Thursday, 29 July 2010

155 mm gun purchase: DRDO enters the fray

The 5.56 mm X 30mm carbine developed by ARDE Pune. for the first time in the INSAS programme, an industrial designer has enhanced ergonomics. It will be built at Small Arms Factory, Kanpur

by Ajai Shukla
ARDE, Pune
Business Standard, 29th July 10

With the international procurement of 155 millimetre towed guns for the Indian Army dogged by controversy and failure, India’s Defence R&D Organisation has made the potentially game-changing decision to jump into the fray. The DRDO’s most productive laboratory, the Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE) in Pune, could soon become the hub-centre for developing an indigenous 155 millimetre towed gun, in partnership with private industry giants like Bharat Forge and L&T.

This DRDO project would introduce an Indian consortium into the jinxed 155 mm procurement that has been confined to foreign vendors, many of them attended by controversy. Today, Defence Minister AK Antony informed parliament that the CBI had recommended the blacklisting of four companies that have been involved, at various stages of this procurement: Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK); German company, Rheinmetall; Israel Military Industries (IMI); and another Israeli company, Soltam. Denel, a South African company, had been blacklisted earlier; and the only other gun on offer, the BAE Systems FH-77B-05 howitzer, is an modernised version of the controversial Bofors gun.

In these circumstances, say MoD sources, an indigenous 155 mm gun could be a politically palatable choice.

Anil Datar, the ARDE Director told Business Standard, “Within the DRDO, we are discussing how to develop a155 mm gun. We can make it, no problem, with the help of Indian industry. A 155 mm gun requires high-class manufacturing; we have Bharat Forge and L&T in and around Pune, which are keen to join us.”

While the ARDE --- the DRDO’s facility for developing small arms, guns, howitzers, and rockets --- has worked on gun technology earlier, now the army too appears to have concluded that indigenous development might be a faster route than international procurement.

The DRDO spokesperson in New Delhi, Ravi Gupta, confirmed to Business Standard, “The DRDO is very keen to develop 155 mm guns for the army. We had formed a team to work on this more than a decade ago, but the army did not give us a firm requirement then. Now, the army has expressed interest in the 155 mm gun project and preliminary work has already begun.”

The selection of a 155 mm towed gun has dragged on for 8 years without result. On Friday, the MoD cancelled army trials of two guns --- the Singapore Technologies Kinetics (STK) IFH-2000; and the BAE Systems FH-77B-05 --- after the CBI’s announcement about STK left only the Bofors gun in contention. MoD insiders say that it was impossible to select that gun on a single-vendor basis.

The contract, worth an estimated Rs 8000 crores, envisages buying 400 towed guns off the shelf and building 1180 in India from transferred technology.

Highlighting the ARDE’s experience in guns and artillery systems, Datar says: “The army is currently inducting our Pinaka multi-barrelled rocket launcher, which is a world-class system. Our 120 mm gun for the Arjun tank has outperformed the T-90 gun in army trials. In 1972, ARDE developed the 105 mm Indian Field Gun (IFG), which was a mainstay of the Indian Army’s field artillery. We assisted with up-gunning the army’s 130 mm gun to 155 mm. And ARDE produced a heavy 185 mm gun, but that never entered service because the army was not interested then.”

Datar claims that ARDE --- given adequate support from the private sector, and from the DRDO’s network of 50-odd laboratories --- could develop a world-class 155 mm gun within 3 – 3½ years. The Defence Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL), in Hyderabad, would develop special alloys and materials for the gun. Ammunition would be tested at the Proof and Experimental Establishment (PXE) at Balasore, Orissa; while warheads would be tested at the Terminal Ballistics Research Laboratory (TBRL), Chandigarh.

The ARDE is one of the DRDO’s star laboratories, having developed over 200 items that are in service with the military today. With just 1% of the DRDO’s total budget; and 5% of the DRDO’s manpower (1300 persons, including 220 scientists and 250 technical officers), the ARDE has developed 70% of the equipment that the Ordnance Factories have manufactured for the military.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The Indian Artillery Project: An Indian journey sans Bofors baggage

A Pinaka multi-barrelled rocket launcher firing a single rocket. The Pinaka was developed by the ARDE in Pune (Photo: courtesy Military-Today)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th July 10

In adversity, the saying goes, lies opportunity. Applying that principle, India’s indigenous defence complex is at a crucial moment where a resolute decision could make it a genuine supplier of high-end artillery equipment, instead of a mere spectator to a global shopping spree by the Indian military.

Last Friday, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) signalled (if confirmation were needed) that it lacks the political will to cast aside procedure in selecting a 155-millimetre artillery gun for the army. With the CBI proceeding against Singapore Technologies Kinetic (STK), one of the two remaining companies in the fray, the MoD restarted the entire process of tendering and trials rather than awarding the contract to the sole vendor remaining, UK-headquartered BAE Systems, which offered the politically contentious Bofors gun.

