Thursday, 30 October 2014

Brazil chooses Gripen over Rafale; opens door for Indian navy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30 Oct 14

Brazil’s decision to buy the Swedish JAS-39E/F Gripen (or Gripen NG) has opened a tantalizing possibility for India’s defence ministry (MoD), which is frustrated after 33 months of negotiations with French company, Dassault on the proposed purchase of 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).

On Monday, October 27, Swedish defence giant, Saab, which builds the Gripen, announced that Brazil had signed a contract for 36 Gripen NG fighters for US $5.475 billion.

Brazil chose the Gripen NG over the Rafale (Dassault, France) and the F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing, USA).

Brazil will now ask Saab to develop the Sea Gripen, says defence analyst, INS Jane’s. Twenty-four of these “navalised” fighters will equip Brazil’s aircraft carrier, Sao Paulo.

IHS Jane’s also highlights the Indian Navy’s need for the Sea Gripen for two carriers that Cochin Shipyard is building --- the 40,000 tonne INS Vikrant and a larger, yet unnamed, successor referred to as the Future Indigenous Carrier.

So far, the Indian Navy had planned to fly a naval version of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) --- the Naval Tejas --- from these carriers. However, the Naval Tejas, which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is developing, may not be ready for service by 2018, when the Vikrant will be commissioned.

The Sea Gripen constitutes a new option as the Vikrant’s light fighter. The navy already has a medium fighter, the MiG-29K, on order from Russia.

Indian analysts, like Manoj Joshi of Observer Research Foundation, say buying the Sea Gripen would let the DRDO engage Saab as a design partner for the Naval Tejas and Tejas Mark II, both advanced versions of the current Tejas Mark I.

In 2011, then DRDO chief, Dr VK Saraswat, had approached Saab to collaborate in developing the Tejas Mark II. In 2012, the DRDO and Saab held detailed discussions. In January 2013, Saab was issued a Request for Proposal, which the DRDO examined and discussed. Yet nothing came of it.

The DRDO’s interest in Saab stems from the numerous technical parallels between the Tejas and the Gripen. Both are light fighters in the 14-tonne class. Whilst developing the Gripen NG, Saab changed the engine to the more powerful General Electric F-414 turbofan, and added more fuel; which is exactly what the DRDO proposes for the LCA Mark II. Fitting the bulkier, heavier F-414 into the Tejas would require re-engineering of the fuselage; a problem that Saab has promised to solve.

“The greatest benefit to the Tejas Mark II could be from the Gripen’s superb networking. Aerial combat is no longer about eye-catching aerobatics; it is about data links; networking, and cockpit avionics, which is Saab’s strength,” says Joshi.

The DRDO was also hoping to learn from Saab’s maintenance philosophy, which has made the Gripen the world’s most easy-to-maintain fighter. According to independent estimations, the Gripen requires three-five man-hours of maintenance per flight hour. That means, after an hour-long mission, 6-10 technicians require only 30 minutes to put the fighter back in the air.

In contrast, the Rafale is estimated to require 15 maintenance man-hours per flight hour; while the F-35 Lightening II requires 30-35 man-hours.

According to a Jane’s study, the operating cost of the Gripen is $4,700 per hour. The Rafale is thrice as expensive, at $15,000 per hour.

“The Tejas Mark I has not been designed with operational availability in mind. It is a maintenance nightmare, with sub-systems inaccessible. The Tejas Mark II will need Saab’s help in radically re-engineered these,” says a DRDO engineer.

Senior Saab officials say, off the record, they are keen to partner India in developing the Tejas Mark II. They say the Tejas Mark II, built cheaply in large numbers, would eliminate the need for a heavy, costly, highly sophisticated fighter like the Rafale. Saab sees major profit in co-developing the Tejas Mark II.

Brazil’s contract for 36 Gripen NGs comes on top of Stockholm’s decision to buy 60 of these fighters for the Swedish Air Force.

