Thursday, 30 May 2013

Navy eyes high-tech options for future aircraft carriers

General Atomics briefs navy on magnetic catapult that launches unmanned fighters

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th May 13

The Indian Navy --- one of just nine navies that operate aircraft carriers --- is thinking high-tech in planning its second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal. The admirals are deciding whether INS Vishal, still only a concept, should launch aircraft from its deck using a technology so advanced that it is not yet in service anywhere: the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS).

Getting a fully loaded combat aircraft airborne off a short, 200-metre-long deck is a key challenge in aircraft carrier operations. The INS Viraat, currently India’s only aircraft carrier, uses Short Take Off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) since its Harrier “jump-jets” take off and land almost like helicopters. INS Vikramaditya, which Russia will deliver this year, uses Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR). The Vikramaditya’s MiG-29K fighters will fly off an inclined ramp called a “ski-jump”; and land with the help of arrester wires laid across the deck, which snag on a hook on the fighter’s tail, literally dragging it to a halt. This system will also be used on the first indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which Cochin Shipyard plans to deliver by 2017.

But INS Vishal, which will follow the Vikrant, might employ a third technique --- Catapult Assisted Take Off But Arrested Recovery, or CATOBAR. Perfected by the US Navy since World War II, this has a steam-driven piston system along the flight deck “catapulting” the aircraft to 200 kilometres per hour, fast enough to get airborne. With greater steam pressure, significantly heavier aircraft can be launched. US Navy carriers launch the E-2D Hawkeye, a lumbering Airborne Early Warning (AEW) aircraft that scans airspace over hundreds of kilometres.

EMALS, the new-generation catapult that the Indian Navy is evaluating, uses a powerful electro-magnetic field instead of steam. Developed by General Atomics, America’s largest privately held defence contractor, EMALS has been chosen by the US Department of Defence for its new-generation aircraft carriers. The first EMALS-equipped carrier, the USS Gerald R Ford, will enter service by 2016.

In Delhi Last Thursday, General Atomics briefed thirty Indian Navy captains and admirals on EMALS. Scott Forney III, the senior General Atomics official who conducted the briefing, told Business Standard that tight US controls over this guarded technology required special permission from Washington for sharing technical details of EMALS with India.

Senior Indian naval planners tell Business Standard that INS Vikrant, India’s next 40,000 tonne aircraft carrier, will use STOBAR to operate its complement of MiG-29K and Tejas light fighters. But Vikrant’s successor, the 65,000 tonne INS Vishal could well be a CATOBAR carrier that launches larger and more diverse aircraft.

“While current fighters like the MiG-29K can operate with STOBAR systems, our options will increase with CATOBAR. We could operate heavier fighters, AEW aircraft and, crucially, UCAVs (unmanned combat air vehicles). A UCAV would require a CATOBAR system for launch,” says one admiral.

The navy is closely following UCAV development in India and abroad. On May 14, the X-47B UCAV that Northrop Grumman is developing for the US Navy became the first UCAV to be catapulted off an aircraft carrier, the USS George HW Bush.

Naval planners believe that, with INS Vishal likely to enter service in the early 2020s, they should plan on operating UCAVs from that carrier, as well as an AEW aircraft, and medium and light fighters.

“We could greatly expand our mission envelope with UCAVs, using the pilotless aircraft for high risk reconnaissance and SEAD (suppression of enemy air defences). Mid-air refueling would let us keep UCAVs on mission for 24-36 hours continuously, since pilot fatigue would not be a factor,” says a naval planner.

General Atomics has emphasized the EMALS’ ability to launch multiple aircraft. It has told the navy that EMALS causes less wear and tear on carrier-launched aircraft since electric power can be delivered more accurately than steam. It also launches aircraft quicker; requires less personnel to operate; and its high acceleration allows launches in still conditions, when STOBAR aircraft carriers must sail at 20-30 knots to generate “wind-over-deck,” needed to create the lift required for take off.

“We have completed 134 test launches across five classes of aircraft, including the F-35C Joint Strike Fighter; the F/A-18E Super Hornet; the C-2A Greyhound (delivery aircraft); the T-45 Goshawk trainer; and the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye,” Forney briefed the navy.

