Thursday, 21 March 2013

IAF crashes lose one fighter squadron every 2 yrs

Over the last five financial years a total of 50 IAF aircraft have crashed, including 37 fighters and 13 helicopters

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Mar 13

According to figures released by the defence ministry (MoD) in parliament today, the Indian Air Force (IAF) loses the equivalent of one fighter squadron (16-18 fighters) in crashes every two years. With the IAF repeatedly expressing concern over the declining number of squadrons - now down to 32-33 squadrons against a minimum operational requirement of 42 squadrons - even the induction of new aircraft like the Rafale fighter will not make up the numbers.

Over the last five financial years, including the current year that ends on March 31, a total of 50 IAF aircraft have crashed, including 37 fighters and 13 helicopters. Breaking this down year-wise, the MoD says 8 fighters and 2 helicopters crashed in 2008-09; 10 fighters and 2 helicopters crashed in 2009-10; 6 fighters and 6 helicopters crashed in 2010-11; 9 fighters and 1 helicopter crashed in 2011-12; and 4 fighters and 2 helicopters have crashed in the current year.

“In the above accidents, a total of 17 pilots and 18 Service personnel were killed. Also, 6 civilians were killed and 25 injured,” the MoD statement says.

With no insurance covering military aircraft, the financial loss can be assessed only in terms of replacement cost. With each Sukhoi-30, the cheapest aircraft being currently inducted, costing close to Rs 350 crore, the loss of eight fighters per year to crashes amounts to an annual loss of over Rs 2,800 crore. The Rafale, going by current indications, could cost Rs 450-500 crore per aircraft, which is also the anticipated price of the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft that will only be operational at the end of this decade.

For the IAF, crashes are a serious issue. On November 05, 2012, Defence Minister A K Antony had spoken to the Parliamentary Consultative Committee for Defence about the high number of crashes. Antony said the IAF was focusing on “the training standards of young fighter aircrew,” by “strengthening of training procedures.”

This innocuous statement is shorthand for one of the IAF's most critical problems today: the compromise in basic training after the grounding of the entire basic trainer fleet of HPT-32 aircraft in 2009 in response to a series of accidents involving this aircraft. While a new basic trainer was being selected and the contract finalised, rookie IAF pilots underwent makeshift training, learning basic flying on the relatively advanced Kiran trainer.

Currently, the first batch of Pilatus PC-7 Mark-II basic trainers, bought from Switzerland, are being inducted and the first batch of pilots will begin training in July. This, say senior IAF officers, is expected to bring down accident rates significantly.

In the second half of the last decade, the induction of the Hawk advanced jet trainer, bought from BAE Systems of the UK, had significantly reduced the IAF's accident rate.

Also in the development pipeline is the Intermediate Jet Trainer, which Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd is developing as a Stage-2 trainer. Rookie pilots who have completed Stage-1 training on the Pilatus, would do Stage-2 training on the IJT before graduating to the Hawk AJT for Stage-3 training.

“Only after undergoing these three stages of training can a pilot get into the cockpit of a frontline combat fighter. Any shortcuts would lead to high accident rates during operational flying,” says Pushpinder Singh, the publisher of Vayu magazine and an expert on combat aviation.

“A decade or so back, the IAF was losing almost a squadron of fighters every year to crashes. The current rate is actually good by comparison. As the IAF fleet becomes more modern and the old MiG-21s and MiG-27s retire, we will see a further decline in accidents,” says Air Marshal Pranab K Barbora, a former IAF vice chief.

To reduce helicopter accident rates, Antony told parliament that "an unusually high number of accidents and incidents on helicopters occur, when they are operating away from their parent base", and so all helicopter units had undergone a special inspection. Some "shortcomings" had been found and they were being rectified.

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Missing the moment in Kashmir

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Mar 13

At midnight on Saturday, Pakistan's National Assembly completed its five-year term, the first time an elected government has completed its term in that country. If a caretaker government holds elections within 60 days, in accordance with Pakistan's Constitution, it will mark the first democratic transition of power. Outgoing prime minister Raja Pervez Ashraf overstated things in his farewell speech when he declared: "Democracy is now so strong, that nobody will stage an ambush against it." But from such tender shoots does democracy flower.

The many Indians who believe that a democratic Pakistan is the key to better relations should share Mr Ashraf's satisfaction; but, in fact, most Indians seem miffed rather than satisfied. That is because Pakistan's outgoing National Assembly, in its last act on Thursday, passed a resolution criticising the hanging of Afzal Guru for his role in a suicide strike on India's Parliament that had sparked a near-war between the two countries. India's Parliament responded the next day with a unanimous resolution condemning "Pakistani interference" and calling upon Pakistan's National Assembly to desist from "support for extremist and terrorist elements". Apoplectic New Delhi insiders say the dialogue process is in deep freeze. So much for democracy as a facilitator of good relations!

