Thursday, 30 September 2010

GE-414 declared lowest bidder for LCA engine

This morning, the representatives of GE and Eurojet were informed in Bangalore that GE Aviation was the lowest bidder in the LCA engine competition. The DRDO press release that followed is pasted below.

More on this in tomorrow's Business Standard. Will post in the morning. Stay tuned.

GE Aviation lowest bidder for LCA Mk-2 Alternate Engine

The Price Negotiating Committee for the Alternate Engine for LCA Mk-2 has finalised the Comparative Statement of Tenders. The committee Chaired by Dr Prahlada, DS & CCR&D (Ae&SI) had its representatives from Ministry of Defence, Defence Finance, ADA, DRDO, HAL, Indian Air Force, and Indian Navy. After evaluation and acceptance of the Technical offer provided by both Eurojet and GE Aviation, the commercial quotes were compared in detail and GE Aviation was declared as the lowest bidder. Further price negotiations and contract finalization will follow.

Space shuttle Discovery lines up for her last voyage

One of the most daring and ambitious space programmes, the space shuttle, is nearing its end. The space shuttle, Discovery, is seen here being transported to her launch pad last Monday, for a final voyage into space. In Feb 2011, after sister ship, Endeavour, makes her final voyage the three surviving space shuttles (Atlantis, Discovery and Endeavour) will finally retire, signalling the end of this 30-year programme..

The other two space shuttles, the Columbia and the Challenger, were destroyed along with their entire crews in accidents that illustrated that, notwithstanding technological advances, space exploration remains a leap into the unknown.

During this move to her launch pad, six weeks before lift-off, the Discovery is being transported on giant crawlers at the dizzying speed of about one kilometre per hour. In contrast with that, she will achieve speeds of more than 28,000 kmph in space.

NASA had sent out more than 700 invitations to shuttle workers to bring their families to watch Discovery's rollout to the launch pad. The team spirit with the shuttle programme is legendary.

I had watched the launch of the Atlantis last May and written a description for Business Standard. If you'd like to revisit it, the article is posted in this blog... scroll back to 16th May 2010.

Good luck and Godspeed to the Discovery and her crew.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Agitating protestors are in for a shock

Police forces from several states, including J&K, are evaluating the non-lethal Taser to help quell civil unrest.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th Sept 10

It may prove a major step towards ending the use of lethal force against protestors by the police. Or it could be, in the worlds of Amnesty International, "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment which is absolutely prohibited under international law".

In secret trials on September 9th, at the National Security Guard (NSG) headquarters at Manesar, near Delhi, seven volunteers from the NSG were shot turn-by-turn with non-lethal Taser guns in different parts of their bodies. Temporarily paralysed by a 50,000-volt shock, the hardened commandoes crumpled to the floor, unable to move, speak or react in any way.

The Taser, marketed by US-based Taser International, uses compressed gas to shoot a tiny copper barb to a distance of 30 feet. After penetrating a couple of millimetres into the targeted individual, a high-voltage electric shock is administered through a trailing wire.

This effectively shuts down all muscular control; he or she can see, hear and think, but the body is utterly unable to react to commands from the brain. Taser International calls this “neuromuscular incapacitation”.

Indian interest in the Taser has been kindled by the deaths of more than a hundred protestors in police firing in Kashmir over the summer, and in the agitation against land acquisition in UP. The trials at the NSG this month were witnessed by several state police forces and by Indian Army officers.

The NSG has already floated a tender for 200 non-lethal weapons, to deploy with sky marshals in airliners and for anti-hijacking operations.

Sources say another 600 non-lethal weapons will be bought for the NSG’s regional hubs.

Taser International, which has a 20-year patent from the Indian government, points out that the Kashmir situation might never have arisen had the police been armed with Tasers.

Says Paramjit Singh, who is heading Taser International’s operations in India: “Currently, India’s police forces are equipped only to kill. The Taser would let them subdue agitated citizens without the political and legal complications that are caused by firing live bullets at unarmed civilians. Every law enforcement officer should have the option of using a non-lethal weapon.”

Paramjit Singh also highlights the “Kasab advantage” that the Taser facilitates. He refers to the capture of Pakistani terrorist, Ajmal Kasab, whose interrogation provided crucial details of the Mumbai terror attack of 26th Nov 2008.

The police seem to agree. State police forces from J&K, Punjab, Sikkim, Madhya Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, and also the Indo Tibetan Border Police, have shown interest or placed orders for the Taser. The UP Police have also conducted an NSG-style trial, where constables were shot to evaluate the Taser.

But Tasers are also controversial, with critics claiming that the device has already caused 245 deaths worldwide. The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) concluded in 2007, that the use of the Taser gun constitutes a "form of torture" and "can even provoke death." Last year, after persistent allegations that Taser shocks interfere with heartbeat rhythms, particularly in people with pacemakers, Taser International advised law enforcement agencies to aim below the centre of the chest.

There has been no word yet on the NSG commandos or UP policemen who were shot during Taser trials. The BBC, however, broadcast a video, on 17th May 2007, of Michael Todd, the head of Greater Manchester Police, England, demonstrating his confidence in the Taser by allowing himself to be shot in the back. The police chief, who fell forward onto his chest, admitted after recovering: “I couldn't move, it hurt like hell… I wouldn't want to do that again.”

Nevertheless, the NSG is impressed with the Taser, which is also used by several police forces around the world, such as the UK police, which have bought at least 10,000 Tasers. Experienced NSG commandos point out that a terrorist, even fatally wounded with a gunshot, can continue fighting, sometimes for hours. With the Taser, however, suppression is instant. The weapon is especially attractive for NSG sky marshals, since firing a bullet in an airliner risks perforating the fuselage and depressurising the cabin.

The Taser system, which was on display at the INDESEC exhibition in the capital earlier this month, comes in various models. The recently launched multi-shot Taser X3 can fire 3 probes in succession, a crucial facility when presented with more than one threat simultaneously.

In the United States it is legal for a civilian to carry a Taser C2 for self-defence. This is not considered a firearm because the cartridge uses gas, not gunpowder, to launch the probes. Taser advertises the C2, retailed at US $1200, and with a range of 15 feet, as superior to a stun gun, which must be in physical contact with the target; and to pepper spray, which is only effective to 6 feet away.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The IAF's first C-130J Super Hercules... more pics

The first engine run of the IAF's first C-130J. US sources say that the aircraft will be delivered in Jan 11 and will fly at Aero India 2011 in Bangalore in February 2011

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Making warships happen

The 650-metre dry dock at the Pipavav shipyard in Gujarat. This dry dock can take two aircraft carriers simultaneously and still have space left over for the odd destroyer

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Sept 10

I was taken aback last week to receive an invitation from BAE Systems, the world’s third-richest arms corporation, for a four-day media tour to the UK. What surprised me was not the invitation. The rate at which India is buying up foreign weaponry, global arms merchants, eager for publicity, would happily pay for our small defence journalist community to globetrot through the year. What was remarkable in the BAE invitation was the company’s proposal to fly us to Glasgow for the launch of a new Royal Navy destroyer and a tour of other warships. Why, I wondered, was British shipbuilding being showcased to India in the absence of a plan to buy a warship from the UK?