It is time to end this long-playing farce of trial and rejection and to put the MoD --- and global vendors of artillery systems --- out of their misery. The Indian Army must be frankly told that it will receive no 155 mm guns for the next 5-7 years. And a predominantly Indian consortium must be brought together to build an Indian gun within that period.

There are systems that remain beyond the capability of India’s defence establishment. Aircraft engines, even tank engines, have proven too complex for India to develop. The DRDO has also been unable to produce world-class night vision devices; electro-optic sensors; and electronically scanned radars. But India’s growing technological capability has given it the capability to take on projects that were unthinkable two decades ago: fourth-generation fighters; advanced warships; even a tank with a gun that has proven to be world class.

India has the skills for building a 155 mm artillery gun; leadership is needed to bring them together. The DRDO, increasingly sophisticated and technologically capable, is yearning to harness the proven manufacturing skills of India’s private sector. Global majors like Bharat Forge and L&T are straining at the leash, willing to put in money and muscle into what they have identified as a promising business vertical.

The Pinaka multi-barrelled rocket launcher (MBRL) has already proven how effectively the DRDO can leverage the private sector’s manufacturing skills. A state-of-the-art system, with electronics that are superior to even Russian frontline MBRLs, a single Pinaka regiment can obliterate a target 40 kilometers away by pouring down 72 rockets onto it in just 44 seconds. The DRDO’s choice of L&T and Tata Power as industrial partners in the Pinaka project ensured that a quality design was enhanced by skilled manufacture. In the past poor manufacturing practises, especially those of the public sector Ordnance Factory Board, had tarnished the reputation of otherwise well-designed DRDO products like the 5.56 mm INSAS rifle.

The MoD must bring together a public-private consortium, forming a joint venture (JV) --- call it, for now, the Indian Artillery Project (IAP) --- in which the DRDO, the Indian Army, and the prime private sector participants have financial stakes. The structure of the JV must allow for quick and flexible decision-making, without crippling regulations that mandate multi-vendor tendering and L-1 (lowest cost) procurement. And, most importantly, a project management group must be drawn from the IAP partners to set and monitor timelines ruthlessly.

The army will understandably resist this project, being desperately short of artillery and wanting guns yesterday. The most crucial component of combat capability, artillery guns --- firing high explosive shells at faraway targets --- have caused three quarters of all battlefield casualties over the last century of wars. But the soldiers will come around, given assurances about delivery within a clear time frame. Their choice is a stark one: continuing trials of foreign guns with no light certain at the end of the tunnel; or an official moratorium of 5-7 years, followed by the simplified procurement processes of indigenous equipment. The army is also aware that an indigenous 155 mm gun can be integrated ground-up into the overarching Artillery Command, Control and Communications System (ACCCS) that networks artillery resources into a seamless whole.

If that is acceptable to the army, it must frame its requirements realistically, rather than demanding a system so advanced that it remains a dream. If a range of 40 kilometers will suffice tactically, it is self-defeating to hold up the project by asking for 50 kilometers. The DRDO too, with its institutional love for living in the future, will have to be firmly pegged to the here and now.

Constituting and financing the Indian Artillery Project will be small change, given what the MoD plans to pay global vendors for the four different 155 mm guns that the army needs. Multiple procurements are simultaneously unfolding under the MoD-sanctioned Artillery Modernisation Plan. The tender for 1580 towed guns is worth an estimated Rs 8000 crores. Another tender for 140 ultralight howitzers for mountain formations is worth over Rs 3000 crores. Also being processed is a Rs 3500 crores purchase of 100 medium guns, mounted on tracked vehicles, for India’s mechanised forces. Another Rs 4000 crores is earmarked for 180 vehicle-mounted guns for self-propelled regiments. The total money in play here is some Rs 18,500 crores.

The MoD’s procurement procedures have a “Make” category, which has been envisioned for just such a project. The time for the Indian Artillery project is now.

Monday, 26 July 2010

DRDO successfully tests anti-ballistic missile system

A Prithvi missile being launched as a target (right) and the AAD missile being launched (left) to shoot it down.

The MoD's press release after today's interceptor test is pasted below:


New Delhi: Shravana 04, 1932
July 26, 2010

Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), today successfully conducted fourth consecutive Interceptor Missile test in Endo atmospheric regime at 15 Km altitude off ITR, Chandipur, Orissa. The single stage Interceptor Missile fitted with Directional Warhead and other advanced systems neutralized the target.

The target ballistic ‘enemy’ missile was launched from Launch Complex – III, ITR Chandipur. The Interceptor Missile fitted with directional warhead was launched from Wheeler Island and destroyed the Target Missile breaking it into fragments. This was tracked by various Radars and sensors. All weapon system elements including Command and Control, Communication and Radar performed satisfactorily.