Realist watchers of the on-now-off-now India-Pakistan relationship suspect that there will be no more than a three-month interregnum in talks unless Pakistan ratchets up support to cross-border militancy and terrorism. But they may be wrong because a combination of factors suggests contentious days ahead for the Delhi-Srinagar-Islamabad triangle. In the run-up to the American troop drawdown from Afghanistan, the next two years were always going to present a serious challenge to India's diplomatic and security establishment. Any strategist would have foreseen that a positive situation in Kashmir would have freed up New Delhi to shape events in AfPak to its advantage. Sadly, New Delhi will end up fighting fires in Kashmir with one hand while juggling the AfPak playground with the other.

When future historians look back at the last two decades and the ongoing one, they will surely identify New Delhi's most inexcusable strategic folly as its failure to establish a compact with Kashmir (assuming that an even greater blunder does not lie ahead!). During the two and a half years since September 2010 when three years of widespread street violence died down, New Delhi has had the most propitious conditions for devising long-term measures to drain the swamp of resentment in Kashmir. The populace was sick of violence; tourist arrivals, burgeoning year on year, gave them a glimpse of what peace offered; a separatist leadership, worried by the glimpse of new and more radical leaders, was amenable to a settlement; the army, led by a visionary corps commander, was trying to establish a new relationship with Kashmiris; concessions on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) in concert with the army presented an easy way to strengthen the nationalist leaders, particularly the chief minister, Omar Abdullah; and a trio of interlocutors produced a report that could have been the basis for a sustained dialogue with a spectrum of Kashmiri opinion. Finally, the Pakistan army, preoccupied with insurgency in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province, had little appetite for problems on the India border. As a result, Kashmir also enjoyed an unprecedented lull in militancy.

New Delhi failed to capitalise on these fortuitous circumstances and now several of them have faded away. New Delhi - with a flat refusal to review AFSPA, its inability to establish dialogue, and its insensitive handling of the Afzal Guru hanging - is providing the fuel for resentment to flare. The recent fidayeen attack on a CRPF camp shows that militants retain their capability to strike once popular support rekindles. And with no dialogue initiated with the "moderate separatists", the hardest-liner leaders will command the attention of the street.

Complicating that inaction in Kashmir, New Delhi's relations with Islamabad (and Rawalpindi) are also spiralling downwards after the beheading of an Indian jawan on the Line of Control and the National Assembly's provocative resolution on Thursday. Without a doubt, Pakistan's politicians - all with one beady eye on the forthcoming elections - went too far in passing that resolution. But the public tit for tat now threatens to introduce India into Pakistan's election campaign as everyone's whipping boy. That would generate long-term fallout, leaving Pakistan's new government with a poisoned legacy of having promised to show India its place.

New Delhi must keep in mind that even as trade with Pakistan grows, visas are liberalised and Islamabad insists that "all parties" (a euphemism for the army) are on board the peace process, the Kashmir issue has not faded --- nor ever will --- into insignificance. For Pakistan, Kashmir's symbolism and strategic value - in terms of national and emotional identity, military value or as an upper riparian for waters - will keep bringing it back as a "core issue" whenever circumstances become vitiated between New Delhi and Srinagar.

Highlighting the need for structurally stabilising the Delhi-Srinagar relationship is the ongoing drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan, heading for a minimal presence in 2014 that could even be, as it was in Iraq, a zero presence with a full pull-out. While that would depend upon how Hamid Karzai the brinkman negotiates a Status of Forces Agreement with Washington, India must start preparing for an Afghanistan where its interests are guaranteed not by US troops but by self-sustaining structures in an environment in which Pakistan seems set to play a larger role. I am close to certain that the Pakistani establishment, with its domineering, colonial mindset on Afghanistan, will be unable to consolidate what a needlessly insecure New Delhi considers a winning hand. Either way, India must prepare for ripples from a new AfPak environment washing up in Kashmir.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Nirbhay cruise missile test achieves partial success

Missile performs well up to 200 kilometres before fizzling

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Mar 13

The globally-watched first test of one of India’s most challenging technology projects --- the Nirbhay cruise missile, being developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) --- achieved only partial success this morning at Chandipur, where the military tests most of its missiles.

The Nirbhay is an Indian version of the US military’s Tomahawk cruise missile, which became an icon of high-tech warfare through CNN video footage during the 1991 Gulf War of Tomahawk’s flying through the streets of Baghdad and entering target buildings through open windows.

