Tuesday, 30 November 2010

DRDO reverse-engineers process to manufacture world's most powerful explosive

A press release from the DRDO, issued today, is attached below:


New Delhi: Agrahayana 09, 1932
November 30, 2010

Move over RDX! That’s passé for the needs of the Indian Armed Forces. The DRDO is developing a powerful explosive, --- the CL-20, that can substantially reduce the weight and size of the warhead while packing much more punch. In fact, the RDX is not the standard explosive in use with the Indian Armed Forces; the warheads are mostly packed with HMX, FOX-7 or amorphous Boron.

Scientists at the Pune-based High Energy Materials Research Laboratory (HEMRL) have already synthesized adequate quantity of CL-20 in the laboratory. “It is the most powerful non-nuclear explosive yet known to man,” says Dr. AK Sikder, Joint Director, HEMRL, who heads the High Energy Materials Division. The compound, ‘Indian CL-20’ or ICL-20, was indigenously synthesized in the HEMRL laboratory using inverse technology, he added. “The HEMRL has taken India to an elite club of countries with advanced capabilities in the field of Energetic Materials,” said Shri Manish Bhardwaj, a senior Scientist with the HEMRL. In fact, the CL-20 is such a fascination for the HEMRL that a larger-than-life size model of the compound occupies the pride of place as one enters the portals of the main building of the DRDO's premier lab in Pune.

CL-20, so named after the China Lake facility of the Naval Air Weapons Station in California, US, was first synthesized by Dr. Arnold Nielson in 1987. CL-20, or Octa-Nitro-Cubane, is a Nitramine class of explosive 15 times as powerful as HMX, His/Her Majesty Explosive or High Melting Explosive or Octogen. The HMX itself is more than four times as potent as the Research Developed Explosive or Royal Demolition Explosive or Cyclonite or Hexogen, commonly known as RDX.

“CL-20 offers the only option within the next 10-15 years to meet the requirements of the Indian Armed Forces for Futuristic Weapons,” said Dr. Sikder. “CL-20 based Shaped Charges significantly improve the penetration over armours,” he said, adding that it could be used in the bomb for the 120-mm main gun mounted on the MBT-Arjun. “But the costs of mass production of ICL-20 are still prohibitive,” said Dr. Sikder. Compared to Rs.750 per kilogram it takes to produce RDX in the factory today, the HMX is worth about Rs.6,000 per kg while a kilogram of CL-20 costs a whopping Rs.70,000 per kg.

“We have a tie up with industry partner for intermediate commercial exploitation of ICL-20,” said Dr. A. Subhananda Rao, Director, HEMRL. About 100 kgs of ICL-20 has been produced by HEMRL in collaboration with the Premier Explosives Limited (PEL). The CL-20, which looks like limestone or grainy talcum powder, is being manufactured by the PEL factory at Peddakanlukur village in Nalgonda district of Andhra Pradesh. The Rs.60 crores Hyderabad-based company bagged the DRDO’s Defence Technology Absorption Award, 2007 worth Rs.Ten Lakhs, presented by Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh on May 12, 2008, their most prestigious award, claimed company sources.

“The advantage with the CL-20 is its Reduced Sensitivity,” said Dr. Sikder, enabling easy handling and transportation of the lethal weaponry. In fact, the HEMRL is concentrating on the Reduced Shock Sensitivity (RSS) explosives, such as RSS-RDX, which costs about Rs.1,500-2,000 per kg, and RSS-HMX. “There is a whole array of low sensitivity material or Insensitive Munitions we are working on,” said Dr. Rao. “The world around there is a lot of R&D being pumped into what are called the Green Explosives, as also the advanced Insensitive Munitions (IM) and RSS explosives,” added Dr. Sikder, which reduces the chances of mishap and loss to M4, - Men, Money, Materials and Machines.

The military, the media and the MoD

A veneer of civility: the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister with the three service chiefs at the combined commanders' conference earlier this year.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Nov 10

If the military’s response to the battering it has taken from a series of scams and scandals, which has been to stand about looking dazed, is any indicator of how it will behave in combat, let’s not go to war. In case after recent case — e.g. the Sukhna land use allegations; the CAG’s observations about troops being supplied outdated rations; the fake encounter in Machil, J&K; and the Adarsh housing society scam — the media has bombarded the military with a dizzying barrage of fact and fiction, while the defence PR machinery has done nothing to limit the damage.

Disempowered by the generals and ignored by the media, the PR managers are mere spectators. In their place, top generals walk out to bat on this crumbling wicket and find themselves predictably bowled. On Saturday, the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal P V Naik, while visiting the National Defence Academy Kharakvasala, responded thus to media interrogation on the Adarsh Society: “My message is not to get too influenced by these things. Only 1 per cent of the people are involved.”

This is not just statistical naiveté; 1 per cent of a military that has 1.8 million persons would add up to 18,000 corrupt people. More worryingly, it highlights the top brass’ apparent belief that they can simply brush off the growing public suspicion that venality is pervading the top levels of military command.

But there is a deeper structural reason behind the military’s abject surrender of a reputation for honesty that has been won over generations: the troubled relationship between the military and the Ministry of Defence (MoD). With the latter having arrogated to itself complete control over the military’s public relations, the MoD cell that handles the forces’ public interface focuses not on the military’s image, but on Defence Minister Antony’s. Headed by a competent joint secretary rank officer, with representatives from each of the three services, the MoD’s PR office has not, even in the face of the current media assault, masterminded any attempt to limit the damage or to shore up the military’s public image.

It would be shocking to suggest that the MoD deliberately undermines the military’s image. Nevertheless, the recent crises have illustrated that the MoD’s PR office does not advise or work with the generals in managing or limiting media-inflicted damage. This was most evident at the height of the Sukhna land use investigation, when the MoD’s PR machinery was assiduously relaying details of Mr Antony’s squeeze on the Army Chief, General Deepak Kapoor, even as the latter appeared to be oblivious to the built-up media pressure.

So why, the intelligent reader would query, does the military not get around to managing its own image? The answer: the army tried, but was shot down. Early this decade, the Army Liaison Cell (ALC) was created as an interface with the media, but the MoD quickly emasculated that body, circumscribing its role to render it incapable of managing day-to-day media relations, far less conceiving and implementing a sustained image-building programme. The air force and the navy quickly got the message and decided against setting up parallel structures.

Watchers of the Indian military will recognise a historical continuity in the MoD’s curbing of the ALC. India’s pre-Independence equilibrium between the viceroyalty, colonial bureaucracy and the military was transformed in 1947 into unmistakable domination by the newly-born “freedom-fighter” polity, which used the bureaucratic instrument to exercise a stranglehold over the military. This political-bureaucratic alliance has instinctively quashed the ALC, which it views as the army’s unacceptable attempt to assert jurisdiction over the crucial realm of public relations.

If the three chiefs were really intent on safeguarding the interests of the army, navy and the air force, they would jointly demand from Mr Antony the right for India’s most respected public institution to manage its own image, rather than reserving their combined advocacy for issues relating to remuneration and inter-se parity with the bureaucracy. Renewing in the public mind the Indian soldier’s traditional associations of izzat (respect) and imandari (honesty) would far better serve the jawan than a few hundred rupees.

For this to happen, the military needs to accept and internalise that the new activism of the Indian media is indeed corroding its public image. The services must develop a more sophisticated understanding of media functioning, which can only come from working within the media for sufficient periods. But “embedding” future PR officers within the media, perhaps for one-year or two-year secondments, has not even been considered by the military, far less the painful process of pushing such revolutionary ideas through an unwilling bureaucracy. Despite the enterprise and ingenuity of the average army colonel (full disclosure: I was one such!), the army’s PROs who are pushed into the ALC for two-year tenures struggle to adapt to an unfamiliar and hostile environment rather than successfully fashioning the military’s image.

