Wednesday, 30 September 2009


I am sad to announce that "comment moderation" has been introduced on Broadsword. With immediate effect, all visitors' comments will be reviewed and approved by me before they are posted on Broadsword.

As a staunch believer in everyone's right to hold and express even the most radical views, I have refrained for years from interposing myself between a visitor and his/her post. But the kind of views expressed in recent days have forced me to review this open policy.

One major reason is the kind of obscene and personally offensive comments that visitors have been posting, something that tarnishes the quality of this blog. I will not lend my name to a forum where people slander each other in the crudest of language.

Secondly, visitors seem to think it is perfectly fine to post a comment on, say, China on a thread that is dealing with, for example, the Light Combat Helicopter. Henceforth, we will remain on subject.

Finally, every serious follower of defence is fed up with having to plough through dozens of comments from visitors whose love for posting is rivalled only by their abysmal ignorance about issues of defence, security and strategy. Henceforth, if you wish to air your views, do everyone the favour of studying the subject adequately before inflicting your views on the general public.

This is not to say that conflicting or critical views are out. This blog will continue to encourage dissenting views and a healthy debate, even in robust language. But three things are out, starting NOW: obscenity, irrelevance and stupidity.


Monday, 28 September 2009

Naval LCA: US puts Lockheed Martin off Tejas flight path

The Lockheed Martin JSF-35 Lightening, which will also operate off aircraft carriers. The US company was to help India with the Naval Tejas, but Washington has not given clearance.

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Sept 09

The US government is, for the second time, squeezing American aerospace giant, Lockheed Martin, out of an important contract relating to India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

Business Standard has learned that Lockheed Martin, which was selected in June as a consultant for developing the Naval version of the Tejas, was given 90 days to obtain the clearances it needs from the US government. But now, with time running out, Washington has sent Lockheed Martin a list of questions about what assistance the company will provide.

Senior officials from the Bangalore-based Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which manages the Tejas programme, say they will not delay the Naval Tejas any longer. The ADA has recommended to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) that another consultant be chosen. It has put forward the names of France’s Dassault Aviation, and European consortium, EADS.

For Lockheed Martin, this is déjà vu. In 1993, it was selected to partner ADA in developing the Tejas’ high-tech flight control system (FCS). But after India’s nuclear tests in 1998, Washington ordered Lockheed Martin to terminate the partnership. India eventually went it alone, developing the world class FCS that is on the Tejas today.

Lockheed Martin is still fighting to salvage the situation. The company told Business Standard, “We are continuing our dialogue with the Aeronautical Development Agency and the U.S. Department of Defense and are hopeful we will be able provide the consultancy desired by ADA on the Naval LCA.”

But the decision now lies in the hands of Dr VK Saraswat, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister.

Lockheed Martin’s current situation replicates that of Boeing, which was front-runner for the air force Tejas consultancy. But earlier this year, after the US government failed to grant Boeing a clearance (called a Technical Assistance Agreement) in time, the MoD awarded EADS the contract. The European consortium obtained the sanctions in time and is now working with ADA.

Foreign consultancy has been sought by ADA to introduce the Tejas into service without further delay. The air force Tejas, a single-seat, single-engine fighter, is at an advanced stage of testing. The naval Tejas, being developed around the twin-seater air force trainer, will only take to the skies by mid-2010. But it will only fly off an aircraft around 2014, after getting a new, more powerful, engine. That is about when the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier, being built in Kochi, will join the Indian Navy.

The immediate challenges before the Naval Tejas --- which the consultant will help to resolve --- include strengthening the undercarriage to absorb the high impact of landing on aircraft carrier decks; fitting an arrestor hook at the tail of the aircraft to bring it to a quick halt after landing; and adding a flap on the front edge of the wings to slow down the landing speed by almost 150 kmph.

In addition, the Naval Tejas needs a “fuel dump system” in case of an emergency just after take-off. The take off weight of a Tejas, with full weapons load and fuel is around 12.5 tonnes but, for landing back on an aircraft carrier it must be less than 9.5 tonnes. In an emergency, 2 tonnes of weapons and external fuel tanks will be instantly shed; but a system must be built in for jettisoning another tonne of fuel from the fighter’s wing tanks.

None of the US Navy’s most successful carrier-borne aircraft --- the F-4 Phantom; the F-14 Tomcat and the F/A-18 Hornet --- were built by Lockheed Martin. Despite that, ADA believes Lockheed Martin’s experience in designing the futuristic F-35 Lightening Joint Strike Fighter qualifies it as a consultant.

“All the earlier US navy aircraft had two engines, giving them the weight and strength to support a tail hook”, explained Dr PS Subramaniam, the Director of ADA, “But Lockheed Martin has designed the F-35 Lightening, which is a single-engine fighter with a tail hook.”

Dassault’s Rafale fighter and EADS’s Eurofighter Typhoon are both twin-engine aircraft.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

The China-India dynamic: Worried dragon; outraged elephant

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)
The village of Mago, near the Line of Actual Control between India and China. Reaching Mago took me two days of walking from the nearest road head)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Sept 09

The recent focus on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China has shed little light on what is actually going on there, although something certainly is. Clearly, though, little has changed since 1962 in the way we react as a people to any perceived threat: with neither information, analysis, nor military resources, we clamour for action, stern and immediate!

