Thursday, 31 January 2019

India asks Russia for 18 more Sukhoi-30MKI fighters

Rs 8,000 crore contract will boost IAF’s Su-30MKI fleet to 290 fighters, 14 squadrons

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 31st Jan 19

To alleviate the shortfall of fighter aircraft in the Indian Air Force (IAF), New Delhi has approached Moscow for one more squadron of Sukhoi-30MKIs fighters.

Defence industry sources in Russia say India’s ministry of defence (MoD) wants Sukhoi to provide Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) with the raw materials and sub-systems needed to build 18 more Sukhoi-30MKIs at its Nashik facility.

Production of this additional tranche can begin in 2020, when HAL Nashik completes delivery of an on-going contract for building 222 of the twin-engine, heavy fighters.

Russia’s defence export agency, Rosoboronexport, is currently working on an offer and a price. It is understood that the existing Russian licence for building 222 Sukhoi-30MKIs in Nashik would be extended to 18 more aircraft.

At HAL Nashik’s current price of about Rs 450 crore for each Sukhoi-30MKI, the IAF can expect to pay over Rs 8,000 crore for 18 new fighters.

Before HAL Nashik began building Sukhoi-30MKIs under licence, the IAF bought 50 fully built Sukhoi-30MK fighters in the late 1990s, which were later upgraded to the MKI configuration. Including them, the IAF planned to fly 13 squadrons of the Sukhoi-30MKI – or 272 fighters.

If the new request for 18 more fighters translates into a contract, the Sukhoi-30MKI fleet size will go up to 14 squadrons, or 290 fighters.

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

The Sukhoi-30MKI has been a “Make in India” programme well before it became a buzzword for indigenisation. The Sukhoi-HAL production contract mandated that Sukhoi-30MKI production in Nashik would be incrementally indigenised in four phases. HAL would build the fighter from completely knocked-down kits (CKD) in Phase I, from semi knocked-down kits (SKD) in Phase II, and then progressively indigenise manufacture in Phases III and IV, which have already been achieved.

Even so, various constraints have restricted indigenisation to just a little over 50 per cent of the value of each Sukhoi-30MKI.

A key reason for this is that most of the raw materials, including 5,800 types of titanium blocks and forgings, and aluminium and steel plates, must be sourced from Russia.

Reducing these to aircraft components, using Sukhoi’s manufacturing technology, results in enormous wastage of the expensive metal. A titanium bar from Russia weighing 486 kg is machined down to a 15.9 kg tail component. The titanium shaved off is wasted. Similarly a wing bracket, weighing barely 3 kg, comes out of a 27-kg titanium forging imported from Russia.

Yet, India continues to import titanium extrusions because manufacturing them here is not economically viable in the tiny quantities needed for Su-30MKI production.

Similarly, the HAL-Sukhoi production contract stipulates that 7,146 “standard components” like nuts, bolts, screws and rivets must all be sourced from Russia.

The IAF got its first Sukhoi-30s in the late 1990s, after India signed a $1.5 billion contract for buying 50 fully built Sukhoi-30MK fighters. In 2000, a memorandum of understanding was signed with Sukhoi for the staggered production of 140 Sukhoi-30MKIs. These would be built in HAL’s Nashik plant and progressively delivered by 2017-18. 

Subsequently, in addition to these 190 Sukhoi-30MKIs, India bought 82 more fighters in two additional tranches. One tranche of 40 fighters was ordered in 2007, and another 42 were ordered in 2012.

Since buying the first Sukhoi-30MKIs in 1996, the aircraft has been substantially improved. First, with the IAF demanding better aerodynamic performance, Russia added canards and a thrust-vectoring engine, the AL-31FP, which can push the fighter in multiple directions, adding agility. Then, the IAF specified a sophisticated avionics suite, creating the “MKI” configuration – with I standing for India.

In 2014, HAL integrated the BrahMos air-launched cruise missile (ALCM) onto the Sukhoi-30MKI. This allows the fighter to carry the missile over a thousand kilometres and then launch it at a target another 295 kilometres away.

If concluded, a contract for 18 more Sukhoi-30MKIs will be welcomed by both the IAF and HAL. The air force, which is down to 30 squadrons and faces further reductions as MiG-21s and MiG-27s retire, will welcome another squadron of their backbone fighter. For HAL, this will mean another 18 months of production for their Nashik facility, which faces an uncertain future after the Sukhoi line closes.

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Baba Kalyani: NDA has had both success and failure with defence industry

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 30th Jan 19

Baba Kalyani, Chairman, Kalyani Group and Chairman CII Defence Committee tells Ajai Shukla that, while some government initiatives like the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 and the defence licensing policy have helped the sector, problems remain.

Q.        As the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government approaches the end of its five-year term, what are its successes and failures in defence?

