Sunday, 31 July 2011

Hefty Rs 42,000 crore bill for combat aircraft may rise

The Dassault Rafale, taxiing before taking off for an aerobatics display at Aero India 2011 in Bangalore last February

by Ajai Shukla
(Short version in Business Standard, 31st July 11)

For years, India’s proposed purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) --- the world’s largest overseas fighter buy for which the Typhoon, built by Eurofighter GmbH; and the Rafale, developed by French vendor Dassault, remain in contention --- has been valued at Rs 42,000 crore, almost US $10 billion. Now that valuation is set to rise dramatically as the Ministry of Defence carries out a process called benchmarking.

Benchmarking is the crucial process of estimating the fair price for any purchase, and is completed before the MoD opens the price bids for any tender. This is done by an MoD committee which scrutinises similar tenders worldwide, especially recent sales, to arrive at a comparable --- or as the name suggests, a benchmark --- price. If all the vendors’ bids emerge significantly higher than the benchmark, the tender is cancelled and the process begun afresh.

For example, if the MoD committee that is currently benchmarking the MMRCA concludes that Rs 42,000 crore is a decade-old estimation that should be increased due to inflation by 50%, the benchmark for that contract will be pegged at Rs 63,000 crore. When the Eurofighter’s and Dassault’s bids are opened, if both turn out to be notably higher, the MoD will scrap the MMRCA tender. On the other hand, if the lower bid is less than or approximates the benchmark, that bid will be accepted.

The benchmark figure has become crucial for the Typhoon and Rafale, which are acknowledged as the most expensive of the six fighters that competed for the IAF’s order. Watching from the sidelines and hoping that the procurement falls through are the four aircraft vendors who were eliminated from the MMRCA contest in April: Russia’s MiG; Sweden’s Saab; and American companies, Boeing and Lockheed Martin. Two of those vendors have told Business Standard that they believe that Eurofighter’s and Dassault’s quotes will be far higher than the benchmark. If they are correct, the long process of obtaining sanctions, tendering, evaluations and field trials will have been fruitless.

One eliminated contestant sources the Rafale’s price from the Brazilian media, which has keenly followed the contest between Dassault, Saab and Boeing to sell 36 fighters to the Brazilian Air Force. A detailed story in the Sao Paulo based daily, Folha de S. Paulo, pegs the Rafale bid at US $6.2 billion (plus another US $4 billion for maintenance over the next 30 years, according to the terms of the Brazilian tender). Quoting French sources, the daily reports that the $6.2 billion bid is a discounted price, brought down from $8.2 billion after intense Brazilian pressure on Paris. Extrapolating these figures onto the Indian contract, Dassault’s quote for 126 MMRCAs could be as much as $20 billion, twice the initially estimated figure.

Aerospace industry estimations put the cost of the Eurofighter Typhoon about 25% higher than the Rafale. That would put the cost of 126 Typhoons at about $25 billion.

The Indian price bids, however, involve a different calculation. The South Block tender demands price quotes on a “life-cycle” basis, a complex and detailed format that factors in the cost of 126 fighters over their estimated service life of 40 years. Bids are broken down into seven heads --- M-1 to M-7 --- and include the fly-away cost of the fighter; cost of spare parts; operating costs; cost of inspections and maintenance; transfer of technology; and training expenses. The final figure, M-8, is the overall cost, reached by adding up M-1 to M-7.

Executives from Rafale and Eurofighter agree that Rs 42,000 crore is an outdated price and that the survival of the MMRCA contract now depends upon how much higher the MoD is willing to raise the benchmark.

“Rs 42,000 crore was a price estimated a decade ago, and that was for a smaller, single-engine fighter. When you factor inflation, and the fact that India is now buying a heavy, twin-engine fighter, naturally the price will be much higher,” says a senior executive from one of the vendor companies.

A keen watcher of these developments is Lockheed Martin, whose F-16IN Super Viper was rejected by the IAF. A visiting Lockheed Martin executive told Business Standard that the fifth-generation F-35 Lightening II would become a real option for India if the MMRCA procurement was scrapped.

“We did not offer the F-35 for the MMRCA contract because it exceeded the Indian specifications; the fighter was not yet ready for the kind of flight testing specified in the tender; and because the US government had not yet approved it for release to India to include transfer of technology as specified in the RfP,” said Orville Prins, Lockheed Martin’s Vice President for Business Development.

Six years down the line, these conditions have changed. Prins now points out that, with Lockheed Martin set to build 20 fighters per month, i.e. 240 per year, “we could be in a position to supply India with its first F-35s by 2016, contingent upon many additional factors including US governmental approval that would affect this timing.”

