Saturday, 30 May 2015

In a first, defence minister gets his own tech advisor

The new DRDO chief, Dr S Christopher (above); and Scientific Advisor to the Raksha Mantri, Dr G Satheesh Reddy (left)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th May 2015

In the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s first substantive move to galvanise the indigenous design and development of high-technology military systems, it has appointed on Thursday evening an unusually young, 52-year-old scientist, Dr G Satheesh Reddy as scientific advisor to the Raksha Mantri (SA to RM).

At the same time, Dr S Christopher was appointed to the post of Director General, DRDO (DG DRDO), and concurrently to the post of Secretary (Defence R&D).

This is the first time the government has, bifurcated these three posts, which have all been held by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chief. In so doing, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has provided for himself a dedicated personal advisor on issues relating to technology.

“This is a good measure. When the DRDO recommends something, the defence minister will now have an advisor who can independently explain to him the pros and cons”, says a former DRDO chief, speaking anonymously.

DRDO scientists that Business Standard spoke to have expressed happiness at the bold selection of Reddy as SA to RM, even though he is the youngest of the DRDO’s twelve “distinguished scientists”, the senior most scientists’ grade.

“Reddy is not just a top technologist, but is also in touch with the younger DRDO scientists. This gives him a great perspective on issues relating to the organisation,” says a mid-ranking DRDO officer.

The new DRDO chief, Christopher, also brings to the office an impressive record of success. Currently heading the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in Bengaluru, Christopher has spent the last decade masterminding the project to develop an airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system for the Indian Air Force (IAF). So far, India has been importing such systems.

The AEW&C consists of an airborne radar mounted externally on an Embraer executive jet. Currently at an advanced stage of testing, it will be used in wartime to monitor airspace and control the aerial battle, allowing air force controllers to digitally directing IAF aircraft against enemy aircraft that they detect.

Christopher, who is just short of 60 years, has been appointed for a period of two years to his two positions. Reddy has also been appointed SA to RM for two years, which positions him to be appointed DRDO chief after Christopher retires.

Christopher’s office in DRDO Bhavan has been vacant since February 1, when his predecessor, Avinash Chander, retired. Chander had been granted an 18-month extension on November 28, to head the DRDO till May 31, 2016. However that extension was withdrawn with effect from January 31.

While Christopher walks into an empty office, Reddy will have to create office infrastructure and a staff for himself. So far, the SA to RM has operated from DRDO Bhavan; now he will operate from an independent office in South Block.

The DRDO’s new chief faces significant challenges, given the “Make in India” rubric of the NDA government. Key projects with the DRDO include the Tejas Mark II fighter, the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft, the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun system, the Arjun Mark II tank, the Advanced Technology Vessel (nuclear submarine) and the AEW&C project.

The DRDO is also under pressure to restructure and become more task oriented, with recommendations still to be implemented from the Rama Rao Committee report. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

Eurofighter believes price and time parameters for Rafale can’t be met

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th May 15

German defence minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who talked up her country’s submarine building capability during her Tuesday meeting with Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, kept silent on the Eurofighter Typhoon, although Germany had led the campaign to sell the Indian Air Force (IAF) the Typhoon.

The 2007 tender for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) was scrapped by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Paris in April, when he requested French President Francois Hollande for 36 Rafale fighters in flyaway condition, in a government-to-government deal.

The Typhoon, like the Rafale, had satisfied the IAF in performance trials, losing out to the Dassault fighter by virtue of being more expensive. With a new format of buying only flyaway fighters, Eurofighter could convincingly argue it would be cheaper, since 571 Typhoons are on order compared to barely 225 Rafales.

Germany’s defence minister had been expected to raise the issue, after British prime minister, David Cameron, while campaigning for the British election in April had declared: “The British offer of Eurofighter Typhoons to India is still on the table… It will be a better deal than the Rafale”.

Yet, Eurofighter is relying on a waiting game. Company sources tell Business Standard they believe Dassault will be unable to meet India’s price expectations and delivery deadlines for the Rafale.

Parrikar has repeatedly clarified that Dassault would have to quote a lower price than what it bid in the MMRCA tender. The defence ministry has never specified what part of Dassault’s earlier quote will form the baseline for comparison, which it must now better. Analysts argue the baseline should be the price that Dassault offered for 18 Rafale fighters in flyaway condition. The rest of the MMRCA bid includes costs like technology transfer for building 108 Rafales in India, which have no place in the current 36-fighter purchase.