It seems likely that — given eroding societal and public mores and increased activism of the Indian media (leaving aside for later a discussion of the media’s own mores) — the military will face a growing clamour of allegations of wrongdoing, many of them founded on truth. With the MoD’s current PR set-up, oriented towards the ministry rather than the military, the absence of military PR structures could cause painful and avoidable damage at the hands of media kangaroo courts.

This is not to suggest that many of the recent allegations against the military are baseless or motivated. What is needed is to recognise the malaise and to counter it effectively, not pretend that the issue is so insignificant that it will melt away by itself. Despite the evident decline on the battlements, the foundations of the military remain strong. It is this message that a new breed of PR managers must effectively convey.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

BEL says new coastal surveillance system is ready

Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs), built by Goa Shipyard Ltd, at the new Kochi coastal police station, in Fort, Kochi. The Home Ministry is paying for 204 FIBs for 73 new stations

By Ajai Shukla
Bangalore, Business Standard, 27th Nov 10

At least one of the lessons of the Mumbai terror strike of 26/11 --- when ten Laskhar-e-Toiba terrorists set out from Karachi, hijacked an Indian fishing boat, the MV Kuber, and sailed into the heart of Mumbai undetected --- have been fully absorbed by the government. The approaches to India’s coastline will soon be amongst the most carefully watched waters in the world.

In the aftermath of 26/11, the apex Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) issued detailed orders, and allocated funds, to implement a Coastal Surveillance Scheme, to ensure a 24x7x365 watch over India’s 7600-kilometre coastline so that no hostile elements could sneak in by sea again.

The Coastal Surveillance Scheme is ready for implementation. It relies on a chain of electro-optic sensors --- i.e. radars, and day and night cameras --- that are being installed on lighthouses and towers that look out at the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. The key challenge in setting up the scheme has been in transmitting the data picked up from multiple sensors all along the coast to surveillance centres located in the interior, and then integrating that data into a coherent operational picture.

That problem has now been solved, says defence PSU, Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL), which is putting the finishing touches on the software for the Coastal Surveillance Scheme. On a visit to BEL Bangalore, Business Standard was demonstrated how the Rs 700 crore system would function within a Remote Operating Station, the name for the Coast Guard surveillance centre that would be receiving data from a chain of lighthouses and towers along the coast. Advanced “data fusion” techniques are then employed to integrate all that information.

“Data fusion has been a key design challenge”, affirms BEL’s R&D chief, I V Sarma. “If two adjoining radars pick up a single boat, which often happens, the software must recognised that and combine those two images into that of a single boat. Fortunately, BEL had built up enormous experience in data fusion while developing the navy’s Combat Management Systems, which also integrates the inputs from multiple radars on board a warship; and also while building an Integrated Air Command and Control System for the IAF.”

Besides integrating multiple inputs into a common operational picture, the software allows the Remote Operating Station to remotely manipulate its coastal radars and cameras --- through a Camera Management System --- to observe suspicious objects in greater detail. In a quick demonstration staged for Business Standard, an oil tanker, which had been detected by a thermal-imaging night vision camera at a distance of 36 kilometers from the coast, was declared a suspicious vessel. A click by the operator on the oil tanker’s screen image automatically fed its coordinates to the camera, which zoomed in quickly, giving the operator a detailed look.

“The cameras and radars are Israeli”, admit the BEL operators, “but we are working on developing them indigenously.”

The software also performs other tasks that include monitoring the health of the remote systems; and an alarm system that alerts the operators when a vessel enters a designated “sensitive zone”;

In Phase 1, the coast guard is setting up 46 electro-optic sensor stations in high-threat areas, and 12 Remote Operating Stations. This will be expanded in Phase 2 to cover the entire coastline within three years. The most recent installations are radar stations in Dwarka and Navodra, which feed into a Remote Operating Station at Porbandar, about 100 km away. Distance is irrelevant, with data being transmitted through two dedicated lines of 2 MBPS each.

The 12 Remote Operating Stations feed into one of four Regional Operating Centres at Mumbai, Kochi, Chennai and Visakhapatanam. Finally, all this information is fed in real time to the apex Control Centre at New Delhi, where it is integrated into a single national-level picture.

For this, the Ministry of Home Affairs is the nodal agency but coordinates with multiple agencies, including the coastal state governments; the fisheries department; the department of lighthouses and lightships; and port authorities, amongst others.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Two years after 26/11, coastal security builds muscle

A newly-built coastal police station at Kochi. The Home Ministry has financed 73 such stations across India's 9 coastal states and 4 coastal union territories.

by Ajai Shukla
Kochi, Business Standard, 26th Nov 10

Two years after ten Pakistani terrorists sailed undetected from Karachi to Mumbai and exposed multiple vulnerabilities in India’s internal security, the government’s most successful response has perhaps been in boosting coastal security. After having long regarded its northern land border as the key security challenge, New Delhi has made significant headway in devising and implementing a new Coastal Security Scheme (CSS).

The new frontline against seaborne terror is guarded by a brand new network of 73 coastal police stations, like the one at Kochi that Business Standard visited. Differentiating it from the traditional thana, the exterior sports a smart blue-and-white maritime motif; inside, the chairs still bear their original plastic protective covering. Parked on the waterfront are three Fast Interceptor Boats (FIBs), built by Goa Shipyard Limited especially for the coastal police, which cleave through the water at 70 kilometres per hour.

For three hours daily a sea-going police patrol --- motivated by a sea-going allowance of 50% of basic pay --- checks fishing boats for registration papers and identity documents. A “Kadalora Jagratha Samithi” (Coastal Awareness Committee), set up in each coastal district, uses the dynamic fisherfolk networks to monitor activities across the fishing grounds and to report any suspicious activity to a toll-free number --- 1093 --- which routes the call automatically to the nearest coastal police station.

Although policing is a state subject, all this is paid for by New Delhi, through a lump sum allocation of Rs 400 crores for setting up the coastal police network, and Rs 150 crores each year for running expenses, including fuel and maintenance for the boats.

India’s 7600-kilometre maritime border runs through 9 states --- Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Orissa and West Bengal --- and 4 union territories: Daman & Diu; Lakshadweep; Puducheri; and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands. After the Mumbai terror attack of 26/11, New Delhi decided that the desperately needed coastal police network could not be held hostage to the precarious financial situation of many states.

Besides funding, New Delhi also allocated clear responsibilities for coastal security. The Cabinet Committee for Security (CCS), meeting soon after 26/11, charged the Indian Navy with overall responsibility for maritime security. The Coast Guard was made responsible for security within India’s territorial waters, which extend 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) from the shore. The new coastal police stations would maintain security up to 5 nautical miles (about 9 kilometres) from the coast, as well as on the shore.

Despite this new clarity the difficulties in implementing the Coastal Security Scheme are staggering, involving the monitoring of 3331 designated coastal villages, tens of thousands of fishing boats, and securing dozens of major and non-major ports and harbours.

This will be achieved, senior MoHA officials tell Business Standard, with the help of three ongoing initiatives:

(a) The issue of biometric identity cards to all fishermen. This is being handled by state governments, with the Department of Fisheries as the nodal agency. In Kerala, for example, ITT Palakkad has already begun collecting biometric data from the fisherfolk community. The MoHA is funding this initiative with Rs 25-30 crores as start-up money.

(b) The National Population Register, being compiled by the Registrar General of India for the 2011 census, has been fast tracked for coastal regions. This process will be linked with the smart card initiative mentioned above.

