Saturday, 29 December 2018

MoD to hold “Drone Olympics” to check out the market in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs)

By Ajai Shukla 
Business Standard, 29th Dec 18

The ministry of defence (MoD) has had little success in buying weaponry through conventional processes, laid down in its defence procurement procedures and manuals. Now, it is thinking way out of the box.

Aero India 2019, scheduled in Bengaluru from February 21-24, will feature a unique and unprecedented contest: the “Drone Olympics”, which will be held on the opening day.

On Friday, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman inaugurated the Drone Olympics website, which stated: “Government of India is organizing a ‘Drone Olympics’ under which various drone competitions shall be held and winners will be honoured with medals and cash prizes. Come forward and participate in the competition.”

This innovative contest will allow the MoD to sample the market in drones – also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). From battlefield surveillance, photography, mapping terrain, delivering productsto remotely fired missile strikes on high-value targets, drones aretoday one of the fastest growing fields in defence. 

India’s military is buying and developing a range of drones. On the shopping list are 22 sophisticated, high-altitude, long endurance (HALE) Sea Guardian drones, as well as much smaller, manportable, shoulder-launched drones that foot soldiers can launch to observe the enemy across a hill or around a corner. Meanwhile, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is building an indigenous medium altitude, long endurance (MALE) drone called the Rustom II.

However, that still leaves out a range of small, high-tech manufacturers that build small drones capable of performing a range of military activities that could enhance battlefield performance. The Drone Olympics will put the spotlight on them, while also allowing the MoD to evaluate their products.

“It will not only encourage the UAV manufacturing in the country but also provide an opportunity to the armed forces to assess the capabilities that exist in the world,” said the MoD while inaugurating the Drone Olympics website on Friday.

The “Drone Olympics” are open to both Indian and international manufacturers. The competition, which will feature two classes of drones – under four kilogrammes and four-seven kilogrammes – will be held in three domains. 

The first is a “Surveillance Challenge” in which UAVs will be graded on their ability to monitor and recce a specified area. Second, the “Supply Drop Challenge” will require drones to lift a two-kilogramme load to a point two kilometres away, with the winner being the lightest drone that can successively complete the task. Finally, a “Formation Flying Challenge” will assess groups of drones’ ability to fly in formation. 

“The winners will be honoured with medals and a cash prize of Rs 38 lakhs to top three winners of each competition. Last date of registration to participate in this event is January 26, 2019,” announced the MoD on Friday.

Friday, 28 December 2018

China's new “aircraft carrier killer” missile could add teeth to Pakistan navy

The Dong Feng-21D "aircraft carrier killer" missile on parade at Tianenmen Square

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 28th Dec 18

To counter the US Navy’s aircraft carriers projecting power into the South China Sea, Beijing developed a formidable, “carrier killer” weapon: the Dong Feng-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (ASBM), which can accurately strike warships 1,500 kilometres away. An improved version, the Dong Feng-26, targets aircraft carriers 3,000-4,000 kilometres away.

Beijing could not export these ASBMs to allies like Pakistan. The Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which China has committed to, prohibits the export of missiles with ranges over 300 kilometres.

However, at the recent Zhuhai Air Show in China, the China Academy of Launch Vehicle Technology (CALVT), the country’s leading producer of rockets, offered international customers a new M-20B ASBM. This is an export version of the “warship killer” ASBM, with its range conveniently restricted to 280 kilometres to adhere to the MTCR. 

The CM-401 anti-ship ballistic missile at the Zhuhai Air Show

With China already building warships and submarines for Pakistan, the Indian Navy is anticipating the introduction of short-range ASBMs in Pakistan’s arsenal. This could upset India’s clear naval advantage over Pakistan.

China’s military needs the 1,500-kilometre range of the DF-21D, since it is preparing to take on the US Navy’s aircraft carrier battle groups at long ranges in the Western Pacific battle space. Pakistan, which would be content with preventing Indian warships from approaching coastal targets like Karachi or Gwadar, would be content with a range under 300 kilometres.

M-20B missiles arrayed along the Pakistani coast could achieve that cheaply and effectively. ASBMs, which cost barely Rs 100 crore each, are cost-effective counters to frigates and destroyers that cost over Rs 5,000 crore (Rs 50 billion) apiece, or a Rs 30,000 crore (Rs 300 billion) aircraft carrier.

“If these missiles enter the Pakistani arsenal, it would certainly complicate our operational calculations. The Indian Navy is observing whether China supplies these missiles to Pakistan,” said Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (Retired), director of the National Maritime Foundation, the navy’s official think tank. 