A few phone calls later I had my answer! A cash-strapped UK defence ministry, unable to pay for the two aircraft carriers on order with BAE Systems, had offered one of them to New Delhi. In the circumstances, a few news reports in India on “high-quality British shipbuilding” could only be useful.

Given that the Indian Navy already has four aircraft carriers in the pipeline — the lame but functional INS Viraat; the infamous Gorshkov (renamed INS Vikramaditya), being constructed in Russia; a third (so far unnamed) carrier being built in Cochin Shipyard; and another to follow that — Britain’s offer of yet another carrier might be considered wildly optimistic. But desperate times demand desperate measures and the UK is conducting its greatest strategic downsizing since the 1968 retreat from the Suez. David Cameron’s new government has initiated a strategic defence and security review (SDSR), which involves defence spending cuts of 20-30 per cent to bring down military expenditure to below 2 per cent of GDP.
Amongst the several multi-billion pound programmes that seem certain to be pared is the Carrier Vessels Future (CVF) programme: the £5 billion ($8 billion) construction, mainly in British shipyards, of two 65,000-tonne aircraft carriers called the HMS Queen Elizabeth and the HMS Prince of Wales. These were ordered before the global economic downturn; the Labour government thought they were essential for the Royal Navy to retain its centuries-old capability to project power across the globe. Even amidst today’s cost-cutting, current defence secretary Liam Fox had hoped to build both carriers, operating only one with the other kept in reserve. But just days ago, BAE boss Ian King revealed that the government had asked BAE Systems to evaluate the cost of cancelling the CVF programme entirely.

With £1.2 billion ($1.8 billion) already spent on the CVF, and 4,000 skilled workers busy fabricating the Queen Elizabeth, London knows that an outright cancellation would ruin Britain’s shipbuilding industry. And so, one of the aircraft carriers hopes to wash up on India’s shores.

The government of India must quickly decline the British offer. London could be forgiven for concluding from the fact that four Indian warships are on order from Russian shipyards, and the Indian Navy wants to build more abroad, that Indian shipyards cannot meet the country’s maritime security needs. The truth, however, is that India looks abroad for warships because of the MoD’s inability to streamline planning, sanctions and procedures, and to bring together the skills of the multiple agencies that contribute towards developing and building a warship.

Consider our production facilities. The MoD owns and controls four defence shipyards: Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL); Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the recently (and misguidedly) acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL). Then there is Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL), a central PSU, which is building an aircraft carrier for the MoD since none of the MoD shipyards has facilities large enough for this. And, very recently, there is the emergence of state-of-the-art private sector shipyards — L&T, Pipavav and ABG Shipyards — with global-quality facilities.

Also in the production loop is the Directorate General of Naval Design (DGND), which has achieved notable success in the conceptual design of the Indian Navy’s recent warships. Each shipyard, too, has its own design department, which translates the DGND’s conceptual design into engineering drawings of the thousands of components that make up a ship. Then there are Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) laboratories, which produce high-technology systems like sonars, radars, torpedoes etc., many of which money cannot buy. The existence of these technology labs is a key attribute of a warship-building country.

Finally, there are the educational institutions that feed into, and off, these agencies: the departments of naval architecture in IITs and universities; research departments in colleges and universities that feed into DRDO laboratories and assist them by taking on research projects.

India has, in varying degrees, every component of this ecosystem. The MoD must bring them together, compensating for one component’s weaknesses by harnessing another’s strengths. Instead, South Block’s proclivity to view each entity individually creates the impression of a shortfall of capacity.

Consider how the MoD is processing India’s second submarine line, allowing two of the six submarines to be built abroad although massive capacities will lie unutilised in L&T and Pipavav (Business Standard has carried a four-article series on this from August 30 to September 2). Here is the MoD’s logic: Pipavav has the facilities but not the experience; L&T has the experience, but not the facilities; MDL has both, but it doesn’t have the capacity!

Astonishingly, South Block considers it preferable to buy submarines from a foreign shipyard, rather than bringing together Indian capabilities that could produce them far cheaper, create jobs and build capacities. The MoD must be stopped from building abroad. India needs a significant navy but it can only afford to build up quickly if the MoD brings together the warship-building eco-system. Indian money must build Indian capabilities, not pay for British shipbuilding industry to survive.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Eurofighter edges ahead in MMRCA race: Eurojet pips GE in LCA engine bid

The Eurofighter's twin-EJ200 engines, seen here on full afterburner. Eurojet, which makes the EJ200, has bid lower than GE to provide India with 99 engines for the Tejas fighter

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Sept 10

Europe is poised to beat America in the tightly fought contest to sell India a next-generation engine for the homegrown Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Business Standard has learned from informed sources that, when the bids were opened last week, European consortium Eurojet, which bid US $666 million for ninety-nine EJ200 engines, has undercut US rival General Electric, which quoted US $822 million.

Both the engines had been earlier adjudged technically suitable for powering the Tejas Mark II. Therefore, according to the Ministry of Defence’s procurement rules, the vendor offering the lower price is to be handed the contract.

But the champagne corks are not yet popping at Eurojet. Both engine-makers have been asked for certain clarifications by Wednesday, and senior Eurojet executives are worried that this interregnum might be used by Washington to put pressure on New Delhi to opt for the American engine.

At stake here is far more than a few hundred million dollars. Industry experts say that India’s choice of engine for the Tejas will significantly shape the choice of a medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), a US $11 billion contract for which the Indian Air Force is evaluating six fighters. Of these, the Eurofighter has twin EJ-200 engines, while GE F-414 engines power the US-built F/A-18, and Sweden’s Gripen NG fighters.

Says Air Vice Marshall (Retd) Kapil Kak, of the Centre for Air Power Studies, the IAF’s official think tank, “It is as clear as daylight. Selecting the EJ200 for the Tejas would boost the Eurofighter’s prospects in the MMRCA contest. Its engines, which form about 15-20% of the cost of a modern fighter, would be already manufactured in India for the Tejas LCA. And, for the same reason, rejecting the GE F-414 would diminish the chances of the two fighters that fly with that engine.

In its tender for the Tejas engine, the MoD has specified that only ten engines could be built abroad. All subsequent engines must be built in India, with the vendor transferring technology for their manufacture. If the EJ200 were being built in India for the Tejas, Eurofighter would benefit from a fully amortised engine line and also be entitled to offset credits for the “made-in-India” Eurofighter EJ200 engines. This would lower the price of the Eurofighter, a huge advantage for an aircraft that is regarded as high performance but expensive. Logistically too, the IAF would prefer an MMRCA with engines that were already on its inventory.

Selection of the GE F-414 engine, on the other hand, would provide all these advantages to the vendors of the F/A-18 and the Gripen NG fighters. This is a key reason why Eurojet and GE have conducted their LCA engine campaign so competitively.