(c) The third initiative requires the registration of all sailing vessels under the Department of Fisheries. Already, boats larger than 20 feet require an Auto Identification System, without which they would be treated as potentially unfriendly vessels. Now, the Ministry of Shipping is studying a Ministry of Defence request to make this compulsory even for boats below 20 feet length.

Although the navy has been given overall responsibility for coastal security, the coast guard --- which also safeguards India’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) of 2.08 million square kilometres --- is being rapidly expanded for the Coastal Security Scheme. On 25th October, Defence Minister Antony informed senior Coast Guard commanders that the coast guard had been sanctioned an additional 4026 personnel, a strength increase of more than 30%. And the coast guard’s current fleet of 91 surface ships and 45 aircraft is being more than doubled.

But the physical policing of the coastline and territorial water is just one dimension of the Coastal Security Scheme. Also nearing completion is a high-tech surveillance network for keeping a 24x7 visual and electronic watch over the approaches to India’s coastline.

(Tomorrow: Safeguarding the coastline: India’s electronic fence)

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Initial indications that Russia could sell China the Su-35

In the context of the Broadsword discussion on the F-35, I am posting a couple of articles that indicate that China is heading towards Gen-5 too. With the Russian Su-35 in their hands, the normal Chinese process of taking forward that technology will begin.

The article below is courtesy defpro.com:

Russia ready to sell Su-35 fighter jets to China 

09:18 GMT, November 17, 2010 HUHAI (China) | According to RIA Novosti, Russia's state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport said on Tuesday it was ready to hold talks with China on the delivery of advanced Su-35 fighter aircraft to the Chinese air force.

"We are ready to work with our Chinese partners to this end [Su-35 deliveries]," Deputy General Director of Rosoboronexport Alexander Mikheyev said at the Airshow China 2010, which is being held on November 16-21 in Zhuhai.

The Su-35 Flanker-E, powered by two 117S engines with thrust vectoring, combines high maneuverability and the capability to effectively engage several air targets simultaneously using both guided and unguided missiles and weapon systems.

Russia's Sukhoi aircraft maker earlier said it planned to start deliveries of the new aircraft, billed as "4++ generation using fifth-generation technology," to foreign clients in 2011 and produce Su-35s over a period of 10 years up to 2020.

China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition (Airshow China) is the only international aerospace trade show in China that is endorsed by the Chinese central government. The biannual arms exhibition has been held in Zhuhai since 1996. (RIA Novosti)


And the article below this is courtesy the Early Warning Blog:

Sale Of Russian Fighters To China Undermines Gates Decision On F-22

17:07 GMT, November 22, 2010 Defense publications are reporting that Russia is considering selling its newest fighter, the SU-35, to China. The SU-35 has enhanced radar, improved avionics, better flight surfaces, a more powerful engine and larger fuel tanks. Aviation experts characterize the SU-35 as a Generation 4+ aircraft. This is just a short technological step behind the U.S. F-35, the future mainstay of the U.S. fighter fleet.

China’s Air Force is in the midst of a major modernization program that is focused in particular on improving its ability to defend against air and ballistic/cruise missile threats. China has acquired advanced air superiority and strike aircraft from Russia while simultaneously focusing on domestic production of ever-better aircraft. From Russia, the Chinese Air Force has purchased some 100 variants of the advanced SU-30 and 76 SU-27s, both fourth generation fighters. China has deployed more than 300 J-10, 11 and 17s, all fourth generation fighters. In addition, the Chinese Air Force has some 500 third generation J-7 and 8s in service. In addition to China’s nearly 1000 third and fourth generation fighters, the Air Force also deploys some 700 third and fourth generation strike aircraft. There are reports that China is helping to finance Russian work on a fifth-generation fighter, the T-50. Like the U.S. fifth generation F-22 and F-35, the T-50 is reported to incorporate stealth features.

The potential SU-35 sale is but one element in a broad and deep effort by the Chinese Air Force to modernize its air defense capabilities. The recently released Annual Report of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission provided an ominous picture of the growing Chinese air and missile defense threat. "Today many, but not all, of China's fighters can fire beyond-visual-range missiles." The report goes on to warn about the growth of China’s air defense capabilities. China now has "one of the world's best ground-based air defense networks” and, “would pose a difficult challenge for even the most modern air forces in the region.” China has deployed around 100 surface-to-air (SAM) missile batteries with nearly 1,000 missile launchers, including between 16 and 32 batteries of Russian-built S-300s, the so-called triple-digit SAM that Russia recently refused to sell to Iran.

When Secretary of Defense Robert Gates decided in 2009 to cap the U.S. F-22 program at 187 aircraft it was with the expectation that China would be relatively slow to deploy advanced fourth-generation fighters and that Russia would not produce a fifth-generation aircraft for many years to come. The pace of the Chinese aircraft modernization program and the first flight of the T-50 earlier this year would appear to undermine Gates’ logic for halting the F-22 program. Within a decade, the small fleet of U.S. F-22s could face hundreds of advanced Chinese fourth and even fifth-generation fighters.

China’s aircraft modernization program should also cast a different light on the F-35 program. Recent calls by deficit reduction groups for reducing the size and scope of the F-35 program need to recognize the intolerable pressure this would place on the F-22 fleet. Had Secretary Gates decided to go with the Air Force’s proposal to acquire some 332 F-22s the situation today would be very different. Without an adequate F-22 fleet, the F-35 became the defense department’s most important modernization program


Tuesday, 23 November 2010

First Akash missile system to fill gap in air defence

Right: Vehicle-mounted sub-systems of the IAF's first Akash squadron, nearing completion at BEL, Bangalore. The first Akash squadron will be deployed at Gwalior Air Base by March 2011.

Left: An Akash missile launcher, with dummy missiles, on display at Defexpo 2010 in New Delhi.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 2010
BEL, Bangalore

With crucial Indian defence and nuclear establishments and vital infrastructure facilities open to an enemy air strike, many in India’s military consider the shortage of anti-aircraft guns, missiles and radars as our single greatest security vulnerability.

For two decades, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has blocked overseas purchases, to allow the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) to indigenously develop anti-aircraft missile systems for replacing the obsolete Russian weaponry currently dotted around key headquarters, air bases, atomic power plants, nuclear installations and facilities like the Bhakra Nangal dam.

It has been a dangerous gamble. If war had broken out, the ineffectiveness of these Russian systems, especially the 50-year-old Pechora missile, would have forced the Indian Air Force (IAF) to use its combat aircraft more for defending Indian ground forces against enemy fighters than for attacking targets in enemy territory.

But that gamble is finally beginning to pay off, with India’s first modern air defence system readying to roll off the assembly line. On an exclusive visit to Bharat Electronics (BEL) in Bangalore, Business Standard was given the first-ever media look at an operational Akash missile system, which will be delivered to the IAF by March 2011. This first Akash squadron will protect the Gwalior Air Base, where the IAF bases its Mirage-2000 fighters.

BEL will follow this up quickly with a second Akash squadron by December 2011, which will safeguard Lohegaon Air Base at Pune, a major base for the front-line Sukhoi-30MKI fighters. Meanwhile, another defence public sector undertaking, Bharat Dynamics, will build six more Akash squadrons, most of these for the IAF’s new fighter bases along the Sino-Indian border, including Tezpur, Bagdogra and Hasimara.

“BEL is building two Akash squadrons for Rs 1,221 crore,” says Ashwini Datt, BEL’s Chairman and Managing Director. “The ground infrastructure would cost another Rs 200 crore, so each squadron effectively costs about Rs 700 crore. That is not just significantly cheaper than foreign procurement, but also permits better maintenance and allows for continuous technological improvements.”