“Dassault had quoted $80 million in the MMRCA tender for each of the 18 Rafales it was to supply in flyaway condition. There is no way Dassault can supply the Rafale for less than $80 million today,” points out Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, an aerospace expert at the Observer Research Foundation.

Anonymous government officials are creating a high benchmark, putting out the word that Dassault had quoted $300 million per Rafale in the MMRCA tender. The Economic Times quoted government sources as saying Dassault would provide a 25 per cent discount, offering 36 Rafales for $200 million each, in a contract for about $8 billion.

This price would make the Rafale one-and-a-half times costlier than the fifth-generation Lockheed Martin F-35; four times costlier than the Sukhoi-30MKI; and nine times more expensive than the Tejas LCA.

Mitra says: “Obviously, the price that Dassault quotes for 36 fighters in flyaway condition will have to be compared with what it quoted in the MMRCA tender for 18 fighters in flyaway condition. That price is $80 million per fighter”.

However, Eurofighter estimates the Rafale’s current flyaway price to be at least US $150 million, a figure supported by public information on Armee de l’Aire (as the French air force is called) purchases.

Additionally, while freed from any liability to “Make in India”, Dassault would still have to discharge offsets worth 50 per cent of the contract price. That means
French vendors would incur offset liabilities worth $2.7 billion on a total deal cost of about US $5.4 billion.

Dassault also faces major challenges in meeting India’s timelines. On April 10, when Modi met Hollande, a joint statement said the delivery of 36 Rafales “would be in [a] time-frame that would be compatible with the operational requirement of IAF.”

The next day, Parrikar stated in Goa that 36 Rafale fighters would join the IAF in two years.

Eurofighter calculates that Dassault’s production line, which currently produces 11 Rafales per year, would take at least 18-24 months to ramp up to 24 fighters per year. Dassault’s sub-vendors need time to build enhanced capacities, step up production and deliver larger numbers to a Dassault production line that would meanwhile have to enhance its own capacities.

“Dassault has also to build 24 Rafales for Egypt; and another 24 for Qatar. Will these countries wait while Dassault treats India as a higher priority? I think not”, says a Eurofighter executive.

The IAF community plays down these apprehensions. “I don’t think we should obsess about getting all 36 Rafales in two years. What matters is signing the contract and getting the fighters in an accelerated time frame”, says Air Marshal Nirdosh Tyagi, who played a central role in the now-scrapped MMRCA contract.

Bharat Karnad of the Centre for Policy Research believes the only way delivery can meet deadlines is for the Armee de l’Aire to temporarily divert its own fighters to India, taking them back as Dassault’s production ramps up.

“This would allow IAF pilots to train and familiarize on the fighter. But it must be remembered the IAF has customised specifications for the Rafale, which are different from those of the Armee de l’Aire”, says Karnad.

Eurofighter GmbH, a consortium of companies from the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain, has remained on the sidelines since January 2012, when Dassault’s quote was adjudged cheaper than Eurofighter’s. Through three years of negotiations with Dassault, Eurofighter has declared itself willing to supply the IAF the Typhoon, should negotiations with Dassault fail.

Eurofighter’s only pro-active move came last year, when it unilaterally reduced its quoted price by 20 per cent, and undertook to create 20,000 skilled jobs in India if it was awarded the contract for 126 MMRCAs.

HAL and BAE Systems to develop “Combat Hawk”, improved trainer

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 29th May 15

The Indian Air Force (IAF), facing a severe shortage of fighter aircraft, will have the opportunity to boost its combat strength with an unusual asset --- fitting guns and rockets on Hawk trainer aircraft, bought for training IAF pilots before they entered the cockpits of high performance fighters like the MiG-21.

On Tuesday, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and UK-headquartered BAE Systems (BAE), agreed to explore the development of a “Combat Hawk” which could even be exported to friendly foreign countries.

India already has the world’s largest fleet of Hawk Mk132 advanced jet trainers (AJTs). The IAF and navy have 123 Hawks on order, of which 90 are already in service, training their pilots. While HAL builds the remaining 33 in Bengaluru under licence from BAE, the IAF is contracting for another 20 Hawks for its superlative aerobatics display team, which so far flew the Kiran Mark II.

The Hawk AJT already has advanced avionics, including digital cockpit displays that allow trainee pilots to practice navigation, the use of sensors like radar, and to fire weapons. Transforming this into a “Combat Hawk” involves fitting air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground guns, rockets and bombs. The Hawk Mk132 has seven wing stations for mounting weapons and reconnaissance equipment. These weapons need to be integrated with the avionics of the aircraft.

