defensive issue at hand. The IAF’s minor border violations during recce missions were not of grave consequence in so far as no bombing had taken place in our territory; however, the fact that these missions helped the enemy refine its air and artillery targeting was, to say the least, disconcerting. There were constant reports of our troops on the LOC disturbed to see (or hear) IAF fighters operating with apparent impunity. The GHQ took the matter up with the AHQ and it was resolved that Combat Air Patrols (CAPs) would be flown by the F-16s operating out of Minhas (Kamra) and Sargodha. This arrangement resulted in less on-station time but was safer than operating out of vulnerable Skardu, which had inadequate early warning in the mountainous terrain; its status as a turn-around facility was, however, considered acceptable for its location. A flight of F-7s was, nonetheless, deployed primarily for point defence of the important garrison town of Skardu as well as the air base.

F-16 CAPs could not have been flown all day long as spares support was limited under the prevailing US sanctions. Random CAPs were resorted to, with a noticeable drop in border violations only as long as the F-16s were on station. There were a few cases of F-16s and Mirage-2000s locking their adversaries with the on-board radars but caution usually prevailed and no close encounters took place. After one week of CAPs, the F-16 maintenance personnel indicated that war reserve spares were being eaten into and that the activity had to be ‘rationalised’, a euphemism for discontinuing it altogether. That an impending war occupied the Air Staff’s minds was evident in the decision by the DCAS (Ops) for F-16 CAPs to be discontinued, unless IAF activity became unbearably provocative or threatening. 

Those not aware of the gravity of the F-16 operability problem under sanctions have complained of the PAF’s lack of cooperation. Suffice it to say that if the PAF had been included in the initial planning, this anomaly (along with many others) would have emerged as a mitigating factor against the Kargil adventure. It is another matter that the Army high command did not envisage operations ever coming to such a pass. Now, it was almost as if the PAF was to blame for the Kargil venture spiralling out of control.

It must be noted, too, that other than F-16s, the PAF did not have a capable enough fighter for patrolling, as the minimum requirement in this scenario was an on-board airborne intercept radar, exceptional agility and sufficient staying power. F-7s had reasonably good manoeuvrability but lacked an intercept radar as well as endurance, while the ground attack Mirage-III/5s and A-5s were sitting ducks for the air combat mission.

In sum, the PAF found it expedient not to worry too much about minor border violations and instead, conserve resources for the larger conflagration that was looming. All the same, it gave the enemy no pretext for retaliation in the face of any provocation, though this latter stance irked some quarters in the Army that were desperate to ‘equal the match’. It may not have struck them that the PAF’s restraint in warding off a major conflagration may have been its paramount contribution to the Kargil conflict. 


It has emerged that the principal protagonists of the Kargil adventure were the Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Pervez Musharraf; Commander 10 Corps, Lt Gen Mehmud Ahmed; and Commander Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA), Maj Gen Javed Hasan. The trio, in previous ranks and appointments, had been associated with planning during paper exercises how to wrest control of lost territory in Siachen. The plans were not acceptable to the then Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, to whom the options had been put up for review more than once. She was well versed in international affairs, and too intelligent to be taken in by the chicanery. It fell to the wisdom of her successor, Mr Nawaz Sharif, to approve the Army trio’s self-serving presentation. 

In an effort to keep the plan secret, which was thought to be the key to its successful initiation, the Army trio took no one into confidence—neither its operational commanders nor the heads of the other services. This, regrettably, resulted in a closed-loop thought process, which engendered a string of oversights and failures:

• Failure to grasp the wider military and diplomatic ramifications of a limited tactical operation that had the potential of creating strategic effects. 
• Failure to correctly visualise the response of a powerful enemy to what was, in effect, a major blow in a disputed sector.
• Failure to spell out the specific aim to field commanders, who acted on their own to needlessly ‘capture’ territory and expand the scope of the operation to unmanageable levels. 
• Failure to appreciate the inability of the Army officers to evaluate the capabilities and limitations of an Air Force.
• Failure to coordinate contingency plans at the tri-services level.
The flaws in the Kargil Plan that led to these failures were almost palpable, and could not have escaped even a layman’s attention during a cursory examination. Why were all the planners blind to the obvious? Could it be that some of the sub-ordinates had the sight but not the nerve in the face of a powerful superior? In hierarchical organisations, there is precious little cheek for dissent, but in autocratic ones like the military, it takes more than a spine to disagree, for there are very few commanders who are large enough to allow such liberties. It is out of fear of annoying the superior—which also carries with it manifold penalties and loss of promotion and perks—that the majority decides to blow with the wind. 