DRDO and MoD sources say the Indian Army is close to ordering a high-mobility version of Akash, mounted on T-72 tanks, that can move alongside tank forces. One of the army’s three strike corps, which attack deep into enemy territory, has no anti-aircraft “area defence system”; the other two strike corps are equipped with the vintage Russian SA-6, designed in the early-1960s. This makes them dangerously vulnerable to enemy fighters if they advance deep into enemy territory.

The Akash – developed by the DRDO, in partnership with BEL, under the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme – is a sophisticated amalgam of systems working in concert. The heart of the Akash is a mobile Rohini radar, which can detect an aircraft when it is 120 kilometres (km) away; automatically, a coded electronic interrogator ascertains whether this is an IAF aircraft, or a civilian airliner. With the target identified, the Rohini radar alerts the Akash squadron headquarters, which then controls the engagement.

As the enemy fighter races in at about 15 km per minute, the task of shooting it down is allocated through a secure digital link to one of the squadron’s two missile “flights”, which are normally about 25 km away, to cover the maximum area. The designated Flight Control Centre locks its sophisticated 3D phased-array radar onto the enemy fighter and calculates the launch parameters for an Akash missile to shoot down the target at its maximum range of 25 km.

Meanwhile, the flight’s four Akash launchers raise their missiles to the launch positions and swivel automatically towards the incoming aircraft. At the calculated time of launch, the Flight Control Centre electronically passes a launch order to one of its four launchers. An audio signal starts beeping and the missile operator presses the launch button, which is quaintly labelled “MARO”. A “ripple” of two missiles roars off the launcher, seconds apart, to increase the chances of a hit. The 3D radar guides the missiles throughout their flight, homing them onto the enemy aircraft. The DRDO claims that a two-missile “ripple” will destroy an enemy fighter 98 per cent of the time.

The dangerous shortage of India’s air defence resources has been known to Business Standard for some time, but can only now be publicly revealed, with the induction of the Akash remedying the situation. The number of installations that need protection – each is termed a Vulnerable Area (VA) or a Vulnerable Point (VP), depending upon how large it is – has steadily increased. In a letter written on December 4, 2002, to the MoD, the IAF’s Air Marshal Raghu Rajan pointed out that a study by the military’s apex Chiefs of Staff Committee, ordered by the Cabinet Secretariat, had identified 101 Indian VAs/VPs in 1983. That went up to 122 in 1992; to 133 in 1997; and is now understood to be well above 150.

Without the anti-aircraft resources needed to protect these VAs/VPs, the outdated Pechora missiles, which began service in 1974 with a designated life of nine years, have been granted repeated extensions. The Russian manufacturers extended the life to 15 years; when they refused any further extensions, the DRDO extended it unilaterally to 21 years. By 2004, only 30 Pechora units of the 60 originally imported were still in service.

On January 15, 2003, the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal S Krishnaswamy, wrote to the MoD saying that 60 per cent of India’s VAs/VPs could no longer be provided anti-aircraft protection. The IAF’s top officer wrote: “By 2004… terminal defence of VA/VPs would be only notional… We need to import minimal number of systems to meet our national defence needs.”

Seven years later, the roll-out of the Akash from BEL will begin to fill this gap

Monday, 15 November 2010

US-India relations: The elephants are mating

US first lady, Michelle Obama, showing her dance moves at Mumbai. I don't know if she practiced before coming to India, but she picked up the steps with remarkable speed.

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Nov 10

Sceptics of the US-India engagement, who had contemplated President Obama’s recent state visit to India with noisy lip smacking in the gleeful anticipation of failure, have been left bemused by the outcome. On the one hand, there was friction and public jostling, including American-style homilies on free trade and the duty to foster democracy in Myanmar; and Indian-style obstinacy on the nuclear liability bill. On the other hand, Obama greatly pleased India by linking Pakistan with terrorism, and by backing an Indian permanent seat on the UN Security Council.

Welcome to elephant mating, the coming together of fractious democracies. The grass gets trampled, but there are tangible, positive outcomes. A polarised Indian intelligentsia, and a trivialising media, which have made an easy living from milking positional divergences to predict doom for the US-India relationship, must learn to abandon such simplistic linkages. Trampled grass could also indicate a great communion.

The ardour and pace of the US-India courtship has been apparently masked by the friction that has accompanied it. Compare the relationship of a decade ago --- the blink of an eye in strategic time --- with where we are today. In 1999, reacting to India’s nuclear weapon tests, Republican senator Jesse Helms, the influential chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, declared that “The Indian government has not shot itself in the foot. Most likely it has shot itself in the head.” That Quixotic statement was positively respectful compared to America’s Cold War view of India. On 5th Nov 1971, as India readied for war with Pakistan, President Richard Nixon and Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, heartily agreed that Indians were “a slippery treacherous people” and “the most aggressive goddam people around”. Kissinger referred to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as “a bitch”; Nixon termed her “an old witch”.

All that ice is turning rapidly into steam. From Jaswant Singh’s dialogue with Strobe Talbott, through the Clinton and Bush visits, the 18th July 2005 declaration; the defence pact of that same year, the nuclear deal of 2008, and now Obama’s cool-but-enthusiastic embrace of India, US-India relations have hurtled along dizzyingly. But India’s strateratti has been so fixated on the inevitable differences, while Washington and New Delhi try to harmonise issues like (a) commercial and trade relations; (b) civil nuclear commerce; (c) intelligence sharing and homeland security; (d) defence trade and partnership; and (e) technology sharing; that analysts have overlooked the convergence on the really big issues: counter-terrorism, intelligence sharing, a rising China, India’s ambitions in the Indian Ocean and East Asia, and --- in private discussions --- even on the future of Pakistan.

The US-India relationship will continue to be misread until India recognises that relations with a democratic superpower --- tossed about by the expectations of two separate electorates --- will be inevitably more complex than the stolid handshake of the Soviet Union, or the posturing and sloganeering of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).

India’s expectations from the American partnership remain coloured by the India-Soviet Union experience, where superpower partnership was essentially a free ride. During the Cold War, India had only to provide the Soviet Union with the badge of political support from a third world leader, to reap rich dividends of development, technological and military aid. This was often politically embarrassing, especially when the Soviet Union indulged its proclivity for invading neighbouring countries, but New Delhi held its nose and shut its eyes and was repaid by unwavering Soviet support at crucial periods, such as the 1971 Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, Article IX of which invoked Soviet intervention if a foreign power --- China or the US were key concerns then --- intervened militarily during India’s liberation of Bangladesh.

Today, with India’s foreign policy based on simultaneous, and synergistic, engagement with every global power centre --- call it multi-alignment --- New Delhi’s careful engagement of Washington is radically different from its old, no-questions-asked support to Moscow. Not even the staunchest enthusiast of US-India partnership advocates that New Delhi hitches its wagon --- poodle style --- to Washington, backing its foreign policy follies and participating in its military adventures. But Indian expectations are asymmetric: many Indians expect that New Delhi can legitimately choose where it will support Washington, but the US must support India everywhere.

While this is clearly unrealistic, America’s image in this country is challenged by the fact that Washington’s imperatives in AfPak --- an emotive symbol in much of India and, especially in policy and media circles --- are damaging to Indian interests. Diplomats contrast this with the Soviet Union, recalling its hands-off policy towards South Asia, and correctly pointing out that Moscow never imposed political costs on India by its actions in our region. But the world has changed, our backyard is a key battleground against terrorism, and so pragmatism, not petulance, will bring Washington around.

