Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Project 15-B: Navy's destroyer project sets sail

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Left: The INS Kolkata, the first of the Project 15-A destroyers, at its slipway in Mazagon Dock, Mumbai (MDL)

Above: The second and the third destroyers of Project 15-A

Business Standard
March 30, 2009

by Ajai Shukla
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai

The Indian Navy’s firepower is going to be significantly boosted with the addition of four heavy warships. The navy’s design chief, Rear Admiral MK Badhwar, has confirmed for the first time, to Business Standard, that the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) — the top procurement body in the Ministry of Defence (MoD) — has cleared Project 15-B, the construction of four 6800-tonne destroyers by Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL).

There was no competitive bidding for Project 15-B, since MDL is the only Indian shipyard large enough to build destroyers, which are significantly larger than frigates. MDL is currently completing Project 15-A, the construction of three destroyers of the Kolkata Class; Project 15-B (the class has not been named yet) is a “follow-on project”, i.e. it is only incrementally different from Project 15-A.

Asked when manufacture will begin, Admiral Badhwar said, “The Indian Navy has asked MDL for a quotation. Once that is received, an MoD Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) will negotiate a price with MDL for the four destroyers. After the price is agreed upon, the MoD will accord final sanction for the project.”

The navy intends to drive a hard bargain with MDL. Admiral Badhwar explains, “The three Kolkata class destroyers built under Project 15-A cost about Rs 3800 crore each, i.e. about Rs 11,000 crore. Project 15-B should logically be cheaper.”

At that price, Project 15-B will save more than a billion dollars per warship. Australia bought its F100 frigates (at 3,000 tonne, significantly smaller and more lightly armed than the destroyers that will be built under Project 15-B) from Spanish shipyard, Navantia, for the equivalent of Rs 9,000 crore per frigate.

Crucial to how cheaply, and how fast, Project 15-B can be built is the issue of how different these warships will be from their predecessors in the Kolkata Class Project 15-A. Project 15-A has taken longer than anticipated because it incorporated significant changes and upgrades from its predecessor, Project 15 (three Delhi Class destroyers). But Project 15-B, MDL hopes, will have fewer design challenges; it will differ from its predecessor only in weaponry and sensors.

Vice Admiral HS Malhi, chairman and managing director (CMD) of MDL explains, “If there are no major changes in Project 15-B, we can definitely cut down the build time. If the vendors can use the same manufacturing equipment, if the same drawings can be used, it makes a big difference. Standardisation is the key.”

Admiral Malhi points, as an example, to the US Navy’s DDG-51 programme, in which 62 destroyers have already been churned out with standardised hulls and propulsion systems.

MDL’s CMD points out, “If you have that kind of production line, the speed of building and the cost of building comes down dramatically.”

This is the Catch-22 situation facing Indian warship-building. The shipyards want larger orders of warships with standardised designs. But the Indian Navy has tended to place smaller orders of 3-4 ships; the navy says construction delays by the shipyards mean that designs get outdated by the time the ships are rolled out.

This impasse, however, appears to be dissolving. The design similarities between Projects 15-A (three destroyers) and 15-B (four destroyers) could effectively combine those into a combined seven-destroyer order. Similarly, Project 17-A is being planned as an order for seven stealth frigates.

MDL believes that, since Project 15-B is a follow on of the 15-A, the design and planning period will be less than 1½ years. Once the design is finalised, the navy wants the first destroyer to roll out within four years, with the others completed at one-year intervals. By that ambitious timeline, if the order is placed on MDL by end-2009, the first 15-B destroyer would be commissioned in mid-2015.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Project 17-A: French shipyard, DCNS, leads in race to be design consultant

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th March 2009
Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai

Major global warship-makers are carefully watching the Indian Navy’s Project 17-A, potentially India’s biggest-ever naval purchase, a Rs 17,000 crore plan to build seven stealth frigates. And French shipbuilder, DCNS --- through a clever “first-mover” strategy --- is poised to play a major role in that project.

On 27th Feb 09, the DCNS board gave the thumbs up for a three-party design consultancy along with Kolkata shipyard, Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), and Indian IT engineers Infotech Enterprises. The JV will design ships for global clients, including back office work for DCNS, one of the world’s biggest warship builders.