In a country where democratic traditions have never been deep-rooted, it is no big exposé to point out that the military is steeped in an authoritarian rather than a consensual approach. To my mind, there is an urgent need to inculcate a more liberal culture that accommodates different points of view—a more lateral approach, so to speak. Disagreement during planning should be systemically tolerated and not taken as a personal affront. Unfortunately, many in higher ranks seem to think that rank alone confers wisdom, and anyone displaying signs of intelligence at an earlier stage is, somehow, an alien in their ‘star-spangled’ universe.

Kargil, I suspect, like the ‘65 and ‘71 Wars, was a case of not having enough dissenters (‘devil’s advocates’, if you will) during planning, because everyone wanted to agree with the boss. That single reason, I think, was the root cause of most of the failures that were apparent right from the beginning. If this point is understood well, remedial measures towards tolerance and liberalism can follow as a matter of course. Such an organisational milieu, based on honest appraisal and fearless appeal, would be conducive to sound and sensible planning. It would also go a long way in precluding Kargil-like disasters.


Come change-over time of the Chief of Air Staff in 2001, President Musharraf struck at the PAF’s top leadership in what can only be described as implacable action: he passed over all five Air Marshals and appointed the sixth-in-line who was practically an Air Vice Marshal till a few weeks beforehand. While disregarding seniority in the appointment of service chiefs has historically been endemic in the country, the practice has been seen as breeding nepotism and partiality, besides leaving a trail of conjecture and gossip in the ranks. Given Air Chief Marshal Mehdi’s rather straight-faced and forthright dealings with a somewhat junior General Musharraf particularly during the Kargil conflict, there is good reason to believe that the latter decided to appoint a not very senior Air Chief whom he could order around like one of his Corps Commanders. (As it turned out, Air Chief Marshal Mus’haf was as solid as his predecessor and gave no quarter when it came to PAF’s interests.) Whatever the reason that seniority was bypassed, it was unfortunate that the PAF’s precious corporate experience was thrown out so crassly and several careers were destroyed. The lives and honour lost in Kargil are another matter. 

Monday, 16 February 2009

After the Hawk, a supersonic trainer LCA

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Above: The Tejas trainer final assembly

Left: Author with two designers of the LCA trainer and the vice head of the Aircraft R&D Centre

Right: another view of the Tejas trainer final assembly

Below: a view of the cockpit. Many of the instruments have not yet been fitted

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Feb 09
HAL, Bengaluru

It took immense public pressure and the deaths of tens of Indian Air Force (IAF) pilots for the government to okay the purchase of 66 Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) for training rookie pilots on fast jets before sending them off to the MiG Operational Flying Training School (MOFTU) in Tezpur. There they are put into the cockpit of one of the world’s fastest and most unforgiving fighters: the MiG-21. It is no coincidence that accidents are dramatically down since training began on the Hawk.

Now the IAF is purchasing another trainer that could equip its pilots even better for flying the high performance fighters --- the upgraded Jaguars, MiG-21s, 27s and 29s, the Mirage 2000s, the brutally powerful Su-30MKI and the MMRCA, when that is inducted --- which will comprise the new IAF.

Top MoD sources have told Business Standard that the IAF will soon order from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) twelve of the newly developed two-seater trainer version of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). The DRDO chief, Dr M Natarajan confirms that the Tejas trainer is set to make its first flight within two months.

This will give IAF pilots an additional stage of training. Currently, Stage I is carried out on a basic trainer, the HPT-32; Stage II on slightly faster and more complex aircraft like the Kiran; and Stage III on the jet-engined, but sub-sonic Hawk AJT. The induction of an LCA trainer will allow IAF pilots to fly a supersonic, light fighter before graduating to the combat squadrons.

Most advanced western air forces do not conduct four stages of training; instead, they rely extensively on aircraft simulators. But the IAF, like some other air forces, has tended to prefer live flying. To benefit from such a demand, South Korea has built and is marketing a supersonic trainer called the T-50 Golden Eagle. DRDO chief, Dr M Natarjan, declared at Aero India 09 that the Tejas trainer would compete effectively with the Golden Eagle.

Ashok Nayak, Managing Director of HAL’s Bangalore Complex, and the company’s next chief, explains that the Tejas assembly line will be busy until 2014, producing the IAF’s first order of 20 Tejas aircraft, which will include 16 single-seater fighters and 4 twin-seater trainers. Then, while the Tejas is reengineered and flight-tested with a new, more powerful engine, the assembly line will produce 12 more trainers.