Asked for the cost of the F-35, Lockheed Martin estimates it “in the mid-60s”, i.e. somewhere between $60-70 million for the conventional version of the fighter. This would be the cost of a full-up, operational configuration with all the high-tech sensors that are integrated internally in a 5th generation, stealthy aircraft. Added to this cost would be the added expenses of training, technology transfer (ToT), manufacturing infrastructure, etc, which would significantly raise the overall cost of buying 126 F-35s.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

MMRCA contract falling through?

Will the Typhoon and the Rafale survive the Indian MoD?

I'm getting increasingly skeptical about the survivability of the MMRCA tender. Is it going to fall through this year?

I think it very well might.

Will post an article outlining why I think so... tomorrow! Get your poison pens ready....

Thursday, 28 July 2011

Bomb factories flourish while Home Ministry blocks alternative

The remains of a CRPF vehicle after it was blown up by a Naxal IED, killing seven policemen. The culprit: ammonium nitrate

New ‘non-explosive’ technology could replace TNT, ammonium nitrate

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th Jul 11

Besides the 24 people killed and 130 injured in this month’s Mumbai bomb blasts, this year has already witnessed another 266 Indians killed or injured in 76 explosions set off by Kashmiri, Naxal and Assamese militant groups. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MoHA) admits that most of these attacks feature easily available explosives --- like TNT, dynamite, slurry and the deadly ammonium nitrate-fuel oil mixture (ANFO) --- that were stolen by militants. Yesterday, the Home Ministry (MoHA) clamped down on the availability of ammonium nitrate, declaring it an explosive under the Explosive Act of 1884. But New Delhi bureaucrats continue to block a revolutionary new non-explosive material that would take those “old-style” explosives out of circulation.

This new, game-changing product, called Green Break Technology, does the same job as traditional explosives like ANFO: splitting open rocks, bringing down buildings and making tunnels through mountains. Unlike traditional explosives, though, Green Break Technology (or GBT) cannot be made into bombs since it cannot be detonated or exploded. That makes it useless for terrorist products like exploding suitcases, car bombs and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The secret of GBT’s non-lethality is that it burns relatively slowly. Conventional explosives, like TNT, dynamite and ANFO burn at 1000-3000 metres per second, producing devastating shock waves that send splinters or shrapnel flying hundreds of metres. In contrast GBT does not explode when it is ignited; instead, it reacts chemically, releasing a large amount of harmless gas. This gas rapidly builds up inside, say, a rock, exerting outward pressure and fracturing it within milliseconds. Since GBT burns far slower than explosives, there is no lethal shock wave and no splinters shooting outwards. The broken chunks of rock fall harmlessly just 5-10 metres from where the GBT cartridge is ignited. The shock wave cannot even break a windowpane, far less blow up a security force vehicle or kill patrolling jawans.

In international testing, in accordance with “UN Recommendations on the Transport of Dangerous Goods; Manual of Tests and Criteria”, GBT has been placed in “Division 1.4”, the same category as a car airbag, reserved for “Substances and articles which present no significant hazard.” This allows GBT cartridges to be safely transported even in passenger airliners, without police escort. GBT is being flown into India on Qatar Airways commercial flights for demonstrations that have been requested by Delhi Metro Rail Corporation; Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO); Border Roads Organisation; Mazagon Dock Ltd; and the Border Security Force, amongst others.

Green Break Technology Ltd, South Africa, which holds a global patent for GBT, plans to develop a global supply hub in India, from where it could export 4-6 million GBT cartridges every month. It has licensed an Indian company, Eco Breaking Technologies India Pvt Ltd (EBT India), a part of the Alchemist Group, to manufacture GBT cartridges at a factory near Alwar, Rajasthan. But the government has stymied this plan.

Last December, EBT India applied to the Dept of Industrial Policy and Promotion for an industrial licence. Within days, the DIPP asked the MoHA and the MoD for their views. But the MoHA, the key agency in approving this manufacture, has sat on this application for the last seven months.

In a telephone call with Business Standard, Utthan Kumar Bansal, the MoHA’s Special Secretary for Internal Security, flatly rejected a request for comments. “You have no locus (standi) for seeking information on this highly confidential matter”, said Bansal.

Josy Cohen, the South African chief of Green Break Technology Ltd, points out that official foot-dragging in India contrasts with the enormous interest in GBT overseas. “From the technological viewpoint, GBT is a major breakthrough, the longstanding dream of experts in infrastructure demolition; underwater applications; and even mining,” says Cohen.