Requested for comments, the Indian Navy spokesperson stated: “Though it is a matter of concern, the navy is seized of the issue and fully prepared to address the threat posed by ASBMs.”

China has a long record of supplying Pakistan ballistic missiles. The Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a respected weapons monitoring group, records that in 1987, Beijing delivered M-11 ballistic missiles to help Islamabad create a nuclear deterrent. In 1991, Washington sanctioned Beijing for supplying Pakistan the longer-range M-9 missile, in violation of MTCR norms.

According to the CALVT, the M-20B’s payload – a 480-kilogramme package that could be a small nuclear weapon or a conventional high-explosive payload -- travels at high supersonic speeds and has a manoeuvrable trajectory, making it difficult for a warship’s air defence systems to shoot down. It is ideal for “rapid, precision attacks on frigates and destroyers”, say the makers.

“We are assessing the ASBM’s capabilities. Manufacturers routinely overstate the capability of weaponry they are selling. It is fantastically difficult to strike a moving warship with a ballistic missile. But we are developing air defence systems that could shoot down ASBMs,” says Chauhan. 

The Zhuhai Air Show showcased another option for Pakistan to keep Indian warships at bay: the CM-401 missile, which its manufacturer, China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), described as the world’s first “ultrafast ASBM.”

According to CASIC, the CM-401 uses a “near space trajectory”, flying 20-100 kilometres above the earth and manoeuvring at hypersonic speeds throughout its flight, making it extremely difficult to intercept.

CASIC said the missile travels at 4,900 kilometres per hour – or about four times the speed of sound. As it dives to kill the target, it accelerates to six times the speed of sound. It is extremely difficult to intercept a missile travelling at these hypersonic velocities.

CASIC claims the CM-401’s 290-kilogramme warhead will strike a warship target nine times out of ten.

In contrast to China’s reliance on ASBMs, India’s anti-ship missile arsenal consists primarily of the BrahMos. This is a cruise missile that skims the surface of the ocean towards its target, without leaving the atmosphere like a ballistic missile. A cruise missile is more accurate than a ballistic missile, but easier to shoot down.

The official Chinese Military website quoted Beijing-based expert, Wu Peixin, who said existing radars and ship-borne weapons cannot intercept the CM-401 due to its unique trajectory and hypersonic speed. “Users will be able to effectively deter an enemy's vessels, especially aircraft carriers, from approaching their coast,” said Wu.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Brahmaputra bridge to connect Arunachal through new “strategic railway” line

The existing railway line south of Brahmaputra will connect with north bank through the new Bogibeel bridge (above)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Dec 18

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated a new, Rs 5,920 crore railway-road bridge at Bogibeel, in Assam. It will link Dibrugarh, south of the Brahmaputra, with Dhemaji district on the north bank.

The Bogibeel bridge is a lifeline for the people of Assam. It has enhanced connectivity between Assam and other parts of the nation,” said Modi.

This is the fourth bridge over the Brahmaputra and has taken 33 years to build after it was promised as a part of the Assam Accord in 1985, as an initiative directed towards improving the state’s infrastructure. It took 12 years for then-prime minister HD Deve Gowda to lay its foundation stone in 1997, and another five years to start work, with then-prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee inaugurating construction in 2002. The construction itself has taken 16 years.

Spanning 4.94 km in length, the Bogibeel bridge caters to both rail and road traffic. It has two-way railway tracks on its lower level and a three-lane road on the upper level. Another 73 kilometres of new railway track will connect the existing trunk rail line on the Brahmaputra’s so-called South Bank with a new strategic railroad coming up on the North Bank.

The new strategic infrastructure being built on the North Bank is called the “Strategic Rail-Road Link” and will allow rail and road access to Upper Assam and Eastern Arunachal Pradesh – the northeastern tip of India. In the event of a Chinese attack on Arunachal, troops and equipment from mainland India will travel on the existing South Bank railway till Bogibeel, cross the Brahmaputra on the new bridge and then head further east on the Strategic Rail-Road Link, once it is ready.

The army sees the Bogibeel bridge as “strategic infrastructure” that dramatically cuts rail travel time to the Dibang and Lohit river valleys in eastern Arunachal Pradesh.

“Earlier, military troops and equipment had to cross the Brahmaputra, and Arunachal rivers like the Lohit, only on barges and rafts. The nearest railway bridge at Guwahati was more than 400 kilometres away, while Tezpur had only a road bridge. Now, trains can cross the Brahmaputra at Bogibeel and then travel further east on the new Strategic Link,” explained a senior general. 

Further, Bogibeel bridge allows troops located in Nagaland and Manipur to be rushed to the Sino-Indian border in Arunachal Pradesh much more quickly. Earlier, they had to cross the Brahmaputra either at Tezpur – 250 kilometres west – or at the Dholla-Sadiya bridge on the Lohit.