Such “light attack aircraft” are adept at several missions that high-performance fighters are ill suited to perform. Flying slower, their pilots get more time to identify targets, especially over jungle terrain, or when targets are camouflaged. In mountains, accuracy is extremely important because even narrowly missing a target on a sharp ridgeline means the bomb or rocket strikes harmlessly, hundreds of feet below. Light attack aircraft allow greater accuracy.

Besides accuracy, affordability is another big plus for light attack aircraft. Many countries cannot afford to buy or operate fighters. The Afghan Air Force will fly 20 Embraer A-29 Super Tucano light attack aircraft for counter-insurgency (COIN) operations against the Taliban. Meanwhile, the United States Special Operations Command is also buying a fleet of similar aircraft for its “light air support” programme.

The defence ministry has not yet announced a plan to acquire or operate light attack aircraft. India’s military has been historically reluctant to use combat aircraft in COIN operations, given the potential for collateral damage.

Even so, HAL officials say a Combat Hawk could be offered to the military once it is developed. In advocating its programme to develop the indigenous Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40), HAL argued that it could be combatised, unlike the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer, which would require permission from Switzerland.

Light attack aircraft, say HAL and BAE officials, would also find ready markets in smaller regional countries.

The HAL-BAE agreement also envisages upgrading the Hawk Mk132 to the capability level of Hawk Mk128 trainers on which Royal Air Force (RAF) pilots train. The IAF procured the Hawk Mk132 before the RAF upgraded to the Mk128. The latter has a cockpit display that more closely resembles the kind of fighters that trainees graduate to from the Hawk.

“If India wants to become an export hub for the Hawk, it would need to graduate to the latest standard, which is the Hawk Mk128. Saudi Arabia and Oman, which are inducting the Eurofighter Typhoon, are likely to demand Hawk trainers built to the latest RAF standards. India could position itself to address those markets”, says Chris Broadman of BAE Systems. 

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Parrikar volte-face opens door for more Rafale fighters, gives hope to Dassault

More flip-flops from the defence minister in a TV interview on Tuesday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 27th May 15

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, in a television interview to Indian Today on Tuesday evening, did not rule out buying more Rafale fighters, over and above the 36 that Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the French government for during his visit to Paris in April.

On Thursday, Parrikar had declared that buying 90 less Rafale fighters than the 126 that was earlier planned, would save him money to buy more Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

“I have saved the cost of 90 Rafales”, Parrikar had said in New Delhi.

Yet, on Tuesday, the defence minister backed off from that statement, declining to clarify whether the Rafale purchase would be capped at 36 fighters.

“I’m not saying we will buy more Rafale; I’m not saying we will not buy more”, said Parrikar.

All that he confirmed is that French vendors would have to discharge offsets worth 50 per cent of the contract value; and that the final price for the Rafale would be cheaper than what Dassault had quoted for 18 ready-built fighters in its commercial bid in the medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) tender.

“In the MMRCA tender, Dassault was to supply 18 Rafales in flyaway condition, and also build 108 fighters in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). Now Dassault is freed of the responsibility to ‘Make in India’. The price they now supply the Rafale at should not just be lower, but at least 30-35 per cent lower than the price which included ‘Make in India’”, says Pushpinder Singh, aerospace industry expert.

Parrikar says negotiations with France will start next week. On Monday, he had told Indian Express that the contract would be finalized in 2-3 months and the first Rafales would be supplied to the IAF within one year.

Parrikar also did a volte-face on the mountain strike corps (MSC), repudiating an earlier statement that it was being cut down by half to one-third.

On April 13, Parrikar had told Doordarshan: “I think we’ll have to work out the size of it properly. It cannot be the size initially approved. It has to be slightly trimmed down.” Soon after that, his ministry said that, instead of raising a 70,000-person corps for Rs 88,000 crore, the new corps would have half that number and cost Rs 38,000 crore over next eight years.

On Tuesday Parrikar said the MSC was being pared down only as a temporary measure because of a funding shortfall. When funds became available, the MSC would be built up to the strength planned by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, he clarified.

The defence minister also created another deadline for himself, promising on Tuesday that his ministry would finalise a proposal for a “chief of defence staff”, or CDS, and send it up for cabinet sanction by end-June.

In the interview, Parrikar appeared slightly confused about whether the tri-service chief would be a five-star “chief of defence staff”, as recommended by a Group of Minister in 2001; or a four-star “permanent chairman of the chiefs of staff committee” recommended by the Naresh Chandra Committee in 2012.

“What does a name matter?” he responded to a query by the interviewer. He added the new post would be significantly more powerful than the current three-star “chief of integrated defence staff” that coordinates tri-service planning.