According to Cohen, GBT’s greatest advantage is its eco-friendly nature. The gases produced when GBT burns are harmless nitrogen, carbon dioxide and water vapour. Since none of these are combustible, GBT is ideal for underground mines, where pockets of inflammable methane gas render conventional explosives unusable. And GBT is ideal for underwater use, since there is no shock wave that kills marine life. This gentleness remains GBT’s only drawback, since it cannot be used for heavy duty “primary blasting”.

MoHA officials admit that the lack of regulation of factories manufacturing traditional explosives like slurry and ANFO permits the diversion of large quantities of explosives from legitimate users, especially road builders. Last August, the media extensively reported that 300 tonnes of explosives, manufactured by Rajasthan Explosives and Chemicals Ltd (RECL) went missing. At the same time, there is no precedent for licensing a radically new product like GBT. Since the MoHA and the DIPP are unwilling to accept international testing results, and they remain unwilling to arrange their own testing, EBT India’s request for an industrial licence continues to languish.


Types of Burning:

Burning : up to 200 metres/sec

Deflagration : 200 to 1000 metres/sec

Explosion : 1000-3000 metres/sec

Detonation : 3000 to 10000 metres/sec

Ammonium nitrate slurry has detonating velocity of 3200-3500 metres/sec.
Dynamite has 6000-7000 metres/sec.
GBT has a deflagration velocity 200-1000 metres/sec.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

INS Satpura to be commissioned on 20th August 2011

The Defence Ministry announcement of INS Satpura's commissioning is pasted below for your information.

INS Satpura: Second Shivalik class Indigenous Stealth Frigate. Conceived and designed by the Indian Naval Design team to be the mainstay frigates of Indian Navy for the first half of 21 century. The ship is scheduled to be commissioned on 20 Aug 2011 by the Raksha Mantri at Mumbai. Some leading particulars are as below:-

Guided-missile frigate
Displacement: 6200 tons
Length: 142.5 metres (468 ft)
Beam: 16.9 metres (55 ft)
Propulsion: 2 x Pielstick 16 PA6 STC Diesel engines & 2 x GE LM2500+ boost turbines in CODOG configuration
Speed: 32 knots (59 km/h), 22 knots (41 km/h) (with Diesel Engines)
Complement: 257 (35 officers)

Sensors and processing systems:

1 x MR-760 Fregat M2EM 3-D radar
4 x MR-90 Orekh radar1 x EL/M 2238 STAR2 x EL/M 2221 STGR1 x BEL APARNAHUMSA (Hull Mounted Sonar Array)ATAS/Thales Sintra towed array systems
Electronic warfare and decoys: BEL Ajanta electronic warfare suite


OTO Melara 76mm SRGM
2 x AK-630 30mm guns32 x Barak SAM9M317 (SA-N-12) SAM, total of 24 missiles8 x Klub cruise Missiles90R missiles (ASW)DTA-53-956 torpedoesKlub AS Missile2x RBU-6000 (RPK-8)Aircraft carried: 2 x HAL Dhruv or Sea King Mk.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

US-Pak: intertwined, but going nowhere

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th July 11

Has the ISI’s hospitality to Osama bin Laden, and Islamabad’s furious response to his killing, become a tipping point in the US-Pakistan relationship? That Washington is intent on painting Islamabad black is evident from the American media’s front-page coverage of last week’s arrest of Kashmiri separatist, Ghulam Nabi Fai. Not only has Washington belatedly acted on the worst kept secret in town --- that Fai’s Kashmir American Council was an ISI-funded lobby group --- but it also embarrassed Islamabad (if that is any longer possible) by leaking every detail of the story to the media. As with the holding back of US military aid worth $800 million, Washington’s urge to punish Pakistan currently overrides its desire to remain engaged with that difficult partner. For India, this poses crucial questions: is this mere bickering in an old and abusive relationship? Or does this portend a more fundamental change?

Any American re-evaluation of its engagement with Pakistan is done with an eye on the elephant in the room: China. Pakistan has cunningly stoked American apprehension that any downturn in their relationship would drive Islamabad towards Beijing. Given the history of the latter relationship --- including the illicit transfer of nuclear and missile technology and components --- Washington has chosen to tolerate Pakistan’s perversity rather than deal with a vengeful Islamabad glowering from Beijing’s lap.

Significantly, China has appeared less than eager to shoulder the burden of Pakistan. After the US held back $800 million in military aid, China’s foreign ministry spokesperson, Hong Lei, was asked on 12th July whether China would fill that gap. His answer: “As a friendly neighbour, China has all along been providing assistance to Pakistan within its capacity, helping Pakistan improve people's well-being and realize sustainable economic and social development. China will continue doing so in the future.”

The excitable Pakistani and Indian media interpreted this as China’s willingness to take up the slack. But a careful reading of Hong’s statement would find not a word on military aid. What Beijing really said was: “China has a limited capacity to help even its good friend, Pakistan. As in the past, China will continue providing aid for economic and social development.”