Given Pakistan’s control over land routes into Afghanistan, there is a practical logic behind Washington’s tolerance for Islamabad, even knowing that it is being backstabbed. That contradiction between America’s imperatives in Afghanistan and its frustration at Islamabad’s double-dealing will work to India’s advantage after a US military pullout. But India has its own contradictions: New Delhi wants US troops to remain in Afghanistan, knowing well the dependence this creates on Pakistan.

These complexities make AfPak the most challenging of diplomatic tightropes for Washington and New Delhi. That Obama publicly linked Pakistan with terrorism may have gratified his hosts, but that statement says less about any willingness to block India-directed terror, than it does about Washington’s intense desire to place the India relationship on a firmer footing. Post-Obama, the partnership is in cruise mode, being carried along by the sheer breadth of the engagement, especially the people-to-people dynamic. All that can derail this momentum is another major blunder like Obama’s ill-considered G-2 offer to China, essentially offering it the role of assistant superpower, which would presumably lord it over India. But Obama, it seems, is learning on the job.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

In Dharamsala: doing Tibet-related research for my book


Won't be very active on the blog this fortnight, for the reason given above!

Hold fast!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

In major shift, DRDO looks at building arms with America

Dr Prahlada, the DRDO's Chief Controller (Aerospace & Services Interaction) believes that, within a decade, the DRDO will be partnering US entities in developing military systems

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Nov 10

India is co-developing and building missiles and military aircraft with Russia; it is co-developing missiles with Israel. But targeted American sanctions, and a Washington licence raj that stifles the outflow of military technology, has ensured that India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has never co-developed weaponry with the world’s most evolved and high-tech defence industry: that of the United States.

The US, in turn --- even while selling billions of dollars worth of military aircraft to India --- has failed to mine the MoD’s richest lode: joint development contracts like the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), which will be signed next month with a corpus of US $12 billion, which could rise to over US $20 billion. Or like the US $2 billion partnership between the DRDO and Israel Aerospace Industries to co-develop an anti-aircraft missile.

But that seems likely to change with Washington agreeing, during the run up to President Obama’s just-concluded visit, to relax controls on technology and defence exports. Top DRDO officials now believe that, given the growing closeness between the US and India, the two defence establishments would be jointly developing high-tech military weaponry by 2020.

Dr Prahlada, the DRDO’s Chief Controller, told Business Standard just ahead of the US president’s visit, “Within a decade, we will have major joint collaboration. Maybe in aeronautics, maybe radars… something will click. We are working with Israel and Russia in missiles; with the US we may work on something else. Both countries are moving towards that.”

The DRDO, aware of the US defence industry’s technological self-sufficiency, believes that India’s key attraction would revolve around lowering the cost of a product through cheaper development and testing costs. And, as the US defence budget plateaus and even reduces, the assured custom from India’s military would add significant economies of scale.

The DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat, is explicit about the military projects that the US and India could undertake jointly. He says, “We have discussed this many times. India has an excellent base in IT, especially computer simulation, virtual reality, and robotics. In any contemporary military platform, you need command and control and communications software. We have some of the best brains in this area and we can develop these systems for both India and the US. If these Indian strengths are harnessed with American technologies, we could build the best and the cheapest military systems in the world.

As the DRDO notches up successes in high-tech fields like missiles, aerospace, electronic warfare systems and command networks, its senior officials are confident that their laboratories have much to offer. Says Prahlada, “American and European companies earlier believed that Indian defence R&D was at some lower level. But now they listen and observe because they know that we have developed systems of complexity and that… if they do not work with us, we will somehow find a solution. So that is not there. Definitely there is an improved way of looking at India.”

While the Indo-US Defence Policy Group (DPG) --- a joint deliberative body that meets regularly --- has long provided a forum for exploring research areas, Saraswat complains that US legal restraints have hamstrung its work: “We have identified areas where we can work together. But the US legal framework --- regimes such as the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR); and the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) --- require many permissions and raise legal issues on dual-use technology.”

Now, after Obama’s unambiguous promise to reform export controls, the DRDO expects that many of these difficulties will ease.

According to Dr Saraswat, the US technology regimes have permitted cooperation in fundamental research, but not in developing specific technologies or military systems. The DRDO chief explains, “If we wanted to do research on, say, bio-medical engineering then it is okay (with the US). But there would be hesitation on their part for research on, say, hypersonic technology, which is used in missiles.”

Washington’s technology safeguard regimes have hindered not just military joint R&D, but also Indian academics researching in US institutions. Saraswat says, “A large number of Indian scientists go and work in the US universities etc, but when it comes to really doing research in application areas these US laws are not permitting cooperation in application-oriented research.”

DRDO wary despite Obama’s “Entity List” announcement

The DRDO has told Business Standard that it will delink the military satellite development programme from ISRO in order to protect the latter from any technology denial regimes

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Nov 10

If, as New Delhi has declared, access to US high-technology is a crucial Indian motivator for a close relationship with America, a brief announcement by President Barack Obama, in his address to parliament on Monday, could have been one of the key achievements of his visit.

Halfway through his speech, President Obama stated, “We need to forge partnerships in high-tech sectors like defence and civil space. So we have removed Indian organizations from our so-called “Entity List.” And we’ll work to reform our controls on exports. Both of these steps will ensure that Indian companies seeking high-tech trade and technologies from America are treated the same as our closest allies and partners.”

The Entity List (it is unclear why President Obama referred to it as “the so-called Entity List”) is an American tool to control the export of dual-use and strategic materials and systems. It is maintained under the Export Administration Regulations (EAR) of the US Department of Commerce (DoC). American firms and businessmen require specific licences from the DoC before supplying specified items to foreign businesses, research institutions, government and private organizations and individuals on that list.

Four Indian organisations feature, in part or in full, on the Entity List: Bharat Dynamics Limited, which makes the short-range missiles --- called Prithvi and Dhanush --- in India’s strategic nuclear deterrent. Also proscribed is the “Missile Research and Development Complex”, a group of four Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) laboratories near Hyderabad, which make India’s intermediate-range (700-5000 kilometres) Agni-series ballistic missiles. The list also features key facilities of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). Finally, the Entity List includes several establishments from the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE).

Much remains unclear in Obama’s announcement: have all Indian organisations been removed from the “Entity List”, or merely a selected few? Does Obama’s call for partnership in “defence and civil space” mean that military space programmes will continue to face sanctions?

It seems clear that, while BDL, ISRO and the DRDO could well be taken off the Entity List, the DAE entities are likely to remain proscribed until Washington and New Delhi agree on acceptable verification measures.

Dr VK Saraswat, the DRDO Director General, told Business Standard before the Obama visit: “The issue is one of dual use technology. What is used in conventional weapons may also be used in strategic systems (like nuclear-tipped missiles). That fear stops the US from transferring high technology.

Despite Obama’s call, India’s defence and space establishments continue to work under the shadow of sanctions, separating civil from military so that a ban on one would not affect the other. The strategic missile programme, under the DRDO, was long ago separated from ISRO’s space rocket programme even though they deal in broadly similar technologies. And Business Standard learned that, in the run-up to Obama’s visit, the DRDO also firewalled its planned military satellite programme from ISRO’s civil satellite development and launch programme, which could soon be a global leader in commercial launches. This was to ensure that the US could not proscribe ISRO by accusing it of involvement in the militarization of space.

Dr Prahlada, a DRDO Chief Controller, explained the rationale to Business Standard just days before Obama’s arrival, “The DRDO will soon set up its own exclusive organisation for military satellites. We do not want to involve ISRO in the military satellite business. Their collaborations might be questioned; they may not get permits; their satellite programme might suffer. So we will set up our own laboratories.”