The Interceptor Flight Test was witnessed by Dr. VK Saraswat, Secretary (Defence, R&D), Shri Avinash Chandar, Director, Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), Hyderabad, Dr. K. Shekhar, Chief Controller, DRDO, Shri VLN Rao, Programme Director, Shri SK Ray, Director, Research Centre Imarat (RCI), Hyderabad, Shri P Venugopalan, Director, Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad, Shri SP Dash, Director ITR and Users representatives’ Air Marshal PK Barbora, Vice Chief of Air Staff and Maj Gen VK Saxena, ADG, Army Air Defence, Indian Army.

The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony spoke to DRDO Chief Dr VK Sarswat over phone and congratulated the scientists for today’s successful test.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

What carbine is that? Take a guess....

For afficionados of small arms... guess that carbine's make, calibre, bore and attachments. One Gold Star and two Brownie Points for the best assessment.

Friday, 16 July 2010

BAE-Mahindras apprehend retendering for 155 mm towed guns: "Rs 8000 cr artillery gun tender might fail again"

A crew of seven Punj Lloyd gunners fire the Singapore Technologies IFH-2000 gun. STK has requested for range time in Pokhran to calibrate their gun with the Indian ammunition that will be used in trials.

STK crews load their gun into an aircraft to be flown out for trials. STK has offered India an upgraded FH-2000, the first production 52 calibre, 155 mm gun in military service anywhere.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th July 10

After 8 years of tenders and trials, the army’s search for an artillery gun --- its most critical weakness --- remains mired in uncertainty. The Central Bureau of Investigation continues to probe Singapore Technologies Kinetic (STK), one of the two companies vying to sell India a modern 155 millimeter towed howitzer, even though no charges have been brought against STK after 18 months of investigation. And with the CBI recommending the formal blacklisting of STK, its rival --- UK-headquartered BAE Systems, in partnership with the Mahindras --- fears that the tender might be scrapped and the process begun anew.

Brigadier Khutab Hai, CEO of the Mahindra Group’s Defence Land Systems India --- which will manufacture some 55% of BAE Systems’ FH-77B-05 howitzer if it is chosen for the Indian Army --- told Business Standard, “If STK is blacklisted, I apprehend that the MoD might entirely scrap the tender for towed howitzers, on the grounds that there is now just a single vendor. But, remember, three companies had bid in this tender: Rheinmetall; STK and BAE Systems. Even if the other two are eliminated for various reasons, this was never a single vendor situation.”

German gun maker, Rheinmetall, had been eliminated after the MoD had discovered, during technical evaluation of the bids, that it was partnering banned South African company, Denel. STK ran into problems with the May 09 arrest of Sudipta Ghosh, former chairman of India’s Ordnance Factories Board (OFB), for allegedly demanding and accepting illegal gratification from foreign companies, including STK. And BAE Systems itself is in a delicate position: its FH-77B-05 howitzer is built by Bofors, which is now a part of BAE Systems after a series of mergers and takeovers.

At stake in this tender, which was issued in 2008, is an order worth US $1.8 billion (Rs 8000 crores) for the outright supply of 400 towed guns; and the licensed production in India of another 1180 guns. If the MoD imposes even the minimum offset requirement of 30%, that would translate into US $540 million (Rs 2400 crores) worth of manufacture within India.

MoD sources tell Business Standard that, if a fresh tender were to be issued today, at least two other guns --- one Russian and the other Slovak --- would enter the fray.

For now, both guns in the fray --- STK’s Indian Field Howitzer-2000, or IFH-2000; and the BAE Systems FH-77-05 --- are in the Pokhran Field Firing Ranges, in Rajasthan, for trials. Despite its ban on STK, the MoD has allowed the IFH-2000 to participate in trials, with the award of any contract being conditional on the CBI clearing STK’s name.

The hot-weather trials, which were to begin in May, have been progressively delayed since STK has requested for time to calibrate its gun with the Indian ammunition that will be used in the trials. In February, the trials had been postponed to May after the STK IFH-2000 had met with an accident while being loaded on an aircraft for transportation to India.

Despite not having filed a charge sheet against STK, the CBI insists it has strong evidence. On 30th June 10, while charge sheeting Ghosh, the CBI announced that a “Letter Rogatory (an official questionnaire for obtaining evidence in trans-national investigations) has been issued by the Special Judge, CBI, Kolkata, to the Central Authority in the Republic of Singapore. The said LR is pending execution."

The CEO of STK, Brigadier General Patrick Choy, tells Business Standard, “STK has, from the beginning, cooperated fully with the investigation. When requested by the CBI last year, I came to Delhi and answered their questions. Last year, we invited the CBI to Singapore for an investigation, and to audit our books if they liked. That offer still holds.”