Watchers from India fear that America will soon abandon the tough love and revert to playing Islamabad’s cuckold again. And Washington analysts have begun their familiar drumbeat: relations with the Pakistani military must be kept alive at all costs. (e.g. Howard Schaffer: “It is regrettable that the charges against Fai have been raised at a point when U.S.-Pakistan relations face a host of problems far more consequential than alleged wrongdoings by Pakistan’s lobbyists in Washington.”)

There is a fundamental flaw in such binary reasoning, in which Washington must either cut off relations with Islamabad entirely, or continue willingly to be taken to the cleaners. The reality, evident over the last five years, is that Washington has become progressively less trustful of Pakistan, maintaining relations but demanding more proof of Islamabad’s bona fides. A detailed reading of America’s diplomatic cables from Islamabad (Wikileaks, thanks!) highlights this crumbling trust.

Washington’s disillusionment began long before the Osama embarrassment, when it caught the Pakistan Army with its hand in the aid till. The US has given Islamabad $1.2 billion annually: $200 million for the civilian Economic Support Fund (ESF); and $860 million in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) reimbursements. The latter requires Pakistan to submit reimbursement claims for military operations in the tribal areas that support US operations in Afghanistan. But the US embassy in Islamabad, which scrutinises Pakistan’s claims, complained to Washington (in cable 129633 dated 10th Nov 07) that much of the money is siphoned off. According to that cable, “only 50-60 percent of CSF funds actually reach the military, and less than half of that may reach that segment of the armed forces bearing the burden of that claimed expenditure.” While Pakistan claimed $55 million for helicopter operations from Jul 06 – Feb 07, the embassy estimated that the operations of Pakistan’s entire helicopter force could not possibly have cost more than $20 million, since barely 20% of the army’s Cobra attack helicopter force was functional.

Washington’s growing distrust of its putative ally was also evident in what it did to prevent sophisticated American night vision devices (NVDs) from being passed on to militants. Each NVD provided to the Pakistan Army had to be physically brought to Peshawar every month for end-use verification by US officials. Pakistani generals complained bitterly that important operations were being jeopardised by pulling out NVDs at crucial junctures, but Washington was having none of it. The trust had gone.

Pakistan’s declining currency is now evident in Washington’s outreach to authoritarian, pro-Russia regimes in Central Asia for developing its Northern Delivery Network (NDN) for supplying its forces in Afghanistan. Earlier 85% of US supplies came through Pakistan; that dependency is now 50% and will reduce to 25% next year. General William M Fraser, the nominated chief of the US Air Force Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), told the US Air Force Magazine: “In 2010, two additional routes were added through the Baltics and Central Asia and continue to improve the processes, facilitating a faster, less costly cargo flow… USTRANSCOM (has also secured) access to additional airfields and seaports in the Persian Gulf. Using a concept called multi-modal operations, large volumes of cargo and thousands of vehicles were moved by sea to locations in closer proximity to the USCENTCOM area of operations, by truck from the seaports to the nearby airfields and then by air to Afghanistan.”

No American trucks through Pakistan does not mean no American truck with Pakistan. Washington will continue to engage Islamabad, but the rules of that engagement are now in transition.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Army’s “Cold Start” doctrine gets teeth

A Pakistani artillery battery fires a salvo. The Prahaar missile, tested today by India, provides a tactical ability for conventional strikes against targets as deep as 150 km

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd July 11

India’s ability to win a quick, pre-emptive war against Pakistan has just been enhanced by a useful new set of teeth. This morning, at a missile test range in Balasore, Orissa, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) launched its first-ever Prahaar missile, a mobile, truck-mounted rocket that can strike within 10 metres of a target that is 150 kilometres away.

The Prahaar gives a huge boost to India’s military doctrine of “Cold Start”. This method of war would be adopted as retaliation for any grave Pakistani provocation, such as another 26/11 Mumbai-style terror attack. Cold Start involves multiple, simultaneous invasions of Pakistani territory with quickly assembled Indian Army battle groups, well before Pakistani forces can reach the border and occupy defensive positions. The Prahaar would provide the army’s invading battle groups with lethal fire support, striking Pakistani headquarters far behind the frontlines, and destroying roads, railways, bridges and other communications infrastructure that are essential for rushing Pakistani forces to the border.