The Lohit flows into the plains of Assam and goes on to become (in Assamese culture) the Brahmaputra

The mighty Brahmaputra, which can be up to ten miles wide in many places, requiring a two-hour ferry ride to cross the river, divides Assam geographically, strategically and culturally. The North Bank and South Bank developed separately, even their economies barely linked.

This changed only marginally in June 1963, when the Saraighat rail-road bridge first spanned the Brahmaputra at Guwahati. That bridge was inaugurated by Jawaharlal Nehru, after being completed on a war footing in the backdrop of the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict. Almost a quarter century later in 1987, Rajiv Gandhi inaugurated the Kolia Bhomora road bridge at Tezpur. In 1988, Atal Behari Vajpayee inaugurated the third bridge over the Brahmaputra, a rail-road bridge in Lower Assam’s Goalpara district. 

Three bridges were also built over the Lohit River – the Parshuram Kund bridge at Wakro in 2006; Lohit-Digaru bridge at Alubari in 2017; and the Dholla-Sadiya bridge the same year. The three Lohit bridges do not cater for rail traffic.

Modi took note of the endemic delays in construction, stating: “Things have changed after May 2014, when topmost priority is being accorded to key projects.”

Manoj Jalan, who head the Dibrugarh-headquartered Jalan Tea Estates Group, points out the need for more bridges linking the North Bank and South Bank. “During the monsoons, the ferry sites often get washed away and cross-Brahmaputra movement comes to a halt. The people of Assam resent the fact that there are some 32-odd bridges across the Yamuna and just four across the Brahmaputra,” he observes.

Thanks to the new rail connectivity over the Bogibeel bridge, Modi also flagged off a new Tinsukia-Naharlagun Intercity Express, which will run five days a week. The Bogibeel bridge will cut down the train-travel time between Tinsukia to Naharlagun by more than 10 hours.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

Navy invites neighbours to join Indian Ocean monitoring facility

By Ajai Shukla
23rd December 18

Bustling Gurgaon, a thousand miles from the coast, may seem an odd location from which to monitor the Indian Ocean, but that is exactly where the navy – to safeguard against repeats of the 26/11 Mumbai terrorist strikes – established the Information Management and Analysis Centre (IMAC). 

This high-tech control centre obtains feeds from a range of space-based and terrestrial sensors and sources, to track fishing boats and commercial vessels near India’s coast and in the vast maritime domain beyond.

On Saturday, this initiative for maritime domain awareness (MDA) went international. 

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while addressing an audience that included the envoys to New Delhi of several global powers and regional countries, invited them to join an international version of IMAC called the Information Fusion Centre for the Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR).

While IMAC was set up to defend India’s coast, IFC-IOR is an diplomatic initiative that underlines India’s status as the guardian of the Indian Ocean – a “net security provider” that brings together regional countries to safeguard global commons, freedom of navigation and provide security against challenges such as piracy, terrorism, gun-running, narcotics, human migration and illegal fishing.

Sitharaman, inviting all countries to “contribute towards a safer global commons”, stated that India wanted “partners, equals, to work together.”

“The only way [to tackle these challenges is] is through collaborative and cooperative efforts, of which the IFC-IOR is a shining example… I, therefore, invite you to participate and contribute in this endeavour as equals,” stated Admiral Sunil Lanba, the navy chief.

While the navy declines to reveal how many countries have expressed interest in joining IFC-IOR, a senior naval officer says “at least ten countries” have already asked to join. Attending the inauguration ceremony on Saturday were the envoys of the United States, United Kingdom, Japan, Australia, France and others.

Speaking off the record, since government permissions were still being obtained, diplomats told Business Standard they were extremely keen on joining IFC-IOR.

There are already three similar MDA initiatives in the hemisphere. These include one in Singapore that focus on south-east Asia, one in Madagascar, run by the European Union, that focus on the African coast and the Southern Indian Ocean, and one in the Mediterranean Sea. However, the IFC-IOR focuses squarely on the waters that carry the bulk of global trade.

Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan, director of the navy’s think tank, the National Maritime Foundation, highlights the importance of the Northern Indian Ocean. The international sea lanes of communications (SLOCs) running through these waters carry 75 per cent of the world’s maritime trade and half of daily oil consumption. “The IFC-IOR focuses squarely on this area, stitching together data from other similar initiatives”, says Chauhan.

Lanba said the IFC-IOR was initially being launched as a “virtual centre”, from which member countries could access information electronically through the internet or video-conferencing. However, facilities were being created to house liaison officers from member countries, which would be stationed here to physically man the facilities.