While the navy is impressed by the EMALS’ capabilities, there is apprehension that buying it may prove difficult. It would be a “single-vendor” procurement of a system that is untested in operational service, making it hard to validate General Atomics’ claim of being cheaper in the long term.

But industry watchers point out that cutting-edge equipment like EMALS is what New Delhi wants from US-India defense relations. “The EMALS enhances India’s strategic capability. If New Delhi deems this a priority for collaboration, the US might well sanction the release of this technology,” says Manohar Thyagaraj, of the Observer Research Foundation.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Tracking Afghanistan's 900-pound guerrilla

Former Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, Mullah Zaeef, autographs his book. A must-read for Afghanistan-watchers

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th May 13

“The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core Al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP (Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula) must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves Al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States,” declared US President Barack Obama on Thursday at the National Defence University, Washington DC. He was announcing the effective end of America’s global war on terror; a sharp curtailment of the drone strike programme; and confirming that most American troops would pull out from Afghanistan by end-2014.

This is mixed news for India. For a dozen years since 9/11, the US military has secured the Afghan playground, providing the tenuous security in which India’s $2 billion aid programme has enhanced our already friendly image. But the US military presence has also backstopped Hamid Karzai’s artificial, centralized regime --- an alien political construct in inherently federal Afghanistan. And America’s presence has been the oxygen that sustained the Taliban insurgency.

The Taliban will not be the only winners from the US drawdown, as a range of Afghan regional leaders would reassert control over their traditional support bases. Panjsheri leaders, Ismael Khan in Herat, Rashid Dostum in Uzbek areas, and Mohaqiq and Khalili in the Hazarajat will all reclaim the influence that US power and money forced them to cede to Hamid Karzai in Kabul. So too will the canny Hizb-e-Islami chieftain, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who is waging an underground armed struggle; while simultaneously fielding candidates in legitimate elections to parliament.

Heading the list of losers will be Hamid Karzai, or his successor in the presidential palace in Kabul (In New Delhi last week, Karzai had declared, “no circumstance will allow me to stay as president”). With fewer foreign troops, curtailed funding and a military that serious reverses could fracture along ethnic fault lines, Kabul’s writ could be confined to a dramatically reduced geography. Since the next government in Kabul will be just one of the pack, rather than the ultimate arbiter of power that it has been since 2001, New Delhi was wise last week in treating cautiously Karzai’s “wish list” for Indian weaponry.

Dealing equitably with Afghanistan’s disparate power players while continuing to support the ebbing power in Kabul would position New Delhi for brokering a suitable peace settlement in Afghanistan. Given the war fatigue in that country and the trust that India enjoys there, New Delhi is well poised to play Honest Joe. For that, New Delhi must consciously demonstrate even-handedness. It can no longer arm Kabul, or any Afghan group, to the exclusion of the others.

India can only broker peace in post-2014 Afghanistan if it has dialogue linkages with every major faction. Since the anti-Soviet jihad ended in 1989, India has developed strong relations and functional partnerships with a cross-section of Afghan groups. But three major groups still remain beyond New Delhi’s influence --- the Taliban’s Quetta Shoora (or Rehbari Shoora), led by Mullah Omar; the Hizb-e-Islami; and the Haqqani Network. While the Hizb-e-Islami’s immensely pragmatic (and widely reviled) chief, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, would respond to New Delhi’s blandishments, the Haqqani Network --- funded, organised and controlled by the Pakistan Army --- would emphatically reject dialogue with Indian interlocutors. That leaves the 900-pound guerrilla of the southern Pashtun heartland, Mullah Omar and the Quetta Shoora, which India has long ignored because of a mixture of short-sightedness, unimaginativeness, incompetence, prejudice and fear.

Even as evidence piles up of the Quetta Shoora’s disillusionment with Pakistan and its heavy-handed, unsophisticated spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), New Delhi incredibly refuses to accept, or act on, its good fortune. Despite indications of friction between an exploitative Islamabad and a rebellious Taliban leadership for whom Afghan interests take precedence over Pakistan’s, New Delhi clings onto a monochromatic worldview in which the fundamentalist Taliban is the Evil Empire. South Block does not perceive that the Taliban has to align with the pro-India (and anti-Pakistan) sentiment of the Afghan people. Instead New Delhi keeps trotting out the historically unjustifiable bugaboo that, having sent off the Americans, the Taliban would then divert its attention to Kashmir A top Indian government official even says: “If Mullah Omar is serious about repairing relations with India, let him first prove it!”