Unlike the DRDO’s Prithvi missile, which was introduced into service as a 150-kilometre range, nuclear-capable ballistic missile, the Prahaar is categorized as a “battlefield tactical missile”. Its maximum payload of 200 kg does not allow the Prahaar to carry a nuclear weapon (which are seldom under 500 kg). But while nuclear capable ballistic missiles are useful only in the nightmarish eventuality of nuclear war, the Prahaar can be useful at every stage of a Cold Start campaign. Being a solid-fuel missile, it can swing into action quickly in response to rapidly evolving situations; and its short flight time --- just 250 seconds, or just over four minutes --- allows it to engage fleeting targets that would disappear in the time that it would take to scramble and fly in fighter aircraft.

Furthermore, the Prahaar’s range of warheads, which the DRDO has developed, gives the Indian Army multiple options. It could carry a cargo warhead containing bomblets that disperse over a wide area, killing any exposed troops. Alternatively, it could carry air-delivered mines, which spread across a piece of terrain, denying passage to enemy infantry or tanks. Or the Prahaar could carry a single, high explosive warhead that can demolish even the best-protected target or critical infrastructure.

So far, many of these targets have fallen to the lot of the Indian Air Force. But in a Cold War situation the emphasis of the IAF, especially during the initial crucial days, would focus on attacking the Pakistan Air Force to prevent it from causing casualties in the Indian Army’s attacking battle groups, or stopping their advance. By using the Prahaar against enemy entities that are beyond the range of artillery guns or rockets (30-40 kilometres); or for interdicting enemy reserves and logistic columns far behind the lines, IAF fighters would be freed up for “counter-air operations” against the PAF.

If, as is more than likely, the IAF buys the Prahaar in numbers, the missile could be effectively launched against forward Pakistani air bases, destroying fighters on the ground and damaging runways, air defence radars and air control networks. Currently, manned fighter aircraft perform these tasks, often at the cost of pilots’ lives and shot down fighters.

Pakistan has no battlefield missile similar to the Prahaar. Over recent years, its scientists have focused on developing the Hatf-9 (or Nasr) short range, ballistic missile, which seeks to deter a Cold Start campaign with its ability to deliver a nuclear warhead to a maximum distance of 60 kilometres. Since most Indian cities are farther than that, strategists believe that the Hatf-9 is intended for counter-force targeting, i.e. against one or more of the Indian Army’s integrated battle groups inside Pakistani territory. This would serve notice of Pakistani resolve to carry out a counter-value strike, which would take the form of a longer-range missile, carrying a nuclear warhead to one or more large Indian cities.

According to the DRDO, the Prahaar is comparable to the US Army’s Advanced Tactical Missile System (ATACMS), which was extensively used during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The Prahaar is launched from a Road Mobile System developed by Larsen & Toubro, which can carry six missiles. All six can be fired in a salvo, each of them against a different target.

According to the DRDO, the Prahaar was developed in a period of just two years.

Thursday, 21 July 2011

"Prahaar" makes its first flight

The DRDO press release is pasted below:


DRDO successfully flight tested its latest surface to surface Missile `PRAHAAR’ at 08.20 A.M on 21st July 2011 from Launch Complex III, off Chandipur Coast, ITR, Balasore, Orissa. The Missile with a range of 150 kms, comparable to ATACMS Missile of United States of America, fills the vital gap between Multi Barrel Rockets and Medium range Ballistic Missiles. The Missile capable of carrying different types of warheads, operates as battle field support system to the Indian Army.

The Missile with a length of 7.3 meters and diameter of 420 mm weighing 1280 kgs, and a single stage solid propulsion system goes to a height of 35 kms before reaching the targets of the range of 150 kms in about 250 seconds. The Missile equipped with state of the art high accuracy navigation, guidance and electro mechanical actuation systems with latest onboard computer achieved terminal accuracy of less than 10 meters.

The Missile with a pay load of 200 kgs has a fast reaction time, which is essential for the battle field tactical missile. The Missile is launched from a Road Mobile System, which can carry six missiles at a time and can be fired in salvo mode in all directions covering the entire azimuth plane.

The Missile system is developed to provide Indian Army a cost effective, quick reaction, all weather, all terrain, high accurate battle field support tactical system. The development of Missile is carried out by the DRDO Scientists in a short span of less than two years.

The flight path of the Missile was tracked and monitored by the various Radar systems and Electro Optical systems located along the coast of Orissa. An Indian Naval ship located near target point in Bay of Bengal witnessed the final event. The Missile was developed by the DRDO Scientists with support from Indian Industry and Quality assurance agency MSQAA.

The launch operations were witnessed by Dr. V.K. Saraswat, Scientific Adviser to Raksha Mantri and Secretary Defence R & D, Lt Gen Vinod Nayanar, AVSM, Director General of Artillery, IHQ of MoD (Army). The operations were over seen by Shri Avinash Chander, Chief Controller R&D, Shri VLN Rao, Programme Director AD, Shri SK Ray, Director RCI, and Shri SP Dash, Director ITR.