This would be a significant enhancement of India’s military diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region.

The IMAC, which remains the mother facility for IFC-IOR, was sanctioned by the government in March 2012, and operationalized in Nov 2014 in barely 2½ years.

Its thrust remains to track civil, commercial shipping. The navy has a separate “Operations Room” that is used to track its own and hostile warships. There is a deliberate firewall between the two.

The IMAC (and, therefore, the IFC-IOR) obtains inputs from a range of sensors. Primary inputs come from India’s coastal radar network that is manned by the Coast Guard. 

On the international level, India has White Shipping Agreements with 36 countries, and 3 multinational agencies. This feeds in details of all commercial shipping passing through their ports.

IMAC also incorporates inputs from LRIT (long range identification and tracking). This mechanism, which works under the International Maritime Organisation, paves the way for 174 countries to provide real-time information on their commercial shipping.

Such diverse data is fused together into a “common operating picture” by custom-designed software. While this was procured internationally, it will be replace within a few months by indigenous software called “Sangraha”, developed by Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL). Navy officers claim that BEL’s software greatly improves the “common operating picture” with its advanced algorithms.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Defence Secretary James Mattis’ exit leaves India exposed in Washington

If Trump chooses a more pliable successor as secretary of defence, the Pentagon's attention could go off India

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Dec 18

The announcement on Friday that General James “Mad Dog” Mattis would soon step down as US defence secretary un-tethers the US-India relationship from its sturdiest peg and exposes New Delhi worryingly to the unpredictable policymaking of President Donald Trump’s administration.

Since January 2017, Mattis has been the most steadfast votary in Trump’s cabinet of the US-India defence relationship. In September 2017, he became Trump’s first cabinet level official to visit India. Since then, he has taken consistently pro-Indian stands on issues from Afghanistan to the Indo-Pacific.

In June, Mattis re-designated the US Pacific Command (USPACOM) – the Pentagon’s largest geographical command with about 375,000 personnel and 60 per cent of the US naval fleet – the US Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) in a nod to India’s growing influence as Washington’s most valuable regional partner.

In September, Mattis ignored Pakistan’s longstanding demands to keep India out of Afghanistan, instead seeking India’s assistance and involvement in helping to stabilise that country.

When the US Congress -- furious at Russian meddling in America’s 2016 presidential election, and at Trump’s reluctance to retaliate against Moscow -- passed a law titled “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” (CAATSA), it was Mattis who strongly pushed for a waiver to save India from US sanctions that would kick in from buying weaponry from Moscow.

With Mattis lobbying vigorously for India, the US Congress legislated a waiver from CAATSA. Mattis strongly supported New Delhi’s argument that India’s large arsenal of Russian weaponry did not allow it to make a clean break.

Eventually, the National Defense Authorization Act, 2019 (NDAA 2019), which the US Congress passed in July, created a waiver for close US partners like India. Although Trump has not yet provided India a waiver from sanctions for buying the $5 billion S-400 air defence system from Russia, he is expected to do so. 

Mattis also supported another section in NDAA 2019 that reinforced and fleshed out India’s bespoke designation as a “major defence partner” (MDP) of the US. While the Obama administration had accorded India that designation in its closing months, NDAA 2019 required the administration to submit a detailed annual report to the US Congress on what it was doing to enhance bilateral defence ties.

Pentagon insiders recount that, in all of this, Mattis lobbied Congress relentlessly on India’s behalf.

On July 30, India’s status as a MDP led to its categorisation as a Strategic Trade Authorization (STA) Tier 1 country in the US Commerce Department’s export regulations. Mattis played a role in this upgrade as well, anticipating that it would facilitate the flow of defence equipment to India.

“This regulatory change will enhance the bilateral defence trade relationship and result in a greater volume of US exports to India,” stated the US Department of Commerce after announcing the STA upgrade.

Mattis also pushed through the Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) -- a milestone pact that was signed at the inaugural US-India “two-plus-two” strategic dialogue in September, in which Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo together met Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

COMCASA had languished in the pipeline for over 15 years, but Mattis persuaded New Delhi to sign the agreement. It will allow the American and Indian militaries to operate together, communicating on secure channels and equipment. 

Since the start of Trump’s presidency, Mattis has taken forward the legacy of his predecessor, Ashton Carter, who was similarly India’s ablest votary in Washington. However, Carter functioned in the relatively stable Obama administration where the White House itself strongly believed in the India relationship. With the Trump White House otherwise preoccupied and an unstable State Department, Mattis’ support has been invaluable. 