For HAL, the new order is a relief, as it will keep the Tejas assembly line rolling. Mr Nayak points out, “It is not in the interests of the Air Force, or of HAL, to have a break in production.”

Business Standard travelled to HAL for an exclusive look at the new Tejas trainer. From the outside, there is little to distinguish it from the single-seater fighter that performed aerobatics at the just-concluded Aero India 09 show. A closer look, however, reveals an expanded cockpit, in which two pilots --- an instructor and a trainee --- sit one behind the other, both equipped with all the controls needed to fly the aircraft.

The design team for the twin-seater Tejas trainer was led by two women engineers of HAL’s Aircraft Research and Development Centre, Ms Poongothai, and Ms Mamatha K. They pointed out that the additional pilot’s seat and controls have all been squeezed into the existing airframe, obviating the need for time-consuming redesign of the single-seater Tejas’ airframe.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Could the Aero India F-16s be bombing India in a war?.

(photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Top: A long view of the UAE Air Force F-16 Super Viper, brought by Lockheed Martin for Aero India 09. Sitting in the rear seat is Abhinav Bindra.

Left: The conformal fuel tank, along the fuselage above the wing, which characterises the UAE Block 60 F-16s

Above: The markings on the rear of the demonstration F-16. 

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
Aero India 09, Yelahanka Air Base

As the F-16 fighter roars into the skies of Bengaluru at the Aero India 09 show, all attention is on the wonderful aerobatics display it puts up, not on the tiny flag of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on its tail. But the fact is, two of the four F-16s brought here by Lockheed Martin belong to the UAE air force.

Two intriguing questions immediately arise: Firstly, were these aircraft flown, perhaps just days ago, by combat pilots from the Pakistani Air Force (PAF), which has long sent its officers on deputation to fly UAE fighters? Would these very aircraft, now here on a sales pitch by Lockheed Martin, have been bombing India in the event of a war with Pakistan?

Senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officers have confirmed to Business Standard that, in any war with India, Pakistan could field up to two squadrons of F-16 aircraft borrowed from Arab nations, where its pilots are posted on deputation.

Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, who won a Vir Chakra in combat in 1971 and went on to head the Institute for Defence Studies and Analysis (IDSA) points out, “This has happened regularly. In 1965, the Jordanian Air Force supplied F-104 Starfighters to Pakistan, one of which was even shot down by the IAF. In 1971, Turkey and Iran had supplied F-86 Sabres to the PAF. I wouldn’t rule out a repeat of this kind of help.”

Air Marshal Vinod Patney, the top air force field commander during the Kargil conflict, also believes the UAE Air Force F-16s could be used against India. He reasons, “There are Pakistani pilots there in the UAE: fact. They are flying their F-16s: fact. There is a close military relationship between those countries: fact. I would not rule out Islamic solidarity coming into play in the event of a war with India.”

Clearly visible on the UAE Air Force F-16s on display in Bangalore is an extra fuel tank, just above the wing, specially built for the batch of F-16s ordered by the UAE. The IAF believes UAE asked Lockheed Martin for the extra range to allow the Pakistani pilots in the UAE to reach Indian targets, deliver their weapons, and then fly to a Pakistani base from where they could operate for the rest of the war.

Air Chief Marshal SC Tyagi, the IAF chief until 2007, recounts, “In the Arab-Israeli war in 1967, Pakistani pilots even flew Jordanian and Iraqi fighter aircraft in combat missions against the Israeli Air Force. One Bengali pilot from East Pakistan shot down two Israeli Mystere jets during that war. There was an agreement to help each other. But the world has moved on; it’s an open question whether such an agreement exists today.”

Lockheed Martin told Business Standard that they had no idea whether Pakistani pilots had recently flown the F-16s, now in Bangalore. Douglas Hartwick, CEO of Lockheed Martin India Pvt Ltd explained, “We just leased these planes from the UAE Air Force.”

India’s strategic community is concerned about F-16 aircraft being evaluated by India despite their being in service in Pakistan. Air Chief Marshal Fali Major, the air force chief, told a press conference at the Aero India that he was not concerned, as the IAF would equip the fighters that they bought (even if they were F-16s) very differently from the PAF, and use “home-grown” tactics while flying them. But when pressed on the issue he admitted, “I am not happy that someone else has something that I have. But that’s the way the world works.”