According to Dr Saraswat, the DRDO’s satellites will be very different from ISRO’s communications, navigation, cartographic and meteorological satellites. The DRDO’s disposable mini-satellites, which would be built for surveillance, intelligence and electronic warfare, could be quickly launched into a low-earth orbit over a theatre of battle only for the duration of the conflict. Since these would not need expensive and time-consuming launches into geo-synchronous orbit, they could be written off after fulfilling their purpose.

Currently 27 Chinese entities, many of which have multiple sub-entities, feature on the Entities List. In addition, the list features another 36 entities based in Hong Kong, many of which are merely addresses or individuals, presumably used as conduits for shipments of dual-use technologies to Mainland China.

The Entities List also features 19 Pakistani entities, many of them apparently innocuous, e.g. “Orient Importers and Exporters, Islamabad”.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

The full case for scrapping the MMRCA tender and buying the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter

By Ajai Shukla

I thought that airing my view about the folly of buying a 4th-Gen fighter at this point in time would stir up a debate and it has. Many good responses have been posted on Broadsword, along with some not-so-relevant ones. And, of course, there is the usual bunch of whiners striking up the to-be-expected chorus of, “you’ve been bribed by Lockheed Martin”.

I’m beginning to believe the stinging observation by many foreigners that Indians don’t know how to argue at an intellectual plane. If we disagree with an argument, we try to discredit, not disprove.

Although I delete some posts during vetting (but only on the grounds of verbosity, irrelevance, or communalism/racism/xenophobia) I never remove the “you’ve been bribed” allegations. At some stage, I’ll be able to go back and count them and quantify exactly how whiney Indian bloggers are.

Fortunately, there are plenty of good posts, which attempt to contradict my arguments robustly without getting into name-calling. To acknowledge them, here is my full-length response, laying out the full case for the F-35 and rebutting the many misconceptions around that fighter’s role, ability, cost, availability, etc.

Operational necessity: air supremacy, or ground strike?

What are India’s foreseeable security threats and how must the IAF equip and train itself to face them? While Pakistan remains a lingering hangover, especially in its embrace of cross-border terrorism, it is diminishing as a full-blown military threat to India. The IAF’s most likely missions against Pakistan centre on air-to-ground strikes: punitive raids against terrorist camps or ISI locations, perhaps in retaliation for yet another terrorist outrage; or pre-emptive strikes against Pakistani ballistic missiles when a nuclear launch against India seems imminent.

A devastating ground strike capability is also primary for contingencies on the China border. With Beijing relentlessly developing roads and railways to the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the People’s Liberation Army has already built, and is increasing, the ability to amass an invading force faster than the Indian Army can rush in troops to defend the threatened area. When an attack is imminent, or some Indian territory has already been occupied, New Delhi’s immediate response would inevitably centre on air strikes against PLA forward troops and the routes on which their logistics --- ammunition, fuel, food, water and medical care --- depend. In the 1962 debacle one of New Delhi’s most unforgivable, and inexplicable, blunders was to abjure the use of air power. This time around, as evident from the rapid creation of IAF infrastructure along the China border, India’s first response will be with air strikes.

Given these requirements, it is evident that the IAF needs a highly developed ground strike capability. But the fighter pilots that dominate the pinnacle of the IAF (and every other air force) have an overriding fascination for “air supremacy fighters”. The IAF has traditionally focused less on enemy ground troops and more on that fighter-jock ambition, shooting down enemy fighters in air-to-air duels. The Indian Army has long remonstrated with the IAF over the latter’s airy neglect (pun unintentional) of the crucial ground war. There needs to be a clear realisation that India’s wars --- in an environment where territorial integrity is a fundamental concern --- will be won and lost on the ground. For that reason, the IAF must be held to a ground strike capability.

The Su-30MKI for ground strikes?

For those who try to equate the ground attack capability of the Su-30MKI with that of the F-35, remember: ground attack capability is not a function merely of bomb-load; it is all about the ability to deliver high explosive ACCURATELY without sustaining unacceptable casualties to our strike force. That involves flying through a hostile EW and radar environment and reaching the target area without being detected or being detected too late; fighting one’s way to the target if needed; locating and identifying the target; delivering a weapons load accurately; and then fighting one’s way back to base. In fulfilling this comprehensive mission profile, the F-35 will be the granddaddy of any living fighter, including our Sukhois.

Those who argue that the F-35 can only carry a small bomb load are comparing chalk with cheese: equating a full external profile on other aircraft with an “internal only” profile on the F-35. While there are missions that the F-35 might be required to fly with only internal bomb-loads --- e.g. pre-emptive strikes on radar locations, airbases, headquarters, etc… or to take out nuclear missile sites --- The F-35 will, for the most part, support ground troops with full internal and external bomb loads, even at the cost of some of its stealth. The aircraft will remain a pilot’s dream in difficult strike missions like high-accuracy strikes on mountain-top targets 1000 kilometres away: the F-35 delivers more anti-surface weaponry, with higher accuracy, than any comparable fighter. And its 360-degree cockpit awareness, with total avionics integration and sensor fusion, allows a single pilot to fly and function as weapons systems officer.

The F-35’s range, achieved with internal fuel (rather than external fuel tanks that displace bombs), is more than adequate for the IAF, whose airbases in Assam are just 100-200 kilometres from the Sino-Indian border. With 8 tonnes of weaponry (mix-and-match, according to the mission) carried on six external and four internal pylons, the F-35 packs more punch than any of its Gen-4 rivals, including the brutish Su-30MKI, a bigger, heavier, easily detected aircraft.

MMRCA advocates are being simplistic (dishonest, some would argue!) in presenting the ground strike bomb-loads of Gen-4 fighters. Those PR-brochure figures assume that every external pylon carries a bomb. But actually, in combat missions, when there is an operational need for sensors and targeting pods; electronic warfare equipment, etc, the PR-brochure bomb load is irrelevant because some of those pylons are no longer available! Since the F-35’s sensors and targeting devices and fuel load are internal to the aircraft, external pylons are used (surprise, surprise!) for carrying high explosive, not targeting pods, electronic countermeasure pods, and even flare and chaff dispensers, like Gen-4 fighters.

On a mission, the F-35 uses satellite-based GPS, and will be equipped with SATCOM using the new UHF system called MUOS. SATCOM will be employed when MUOS has an adequate number of systems in orbit. Among the F-35's communications systems is the Multi-Function Advanced Datalink, a high-bandwidth/low-probability-of-intercept system that is now under consideration for retrofit on the two other existing stealth aircraft, B-2 and F-22. F-35 also uses Link-16, Digital Battlefield Communications and Variable Message Format.

Why buy a “bomb truck”, when we can get a “real fighter” that also bombs?

As argued above, we don’t want a “real fighter that also bombs”. We have lots and lots of air supremacy fighters and more --- LCA, FGFA --- on the way. What we need is a ground strike fighter.

MMRCA vendors (including, ironically, Lockheed Martin in selling the F-16 Super Viper!) argue that their “multi-role” MMRCA, are designed and equipped to effectively strike enemy ground forces. Strike they certainly can, but nowhere as devastatingly as the F-35, which is designed ground-up for this role. In cricket, even the best all-rounder does not both bat and bowl at the highest level… a specialist bowler is invariably more penetrating and a specialist batsman better equipped. In athletics, decathletes hurl the discus, throw the javelin, and also sprint 100 metres. No decathletes, however, achieve the highest standards in every one of these events simultaneously.

