Tuesday, 31 May 2016

HAL’s indigenous trainer aircraft poised for first flight on Tuesday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st May 16

On Tuesday morning, in a milestone in indigenous aircraft development, India’s homegrown basic trainer aircraft, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) could make its first flight.

Last week, the HTT-40 completed high-speed taxi trials, in which it accelerated to take off speed, and even lifted its nose slightly off the runway, checking all its systems for actual flight. Next, the pilots will go through a full take off and carry out basic flying manoeuvres before landing the aircraft.

If this goes off well, it will be a victory for public sector undertaking, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which has strongly backed the HTT-40 project, defying a sceptical Indian Air Force (IAF).

The IAF had blocked funding for the HTT-40, telling the defence ministry the aircraft would be too expensive, too heavy and would not meet the air force’s needs. HAL continued anyway, allocating more than Rs 350 crore of company funds.

The IAF was backing a Swiss trainer, the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II, importing 75 for Swiss Francs 557 million (Rs 3,770 crore at current rates), in a controversial deal signed in May 2012. Those aircraft have already joined the IAF fleet.

But the IAF needs another 106 basic trainers, and wanted the Swiss aircraft, not the Indian one. In July 2013, then IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne wrote personally to then defence minister, AK Antony, requesting the HTT-40 project be closed and 106 more aircraft be imported from Switzerland. As Business Standard extensively reported, Browne’s letter to Antony was based on incorrect figures and procedures were violated to favour Pilatus (July 29, 2013, “Air Force at war with Hindustan Aeronautics; wants to import, not build, a trainer”, July 29, 2013, “Air Force diluted at least twelve benchmarks to allow Pilatus into contract” and July 31, 2013 “Admissions, obfuscations in Indian Air Force explanation on Business Standard reports”).

That was validated last year, when Business Standard reported a defence ministry internal noting that concluded Pilatus might not have been the lowest bidder (February 14, 2015, “Defence Ministry official questions whether Pilatus was cheapest trainer”).

Since 2015, indigenization-friendly Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has goaded the IAF into accepting the HTT-40 and setting up an “integrated project management team” to oversee the project. To meet the IAF’s training needs while the HTT-40 is flight tested and brought into production --- which could take two years --- 38 more PC-7 Mark II trainers are being bought. The remaining gap of 68 trainers would be filled by the HTT-40.

HAL projects it will build the first two HTT-40 trainers in 2018, eight in 2019, and reach its capacity of 20 per year from 2020 onwards.

HAL hopes to build 200 HTT-40s, exporting a “weaponised” version to countries like Afghanistan, Myanmar, and some African customers. HAL chief, T Suvarna Raju told Business Standard the HTT-40 would be developed into a capable ground attack aircraft, ideal for countries that cannot afford expensive fighters or air bases with long runways. HAL hopes to price the HTT-40 at about Rs 40 crore per aircraft, one-fifth the cost of a basic light fighter.

Stringent Swiss end-user restrictions prohibit weaponising the PC-7 Mark II.

The HTT-40, like the PC-7 Mark II, is a propeller-driven, turbo-prop aircraft for “Stage-1” training of rookie pilots. After 80 hours of basic training, pilots shift to “Stage-2” training on the HAL-built Kiran Mark II jet trainer. Next comes “Stage-3” training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer (AJT), which HAL builds under licence from BAE Systems.

The HTT-40 features a pressurised cockpit, “zero-zero” ejection seats, and a state-of-the-art cockpit display with “in-flight simulation” that permits an instructor in the rear cockpit to electronically simulate various system failures, training the rookie pilot in the front seat in handling emergencies.

HAL says that 55 of the trainer’s 95 systems have been designed and built in India. Another 35 systems will be built in India with transferred technology, including the aircraft’s Honeywell TPE-331-12B engine. This high degree of indigenisation would make it easy to support the HTT-40 through its service life. 

Friday, 27 May 2016

Three new defence ministry committees search for radical reform

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th May 16

The defence ministry’s drive for policy reform has gone into a cul-de-sac of committees and sub-committees. With cautious ministry bureaucrats reluctant to embrace radical reform; and with private companies undercutting each other for fear of getting left out of the inner circle, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has convened a set of independent committees, whose recommendations could provide the cover needed for root-and-branch reform.