Furthermore, the order for 99 engines for the Tejas Mark II is just a foot in the door to the Indian market. Given that each fighter goes through 2-3 engines during its operational lifetime, the 4-5 planned squadrons of Tejas Mark II (84-105 fighters) will actually need 200-300 of the new engines. The 126 MMRCAs could consume several hundred more.

Business Standard has earlier reported (“EADS plans to ride the LCA into Indian market”, dated 12th Feb 09) the European aerospace industry’s plan to enhance its presence in India’s military aerospace programmes in order to benefit Eurofighter GmbH, in the MMRCA contest. The first move by EADS was to provide consultancy for accelerating the flight-testing of the Tejas; now comes the second move, by the Eurojet consortium, to bid aggressively and win the Tejas engine contract.

MoD sources have expressed surprise that Eurojet could bid 20% cheaper than its rival, General Electric, which is widely regarded as a cost-effective manufacturer. In fact, conversations with EADS executives reveal that this is a well-considered business strategy.

Sources in the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) confirm that both the GE and Eurojet engines have fully met the technical requirements to power the Tejas Mark 2. The Eurojet EJ200 --- which the IAF favours --- is the more modern, lighter, flexible engine with greater potential for growth. The GE F-414 is heavier, but provides a little more power.

Eurojet Turbo GmbH (or Eurojet) is a consortium between Avio (Italy); ITP (Spain); MTU Aero Engines (Germany); and Rolls-Royce (UK), which was set up to develop the EJ200 engine for the Eurofighter. It is headquartered in Hallbergmoos, Germany, just outside Munich. The EJ200 and Eurofighter programmes generate approximately 100,000 jobs across Europe, directly and indirectly.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Travelling to Pipavav... checking out the shipbuilding scene

A schematic graphic from Sea King Infrastructure Ltd (SKIL), the promoters of Pipavav Shipyard Ltd. Now, Pipavav Shipyard is up and running and has already started getting orders from the MoD

Any good inputs about Pipavav from you folks out there? I'll be happy to hear them.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Air Force Network (AFNet) frees frequencies for telecom

Defence Minister Antony talks over the AFNet link, from the inauguration ceremony, to a MiG-29 pilot flying a simulated mission over Punjab

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Sept 10

“I have bin Laden”, gasped the French sniper, squinting into the telescopic sight of his long-range rifle in Afghanistan. If a documentary film by two well-known journalists is credible, this was the first of two occasions, six months apart in 2003 and 2004, when just a trigger squeeze would have eliminated the world’s most famous terrorist. But on both occasions, according to the documentary, poor communication links meant that US commanders took two hours to authorize the killing. By then, bin Laden had gone.

While the incident is denied by the French military, everyone agrees that real-time communications are crucial for seizing fleeting opportunities in today’s fast-paced battlefield. “Network-centric” warfare, which major militaries aspire to, links sensors, decision-makers and shooters onto a single grid, to reduce delays that might allow targets to escape. In New Delhi today, the Indian Air Force took a giant step towards “network-centric” warfare by inaugurating AFNet (or Air Force Network), a secure, gigabyte-capacity, digital radio network that links IAF command posts, fighter bases, radars, missile batteries and airborne fighters into a seamless whole.

At the laser-enlivened inauguration ceremony, Defence Minister AK Antony and Minister for Communications & IT A Raja watched an IAF command post, set up next to them, direct the interception, by a pair of Indian MiG-29 fighters, of two simulated enemy fighters that had intruded into Indian airspace. After the MiG-29s, which were actually airborne 8000 metres above Punjab, had shot down the intruders, Antony chatted with the pilot over radio, congratulating him and ordering him back to base.

“A dream has come true for the IAF”, declared Air Chief Marshall PV Naik. “All IAF bases are now inter-connected. And, best of all, AFNet has been completed quicker than any other defence project.”

Begun just four years ago, the Rs 1077 crore AFNet has been developed as a public-private project by BSNL, HCL Infosystems, and Cisco Systems. The system has already been installed in IAF stations across the country, including in the south. One of the two Integrated Air Command Centres (IACC), the hub-centres that watch over and protect Indian airspace, is already activated.

A key feature of AFNet’s successful development has been close liaison between the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Ministry of Communications and IT (MoCIT). Providing impetus to this cooperation is the “Network for Spectrum” principle, which binds the MoD to release frequency spectrum to the MoCIT as optic fibre-based networks like AFNet reduce the military’s reliance on radio communications. The MoCIT plans to use the released spectrum for extending 2G and 3G mobile telephony services to the public.

Communications minister, A Raja, welcomed AFNet as vital for increasing India’s teledensity from the current 50% towards the 100% mark. “It is a pleasure to know that the IAF has successfully implemented its ‘Network for Spectrum’ component, the AFNet”, declared Raja. “This will now enable the defence services to permanently release spectrum for the growth of commercial mobile services.”

But the defence minister indicated that more needed to be done before the MoD released a sizeable chunk of spectrum. Speaking immediately after Raja, Antony responded, “I would like to remind my colleague in the Ministry of Communications and IT… (that) even though I am very happy, I am not fully happy. I will be fully happy when… the army and navy will (also) be provided with network-centric capabilities. I am waiting for that day to celebrate jointly again like this.”

HCL Infosystems Chairman & CEO, Ajai Chowdhry, told Business Standard that the IAF used more frequency than the army and the navy, and that the implementation of AFNet would free about 35 Megahertz of frequency for civilian usage. But military sources pointed out that this frequency would be released in tranches rather than simultaneously.

For the IAF, which has relied since the late-1950s on vintage troposcatter-based communications, AFNet is a vital step forward. Says Air Vice Marshall Kapil Kak of the Centre for Air Power Studies, an IAF think-tank, “AFNet is upgradeable and will soon link Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) and space-based systems with the current network. And, within five years, I see AFNet being extended to the army and navy as well.”

Monday, 13 September 2010

'Indian' Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter gets Italian makeover

Photos: courtesy Ajai Shukla
The Dhruv assembly line in HAL. While Avio redesigns the Dhruv's transmission, this line will build 83 Mk 3 (utility), and 76 Mk 4 (WSI) Dhruvs, by 2015.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Sept 10

The Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) has been widely regarded as a triumph of indigenous military rotorcraft design and manufacturing. Scores of Dhruvs already flying in army colours will be joined by another 159, which the military ordered last year from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). And, Ecuador’s air force chose the Dhruv ALH in an international tender in 2008 for seven helicopters.

But now it emerges that the Dhruv is struggling with a serious problem. The army, which was to be supplied 20 Dhruvs last year, refused to accept any until HAL fixed a problem that was restricting the Dhruv’s cruising speed to 250 kilometers per hour, significantly short of the 270 kmph that HAL specifications promise. Unable to find a cure, HAL has brought in a consultant: Italian aerospace propulsion major, Avio.

India’s military sets high store by the Dhruv’s engine power; the helicopter must operate from tiny landing grounds at 6,500 meters (about 21,000 feet), which is the altitude of Sonam Post, India’s highest helipad on the Siachen Glacier. But even after paying French engine-maker, Turbomeca, Rs 1,000 crore to design the Shakti engine —- a superb performer at high altitudes —- the Dhruv’s Integrated Dynamic System, or IDS, which transfers power from the Shakti engines to the helicopter rotors, is not performing optimally. That, say HAL engineers, has reduced speed, high-altitude capability, and the life of the IDS.