The Indian Army’s artillery modernisation plan has remained stalled, for various reasons, for over two decades. The army’s 180-odd artillery gun regiments --- each having 18 guns --- have not received any new weaponry since the Bofors gun was bought in the late 1980s.

The selection of a suitable 155 mm, 52-calibre towed howitzer to fill this gap began in summer 2002, when the MoD began evaluating three guns from BAE Systems; Israeli firm, Soltam; and South African company, Denel. Five rounds of trials, conducted in 2002; 2003; 2004; and 2006; reached no conclusion: while Denel was blacklisted for corruption in Sep 05; the other two guns did not meet the army’s standards. Following this failure, the current tender was issued in 2008.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Rear Admiral SS Jamwal: a tribute

A photo tribute to my friend, Rear Admiral Satyendra Singh Jamwal, who was tragically killed in a range accident in Kochi last week. The photographs are from the commissioning of the frigate, INS Beas, at Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE), Kolkata, in 2005. Captain Jamwal was the commissioning CO of the Beas, and I covered the event for NDTV.

The photos were sent to me by one of the officers in the crew of the INS Beas. A portion of his tribute to his skipper is enclosed below:-

"I am sending some photographs of RAdm Jamwal taken whilst on board Beas.... He was one of the hardest task masters to come across but if I had to go to war I would feel safest with a man like the late RAdm SS Jamwal. It's Navy's loss. I remember how happy he was when I met him at his residence for lunch. It had been indeed so humble of him as - Chief of Staff - to invite his ship mate over for lunch at home. The family seemed so happy at the table. Ther's so much to say and all of us - the Beas crew - feel bereaved... I wanted to post the pics on the WWW but decided against it. Wish you could do it."

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sino-Indian border - Fresh opportunity

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th July 10

The last couple of weeks have seen interesting developments in the Sino-Indian relationship. On June 28, a Chinese Web newspaper called Global Times posted an article that argued forcefully that Indian control of the northern Indian Ocean would be a positive development for China’s security. The timing of this article was noteworthy, coming as it did just four days before National Security Adviser Shiv Shankar Menon left for China to begin a new dialogue on exploring new ways to impart a positive direction to the Sino-Indian relationship.

The author, Zhang Wenmu, a Beijing University professor, argued that only Russia, India and the US had direct interests in the northern Indian Ocean, while China had only an indirect interest. Indian control of these waters would suit China better than a strong US Navy presence in these waters.

Besides, argued Prof Zhang, the more India focuses on the Indian Ocean, the safer Tibet becomes for China. If India were bent on containing China, it would focus on Tibet, not the Indian Ocean. Prof Zhang believes that India’s ongoing naval build-up would bring India into confrontation with the US, rather than with China, mirroring the way that China’s naval expansion is currently precipitating a confrontation between the Chinese and US navies.
Admittedly, this radical idea has been expressed only unofficially, and in just a single media article so far. But it is standard Chinese practice to test reactions to potentially controversial ideas — such as an entente with India in the Indian Ocean — through a trial balloon of this kind.

Furthermore, Mr Menon’s visit to China, from July 3 to July 6, took place in the backdrop of the naval confrontation that is building up between China and the US. Beijing has made it clear that it would not allow a joint US-South Korea naval exercise, scheduled for mid-July, in the Yellow Sea to be conducted unhindered in waters that it regards as China’s zone of influence.

In March 2010, according to The New York Times, Beijing had told two visiting US administration officials that China would not tolerate US interference in its territorial disputes in the western Pacific, labelling the South China Sea for the first time as a “core interest” for China, on a par with Tibet and Taiwan.

Now, Washington has challenged Beijing; an American nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the USS George Washington, the flagship of the US 7th Fleet, is leading a powerful naval flotilla into the waters off China.

China’s predicament explains Prof Zhang’s argument as well as the warmth with which Mr Menon was received in China. Premier Wen Jiabao received him for a 40-minute meeting, as did Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo, Mr Mr Menon’s interlocutor on the border issue. Wen Jiabao was quoted as pointing out to Mr Menon that “It will be Asia’s century if India and China have a strong relationship”, and officials told the media that “a way forward” for the relationship was explored.

China’s new appreciation for India’s concerns — which has flowered since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh supported Premier Jiabao’s stand at the Copenhagen climate summit — must be leveraged by New Delhi into forward movement on the Sino-Indian territorial dispute. While fully resolving the dispute is a complex task, Beijing must be made to understand that better relations with China hinge on convincing Indian public opinion about China’s bona fides on the border.

A viable suggestion to China would be to diminish the profile of the dispute, transforming it from a territorial dispute — involving vast tracts of land amounting to 130,000 square kilometres — to a border dispute over where the boundary lies. Astonishingly, given the animosity and bloodshed that the dispute has generated, this is not difficult. Since the 1950s, China had been suggesting an East-for-West swap, in which China recognises India’s sovereignty over NEFA/Arunachal Pradesh (which India occupies) in exchange for recognition of Chinese sovereignty over the areas it already occupies in Aksai Chin/Ladakh.