The committees include one charged with reshaping the basic patterns of defence spending; another with galvanising defence procurement by restructuring the ministry’s acquisitions agency; and five sub-committees that evaluate how to bring in the private sector.

The first committee --- a 12-member body, headed by Lieutenant General (Retired) DB Shekatkar --- will recommend measures to “rebalance” defence allocations between revenue and capital expenditure. With just 25 per cent of the defence budget available for equipment modernization after 75 per cent goes on running expenses, especially on a bloated manpower bill, the committee will look at how to cut down manpower without reducing the military’s combat capability.

Fifteen years ago, a committee headed by former army vice chief, Lt Gen Chandra Shekhar, had similarly examined cutting down the army’s logistical and training establishments, with greater reliance on new civilian infrastructure. Little of that was implemented. But while the Chandra Shekhar committee scrutinised only the “non-field force”, the Shekatkar committee will evaluate the sensitive issue of combat units, including the requirement for a new mountain strike corps that would add another 50,000 troops to the army.

Parrikar has come around to the conviction that the army carries too much flab, which can be trimmed. For example, it is authorised manpower and workshops for repairing its fleet of jeeps and heavy lorries. With the old purely military vehicle models replaced by Maruti Gypsies, and Leyland and Tata trucks, greater reliance could be placed on civilian repair infrastructure that has come up even in areas like Ladakh, Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh.

Similarly, the army carries a large number of transport battalions, which have trucks for hauling equipment, such as artillery ammunition and fuel, during war. Today civilian trucks could be requisitioned for mobilisation, since trucking agencies now operate in areas they never did before.

Signalling that the ministry is examining the military dimension seriously, the Shekatkar committee includes several military officers, such as Lt Gen (Retired) Vinod Bhatia, a former military operations chief who now heads the tri-service think tank, the Centre for Joint Warfare Studies.

A second committee has been constituted under former petroleum secretary, Vivek Rae, to study “the setting up of a Defence Procurement Organisation in the Government of India.” The committee is required to suggest the functional mandate of the proposed procurement body, its organisation and staffing, and to suggest how autonomously it could function.

Vivek Rae, who served as the defence ministry acquisitions chief, is intimately aware of the flaws of the current organisation, which numerous commentators have criticised as hamstrung by caution and procedure, most of them laid down by the ministry itself, in successive defence procurement procedures (DPP).

The nine-member Vivek Rae committee also includes a mix of military and civilian officials. However, it does not incorporate expertise from the private defence industry, a possible shortcoming, given the increasingly important role of private industry in meeting India’s equipment requirements.

Says a private industry CEO, on condition of anonymity: “If a new procurement body is to make a major difference, it must be charged with developing private defence industry. Currently, private industry is a step-child of the Department of Defence Production (DDP), which lavishes its attention on its public sector units. Procurement is tightly linked with private industry development and with offsets, and these must come under the new body.”

It is still unclear whether the defence ministry itself could carry out such major restructuring, or whether an act of parliament would be needed.

A third group of sub-committees was constituted on May 24 to salvage the “strategic partners” (SPs) model for private sector participation in “Make in India”, which the Dhirendra Singh committee had recommended last year and which was further given shape by the VK Aatre Task Force early this year.

They had recommended nominating chosen private sector companies as SPs, to manufacture defence equipment in India under licence from global vendors. The SPs were to be selected in ten fields of technology, based on laid down criteria.

However, private sector companies that were not making the criteria have stalled the selection process, arguing with some justification that the criteria were arbitrary. This process has now been revived, but pared down to just five technology areas.

Each of these five areas --- armoured fighting vehicles; aircraft and helicopters; submarines; ammunition, including smart ammunition; and “macro process management of issues”, will be considered by a separate sub-committee. The conclusions are to be presented to the defence minister by June 4.

Fifteen years after the private sector was allowed into defence production in 2001, there is still little clarity about the nature and modalities of participation. In 2006, the Kelkar Committee made recommendations, which most experts had regarded as workable and fair. However, the Raksha Udyog Ratna model of private sector participation it proposed was not implemented.

Meanwhile, Eight DPPs, the most recent one being DPP-2016 part-released this year, have failed to galvanise private sector participation. The waters have been further muddied by a series of proposed procurement models, none of which have satisfied --- the Indian Designed, Developed and Manufactured (IDDM) procurement category in DPP-2016; the “Make-1” and “Make-2” categories in the same document; and now the SP model.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Mr Modi’s defence report card

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th May 16

On Thursday, this government will mark its second anniversary in power. Even before Chief Minister Narendra Modi became Prime Minister Modi, serving and retired soldiers, sailors and airmen hoped that, unlike the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) would nurture a long neglected military. How successfully has the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government met those expectations?