Defence Minister Shri AK Antony congratulated the Scientists of DRDO for the successful maiden launch of the new Missile `PRAHAAR’.

Monday, 18 July 2011

China's defence industry offers lessons to India

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Jul 2011

In a closed-door discussion here on Thursday, a leading authority on China's military modernisation explained how that country's People's Liberation Army (PLA, the term embraces navy and air force, too) has transformed into a top-rung, largely indigenously equipped force in barely a decade, even as India's military languishes as the world's biggest importer of defence equipment.

Tai Ming Cheung, who spoke to the Institute of Defence Studies and Analysis, is a professor working with the US Pentagon's Minerva Project, in which academics like him pore over Beijing's Chinese-language releases to track military and technological developments within the PLA.

Tai noted both China and India were "catch-up countries", attempting a technological leapfrog by taking just decades to reach a technology level that Western countries had taken more than a century to achieve. China still trails the US and western European powers, but is catching up fast, powered by an official science & technology (S & T) roadmap that the leadership backs. From a global innovativeness ranking of 24 in 2004, China jumped to six in 2009. It now targets fifth place by 2020, with global leadership in the high-tech arenas of space, nuclear, information technology and biotechnology. By 2040-50, China aims at S & T parity with the US.

"Until the late 1990s, the Chinese approach to defence S & T was in a much worse state than what India is in today. They have been able to deal with a lot of these issues in the last decade alone," says Tai.

The change

India largely plays by established rules — technology denial regimes, and an intellectual property rights (IPR) regime to safeguard technology leads. While, China has benefited from its willingness to defy rules. Beijing's opportunism was evident in the early 1990s, from its large-scale recruitment of out-of-work scientists from the former Soviet Union. Its careful strategising is evident from an innovation plan endorsed and pushed from the highest levels of the political and military leadership.

"Hu Jintao (the Chinese president) always talks about S & T being a key component of the race for comprehensive national strength. China sees S & T as a zero-sum game; they can't afford to depend upon foreign countries for critical technologies. Stealing, reverse engineering and cloning is acceptable," says Tai.

At the start of the 21st century, in its first step towards becoming an innovative military builder, China embarked on a process of 'creative adaptation'. Using its imitative capabilities, its aerospace industry indigenised critical parts of the Russian Sukhoi-27 fighter (an earlier version of India's Su-30MKI), developing it into the "indigenous" J-11B fighter. In this high-end imitation, the basic platform remained Russian but key avionics, including the fire control system, were Chinese.

"It is all about being able to absorb technology from outside," says Tai. "In catch-up countries, it is initially all about absorptive capacity, not about invention. The equipment has already been built elsewhere."

Emboldened by Russia's passive acceptance of the Su-27 IPR violations, China embarked upon its innovation path, the first step of which was 'incremental innovation'. As evident from the J-10A, still China's frontline fighter, this involves developing a basic platform and then incrementally indigenising and improving it, batch by batch. The J-10A initially contained many Russian and Israeli components, which the Chinese gradually indigenised.

From here, China moved to ‘architectural innovation', transforming existing systems by rearranging their architecture. A commercial example is the iPad. Most of its components had been around for a while, but Apple rearranged these into a radical new product. In a similar way, Chinese engineers juggled existing technologies to build a missile that specifically targeted US Navy aircraft carriers, the Dong Feng 21B anti-ship ballistic missile. The DF-21B has surprised US defence planners not just technologically but also operationally, forcing them to cater to a completely new operational threat.

The third level of innovation, with which China is currently struggling, is ‘component innovation'. In this, improved components — microprocessors, precision engineered parts, digital components, etc — are used to improve platform efficiency. But this requires advanced scientific and technological skills, making such innovation difficult for a catch-up country.

"The Chinese have not been able to develop a world-class turbofan engine; their microprocessor capabilities are still relatively poor. So, they don't yet qualify as a component innovator," says Tai.

But on January 11 this year, when the Chinese J-20 stealth fighter made its first flight, there was a global firestorm of speculation that China had conducted a coup in 'disruptive innovation'. This ultimate form of innovation combines architectural with component innovation, assembling improved components into a creative new design. But Tai dismisses such talk: "The J-20 is not really a 'disruptive innovation'. It lacks the component level innovations and is, therefore, merely an architectural innovation."


Nevertheless, China's defence industry has achieved major recent successes, triggered by its restructuring at the end of the 20th century. Earlier, the Chinese defence industry was separated, Soviet style, between research and development (R & D) and manufacturing units. When the R & D developed a product, the defence industrial ministry — called the Commission for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defence (Costin) —would assign a factory to build the equipment. But when the factory got the blueprints, there was confusion because they had not been involved in the design.