The same proposal, with relatively minor changes, has also guided the settlement being discussed since 2003 between the special representatives of the two countries: currently Shiv Shankar Menon and Dai Bingguo. Beijing’s insistence, after 1984, that the Tawang tract in Arunachal Pradesh be ceded to China has been the only new stumbling block. The other disputed areas are small and relatively insignificant.

Today, it is theoretically possible for the two countries to agree on a border where China keeps Aksai Chin and India keeps Arunachal; while the Tawang tract and a dozen or so disputed enclaves be settled through further dialogue. This would radically diminish the very nature of the dispute, allowing an overall improvement in relations.

All that prevents such a settlement (other than an Indian parliamentary resolution, which would have to be dealt with anyway) is China’s belief that it could extract a more favourable settlement in the future. But China is pragmatic; when the US-India relationship was surging in 2005, Wen Jiabao made bold concessions, accepting an India-friendly draft of the “Political Principles” for a settlement, an important document that India holds up today to buttress its claim on Tawang.

With China under pressure on the Pacific front, and exploring common ground with India, Beijing must be persuaded to neuter a dispute that has long been, in the Indian psyche, evidence of Chinese animosity towards this country.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Rear Admiral SS Jamwal: Rest in Peace

Rear Admiral Satyendra Singh Jamwal, one of the Indian Navy's rising stars, died in a range accident in Kochi on the 7th of July when a 9mm pistol that had jammed accidentally discharged in his direction.

When I last spoke to my friend, schoolmate, NDA-mate and fellow-officer, Rear Admiral Satyendra Singh Jamwal, there wasn’t the smallest inkling of the terrible tragedy that lay just ahead. “Jammy”, as he was called in the navy --- or “Tiri” as he was nicknamed by the boys (and girls) at the Lawrence School Sanawar, near Simla --- had rung me up from Kochi to invite me to give his officers a talk on China, a subject that I am co-authoring a book on.

Jammy was his usual cheerful, upbeat self. “Our naval officers have no choice but to be strategic thinkers and I will do what I can to make that happen”, he boomed. There was no way I could say anything but, “finalise the dates and tell me when to come.”

Fate, alas, has ruled out that meeting. For me, the end is more than just professional regret at seeing a future naval chief snatched away by the unstoppable hand of death. For me, this is the shocking end of an association with a slim, small, utterly decent young boy who went on to become a 6 foot, 4 inch bodybuilding champ and professional star in that most demanding of Indian institutions: the military.

That Rear Admiral SS Jamwal was a potential navy chief is, to anyone who knows the Indian Navy, hardly a revelation. Not because he was the ADC to the President; that is a purely decorative job that, given his film star looks, was hardly an accomplishment. But when he was selected to oversee the completion of INS Beas, and to be its commissioning CO, it was clear that Jammy had made a mark as the Executive Officer of the INS Delhi. And, as Naval Attache to Moscow, Jammy left his imprimatur as pointsman during the most contentious phase of the Gorshkov negotiations and the nuclear submarine negotiations.

We talked often over the phone while he was in Moscow and always had a meal together when he travelled to India. Given the man he was, we never ever spoke about the top-secret negotiations that he handled through those years. He was too committed a professional to reveal any secrets and I was too good a friend to pose any dilemmas for him.

I also had the pleasure of hosting his lovely wife, Geeta --- together they made the most striking couple you could imagine. They were always close, shared many interests and were enormously proud of each other and of their two lovely children. 

To suggest --- as many newspapers and TV channels are obliquely doing, without the slightest proof --- that Admiral Jamwal had committed suicide is an indicator of how low India’s media has sunk. True, the police have registered a case of “unnatural death”. What else was the media expecting in a death in a range accident?

It is regrettable that we have plumbed such depths that the feelings of a bereaved family --- you can imagine their emotions when they see today’s newspapers --- are not as important as an “interesting” headline.

We were fortunate --- those of us who knew Rear Admiral Satyendra Singh Jamwal as schoolmates in The Lawrence School, Sanawar; brothers-in-arms in the National Defence Academy and the military; and those of us who knew Jammy as a friend or a much-loved relative --- to have benefited from his warmth, honesty and cheerful good nature.

On behalf of all of them, I pray for everlasting peace to his soul.


Tuesday, 6 July 2010

HAL rolls out the Naval Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)

Amidst fanfare and smoke, the Naval LCA rolls out of its hangar. HAL is learning from Bollywood!