In electioneering, Mr Modi talked up a muscular, populist alternative to Manmohan Singh’s widely ridiculed milquetoast image. [In the 1940s, HT Webster created the comic strip character, Caspar Milquetoast, describing him as “the man who speaks softly and gets hit with a big stick.”] On September 15, 2013, two days after being anointed the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Mr Modi promised a huge gathering of military veterans in Rewari he would give the military its due --- both in money and attention. Declared the future PM: “My friends, the problem is not on the border, the problem is in Delhi… and, thus, we will have to find its solution also in Delhi! Until we do not have an efficient and patriotic government in Delhi, it does not matter how capable our military is, or how modern our equipment.”

In April, just days before voting, Mr Modi released the BJP’s election manifesto, which included, in unprecedented detail, pledges to rewrite defence policy, restructure procurement, modernize weaponry, and make India a defence manufacturing hub. Yet, the soaring expectations of the generals, admirals and air marshals who were jumping onto the BJP bandwagon were clearly unrealistic. Reading between the lines, the manifesto clearly prioritised economic development: “Comprehensive national security is not just about borders, but in its broad terms includes military security; economic security; cyber security; energy, food and water and health security; and social cohesion and harmony. To effectively address the issues of national security, we need to address the issues of - human resources, science and technology, system of governance and money.”

Given that, the real decline in defence allocations should have been expected. From about 1.8 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) in the UPA’s last two Budgets, defence allocations declined to 1.73 per cent in Modi’s first two Budgets; and just 1.65 per cent of GDP this year. To dress this up, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley changed the basis of calculation this year, adding into the defence allocations the expenditure on the “pensions” and “defence ministry” heads, which had never previously been counted as a part of the defence budget. This is not to suggest subterfuge; pensions and ministry staff expenditures legitimately belong to the defence budget. But doing that diverted attention from this year’s reduced allocations and made the defence budget look fatter. By the previous methodology, this year’s allocations would have been Rs 2,49,099 crore ($37.18 billion). Using the new calculation, defence allocations rose to Rs 3,40,922 crore ($51 billion). Even so, at 2.26 per cent of GDP, this remains well short of the recommended allocation of 3 per cent of GDP that defence planners say is needed over a sustained period to modernise India’s huge inventories of obsolescent weaponry. Furthermore, even more so than preceding governments, the NDA is failing to spend its allocations. On March 31, billions of unspent dollars were returned to the treasury.

In fact, Mr Modi’s money problem is less one of insufficient allocations than of poor expenditure priorities. Using the new basis of calculation, three-quarters of this year’s defence budget is for “revenue expenditure” --- running expenses like salaries, pensions, housing, equipment maintenance, fuel, training, etc. A mere quarter is for “capital expenditure”, or modernising the army with new weaponry and kit. Despite India’s cheap manpower, 55 per cent of the budget goes towards the payroll. This ratio is being skewed further with the One Rank, One Pension (OROP) scheme bloating the pension bill, and the 7th Central Pay Commission recommending 15 per cent salaries rises. Without higher defence allocations, there will be even less for capital expenditure. Mr Modi seems aware of this conundrum, having warned his military commanders that growing numbers would adversely affect modernisation. Yet, there is no decisive move to trim the flab.

Meanwhile, equipment acquisition proceeds randomly. Like with the UPA government, contracts for new weaponry are pursued not on the basis of how urgently the item is needed, but in the leisurely order in which proposals clear the endless obstacle course of ministry procedure. Every official knows the military’s most critical needs --- artillery and air defence guns for the army; torpedoes, sonars and air defence missiles for the navy; and mid-air refuelling aircraft and strike aircraft for the air force, to name a few. There exists a fast-track procedure for urgent purchases. Even so, glaring operational voids remain, providing reassurance to our foes.

Similarly, the military’s operational capability remains hamstrung by the weakness of tri-service operational command and planning. The defence minister has repeatedly promised to address this issue; the PM himself told the military’s top commanders on December 15 that: “Jointness at the top is a need that is long overdue. We also need reforms in senior defence management... This is an area of priority for me.” Yet, action: zero.