It is the same with “multi-role” fighters, most of which are designed primarily as air supremacy fighters, with ground attack thrown in for saleability. Take the Eurofighter Typhoon, designed initially as an air defence fighter, and will only obtain a ground attack capability in Tranche 3. A top RAF officer told me yesterday that the Tranch 3 Eurofighters would only start delivery two years from now… and that the AESA radar would be ready two years after that, i.e. at the end of 2014. But it is already being stated that the Eurofighter has a formidable ground attack capability! Given that nobody has any idea how effective the Eurofighter will be in the ground strike role, I can hardly bring myself to buy the argument that it will be anywhere close to the F-35…. which is custom-designed as a strike fighter.

The Indian Army has not forgotten the IAF’s irrelevance during the Kargil conflict. When IAF fighters should have been supporting assaulting infantry by hammering Pakistani positions with air strikes, those troops eventually had to make do only with fire support from their own artillery. Meanwhile, the IAF was searching for a way to equip its Mirage-2000s (an MMRCA!) to deliver bombs accurately onto mountaintops. That is what a world-class, customised, strike fighter like the F-35 is designed and built to do. We do not want the IAF’s pathetic Kargil saga to be replayed some day on the Sino-Indian border.

Can the F-35 survive a hostile air-to-air environment?

MMRCA contenders in New Delhi have been assiduously putting out the word that the F-35, with its orientation towards its strike role, is poorly equipped to fend off enemy fighters that would intercept it before it could reach its target. While I do not subscribe to the “multi-role” school of thought, the facts appear to indicate that the F-35 can hold its own in air-to-air combat as well. Even though air-to-air combat is a secondary role for the F-35, US Air Force simulations (and remember, that is the most demanding of customers) have concluded that the F-35 is at least 6 times better in aerial combat than even advanced fourth-generation fighters. While the Gen-4 fighters handle well in “air show” configuration --- i.e. without weapons and topped up fuel --- comparative studies in combat configuration have proven that the F-35 outperforms all advanced Gen-4 aircraft in top end speed, loiter, subsonic acceleration and radius, besting them comfortably in aerial combat at shorter and long ranges.

According to Lockheed Martin’s written response to my questions:

  • U.S. Air Force combat-modelling results show that the F-35 is conservatively more than six times better in air-to-air capability than its nearest competitor.
  • In combat configuration, the F-35 outperforms all advanced fourth-generation aircraft in top end speed, loiter, subsonic acceleration and radius.
  • F-35 is the only international fighter with total avionics integration and sensor fusion, providing unprecedented spherical situational awareness to the pilot.
  • F-35 is comparable to, or better than, the best fourth generation fighters in aerodynamic performance in all within-visual-range categories.
  • The F-35 outperforms all fourth-generation aircraft in both the within-visual-range and beyond-visual-range air-to-air combat arenas.

It is also disinformation that the F-35 cannot carry a “long-range” air-to-air missile in its bay. Even though the F-35 has no requirement for such a missile, Lockheed Martin tells me that internal studies have confirmed that the F-35 could deploy such missiles if required. Said a senior Lockheed Martin executive over email, “We have been working with weapon suppliers to identify both aircraft and weapon modifications that would optimize the physical fit within the weapons bays. To date we have determined that most long range missile concepts could fit on both internal and external weapon stations.”

Incidentally, as of today, The F-35A (CTOL) and F-35B (STOVL) variants can each carry a total of 14 air-to-air missiles: 4 AMRAAMs internally, 8 AMRAAMs externally and two AIM-9s externally. The F-35C (CV) variant can carry a total of 12 air-to-air missiles: 4 AMRAAMs internally, 6 AMRAAMs externally and two AIM-9s externally.

Why another Gen-5 fighter, besides the FGFA?

Many argue that we don’t need the expensive 5th Generation F-35, when we will soon have the 5th Generation FGFA? In fact the F-35 would be the perfect complement to the FGFA. In any future war, the FGFA --- which must be purpose-built as an air dominance fighter, not a multi-role “all-rounder” --- would work alongside the F-35 in creating a favourable air situation. While the F-35 would strike enemy air bases and radar installations, the FGFA would go for the enemy’s aircraft. Air supremacy obtained, or even without that, the F-35 would strike enemy ground forces and fly interdiction missions against his combat logistics.

This is not a revolutionary new doctrine. The US Air Force F-22 Raptors gain command of the air; and F-35s will be used to pulverise the enemy’s army, thereby winning the war.

Similarly, the introduction of two Gen-5 fighters into the IAF: the world’s premier air dominance fighter, the FGFA, supporting the world’s most lethal ground strike aircraft, the F-35, would give the IAF an unbeatable edge into the mid-twenty-first century.

F-35 development time overruns… is that relevant to India?

Those who worry about time and cost overruns to the F-35 programme --- and there were, undeniably, overruns --- are grappling with a bunch of facts without placing them in the context of India. Think about it this way: those overruns were irritants for the eight development partner countries, which had put down money and been promised delivery by a certain date. India --- which never put down money, and had no time and cost overruns --- will step onto a programme that is on the doorstep of completion and is, therefore, fully de-risked. The F-35 will start obtaining its IOCs, as many former sceptics now accept, in late 2011 or, latest, 2012. By the way, there are three IOCs to be obtained for the three variants, separately from the US air force, navy and marine corps.

India, whose entry as an F-35 buyer will be a huge boost to the programme, can realistically demand delivery by a certain date during negotiations with Washington. With the development partner countries facing cruel defence budget cuts, there are indications that some are looking for options that would allow them to take delivery slower than originally negotiated. Israel could get its F-35s by 2014-15; India could strongly bargain to start taking delivery soon after that. Remember, there are very few enthusiastic buyers in this depressed global arms bazaar… India is one of them.

Declining squadron numbers

The argument that the MMRCA is an instant fix for India’s declining squadron numbers is the reddest of herrings, given the time frame for induction! The earliest possible date for delivery of the first MMRCA, built entirely abroad, would be 2014… while the F-35 could well become available starting 2015-2017.

The F-35’s later delivery actually suits our strategic circumstances; we should not be rushing the purchase. China is growing fast and is unmistakeably transforming into an assertive power, but it would take another decade before China could realistically contemplate the use of force towards a favourable border settlement. Since that threat would take some time in building, India must prepare for 21st century combat coolly and unhurriedly. It would be self-defeating to hustle ourselves into a hurried buy of 4th Gen fighters in the paranoid apprehension of immediate threat. Today’s insecurity cannot be cited to buy an MMRCA that is unsuitable for our ground strike needs and that will be superseded in air-to-air capability by the FGFA within a decade.

Instead, the IAF should accept a few more years of deficient numbers in order to switch over to a Gen-5 force. I believe that 2017-18 should targeted for obtaining a sizeable number of F-35s, integrating them into the IAF’s network (it will also take that long for the IAF to become a network-centric force!) and training our pilots to use the network-enabled capabilities of the F-35. By that time, the FGFA would also be completing development, rounding off the capabilities of a truly world-class force.

Most countries would bridge such a time gap by an interim purchase of fighter aircraft, but I don’t think India can take out a US $10 billion insurance against a war that can, in an unlikely crisis, be deterred through nuclear posturing.

The death of Indian aerospace industry?

Amongst arguments made against the F-35, the most convoluted one is that Indian aeronautical development programmes like the LCA Mk II and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) will be killed by the procurement of the F-35. As long as India maintains its strategic objective of defence indigenisation, the LCA and the AMCA programmes can continue, alongside joint development programmes with foreign partners, and with procurements like the MMRCA/F-35.