L to R: Ashok Nayak, CMD HAL; RK Singh, Secy Def Production; Adm Nirmal Verma, CNS; AK Antony, Defence Minister; VK Saraswat, MD DRDO; Dr Prahlada, CC DRDO; PS Subramaniam, Director ADA

Rocky Balboa atop the Naval LCA

The MoD press handout on the occasion of the rolling out of the Naval LCA is appended below:


New Delhi: Asadha 15, 1932
July 06, 2010

The country’s first Naval variant of Light Combat Aircraft, the LCA (Navy) Trainer Naval Project (NP) – 1 was rolled out by the Defence Minister Shri AK Antony from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) Aircraft Research and Design Centre at a glittering function in Bengaluru, today. The Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma, Secretary Defence Production Shri RK Singh, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister Dr. VK Saraswat, Chairman, HAL Shri Ashok Nayak, Director Aeronautical Development Agency Shri PS Subramanyam were present on the occasion.

Congratulating the stakeholders in the development of the first indigenously developed carrier-bone Naval Trainer Aircraft, Shri Antony described today’s development as a ‘defining and memorable event’ for the nation. He said the prophets of doom have been silenced by a series of major breakthroughs of DRDO-led projects in recent times. He gave the examples of MBT Arjun, LCA and Akash missiles, which are now being adopted by the Forces. Shri Antony said the goal of self-reliance can be achieved by developing synergy among the scientists, the Forces and the public and private sectors.

The LCA (Navy) will form the air element of the Indian Navy. Its primary role will be that of air defence and will provide a formidable platform with a higher thrust engine and an optimised mass for suitable replacement to the ageing Sea Harriers at a later date. The only carrier-bone aircraft in the light category in the world, it will be operating with a wide variety of operational weapons and equipment like the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile, Anti-Ship missiles, Conventional bombs, Air Defence guns, CCMs and drop tanks. The NP1 is now ready to undergo the phase of systems integration tests leading to ground runs, taxi trials and flight. The first flight of the NP1 would happen by the end of this year. The aircraft would be flying with GE-F-404-IN 20 engine and is specifically designed for ski-jump take off and arrested recovery, with high-landing loads compared to its Air Force counterpart.

The formal sanction by the Government for the Naval programme was accorded in the year 2003. The first stage of development includes design and fabrication of one Trainer and one Fighter, NP1 and NP2 respectively, along with a Shore Based Test Facility (SBTF) at Goa, to simulate carrier take off and arrested landing. A complete airframe called Structural Test Specimen required for structural testing is also being and tested as part of the Programme. Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Bangalore has been responsible for the design, development, and building of the Naval version of the Light Combat Aircraft with HAL being its Principal Partner.

Technical Features of the Aircraft

Ø The LCA will operate from an Aircraft Carrier with a concept of Ski-jump Take off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR). Aircraft gets airborne over a ski jump in about 200 m and lands 90 m using an arrester hook engaging an arrester wire on the ship.

Ø Derived from the Air Force version it is a longitudinally unstable fly-by-wire aircraft, making it an agile war machine.

Ø Flight Control system is augmented with Leading Edge Vortex Controller (LEVCON) aiding reduction in approach speed for Carrier Landing

Ø Auto throttle function reduces pilot load by maintaining constant angle of attack during the critical phase of a flare-less carrier landing

Ø Fuel Dump System enables safe landing by reducing weight in event of an emergency landing immediately after launch from Carrier

Role of the Aircraft
Ø Air to Air
Ø Air to Sea
Ø Air to Ground

Ø Span :8.2 m
Ø Length : 13.2 m
Ø Height : 4.52m

Monday, 5 July 2010

Testing times ahead for HAL: ARDC prepares for dangerous Tejas and IJT flight tests

The first Limited Series Production version of the Sitara IJT. The vertical fin below the engine and the lateral fins at the front, ahead of the IAF roundel, are anti-spin devices.

The LSP-1, parked in the ARDC hangar in Bangalore. The IAF wants 73 Sitara trainers for Stage-2 training of its fighter pilots

by Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bangalore
Business Standard, 5th July 10

The Russian designers stared transfixed at the monitor as the model of India’s Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) went into a spin, rotating like a fan uncontrollably. Despite every attempt to straighten it out with the aircraft controls, the Sitara kept spinning. If this had been a real flight, rather than just a “spin tunnel” test in Russia, both pilots in the Sitara would have died as the uncontrollable trainer smashed into the ground.

Instead, Indian designers at the Aircraft R&D Centre (ARDC) in Bangalore --- which is designing and testing the Sitara --- have tweaked the Sitara’s aerodynamics until it has passed the “spin tunnel” test.

But now, Chief Test Pilot Baldev Singh has to actually test-fly the Sitara, deliberately throwing the trainer into a hair-raising spin and then coaxing it into level flight again.

Only after that can the Indian Air Force use the Sitara to teach rookie pilots the vital skills needed to recover an aircraft from a spin. During training, IAF instructors will put the IJT into a spin and then hand over controls to the trainee, allowing him or her to stabilise the aircraft.