Like the Tomahawk, the Nirbhay is a long range (1000-2000 kilometres), subsonic (below the speed of sound, 1,236 kmph) cruise missile. For the military this is a crucial system that flies into heavily defended enemy airspace, where anti-aircraft missiles, guided by a thick radar network, would quickly shoot down a manned fighter. But a cruise missile, flying at treetop level and with a smaller radar signature than a fighter aircraft, would be far better equipped to survive the flight to its target.

This was the missile that the DRDO tested on Tuesday. Describing the test to Business Standard, senior scientists who were present say the Nirbhay was launched just before noon from the Interim Test Range at Chandipur, watched by an array of DRDO scientists including the chief, Dr VK Saraswat. The launch was perfect and the booster established the missile in cruise mode correctly. The Nirbhay flew more than 200 kilometres along the Odisha coast, skimming the Bay of Bengal, watched by radars along the coastline. The navigation too was perfect, with the Nirbhay correctly touching the first two “way-points”, which marked the route that the missile was to take. Things went wrong only after 15 minutes of flight, when the Nirbhay significantly deviated from its path. Since it was close to the inhabited coastline, a self-destruct mechanism inside the missile was activated to destroy it.

“I would call the test 80 per cent successful. The Nirbhay demonstrated that it could take off correctly, establish a cruise profile, and navigate to its initial waypoints. These were new performance parameters that we had never tested before, so we are satisfied that the test proved those. But then, one of the sub-systems malfunctioned and we had to terminate the test. All that remains is to determine why this happened and to rectify the flaw,” explains Dr Avinash Chander, the DRDO’s missile chief and a key architect of the Agni ballistic missile programme.

A key hurdle to developing a long-range cruise missile is the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which forbids signatories from assisting or providing technology to any other country developing a cruise missile with a range of 300 kilometres or more. India and Russia could collaborate in developing the Brahmos supersonic cruise missile because its range was pegged at 295 kilometres, just below the MTCR limit. In building the Nirbhay, however, India has had to go it alone.

The MTCR forbids collaboration in building cruise missiles because they could be used for delivering nuclear weapons. Since the Nirbhay will eventually be a canisterised missile, it could also be launched from submarines with a nuclear warhead, increasing the versatility of the third leg of the nuclear triad.

Pakistan is ahead of India in cruise missiles, having tested and operationally deployed the Babur (Hatf VII) cruise missile. There is speculation among international analysts, however, that the engine of the Hatf VII has been provided by China in violation of the MTCR.

The key design challenge of developing an air-breathing turbine engine that can propel the Nirbhay, has been met by the Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), Bangalore.

A terse message from the Defence PRO today stated, “Long range cruise missile Nirbhay was successfully launched today at 1150 hrs from launch complex, Chandipur, Odisha, meeting the basic mission objectives successfully.  After travelling approximately mid-way, deviations were observed from its intended course. Further, flight was terminated to ensure coastal safety.”

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Nirbhay cruise missile launched, DRDO calls it a partial success

DRDO Press Release: Long range cruise missile Nirbhay was successfully launched at 1150 hrs from launch complex, Chandipur, Odisha,  meeting the basic mission objectives successfully.  After travelling approximately mid-way, deviations were observed from its intended course.  Further, flight was terminated to ensure coastal safety.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Indigenising defence production: The necessary goal

Defence cuts in the prototype development budget have effectively bombed indigenisation

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Feb 13

The anaemic growth in India's defence capital budget this year, along with news that China is expanding its own more robustly, puts indigenisation to the forefront of the conversation again. As Defence Minister A K Antony has argued, it is essential for India to build its own defence equipment to avoid the skulduggery that is involved in buying arms. No country has ever become a great power without building its own arms. This is no longer just a question of strategic autonomy; today it is also a military-technical issue, in an era when the capabilities of defence equipment depend more on software than on hardware and when it is increasingly easy to compromise weaponry sold to another country through the introduction of malware and kill switches.

No defence industry can be built without careful nurturing from the government. If Russia builds some of the world's best fighter aircraft, while being unable to build a decent passenger car, it is because Moscow has spent decades on an aviation production eco-structure while leaving the automobile industry to develop itself. While the private sector has been allowed into defence production since 2001, entrepreneurs have been expected to build their own capabilities - with the ministry of defence (MoD) playing little role in co-ordinating, mentoring, funding or monitoring. Without any funding support for the risky and high-cost research and development, or R&D, that underpins defence systems, and without any assured orders for the weaponry that they develop, why would firms invest? Complicating matters even further is the maze of regulations. Companies cannot build or import ammunition without obtaining time-consuming permissions. No weaponry can be test-fired since the government controls all firing ranges. A range of tax benefits that have been extended to the moribund defence public sector units are denied to private companies.