But the first design job that the JV is shooting for is Project 17-A. Despite the Indian success in designing and building quality warships, Project 17-A needs a design partner. This is because all seven frigates will be built using an advanced manufacturing process --- modular shipbuilding --- which is used by top shipyards in the US and Europe.

India has never done modular shipbuilding. This involves constructing a several-thousand-ton warship in 300-ton blocks, which are then brought together and assembled, like a Lego game, into a complete warship. Each 300-ton block is built separately, complete with all the piping, electrical wiring and fitments that would be a part of the ship. These must precisely connect with their counterpart in the neighbouring block, coming together in perfect alignment.

This is the expertise that DCNS is hoping to sell as the foreign design partner for Project 17-A. DCNS has positioned itself well for the bid. The DCNS-GRSE-Infotech JV will have the advantage of bidding as an Indian company. Besides the Scorpene programme with MDL, DCNS has worked with both shipyards on several projects. And, importantly, the modular construction infrastructure coming up in MDL and GRSE is very similar to that in DCNS’s shipyards in France.

Admiral Malhi points out, “We already have a relationship with DCNS; we are building the Scorpene together. They have the same infrastructure as we have, which means that the drawings they make can be easily translated into warships in our yard. But we will keep our options open by asking (Italian shipyard) Fincantieri to bid as well.”

With GRSE and MDL insisting that Project 17-A be built entirely in India (Business Standard had reported yesterday that the Indian Navy wanted the first two frigates to be built abroad by the design partner) they have joined forces, rather than competing for the order. For the first time ever, a project may be split between two shipyards. Admiral Mahli explains, “We have to ensure that the navy gets all these seven warships by 2021. That means GRSE and MDL might both work concurrently on Project 17 A; you might have four built in MDL and three in GRSE. There is enough work for both shipyards.

No Indian defence shipyard is equipped yet for modular construction; but so lucrative is the Project 17-A contract that both GRSE and Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai (MDL) are spending hundreds of crores on creating modular construction facilities by mid-2011, by when assembly of the Project 17-A frigates is due to start. The facilities include a covered workshop large enough for constructing 300-ton modules inside; a sliding roof for lifting out the completed modules; a 300-ton Goliath crane, on rails that extend across two or three slipways, for conveying the completed module to whichever frigate it is meant for.

Admiral HS Malhi, Chairman of MDL, says progress is on schedule. “Italian company, Fagioli, in partnership with McNally Bharat Engineering (MBE), is building the 300-ton Goliath crane. With a span of 138 metres, it will be the longest in India, stretching across the two slipways and across the modular workshop.”

Friday, 27 March 2009

Project 17-A, stealth frigate programme: Navy insists on building two frigates abroad

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai, March 27, 2009

The Indian Navy’s Project 17 is nearing completion; three Indian-designed-and-built stealth frigates of the Shivalik class are on track to enter service. Now, attention has switched to Project 17-A, the country’s biggest-ever naval purchase, a Rs 17,000 crore plan to build seven stealth frigates that are even more advanced than the Shivalik class.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has long cleared the project, but no order has yet been placed by the Ministry of Defence. Business Standard has learned that the order is held up by a difference of opinion between the shipyards and the navy on where these frigates should be built.

The two defence shipyards capable of manufacturing 5000-tonne frigates — Mazagon Dock Limited, Mumbai (MDL) and Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE) — argue that Project 17-A should be built entirely in India. The Indian Navy insists that the first two frigates should be built in a foreign shipyard. After the Indian shipyards have observed how it is done, they can build the next five vessels.

At the heart of the disagreement is a new, highly advanced building method — modular shipbuilding — that India will use for Project 17-A, and for all projects thereafter.

Conventional shipbuilding was relatively simple: first weld together a steel hull, and then put in the engines, piping, electrical wiring, fitments, weaponry and electronics that make it a fighting platform. Modular shipbuilding is far more complex, akin to a giant Lego game. The warship is built in 300-tonne blocks, each block complete with all the piping, electrical wiring and fitments that form a part of the ship. Then these 300-tonne blocks are brought together by giant cranes and assembled into a complete warship.