While New Delhi waits for its windfall to validate itself, Pakistan has understood what India has not --- that influence rests on contacts and relationships across the power spectrum. Expecting to shape the outcome in Afghanistan, Pakistan is building bridges with traditional Indian friends there, especially members of the erstwhile Northern Alliance, and with Hamid Karzai who is happy to take out insurance with his powerful, and vengeful, neighbour.

New Delhi’s reluctance to engage the Quetta Shoora also stems from the absence of intelligence mechanisms needed for contacting the Taliban leadership. With Mullah Omar in the ISI’s custody and with other senior leaders scattered in Pakistan and southern Afghanistan, a strong Indian intelligence presence around Kandahar would be essential for initiating the engagement. Giving the lie to Pakistan’s conviction that Indian agents in Kandahar are fuelling the entire Baluchistan insurrection, the rather more prosaic truth is that the Indian consulate in Kandahar is so preoccupied with surviving day-to-day that there is little scope for more derring-do tasks like contacting Mullah Omar.

Establishing dialogue with the Quetta Shoora must be recognized as a key strategic requirement. This would allow India to catalyse a favourable settlement in post-2014 Afghanistan, something that would be in the interests of every player involved, and especially the Afghan people. There is a wellspring of trust in Indian goodwill in Afghanistan. New Delhi must also trust in its own influence and ability. 

Private defence companies get new playing field

The defence ministry wants imports to be the last option. But the military could still scuttle indigenisation to buy abroad. What better example than the Arjun tank?

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th May 13

The ongoing saga of India's artillery procurement highlights the difficulties that the defence ministry's ad hoc equipment acquisition process presents for private sector companies in the defence sector. As Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief V K Saraswat points out, India should have begun developing today's generation of guns in the 1990s, when the Bofors FH-77B field howitzer had just entered service. That would have provided Indian scientists, engineers and companies with the lead time needed for developing an indigenous artillery system.

"Complex modern weapons systems do not get created by waving a jaadu-ki-chhari (magic wand)," explains Saraswat caustically. "They take planning, funding and, most importantly, time."

But none of this was forthcoming, recounts the DRDO chief. Over the years, the army blocked several proposals to develop a futuristic 155-mm gun, arguing that Bofors AG had handed over the technology to build howitzers in India, and that it would meet Indian requirements for decades to come. But the Ordnance Factory Board, which received the technology, never built the gun in India. As a result, there was no choice but to buy a successor to the Bofors FH-77B. But a decade of attempts to buy the weapon have come to naught, with potential suppliers like Denel, Rheinmetall, Soltam and Israel Military Industries (IMI) being blacklisted by the defence ministry for alleged corruption.

Today, worryingly short of artillery (guns, artillery and howitzers are used interchangeably), a panic-stricken defence ministry is acquiring 155-mm guns on several simultaneous tracks. A global tender has been issued for ultralight 155-mm, 39-calibre howitzers; at the same time, the Ordnance Factory Board has been charged with building a heavier 45-calibre version of the 39-calibre Bofors FH-77B gun; and DRDO is leading another programme to develop a futuristic 155-mm, 52-calibre howitzer.

(While all these guns fire shells that are 155 mm in diameter, the term calibre points to the length of the gun's barrel. A higher calibre indicates a longer barrel, which provides longer range.)

India's private sector defence companies are also in the fray. Having scrapped an international tender for buying a 155-mm, 52-calibre gun, the defence ministry wants the Indian industry to develop a gun through the "Buy & Make" (Indian) category. This would mean a domestic company would head the consortium set up for the project.

Changing the game

The "Buy & Make" (Indian) acquisition category, and the "Make" category, are now touted as key routes for the private sector to build real defence capabilities, which include R&D, prototype development, testing and manufacture. Until 2001, when the private sector was permitted into defence (subject to licencing and with no more than 26 per cent foreign holding), "indigenisation" had long meant licenced production in India of equipment already in service in foreign armies. Experience had shown that global vendors were unwilling to transfer high-end technology.

"The Indian experience of licenced manufacture consisted of building low-and-middle-tech components and sub-systems in India while importing key components and sub-systems," says Rahul Chaudhry, chief executive of Tata Power (strategic electronics division).