Mattis’ resignation letter underlines serious disagreements with Trump. It rebukes the president for failing to service US alliances, while being confused about America’s enemies. If that causes Trump to choose a more pliable successor, the Pentagon’s attention could go off India.

Over the preceding decade, the US has become India’s biggest defence supplier, logging $15 billion in sales of C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J Super Hercules transporters, P-8I Poseidon maritime surveillance aircraft, CH-47F Chinook heavy lift choppers and AH-64E Apache attack helicopters. Now Washington is pushing for another $10 billion worth of sales of 114 F-16 Block 70 fighters, 57 F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters and 22 Sea Guardian drones. 

Thursday, 20 December 2018

China urges Japan to reconsider plans to build up military

Tokyo to upgrade two helicopter carriers to aircraft carriers, field largest F-35 fighter fleet outside US

Japan’s military moves

Boosting defence spending to a record ¥27 trillion ($240 billion) in 2019-2024.
Converting the Izumo and Kaga helicopter carriers to operate F-35B fighters.
Buying 105 more F-35 fighters, making Japan’s fleet the world’s second-largest.
Upgrading defences in new domains of warfare, including cyber and space.
Installing two land-based Aegis anti-ballistic and air defence missile systems.

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Dec 18

Beijing has predictably opposed Japan’s adoption of a new defence policy on Tuesday that abandons almost three quarters of a century of self-imposed military restraint. 

In a game-changing decision, Tokyo has substantially raised defence expenditure over the next five years, and decided to convert its two Izumo-class helicopter carriers into full-fledged aircraft carriers that will embark cutting-edge F-35B Lightning II stealth fighters.

Japan is poised to become the world’s largest operator of F-35s outside the US. Its original order of 42 F-35A fighters has already begun deploying in Japanese Air Self Defence Force (JASDF) bases. On Tuesday, Japan’s new “National Defence Program Guidelines” and “Medium-Term Defence Program” envision buying 63 more F-35As and 42 F-35Bs – the short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant that flies off aircraft carriers. Once delivered, Japan’s fleet of 147 F-35s will be larger than the UK’s fleet of 138 F-35s and behind only the US.

Japan has not fielded aircraft carriers since the end of World War Two, regarding carriers as offensive weapons that violate the Article 9 of Japan's war-renouncing constitution that states: “Land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.”

China’s foreign ministry was quick to tap into regional fears of Japanese militarism. “Due to what happened in history, Japan's moves on the military security front have been closely followed by its neighbouring countries in Asia and the international community at large. We urge Japan to keep its commitment to the ‘purely defensive defence’ strategy, stay committed to the path of peaceful development and act cautiously in the area of military security,” said China’s foreign ministry on Tuesday.

Beijing has always pooh-poohed Japan’s professed pacifism, and referred to the Izumo helicopter destroyer and its sister ship, Kaga, as “aircraft carriers in disguise”. 

Japan’s two proposed carriers will complicate Beijing’s naval air power calculus, which must already cater for 11 US aircraft carriers (of which five-six could be deployed against China at any given time) and two Indian carriers, of which one is in service and the other nearing completion. A third Indian carrier is expected by 2030.

To counter these threats, Chinese defence experts stated earlier this month that the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N), would operate five-to-six carriers, including two nuclear powered vessels. The first two carriers have already been built and the third is being constructed in Shanghai.

Japan’s defence ministry on Tuesday cited Beijing’s growing military power and its belligerence in the South China Sea to justify boosting defence capabilities.

Tokyo pointed out that Beijing had increased defence spending 12-fold in the last two decades. The PLA(N) operated 57 capital warships compared to 47 fielded by the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF). The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) flies about 850 fourth and fifth generation fighters – thrice as many as the JASDF.

Tokyo, which also worries about China occupying its outlying islands, is also looking to buy long-range missiles from the US – such as the joint air-to-surface standoff missile (JASSM) that can be fired from 900 kilometres away.

Since 1951, US-Japan security pacts have mandated that the defence of Japan would be the responsibility of Japanese “self defence forces”, while strike missions would be carried out by American forces stationed in Japan. Now, with the JSDF operating aircraft carriers and strike missiles, those roles will be blurred.

Article 9, which was imposed by Washington on a defeated Japan in 1945 states: “The Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes.” 

Sources say New Delhi has quietly welcomed the Japanese decision, given that the growing military cooperation with Tokyo rests on a common apprehension of Chinese expansionism. Two years ago, Japan began participating in the trilateral US-Japan-India annual Exercise Malabar. 

On November 30, cooperation with Japan intensified with Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Shinzo Abe meeting together with President Donald Trump for the first ever Japan-America-India (JAI) summit. Modi termed it a “historic meeting” and tweeted: “Close cooperation among these nations augurs well for world peace and stability.”