Neither the fulminating television newscasters, nor the millions who tune in to watch them, nor the thousands who send in outraged SMSs, letters and emails, have asked an important question: is Beijing raising the temperature on the LAC, howsoever slightly, because it worries about something that India is doing? Does our obsessive insecurity prevent us from seeing that China might have insecurities of its own? What might those concerns be?

If our government has thought over the matter, it is not telling. Pooh-poohing suggestions of heightened tension on the border, India’s foreign minister has inelegantly described the LAC as, “one of the most peaceful boundaries that we have had” (sic). New Delhi is deflecting attention from the border and nobody is wondering why.

What is generating those wisps of smoke, admittedly faint, emanating from the dragon’s nostrils?

To put things in context, it must be remembered that the 16 years since the “Peace and Tranquillity Agreement” of 1993 have not been entirely tranquil. Patrols from both sides have routinely muscled through to what they respectively claim as the LAC. This, however, evokes only pro forma complaints during border meetings. In places like the disputed “Finger Area” in Sikkim, Chinese patrols have actually pointed (but not fired) weapons at Indian jawans. Indian patrols, bound by tighter guidelines, wave banners at the Chinese on which requests to vacate Indian territory are emblazoned in Chinese characters. The restraints irritate our hot-blooded junior officers, but that’s life on the LAC.

Today Chinese patrols are bullying Indian graziers, and sending Tibetan graziers into pastures that they have ignored for 15 years. But it is hardly time to press panic buttons, or declare a media war on China,

Assuming that the world’s China watchers are right, and that Beijing’s economic stakes in the rubric of “The Peaceful Rise of China” holds back its historical expansionism, the LAC foot stamping can hardly be a precursor to hostilities with India. But the shift in China’s behaviour must certainly be examined.

Recent years have seen two major changes along the LAC. The first, on the Tibetan side, is China’s development drive to transform local economies. Most Tibet-watchers believe that China’s frenetic infrastructure building is aimed primarily at winning over recalcitrant Tibetans; a secondary aim is to be able to move troops around Tibet swiftly to quash outbreaks of rebellion; and a side benefit is the ability to move forces quickly to defend Chinese territory.

But, viewed from the Indian side, China’s infrastructure drive is a serious threat, each road and railway line a dagger thrust forward into India’s heart. China’s five highways running to the border, soon to be supplemented with railway lines, allows the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to build up forces quickly at a chosen point on the LAC to overwhelm local Indian posts well before reinforcements can be brought in along India’s creaky border roads.

India’s failure to build matching infrastructure has two causes: the difficult terrain on the Indian side, and the government’s slothfulness in planning and executing projects. But New Delhi makes up by its willingness to deploy an increasing number of jawans on the Himalayan watershed. India is raising two more divisions in the northeast, some 40,000 jawans more along the LAC, a provocative act in China’s eyes. Originally planned as a low-key reinforcement, the cat was let out of the bag by Arunachal Pradesh governor, General JJ Singh, who announced to the people of his state that India was raising two new divisions to protect them from the Chinese.

India’s force build-up is the second big change on the LAC. In the lexicon of geo-strategy, Beijing alleges that New Delhi is unilaterally altering the status quo in a disputed border region. “We’re only building roads for the benefit of our border people”, the Chinese strategists argue, “but India is building up forces”.

A third change is India’s new boldness in allowing the Dalai Lama to go ahead with a visit this November to the monastery town of Tawang. China worries that India’s influence over the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, and the ability to wield the symbols of Buddhism, give New Delhi potent leverage in Tibet. For decades, New Delhi has danced to Beijing’s tune, restraining the Dalai Lama, cracking down on Tibetan protests, and even deploying hordes of police and paramilitary forces to ensure that the Beijing Olympic torch relay through Delhi is not marred by protests.

It is hard to see how New Delhi can stop the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang, without apparently kowtowing to Beijing. But Beijing’s dominance is such that it views the visit as a “provocation”.

With the Beijing-New Delhi relationship changing, China is struggling to accept the new reality. Complicating Beijing’s strategic calculus further is the realisation that pushing India beyond a point could push it overtly into Washington’s orbit.

Back on the LAC, China is signalling displeasure over all these issues. But the mildness of the signals reflects the constraints in China’s options. At this point, there is little more that the Dragon can do.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Navy backs the Tejas with a Rs 900 crore cheque

A file photo of the first twin-seater LCA, undergoing final assembly in HAL, Bangalore. The Naval LCA is based upon this twin-seater design

by Ajai Shukla
ADA, Bangalore
Business Standard, 21st Sept 09

Talk to navy fighter pilots about their air force counterparts and you cannot miss the message: air force pilots are pussycats… real fighter jocks fly from ships!

One of the most breathtaking sights in military aviation is a modern fighter landing on an aircraft carrier deck. Flying in at over 250 kilometres per hour, it must halt within 100 metres, one-tenth the distance available to most land-based fighters. The pilot aims at a cable stretched across the landing area; a tail hook on the fighter’s rear fuselage catches the cable, effectively dragging the aircraft to a halt before it runs out of landing deck, subjecting the pilot to a deceleration 4.5 times the force of gravity.

It is called a THUMP-BASH technique. As the fighter thumps down onto the deck, the pilot bashes forward his throttle, revving up the engines to full power. It seems a crazy thing to do when trying to halt really quickly, but there’s a reason: if the tail hook misses all three arrestor cables, the fighter must have the power and speed to get airborne again before the end of the flight deck.