Admittedly, the defence ministry got off the blocks late, after languishing for almost six months under the additional charge of the finance minister --- something Mr Modi has never explained. After Manohar Parrikar’s appointment in mid-November 2014, he has tried to reform the way his ministry does business. Despite opposition from his conservative bureaucrats, Mr Parrikar has pushed through badly needed measures to partly level the playing field between the public and private sectors; and he is popular with private sector industrialists for his consultative approach. However, he has promised more than delivered. A new defence procurement procedure (DPP-2016) has been only partly released. The ministry continues to grapple with an ill-conceived initiative to replace the public sector monopoly with a private sector one, dominated by a few “strategic partners”. A pragmatic “blacklisting policy” remains blocked. Despite Mr Parrikar’s laudable backing of indigenous development programmes, and the policy prioritisation of “Made in India” (designing and developing platforms in the country) over “Make in India” (manufacturing in India to foreign blueprints), few such projects have been initiated so far. The drive to reform defence policy and revitalize operational readiness is far from yielding results.

US defence cooperation Bill steered past anti-India lobbies in Washington

By Ajai Shukla
Philadelphia, USA
Business Standard, 23rd May 16

In 2008, the US Congress passed an innocuously titled legislation --- the “Naval Vessel Transfer Act” --- that has committed Washington to providing Israel a “qualitative military edge” over every potential adversary.

That act bound every US president to ensure Israel always has the “ability to counter and defeat any credible conventional military threat from any individual state or possible coalition of states or from non-state actors, while sustaining minimal damages and casualties.”

Now, in similar fashion, the US Congress is binding future American presidents, whatever their alliances or foreign policies, to nurturing US-India defence ties.

On Thursday, the US House of Representatives passed the “US India Defense Technology and Partnership Act”, as an amendment to the National Defence Authorization Act (NDAA) --- which authorizes the US military to spend Budget allocations. Initiated by Representative George Holding, and supported by most of the House, this highlights Congress’ dramatic swing towards India and away from Pakistan.

The US Congress often passes important, but potentially divisive Bills, by tagging them as amendments to larger, compulsory Bills like the NDAA. A stand-alone Bill would be extensively debated, allowing potential opponents to oppose them. It is easier to pass them as an amendment to another less contentious Bill.

The passage of the Bill has not been without tension. Pro-India lobbies have worked discreetly to tamp down opposition from Congressmen disappointed with the tardy pace of India’s defence and economic reforms. There is also ire in Washington about New Delhi’s continued stonewalling of bilateral “foundational agreements”, even though American and Indian officials have agreed on the drafts of two --- the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA), and the Communications and Information Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). Anti-India critics complain that India has never fought alongside the US, the way allies like the UK and Australia have.

Even so, the growing pro-India mood in the House ensured the Bill comfortably passed. Congressional practice now requires the upper house, the Senate, to pass a similar “companion” Bill. On May 9, Senators Mark Warner and John Cornyn, introduced such a Bill, entitled “Advancing U.S.-India Defense Cooperation Act”. Senator Warner, a democrat; and Senator Cornyn, a republican, co-chair the Senate’s bipartisan, 35-member India Caucus which promotes Washington’s relations with New Delhi.

After the Senate passes the Warner-Cornyn Bill, as appears likely, the House and Senate versions of the Bill must be reconciled. This is done either by a formal committee, or through a series of Amendments in each chamber until the Bill looks the same in both. This would not be difficult, since the Senate and House versions are already close to identical. The agreed joint version would then be signed into US law.

American legislators are increasingly conscious of the Cold War divergence between India and the US; and Washington’s continuing support for Pakistan, which makes New Delhi regard the US as a potentially fickle partner. The new Bill aims at reassuring New Delhi of American strategic commitment.

Towards this, the House Bill (just passed) and the Senate Bill (under process) require the US president to “formalize India’s status as a major partner of the United States.” It remains unclear what this status would be. New Delhi’s historical non-alignment rules out a formal treaty, like the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) that binds the US and several European countries into a mutual defence arrangement. New Delhi might also be hesitant to be designated a “major non-NATO ally” (MNNA) --- which does not automatically include a mutual defence pact, but which permits Washington to extend a range of defence and financial benefits. The US currently has 15 designated MNNAs, including Australia, Japan and Pakistan. In 2014, Israel was elevated from an MNNA into a higher category and designated a “major strategic partner”.