Questioned on “one rank, one pension” (OROP), on which the government has slipped several deadlines, Parrikar stated it would be cleared in a “reasonable” time frame. The proposal was with the finance ministry, he said, and since they had not come back to him with any queries, he assumed it would be cleared.

In January, Parrikar had stated that OROP would be implemented by July, within a year of it being publicly accepted by the new government.

Parrikar reassured ex-servicemen that OROP would be implemented in full; and that arrears would be paid from April 2014. 

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Nurturing shipyards: the case of HSL

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th May 15

Notwithstanding the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government’s declared commitment to “Make in India”, its procurement decisions adhere to this only sporadically. The decision to buy 36 “Made in France” Rafale fighters is only the latest violation of “Make in India”. Much earlier, then defence minister Arun Jaitley had, in his first procurement meeting on October 29, ruled that Moscow would benefit from a Rs 1,800 crore order to refit two Kilo-class submarines in Russia, even though such refits have been --- and must continue to be --- done in India.

Mr Jaitley’s poor decision relates to the Rs 4,800 crore overhaul of six submarines. It allocates the refitting (which involves modernisation-cum-overhaul) of two Kilo-class boats (as submariners refer to their vessels) to Naval Dockyard, Mumbai, and two HDW-origin submarines to Mazagon Dock, Mumbai (MDL). Two more Kilo-class vessels, inexplicably, are to be sent to Russia for refit. Left out in the cold is the defence ministry’s recently acquired Hindustan Shipyard Ltd (HSL) in Visakhapatnam, which successfully completed refitting a Kilo-class submarine, INS Sindhukirti, last week. Also excluded was Naval Dockyard Visakhapatnam, which had earlier refitted two submarines ---INS Sindhudhvaj and Sindhuvir --- and is presently refitting INS Sindhushastra.

Leave aside the rhetoric of “Make in India”, which is proving increasingly hollow. Leave aside the need to build capability in India for repairing and refitting the Kilo-class, which might prove invaluable in wartime. Leave aside the fact that refits in Russia would be more expensive than in India, given that a crew of about 50 officers, sailors and their families would need to be stationed in Russia for two or three years (the duration of the refit), paying out living, education and medical expenses and a handsome deputation allowance. Besides all this, there is the fact that the defence ministry – at the navy’s urging – took over HSL from the Ministry of Shipping specifically to use it as a submarine yard. HSL was to be an alternative to Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL), which was already burdened with building six Scorpenes (under Project 75) and is also a strong contender for building another six submarines under Project 75I, which is soon to be tendered.

Another twelve indigenous submarines will follow these twelve, according to the 30-Year Submarine Building Plan of 1999. Besides this, the navy’s existing 13 boats --- nine Russian Kilo-class and four German HDW Type 209 --- require periodic refits. All this can be done in India by nurturing Indian shipyards rather than a dependency on Russia. True, HSL took an unacceptably long nine years to refit INS Sindhukirti. But HSL provides figures to suggest that Russian experts cynically prolonged the refit to rule the Indian yard out of future refits. The defence ministry has apparently fallen into the trap, without considering that starving HSL of further refit orders would snuff out invaluable expertise built whilst refitting the Sindhukirti.

Another reason for entrusting HSL with Kilo-class refits is that the defence ministry’s logic for taking over HSL from the ministry of shipping in 2010 no longer holds good. Amongst other uses, HSL was to build nuclear submarines, which are currently assembled next door at the Special Boat Centre (SBC), a small Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) facility. While MDL built conventional submarines, HSL’s protected location on the eastern coast and its deep-water harbour made it ideal for building larger nuclear submarines that are needed in growing numbers. The first nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), INS Arihant, will be followed by at least three more SSBNs. A line of nuclear attack submarines (SSNs) is likely, though not yet sanctioned. But a defence ministry committee recently determined that HSL cannot build nuclear submarines, because of nuclear hazard --- its workers live too close to the shipyard.

With HSL’s central logic undermined, if not entirely destroyed, the defence ministry seemingly lost interest in this shipyard. Three other defence shipyards --- Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE); the smaller Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL); and the crown jewel, MDL --- are rich with orders that assure business for a decade to come. MDL has an order book of Rs 60,000 crore; GRSE has Rs 30,000 crore; even tiny GSL has Rs 30,000 crore in orders. HSL, in comparison has just Rs 1,885 crore in orders. With 10 per cent paid up front, MDL has mopped up Rs 6,000 crore in advances, which Rs 500 crore in interest each year. HSL, with almost no cash in hand and a negative net worth that makes accessing funds costly, is forced to bid cautiously in tenders, placing it at a disadvantage against yards with financial muscle.