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Exercise Bahubali: IAF demonstrates its strategic airlift capability

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Dec 18

Signalling the coming of age of India’s strategic airlift capability, the Indian Air Force (IAF) mounted an unprecedented airlift in which its transport aircraft fleet airlifted almost 500 tonnes of equipment to Ladakh in one coordinated operation on Tuesday morning. It was called Exercise Bahubali.

Terming this an effort to evaluate its own “rapid airlift capability”, the IAF announced: “The effort was accomplished with the aid of a fleet of 16 fixed wing transport aircraft comprising of C-17 Globemaster, the Ilyushin-76 Gajraj and the medium lift tactical aircraft, Antonov-32. All aircraft were loaded and took off from Chandigarh airbase early in the morning. The entire wave was accomplished in little less than 6 hours.”

Such an airlift would be invaluable in wartime, for reinforcing a threatened sector, such as Ladakh, with troops or equipment; as well as in peacetime for flying in assistance in the event of a natural disaster – floods, an earthquake or a tsunami.

The unstated aim of a well-publicised airlift operation of this kind is also to demonstrate India’s power projection capability, and its ability to react to strategic developments in the Indo-Pacific region by rapidly moving troops and equipment over long distances. 

“Rapid air mobility is a key component of modern warfare. This assumes greater significance in short and intense wars. This is very true in India’s context, especially when related to air mobility to airfields in the Ladakh region. With a wide spectrum of military transport aircraft in its inventory the IAF today has a credible airlift capability which has provided succour on numerous occasions when the nation was struck with natural calamities” said Air Marshall NJS Dhillon of Western Air Command, who oversaw this airlift exercise.

The IAF first began building its strategic airlift capability when it inducted the Ilyushin-76 in the 1980s. In 1988, the utility of these airlifters was demonstrated when they flew Indian army paratroopers into the Maldives to respond to an SOS from President Abdul Gayoom, who was deposed in an attempted coup. The Indian military’s swift response successfully defused that crisis.

However, with the Ilyushin-76s, along with the AN-32 medium transport fleet, fully occupied in airlifting personnel and supplies to support remote army deployments on the Himalayan frontier – Ladakh alone requires 3,000 tonnes of supplies every month – the military pushed for addition heavy airlift capability.

This was provided in 2011 with the induction of ten C-17 Globemaster III heavy lift aircraft. Adding to the IAF’s airlift capability was the procurement of 12 C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft – six in 2008 and another six in 2013.

While the AN-32 and Ilyushin-76 were older, less capable aircraft, the C-130J and C-17 boosted India’s airlift capability into the strategic league. The C-130J can land and take off from short, unprepared runways, while the C-17 can lift more than 100 troops, or over 70 tonnes of equipment in a single sortie.

Boeing, which built the C-17, says it can “take off from a 7,600 feet (2,300 metres) airfield, carry a payload of 160,000 pounds (72.5 tonnes), fly 2,400 nautical miles (4,444 kilometres), refuel in flight and land in 3,000 feet (950 metres) or less in day or by night.”

Recently, the C-17 fleet was used to fly Indian army T-72 tanks, each weighing 42 tonnes, into new deployment areas in Ladakh.

“With today’s operation, the IAF has demonstrated its capability to help the army react to operational contingencies – redeployment of troops, reinforcement of positions – at very short notice. For a rising power like India, strategic airlift is an important capability its military must have”, said Air Vice Marshal Nirdosh Tyagi (Retired).

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

IAF goes green, flies AN-32 aircraft with biofuel

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Dec 18

On Monday, the Indian Air Force (IAF) took a major step towards making good its promise to fly a biofuel-powered AN-32 transport aircraft over New Delhi in the Republic Day Parade on January 26, 2019.

“Experimental test pilots and test engineers from the IAF’s premier testing establishment ASTE, flew India’s first military flight using blended bio-jet fuel on the An-32 transport aircraft. The project is a combined effort of IAF, DRDO (Defence R&D Organisation), Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA) and CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum (IIP),” announced the air force on Monday. 

On 27 July 2018, the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, had announced his intention to promote biojet fuels. Addressing a seminar in Delhi on promoting indigenised technologies, Dhanoa said the IAF intended to fly the An-32 with aviation turbine fuel (ATF) diluted with 10 per cent biofuel on Republic Day.

Dhanoa offered IAF aircraft and all its testing facilities to realize this project, along with financial support under the IAF’s fund for indigenisation R&D.