This creates an entirely different set of design challenges. Each bulkhead wall, each pipe, each cable, and each electronic component in a 300-tonne block must precisely connect with its counterpart in the neighbouring block. Each block is designed separately, but all of them must come together in perfect alignment.

This method has never been used by either MDL or GRSE; they accept the need for a foreign design partner. But both shipyards, having successfully built frigates of the Brahmaputra and the Shivalik class, claim they already have the expertise needed to build Project 17-A, based on the foreign partner’s drawings. Admiral HS Malhi, Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) of MDL says, “We need to go abroad for the production drawings… But for actual modular construction, no technology is required to be transferred”

The Navy believes that if MDL and GRSE try to master this skill while they build the first Project 17-A frigates, the entire programme will be delayed unacceptably. Instead, the Director of Naval Design, Rear Admiral MK Badhwar, says the foreign design partner selected should built the first two frigates in his own shipyard, observed by Indian workmen who can thereby pick up the skills.

The DND says, “This will also make the vendor demonstrate “buildability”. He must demonstrate that his design can be actually built into a warship, using modular construction, in four years. That will create a demonstrated benchmark for GRSE and MDL; otherwise, if there are delays later, our shipyards could argue that the foreign yard too would have taken a long period to build each frigate.”

The MoD’s is finding it difficult to reconcile these two viewpoints, partly because a decision to build two frigates abroad would sharply escalate the cost of Project 17-A. Each Shivalik class stealth frigate, built in MDL, cost Rs 2000-2500 crores. The bill for a comparable frigate, built in a European shipyard for the Australian navy, has come to more than double that figure.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

US allows GE to work on Indian warship

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
March 24, 2009

India’s new stealth warship, the INS Shivalik, is back on track. On March 12, 2009, the US government gave General Electric (GE) the green signal for resuming work on the two LM 2500 gas turbines that power the Shivalik. On March 6, 2009, Business Standard had reported that the stealth frigate was being delayed by “stop all work” instructions to GE from the US State Department.

Vice-Admiral HS Malhi, the chairman and managing director of Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL), which is building the INS Shivalik, has confirmed to Business Standard: “The issue has been resolved. GE has communicated to us that they have been given permission to go ahead. Earlier, GE had indicted that the permission could take 3-4 months in coming; but now (the US State Department) has cleared it.

The US State Department’s complex defence export procedures appear to be behind this delay. US industry sources explain that the LM 2500 gas turbines are dual-use power plants — they have commercial as well as military uses. For that reason, they are not listed on the US Munitions List and do not require an export licence from the State Department’s Directorate of Defence Trade Controls (DDTC). However, for fitting these dual-use turbines on a warship, that is, for providing a “military service”, a Technical Assistance Agreement (TAA) is needed from State Department. This was only received on March 12, after which GE resumed work on the Shivalik.

Nikhil Khanna of the US-India Business Council (USIBC) confirms: “GE needed to apply for a TAA from the Political-Military Bureau at the State Dept, which they did…. Simple procedures needed to be completed according to US technology release policies and we’re confident and proud that GE’s LM2500 engines will power India’s cutting-edge stealth warships.”

GE has confirmed to defence industry publication, Jane’s: “GE continues to provide the Indian Navy with LM2500 gas turbines for its ship programs… with no export licence required. This week GE obtained a licence from the US Department of State, to authorise the delivery of all shipboard services being requested.”

Partly as a result of this delay, MDL is racing to try and complete work on the Shivalik before the monsoons make sea trials difficult. Vice-Admiral Malhi says: “What time was lost cannot be regained now. We wanted the gas turbines in mid-January; we are now looking at end-March. So, we have lost about two months. I hope GE is able to crash it (work on an accelerated basis) and reduce the time that has been lost.”

The US industry is bitter about “undue attention” on the Shivalik delay. Says an industry source: “This is when we should be celebrating recent successes, such as the Lockheed C-130J sale, Boeing VVIP jets and, recently, the largest-ever deal between the US and India, that of the $2.2 billion Boeing P-8i (maritime reconnaissance aircraft) sale to the Indian Navy, (which will be) the first international customer for the P-8i, a huge step forward in the growing strategic relationship between our countries.”

