Saturday, 31 December 2016

Superseded general not to resign, pledges support to new army chief

General Dalbir Singh reviews a Gurkha guard of honour before handing over as army chief

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st Dec 16

Lieutenant General Praveen Bakshi, who has been superseded by General Bipin Rawat as the chief of army staff (COAS) from the New Year, has announced he will continue in service.

Even as Gen Rawat was ceremonially taking over charge as army chief on Saturday morning in New Delhi, Bakshi personally addressed his staff at Headquarters Eastern Command in Kolkata, stating that he would extend his full support to Rawat.

Bakshi’s address was relayed by videoconference to other headquarters under his jurisdiction.

Bakshi complimented all the men in Eastern Command for their commitment and service and urged them to join him in continuing their good work.

Following the government’s announcement on December 17 that Rawat would succeed the outgoing chief, General Dalbir Singh Suhag, speculation had been rife that the two generals who Rawat would be superseding --- Bakshi and Lieutenant General PM Hariz who heads Southern Command --- would be resigning from service.

Defence ministry sources put out the rationale that Rawat, an infantry officer, had greater experience in handling counter-insurgency operations than Bakshi, who is from the armoured corps and well-versed in mechanised warfare.

It is an unwritten military tradition for senior generals to resign when a junior supersedes them for the post of army chief (though not for lesser posts). When General Arun Vaidya superseded his senior, Lieutenant General SK Sinha as COAS in 1983, Sinha promptly submitted his resignation.

In this case, however, Bakshi is understood to have been assured by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar that the process was under way to appoint him as India’s first tri-service commander, a post that would, at least nominally, place him senior to Rawat.

This assurance was apparently conveyed when Bakshi met Parrikar in his office on December 21.

Parrikar, as well as Prime Minister Narendra Modi, have publicly committed to appointing a tri-service commander.

Clearing this post has been a difficult process; with the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) bureaucracy steadfastly opposed the announcement of a five-star chief of defence staff (CDS), who would be senior even to the cabinet secretary, the top bureaucrat.

The compromise solution being worked through the system involves creating the four-star post of “permanent chairman chiefs of staff” (PCCOS), which the Naresh Chandra Task Force had proposed in 2013. This would be a fourth four-star general, in addition to the existing chiefs of the army, navy and air force. The PCCOS appointment would require cabinet clearance.

The PCCOS is spoken of as a “first amongst equals” with the three service chiefs. However, at least for the present, the three service chiefs would have clear fiefdoms while the PCCOS would only be a an upgraded version of the three-star officer who currently heads the Integrated Defence Staff, handling perspective planning, and tri-service issues of equipment and manpower structuring.

Appointing Bakshi as PCCOS would involve the delicate matter of leap-frogging him above Admiral Sunil Lanba, the current navy chief, who is senior to Bakshi. Lanba is currently the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee, which includes the three service chiefs.

Furthermore, it is unclear what time lines the government is working on for clearing the appointment of the first PCCOS, or precisely what assurances have been given to Bakshi. Speaking on television on Friday, Parrikar stated that he would put up a proposal to the PM in January, who would then take a decision.

Bakshi is due to retire in the normal course in July 2017. In case the government is unable to clear the PCCOS post by then, it would fall to another officer.

Friday, 30 December 2016

Aircraft carrier version of Tejas still alive, despite navy opposition

ADA chief, Commodore CD Balaji, after a sortie he flew today in the Tejas Mark I

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st Dec 16

A decade ago, a far-sighted navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash, posted his most talented engineering officer, Commander CD Balaji, to develop the Naval Tejas fighter at the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme.

Prakash, and several navy chiefs who followed him, continued backing the Naval Tejas with funds and personnel, even as the Indian Air Force (IAF) dragged its feet.

Now, ironically, the navy has turned its back on the Tejas, even as the IAF has backed the Tejas with orders for 103 fighters.

Although Balaji is now a commodore and the head of ADA, the admirals have insisted since April that they want to buy 57 foreign fighters instead of the Tejas. These will equip two current aircraft carriers: INS Vikramaditya, purchased from Russia, and INS Vikrant, nearing completion at Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL).