After extensive engine tests on the ground, the project has now entered the flight trials phase. This fuel is made from Jatropha oil sourced from Chattisgarh Biodiesel Development Authority (CBDA) and then processed at CSIR-IIP, Dehradun. 

The AN-32 is not the first IAF aircraft to fly with biofuel. In 2011, the US Air Force (USAF) announced that the C-17 Globemaster III – which the IAF also operates – was certified for unlimited use of hydro-processed blended biofuels, known as hydro-treated renewable jet fuels.

Earlier, in 2010, the USAF had flown a fighter aircraft powered with biofuel. 

In essence, a biofuel is a fuel produced from living matter that includes plant waste and animal fat, rather than a fuel produced through the geological process, such as coal, diesel and petroleum. 

Last August, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that biofuels and ethanol blending could help India save $1.7 billion a year on import bills and called for more support to biofuels in the country. 

Earlier this year, the government approved a new policy that expanded the feedstocks that could be used for ethanol production.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Indigenous EW system ignored for Tejas Mark 1A fighter

Defence procurement policy requires preference for systems designed and built in India; yet, MoD and IAF permitted HAL to buy the system from Israeli firm Elta

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Dec 18

In a path breaking achievement, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has indigenously developed an “electronic warfare” (EW) system for the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) fleet of 60 MiG-29 fighters.

Yet, when buying EW systems for the Tejas Mark 1A fighter that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is developing, the aerospace firm signed a contract on October 26 with Israeli firm, Elta – a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). 

The indigenous EW system was developed under “Project D-29” by the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), a DRDO laboratory, in partnership with Israeli firm, Elisra and Italian firm Elettronica. 

The IAF, delighted with the outcome of Project D-29, is about to accord it final acceptance. Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) will manufacture the indigenous EW systems for upgrading the MiG-29 fleet.

Under the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 (DPP-2016), the D-29 EW system falls squarely in the category of “Indian designed, developed and manufactured” (IDDM) equipment, the highest priority for procurement. DPP-2016 mandates that, if equipment is available under the IDDM category, it cannot be procured under other categories – such as “Buy Global” or “Buy and Make (India)”. This is to sponsor Indian design and development of equipment.

Yet, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the IAF, disregarding the success of Project 29 and its IDDM status, permitted HAL to buy the Israeli Elta EW system.

The Israeli government scuttled the Project D-29 EW system, say highly placed industry sources. The Israeli MoD did not allow Elisra – a key player in the D-29 system – to participate in HAL’s tender for an EW system for Tejas Mark 1A. Instead, the Israeli MoD nominated state owned firm, Elta.

The Israeli government has not responded to Business Standard queries.

Given the volume of business the IAF provides Israeli firms, it is unclear why the IAF could not persuade the Israeli MoD to allow Elisra to participate, so as to standardise the indigenous D-29 EW system across the upgraded Tejas fleet, as well as the MiG-29UPG. The indigenous system could also have been retrofitted on the 120-aircraft Jaguar fleet, which is currently being upgraded.

On January 10, 2017, Elisra wrote to the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, pointing out that the D-29 system is “an indigenous system jointly developed with DRDO… [and] shall be produced in India by BEL and qualifies for IDDM categorization.” Stating that the equipment commonality with the MiG-29 would allow “considerable savings in maintenance and operational support”, Elisra requested that the D-29 EW system be nominated for the Tejas Mark 1A. Business Standard has reviewed the letter, which the IAF did not respond to.

Contacted for comments, the MoD and IAF have not responded.

The Elta EW system is now going to be fitted in 83 Tejas Mark 1 fighters, which the MoD sanctioned for Rs 33,000 crore (Rs 330 billion) last December. The Tejas Mark 1A is being developed because the IAF is dissatisfied with the current Mark 1 version, of which 40 are being built. To overcome their operational shortcomings, the IAF, HAL and the MoD agreed in September 2015 on specifications for a new improved version (Tejas Mark 1A), which would have five specific improvements – including an upgraded EW system, AESA radar and the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile.

An EW system, which uses the electromagnetic spectrum to obtain combat advantage, will be crucial for the Tejas Mark 1A’s combat edge. In the Rafale fighter, many of the expensive “India specific enhancements” consisted of EW systems.  

An integrated EW system includes several elements: First, a “radar warning receiver” (RWR), which detects when an enemy aircraft’s radar picks up one’s own aircraft. A “radar lock” would indicate the enemy is firing an air-to-air missile, warning the pilot to start evasive measures. A second EW system component is the “missile approach and warning system” (MAWS), which picks up electromagnetic radiations from an incoming missile, cueing the pilot to initiate defensive manoeuvres, or to deploy countermeasures to confuse the incoming missile. 