To hit the arrestor cables accurately, the pilot must descend steeply, hitting the deck twice as hard as his air force counterparts, who enjoy the luxury of levelling out at ground level, descending slowly till the wheels touch the runway.

“An arrested landing on an aircraft carrier is actually a controlled crash,” naval flight instructors invariably warn their cadets.

If it takes a Top Gun pilot to pull off such landings, it takes a superbly engineered aircraft to repeatedly absorb the stresses of these controlled crashes. The naval variant of India’s Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is poised to enter this challenging playing field. And its prospects have been boosted by the Indian Navy’s commitment to indigenisation.

Business Standard has learnt that the navy has okayed the placement of an order for six Naval LCAs. At an approximate cost of Rs 150 crores per aircraft, that will provide a Rs 900 crores infusion into the Naval LCA programme.

That investment in the Tejas programme is rooted in the navy’s plan to operate both light and medium fighters off its aircraft carriers. The Naval LCA will supplement the heavier Russian Mig-29K, which has already been ordered from Russia. The Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC), being built at Cochin Shipyard, Kochi, has been designed with a separate aircraft lift and maintenance facilities for the LCA, in addition to facilities for the MiG-29K. That has linked the development of the Naval LCA with the construction of the IAC, which is expected to join the fleet by 2014.

But the LCA programme faces a bottleneck in choosing a new engine. Two uprated engines --- the General Electric GE-414 and the Eurojet EJ-200 --- are currently being evaluated, but will be supplied only by 2013-14. And only with the new engine will the LCA have the power to get airborne from an aircraft carrier.

PS Subramaniam, the Director of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which coordinates the LCA programme, explains. “We will fly the Naval LCA with the current GE-404 engine to test its flight characteristics, and whether its structural strength is sufficient for aircraft carrier operations. After the LCA is fitted with a new, more powerful, engine we will take the next step of operating from an aircraft carrier.”

Meanwhile, a major shore-based test facility is coming up at INS Hansa, in Goa, which replicates an aircraft carrier deck on ground, complete with arrested recovery and a ski jump for take off. This facility, which is expected to be operational by October 2011, will be used for certifying the Naval LCA before actually flying off an aircraft carrier. This will also be used for pilots’ training and for training maintenance crews.

Friday, 18 September 2009

On equal terms with the Chinese on the Pangong Lake

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Photos of the Pangong Tso, taken by me from an army helicopter. The Indian Army is now deploying 12-tonne Fast Interceptor Boats to patrol on more equal terms with Chinese troops on the lake.

Below those are photos of the 5-tonne Fast Interceptor Boats that GRSE, Kolkata is building for coastal police stations. India will now deploy 12-tonne versions of these boats, also built in GRSE, for patrolling the 5-km maritime Line of Actual Control

Below the boat photos, an aerial photo looking down at the Chang La pass, more than 17,000 feet high, over which the boats will have to be taken to the Pangong Tso. The helicopter, flying over the Chang La pass, is at an altitude of close to 19,000 feet.)

By Ajai Shukla
GRSE, Kolkata
Business Standard, 18th Sept 09

Indian soldiers, who patrolled the stunningly beautiful Pangong Tso Lake in Ladakh, rarely got the opportunity to enjoy the scenery. As their vintage assault boats approached the Line of Actual Control with China (two thirds of the 134-kilometer long lake is under Chinese control) sleek Chinese speedboats would surge towards them, turning sharply away at the last minute to strike a glancing blow that rocked the Indian boats.

Indian soldiers were sometimes thrown out of their boats by the impact, but they had to bear the indignity. Since 1993, when China and India signed an Agreement on Peace and Tranquillity, not a shot has been fired on the LAC.

To restrain the Chinese boat-bumpers, India equipped its lake patrols a couple of years back with bigger, more rugged, army assault boats. But, even if the bumping stopped, the Chinese boats still ran rings around the Indians.

Now, the Pangong Tso playing field will become more level. The army will soon patrol in modern, indigenously-built Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs) that can travel faster than the Chinese boats, while carrying 16 fully equipped jawans to respond to a crisis.

Rear Admiral KC Sekhar, Chairman and Managing Director of the public sector Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata, confirmed to Business Standard, “We have received a Request for Proposal (RfP) from the army. They want 17 FIBs for deployment in a high altitude, extreme cold environment. We have prepared a design which we hope will be accepted.”

Sources in the army confirm that the boats will be deployed on the Pangong Tso.

GRSE is offering the army a modified version of the 12-tonne FIB it is building for the Home Ministry. Built of glass-reinforced plastic (GRP), and capable of a scorching 38 knots (70 kmph), these FIBs were designed by Greek shipbuilder, Motomarine. GRSE bought this design, along with that of a smaller 5-tonne FIB, for building 78 such boats by September 2010 for coastal police forces of states along the Bay of Bengal. Goa Shipyard Limited is simultaneously building the same boats for the Arabian Sea coast.

GRSE’s Deputy General Manager (Design), JN Roy, says the army’s requirements are specific, but they can be quickly met. “These boats must be capable of operating in a bitterly cold, high-altitude environment, unlike the humid tropical climate of the coast. [The Pangong Tso is at 13,900 feet] The army boats also need higher endurance, allowing them to remain on station longer. And finally, we will build a cabin for the 16 soldiers on each boat, providing protection from the weather as well as from small arms fire.”