The Italian consultants will now scrutinise the Dhruv’s IDS to diagnose the problem. Avio will start by building a single HAL-designed IDS in Avio’s facilities in Italy, using their own materials and tools. They will then test-run this for 400-500 hours; if it works perfectly, it would be evident that the flaw lies in HAL’s manufacturing, rather than the IDS design. On the other hand, if the Avio-built IDS performs poorly during the test run, there is clearly a design problem. Avio will then redesign the IDS.

A senior HAL official explained to Business Standard: “Avio will review the whole design, on a purely consultancy basis. They will give us a redesign… that will be the first phase. We will have to translate that new design into an engineered product. And, after that, we’ll have to do the ground testing and the flight-testing. It will be a long-drawn affair.”

Avio, Business Standard has learned, was HAL’s second choice. But the first choice consultant, an American company, had so much work on its plate that it had to turn HAL away.

Meanwhile, India’s army and air force — strapped for helicopters — have no choice but to accept and fly Dhruvs, even though they are performing below par and metal keeps chipping off inside the IDS. HAL has itself implemented six changes inside the IDS and 30 helicopters have been flying with these changes for some 400 hours. So far, there has been no major problem.

“This is not dangerous for the pilots”, says a senior HAL official. “Heavy chipping of metal would warn us about an impending failure of the IDS. There is a monitoring system inside the IDS, which checks for the presence of tiny metal chips in the oil. There is no danger of sudden, catastrophic failure in flight.”

Top officials in the Ministry of Defence have conveyed strong displeasure to HAL over what they consider a “sloppy” work culture. Talking to Business Standard on condition of anonimity, a MoD official points out, “The Avio consultancy will place HAL’s work culture under serious scrutiny. To identify the fault in the Dhruv’s IDS, Avio has insisted on auditing HAL’s facilities and practices. This will amount to a full external audit, which will highlight systemic and procedural problems that HAL would never have identified on its own.”

But the MoD also accepts that the aerospace establishment, hungry for success, developed the Dhruv in haste and introduced it into operational service without adequate testing. Illustrating this point, the MoD official says: “The IAF asked for about 75 design changes while HAL was developing the Dhruv. This prevented a coherent and systematic design process. And, thereafter, HAL was too eager to introduce the Dhruv into service. It has now emerged that it was unwise of HAL, and of the IAF, to operationalise the Dhruv before the design was fully stabilised.”

This year, the army and the IAF will introduce 31 new HAL-built Dhruv Mark 3 helicopters into service. These are part of an order placed on HAL last year for 159 Dhruv helicopters to be supplied by 2015. Of these, 83 are utility helicopters called Dhruv Mark 3, used for transporting people. The other 76 are Mark 4 helicopters, which will be fitted with cannons, rockets, missiles and electronic warfare equipment. These are called Dhruv (Weapon Systems Integrated), or Dhruv (WSI).

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Indian news wire report: Strategic Command to acquire 40 nuclear capable fighters

A copy of a report filed by a PTI correspondent today is affixed below. I think it's a load of hogwash, for the following reasons amongst others:

(a) There is no need to "acquire" 40 nuclear capable fighters. India already has several types that are more than capable of undertaking this role.

(b) Secrecy and surprise would dictate "hiding" an aircraft-borne nuclear capability within the IAF's many bases and aircraft... not handing over this job to an identifiable, and therefore targetable, two squadrons located at bases which would be known.

(c) I would be really surprised if an MoD official leaked this information to a PTI correspondent!

But read the report anyway. It's attached below.

Strategic Command to acquire 40 nuclear capable fighters

Ajit K Dubey

New Delhi, Sep 12 (PTI)
With an aim of increasing its lethal power, India's tri-services strike force is planning to acquire 40 fighter planes capable of delivering nuclear weapons.

The Strategic Forces Command (SFC) has submitted a proposal to the Defence Ministry for setting up two dedicated squadrons of fighter aircraft which will act as "mini-Air Force", ministry sources told PTI.

This will be the first time that SFC, which at present depends on the Indian Air Force for delivering nuclear weapons under its command, will have its own aerial assets, they said.

The SFC does not want untested fighters but the ones which are battle proven and have capabilities to deliver nuclear-tipped missiles, the sources said.

New York Times on China's submersible programme: China Explores a Frontier 2 Miles Deep

Photo: Courtesy The New York Times: China's Jiaolong submersible, which planted China's flag recently at the bottom of the South China Sea

Article reproduced from: The New York Times

Published: September 11, 2010

When three Chinese scientists plunged to the bottom of the South China Sea in a tiny submarine early this summer, they did more than simply plant their nation’s flag on the dark seabed

The men, who descended more than two miles in a craft the size of a small truck, also signaled Beijing’s intention to take the lead in exploring remote and inaccessible parts of the ocean floor, which are rich in oil, minerals and other resources that the Chinese would like to mine. And many of those resources happen to lie in areas where China has clashed repeatedly with its neighbors over territorial claims.

After the flag planting, which was done in secret but recorded in a video, Beijing quickly turned the feat of technology into a show of bravado.

“It is a great achievement,” Liu Feng, director of the dives, was quoted as saying by China Daily, an English-language newspaper, which telegraphs government positions to the outside world.

The global seabed is littered with what experts say is trillions of dollars’ worth of mineral nodules as well as many objects of intelligence value: undersea cables carrying diplomatic communications, lost nuclear arms, sunken submarines and hundreds of warheads left over from missile tests.

While a single small craft cannot reel in all these treasures, it does put China in an excellent position to go after them.

“They’re in it for a penny and a pound,” said Don Walsh, a pioneer of deep-ocean diving who recently visited the submersible and its makers in China. “It’s a very deliberate program.”

The small craft that made the trip — named Jiaolong, after a mythical sea dragon — was unveiled publicly late last month after eight years of secretive development. It is designed to go deeper than any other in the world, giving China access to 99.8 percent of the ocean floor.

Technically, it is a submersible. These craft differ from submarines in their small size, their need for a mother ship on the surface, and their ability to dive extraordinarily far despite the darkness and the crushing pressures. The world has only a few.

Jiaolong is meant to go as deep as 7,000 meters, or 4.35 miles, edging out the current global leader. Japan’s Shinkai 6500 can go as deep as 6,500 meters, outperforming craft “all over the world,” according to its makers. Russia, France and the United States lag further behind in the game of going deep.

American experts familiar with the Chinese undersea program say it is unusual in that Beijing has little experience in the daunting field. As a result, China is moving cautiously. Jiaolong’s sea trials began quietly last year and are to continue until 2012, its dives going deeper in increments.

“They’re being very cautious,” Dr. Walsh said. “They respect what they don’t know and are working hard to learn.”