In 2011, Switzerland too had selected the Gripen over the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon. However, in an astonishing, nationwide referendum on the proposed $3.5 billion purchase, the Swiss people voted to spend the money instead on education, transport and pensions.

The current version of the Gripen NG, the Gripen D, is currently in operational service with the Swedish, Czech, Hungarian, South African and Royal Thai Air Forces, and also with the UK Empire Test Pilots’ School (ETPS).

Monday, 27 October 2014

Mr Jaitley’s best decision

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Oct 14

On Saturday, defence minister Arun Jaitley took his best procurement decision so far, relating to building six state-of-the-art submarines for the navy under Project 75I. He ruled that a ministry committee would identify Indian shipyards that had the capability and capacity to build submarines, and the chosen ones would bid, in partnership with a foreign vendor, on a winner-take-all basis. Over the last decade, three committees have been set up for precisely this purpose, but the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s antipathy for tough choices stymied any decision. Now, by giving the committee just six-eight weeks to submit its findings, Mr Jaitley gives us hope that he might be more energetic than his predecessor in filling a yawning gap in our maritime power.

That weakness is the dire shortfall of state-of-the-art submarines. Our powerful surface fleet of some 130 vessels grows stronger every year as Indian shipyards build bristling, multi-role destroyers, frigates and corvettes --- albeit slowly. The Russian-built aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, commissioned last November, flies the MiG-29K, one of the most capable carrier-borne fighters outside the US Navy. In 2018 Cochin Shipyard will hand over INS Vikrant; and then start building a larger, even more capable, indigenous carrier. These three carriers and their battleship escorts will project power far out at sea. Thanks to India’s peninsular geography and to forward air bases in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the Indian Air Force (IAF) can support a fleet a long distance away. In short, the surface navy is well poised to exercise “sea control” over chosen parts of the northern Indian Ocean.

Yet we lack “sea denial” capability, or the ability to deny enemy warships, submarines and merchantmen the use of waters that we do not control. Submarines are sea denial instruments, lurking underwater to detect and destroy enemy vessels that happen along. In a war with China, for example, the surface fleet --- operating as aircraft carrier battle groups --- might blockade Chinese oil supplies and trade; while submarines patrol the Indonesian archipelago, denying Chinese warships entry into the Indian Ocean. Other submarines might lurk outside Pakistani harbours, bottling up warships inside.

To build this crucial capability, the government signed off in 1999 on a plan to build 24 conventional submarines over the next 30 years. Although half that period elapsed this year, not a single submarine has joined the fleet. Six Scorpene submarines, built in Mumbai by Mazagon Dock Ltd (MDL), will start being commissioned only in 2016. Even so, they will be without air independent propulsion (AIP) and land attack missiles until those capabilities are retrofitted. Meanwhile, the navy makes do with nine ageing, Russian, Kilo-class; and four German HDW submarines.

The UPA’s procrastination with Project 75I did not stem from a profusion of choices. There is agreement that just two Indian shipyards can build modern submarines: the public sector MDL, because of the experience of building the Scorpene; and private sector engineering giant, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), which has worked on India’s nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) programme for two decades. With MDL busy with the Scorpenes, the navy had been urging the ministry to let L&T bid for Project 75I, in partnership with a foreign vendor that met the technical and financial requirements. Yet the ministry’s department of defence production (the DDP directly oversees MDL, a major conflict of interest) assiduously undermined L&T’s chances. The DDP illogically insisted that L&T’s Hazira shipyard, which had built large sections of the bigger and far more technologically challenging SSBN, INS Arihant, was inadequate for building a smaller conventional submarine. Until Mr Jaitley intervened, Project 75I was going to be built as follows: two submarines abroad, and four by MDL.

Meanwhile, L&T has built an Rs 4,500 crore shipyard-cum-port at Katupalli, near Ennore, Tamil Nadu, with sufficient draft and capacity to build any size of submarine. It has also established a submarine design centre in Chennai and a virtual reality centre in Mumbai. For good measure, it created a Rs 500 crore fabrication unit at Talegaon, near Pune; and a Rs 350 crore unit at Coimbatore for engineering missile parts. Locating Katupalli shipyard on the east coast was a smart move by L&T, since that distributes the risk of disruption to production.