Meanwhile, the army is wondering where they can hold trials for the FIBs; conveying them all the way to Pangong Tso would involve too much expense and effort.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

More on the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH)

Lots of responses to the LCH overweight article! That was a news article, so it had only pure reporting, but here are some of my views.

600 kg overweight is a huge problem. It means that a helicopter that was to have an empty weight of 2500 kg has gone overweight by almost 25%.

Forget what ASRs say! The LCH has been designed specifically for India’s high altitude conditions. It takes off from altitudes of 3 kilometers (9800 feet), loiters and operates at altitudes of up to 5 kilometers (16,400 feet), and engages targets like UAVs that are flying at altitudes of up to 6.5 kilometers (21,300 feet). At those altitudes, 600 kg extra is a killer. No question about that.

Prasun, Seshadri’s statement is quite clear. He indicates that the total payload at 20,000 feet will be some 350-500 kg. The cannon and its turret are not payload. They are a part of the helicopter fitment. Their ammunition, however, is payload. As are the missiles, rockets (the pods are not payload, they are fitment), etc.

Some weight will come off the LCH by using lighter material for the fuel tanks. That’s fine. Some will come off by using ceramics instead of metal for instrument panels etc. That’s fine too. But what is not fine is that some of the weight could come off by reducing armour protection.

Defence Materials Research Laboratory (DMRL), Hyderabad has developed the armour for the LCH from ceramic plates. The pilots’ area was designed to withstand a direct hit at 90 degrees from a 12.7 mm armour-piercing round. To put that in perspective (Perspex-tive… Ha! Ha!) some of the IAF Mi-35s, which were deployed in Congo, took hits from 12.7 mm AP rounds. They penetrated right through the armoured glass of the Mi-35. And that’s a much heavier machine.

The landing gear cannot be lightened anytime soon. It has a crash-resistance capability of 10.5 m/sec, which the IAF considers absolutely necessary. I agree with them.

Lots of things that bloggers have written about the Comanche are correct. But every cancelled project has a whole mythology of reasons for why it got cancelled. In the final balance, the Comanche was cancelled, not because the Soviet Union went away, but because it was turning out to be a hugely expensive development programme that was eating up time and money.

The cost of the LCH programme, it would be worth noting, is less than the cost of the compensation paid to Boeing-Sikorsky for terminating the Comanche development. Think about that.

And the figure of 179 LCHs includes the 65 that the IAF is buying, while the army is interested in picking up 114 LCHs.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Light Combat Helicopter struggles to slim down

(Photo: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

A computer generated design image of HAL's Light Combat Helicopter

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
Business Standard, 14th Sept 09

A jinx seems to hover above the armed forces’ urgent need for modern attack helicopters to replace the obsolescent Russian Mi-35s, which have been around for three decades. In March, the Defence Ministry had to cancel a global tender for 22 attack helicopters after international vendors signalled little interest. Meanwhile, the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), has run into a serious weight problem.

Business Standard discovered, during a visit to Bangalore, that the LCH --- which should weight about 2.5 tonnes --- is overweight by some 580 kilograms. For operations in the plains, or in the foothills, this would not be a disaster. But at Himalayan altitudes, near the LCH’s ceiling of 6000 metres (19,685 feet), this would dramatically reduce the helicopter’s payload of rockets and missiles.

This weight problem means the LCH’s first flight will only take place at the end of this year. Despite the delay, that first Technology Demonstrator, named TD-1, will still be 400 kg heavier than planned.

The Managing Director of HAL’s brand new Helicopter Complex, Mr R Srinivasan, told Business Standard that the LCH’s weight would be progressively reduced over the first three prototypes. “We will find ways of cutting down TD-1 by 180-200 kg; TD-2, which will fly in mid-2010, will be another 100 kg lighter; and TD-3, which will be ready by end-2010, will shave off another 65-75 kg.”

That still adds up to only 375 kg, which means that the LCH could enter production 200 kg heavier than planned. HAL bosses say the IAF has accepted the extra weight.

Attack helicopters are amongst the most difficult combat platforms to successfully engineer. Even a helicopter maker like Sikorsky, which can boast of having designed the legendary Black Hawk helicopter, lost prestige and over $6.9 billion in a failed attempt to develop the Comanche attack helicopter.

But HAL remains confident it can navigate these treacherous waters. Many of the key technologies --- e.g. the Shakti engine, the rotors and the main gearbox --- that will go into the LCH are being concurrently proven in the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), 159 of which are being built for the army and the air force.

Meanwhile, the weapons and sensor packages that give the LCH its fighting edge are being tested on a weaponised version of the Dhruv. HAL and the IAF have zeroed in on a Nexter 20 mm turret mounted cannon, an MBDA air-to-air missile, and an EW suite from SAAB, South Africa. India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has begun work on a HELINA missile, which is the successful Nag missile with an extended range of 7 kilometres.

HAL’s focus on the LCH is evident. The newly created Helicopter Complex has set up a Mission and Combat Systems R&D Centre, or MCSRDC, which is focusing on developing indigenous glass cockpits for the range of helicopters that HAL intends to churn out, starting with the LCH.

[A glass cockpit refers to the tidy digital multi-function display that replaces the earlier clutter of dials and instruments that made flying so difficult.]