Saturday, 14 February 2009

First defence fund launched at Aero India 2009

(photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

A view of the VIP-version of the Dhruv ALH, which was handed over to Ecuador at Aero India 09.

by Ajai Shukla
Yelahanka Airbase, 14th Feb 2009

Top defence decision-makers at the Aero India 2009 show in Bangalore have declared repeatedly that the economic slowdown would not impact defence spending, which would continue to rise in absolute terms. Today, India’s first 100 per cent defence-oriented investment fund — named the India Rizing Fund — announced its official launch at this biennial air expo.

The India Rizing Fund is a Rs 750 crore venture capital fund, approved by Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) for investing in small and medium enterprises (SMEs) engaged in producing defence equipment. The Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) has approved raising Rs 550 crore from international investors; the fund expects to raise Rs 200 crore from the domestic market.

Rajesh Narayan, the Managing Trustee of the India Rizing Fund explains why, despite depressed economic conditions, he expects the fund to post strong gains. “There is, first of all, strong government encouragement for privatising defence production to the greatest extent possible. This means growing business for private companies, as defence PSUs and Ordnance Factories outsource production to them.”

“In addition, India’s new offset rules demand that foreign defence majors supplying arms to India will have to source defence goods from India, to the tune of 30-50 per cent of the overall contract value. Already, a string of global majors are in talks with Indian defence SMEs for fulfiling those offset obligations.”

Global majors’ offset obligations are expected to amount to about $20 billion over the coming ten years. Just one contract — the procurement of 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA)— will generate offset obligations worth an estimated $6 billion.

The India Rizing Fund is in talks with several global majors, who have a strategic and commercial interest in strengthening the network of SMEs, so that their offset obligations can be fulfiled without difficulty. The fund plans to funnel its corpus into promising defence SMEs, providing the capital needed for building up their manufacturing infrastructure and delivery capability. It plans to actively participate in the management of the companies in which it invests, bringing in professional practices and processes.

“We are having a hard time finding enough well-structured Indian companies that can help us fulfil our offset obligations”, says an senior executive from the Boeing Corporation, on condition of anonymity. In Dec 08, Bell withdrew from a $600 million contract to supply India with 197 light helicopters, citing difficulties in meeting its offset obligations.

The India Rizing Fund plans to invest 90 per cent of its capital into defence manufacturing, and about 10 per cent into defence R&D units that are working in the fields of data fusion, thermal imaging and sensors.

Rajesh Narayan, the sponsor and promoter of the fund was earlier the Director and India Head, Specialist Finance, ANZ Investment Bank (ANZIB).

Thursday, 12 February 2009

EADS plans to ride the LCA into Indian market

(photo: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

The fourth Tejas in the Limited Series Production (LSP) run, nearing completion in a hangar in HAL, Bangalore)

By Ajai Shukla
Aero India 09, Yelahanka, Bangalore
Business Standard, 12th February 09

At the opening of the Aero India 09 defence exposition today, Defence Minister AK Antony clearly enjoyed what must have seemed like a wild-west style shootout. One after another, four contenders for India’s purchase of 126 medium fighters --- the Eurofighter Typhoon, the F/A-18, the F-16 and the MiG-35 --- took to the skies in a fiesta of aerobatics clearly aimed at impressing the decision-makers who must decide which aircraft will win the $12 billion contract.

But the performance that evoked Mr Antony’s praise was that of the Indian-built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Although more cautious than the all-out performances of the established fighters, the Tejas went far beyond anything it had ever displayed before, surprising the spectators with steep climbs, an inverted pass, high-gravity turns and loops.

Addressing the press, Mr Antony remarked, “I was very excited to see the LCA. After many years we could see the LCA doing manoeuvres… I was excited to see the Indian-made LCA in Indian skies.”

But even amidst success, the Tejas LCA is struggling to overcome major development hurdles. Its maker, Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) has taken the crucial decision to bring in a design consultant, a global aerospace major that would assist HAL to overcome persistent design glitches that dog the LCA, including fuel distribution, uneven braking, flight controls, environment controls and testing. And while US-based Boeing has declined to supply such know-how, German-Spanish consortium, EADS, one of the makers of the Eurofighter, has aggressively pursued the consultancy as a way of flying into the Indian market.

In multiple interviews with senior Indian and EADS officials who requested anonymity, Business Standard has pieced together the EADS strategy. The company has decided to supply India with high technology for Indian products that are not directly competing with an EADS product. The Tejas is not in the same category as the heavier Eurofighter.