On Navy Day earlier this month, navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba publicly announced that the Tejas would not meet the navy’s requirements.

Business Standard learns that the navy wants ADA to develop a carrier deck version of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), an indigenous, twin-engine, fifth-generation, stealth fighter that is unlikely to enter service before 2030.

This inexplicable volte-face by the last two navy chiefs --- Admiral RK Dhowan who retired in May and Admiral Sunil Lanba who succeeded him --- opens the doors for two global vendors: Boeing, which is offering its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet; and Dassault, which has already sold 36 Rafale fighters to the IAF.

Unexplained by the navy is the future role of its 45 MiG-29K/KUB fighters, which India paid over $2 billion for, and which were to equip the Vikramaditya and Vikrant, with 22-24 fighters on each.

Nor is it clear whether the Rafale and Super Hornet, which are designed and built to be launched from aircraft carriers with catapults, are capable of “ski-jump” launches from the two Indian carriers, neither of which have catapults.

Without catapults, those aircraft will have to be launched with significantly lower payloads of fuel and weapons, especially in India’s warmer environment. The navy has done no studies of the compromises that will be necessary.

With the navy short of answers, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has ordered ADA to continue developing the Naval Tejas.

Balaji confirmed to Business Standard that the Naval Tejas development was under way. “ADA believes that we have a good configuration for the LCA Navy Mark II, which will meet the operational requirements of a deck-based aircraft, as specified in the cabinet clearance in December 2009.”

The navy, however, is now demanding far greater capability from the Tejas than what the cabinet clearance of 2009 had specified. At a defence ministry meeting in August, the admirals cited a significantly more challenging operational environment.

Meanwhile the two-phase upgrade of the Naval Tejas continues. In Phase-1, the IAF version of the Tejas Mark I was modified, at a cost of Rs 1,729 crore, into the Naval Tejas Mark I. This involved measures like strengthening the undercarriage for landings on carrier decks and modifying the cockpit to increase pilot visibility. Yet, the Mark I remained predominantly an air force, rather than a naval, fighter.

ADA intends to customise it into a naval fighter in Phase-2, which has been allocated Rs 1,921 crore. Like the IAF version, this will involve comprehensive redesign, including replacing the current General Electric F-404IN engine with a more powerful F-414 engine. But other important changes will optimise the fighter for carrier operations. Weight will be shaved off the undercarriage, which will be accommodated inside a lengthened wing, freeing up space in the centre fuselage for an additional 700 litres of fuel. This will give the fighter an extra 20-25 minutes of flight endurance. In addition, the tail hook will be engineered afresh.

The ADA chief has argued forcefully in the defence ministry, and Parrikar has accepted the need for a step-by-step approach to naval fighter design, rather than attempting a huge technology jump by designing a fifth-generation Naval AMCA. They believe that first designing an optimised naval fighter --- the Naval Tejas Mark II --- would develop capabilities realistically and incrementally.

Fleet air experts note the US Navy’s struggle to build the carrier deck version of the Joint Strike Fighter, called the F-35C. Although America has built carrier deck aircraft for a century, the technology leap attempted in the F-35 created issues that are still being resolved.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Indian artillery gun shines in trials, to be displayed on Republic Day

The ATAGS --- ready to fire

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Dec 16

After 18 years of having failed to buy a towed artillery gun from the global arms market, top army generals are finally reassured that their most worrying operational shortfall will soon be met from within India.

This belief comes after a week of successful “engineering trials” of the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS), from December 13-20, at the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) ranges in Balasore, Odisha. Army observers witnessed the trials.

“We are on track in designing and building an international quality gun through the ATAGS project. If it continues like this, India will be a major gun supplier in the world market, instead of a major buyer”, asserts a senior army procurement manager.

The army is usually restrained in its endorsement of on-going DRDO projects.

So pleased is the ministry of defence that it has ordered the two existing ATAGS prototypes to be transported post-haste to New Delhi and displayed in the Republic Day Parade this year.