Friday, 20 March 2009

A visit to the INS Shivalik: India’s newest warship

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Business Standard, 21st Mar 09
On board the INS Shivalik

In a stable full of carthorses, goes the saying, it’s easy to spot the racehorse. We drive into the high-security Mumbai Port Trust and, in the distance, through a clutter of freighters, tugs and dredgers, we quickly pick out the sleek lines of the INS (Indian Naval Ship) Shivalik.

This is India’s newest and most advanced frigate, receiving its finishing touches from its manufacturer, public sector shipyard Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL). Before being commissioned as a frontline naval warship, the Shivalik is being put through harbour and sea trials, a rigorous process to ascertain that all its systems, weapons and sensors are working in perfect synchrony.

Business Standard is here on the INS Shivalik to take a first look at the first stealth warship that India has ever built. A stealth warship is designed to be near invisible to the electronic sensors that navies use to scan the oceans. It’s very shape evades detection by radar; it is engineered to give off minimal infra-red (IR) emissions; and every piece of equipment on board, from engines to toilet flushes, are designed to work silently so that the ship cannot be heard by the enemy’s sonar and acoustic sensors.

This stealth will allow the INS Shivalik to sneak up on the enemy, undetected, and destroy him with a range of high-tech weaponry at the disposal of its gunnery officers.

The Shivalik was born of a growing concern over India’s 7516 kilometers of coastline, and an Exclusive Economic Zone of 2 million square kilometers. India’s trade interests --- 90% by volume and 77% by value is transported by sea --- also demanded a more powerful navy. Policymakers also believe that a rising India must be able to protect major international trade routes (100,000 freight vessels annually; one billion tons of oil) which transit close by Indian shores. And so, carefully following a policy of indigenisation, India has launched a major warship building programme. Currently, 42 naval vessels are under construction; 38 of them, like the Shivalik, are being built in Indian shipyards.

Arriving at the Shivalik, it is hard not to be impressed. Even by the bristling standards of warships, the 142 metre-long Shivalik is a menacing looking man ‘o war. Conspicuously missing is the friendly sight of sailors going about their business on the decks; all that is hidden behind a wall of steel, which covers the ship’s sides, from the water level all the way up to the mast. This is part of the stealth design; the sloped steel plates absorb and scatter radar waves, preventing them from bouncing back to announce the presence of a warship.

Overall, the Shivalik conveys a dangerous beauty, which has become the hallmark of Indian-designed warships. When the Indian destroyer, the INS Mysore, participated in an International Fleet Review in the UK in 2005, the Duke of Edinburgh --- a Royal Navy officer himself --- came on board to congratulate the crew on what he called “the handsomest ship in the review”.

We are greeted at the Shivalik’s gangway (the ladder which links the ship with the jetty) by Captain RS Sundar, the Superintendent of Project 17, the navy’s 8000 crore rupee project to build three stealth frigates. INS Shivalik is the first of the three; also nearing completion at MDL are INS Satpura and INS Sahyadri, which are scheduled for completion in late 2009 and 2010 respectively.

The Shivalik, we learn, is the first Indian warship that is built with Indian steel. The Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL) has finally mastered the art of mass-producing specially toughened warship-grade steel, called D40S. No longer will India shop abroad for thousands of tons of steel for each warship it builds.

Captain Sundar escorts us through the Shivalik with an enthusiasm that comes from working at the cutting edge of warship technology. Only a handful of countries --- the US, Russia, France, Sweden, Germany, the UK and Italy --- have mastered stealth technology. It is extremely difficult to hide a 5000-ton behemoth like the INS Shivalik. There are stealthier warships than the Shivalik but they are smaller vessels. The Swedish Visby class vessels, amongst the stealthiest ships in the world, are mere corvettes, at 600 tons. The French Lafayette class frigates, almost as hard to detect, weigh in at 3600 tons. Russia’s Krivak class stealth frigates, three of which fly Indian Navy flags (they are termed the Talwar class), also weigh just 3600 tons. In contrast, the Shivalik --- 4900, tons when empty, 5600 tons when fully fuelled, watered, victualled, crewed and armed --- is significantly bigger, packing a heavier weapon punch than its smaller rivals.

A walk around the Shivalik’s weapons stations shows up a true all-round capability. The Shivalik’s complement of weapons (see box) caters for enemy threats from all three dimensions. What makes this mix of weaponry unique is the extraordinary level of electronics engineering that allows all their radars and control systems, located in close proximity to one another, to function together without interference or jamming.