So far, HAL has imported the glass cockpit displays from Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and Sagem, of France. But with a range of helicopters in the making --- including 179 LCHs; 187 Light Utility Helicopters (LUH); and 400 or so Medium Lift Helicopters (MLH) --- there is a need, HAL believes, to develop its own glass cockpits.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Built for air force, Kaveri engine chosen by navy

Photo: The Kaveri Marine Gas Turbine (KMGT) on a test-bed at a naval facility in Visakhapatnam

by Ajai Shukla
GTRE, Bangalore
Business Standard, 8th Sept 09

The indigenous Kaveri aircraft engine, soon to make its debut flight, lacks the muscle needed by India’s Tejas light combat aircraft, which the engine was designed to power. In its present form, the Kaveri will never power a modern fighter.

But the engine’s technology --- developed by the Defence R&D Organisation, over two decades, at a cost of Rs 3000 crores --- will not be wasted. The Indian Navy is snapping up the Kaveri for powering its growing fleet of warships.

Business Standard has learnt that the navy has officially informed the Gas Turbine and Research Establishment (the DRDO laboratory that developed the Kaveri) that naval warships will needs 40 Kaveri Marine Gas Turbines (KMGTs) over the next 15 years.

In an important signal of its support, the navy has agreed to fund 25% of the cost of the KMGT project.

GTRE has developed the marine Kaveri by modifying the aero engine with a shaft, through which power can be delivered to a propeller. The navy has extensively tested these engines at Visakhapatnam and found that the marine Kaveri can deliver 12 Megawatts (16,000 Horsepower) of propulsion power.

Typically warships run on regular diesel engines; gas turbines (such as the Kaveri) are added on to provide “boost power”, needed for manoeuvring in battle. Contemporary gas turbines, such as the General Electric LM2500, provide India’s latest 5000-tonne Shivalik class frigates with 22 MW of boost. The Kaveri’s more modest 12 MW is sufficient only for smaller warships.

While the marine Kaveri’s basic performance has been established (even the PM has seen a demonstration in Visakhapatnam), the GTRE Director, Dr Mohana Rao, is not yet satisfied with the basic design.

“So far, the KMGT is just a spin-off from the aero version”, Rao told Business Standard in Bangalore. “I want to give the navy an engine with far greater endurance. An aero engine’s life is just 3000 hours; a marine engine’s life should be 30,000 hours. I must physically test the KMGT for at least 15,000 hours.”

GTRE is going ahead with developing 3-4 test engines and beginning trials within three years. The trials will be conducted in a marine environment, which will include high humidity, and prolonged exposure to salt.

“We plan to begin delivery in about 6 years”, says the GTRE Director, “We hope to keep the cost below Rs 25-30 crores, which is considerably cheaper than buying imported gas turbines.”

Earlier this year, the US State Department had stopped General Electric from fitting its LM-2500 turbines on the INS Shivalik, apparently because GE had not obtained proper permissions from the US government.

Other than the 40 KMGTs, the Indian Navy has also issued a letter, on 6th April 09, laying out a requirement for 42 Gas Turbine Generators, or GTGs. These are de-rated versions of the marine Kaveri, which will be used for generating electrical power on warships. Each GTG generates 1.2 Megawatts of power.

The Indian Navy, an enthusiastic proponent of indigenisation, proposes to replace the diesel generators fitted on older warships with the Kaveri GTG. If it performs well over a period of time, the new-generation warships will also get electrical power from the Kaveri GTG.

Currently, only the Rajput and Delhi class of destroyers use gas turbines for power generation.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Kaveri jet engine finally poised for first flight

Photo: The Kaveri aero jet engine undergoing final checks before its despatch to Russia for flight testing.

Ajai Shukla
GTRE, Bangalore
Business Standard, 7th Sept 09

After 20 years in the making, the Kaveri jet engine will finally take to the skies.

In 1989, Dr Mohana Rao, then a junior technician at the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bangalore, immersed himself in the ambitious Kaveri programme, which was designing a jet engine for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft. After pushing the Kaveri through two decades of heartbreak and achievement, Dr Rao is now the Director of GTRE. And his baby, the Kaveri engine, is ready to fly.

This week, a fully built Kaveri engine will be transported to a testing facility outside Moscow called the Gromov Flight Research Institute. Here, a giant IL-76 aircraft will have one of its four engines replaced with a Kaveri. Russian and GTRE experts will then evaluate the Kaveri’s performance while the IL-76 flies.

Before the actual flight tests, Russian experts at Moscow’s Central Institute of Aviation Motors will run ground checks on the Kaveri’s performance, in conditions that simulate altitudes up to 15 kilometers (49,200 feet).

Business Standard visited the Kaveri ground test bed at GTRE, Bangalore, where Russian experts are finishing “pre-acceptance checks” on the Kaveri engine that is headed for their facilities in Russia. The giant turbofan engine, suspended from a ceiling bracket, was being revved up gradually. As it roared to a deafening crescendo, engineers monitored the Kaveri’s power output, watching carefully from behind a bullet-proof glass window.

“The Kaveri’s development is complete”, confirmed Dr Mohana Rao, “In ground testing at GTRE it met the performance parameters laid down in 1998. The next step is to confirm that it performs during flight. A 50-person GTRE team will travel with the engine to Moscow and participate in the flight trials over the next 3-4 months.”

India has no facilities for altitude-testing and flight-testing jet engines. GTRE estimates it will take several hundred crore rupees to create such test facilities in India. Meanwhile, each test campaign in Russia costs Rs 50-60 crores.