Having established its presence in the Tejas programme, EADS is confident that it would be well positioned to get its Eurojet EJ200 engine accepted for the Tejas. India is currently deciding between the EJ200 and the GE-414 engine for powering future squadrons of the Tejas.

And EADS believes that winning the contract for the EJ200 engine, and producing it in India, would position it perfectly for the lucrative medium fighter contract; twin EJ200 engines power the Eurofighter.

While willing to part with the technology assistance needed to get the LCA over its hump, EADS worries about the possibility of eventually being held responsible for a possible failure in the Tejas development.

“Let’s be clear that we are not underwriting the LCA programme”, says a senior European official related with the contract. Another likens EADS’s role to helping someone in a dark room turn on the light switch. But EADS will do no more than indicate the direction of the switch.

The German and Spanish governments have already permitted EADS to part with the technology needed for the Tejas programme; the US government, in contrast, imposed stringent restrictions on Boeing. Explains a senior EADS official, “If we don’t supply technology, India will develop it anyway, perhaps with some delay. So it is better for us to establish our presence here, partner India in the Tejas, and perhaps even market it together.”

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Aero India 09 inauguration pictures... a glimpse into the ceremony on the 11th

The Light Combat Aircraft tests its teeth: a ringside account of an LCA bombing run

(Photos: copyright Ajai Shukla)

The first pictures of an LCA, fitted with bombs, fuel pods, dummy missile and a camera pod, taxiing out and taking off for a bombing test.

HAL, Bangalore
11th Feb 09

At 3 p.m. on 7th Feb 09, it was “all systems go” at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) in Bangalore, the organisation that is developing India’s Light Combat Aircraft. I sat by the runway, watching two Tejas fighters, as the LCA is named, carrying out pre-flight checks before leaving for a crucial mission. After over 1000 test flights, involving 560 hours of flying over several years, the Tejas was checking out its teeth and claws by dropping bombs on a ground target. For the first time I was looking at a Tejas which had, other than its dummy R-73 missile and fuel pods, bomb pods as well. (see photograph)

Three days earlier, the first bombing run had been made; this test was to validate another method of bomb delivery.

Group Captain R Tyagi, in the lead Tejas, was to fly several hundred kilometres to a live range and deliver the bombs on a ground target. The tarmac outside his air-conditioned cockpit was blistering, as his onboard health-monitoring systems conducted self-checks, a crucial six-minute operation to ensure that his engines, controls and electronics were functioning normally. I could see the flaps and control surfaces lifting and dropping; all of this was a part of the testing process. 

Just metres away, naval test pilot Captain Jaideep Maolankar, sat in another Tejas fighter, carrying out the same checks on his aircraft. Jaideep would perform the role of “chase aircraft”, flying alongside Tyagi’s aircraft and visually observing every step of the mission. In addition, a high-speed camera was tracking Tyagi’s bomb pod, clicking hundreds of frames every second.

With a surprising lack of fuss, the two aircraft revved up their engines and taxied out to the runway. I put my hands over my ears as the fighter engines roared into a crescendo and both aircraft took off, first Tyagi and then Maolankar in quick succession, banking to the right and then quickly out of sight.

The pilots were now physically alone in their cockpits, but they had lots of company over the radio. At the end of the runway was the high-security Telemetry Centre of the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC), tracking every moment of the mission. Each aircraft, from the time it started up, was being monitored in detail, the data transmitting live from the aircraft over a high-speed data link. Eleven critical aircraft systems, such as the fuel system, hydraulics and flight controls, were being watched by eleven engineers, each responsible for one particular system. In addition, a senior flight test engineer, designated the Test Director, oversaw each of the two aircraft; beside each Test Director sat another test pilot, called the Safety Pilot, continuously monitored what the aircraft pilot was seeing through his Head-Up Display (HUD). Anything going wrong and the Test Director would alert the pilot in his aircraft. In a serious emergency, he made the split second decisions that could spell life or death. 

“It’s a bit like Formula One racing”, explained Wing Commander Aslam Khan, the Test Director. “The driver, or in this case the pilot, is concentrating too hard on his mission to worry about how the aircraft systems are doing, or about what is happening outside. So we watch those parameters and tell the pilot over radio.”

As the two Tejas aircraft approached the bombing range, the Telemetry Centre cleared Group Captain Tyagi to release his weapons. Flying just 70 metres away, Captain Maolankar watched carefully as Tyagi’s bombs were released; it was easy for him to see the white-coloured bombs as they headed down towards the target. Back at the Telemetry Centre, they replayed the live footage from the high-speed camera to check that the bombs had been released cleanly. I could see that they had.