In an interview, Dr. Walsh said that the Chinese were especially interested in avoiding the embarrassment of a disaster that ends with the aquanauts’ entrapment or death. “If I’m the new kid on the block,” he said, “I’m going to make sure that I’ve got bragging rights.”

Still, China is already waving flags. The move resembles how Russian scientists, in the summer of 2007, plunged through the ice pack at the North Pole and planted their flag on the bottom of the ocean. Upon surfacing, the explorers declared that the feat had strengthened Moscow’s claims to nearly half the Arctic seabed.

Wang Weizhong, a Chinese vice minister of science and technology, said that the Jiaolong’s sea trials “marked a milestone” for China and global exploration. The recent successes of the craft, he said in late August at a news conference in Beijing, “laid a solid foundation for its practical application in resource surveys and scientific research.”

But at least one senior Chinese expert questioned what he called “the current propaganda.” The expert, Weicheng Cui, a professor at the China Ship Scientific Research Center, which is building the submersible, said Thursday in an e-mail that the craft’s sea trials had steered clear of contested islands “to avoid any diplomatic issues.”

The flurry of publicity over the flag planting, he said, “is not so helpful for us to complete the project.”

China’s splash in the arcane world of submersibles comes after years of singling out major industries and technologies for rapid development. China is rushing to make supercomputers and jumbo jets. With expanding political ambitions and territorial claims in neighboring seas, it has paid special attention to oceanography and building a blue-water navy, one that operates in the deep waters of open oceans.

The United States once held the submersible lead. In 1960, it sent Dr. Walsh, then a Navy officer, to the ocean’s deepest spot, seven miles down. But over the decades, it lost its edge to France, Russia and, most recently, Japan.

China began its push in 2002. A few Westerners became aware of the guarded effort when China ordered from Russia the forging of a spherical hull about seven feet wide.

At the heart of any submersible lies the hollow sphere where the aquanauts work. It houses a pilot and two observers, who can peer out of tiny portholes. Typically, a dive into the abyss is an all-day affair, requiring hours to and from the bottom.

American experts said China went on a global shopping spree to gather sophisticated gear for its submersible. From the United States, it bought advanced lights, cameras and manipulator arms. Dr. Cui estimated that 40 percent of the craft’s equipment came from abroad.

China also turned to the United States for tutoring. In 2005, five Chinese trainee pilots and one scientist participated in eight dives on Alvin, the oldest and most famous of the world’s deep-diving craft, which is run by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution on Cape Cod. China “bought time on Alvin to gain experience,” according to the Deep Submergence Science Committee, a group that advises the federal government and universities on ocean exploration.

Though Alvin can go down only 4,500 meters, or 2.8 miles, it has made thousands of dives and discoveries, and is widely seen among experts as highly productive and well run.

One of the Chinese trainees was Ye Cong, now a pilot on Jiaolong during its sea trials.

Last year’s tests went as deep as 1,000 meters (about a half mile), and this summer’s as deep as 3,759 meters. Next year Jiaolong is to dive to 5,000 meters and in 2012 reach its maximum depth.

Dr. Walsh said the flag issue prompted more awkwardness than swagger among those who are building and testing the new submersible.

“We had a laugh about it,” he recalled of his China visit. “I said, ‘Oh, you’re copying the Russians,’ and they kind of giggled. These guys are pretty apolitical and pretty well insulated” from Beijing. “They’re just contractors doing their job.”

Saturday, 11 September 2010

India, Russia to ink Gen-5 fighter pact

Images of the PAK-FA, which first flew in Jan 10 at Sukhoi's facility in Knaapo in Russia. This fighter will be developed into the Russia-India FGFA

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Sept 10

Late on Thursday evening, in a triumph for the Russia-India defence relationship, the two countries signed off on a joint venture to co-develop a 15-20 tonne payload, 2500-kilometre range Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA), which will replace the Indian Air Force’s venerable AN-32 at the end of the next decade. But this path breaking US $600 million co-development of the MTA is likely to be dwarfed soon, when India and Russia each pledge US $6 billion to co-develop the world’s premier fighter, a step ahead of the US Air Force’s F-22 Raptor, which currently rules the skies.

Senior MoD sources have confirmed to Business Standard that years of tortuous negotiations have been successfully concluded in time for Russian President Dimitry Medvedev’s visit to India this December. Russian and Indian negotiators have finalised the Preliminary Design Contract (PDC), a key document that will allow designers from both sides to actually begin work on the FGFA.

“The negotiators have done their job, and the Cabinet Committee for Security (CCS) will consider the PDC, probably this month”, says the MoD official. “If the CCS gives the green signal, as is likely, the contract will be signed during Medvedev’s visit.”

HAL Chairman, Ashok Nayak, had indicated to Business Standard, on a recent visit to HAL, Bangalore, that the deal was done. “It is in the system for approval”, said Nayak. “The respective work shares have been agreed to by both sides and once we sign the Preliminary Design Contract, we will finish the design in about 18 months. Developing and building the FGFA could take 8-10 years and each side will pay US $6 billion as its share.”

The Russian and Indian Air Forces each plan to build about 250 FGFAs, at an estimated cost of US $100 million per fighter. That adds up to US $25 billion for 250 fighters, over and above the development cost.

These astronomical figures have led Russia into co-development with India. The inescapability of cost sharing was reinforced last year, when the Pentagon was forced to shut down its F-22 Raptor programme. Since the technologies in the F-22 were deemed crucial to America’s technology lead, the fighter was developed and built entirely within the US. As a result, its prohibitive cost --- US $340 million per fighter --- forced the Pentagon to cap the programme at 187 fighters, just half of what it planned to buy in 2006.

“If the United States could not afford to go it alone on a fifth generation fighter, Russia clearly cannot”, points out a senior Indian Air Force (IAF) officer. “There was no choice but to co-opt India as a partner.”

Russia initially offered India partnership in the FGFA programme about 7-8 years ago but there was little clarity then on crucial issues like work share, i.e. what systems and components each side would develop. From 2005-07, India’s growing closeness with the US slowed down the FGFA project. Progress received a boost from the Russia-India Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) in November 07. But HAL sources recount that, even after the IGA, Russian negotiators’ concern about sharing top-secret technologies meant that a green signal from Moscow was needed for every step of the negotiation.

“This is the first time that Russia is co-developing a cutting-edge military platform with another country. Therefore, they were unclear about how to share work in a top-secret project like this”, says a senior HAL official. “Before each step, the Russian officials wanted clearances from the highest level in Moscow. Those Presidential Decrees, as they call them, took their own time.”

Consequently, says the HAL Chairman, it has taken almost three years from the IGA to negotiate a General Contract and a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA). In March 2010, a “Tactical Technical Assignment” was signed, in which the work shares were agreed.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau has built a basic fifth generation fighter, which Russia terms the PAK-FA, the acronym for Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsy (literally Prospective Aircraft Complex of Frontline Aviation). A prototype, tailored to Russian Air Force requirements, made its first flight in January 2010.