"The Chinese leadership saw that this did not help the national interest; it only helped the defence industry. One of the first reforms was to overturn the power of Costin and allow the military a central role in overseeing the defence industry. If you don't have end-users, particularly war fighters and the acquisitions community, playing a central role, then you're not going to have innovation. If you're just going to have industry administrators, then they are going to be looking just at their interests," says Tai.

The result has been surging growth in the innovativeness of Chinese defence industry. In 1998, they filed for 313 patents. In 2008, it had gone up to 11,000 patents. In 2010, 15,000 patents were applied for.

India's defence industry today mirrors its Chinese counterpart in 1998. The R & D element (the DRDO) functions separately from the manufacturing element (the defence PSUs). India's military has little say, and no oversight, in what is researched and manufactured. And the Indian ministry of defence's department of defence production is an accurate mirror image of China's Costin, pushing back the innovative private sector to safeguard the interests of the state-owned enterprises.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

How about a Department of Aerospace?

Delegates from HAL and Sukhoi and Rosoboronexport sign the Preliminary Design Contract to develop a 5th generation fighter aircraft

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th July 11

A number of strands are coming together in structuring India’s air power capability for the second quarter of the 21st century. The indigenous Tejas light fighter, developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), is entering production and an improved Tejas Mark II is being developed. Riding this success, ADA is developing a fifth generation medium fighter, called the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Simultaneously, the overseas acquisition of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) is nearing a close with Dassault’s Rafale and Eurofighter’s Typhoon in a race to the finish line. In the heavy fighter category, the redoubtable Sukhoi-30MKI is being upgraded even as more trickle into the fleet. Meanwhile, Sukhoi and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) are working together on the Indo-Russian fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA).

These five fighters will form the sword edge of the Indian Air Force (IAF) from 2025 onwards. At that stage, the IAF will operate seven squadrons (an IAF squadron has 21 fighters) of Tejas, more if ADA can enhance capabilities and reduce price. Six squadrons of MMRCA are currently planned, but that could rise to 10 squadrons, if performance is great and technology transfer smooth. The indigenous AMCA will equip another 10 squadrons. Thirteen IAF squadrons will fly the upgraded Sukhoi-30 MKI, while the FGFA will equip another ten squadrons

By then five current fighters, whose service lives have been extended by upgrades – the Mig-21 BISON; MiG-27; MiG-29; Jaguar; and the Mirage 2000 – would retire. Despite that the IAF would field a minimum of 46 squadrons, possibly more than 50. That would make for a far more reassuring air power equation than the IAF’s current strength of 32 squadrons against an authorisation of 39.5 squadrons. Importantly, half the fleet would be indigenous in 2025, with 17 squadrons (7 Tejas + 10 AMCA) entirely Indian-designed and another 10 FGFA squadrons with a substantial indigenous component.

This planned fleet would boast a formidable technological profile. The oldest fighter in 2025, the Tejas, a Generation-four fighter once the Mark II is inducted, would be enhanced to Generation-four plus through a mid-life upgrade. Another 19-23 squadrons (MMRCA + Sukhoi-30MKI) would also be Generation-four plus. And the IAF’s Generation-five fleet would comprise a solid 20 squadrons (MCA + FGFA).

Supported by mid-air refuelling, airborne early warning, and the world-class airlift capability provided by the C-17 Globemaster III, the C-130J Super Hercules and the Indo-Russian Multi-role Transport Aircraft, the IAF would be capable of safeguarding Indian interests along the Pakistan and Chinese borders and in the Indian Ocean region. But this rosy picture depends largely on two development programmes that are in their early stages: ADA’s development of the AMCA, and the HAL-Sukhoi FGFA. Without success in these programmes, India’s fighter fleet would appear depleted and vulnerable.

That success is far from guaranteed. Notwithstanding the Tejas experience and the growing technological capability of Indian industry, India lacks the overarching structures that are essential for supporting two advanced fighter development programmes. National aerospace capabilities remain fragmented, islands of excellence in a sea of dysfunction. ADA, which oversees the Tejas programme, is the closest to an overarching body for controlling aeronautical development. Since the DRDO chief heads ADA, it successfully coordinates between the DRDO’s aerospace laboratories but exercises direct control over little else. HAL, India’s 900-pound aerospace gorilla, remains primarily a manufacturing behemoth, churning out Russian-designed fighters from Russian blueprints.