To break out of this corner and to catalyse the entire development cycle in India, including R&D, prototype development, testing and manufacture, successive Defence Procurement Policies (DPPs), including DPP-2005, 2006, 2008 and 2011, created procurement categories like "Make" and "Buy and Make (Indian)."

The "Make" category, which was promulgated in DPP-2006, harnesses Indian industry for developing complex, high-tech systems like combat vehicles, communications networks, etc. The defence ministry undertakes to pay 80 per cent of the cost of development in order to minimise financial risks, but the lead integrator company is left free to enter into technological partnerships with foreign vendors.

The "Make" category was to "energise the industrial base" of the country. Speaking at Defexpo, an exhibition of internal security systems, last year, the defence ministry's top procurement official at that time, Director General of Acquisitions Vivek Rae, had promised an eager audience of private sector chief executives that a list of 150-180 "Make" category projects would be put up on the ministry's website for companies to start developing those products.

"The process of design and development, and sharing of risks and costs on an 80:20 basis will galvanise the Indian industry and help develop capabilities," Rae had said.

But, the "Make" category has been languishing for some time now. In fact, it has not yielded a single product in seven years. Just two projects have been tendered-the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle, and the Tactical Communications System-but neither has led to a development contract. Meanwhile, the allocation of funds for "Make" projects has been cut to Rs 1 crore in 2013-14 from Rs 89 crore last year.

However, some recent amendments to DPP-2011 announced by the defence ministry last month give a glimmer of hope to the private sector. A detailed policy is still awaited, but the defence ministry has committed to sharing a public version of the military's Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP), covering the 15-year period from 2012 to 2027, with the industry. Termed the "Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap," this document would spell out the broad outlines of weaponry and systems that the army would require in the coming 15 years. The idea is to give the private sector the lead-time needed for developing the systems.

The new policy expressly mandates that the military will buy foreign weapons only if every other option for developing the system in India has been explored and found non-feasible. This shifts the onus for pursuing indigenisation onto the military.

The new defence ministry procedure specifies "a preferred order of categorisation, with global cases being a choice of last resort. The order of preference, in decreasing order, shall be: "Buy (Indian)", "Buy & Make (Indian)"; "Make"; "Buy & Make with technology transfers"; and "Buy (global)".

To ensure that any deviation from this order of preference is properly scrutinised, the new rules require the military to provide a detailed written justification for the "reasons for excluding the higher preferred category/categories."

"This should give a fillip to domestic industry and enable technology tie-ups with global vendors. But, since the devil is in the details, we are waiting to see the detailed policy," says Rajinder Bhatia, who heads the defence business of Bharat Forge.

Chinks in the armour

Laxman Behera, an analyst at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, fears that the military could still find ways to buy abroad by producing a file noting to justify overseas procurement. What is needed, therefore, is a mind shift within the military in favour of indigenisation, he says.

The recent amendments to DPP, however, will provide the private sector with a level-playing field against the government-owned companies. For instance, now maintenance transfer of technology from foreign vendors will not go to an ordnance factory nominated by the defence ministry; instead, the foreign vendor can choose the Indian partner that it believes will best discharge the maintenance responsibility that the contract specifies. So far maintenance, repairs and overhaul contracts have largely been the preserve of ordnance factories and defence public sector undertaking (DPSUs) .

Micro, small and medium scale enterprises (MSMEs) will also be able to obtain funds more easily for developing defence equipment. The new policy says, "SIDBI has decided to earmark an amount of Rs 500 crore for providing loans (to defence MSMEs), and further, a fund of Rs 50 crore for equity support out of 'India Opportunities Fund' managed by its subsidiary, namely, SIDBI Venture Capital."

Several other positive steps are in the offing, such as the simplification of licencing for defence production. As this newspaper reported, (May 18, 2013, "Defence ministry comes to private firms' aid"), the defence ministry has asked the finance ministry to give private sector companies exchange rate protection, much as it does with DPSUs and ordnance factories.

The defence ministry has also promised to quickly clear "Make" and "Buy & Make (Indian)" procurement contracts worth Rs 1,20,000 crore that are in limbo.

Private defence company chief executives admit that most of their key demands have been conceded by the defence ministry. If the private sector proves better than the discredited DPSUs in delivering equipment without time and cost overruns, the Indian military may finally rid itself from the humiliating tag of being the "world's biggest importer of defence equipment".