India’s work share, according to HAL officials, will amount to about 30% of the overall design effort. This will centre on composite components and high-end electronics like the mission computer, the avionics, cockpit displays and the electronic warfare systems for the FGFA. Additionally, India will have to redesign the single-seat PAK-FA into the two-seater fighter that the IAF prefers. Like in the Sukhoi-30MKI, the IAF prefers one pilot flying and the other handling the sensors, networks and weaponry.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Russia and India sign JV to co-design Medium Transport Aircraft

Indian and Russian officials sign an agreement for setting up a JV to design a Multirole Transport Aircraft. The MoD press release is pasted below


The effort to design and develop a Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) by India and Russia received a significant boost with the signing of shareholders agreement for setting up of a joint venture company, here last night.

A Joint Venture will now be formed between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited and the Russian Partners namely United Aircraft Corporation & Rosoboronexport to Co-develop and Co-produce Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA).

MTA is a 15-20 tonne payload capacity Aircraft which would meet the requirement of the Indian Air Force and the Russian Air Force. The project has been approved by both the Government of India and the Government of Russian Federation.

The main features of MTA are: Maximum take-off weight 65 tonnes, Payload Capacity 15-20 tonnes, Cruise Speed 800 kmph, Range 2500-2700 km, Service ceiling 12 km. The Aircraft will have two engines, state of the art features such as fly-by-wire, full authority digital engine control, modern avionics and glass cockpit.

The total development cost is around US $ 600.70 million (approx Rs.2900 crores) to be equally shared by both the sides. It is planned to manufacture 205 aircraft with 50:50 work share between HAL and the Russian partners.

A Joint Venture Company (JVC) is being established with its headquarters at Bangalore, India for executing the MTA project in which HAL and Russian participants will have equal shareholding.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Frustrated global arms vendors write to Ministry of Defence

A copy of the first page of the letter that six foreign defence and aerospace industry associations have jointly written to India's Ministry of Defence, suggesting policy reforms

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Sept 10

Frustrated by the Ministry of Defence’s cold-shouldering of suggestions and requests from overseas arms companies, a large chunk of the international defence industry --- usually fiercely competitive --- has joined hands to demand from Defence Minister AK Antony a better structured and more supplier-friendly defence procurement policy. Amongst the demands: an enhanced FDI ceiling of 74%; allowing dual-use technologies as offsets; and the creation of an offsets authority to bring in predictability and transparency.

The letter to Antony, which Business Standard has reviewed, was signed on 25th August by the heads of six defence and aerospace bodies that represent almost every major US, British, German, French and Canadian arms corporation. They point out in unusually frank terms that “the current offset polices have effectively hindered our Member Companies ability to play a full role” in selling India defence equipment, as a result of which “the [Indian] MoD may not be able to benefit” from the best defence systems on offer. The letter urges that, “(p)rocesses must be open, fair and transparent, and time is of the essence.”

This approach comes as the MoD revises procedures for procuring an expected US $100 billion worth of foreign military equipment over the next decade. The new Defence Procurement Procedure of 2010 (DPP-2010) is anticipated this month. It will supersede the currently valid DPP-2008.

The letter --- which is also copied to Antony’s deputy, MM Pallam Raju, and the MoD’s top two civil servants, Pradeep Kumar and RK Singh --- bears the letterheads of the USIBC; the US AIA (Aerospace Industries Association); the British ADS (Aerospace, Defence and Security); French aerospace body GIFAS; German aerospace body BDLI; and Canadian aerospace body AIAC. Israeli and Russian companies are conspicuously absent from this initiative.

The letter urges the following specific policy reforms:

• Enhancing the current 26% ceiling on foreign direct investment (FDI) in defence. The letter states that accepting the Ministry of Commerce’s proposal to enhance FDI to 74% would “bolster confidence” and enable “robust investment in… technology transfer”.
• It suggests allowing dual-use technologies and high-tech civilian projects to be counted as defence offsets. This, the letter argues, would create a high-tech, civilian industry, that would build dual-use products to feed the defence industry. The current offset policy mandates only direct offsets, i.e. products that are directly used in defence systems.
• The MoD should offer multipliers for offsets in key sectors where the MoD most wants technology transfers. For example, if the MoD wants radar technology, it could specify an offset multiplier of 2. A company that transferred radar technology worth $1 million would get $2 million in offset credits. The current policy treats all offsets equally.
• The creation within the MoD of an empowered and adequately staffed permanent “offset authority”. Currently, “there is still ambiguity in how offset contracts will be approved, validated, discharged and measured.”
• Capping financial penalties in defence cooperation, in order to “not deter competition for defence contracts.” The letter points out that “(u)nlimited financial liability inhibits industrial defence cooperation.”

MoD sources say that the ministry is deliberating its response to this letter, but it does not take kindly to suggestions from foreign vendors. In 2007, the US India Business Council (USIBC) --- also an influential signatory to this letter --- had sent the MoD a letter suggesting the adoption of “international best practices” in offsets. The MoD did not respond. MoD officials told Business Standard, off the record, that best practices elsewhere do not necessarily suit India.

The MoD’s current offset policy mandates that foreign vendors that are awarded defence contracts above Rs 300 crores must plough back at least 30% of the value of the contract into Indian defence production or R&D.

Demands from MoD

• Raising FDI limit from 26%
• Allowing offsets outside defence
• Use of offset multipliers
• An empowered offset authority in MoD
• Capping financial penalties

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The Shadow of Xinjiang

The Karakoram Highway, or Friendship Highway, that links Abbottabad with Kashgar. A biker poses at the Khunjerab Pass

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Sept 10

The recent brouhaha over Beijing’s refusal to issue a regular stamped visa for an official visit to China by Lt Gen BS Jaswal, India’s top military commander in J&K, bore the familiar stamp of our public overreaction to Chinese provocation. But there was something remarkable this time. Alongside the “dragon is coming” rants on TV news, and from our predictable strategic community, both governments implemented a discrete but discernible damage control effort to prevent this incident from spiralling into a public exchange. New Delhi and Beijing, clearly, have agreed to moderate disagreement and to manage Indian public opinion.

Look at how this played out. In July, India responded to the visa refusal with no more than a demarche --- a pro forma letter--- and a mild reproof to China’s ambassador in India, Zhang Yang. On 27th August, when the Times of India broke the story, South Block --- behaving as if the visa had been denied that morning --- mollified public sentiment by calling in Ambassador Zhang to the MEA to convey India’s “strong concern”. But a report that India had suspended defence exchanges with China was immediately denied by Defence Minister Antony and, as emphatically, by Beijing. New Delhi’s only retaliation was to cancel a one-day visit by two Chinese officers to India’s National Defence College.

Beijing, having made its point, seemed eager to douse the embers. China’s embassy in New Delhi feigned ignorance about the visa denial, saying it needed to check with Beijing.