A third EW measure is “radar warning and jamming” (RWJ). This involves detecting enemy radar and then confusing and blinding it with concentrated electromagnetic pulses.

Fighter aircraft can carry a jammer in an external pod under its wing. Alternatively, the function could be carried out by “escort jammers” (EJ), mounted on a single aircraft within a group of fighters on a strike mission. 

Finally, EW systems include “countermeasure dispensing systems” (CMDS), to defeat incoming missiles detected by the RWR or MAWS, or even infrared seeking missiles that home in on heat sources rather than rely on radar. The CMDS releases a cloud of metal strips, called chaff, which create a false signature of a fighter aircraft, towards which the incoming missile gets diverted. Alternatively, the CMDS fires flares in rapid succession, their heat signatures confusing IR-seeking air-to-air missiles.

DRDO sources point out that the D-29 based system integrates all these functions, while legacy systems operate the functions individually.

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

HAL tests indigenous light chopper to 20,000 feet

Success of HAL's Light Utility Helicopter (pictured here) opens door to civilian, export markets

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Dec 18

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) has displayed its proficiency in the demanding field of helicopter design by successfully testing its indigenously developed Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) to an altitude of 6 kilometres (almost 20,000 feet).

In an organisation where engineers and technicians still smart over Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s recent statement that HAL was not competent to manufacture the Rafale fighter under licence, there is quiet vindication.

HAL stated on Monday that breaking the 6-kilometre barrier was “a critical requirement towards the certification of LUH… With the completion of this milestone, LUH can now undertake high altitude, cold weather trials planned in January 2019.”

This will involve operating the LUH in winter from helipads on the Saltoro Ridge that towers above the Siachen Glacier. Currently, with the decades-old Chetak and Cheetah fleets nearly obsolete, HAL’s twin-engine Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) services the army’s Himalayan posts. Once the LUH is certified for operations, it will take on many of these tasks.

Both the Dhruv and LUH are designed to operate at altitudes up to 6.5 kilometres (21,325 feet), a capability that few helicopters have. While selecting a VVIP chopper, the government brought down the altitude requirement to 4.5 kilometres, because there was just one chopper that could fly up to even six kilometres.

Yet, this altitude requirement is essential for the Dhruv and LUH, which must supply provisions to, and evacuate casualties from Siachen Glacier posts like Sonam, which, at 20,997 feet, is the highest inhabited spot on the planet.

HAL’s Chief Test Pilot, Wing Commander (Retired) Unni Pillai, who made the first Dhruv landing on Sonam, also piloted the LUH during its six-kilometre altitude test along with Wing Commander (Retired) Anil Bhambhani. 

 Unni Pillai circles his Dhruv ALH as he comes in to  land at Sonam Post, the highest in the world

Powering this impressive performance is the Shakti engine, custom-designed by French engine-maker Turbomeca (now Safran) in partnership with HAL. The Shakti, which is now built in India by HAL-Safran, powers a successful family of HAL-built helicopters: the Dhruv ALH, the LUH, an armed Dhruv variant called Rudra, and the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), which is close to being accepted into service.

Unlike the Dhruv, Rudra and LCH – all of them large, five-tonne helicopters powered by twin-Shakti engines – a single Shakti engine powers the three-tonne LUH. Safran markets this engine as the Ardiden 1U, while HAL calls the Shakti 1U.

With the army in dire need of 394 light helicopters, the defence ministry decided to meet that requirement through two procurements. To meet immediate requirements, 197 light helicopters would be procured from the international market. Meanwhile, HAL would develop and manufacture 187 indigenous light choppers.

In making the overseas procurement, the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government decided against a global tender, instead signing an inter-governmental agreement (IGA) with Russia for building the Kamov-226T helicopter in India, in a joint venture with HAL. With that contract still to be signed, the rapid pace of the LUH development gives the government the option to dispense with international procurement and build an all-Indian fleet instead.

An ambitious HAL is looking beyond purely military orders at the civil and export markets as well. “The LUH is being indigenously developed by HAL to meet the requirements of both military and civil operators,” announced the company.

Even so, for now, the priority is the military. “HAL has an in-principle order for 187 LUH that includes 126 for Indian Army and 61 for IAF,” stated HAL today.

According to HAL, the LUH “will be capable of flying at 220 kilometres per hour, with a service ceiling of 6.5 kilometres and a range of 350 kilometres with a 400 kilogramme payload… The helicopter, with a glass cockpit, can be deployed for reconnaissance and surveillance roles and as a light transport helicopter. ”

The LUH is currently being tested with two prototypes. The first flight took place on September 6, 2016, while the second prototype flew on May 22, 2017. A third prototype is currently being built.