With the defence ministry looking to identify an Indian shipyard, it must also think hard about the foreign technology partner. Traditionally, the choice has been between “eastern bloc” and “western bloc” weaponry, i.e. Russian or European. Today, however, other potential choices present themselves --- notably the Japanese Soryu-class submarines that many experts consider the world’s finest conventional submarine. There remain questions about its high cost; and Tokyo’s willingness to transfer Soryu-class production and technology to India. Even so, New Delhi must consider the Soryu’s technological edge, the growing strategic embrace with Tokyo, and the likelihood that prices could be lowered if Japan’s own production (five planned) were boosted by simultaneous orders from India (six or more) and Australia’s planned purchase of up to twelve.

Finally, if Mr Jaitley does take the strategic decision to establish one private sector submarine line on the east coast (L&T), in addition to a public sector line on the west coast (MDL), it must keep the Scorpene submarine line rolling even after MDL delivers the sixth and final vessel in 2019-20. More Scorpenes are only to be welcomed; and New Delhi could negotiate tough with DCNS, insisting on enhanced technology transfer and a greater share of production as a precondition for ordering 4-6 more.

Finally, in developing two submarines lines, the defence ministry must keep the future in mind. The 30-year submarine plan stipulates that the manufacture of 12 submarines (Project 75 and 75I) must lead on to indigenous production, with 12 vessels to follow that have been designed and built in India. 

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Defence panel clears projects worth Rs 80,000 crore ($13 billion)

MoD to choose yards for building submarines;Israeli Spike anti-tank missile chosen over US Javelin

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Oct 14

The ministry of defence (MoD) on Saturday took a major step to address India’s critical submarine shortage,. A committee has been set up to evaluate which Indian defence shipyards can build six high-tech, conventional submarines under Project 75I at an estimated cost of Rs 50,000 crore.

The government has also cleared the procurement of the Spike anti-tank missile from Israel, effectively rejecting the US proposal to co-manufacture the Javelin missile and then co-develop a next-generation version of the Javelin for the US and Indian militaries. The government has also cleared several smaller projects whose worth, according to ministry officials, totals Rs 80,000 crore. The details of these smaller approvals, though, are not immediately available.

To identify shipyards that will bid for the tender, the high-level committee, under Secretary (Defence Production) G Mohan Kumar, has been given six-eight weeks to screen five public sector and two private shipyards --- Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), which is currently building six Scorpene submarines under Project 75; Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers, Kolkata; Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL); Goa Shipyard Ltd; Cochin Shipyard Ltd; Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and Pipavav Shipyard.

Highly credible MoD sources say the shortlisted shipyards will be invited to submit bids, in partnership with a foreign shipyard that meets the navy’s specifications for the submarines. These include air-independent propulsion; the capability to fire land attack cruise missiles; and advanced stealth features that make them hard to detect.

Project 75I stems from a “30-Year Submarine Construction Plan”, approved by the cabinet in 1999, for constructing 24 conventional submarines in India. Two separate construction lines were to build six submarines each, one using western technology; and the other with Russian know-how. Based on this experience, Indian designers would build the next 12 submarines.

So far, only six submarines are being built under Project 75 --- the Scorpenes at MDL.

Further production has remained stalled, with three committees having been constituted by the defence ministry to identify Indian shipyards that can build Project 75I. In 2003, a committee, under a defence joint secretary, cleared L&T and MDL. Yet, in 2008, a similar committee ruled out L&T.

So incensed was the private engineering giant, which is playing a leading role in building India’s nuclear submarine, INS Arihant, that the chairman, AM Naik, met then prime minister, Manmohan Singh, to protest. That led to the setting up of a third high-level committee, headed by the National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council chief, V Krishnamurthy, which again cleared L&T and MDL.