With coordination lacking even within the defence ministry, it is unsurprising that there is little synergy with “outsider” organisations like the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL), which functions under the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research. NAL’s designers and its sophisticated test facilities are busy in pipedreams, dissipating effort into marginal projects like the struggling Saras transport aircraft rather than pooling talent into a national effort like the AMCA. Nor is there systematic cooperation with India’s many top-class academic institutions, which have the researchers and the facilities that could feed into a national project.

We must, therefore, institute an overarching body that can oversee and coordinate the development of the aerospace industry, and especially complex projects like the AMCA and the FGFA, vertically integrating resources at the national level. The successful models provided by two existing domain-focused organisations – the Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Space – must be studied for creating a Department of Aerospace (DoAer) under the defence ministry. One branch of DoAer must manage research organisations, with another branch managing production organisations, including within the private sector. An aerospace technological specialist with managerial skills and experience must head DoAer. He must be given the rank of secretary to the government, even though this will inevitably run up against turf interests within the bureaucracy.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Ministry of Defence strikes blow for private sector in defence

A vehicle-based Electronic Warfare (EW) system, developed by the DRDO. Now, the private sector will compete on level terms with DPSUs like Bharat Electronics Ltd to develop an EW system for the strike corps

Ajai Shukla
Business Standard
8th July 2011

In a victory for India's private sector defence manufacturers, the Ministry of Defence's (MoD's) apex decision making body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), will today issue a ruling that recognises the right of our private companies to compete against the public sector in bidding for top-secret defence projects.

At the DAC meeting here today, a vital Electronic Warfare (EW) system for the army's mechanised corps will be categorised as ‘Buy Indian', instead of being handed over on a platter to government-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL, also termed a defence public sector unit), as the MoD had earlier planned.

The ‘Buy Indan' category (described in the currently valid Defence Procurement Policy of 2011, or DPP-2011) implies a range of Indian companies would be invited to bid for the estimated Rs 1,800-crore contract to develop a ‘Track and wheel-based EW system' (TWBEWS).

EW is modern warfare's increasingly crucial fourth dimension, fought over the electromagnetic spectrum using sophisticated detection and jamming equipment. The winner of the physical battle on land, sea and air is being increasingly decided through this unseen battle, where both sides scan each other's radio, radar and data emissions. This helps them gather intelligence and, at a key moment in battle, cripple the enemy's electronics with powerful electromagnetic surges, leaving him directionless and blind.

With electronics now ubiquitous in military systems — fighter aircraft, tanks, guns and missiles — a potent EW system degrades the enemy's capability, breaking his force into isolated, incoherent units. For obvious reasons of security, the military wants EW systems to be designed and built entirely in India.

Initially, several Indian companies were offered the opportunity to develop a TWBEWS (MoD letter No B/50529/TWBEWS/ SURAJ dated June 12, 2008). Then, as Business Standard reported on February 12, 2010, (‘MoD breaks its own rules to favour its PSU'), the MoD discarded competitive bidding and handed the contract to BEL, categorising the procurement as ‘BUY INDIAN, BEL' No such category exists in the MoD's Defence Procurement Procedures of 2006 and 2008 (DPP-2006; and DPP-2008).

‘PSUs are special'

At that time, the minister of state for defence production, M M Pallam Raju, had justified BEL's preferential treatment, saying, "I think that we have a responsibility to the DPSUs, since [their] ownership rests with the Government of India.&"

The MoD has been forced to abandon that paternalistic approach under pressure from the Indian Army. After BEL made little headway in integrating EW systems into armoured vehicles, senior generals began to worry if their mechanised formations — which have the crucial wartime task of striking deep into Pakistan — might be left without EW support. The army then demanded the TWBEWS be awarded by competitive tender.

BEL and other companies that now hope to compete in the massive Rs 1,800-crore tender for the TWBEWS see it as a cash cow that would cross-subsidise several other EW projects being tendered. These include the Integrated EW system for cross-country and desert terrain; the Heliborne EW system; and the ‘Integrated electronic warfare system (IEWS) for mountain terrain&".

This reverse for BEL has not seriously dented MoD's support to it. Though the giant DPSU was eliminated from the global tender for the IEWS for mountain terrain (BEL's product was judged technically unsuitable, leaving Tata Power and Israeli company ELTA in the fray), the MoD has awarded a follow-on tranche of the project (called Him Shakti) to BEL without competitive bidding. MoD had also awarded BEL earlier contracts for low power jammers and a low intensity conflict EW system.

Each corps of the Indian Army will be allocated an EW system. While the basic electronic components in each remain the same, the packaging and inbuilt mobility caters for the operational role of the corps. For instance, the IEWS for mountain terrain is mounted on smaller, lighter vehicles and has a manpack component. In contrast, TWBEWS is mounted on armoured, tracked vehicles and will be allocated to each of the three strike corps.