While private shipyards must be supported, HSL cannot be thrown to the market wolves. Its geographical advantages are priceless. Visakhapatnam port is ten metres deep, far better for launching big ships than the four-metre-deep MDL and GSL, or GRSE, which is on a riverfront. Visakhapatnam harbour requires little dredging because no river flows into it, and a narrow harbour mouth prevents the sea from bringing in sand. HSL owns a full kilometre of water frontage in Visakhapatnam, including a massive 560-metre outfitting jetty that would please any shipbuilder. It is the MoD’s largest shipyard with a work area of 117.55 acres and living accommodation of 142 acres, significantly larger than metro-based dockyards like MDL (75.5 acres). HSL’s shipbuilding facilities include an 80,000 DWT (dead weight tonnes) covered dry dock that can take in an aircraft carrier, and three slipways, including two with capacities of 33,000 DWT and one of 15,000 DWT. 

Given the volume of shipbuilding needed for meeting the navy’s Maritime Capability Perspective Plan (MCPP), the defence ministry has business enough for HSL, as well as every warship-building shipyard. The MCPP envisages the growth of today’s 137-ship navy, with barely 50 capital warships, into a 160-ship navy with 90 capital warships. Even as new warships are built, the existing fleet requires maintenance and refit, necessarily in country. 

A quick survey of the load on defence shipyards shows how badly HSL is needed. Cochin Shipyard Ltd is occupied building India’s aircraft carriers. MDL and GRSE, which together cannot meet the requirement of capital warships like destroyers, frigates, corvettes and submarines, can be supplemented by Larsen & Toubro (L&T), which has valuable technical expertise and a new, 900-acre shipyard at Katupalli, Tamil Nadu. There is good infrastructure in other private sector shipyards, like ABG and Pipavav, but neither has ever built capital warships or submarines. Even so, there are adequate navy and Coast Guard orders for patrol vessels, survey ships, floating docks and diving support vessels. These are required not just for Indian maritime agencies but also for export to Indian Ocean countries as a part of naval diplomacy.

HSL, therefore, must be deliberately developed into a capital warship yard, given its location, infrastructure and recent expertise in refitting submarines. The defence ministry decision to send two Kilo-class submarines to Russia must be changed in favour of HSL. It must also be nominated to build the navy’s requirement of five fleet support ships, large vessels that HSL has experience in building. Perhaps most importantly, the defence ministry must alter HSL’s mindset as a sick shipyard, inherited from the Ministry of Shipping. Its accumulated losses and negative net worth must be made good and a stable cash flow ensured to allow HSL to operate like a corporation. The ministry’s fourth shipyard has the potential to come good; it cannot be allowed to fail.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Navy gets INS Sindhukirti back, after nine-year wait

INS Sindhukirti, sailing out on Thursday after refit

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd May 15

Indian Navy planners heaved a sigh of relief on Friday at the return of a frontline Kilo-class submarine, INS Sindhukirti, which has been missing from the operational fleet through a nine-year “refit” (overhaul) in Hindustan Shipyard Ltd, Visakhapatnam (HSL).

The HSL chief, Rear Admiral (Retired) Nikunj Mishra, confirmed to Business Standard that INS Sindhukirti sailed out from the shipyard at 10:20 a.m. on Thursday and returned to harbour safely on Friday.

“The crew noted no defects, only some minor observations that will be addressed”, said Mishra.

INS Sindhukirti’s refit took so long that many defence experts believed the vessel would never return to operational service. After another of the navy’s eight Kilo-class submarines, INS Sindhurakshak, sank in an unexplained explosion on August 14, 2013, the Sindhukirti’s absence was felt even more keenly.

With its return the navy will have 14 operational submarines. Besides nine Kilo-class submarines of the so-called Sindhughosh-class; there are also four HDW submarines, referred to as the Shishumar-class. There is also the Akula class nuclear attack submarine that the navy has taken on lease from Russia.

While HSL has been severely criticised for taking nine years to refit Sindhukirti, Business Standard revealed (September 2, 2014, “Russia delayed sub refit to weaken shipyard?”) that the refit might have been deliberately prolonged by Russian experts to ensure that future Indian submarine refits were entrusted to Russian shipyards rather than to HSL.