Even if the MoD were to start making hard choices, any threat to an indigenously produced 5th Generation fighter is the FGFA, not the F-35. The F-35 --- a strike aircraft --- is significantly different from the LCA Mk II and the AMCA, which are more akin to the multi-role (and biased towards air defence) FGFA.

In fact, procurements like the F-35, which will strengthen the US-India defence relationship, will facilitate technology inflows that are needed for giving the LCA/AMCA Gen-5 characteristics.

Are we ready to hitch our wagon to the US?

A legitimate question raised by sceptics of my F-35 proposal is: are we are ready to hitch our wagon so fundamentally to the United States? My short answer is: (a) buying the F-35 would not make us a US ally; and (b) this is not a zero-sum game. India’s de facto strategic policy of multi-alignment demands that we diversify defence procurement, R&D and joint development beyond our traditional partners, Russia, Israel, France, UK and Sweden. The move towards US equipment is already evident from the ongoing purchases of cutting edge American aircraft platforms like the P8i Poseidon; the C-130J Super Hercules; and the C-17 Globemaster III. So introducing the F-35 into the IAF would not be a fundamental change in alignment.

This process of engaging the US will inevitably be opposed by an influential segment of India’s strategic community, which appears unable to move beyond the slights, embargoes and denials of the past even when there is much to gain by refashioning the relationship. This peculiarly Indian inability to shed the baggage of the past is rooted in a cultural proclivity for personalising professional, and especially strategic relationships. In this mindset the world is an unchanging place where, if America sent the 7th Fleet into the Bay of Bengal in 1971, it would still be likely to rise against us at a crucial juncture. If America sided with Pakistan in the Cold War --- or so the Americaphobes reason --- it has something in its DNA that will align it with Pakistan forever. America can be pilloried for selling weaponry simultaneously to both Pakistan and India, but India’s simultaneous patronage of both American and Russian weaponry is entirely acceptable!

Fortunately, such cretins do not control any place except the blogosphere.

India is well positioned to create a purpose-built military, suited to its own conditions, by negotiating with multiple vendors from a position of strength. The argument that India will inevitably be a hapless victim of US pressure is a relic of the PL-480 era that survives only in the minds of some outdated analysts. Those of us who are cognisant of India’s already formidable --- and steadily growing --- strategic power and economic heft, are increasingly confident about New Delhi’s ability to get what it wants without giving what it cannot.

Just as India has passed the Nuclear Liability Bill on its own terms, and will not sign the CISMOA and BECA until it is clear that substantive benefits will accrue from these agreements, New Delhi is entirely capable of holding its own in a negotiation to buy the F-35 and to obtain the safeguards that the IAF needs for operating the F-35 in conformity with its doctrines, wherever India’s national interest demands.

Consider the concessions made to Israel, which is a strategic partner, not an F-35 development partner. Senior Israeli officials have confirmed that Washington has conceded Aviv the right to plug in Israeli Air Force command, control, communications, computer and intelligence (C4I) systems into specially made cockpit interfaces in the Israeli F-35 fighters. The F-35 main computer will enable a plug-and-play feature for integrating Israeli equipment. Israeli sources also reveal that the US has allowed the fitment of a detachable fuel tank to increase the F-35’s range for special missions in which “you can fly non-stealthy part of the way and become stealthy as you enter the danger zone”. This is a barely disguised reference to an aerial strike on Iran’s nuclear-bomb facilities, with the connivance of Saudi Arabia.

To argue that Washington will never give India what it is ready to give Israel is to be utterly oblivious of the changing power realities in Asia and, therefore, the world. While Israel and the US are deeply connected at a people-to-people level, India’s steady rise, the power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific, and Pakistan’s apparent freefall place India bang at the centre of Washington’s security calculus in this hemisphere.

Shed your fears, folks. The future is here.

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Kaveri engine test in context

I was a bit baffled to see the euphoria amongst visitors to Broadsword over the Kaveri engine flight test announced yesterday by the DRDO. I don’t mean to dampen your Diwali spirits, but if everyone is drawing entirely the wrong lesson from this, I feel I should set the record straight.

The bottom line, as I reported in my Sept 2009 article ("Kaveri jet engine finally poised for first flight") is: this test is the burial ceremony of the indigenous Kaveri development programme. They will measure the parameters etc of the flight tests and then, having quantified what the Kaveri programme has achieved, the file will be closed. Once the flight tests are over, the Kaveri-Snecma programme will begin, in which Snecma will bring to the table a fully developed engine core.

If anyone can be bothered to read the article that I posted in 2009, Mr Mohana Rao, the Director of GTRE told me that the indigenous Kaveri, which had a maximum thrust of 65 KN at full reheat, would never be able to power the LCA for two reasons: firstly, the LCA had turned out heavier than expected; secondly, in the words of Mr Rao, “The Kaveri turned out 15% heavier than we planned. From the planned 1100 kg, its final weight has gone up to 1265 kg.”

“We need more thrust without increasing the size of the engine”, Mr Mohana Rao told me in Sept 2009. “That means getting better technologies from a more experienced foreign partner. We have chosen (French aero-engine major) Snecma. The Defence Ministry has approved the tie-up.”

That notwithstanding, this is only the end of a chapter, not of the book. GTRE has managed to develop, almost entirely indigenously, an engine that can develop 65 KN of power, at a cost of Rs 3000 crores. Now, Snecma is going to show them what they need to do to take that up to the 90-100 KN level.

We wish GTRE all the best.

Thursday, 4 November 2010

DRDO conducts successful maiden flight test of Kaveri engine

A photograph of the Flying Test Bed, an IL-76 aircraft, at the Gromov Flight Research Institute, Moscow. The Kaveri engine can be seen fitted on the inner pylon

Broadsword had first reported (read in the archives: "Kaveri jet engine finally poised for first flight", 7th Sept 09) that the DRDO's engine was preparing for flight trial evaluations in Russia. The DRDO now reports that the Kaveri's first flight has been successfully completed. The press release is reproduced below.


New Delhi: Kartika 13, 1932
November 04, 2010

The indigenously designed and developed Kaveri Engine was successfully flight tested by DRDO yesterday during the Flying Test Bed (FTB) Trials at Gromov Flight Research Institute (GFRI), Moscow, Russia. The engine was tested from take-off to landing and flew for a period of over one hour up to at an altitude of 6000m at a speed of 0.6 mach in its maiden flight. The engine control, engine performance and engine health during the flight were found to be excellent. With this test, Kaveri Engine has completed a major milestone of the development program. During the coming months further 50-60 test flights will be carried out to mature the engine in terms of reliability, safety and airworthiness. These trials would pave the way for further flight trials of Kaveri Engine with a fighter aircraft.

An existing IL-76 aircraft was modified as a Flying Test Bed for this trial, with Kaveri engine replacing one of the four engines of the aircraft. The modifications included instrumentation required for trials as well as integration of mechanical, electrical and fuel system. The engine was controlled by the pilot from the cockpit. A number of taxi trials were carried out with Kaveri Engine integrated with the aircraft, before this maiden flight. The engine data was recorded in the aircraft as well as transmitted to ground station by telemetry.

A team of 20 scientists from Gas Turbine Research Establishment, DRDO, have been working along with GFRI for these trials. Dr Prahlada, Chief Controller, R&D (Aeronautics & Services Interaction) briefed the Media about the significance of the first flight.

Kaveri engine is being developed for fighter aircraft, at Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), a DRDO laboratory based in Bangalore with the active support of several other DRDO labs, academic institutions and industry partners. During the development phase, Kaveri engine has successfully completed various stages of development including component testing, safety tests, ground based engine tests, endurance tests etc, both at GTRE as well as test facilities abroad.