Meanwhile, to ensure early delivery, the Indian Navy has pushed for building two submarines abroad, while the domestic manufacturer absorbed technology and cranked up production. Now, in keeping with the Modi government’s “Make in India” policy, and in accordance with the 1999 plan, it has been decided that all six vessels will be built in India.

Gone too is the impractical United Progressive Alliance (UPA) plan to divide production between two public sector defence shipyards (MDL and HSL) --- a device proposed by then defence minister, AK Antony, to keep HSL in business. Instead, a single shipyard will build all six submarines.

The big potential gainer from today’s decision is L&T, which is back in contention for winning, single-handedly, Indian warship-building’s largest-ever order.

Speaking to Business Standard today, MV Kotwal, L&T’s defence business chief, said: “L&T would welcome any decision to evaluate Indian shipyards for both capacity and capability in building submarines. We have both the infrastructure and the experience in our Hazira shipyard, and also in our new Katupalli shipyard (at Ennore, Tamil Nadu). Most importantly, we have established a state-of-the-art submarine design centre in Chennai and a virtual reality centre in Mumbai, both essential for Project 75I.”

Separately, Business Standard learns the MoD has cleared the Rs 2,000 crore procurement of two midget submarines, used for special operations like landing commandoes on enemy shores. It is likely that HSL Visakhapatnam, the defence ministry’s newest shipyard, will build these in partnership with a foreign vendor.

In another major decision on Saturday that is loaded with politics, the MoD has cleared the procurement of the Israeli Spike anti-tank missile for the army’s infantry battalions to destroy enemy tanks. MoD sources say the Rs 3,200 crore contract is for about 300 launchers and more than 8,000 missiles. Production facilities will be established in Bharat Dynamics Ltd, Hyderabad.

This constitutes a flat rejection of the US proposal to co-manufacture the Javelin anti-tank missile in India and, unprecedentedly, co-develop with the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) a next-generation version of the Javelin. That proposal was made under the Defence Trade & Technology Initiative, a high-level defence channel established to boost defence ties between New Delhi and Washington With the US lobbying New Delhi at multiple levels, including during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s recent visit, this is an unmistakeable snub for Washington.

Amongst other procurements cleared are: 363 new BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles from Ordnance Factory, Medak, for the army for Rs 1,800 crore; 761 radio relay containers for army communications for Rs 662 crore; 1,768 railway wagons for Rs 740 crore for quickly moving army units over long distances; and 12 additional Dornier aircraft for the navy, which Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) will build for Rs 1,850 crore.

Speaking at the MoD’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on Saturday, where the procurement decisions were made, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley said “National security is a paramount concern for the government. All hurdles and bottlenecks in the procurement process should be addressed expeditiously so that the pace of acquisitions is not stymied.”

Financial effect

Decisions on Aug 29

197 Light Utility Helicopters
Tender scrapped (to be built in India)
6 submarines
Refit part in India
Rs 4,800 crore
118 Arjun Mark II tanks
Build in India
Rs 6,600 crore
40 Catapult SP guns
Build in India
Rs 820 crore
22 Apache and 15 Chinooks
Buy overseas
Rs 15,000 crore
Sonars for 11 warships
Buy overseas
Rs 1,770 crore
Naval multi-role helicopters
Buy overseas
Rs 1,800 crore
Army mobile network
Build in India
Rs 900 crore

Decisions on Oct 25

6 submarines (Project 75I)
Committee set up All built in India
Rs 50,000 crore
300 Spike launchers, 8,000 missiles
Build in India with ToT
Rs 3,200 crore
363 BMP-2 infantry carriers
Build in OF Medak
Rs 1,800 crore
761 radio relay containers
Buy in India
Rs 662 crore
1,768 railway wagons
Buy in India
Rs 740 crore
12 Dornier aircraft
Build in India (HAL)
Rs 1,850 crore

Friday, 24 October 2014

First Sukhoi-30 overhauled at Nashik, highlights HAL’s growing capability

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Oct 14

Next week, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), Nashik will, complete the first ever overhaul of a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter. HAL test pilots will now test-fly the aircraft to ensure that it has emerged from the overhaul as good as new. Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, has been invited to Nashik next month to accept the overhauled fighter back into his combat fleet.