Besides the weaponry on board, the Shivalik’s two helicopters --- which operate from a flight deck to the rear of the frigate --- search for and destroy enemy submarines anywhere within their radius of operation. Two Sea King helicopters will fly from here, until Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) develops the naval version of the Dhruv. Flying slowly at low altitudes, they drop a “dunking sonar” into the water to detect tell-tale submarine sounds. Enemy submarines located are finished off with depth charges or torpedoes.

Captain Sundar then takes us into the bowels of the Shivalik through a series of waterproof hatches and ladders. There are four deck levels above water and four below; that makes the Shivalik is as high as an 8-storey building. In the lower decks lies the engine room, where two French-made Pielstick diesel engines power the warship for normal running. When quick bursts of speed are required, especially in battle, two General Electric (GE) gas turbines kick in, powering along the Shivalik at speeds in excess of 30 knots (over 55 kmph).

The GE gas turbines are now in the midst of controversy, as reported earlier by Business Standard. The new US administration has ordered GE to --- pending a review of relations with US allies like India, the UK and Australia --- stop work on commissioning the turbines. The Ministry of Defence is searching for a way to bypass this ban, perhaps by using a non-US GE agent to commission the turbines. This unexpected delay could delay the Shivalik’s commissioning by up to three months. But MDL remains optimistic: a blackboard on the deck counts down the days for commissioning: it says 58 days.

The Indian Navy is waiting.


Anti-air defence : Radar-guided Shtil missile system.

Point Defence : Two Barak-1 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS)
Missile System and Two AK-630 Rapid Fire Guns

Anti-surface : Eight Klub Vertical Launch System (VLS)
missiles cruise missiles, with a range of almost 300 kilometers

Anti-submarine : RBU 6000 rocket launchers, total 24 barrels. Also,
two onboard helicopters, with sonars and torpedoes

Main gun : OtoMelara 76 mm Super Rapid Gun Mount (SRGM)
manufactured at BHEL, Haridwar. This can
fire at ground and aerial targets 15-20 km away]


Kochi shipyard : Indigenous aircraft carrier

Mazagon Dock, : Project 17 : Three Shivalik class frigates
Mumbai Project 15-A : Three Kolkata class destroyers
Project Scorpene : Six Scorpene submarines

Garden Reach : Project 28 : Four anti-submarine corvettes
Shipyard, Kolkata Ten fast attack craft
Two Landing ships for amphibious warfare

Goa Shipyard : Three OPVs (Offshore Patrol Vessels)

Private yards : Six survey vessels

The Shivalik in battle: a lethal video-game

“Network-centric” is the new buzzword that defines the high-tech combat of today. The Shivalik is supremely well equipped for the new digital battlefield.

In the days of cannon and sail, a warship’s Captain directed battle from the ship’s Bridge, from where he could observe what was happening as the combatants closed in, raking each other with cannon-fire. Today it all happens at far longer ranges. Battle, for the Shivalik’s Captain, would be a high-stakes video game conducted from an Operations Room, the enemy only a blip on a radar screen.

The nerve centre of the Shivalik’s battlefield capability is an indigenous design triumph called the AISDN (short for ATM-based Integrated Services Digital Network). This is a backbone network that allows all electronic information from the Shivalik’s systems and sensors --- e.g. engines, navigation devices, radars, weaponry, radio sets and control systems --- to be transmitted digitally all over the warship on a common data base. Designed by Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) in partnership with Centre for Development of Telematics (C-DOT), this common carrier takes vital information to the Shivalik’s commanders in real time on multi-function displays.

“This is as good, if not better than comparable systems on any warship in the world”, says Captain Sunder. “On earlier warships, weapons had a separate data bus, sensors had their own bus, and so on. Now, the AISDN integrates all that, and also information coming from sensors outside the Shivalik, such as from Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS).”

Taking feed from AISDN, is another network, the Computer-aided Action Information Organisation (CAIO), which brings to the captain a complete electronic picture of the battlefield. This is the heart of the weapons exploitation system, laying out for the Captain all the information about targets being picked up by the warship’s sensors and radars.