These are literally testing times at the ARDC, a unit of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which is preparing for several risky test flights that will determine the success or failure of its key projects.

Although the Sitara has cleared the “spin tunnel” test in Russia, that is no guarantee that the Sitara will recover from its first real life spin. Therefore, to minimise the risk to the test pilot, a special parachute is being fitted on the aircraft’s tail, which the pilot opens if he is unable to recover from a spin. Acting as an aerodynamic drag, the parachute retards the spin, allowing the pilot to recover control.

“There are always uncertainties in testing something for the first time”, explains HRS Prasad, the General Manager of ARDC. “So we make doubly sure there is a system that will enable (the pilot) to recover from a potentially disastrous situation. But we are confident of demonstrating that the Sitara can recover from a spin… that is a basic requirement for a trainer.”

Even more dangerous are the flight tests ahead for the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), to demonstrate its ability to handle higher angles of attack, or Alpha, as the designers call it. Simply put, a flying aircraft’s angle of attack is the angle it makes, nose to tail, with the horizontal. A high Alpha provides several benefits to a fighter, especially letting it fly slower to land on shorter runways.

The Tejas has currently tested an Alpha of just 22-24 degrees, and will go up gradually to 28 degrees. But flying a higher Alpha risks stalling the fighter; its engine could go off (or flame out, as pilots call it) leaving the Tejas --- without propulsion power, or electrical and hydraulic power for its fly-by-wire controls --- to fall out of the sky like a stone.

To guard against that, the ARDC is fitting a test Tejas with a fast-response power pack that US company, Honeywell, manufactures for such flight-testing. Within milliseconds of the Tejas main engine going off, the hydrogen-operated power pack starts up, providing power to the fighter’s hydraulic and electrical systems, and re-lighting the main engine.

“In flying a single-engine aircraft, there is no bigger emergency than a flame-out”, says a former Tejas test pilot. “But no fighter engine should flame out at just 28 degrees Alpha. However, the Tejas air intakes have not been well designed and, as the Alpha increases, the intakes constrict the airflow, and the engine dies for want of air.”

In contrast to the Tejas’ maximum Alpha of 28 degrees, India’s Sukhoi-30MKI can comfortably handle an Alpha of over 50 degrees. The US Navy F/A-18 Super Hornet can manage an Alpha of 58 degrees.

The Tejas flight test programme, India’s first such testing process, has been controversial, with critics charging that the slow speed of testing has delayed the Tejas’ induction into service. On the positive side, the Tejas testing has given birth to the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC), a test facility that is of global standard. The Aeronautics Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the Tejas’ development, has now engaged European aerospace giant, EADS, to advise on how to speed up testing.

“We have to proceed cautiously”, the Tejas programme director, PS Subramaniam told Business Standard while witnessing a test last year. “We have managed to come so far without a single mishap. An accident would seriously damage the credibility of the Tejas programme.”

Friday, 2 July 2010

Helicopter-mounted radar to tackle Naxal IEDs

An IED-protected vehicle developed by Ashok Leyland, one of the many such offerings on display at the Defexpo 2010 in New Delhi in Feb 2010.

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd July 10

India is deploying cutting-edge technology to defeat a simple insurgent weapon that J&K militants and Naxals are using to lethal effect: the Improvised Explosive Device, or IED. Swedish company, Saab, has offered to partner India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) in fitting Saab’s CARABAS radar on India’s Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), which would allow the scanning of wide swathes of territory to detect IEDs well before they can be exploded.

Naxal IEDs --- explosives that are detonated with a timer, or with signals from a mobile phone, to blow up jawans or vehicles --- are blamed for over 60% of all casualties caused by the Maoist group. In only the most recent example, on 17th May, a Naxal IED, buried inside a metalled road, blew up a civilian bus in Dantewada district of Chhattisgarh killing 36 people, including 12 Special Police Officers. Any movement of security forces in Naxal areas must be preceded by a painstaking manual search for IEDs. Many casualties have been caused during these search operations.

In the new system being evaluated, a Saab CARABAS radar, fitted in a Dhruv helicopter, does an aerial scan of the area in which security forces will be operating. The CARABAS radar is specially designed to detect metallic components of an IED, even when it is buried 5-6 metres below the ground. A computer quickly compares the image of each flight with the images of the previous flight over that area; any new metallic objects are highlighted, and their exact location mapped. Armed with that information, a bomb disposal team is sent to defuse the IED harmlessly.

Best of all, the exceptionally low frequency waves from the CARABAS radar ignores vegetation, reflecting only off man-made objects. This is especially useful in jungle terrain, where the dense foliage provides both visual and electro-magnetic cover. Naxal IED tactics involve burying IEDs several feet deep, sometimes under tarmac roads; such a system would detect even the deep-buried IEDs, which conventional, hand-held scanners, and even sniffer dogs, often cannot pick up.