Earlier Kilo-class refits in Russian shipyard, Zvezdochka, took an average of two and a half years each, and cost hundreds of crore rupees each. Zvezdochka experts who supervised the Sindhukirti’s refit at HSL knew they were assisting a potential competitor, which would indigenise the submarine overhaul business.

As Business Standard reported, each parameter of work that Zvezdochka experts ordered HSL to carry out on the Sindhukirti was several multiples of the work that the Russian shipyard had done while earlier overhauling INS Sindhughosh in Russia.

For example, the most time-consuming and expensive work during a refit involves replacing damaged hull plates. Zvezdochka replaced only three square metres of hull plates while refitting Sindhughosh in Russia. But for Sindhukirti, the Russian experts ordered 39 square metres --- 13 times as much --- hull plating to be replaced.

INS Sindhukirti’s refit has involved extensive modernisation. Like submarines refitted in Russia, its torpedo tubes were modified to fire Klub missiles at surface targets. But Sindhukirti also got additional capabilities: an MCA inertial navigation suite, a Palady nerve system, and a Pirit ship control console. Bharat Electronics Ltd has provided an indigenous Ushus sonar and a modernised CCS Mark II communications suite.

If Russia’s aim was to scuttle further refit orders to HSL, that has been achieved. In October the defence ministry cleared a Rs 4,800 crore refit for six submarines, with two each being refitted in Zvezdochka; in Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai; and in Naval Dockyard, Mumbai.

HSL will have to remain content with building two midget submarines, an order worth Rs 2,000 crore that the ministry cleared in February. Known as “strategic operations vessels” or SOVs, these small vessels ferry naval commandoes to enemy coastlines. 

Friday, 22 May 2015

Parrikar: “We have to use terrorists to neutralize terrorists”

Parrikar declares money saved on Rafale will buy Tejas fighters to replace MiG-21s

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd May 15

In a statement that will create ripples across the border, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar declared today that India should counter Pakistan-backed cross-border terror attacks with terrorism directed back at Pakistan.

Speaking at the Aaj Tak Manthan conclave in New Delhi on Thursday, Parrikar dropped his bombshell in response to a question about how India would react to another Mumbai-type 26/11 terror attack.

“Rather than reacting to a repeat of 26/11, it would be better not to let such an attack happen. Whatever we have to do, whether it is diplomatic, pressure tactics, or using a thorn to extract a thorn (kaante se kaanta nikalna)”, answered Parrikar.

“We have to use terrorists to neutralize terrorists”, he elaborated, to applause from the audience.

“(Is this the) first time an Indian Defence Minister has hinted at covert response to terror attack?” tweeted Sandeep Unnithan, Associate Editor at India Today, who was in the audience.

Pakistan consistently claims that Indian-backed terrorism is responsible for the unsettled state of Baluchistan, a claim that India vehemently rejects. In July 2009, after a meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousef Raza Gilani at Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt, the joint statement a mentioned Baluchistan and recognized terrorism as the “chief threat” to both countries, leading to Bharatiya Janata Party leaders accusing the government of undermining India’s position by equating the victim with the perpetrator.

Separately, Parrikar stated clearly for the first time that the 36 Rafale fighters that Prime Minister Narendra Modi requested the French government for during his visit to Paris last month would not be followed by more Rafales. Instead, the money saved by curtailing the Rafale contract would be used to buy large numbers of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

“By buying 36 Rafale fighters at a price less than (what was quoted in response to) the earlier tender for 126 aircraft, I have saved the cost of 90 Rafales. We will use that money to buy Tejas LCAs”, said Parrikar.

This will address the concerns of aerospace experts, who had questioned the plan to buy 126 Rafales (six squadrons) to take the place of MiG-21 squadrons retiring from service this decade. It has been argued that the Rafale is too heavy, expensive and capable to replace a cheap, light, utility fighter like the MiG-21.

“The Rafale is not meant to replace the MiG-21”, said Parrikar, stating that he would instead buy large numbers of Tejas fighters, which he said would come cheap at a price of around Rs 150 crore each.

The Indian Air Force (IAF), which currently has 34 fighter squadrons against an assessed requirement of 42 squadrons, will lose during this decade another 7-9 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s that have already exceeded their service lives.

Yet, the IAF has ordered o just 20 Tejas fighters (one squadron) from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), with an additional order of 20 more promised after the fighter achieves final operational clearance, expected in early 2016.

Asked whether he was satisfied with the Tejas’ performance, the defence minister replied he was “satisfied to a certain level”. The IAF had accorded performance waivers while giving initial operational clearance to the Tejas, but Parrikar pointed out that none of the waivers affected flight safety.