ATAGS is potentially the DRDO’s biggest indigenous project, aiming to meet the army’s need for more than 2,000 towed artillery pieces in the coming decade, generating indigenous manufacture for over Rs 30,000 crore.

Conceived and designed by the DRDO’s Armament R&D Establishment, Pune (ARDE), the gun is mostly built by two private firms. The lion’s share has been won by Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division), which has built one prototype. The Kalyani Group has built a second prototype.

Development of the ATAGS system has been divided into nine “work packages”, with each package competitively tendered within India. The Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) won the tender to manufacture gun barrels, along with forgings giant, the Kalyani Group.

Other private companies have won roles too. Mahindra Defence Systems will make the recoil system along with Tata Power SED, while Punj Lloyd will make the muzzle brake. During full-scale manufacture, an entire eco-system of smaller Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers is expected to come up.

At first look, ATAGS appears similar to the Bofors FH-77B – the famous “Bofors gun” that India bought 410 of in the 1980s. In fact, the ATAGS, a 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun-howitzer (guns fire at low angle, howitzers at high angle, while ATAGS does both) is significantly bigger than the 155-millimetre, 39-calibre Bofors.

155-millimetres is the “bore” of the gun, or the width of the gun barrel. Calibre relates to barrel length; the higher the calibre, the longer the barrel, and the longer its range. A third parameter is chamber size, which determines how large a projectile can be fired from the gun, and therefore how much damage a round can inflict on the target.

While most globally available 155-millimetre guns, including the French Nexter and Israeli Elbit guns the military has evaluated, have a chamber capacity of 23 litres, ATAGS will have a 25-litre chamber. That would let it fire more high explosive onto the target with each round.

In addition, that makes the ATAGS’s range noticeably higher, especially while firing “extended range full bore” (ERFB) ammunition, with which the range goes up to an astonishing 45 kilometres.

The ATAGS is the world’s only gun with a six-round “automated magazine”, which lets it fire a six-round burst in just 30 seconds. Most other 155-mm, 52-calibre guns have three-round magazines, which must be reloaded after firing three rounds.

Since most casualties are caused by artillery in the initial burst of fire, when enemy soldiers are caught in the open (and not after they dive into their trenches), a high “burst fire” capability is an important attribute.

The ATAGS specifications also require it to fire 60 rounds in 60 minutes in the “sustained fire” mode.

Another first in the ATAGS is its all-electric drive, which replaces the comparatively unreliable hydraulic drives in other towed guns. The ATAG’s all-electric drive operates its automated mechanisms: ammunition handling, opening and closing the breech, and ramming the round into the chamber.

These enhanced performance attributes have increased the weight of ATAGS to 16 tonnes, a couple of tonnes heavier than comparable towed guns. The army is willing to accept a heavier gun that delivers significantly better performance.

Notwithstanding the army’s enthusiasm, the ATAGS faces a stiff regimen of trials before entering service. In June, “range and accuracy trials” will be conducted to evaluate its accuracy and its effect on the target. Its performance will be evaluated in varying terrain conditions, like deserts, plains, mountains and high altitude; both in summer and winter. The gun’s mobility, and that of the Ashok Leyland tractor that tows it, will also be evaluated. Maintenance evaluation trials (MET) will follow.

Traditionally, indigenous weapon projects have been dominated by the DRDO. In ATAGS, however, the DRDO functions as a project manager and concept designer, while private firms handle much of the systems development. With the workload thus shared, the project is expected to escape the delays that have bedevilled past projects that were exclusively handled by an overloaded DRDO.