For now, US-India defence ties are covered only by a 2015 executive agreement entitled “Framework for the US-India Defence Relationship”, which is valid for a decade. This follows previous, less comprehensive agreements signed in 1995 and 2005.

The new bill also requires the president to strengthen the Defence Technology and Trade Initiative, and the India Rapid Reaction Cell --- a Pentagon department that irons out wrinkles in defence ties.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Hawk trainer, joint exercises to enhance defence ties with UAE, Oman

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th May 16

Until recently, the Indian Air Force (IAF) planned for the possibility of United Arab Emirates (UAE) supplying up to a squadron of F-16 fighters to boost the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) in an Indo-Pakistan conflict.

Now, dramatically signalling the transformed relationship between New Delhi and Abu Dhabi, an IAF contingent returning to India next month from the on-going Red Flag exercise in the US will train with the UAE air force. Its pilots fly the world’s most potent F-16s, the Block 60 version, superior even to US Air Force F-16s and to the Block 50/52 version that Washington supplies Pakistan.

This and other aspects of defence cooperation with the UAE and Oman will be on the agenda of Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar during his four-day visit to those two countries that begins on May 20.

The UAE is unlikely to choose defence equipment manufactured in India, the oil-rich country preferring state-of-the-art western weaponry, like the Block 60 F-16. Even so, New Delhi hopes to overhaul and upgrade the Hawk trainer jets that both the UAE and Royal Omani Air Force fly.

The IAF has the world’s largest Hawk fleet, and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) continues to manufacture the advanced jet trainer at Bengaluru. In May 2015, HAL and BAE Systems, the Hawk’s original manufacturer, agreed “to collaborate towards developing a comprehensive fleet support service for India’s Hawk and Jaguar aircraft”. HAL hopes to take this forward, becoming the hub that supports several Hawk fleets in the region.

Of the 161 Hawks flying in West Asia, the UAE operates 46 and Oman flies 25. Saudi Arabia operates 72; Kuwait 12 and Bahrain six.

Another 190 Hawks fly with other Asian and African air forces, including 33 with Australia; 60 with Indonesia; 28 with Malaysia; 20 with South Korea; 24 with South Africa; 12 with Kenya; and 13 with Zimbabwe.

Besides the Hawk trainer, the UAE and India air force enjoy several other equipment commonalities. UAE operates 63 Mirage-2000-9 fighters, the most potent version of the IAF’s Mirage 2000. The UAE also flies the Apache AH-64D (28 attack helicopters) and the Chinook CH-47D (eight heavy lift choppers) that the IAF has contracted to buy from Boeing. Both air forces operate variants of the C-17 Globemaster III and the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft.

Growing defence and counter-terrorism cooperation between India and UAE has been catalysed by Abu Dhabi’s sharp U-turn from the time PAF pilots trained its air force and retired PAF technicians maintained its Mirage III and F-16 fighters. This has been catalysed by the radical threat posed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to UAE last August, the two countries forged a “comprehensive strategic partnership”. On its heels came the February visit to New Delhi of the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayed al Nahyan, when “the two renewed their commitment to strengthening the existing cooperation in training, joint exercises, and participation in defence exhibitions, as well as in identifying opportunities to cooperate on the production of defence equipment in India”.

The UAE has detected and deported terrorist sympathisers from the two million Indians working in that country, handing them over to Indian authorities. Sheikh al Nahyan, visiting soon after the terrorist attack on Pathankot Air Base this year, condemned cross border terrorism.

If the UAE is a new friend, Oman has long been India’s most steadfast partner in West Asia. Muscat and New Delhi signed a military protocol in 1972, and the two air forces together conducted the Exercise Eastern Bridge in 2009 in Oman, and in 2011 in India. This incorporated the common Jaguar fighter, which both operated until Oman retired its Jaguars in 2014 and bought the Eurofighter.

Until then, Jaguar spares built by HAL were sold to Oman. With the IAF looking to extend the service life of its six Jaguar squadrons by fitting in new engines and avionics, Oman’s 24 retired Jaguars could be of interest to the IAF.

Oman sent a naval vessel to participate in the International Fleet Review that the navy hosted in Visakhapatnam in February. When the Tejas flew the long journey to Bahrain for its first international outing in the Bahrain International Air Show, it staged through Muscat, Oman.