This will also be transmitted to the ship’s Executive Officer (XO), the second-in-command after the Captain, and the man responsible for the ship’s weaponry. From his console, the XO electronically assigns each detected target to one of his weapons.

When the Shivalik’s radars detect an enemy aircraft, the CAIO will show it up on the consoles automatically. The CAIO includes a Decision Support System that will suggest what to use to shoot down the aircraft; the final decision, though, is that of the commanding officer. He could decide to use the 76mm gun; the command will go electronically from his console to that of the gunnery officer controlling the gun. Alternatively, he could choose to use a missile. Either way, the detection, the information, the allocation of a weapon to the target and the actual engagement itself, would all be done electronically.

Assisting the Captain in managing the battle would be a multi-function, touch-screen console called the Integrated Versatile Console System (IVCS), providing pinpoint navigational information, the ship’s course, position, and its engine parameters.

The ship’s movements are controlled through an Integrated Machinery Control System (IMCS) that links all the ship’s engines and other auxiliary machinery, via optic fibre cabling, to various control points. The Shivalik’s four generators, which together produce 4 Megawatts of power, enough to light up a small city, are controlled through the Automated Power Management System (APMS), which senses the requirement of power at all times. No sailors are needed to constantly monitor power requirement or to switch on and off the generators.

The Shivalik is also equipped for the nuclear and chemical battlefield. It is the navy’s first ship with a Total Atmospheric Control System (TACS), which filters all air going into the ship at all times, including the air being used by the engines. This would remove radioactive, chemical and biological impurities, protecting the crew and the systems. For this reason, the Shivalik is centrally air-conditioned and has no portholes. There are also decontamination facilities on board in case the ship passes through an area where the radioactivity from a nuclear strike still lingers.

Crew comfort on the Shivalik

Life on a warship can be tough. The living conditions during extended deployments out at sea have traditionally meant long watch duties, monotonous meals out of tins, and cramped living with little privacy. But now, officers and sailors who man (or woman) the INS Shivalik can look forward to better conditions.

The first clear improvement will be in the food. Of the Shivalik’s crew of 35 officers and 222 sailors, some 24 sailors are employed in cooking, cleaning up and managing the stock of food in refrigerated compartments called “cold rooms” and “cool rooms”.

The cooking arrangements on board are fully automatised. A McDonald’s-style deep fat fryer gleams in a corner. A stainless steel chapatti-maker turns out 500 chapattis per hour. A high-capacity dosa machine stands next to it, designed by the Central Food Testing and Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore. But one part of their design is clearly the navy’s: the damper spring on which each machine is mounted. It would never do to be picked up by an enemy submarine because of vibrations from a chapatti maker!

The sailors also say that, in heavy seas, the churning of the crew’s stomachs results in most of the food being fed --- either directly or indirectly --- to the fish.

Despite the high-tech fitments, some things never change in a traditional navy. The kitchen, the dishwashing room and the dining room are still called the galley, the scullery and the wardroom respectively!

We go across to the living area. In place of the wooden bunk beds and rusty tin wash basins of earlier warship cabins, the Shivalik’s crews will enjoy swanky, modular furnishings custom-manufactured in India by the marine division of Godrej. Built in standard sizes, these are fire-resistant, long-life and easy to maintain, clean and replace.

And in a bow to gender correctness, the Shivalik is India’s first warship with a cabin specially built for women officers. While similar in most respects to the men’s cabins, I was pointed out two significant differences: the ladies’ cabin has an attached bathroom, and also extra wardrobe space! I also noted that it was located right next to the Captain’s cabin.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

"US will hand over Afghanistan to Pakistan"

(Photo: courtesy The New York Times)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Mar 09

On Sunday, US President Barack Obama suggested to The New York Times that hope in Afghanistan lay in reaching out to the “moderate Taliban”. For India’s Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), this is their worst nightmare coming true. After handing the “moderate Taliban” a share of the power in Kabul, say Indian officials, America will pull out troops, allowing the Pakistani army to run Afghanistan on its behalf.

True, the US’ immediate plans are to boost its presence in Afghanistan by another 17,000 soldiers. But that is being seen as a temporary, Iraq-style surge, aimed at putting in place a suitable government before pulling out the forces.