HAL’s new overhaul facility will save the IAF hundreds of crore rupees, while giving leases of life to its Su-30MKIs. Not even Russia overhauls this fighter, a process that involves stripping it to its bare bones, checking every system and sub-system, replacing numerous components, and then reassembling the fighter anew.

A Su-30MKI is overhauled after flying 1,500 hours or 14 years, whichever is first. Over its total service life of 6,000 flying hours or 30-40 years, each fighter undergoes three overhauls. Eventually the IAF’s fleet of 272 Su-30MKIs will undergo 816 overhauls --- three per fighter.

HAL officials say overhauling in India costs far less than what “original equipment manufacturers”, or OEMs, charge --- typically 35-40 per cent of the cost of a brand new fighter.

“OEMs usually price new fighters reasonably, but make their money by charging heavily for repair and overhaul. Establishing overhaul capability in India defeats this pricing strategy,” says Wing Commander Neelu Khatri, a former IAF logistics specialist.

HAL Nashik also stands to benefit from business from other air forces that operate the Su-30. Says a MoD official; “Nashik is the world’s only overhaul facility for the Su-30MKI. Potentially, it could get overhaul orders from countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Algeria, etc, which fly variants of the Su-30”.

Through years of building the Su-30MKI, HAL Nashik has gradually mastered the expertise that makes it one of the world’s most feared fighters. Says the chief of HAL’s Nashik facility, S Subrahmanyan: “More 51 per cent of the Su-30MKI by value is currently made in India, a little more than the 49 per cent agreed with Russia in the contract signed in 2000 to build 140 fighters in India.

Of the 43,000 components that go into a Su-30MKI, 31,500 components --- or 73 per cent --- are now being built in India.

Further indigenisation is blocked since the Indo-Russian contract mandates that all raw materials that goes into the Su-30MKI --- including 5,800 titanium blocks and forgings, aluminium and steel plates, etc --- must be sourced from Russia. The contract also stipulates that another 7,146 items like nuts, bolts, screws and rivets must be sourced from Russia.

HAL has also partially indigenised the Su-30MKI’s giant AL-31FP engines, which are built in Koraput, Odisha. 53 per cent of the engine by cost has been indigenised, with the remaining 47 per cent consisting of high-tech composites and special alloys --- proprietary secrets that Russia will not part with. Even so, HAL builds 87.7 per cent of the engine’s components in India.

Given HAL, Nashik’s growing expertise, it is surprising that the overhaul facility at Nashik has taken 14 years to overhaul its first fighter. This is because the initial contract, signed in 2000 for building 140 fighters in India, did not include provisions for overhaul --- a mistake, say contract lawyers.

The delay was compounded because Russia itself has no Su-30 overhaul facility (the Russian Air Force did not buy the fighter until well after India). Only in 2008 did New Delhi and Moscow sign an overhaul contract. Until last year, aircraft parts and systems were going to Russia for overhaul.

In 2010, the first IAF Su-30MKI fighters, which had joined the fleet in 2000, were due for overhaul, in accordance with the original schedule, which was 1,500 flying hours or 10 years. Since the fighters had flown far less than 1,500 hours, Sukhoi was approached to extend the time period between overhaul. After numerous inspections and “accelerated aging tests”, Sukhoi revised the overhaul schedule to 1,500 flying hours or 14 years, whichever comes first.

“The MoD has sanctioned an overhaul capacity of 15 fighters per year; next year we will overhaul 10-12 fighters and then stabilize at 15 fighters annually. We have already approached the MoD to step up capacity to 30 fighters per year, which will cater for our requirements into the 2030s” says Subrahmanyan.

Of the thirty Su-30MKIs that will be overhauled each year, HAL will do 20, while an IAF base repair depot will overhaul the other 10.