“We have provided a radar at the request of the DRDO”, says Inderjit Sial, the India head of Saab International India AB. “The DRDO will integrate it on the Dhruv ALH and then evaluation trials will be conducted. There is also a lighter version of the radar which can be flown on a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle).”

The helicopter-mounted CARABAS radar weighs about 150 kg. The smaller version of the radar, which has been developed for UAVs, weighs just 50 kg.

Saab believes that this surveillance platform has a very high potential in India. The company has indicated that, if India chooses to deploy the CARABAS/Dhruv platform, Saab would set up its global manufacturing hub for the radar in India.

The DRDO, is carefully evaluating Saab’s offer. Confirming to Business Standard that it is evaluating a foreign foliage penetration radar, the DRDO spokesperson stated, “We are seeking foreign collaboration in this field. Talks are actively on… but we have not yet made a final decision.”

A key challenge the DRDO faces in integrating the CARABAS low-frequency radar on a UAV, or on the Dhruv helicopter, is the unusual shape and large size of the radar antennae, which look like two long poles. A place on the flying platform will have to be found for these antennae.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

HAL confronts Snecma in light helicopter project

The full scale mock-up of the Light Utility Helicopter (LuH), which was an important part of the first design target that the MoD set laid down for HAL

This allows for a spatial evaluation, and for assessing cockpit ergonomics. The large end-plates near the tail will have areas redistributed. The landing gear tubes will be redesigned

The mock-up was created as a VIP helicopter, but it was observed that the doors were too small to allow stretchers to be put into the cabin easily. So the doors will become larger and the cabin will take two stretchers longitudinally

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st July 10

The Light Utility Helicopter (LuH), which Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is designing for the Indian military, has encountered turbulence even before leaving the drawing board. French engine-maker, Turbomeca, whose vaunted Shakti engine was to power the LuH, is demanding what MoD sources term “extortionist prices” for integrating the Shakti with the LuH.

HAL had paid Turbomeca to develop the Shakti engine for the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH); and the Shakti also powers the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) that HAL is developing. Because the Shakti is custom-designed for the high altitudes --- between 15,000 – 20,000 feet --- that characterise much of India’s border, and because HAL and Turbomeca will jointly manufacture the engine in India, the Shakti was selected to also power the LuH.

But the Dhruv and the LCH are twin-engine helicopters, while the lighter LuH will fly with a single Shakti engine. That requires Turbomeca to design a new transmission for the LuH. Additionally, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) will have to certify the Shakti for single-engine operation. To HAL’s dismay, Turbomeca has demanded Rs 190 crores for these jobs, more than half the LuH’s entire budget of Rs 376 crores.

In formulating the LuH development budget, HAL had assumed that Turbomeca would design the new transmission system cheaply, to benefit from additional orders of hundreds of Shakti engines over the service life of the LuH.

An outraged HAL board, having decided against paying so much to Turbomeca, has approached other engine-makers --- including General Electric, Honeywell, Rolls-Royce, and Pratt & Whitney --- for an engine for the LuH.

Reliable MoD sources tell Business Standard that Turbomeca is now negotiating with HAL to compromise on a price for the Shakti. The French company has offered to reduce the cost by Rs 90 crores, provided that amount is adjusted against its offset liability. But HAL rejected that offer last week, telling Turbomeca that even Rs 100 crores is too high a price. Turbomeca is now preparing a fresh proposal.

Senior HAL sources complain that Turbomeca is taking advantage of the rigid timelines that the Ministry of Defence has imposed on HAL in the LuH project. The MoD has split its order for 384 LuHs between a global tender for 197 ready-built LuHs; and an order for HAL to develop and build 187 LuHs by 2017. The MoD has specified a target date for each of the LuH’s development milestones: building of a mock-up; the design freeze; the first flight; Initial Operational Clearance, and so on. Each time HAL misses a milestone its order reduces from 187.

Turbomeca apparently believes that these time obligations reduce HAL’s bargaining leverage. HAL, however, has decided early not to put all its eggs in the Turbomeca basket.

HAL Chairman, Ashok Nayak --- responding to a question from Business Standard whether a new engine for the LuH made sense when the Shakti would allow the standardisation of a common engine across many more helicopters --- replied, “We are using the Shakti engine for the Dhruv and for the LCH. It is not necessary to also use it on the LuH. How many helicopter manufacturers use a common engine on three entirely different helicopters? One should not overdo the standardisation aspect”.

So far HAL is comfortably beating the MoD clock and plans to beat the 2017 deadline by a full two years. It has built a mock-up within the timeline; plans to freeze the LuH design by the end of this year; fly the LuH for the first time by 2012; certify it by 2014, and begin delivery by 2015.