The MoD must bring together the military, the Defence Research and Development Organisation and the defence industry to identify at least 100 R&D and production projects that will feed into weapon systems that India can realistically build. This will need the MoD to declassify a sanitised version of the military's Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan, which identifies the capabilities that the military needs to build. The MoD had promised to release a public version of the plan a year ago, but even today the defence industry remains in the dark, with no indication of what systems or sub-systems it should develop and build. Finally, once these projects are identified, they must be allocated to public and private defence players following transparent and fair bidding. This is already provided for in the Defence Procurement Policy, which permits 80 per cent funding by the government, with the defence company paying up the balance. Astonishingly, while the MoD's Acquisition Wing has informally identified a hundred "Make" category projects, not a single one has actually entered development. A year ago, the MoD's Acquisition Wing head had announced that 150-180 "Make" category projects would be identified and put up on the MoD's website. But with nothing having been done towards this, and with the defence budget for the next year slashing funding for this, indigenisation is set to remain a slogan rather than a reality.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Defence indigenisation under Budget squeeze

Indigenous defence projects allocated just Rs 1 crore, down from Rs 89 crore last year

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Mar 13

The Defence Budget for 2013-14 starkly underlines the gap between the minister's proclamations about the need to indigenise defence equipment on the one hand, and the money his ministry allocates for developing equipment on the other.

On February 20, buffeted by allegations of wrongdoing in the Ministry of Defence (MoD)'s Rs 4,000-crore purchase of VVIP helicopters, Minister A K Antony declared the indigenisation was essential to eliminate corruption in arms procurement.

Just eight days after, it was clear this would not be pursued seriously, at least during the coming financial year. In the Defence Budget for 2013-14, the 'Prototype Development' head, from which indigenous projects are funded, was allocated just Rs 1 crore, down from Rs 89 crore in the previous year.

The allocations for 'Prototype Development' are made under Major Head 4076 of MoD Demand No 27, Capital Outlay on Defence Services.

This allocation is intended to fund 'Make' category projects, i.e. defence systems developed by consortiums led by Indian companies, with the MoD financing 80 per cent of the cost. Currently, the MoD is processing two 'Make' category projects: a Tactical Communications System (TCS), a mobile communications backbone network for the field army; and the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle (FICV), an armoured, tracked vehicle that carries infantry into battle.

Last year, the Rs 89 crore allocated for 'Prototype Development' exactly matched the payout to be made for the TCS project. But MoD has not disbursed a single paisa of this. The amount will be surrendered on March 31.

"The non-utilisation of last year's allocation, and the allocation of just Rs 1 crore for this year, makes it clear the MoD is paying lip service to indigenisation. Clearly no 'Make' category projects will see any progress in the coming year," says a chief executive officer (CEO) of a company engaged in the defence business, speaking anonymously.

Business Standard has learnt the MoD's acquisition wing has handed the national security advisor a list of 100 defence items that can be pursued indigenously as the 'Make' category projects. But there has been no movement on these projects, either in the MoD or the National Security Council.

Further, the Ministry of Finance (MoF) has ignored the recommendations of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) that defence manufacturing be given tax benefits under Section 80-IA of the Income Tax Act, which is provided to long-gestation, capital-intensive industries such as power.

This compensates domestic industry for the high cost of capital in these long-gestation industries. Under Section 80-IA, the profits that eventually accrue are allowed a five-year tax holiday. Ficci and CII have argued that defence manufacture, a highly capital-intensive industry, should be allowed this incentive. The Budget has entirely ignored this recommendation.

"It is disheartening that the government has again ignored the important issue of extending Section 80-IA benefits to investments in defence manufacturing. I hope this omission and the cut in the Prototype Development allocation is an aberration that will be corrected before the budget is approved," says Rahul Chaudhry, CEO of Tata Power (strategic electronics division).

The MoF and MoD have also ignored a Ficci recommendation that companies doing defence research and development (R&D) be allowed tax incentives under Section 35AB. This provides 200 per cent tax benefit for money spent on defence R&D.

The industry argues that defence R&D uses the same people and infrastructure that earn tax-exempt dollar income when deployed in streams such as design engineering services. With no tax exemption under Section 35AB for defence R&D, domestic industry would prefer to deploy personnel in fields where tax incentives exist.

Despite urging indigenisation, Antony apparently believes private companies themselves should invest the enormous sums that go into defence R&D. On January 31, speaking to an industry gathering here, Antony called upon the Indian defence industry to forsake its "miserly attitude" towards R&D spending.