Top Indian policymakers tell Business Standard that the Obama administration’s goal is clear: rather than trying to win the war in Afghanistan, simply aim at bottling terrorism inside the Pakistan-Afghanistan area, and monitor the borders electronically to prevent any “leakage” of jehadis.

An American “virtual cage” is already in place to keep the jehadis inside. Senior Indian officials point out that Pakistan’s immigration network has been entirely computerised with US help. When travellers’ passports are swiped at immigration, the information goes in real time to US intelligence agencies. The Container Security Initiative allows US Customs to monitor every cargo container that passes through a Pakistani port. It is no accident that, since 9/11, not a single terror attack has reached American soil.

What worries Indian policymakers is that none of this protects India. The MEA has discovered, in its engagement with Pakistan over the 26/11 Mumbai terror strikes, that nobody is really in control in that country. Explains a senior official, “Pakistan’s government was ready to sign or say anything that we wanted them to. But having signed, they are completely unable to deliver.”

Even if Islamabad wants to deliver, South Block officials say, the frightening reality is that it can’t. The government cannot rely on its police and investigative agencies; the army has discovered over the preceding year that it does not have the capability to control the tribal areas. And now, the recent attack on Sri Lanka’s cricketers in Lahore heralds a new menace: it is the first time the Lashkar-e-Toiba has struck within Pakistan.

The Lashkar is easily Pakistan’s most formidable radical group. Musharraf cracked down on the Jaish-e-Mohammad in 2002 and 2003, leading to several foiled attempts on his life. But he dared not confront the Lashkar, with its far better organised military, political, civil and financial structure. After 26/11, General Kayani moved against the Lashkar. But he has quickly discovered that even the Pakistani army is unable to put the Lashkar down.

MEA officials say, “The Pakistan army has been badly bloodied in the tribal areas; it is in no state to take on the Lashkar. Today, like a typical military hierarchy in the face of defeat, it has turned inward looking. The Pakistan army does not want to be a part of a big anti-terror push.”

To deal with multiple agencies in Pakistan, which are no longer acting in unison, South Block is coming around to the belief that India needs multiple foreign policies. “We need a different Pakistan policy for the government; a different Pakistan policy for the army; different policies for the political parties, for business, for civil society.”

The unpredictability within Pakistan is multiplied, say Indian officials, by the fragmentation within Pakistan’s radical fringe. During the anti-Soviet jehad in the 1980s and 1990s, Pakistan dealt with just one jehadi leader, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar. In 2005, when negotiating a ceasefire in Waziristan, Pakistan had 17 tribal Shoora (council) chiefs sitting at the table. Now there are dozens of shooras, often with competing demands.

While physically moving out of this snake pit of ‘jehadism’, the US will continue to exercise influence by controlling the Pakistan army, as it has for decades, through the flow of arms and grants. In this, the US has little option; the Pakistan army controls a nuclear arsenal.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

A sneak preview of the mast of the INS Shivalik

(Photo: credit Ajai Shukla)

Left:  A view from the Shivalik's deck of the mast of the new Project 17 stealth frigate

For various administrative reasons, the publication of my article on my visit to the INS Shivalik has been postponed for a couple of days. So, to slake bloggers' curiosity, I am posting a photo I took from the deck of the warship. Let's do a bit of identification.

Friday, 6 March 2009

New Indian stealth warship halted by US ban

(Photos: Courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Photo 1: The INS Shivalik, moored at the Mumbai Port Trust, awaits the activation of its GE LM 2500 gas turbines.

Photo 2: Inside the engine deck of the INS Shivalik, a view of the air intakes for the LM 2500 gas turbines. The turbines were dismantled and lowered in through the air intakes.

by Ajai Shukla
On Board the INS Shivalik, Mumbai

If the United States ranks near the bottom amongst India’s defence suppliers, Washington’s penchant for imposing sanctions and restrictions has much to do with it. Now, the US appears to have shot itself in the foot again. The Indian Navy chose to power its indigenously designed, cutting-edge stealth warship, the INS Shivalik, with gas turbines from American company General Electric (GE). But even as the Shivalik readies for sea trials, the US State Department has ordered GE to stop all work on the turbines it has supplied.