For the DRDO (GTRE is a DRDO laboratory) even a successful Kaveri flight will be a bittersweet end to one of India’s most savagely criticised development programmes. A measure of success, on the one hand, in an ambitious technological leapfrog to building a modern jet engine, something only a few countries can do. On the other hand, the Kaveri has failed to provide an engine for the Tejas, even after spending Rs 3000 crores.

“The reason was two-fold”, explains Mohana Rao. “The Kaveri turned out 15% heavier than we planned. From the planned 1100 kg, its final weight has gone up to 1265 kg.”

Meanwhile, the Tejas fighter also turned out heavier than planned, demanding a more powerful engine; the Kaveri’s maximum thrust of 65 Kilo Newtons (KN) is simply not enough. The air force has chosen American GE 404-IN engines, which produce 80 KN at full power, to power the first 20 Tejas fighters. And subsequent Tejas will get about 95 KN of thrust from a new-generation engine: the General Electric GE-414 and the Eurojet EJ200 engines are currently being evaluated.

But GTRE is undeterred, having produced a high-tech turbofan jet engine in a country that has never produced even a motorcycle or car engine.

“We need more thrust without increasing the size of the engine”, says Mohana Rao. “That means getting better technologies from a more experienced foreign partner. We have chosen (French aero-engine major) Snecma. The Defence Ministry has approved the tie-up.”

Business Standard has learned that Rolls Royce, and General Electric declined to partner GTRE, apparently unwilling to part with cutting-edge technology. US major, Pratt & Whitney, was willing only to provide consultancy. With only Russia’s NPO Saturn and Snecma in the game, the MoD has opted for Snecma.

Saturday, 5 September 2009

Taj Palace offers army a "gesture of gratitude"

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Sept 09

Guests at New Delhi’s tony Taj Palace Hotel who come across army officers in their smart olive greens trooping through the foyer need have no apprehensions of a security alert. The army officers are more likely to be fellow-guests. An agreement between the Indian Army and Taj Hotels provides rooms at sharply reduced rates to mid-rung and senior army officers.

According to the agreement, generals will be entitled to rooms in the Taj Palace for Rs 5000/- per day. Brigadiers, colonels and lieutenant colonels visiting the capital, can stay, two officers to a room, by paying Rs 3000/- per day each.

That is exactly the amount the government pays as daily allowance (or DA, in government parlance) for officers of these ranks while visiting Delhi on temporary duty.

A letter from the army’s Additional Director General for Administration and Coordination informs all army officers that this agreement is valid from 15th August 09. Army officers staying at the Taj Palace Hotel will also be entitled to a buffet breakfast, tea and coffee facilities in their rooms, use of the hotel fitness centre, swimming pool and Jacuzzi and welcome drinks. As a final sweetener, they can get their uniforms ironed for free.

Sanjukta Roy, Director of Public Relations for Taj Hotels, told Business Standard, “This price slab has been offered as a gesture of gratitude to the army that serves the nation. Taj has the prerogative to decide its room prices. It also has the prerogative to offer varying prices for different segments.”

The hotel's rack or card rate is about $350 (roughly Rs 17,500/-) a night, though most tariffs and usually subject to negotiation.

The air force and the navy are not a part of this arrangement.

With army mess rooms in New Delhi hard to come by, accommodation at the Taj Palace Hotel will be welcome relief to mid-seniority officers who visit on temporary duty. And for the Taj Group, the dozens of officers moving in and out of the capital on temporary duty, will facilitate high room occupancy.

Army officers explain that this arrangement with Taj Hotels materialised after the Sixth Pay Commission raised the daily allowance for travelling officers’ accommodation, aligning it closer with market rates for quality hotels.

A room in an army mess, when available, comes fully equipped with staff, services and meals, but mess accommodation in Delhi is near impossible to obtain. Before the Sixth Pay Commission, DA was far below the tariff for a suitable hotel room, leaving visiting officers with few decent choices.

Following the Sixth Pay Commission, a letter dated 23rd Sept 2008 from the Additional Director General for Administration and Coordination raised the DA almost three-fold. Lieutenant colonels, colonels and brigadiers were granted a DA entitlement of Rs 3000/-; Major generals and above get a DA of Rs 5000/-; and majors and below, with a DA entitlement of just Rs 1500/- continue to have few accommodation options.

For military officers, who mounted a heated campaign for higher pay and allowances in the Sixth Pay Commission, this agreement with Taj Hotels goes some way towards alleviating perceptions that their status was being steadily eroded. However, officers point out, this arrangement is so far restricted to just one hotel in one city. Officers also complain that their allowances for meals and transport are unrealistically meagre. Their food entitlement in New Delhi is just Rs 300/- per day; in smaller cities and towns it is correspondingly reduced.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

1st Oct 09: The dragon will display its teeth

Photo: A missile believed to be the Dong Feng 41

By Ajai Shukla

While the Pakistani doctoring of first class Harpoon anti-ship missiles into third-rate anti-shore missiles grabs world attention, China has given notice that it will soon display the latest additions to its technologically world-class arsenal of missiles.

On Tuesday, exactly one month before its National Day Parade on 1st October, an unnamed official from China’s missile establishment briefed a group of journalists to announce that the highly anticipated military parade will provide a first-ever view of five new missiles, including a nuclear capable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The official confirmed that all these missiles have already entered service with the military.