A look at the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS)

Designed by DRDO, built mainly by private industry

1,500 – 2,000 guns needed by army

Rs 15-18 crore per gun, total cost about Rs 30,000 crore

ATAGS is a 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun-howitzer

45-kilometre range with “extended range” ammunition

Fires six rounds in 30 seconds, fastest in the world

World’s first towed gun with all-electric drive

Weighs 16 tonnes, 2-3 tonnes heavier than comparable guns

Fires 60 rounds in 60 minutes in “sustained fire” mode

25-litre chamber for larger projectile

Agni-6 ICBM evolving organically from Agni-5

The Master Control Room at Abdul Kalam Island, counting down to an Agni-5 launch

By Ajai Shukla
DRDO Missile Complex, Hyderabad
Business Standard, 28th Dec 16

Ever since the Agni-5 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) was first tested on April 19, 2012, analysts worldwide have speculated about when India would test its successor, the Agni-6 --- presumptively India’s first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The Agni-5, which was successfully tested on Monday to its maximum range of 5,000 kilometres (km), is not strictly an ICBM. By convention, ICBMs have ranges in excess of 5,500 km. The Agni-5 is on the cusp between IRBM and ICBM.

Speculation about the Agni-6 has only been fanned by denials from top ministry of defence officials, including successive Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) chiefs, about the existence of any project to develop the ICBM.

“Agni-6? What is the Agni-6? I have not heard of such a programme”, said a poker-faced DRDO chairman, Dr S Christopher, to Business Standard.

With the continental United States and most of Western Europe and Russia beyond the Agni-5’s strike range, there is little worry in those capitals about New Delhi’s missile programme. This was evident in June, when India was admitted into the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). However, an Indian ICBM programme that would place influential world capitals at risk might be viewed differently. That is why the MoD’s official position, as described by a senior official to Business Standard is: “There is no Agni-6 missile. Our strategic missiles can already strike targets 300 - 5,000 km away. These missiles meet all our strategic requirements.”

Despite the official denials, speculation about an Agni-6 ICBM visualises a range of 6,000-7,500 km; a larger payload capability than the Agni-5 to carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRVs); and even manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles (MARVs) to increase survivability against enemy anti-ballistic missile systems.

Significantly, the last two DRDO chiefs, VK Saraswat and Avinash Chander, publicly acknowledged having developed the technologies that go into MIRVs and MARV. They said these could be quickly operationalized when the government so decided.

As for extending the Agni-5’s range by 1,000 – 2,500 kilometres, a recent visit by Business Standard to the DRDO’s Missile Complex in Hyderabad makes it evident that on-going technology upgrades and incremental improvements in rocketry are already increasing the range of the Agni-5 missile.

Even without a sanctioned government project for the Agni-6, it seems inevitable that the Agni-5, over the next few years, would organically evolve into an ICBM with improved technologies and capabilities.

Chinese officials have always regarded the Agni-5 as an ICBM, with some even stating it is capable of striking targets 8,000 km away.

A major factor towards greater range would be the weight reduction in the 50-tonne Agni-5, as older, heavier sub-systems are replaced by lighter, more reliable ones, including many made with lightweight composite materials. A major development in this regard is the replacement of hydraulic actuators in the Agni-5’s giant first stage with the state-of-the-art, electro-mechanical actuators that already equip Stage-2 and Stage-3.

Moving from hydraulic to electro-mechanical actuators not only saves weight due to lightweight components, but also eliminates problems like oil storage and leakage, and the need for an accumulator. In addition, electro-mechanical actuators are more reliable and easy to maintain.

Currently, the Agni-5 has a metallic first stage, made of “maraging steel”, while the second and third stages are entirely built from lightweight composites, which were first tested in the Agni-4 on 15 Nov 2011. Stage-1 components like high-temperature rocket motor nozzles are already being made of composites. Gradually, the Agni-5 could become an all-composite missile that is significantly lighter than at present.

“No major development is needed to upgrade an Agni-5 into an ICBM. All that is needed is to improve materials to make the missile lighter, with better propulsion”, says one scientist.

That would make the Agni-5, with an estimated current cost of Rs 100 crore per piece, the world’s most cost-effective ICBM. It could cost just one-third the price of an American ICBM, as estimated by the respected Federation of American Scientists.

The total cost of the Agni-5 programme remains secret. The Political Council of the Cabinet clears such classified projects, not the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) that keeps records more transparently. All sanctions relating to the Agni-5 project are done through the fast track route.