At that point, inconveniently for Beijing and New Delhi, a new controversy boosted indignation amongst India’s chatterati. A New York Times article by American scholar, Selig Harrison, reported that 7,000-11,000 Chinese soldiers from the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had set up shop in Gilgit-Baltistan, a part of Pakistan-occupied J&K, which Islamabad calls the Northern Areas. The PLA, said Harrison, was building high-speed rail and road links over the (15,400 feet high) Khunjerab Pass, along the Karakoram Highway, a tenuous 1,300-kilometre mountain road linking Pakistani Punjab with Xinjiang. This would allow China to access Pakistan’s Arabian Sea naval bases at Gwadar, Pasni and Ormara in 48 hours instead of the current 16-25 days. But Harrison’s bombshell was his assertion that Pakistan was “handing over de facto control of [Gilgit-Baltistan] to China.”

Beijing quickly issued a statement calling this a motivated report aimed at damaging Sino-Indian (and Sino-Pakistan) relations. But that rebuttal, on 1st Sept, sparked a fresh Indian firestorm. In stating “The story that China has deployed its military in a northern part of Pakistan is totally groundless…” Beijing had explicitly supported Pakistan’s claim to the Northern Areas. Following a protest from India’s ambassador in Beijing, China quietly removed the statement from official websites.

That Beijing is juggling conflicting interests on J&K --- pandering to Pakistan without irretrievably alienating India --- is evident from this one-step-forward-one-step-back tango. Islamabad has apparently coaxed Beijing away from its policy of equidistance on J&K --- which famously began in 1996, when visiting President Jiang Zemin, in his “dog that didn’t bark in the night” speech to Pakistan’s parliament, made no reference to J&K --- with a quid pro quo that Beijing badly needs. But the Chinese establishment is in a cleft stick: a price demanded by Pakistan on the one hand, stable relations with India on the other.

Popular Indian perception can hardly be expected to sympathise with Beijing’s dilemmas. For the Indian public a pro-Pakistani tilt in China can only be a conspiracy against India. To see it as a price, extracted by a hard-bargaining Islamabad, and paid reluctantly by Beijing, would stretch the imagination of most Indians.

Nevertheless, presuming an anti-India rationale could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. It would be strategically prudent to consider alternative Chinese motives, especially its obsession about the spread of radical Islam amongst the disaffected Uighur Muslims of Xinjiang, China’s sprawling province that borders Central Asia and Gilgit-Baltistan. With the radical Sunni Sipah-e-Sahiba Pakistan and the Lashkar-e-Toiba spreading their influence in Gilgit-Baltistan, apparently with Pakistan Army and ISI connivance, Beijing fears that Pakistani-style radicalism could buttress the jehadi fervour that is already seeping into Xinjiang from Central Asia.

Within Gilgit-Baltistan, the Pakistani security establishment is hardly about to curb the SSP and the LeT, both of which serve to counter political resistance, and Shia sectarian groups. In fact, after giving its radical proxies a free hand for decades, it is doubtful whether the Pakistani establishment is even capable of reining them in. What better way of meeting China’s concerns about the inflow of radicalism than allowing PLA units into Gilgit-Baltistan on a DIY (do it yourself) arrangement. Selig Harrison might be right about Pakistan handing over control (at least of the area adjoining the Xinjiang border) to China.

As important for Beijing --- given its need to “develop” Xinjiang, and accelerate the demographic shift from Uighur to Han --- is the building of a commercial corridor through Gilgit-Baltistan and Pakistan to the Arabian Sea. Allowing China to translate the rickety “Friendship Highway” into a high-speed transit link for hydrocarbons, raw materials and the outflow of Chinese goods, would give Islamabad further leverage to demand a price.

Hence, evidently, the quid pro quo: clear Chinese support for Pakistan on J&K. Islamabad’s ceding, in 1963, of the 5800 square kilometre Shaksgam valley to China, which is contingent on a final J&K settlement between India and Pakistan, has already given Beijing a status quo interest in Gilgit-Baltistan. Allowing China basing rights for the PLA and an economically important transit link through the area would solidify that position.

For Islamabad, engineering China’s new tilt is about doing down India. For Beijing, however, this appears to be less about India than about reducing insecurity on a sensitive border. Does this matter to India, which loses either way? Clearly it doesn’t to an inflamed public; but the government is treating China with greater understanding.

“Miracle compound” made for army, rescues CWG

The first AN-32 ever to land at Nyoma, close to the Line of Actual Control with China, in Ladakh. India is activating a number of Advanced Landing Grounds for a quick reaction capability in a border crisis

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Sept 10

At dawn on 18th Sept 09, Group Captain SC Chafekar lined up his AN-32 transport aircraft for a landing approach to the spectacular, 13,300 foot high Nyoma airstrip in Ladakh, sending a herd of local Khyang (Tibetan Wild Asses) fleeing in panic. This first ever fixed wing aircraft landing at Nyoma, the army’s newest Advanced Landing Ground (ALG), close by the frontline with China, was made possible by a new “miracle compound” called RBI-81.

The MoD, always secretive, merely stated that a “new advanced compound” had gone into building Nyoma ALG. But the army was pleased --- as a document with the Business Standard reveals --- at this infrastructure coup. The 2.7 kilometre airstrip was built in just 90 days by jawans who had never worked with RBI-81. All they had to do was to mix RBI-81 with local mud, sprinkle water over the surface and then run a road roller over the mixture. Hardening instantly, the surface easily withstands repeated landings by the 20-tonne AN-32.

Now RBI-81 is helping ease the chaos of Delhi’s preparations for next month’s Commonwealth Games. Here’s what just happened last week at the Siri Fort Sports Complex in South Delhi, the squash and badminton venue, to which Saina Nehwal will carry the hopes of a billion Indians. On 28th Aug morning, a flabbergasted CWG Organising Committee team discovered that the Siri Fort parking area and the roads inside the complex were still knee-deep bogs of churned up mud. With the games five weeks away, the contractor threw up his arms. Laying a concrete surface would take a week; and then 28 days would be needed for the concrete to set. If it rained, said the contractor, it would take longer.

Enter RBI-81. Ashwini Mundra, of contracting firm Salasar Marketing, undertook to prepare Siri Fort’s 1500 square metre parking area, in 48 hours using RBI-81. Work commenced at 1 p.m. on 30th afternoon; fourteen hours later, at 3 a.m. on the 31st, the job was completed. That morning, says Mundra, 100 buses were parked on the newly surfaced area.

The Delhi Development Authority’s Superintending Engineer, RK Gupta, who inspected the finished work, gave an unambiguous thumbs-up to RBI-81: “The Siri Fort Sports Complex is ready for use. This product is much faster than anything we have ever used before and the results are excellent. It is now in our sights for other projects.”

But RBI-81 is originally a military product and Alchemist Touchnology, which holds the licence to manufacture and sell RBI-81 in India, covets the Indian Army’s ongoing programme to construct 3429 kilometres of border roads in Himalayan altitudes, temperatures and weather conditions. Already the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is testing a road segment in J&K, constructed with RBI-81, to verify the company’s claims that the surface is waterproof, weatherproof and unaffected by temperatures from minus 40 to plus 60 degrees centigrade.