Vice Admiral HS Malhi (Retired), Chairman and Managing Director of Mazagon Dock Limited (MDL), which built the Shivalik, has confirmed to Business Standard that GE has received instructions to stop operationalising (making ready for operations) the two new LM 2500 gas turbines that it supplied for the Shivalik. GE has told MDL that there could be up to three months delay, while the new US administration reviews its military relations with several countries. India is not alone in facing this ban; GE has been told to stop work even with close US allies like the UK and Australia.

MDL has clearly been taken by surprise. Says Admiral Malhi, “It is quite surprising that such a letter has been received from GE. They said the (US) State Department could take up to 3-4 months to re-look at relations with these countries. We don’t have that kind of time; we have to deliver the ship to the navy.”

The Shivalik stealth frigate is powered by four engines, in what is termed a CODOG (COmbined Diesel Or Gas) arrangement. Normal operations are powered by two Pielstick diesel engines, supplied by France. The gas turbines kick in for short bursts during combat, when extra power is needed. They are less fuel-efficient than diesel engines, but provide high performance. This is the first time that US turbines have been installed in an Indian-built frigate.

MDL is now exploring whether it can use another GE subsidiary to operationalise the Shivalik’s turbines, without invalidating GE’s warranty. According to Admiral Malhi, “If GE allows us to use one of its licensees, the delay can be cut down to a month. GE is not averse to that, as long as no American person is involved in the work.”

GE has not responded to an email, asking for details of this delay. The US State Department has also ignored a request for information. A spokesperson of the US Embassy in New Delhi has sidestepped the question, replying by email that, “The State Department has not instructed GE in the conduct of this direct commercial sale. Aspects of this sale were subject to export licensing, which is conducted through the State Department.”

When asked to comment specifically on blanket orders from the State Department to GE regarding commercial defence dealings with India, the US Embassy did not respond.

Recent Indian frigates were powered by Russian turbines. But GE’s LM 2500 gas turbines were chosen for three Project 17 frigates (of which INS Shivalik is the first) because of their better reliability. More than one thousand LM 2500 turbines power more than 400 warships in 30 navies across the world. In addition, the LM 2500 is used for power generation in luxury cruise liners like the QE II.

US defence industry sources indicate that GE is upset by the State Department’s directives, which clearly damage GE’s commercial interests. The ban, suggest sources, was imposed by an “over-enthusiastic State Department bureaucrat”, keen to display that the Obama administration was on the ball from the beginning. But in India, the ban is already generating talk of an unwise choice in going for a US engine.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Photos from an LCA bombing run

(Photo: courtesy, DRDO)

Left: An onboard camera tracks the release of a bomb during Tejas weapons testing

You would recall my article, posted last month on the bombing trails being carried out by the Tejas. It is posted in February 09 under the title of, "The Light Combat Aircraft tests its teeth: a ringside account of an LCA bombing run".

Here now is a photograph of the bomb release, which I had seen at that time on the real-time telemetry equipment at the National Flight Test Centre in Bangalore. I am also posting below, a copy of the DRDO press release that accompanied this photograph.

"The second phase of weapon testing on Tejas is currently underway from an Air Force base in the north-western sector. The focus of the current phase of testing is safe separation and also accuracy of weapon delivery. The results from the tests would validate aerodynamic interference data as well as complex weapon release algorithms in different modes of release.
A Composite test team comprising of specialists from ADA, IAF, HAL, NAL, ADE, DGAQA and CEMILAC had been put in place at the trial location where the flight test is being conducted by National Flight Test Centre.

"Arrangements are in place for directly linking the trial location with the base telemetry station at Bangalore via INSAT and also through a secluded fiber optic channel. With this arrangement, designers and other specialists are able to monitor in realtime, the activities in general and vital parameters in particular, as the trial is going on thousands of kilometers away. Specifically for this trial, accurate upper air data is gathered at the trial location using GPS Radiosonde supplied by ISRO.

"The mood at ADA and other organizations involved in the trial is upbeat as the information has just come in, that Tejas has scored a direct hit on the target in the first test sortie itself. The trials are planned for two weeks’ duration."

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Back from the Shivalik... so many stories to tell!!

(Photo: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Ajai Shukla, obstructing your view of the INS Shivalik. Lots of photos will be posted in due course.