Asked whether he would deliver on his promise to appoint a tri-service Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) within two months, Parrikar backpedalled somewhat. “By June-end, my proposal will be ready. But it is not my decision per se. It has to go before the National Security Council”, he said.

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

CAG report overlooks Tejas LCA’s many triumphs

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th May 15

The Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG), in its report for the year ending March 2014 has examined “Issues relating to Design, Development, Manufacture and Induction of Light Combat Aircraft (Air Force)”, the indigenous fighter now called the Tejas Mark I.

Media reports have dwelt mainly on CAG’s criticism of the LCA, such as the delays that led to the fighter --- cleared in 1983 and intended to enter service in 1994 --- eventually taking 30 years to obtain Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) in December 2013. The IOC is a landmark at which the fighter can be inducted into air force service. The CAG report says Final Operational Clearance (FOC) --- which clears a fighter for combat --- of the LCA is likely only by December 2015.

CAG’s criticism

The CAG says the LCA that has got initial operational clearance fell short of Air Staff Requirements (ASR) --- a key document that lays out the LCA’s essential capabilities. With many of these capabilities still lacking, the IAF could grant initial operational clearance only with 20 permanent waivers and 33 temporary concessions. These 33 shortcomings --- which include increased aircraft weight, inadequate speed, reduced internal fuel capacity and the absence of an electronic warfare suite --- are to be made good before final operational clearance is granted, or in the LCA Mark-II, expected by December 2018.

The CAG report nowhere recognises that, in fighter design anywhere, prototypes invariably go overweight while accommodating all the capabilities and weaponry that the users optimistically specify. Then, while paring down weight, some capabilities are diluted, in consultation with the user air force. In this, the LCA has trodden a well-worn path.

The CAG also finds the LCA’s claimed indigenization exaggerated. While the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the LCA project, has estimated the LCA’s indigenous content to be 61 per cent (see graphic at bottom), the CAG says it "actually worked out to about 35 per cent" as of January 2015. In arriving at this percentage, the CAG does not differentiate between essential design-related and high technology aspects of the LCA and readily available products.

Criticising the slow pace of the LCA’s entry into service, the report notes that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL’s) manufacturing facilities can build just four fighters annually against an envisaged requirement of eight fighters per year. The CAG overlooks the fact that the IAF has ordered only 20 LCAs with another 20 promised after the fighter obtains final operational clearance. Even so, HAL is enhancing production to 16 LCAs per year, a decision that a future CAG report might comment on unfavourably if more IAF orders are not forthcoming.

The media, focused on criticism of the LCA, has overlooked the report’s praise for having successfully developed a modern fighter aircraft. The CAG “appreciate(s) the efforts made by ADA and its work centres in the indigenous development of LCA which is comparable to many contemporary aircraft in the world…”

Getting it right

Essentially, the CAG report is an auditor’s review of a complex, high technology platform development, which involves risks and uncertainties that are not easily captured in a simple balance sheet assessment of targets and budgets. Any assessment of the LCA must start from the fundamental question: what was the objective of developing this fighter? All such programmes choose between two objectives: either utilising readily available technologies to build a fighter that could rapidly enter operational service, e.g. the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder, which is a cleverly re-engineered MiG-21; or pursuing a “technology leapfrog” in building a next-generation fighter, developing new technologies alongside the fighter itself. Obviously, this would take longer, since inevitable delays in the new technology areas would delay the project further.

India’s defence planners went fundamentally wrong in simultaneously attempting both things: building a fighter quickly to replace the retiring MiG-21s, while also attempting, as a “catch-up nation”, to leapfrog technology ambitiously.

From the outset, the LCA was based on fourth-generation (Gen-4) technologies. The first of these is its “unstable design”, which makes it more agile and manoeuvrable than “stable” aircraft that are designed to hold the path they are flying on. Unstable design requires an on-board digital flight control computer that continuously trims the flight controls. A systems failure would be catastrophic, so the flight control system has four levels (quadruplex) backup, a sophisticated design challenge.

Second, the LCA is constructed largely of composite materials that are lighter than conventional metal alloys. This results in a lighter fighter that can carry more fuel and weapons. Third, the LCA has “microprocessor-based utilities”, which means that computers control all the on-board systems like fuel, weapons, environment control, etc. Fourth, the LCA has an all-glass cockpit, in which conventional dials are replaced by intelligent multi-function displays, and the pilot can fly, aim and operate weapons through a helmet-mounted display.