The data --- including that relayed from ground cameras near the target --- would be examined in detail over days, but for now it was a successful test; the aircraft headed back to base. One more phase of the LCA test flight programme was proceeding smoothly.

The NTFC is reputed to be amongst the best test flight centres in the world. So far, not a single accident has marred the LCA programme, a perfect record compared to fighter development programmes in most other countries. In the Gripen programme, two aircraft went down in the first year of testing. In the F-104 programme in the US, 13-14 test pilots were killed in just two years of testing. (The aircraft was dubbed “the widow maker”.

“This centre has been set up entirely indigenously”, explains Air Commodore Rohit Varma, who heads the LCA flight testing. “Also, unlike other countries where test pilots are retired airmen, our test pilots are all serving pilots, bringing in contemporary experience of our operating environment.”

Amongst the ADA’s five test pilots (that I had the pleasure of having lunch with… a delicious meal!) were officers who had recently commanded a Su-30MKI squadron; a Harrier squadron; a MiG-21 squadron and a fighter base. All top guns, fresh from the field. Clearly user input counts for something!! 

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Light Combat Helicopter encounters delays

(photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

(Top right: A view of the armament boom, flare dispensers and the EW housing on the new weaponised Dhruv)

(Bottom right: the GIAT 20mm cannon turret, and the sensor housing on the nose of the Dhruv. This was initially a fixed gun, before the IAF requested redesign into a turret)

(Bottom left: A long shot of the display-painted WSI Dhruv that will be seen at Aero India 2009)

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
Business Standard, 10th Feb 09

Visitors to Aero India 2009, being held in Bangalore from 11th to 15th February 09, who hoped to catch a first-ever glimpse of India’s high-tech Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), will go back disappointed. Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has told Business Standard that design glitches --- including extra weight and delays in manufacturing the tooling on which the LCH will be fabricated --- have pushed back the first flight by up to a year.

Some consolation will be afforded to enthusiasts of indigenous production from the first display flights of a black leopard-painted prototype of the armed Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter. Called the Weapons Systems Integrated Dhruv (WSI Dhruv) this is the machine on which the LCH’s armaments and sensors are being perfected, even as designers struggle to pare down the extra 250 kilos that have come up on the LCH.

“An extra 250 kilos may not seem much on a 5.5 ton helicopter, but it really is a serious problem”, explains HAL’s helicopter design chief, N Seshadri. “At altitudes of 6000 metres (almost 20,000 feet), which the LCH must operate at, the air is so thin that it can only carry a weapons payload of about 350-500 kg. If the helicopter ends up 250 kg heavier than planned, its high altitude firepower will be dramatically reduced.”

Being built on the basic design of the Dhruv ALH, the LCH is currently HAL’s most prestigious project. Many of its components, including the engine, crucial moving parts like the rotor, and the instrumentation of the LCH have already been tested on the Dhruv. Armaments and sensors are taking shape on the WSI-Dhruv. With much of this already done, HAL had planned to fly its first LCH prototype by December 08; a second prototype was to be readied in the first half of this year. But that timeline has turned out to be too ambitious.

One reason is that the LCH is technologically far more complex than the Dhruv. The Dhruv is a utility helicopter, designed for simple tasks like reconnaissance, casualty evacuation and for conveying small teams of up to 7 soldiers. In contrast, the LCH is an attack helicopter, a flying weapons platform built purely for combat. It must fly and fight by day and by night, bringing down missile, rocket and cannon fire on dangerous enemy targets like tanks. To avoid detection by radars and by individuals it must fly almost at ground level; its crew needs bulletproofing against ground fire. It must have sophisticated electronics to confuse enemy radars.

The private sector company that has designed the LCH’s fuselage, Plexion Technologies, is working overtime to cut down the extra 250 kg. Meanwhile HAL is trying to convince the air force to accept the first prototype with some extra weight, so that flight tests can begin even as Plexion slims down the LCH.

There are some delays also in selecting the weapons systems that the LCH will carry. The air-to-air missile, which will be bought from abroad, has not been selected. The LCH was to be fitted with the DRDO’s Nag anti-tank missile, but the services want a missile that can hit tanks at 7 kilometers, compared with the 4 km range of the Nag. So while the DRDO works on a longer-range version of the Nag (called the HELINA, or Helicopter-mounted Nag), a foreign missile will have to be bought as an interim solution.

Tomorrow: Aero India spotlight on the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)