* The onus for indigenisation is now equally with the military as with equipment makers

* The military will have to provide a detailed written justification for placing orders abroad

* The defence ministry will indicate what equipment it would require in the coming 15 years

* MSMEs will have easier access to funds for developing defence equipment

* Foreign vendors can choose Indian partners for transferring maintenance technology

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Every officer a technical graduate: The navy creates a warrior-engineer force

The navy wants a 13,700 officer force, all of them technical graduates 

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th May 13

On Saturday, amongst 302 cadets who passed out from the Indian Naval Academy (INA) in Ezhimala, Kerala, were 60 from the navy’s first batch of regular officers who are also fully qualified engineers. An increasingly high-tech, equipment-oriented navy is aiming to have every single officer holding a B.Tech or M.Sc degree.

“A warship on the high seas, whether in war or peace, is entirely on its own. The crew must be able to fix any technical problem that arises in that complex vessel. That requires every officer, from the captain downwards, to be technologically qualified, while also being a battlefield leader,” says Rear Admiral SN Ghormade, the navy’s HRD chief.

This is a major shift, given that until the 1970s, cadets could become officers having passed nothing more than the 10th standard matriculation exam. That became 11th, then 12th, and the National Defence Academy, Khadakvasla (NDA) structured its academic curriculum so that the Jawaharlal Nehru University gave its cadets a bachelor’s degree after three years of training. But now the navy wants nothing less than qualified engineers --- not just in its technical branches, but also in its “executive branch”, which includes the captains and admirals who command battleships and fleets.

Training so many engineers is no easy task, given the navy’s rapid expansion. Authorized 10,600 officers today (there are actually just 8,700), the navy plans to expand to 13,700 officers --- all engineers --- by 2027. The defence ministry (MoD) has told Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence that the navy’s fleet --- about 140 vessels today --- would rise to 162 vessels by 2022.

That makes the navy the fastest growing of all three services. Allocated just 12 per cent of the country’s defence budget a decade ago, today the navy is handed some 18 per cent. Navy planners believe that --- given India’s growing focus on Indian Ocean trade route security and maritime linkages with the countries of the Indo-Pacific --- that share could rise to 25 per cent.

“The navy’s training challenge can be seen from its Manpower Perspective Plan for the next fifteen years. Today’s 8,700 officers, 50,000 sailors and 43,000 civilians will increase by 2027 to 13,700 officers, 85,000 sailors and 75,000 civilians,” says Admiral Ghormade.

Notwithstanding “lean manning” practices that it follows, the navy says that the “multi-role” nature of modern warships --- each one carrying many more weapons systems than older vessels --- require a large number of specialists.

Driving this transformation will be INA, Ezhimala, where officer cadets will undergo a four-year B.Tech syllabus that has been drawn up in conjunction with JNU and the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE). For a navy in a hurry, INA Ezhimala is much delayed: after Rajiv Gandhi laid the foundation stone in Jan 1987, curtailed defence expenditure over the next fifteen years allowed the current PM to inaugurate the academy only in 2009. The four-year B.Tech syllabus that officer cadets undergo has been drawn up by JNU, in conjunction with in conjunction with the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE).

The navy is following a global trend. The US Navy rotates its multi-skilled officers between engineering, electrical and executive branches. The Russian navy follows a different system, as do other western navies, but there is increasing emphasise on all in technical skills.

The Indian Navy has already benefited from having created a strong technical cadre of warship designers and engineers, resulting in several generations of indigenous warships having been built by defence shipyards: Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai; Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata; Goa Shipyard Ltd; and now the newly acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam. Of all the three services, only the navy has full-fledged directorates for equipment design and indigenisation: the Directorate General of Naval Design (DGND) and Directorate General of Indigenisation (DGI).

Eventually, the expanding Indian Navy will commission 1100 officer-engineers each year. INA, Ezhimala, will churn out 600-700 B.Tech qualified officers annually. Another 350 will be short service officers, who must already be B.Tech graduates before applying for the navy. And 100 cadets will join Ezhimala every year from NDA Khadakvasla, equipped with B.Sc. degrees from JNU. These will be converted into M.Sc. degrees after one year of technical training at Ezhimala, followed by another year of distance learning whilst serving on warships.