“In our very first attempt, we went in for a frontline, state-of-the-art aircraft. It was complete technological audacity to decide, ‘We’ve never built a fighter before but we’ll start with a Gen-4 design’. Astonishingly, we’ve managed this feat, albeit with delays”, says an ADA official who works at the cutting edge of the LCA programme.

Confrontation, not cooperation

Given the conflict between a high-risk development path and the need to induct fighters quickly, the stage was set for confrontation between the users (IAF) and the developers (ADA, HAL, et al). A former ADA chief says, “The core challenge is managing technology risk. The users demand more and fast; but you don’t have the technology in your hand. This pits the IAF versus DRDO.”

Consequently, the LCA programme has seen more confrontation than cooperation between the IAF and ADA. The CAG notes that, as early as 1989, an LCA Review Committee had recommended the “Need for a Liaison Group between Air HQ and ADA to ensure closer interaction between the design team and the user”. Yet, “no such liaison group was formed and active user (Air HQ) participation in the LCA Programme started only after November 2006, which also impacted the LCA development.”

Even as the IAF criticised ADA, its demands for additional capabilities in the LCA kept delaying the operational clearances. The CAG report points out that in December 2009, the air force asked for the R-73E air-to-air missile to be integrated with the LCA’s radar and the pilots’ helmet mounted displays. The CAG also blames the air force for taking too long to identify a “beyond-visual-range (BVR) missile” for the LCA. Continuing IAF demands for modifications still prevent the LCA design from being frozen for production.

Unlike the IAF, the navy adopted the Naval LCA programme from the start, committing personnel and over Rs 900 crore from the navy budget. Says former naval chief and distinguished fighter pilot Admiral Arun Prakash, “The navy knows the importance of indigenisation, having experienced how foreign aircraft like the Sea Harrier fighter and Sea King helicopter were grounded for lack of support. Unlike the air force, we are not critically dependent upon the LCA, since we have the MiG-29K. But we will support it because it is an Indian fighter.”

The cost-overrun myth

Taking on from the CAG report, numerous media reports have suggested that the LCA’s development cost has ballooned 25-fold, from the initially sanctioned Rs 560 crore to the current budget of Rs 14,047 crore. Both figures are incorrect. This newspaper’s detailed analysis of the LCA budget (February 22, 2011, “When a sword arm is worth it”) quoted the ADA chief, PS Subramanyam, who clarified that Rs 560 crore was not the budget for the entire Tejas programme, but merely for “feasibility studies and project definition”, which also included creation of the infrastructure needed for the new fighter.

The infusion of funds for actual design, development and building of prototypes only began in 1993, with the funds allocated under the heading of “full scale engineering development”. (see graphic below)

Equally misunderstood is the figure of Rs 14,047, which includes the cost of developing both the IAF and naval LCA, covering both the Mark I version as well as Mark II. As the graphic illustrates, the air force Tejas Mark I has so far cost Rs 7,490 crore, and is within its budget of Rs 7,965 crore.

Building capability, not just a fighter

For that amount, tiny compared to the billions that get sucked into developing fighters abroad, ADA says it has developed not just the LCA (and built 16-17 flying prototypes) but also an aerospace ecosystem --- DRDO laboratories, private industry, academic institutions, and test facilities like the National Flight Testing Centre (NFTC) --- that would allow India to build advanced fighters in the future.

Pushpinder Singh, noted aerospace expert and publisher of Vayu magazine, points out that the LCA has overcome all its major technology challenges. What remains, he says, is to tackle the final problems of converting it into a product --- issues like freezing specifications, evolving maintenance procedures and manuals, and the continuing challenge of establishing a fast-moving production line.

“Nothing prevents us from reconfiguring the technologies we have mastered through the LCA into indigenous fifth-generation aircraft like the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and the futuristic Unmanned Aerial Combat Vehicle (UCAV). The LCA has been an invaluable springboard and the AMCA will galvanise ‘Make in India’ more than anything done so far”, says Singh.


Graphic: Details of LCA indigenisation

(Source: CAG Report for period ending March 2014)

Serial No
Description of work
Indigenisation level projected
Aerodynamic design
100 per cent
System architecture
100 per cent
Structural design
100 per cent
Manufacture of structure
95 per cent
General systems
85 per cent (import: heat exchangers, pumps, sensors)
Metallic materials
80 per cent
Fully imported
80 per cent (import: displays, generators, ring laser gyros, electronics
100 per cent
Flight control system
40 per cent (import: actuators, sensors)
Indigenous (import: electronic components)
Aircraft integration
100 per cent
Ground test rigs
100 per cent
Flight testing
100 per cent

Total indigenous content
61 per cent