Dong Feng – 41?

Most keenly anticipated, is China’s new third-generation ICBM, the Dong Feng – 41 (Dong Feng means East Wind), which has been in development for a decade but has never been publicly seen before. The DF-41 can be launched from a mobile firing platform. It is believed to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead to within 700 metres of a target 12,000 kilometres away. Its payload consists of a single 350-400 kiloton bomb (20 times more powerful than the nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki), or 3-6 MIRVs (multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles) with the explosive power of 100 kilotons each.

This would be the first public viewing of the DF-41. The last National Day Parade on 1st October 1999 (this is held once every decade) provided the first outing for the DF-31, China’s current-generation ICBMs).

The DF-41 uses the first two stages of the DF-31, but an enlarged third stage extends the DF-41’s range to 12,000 kilometres. The DF-31 was designed for firing from submarines, as well as from land, and the consequent size constraint restricted the missile’s range to 8000 kilometres.

In addition to the extended range, the design technologies used in the DF-41’s warhead payload are expected to be more contemporary, enhancing stealth and MIRV capability.

Julang – 2 (NATO reporting name: CSS-NX-4)

In addition to the DF-41, China is expected to unveil its Julang-2 SLBM (submarine launched ballistic missile; Julang means Great Wave), which will provide a reality check to India’s naval planners. Dwarfing the 750-kilometer range K-15 missiles on India’s recently-launched nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, China’s JL-2 SLBMs can lob far more powerful nuclear warheads at targets 8000 kilometers away.

The JL-2 is believed to be a development of the DF-31. It will probably be deployed on China’s new 094 Class nuclear missile submarine, or the Jin Class SSBN, each submarine carrying 12 JL-2 missiles.

China holds its National Day Parade once in a decade; this one will celebrate the 60th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. Watchers of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will use this opportunity to assess China’s latest military hardware, much as Soviet-watchers did during the May Day Parade in Moscow’s Red Square.

Opaque totalitarian states like the Soviet Union and China have traditionally used such parades as tools of nuclear deterrence, parading their newest missiles to confirm to potential adversaries that they can be deployed in any nuclear face-off.

But Li Jie, a PLA Navy expert in China, yesterday shrugged off suggestions of missile rattling, claiming that the parade merely reflected the current state of China's military weaponry. Straight-faced, he also declared that the parade demonstrated China's military openness and transparency and its adherence to international military standards.

The DF-41, like the earlier generations of ICBMs, will be deployed under the PLA’s 2nd Artillery Corps --- which is responsible for China’s land-based ballistic missiles. This formation has six ballistic missile brigades, deployed across, including in Tibet. Another artillery brigade, known only as Unit 84504, is believed to be deployed in Xinjiang, which borders the Indian region of Ladakh.

China’s nuclear and missile programmes have been conducted in the purposeful manner that characterises the People’s Republic. China’s first nuclear bomb was exploded in October 1964 at the Lop Nor test range; its first ballistic missile was successfully launched two years later in October 1966; and its first thermonuclear test (or hydrogen bomb test) was conducted in June 1967. When the Non-Proliferation Treaty opened for signature on 1st July 1968, China was officially a Nuclear Weapons State.

Julang-2 SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile)

Platform : Jin class nuclear submarines (being developed)

NATO codename : CSS-NX-4

Range : 8000 km

Propellent : Solid

Warhead : Three 90 Kiloton, or one 250 Kiloton warhead

Accuracy : 500 metres

Dong Feng-41 ICBM (Intercontinental Ballistic Missile)

Platform : Land-based silos or mobile launchers

NATO codename : ?

Range : 12,000 km

Propellent : Solid

Warhead : 3-6 100 Kiloton, or one 350-400 Kiloton warhead

Accuracy : 700-800 metres

Wednesday, 2 September 2009

HAL blames BAE Systems for Hawk delays

Photo 1 (courtesy Ajai Shukla): The Hawk assembly line in HAL Bangalore

Photo 2 (courtesy Ajai Shukla): BAE insiders have been hinting to the Indian press that the Hawk production delays are being caused partly by a primitive and cluttered assembly line in HAL Bangalore.

Photo 2 (courtesy BAE Systems): Six IAF Hawks on the Hawk assembly line in the UK. This needs to be compared with HAL's Hawk assembly line in the photos above

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
Business Standard, 2nd Sept 09

The Indian Air Force is desperately short of aircraft for training its flight cadets. With the entire fleet of basic trainers --- the HPT-32 Deepak --- grounded after a series of crashes, advanced training is suffering equally due to unexpected delays in the manufacture of the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT) in India.

Now HAL, under sharp attack for the delays, has unequivocally blamed BAE Systems, UK for failing to properly honour its contract to transfer technology, design drawings, tools, manufacturing jigs and components essential for smoothly rolling out the Hawk in India.

BAE Systems, UK had signed a $1.2 billion contract with India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2004 to supply 24 ready-built Hawk-132 AJTs (already delivered) and transfer the technology for building another 42 in HAL, Bangalore.

According to the contracted schedule, the first 15 Hawks should have already been built in Bangalore. Instead, only 5 have been completed.

HAL’s Chairman, Ashok Nayak, has listed out for Business Standard a string of lapses by BAE Systems, which, he alleges, is behind this delay. “This is the first time that BAE Systems has transferred technology for building the Hawk-132 AJT abroad. Some of the jigs (frames on which aircraft parts are assembled) and tooling that they supplied HAL relate to earlier models of the Hawk, which has gone through several versions over the years.”