“The most attractive feature of this product is the economics”, says Gautam Gulati, a group Director with Alchemist, “An RBI-81 based road is almost 40% cheaper than a conventional tarmac or concrete road. Instead of multiple layers of stones, bricks and gravel, all you need is 2-3 layers of RBI-81 and the tarmac can be slapped on over that. A rural road, conforming to Pradhan Mantri Gram Sadak Yojana (PMGSY) standards, costs Rs 28.23 lakhs per kilometre built conventionally. If we use RBI-81 instead, the cost drops to Rs 18.52 lakhs, a saving of 36.87%.”

Even more important than the price advantage, say BRO officials, is the eco-friendliness of RBI-81, given the growing difficulty in obtaining environmental clearance for road projects. Firstly, building with RBI-81 reduces manual labour by more than 50% and, therefore, the administrative and security problems of moving hundreds of labourers for projects in sensitive areas. Furthermore, building with RBI-81 minimises stone quarrying and crushing, and transporting tonnes of stones to the project area.

Says the BRO official, “RBI-81 dramatically reduces the environmental and carbon footprint of road-building.”

Alchemist Touchnology plans to leverage this environmental advantage to market RBI-81 to India’s Ministry of Road Transport and Highways. Josy Cohen, the Chairman of Holland-registered RBI Global, which patented RBI-81 worldwide and licensed Alchemist Touchnology to produce and market the product in India, claims, “India’s highway building programme uses 175 million cubic metres of gravel annually. By using RBI-81, this can be reduced to just 20 million cubic metres per year.”

RBI-81 was originally developed in South Africa to build roads along that country’s troubled borders and increase the army’s mobility. Today, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) are major users of RBI-81. The IDF has rapidly constructed a network of roads from major towns and cities to border areas, permitting the rapid deployment of troops. Invisible from the air, these road surfaces are hard enough to prevent enemies from digging them up and planting mines.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

N-subs: India debates, China struggles

Images of China's new Jin-class SSBN. The Pentagon says there are significant problems with its Julang-2 missiles

(This is the concluding article of a four-part series on India's critical, yet significantly delayed, submarine programme)

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Sept 10

An increasingly apparent reason for the Ministry of Defence’s slow decision-making on a second submarine production line for the Indian Navy is: the deep divisions within the navy over India’s submarine force. A debate rages between the submarine arm and the surface navy — particularly the dominant aviation wing — on whether the future lies in submarines or aircraft carriers. The navy’s submariners, meanwhile, debate the merits of conventional versus nuclear-powered submarines.

Slowed by these internal debates, India’s 30-Year Submarine Construction Plan, which the government approved in 1999, has languished. The 30-Year plan envisioned building 24 conventional submarines in India. Six were to be built from western technology and six with Russian collaboration; then Indian designers, having absorbed the best of both worlds, would build 12 submarines indigenously. Project 75, to build six Scorpene submarines (the “western” six), was contracted in 2005. In this series of articles, Business Standard has reported that the MoD believes it is still 4-6 years away from Project 75I, i.e. beginning work on the second six submarines

A senior retired admiral, reflecting the views of the submarine arm, blames the navy’s “aircraft carrier lobby” for the delay in building submarines. He alleges: “The last two naval chiefs (Admirals Arun Prakash and Sureesh Mehta) were aviators, who had no interest in using the navy’s limited budget for building submarines. So they exploited the division of opinion amongst submariners — the nuclear-powered versus conventional submarine debate — to push submarine building into the future.”
Nuclear-powered submarines are of two types: ballistic missile submarines (called SSBNs) and attack submarines (referred to as SSNs). Both are propelled by power from a miniature on-board reactor, but SSBNs also fire nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. SSBNs are not a part of the fighting navy; they constitute a country’s nuclear deterrent and fire their nuclear-tipped missiles on orders from the national leadership. SSNs operate as part of a naval fleet, moving under nuclear power and sinking surface warships with conventional torpedoes and missiles.

Interestingly, India is the only country that has chosen to build SSBNs (the recently-launched INS Arihant, and two successor submarines) before building an SSN force. The reason has been a deeply felt need to operationalise the nuclear triad — land, sea and air-based nuclear delivery systems that India’s Draft Nuclear Doctrine stipulates as a secure second-strike capability.

But the possibility of an SSN force remains tantalisingly alive. In 2004 — when INS Arihant was being developed under the Advanced Technology Vessel, or ATV, programme — Admiral Arun Prakash, then navy chief, proposed that the ATV programme be enlarged to six SSBNs and four SSNs. This required the allocation of Rs 10,000 crore for the DRDO to develop the necessary technologies. Pranab Mukherjee, then the defence minister, backed the allocation of this funding. But, according to sources close to the ATV project, once AK Antony took over as defence minister in 2006, he backed off, insisting that the Prime Minister’s Office should take all decisions relating to India’s strategic nuclear programme. The proposal for funding technology development lapsed.

But the Director General of the DRDO, Dr VK Saraswat, confirms that an SSN could be developed without difficulty. Talking to Business Standard, Saraswat said, “I have no charter to build an SSN at the moment. But once the government takes a policy decision… we can start working on it. The only major difference between a nuclear powered attack submarine (i.e. an SSN) and an SSBN is weaponry, and the size changes. The technology for design, packaging, and integration remains similar.”

Votaries of nuclear submarines, such as Rear Admiral (Retired) Raja Menon, argue that nuclear-powered submarines have a crucial advantage over conventional ones: endurance. While conventional (diesel-electric) submarines are more quiet and harder to detect while submerged, they are easily picked up when they surface to charge their batteries. Furthermore, they move slowly underwater, unlike nuclear submarines, which can remain submerged almost indefinitely. This allows a single nuclear submarine — travelling underwater to its patrol station and remaining there, undetected, for months — to do the job of multiple conventional submarines, which give their position away when they surface at regular intervals.

Admiral Menon explains, “A single SSN can dominate an area 1,000 nautical miles (1,850 km) away as effectively as three conventional submarines, which require one submarine on station, another transiting to relieve it, and a third transiting back to refuel. If the patrol area is farther than 1,000 nautical miles, a single SSN does the job of five conventional submarines. That is why the US Navy fields an all-nuclear force.”

But Menon accepts that the Indian Navy would always need conventional submarines. India’s coastal waters are so shallow that SSNs, which typically weigh 4,000-5,000 tonnes, run the risk of scraping the bottom. Conventional submarines, which normally weigh around 1,500 tonnes, are needed for dominating the coastal areas. But the complexities of a nuclear submarine programme are evident from China’s current difficulties. The Pentagon’s recent report to the US Congress, entitled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, 2010” reveals that China’s SSN and SSBN programmes are in trouble. China relies on its four primitive Han-class attack submarines (Type 091), having decided to close construction of the newer Shen-class (Type 093). Currently, China is grappling with a newer Type 095 SSN; five of these could be added “in the coming years”.

China also faces problems in developing SSBNs. The first Xia-class (Type 092) SSBN line produced just one submarine, which was never deployed on a deterrence patrol. Then China shifted focus to a newer Jin-class (Type 094), of which the first SSBN “appears ready”, with four more under construction. However, the long-range ballistic missile for the Jin-class SSBNs, termed the Julang-2, has “encountered difficulty… failing several of what should have been the final round of flight tests.”