BAE Systems last transferred Hawk technology abroad more than a decade ago, when Australia built 21 Hawk-127 trainers --- an earlier version of the Hawk --- in the late 1990s.

Mr Nayak also says that when HAL pointed out the discrepancy to the BAE Systems team stationed at the Hawk assembly line, “they had to refer back to the UK for everything. They weren’t able to address these issues themselves.”

While most issues have now been resolved, there are still some continuing delays. Hawk windscreens, manufactured by Indian vendors must be sent to BAE Systems, UK for certifying their strength and clarity. This procedure, says HAL, is taking unduly long.

Guy Douglas, BAE Systems’ spokesperson in India, strongly refutes HAL’s version. In an emailed response, he states “BAE Systems does not accept that the programme delays being experienced by HAL, on their contract with the Government of India, are materially down to BAE Systems. BAE Systems has completed all hardware deliveries to support the licence-build programme. BAE Systems has repeatedly made clear that it stands ready to assist HAL, should they require it. In this respect, a number of proposals have been made by BAE Systems to HAL and we await their response.”

Ashok Nayak denies that HAL has had any difficulties in assimilating the technology needed for manufacturing the Hawk in India.

The HAL Chairman states, “We have assembled the Jaguar and other aircraft. That is not the problem. Why were the jigs and fixtures that [BAE Systems] supplied incorrect? We have their Technical Assistance Team’s signatures on each and every one of them. I can quote you minimum 300 such examples, and some of them took weeks to sort out.”

Nor is the MoD impressed with BAE Systems’ execution of the Hawk contract, signalling its disapproval earlier this year by floating a fresh global inquiry for India’s requirement of 57 additional trainers. That was an unambiguous rap on the knuckles for BAE Systems; with an assembly line already producing AJTs in Bangalore, the additional requirement would normally have been added on to the ongoing licensed production.

Now, however, BAE Systems is back in talks with South Block over the order for 57 more Hawks.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

HAL renews offer of basic trainer aircraft (HTT-40) to resolve IAF crisis... production IJT to fly this month

(Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla)

Photo 1: The IJT Sitara prototype. The first production IJT is scheduled to fly in early September.

Photo 2: A closer look at the IJT. These trainers are now fitted with the Russian AL-55I engine.

Photo 3: The all-glass cockpit of the IJT

Photo 4: The first Russian AL-55I engine, which was specially developed for the IJT

Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
Business Standard, 01 Sept 09

Not since the dark decade of the 1990s, when the Indian Air Force crashed 177 aircraft — losing 54 young pilots and some Rs 1,000 crore worth of equipment — has the air force faced such a pilot training crisis. The long-delayed Hawk trainers, which began arriving in India in 2007, have improved advanced training for IAF flyers. But the crucial introduction to flying, conducted in antiquated HPT-32 Deepak and HJT-16 Kiran aircraft, is taking a growing toll on pilots’ lives.

On July 31, after two senior flying instructors from the Air Force Academy near Hyderabad, died in a crash, the IAF halted all “Stage-1” training, which is done on Deepaks. Chronically prone to engine failure (100 engine emergencies reported in recent years), 10 Deepak trainers have crashed this last decade. A recent CAG report has slammed the aircraft as “technologically outdated and beset by flight safety hazards”.

But “Stage-2” training, which is done on the HJT-16 Kiran trainer, is an even grimmer story: 13 crashes over the last decade have taken a deadly toll on pilots’ lives.

Now Bangalore-based Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has stepped into the breach, renewing an offer to develop a modern replacement for the Deepak. Ashok Nayak, chairman of HAL, told Business Standard: “Two years ago, we offered the IAF a replacement for the Deepak. This single-engine aircraft, which we call the Hindustan Turbo Trainer — 40 (HTT-40), can be delivered within six years.”

But a flustered IAF, short of pilots and keen to recommence training, is demanding immediate purchase of Stage-1 trainers from the global market. The Ministry of Defence is evaluating whether the IAF’s immediate requirement can be bought off-the-shelf, while HAL goes ahead with a programme to design and build the HTT-40. A total of 200 basic trainers is the estimated requirement.

The last purchase of trainer aircraft, the BAE Systems Hawk, took 18 years to materialise.

HAL executives are confident that the HTT-40 can be delivered in six years. They point to the success of HAL’s ongoing project to develop and build an Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT), which will replace the Kiran as a Stage-2 trainer. Powered by a custom-designed AL-55I engine from Russia, the first Sitara trainer from the production line is scheduled to fly next week.

Says the HAL chairman: “The IJT project has demonstrated HAL’s capability to design, build and deliver trainer aircraft on time. We will deliver the IAF’s current order of 12 IJTs by the end of next year.”

If the HTT-40 enters service as a Stage-1 trainer, the entire spectrum of fighter training for IAF pilots will be conducted on HAL-built aircraft. After Stage-1 training on the HTT-40, Stage-2 will be conducted on the Sitara IJT; Stage-3 training will be done on the Hawk advanced jet trainer, now being produced in HAL Bangalore, under Transfer of Technology from BAE Systems, UK.

Meanwhile, HAL is pushing the concept of Phase-4 training on a supersonic fighter: it’s newly-developed twin-seater Light Combat Aircraft. So far, the IAF hasn’t bought the idea.