The NDA government has had hits as well as misses in defence. It has instituted a Defence Planning Committee, under the National Security Advisor to coordinate macro-level planning. It has announced a Defence Production Policy in 2018 (DPrP 2018), revised offset guidelines and incorporated a “Make-2” procedure that has simplified participation of the private sector in developing indigenous defence equipment. The first proposals under Make-2 are being processed.

Next, the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion (DIPP) has revised the Public Procurement Policy, giving preference to Indian companies for revenue procurement. In global procurements, it will now be mandatory for Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) to offer an Indian company half the order at the L-1 price, as long as its bid is within 20 per cent of the winning bid. This is policy in many countries, including the US, but was so far missing in India.

The Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 (DPP-2016) has simplified procurement and given preference to “Make in India”. The defence licensing policy has been simplified and made less restrictive. The Technology Development Fund has been operationalized. It does not have a lot of money, but even we have one project running under it.

Finally, the government has recently set up two defence industrial corridors in Uttar Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.

Q.        And what are the misses?

The procurement cycle still consumes too much time; little has changed there. There is still no level playing field for the private sector, with orders continuing to flow on “nomination” basis to DPSUs. In the last four years, the private sector has received no major orders except for the K-9 self-propelled gun won by L&T.

The few policy changes instituted to level the playing field are inadequate. In my view, “adequate” means a completely level playing field for private and public sectors.

Separately, the government needs to expedite the 55 mission-mode development projects the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is pursuing. How do you bring them to fruition? Industrialising successful products remains a problem, with the private sector required to undergo multiple trials – first development trials, then user-assisted trials, then user trials, then production agency trials. Why can’t we have one consolidated trial, which all these agencies oversee? It will save time.

Q.        Is industry optimistic about the Strategic Partner (SP) policy, in which private firms are selected to build major defence platforms like aircraft, guns and armoured vehicles?

There is little clarity on the SP policy. Despite many government statements, not one contract has been awarded, nor a single firm chosen as SP. I don’t even know what the policy is. Industry would appreciate a focus on implementing this policy.

Q.        DPSUs are proposing that they also be allowed into the SP policy…

That is a ridiculous demand. The SP Policy is intended to build private sector capability in defence production.

Q.        Is there a case for reverting to the Raksha Udyog Ratna model that the Kelkar Committee proposed in 2006?

Why beat a dead horse? It would be better to focus on implementing the Defence Production Policy of 2018 in letter and spirit.

Q.        Have offsets brought work to the private defence industry?

The problem is that many of our purchases are government-to-government deals that come without offset obligations, so domestic industry does not benefit.

Q.        Should India introduce mandatory “Make in India” for defence kit, like France and the US?

It is already there in various forms. DPP-2016 mandates that, for procuring any equipment, if an IDDM (Indian designed, developed and manufactured) option is available, it has to be taken. 

Separately, the Defence Production Policy has specified that, in seven years, all major platforms like aircraft, helicopters, warships and tanks must be built in India. After 2025, we can’t import these platforms.

Q.        Is that at all realistic?

Of course, seven years is more than enough. Over the last five years, most private defence firms have created capability by forming joint ventures with foreign partners. Now the government needs to signal seriousness by placing orders.

Q.        How can industry bodies create an enabling environment?

My focus as chairman of the CII defence committee this year will be: How do we get “Make in India” to work? How do we make the Defence Production Policy operate in the way it is conceived? And how do we make the positive elements of DPP-2016 happen, which deal with the Make-2 procedure – in which private firms, especially micro, small and medium enterprises can take suo motoproposals to the MoD to develop products and platforms for the military. That will be a key boost to indigenous defence manufacture.

Saturday, 26 January 2019

New naval base in Andamans, INS Kohassa, boosts military posture in Indian Ocean

Admiral Sunil Lanba inaugurates INS Kohassa, with Andaman & Nicobar Command chief, Vice Admiral Bimal Verma

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Jan 19

India’s military presence in the Indian Ocean got a long-delayed boost on Thursday with the commissioning of a full-fledged naval base, Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kohassa, in the North Andaman Island.

The base, commissioned by navy chief Admiral Sunil Lanba, is the fourth military airfield in the Andaman & Nicobar archipelago (the Andamans). The 572-island archipelago dominates the Malacca Strait that links the Indian Ocean with the South China Sea. 

The Andamans also straddle the vital Indian Ocean sea-lanes, through which 100,000 merchant vessels carry $3 trillion worth of cargo each year, including much of China’s oil supplies and trade.

INS Kohassa, which was established in 2001 as Naval Air Station (NAS) Shibpur, permitted short-range maritime reconnaissance (SRMR) aircraft such as the Dornier-228 to monitor the northern Bay of Bengal, where India shares maritime borders with Bangladesh and Myanmar. Many Indian aircraft that participated in the abortive search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, operated from NAS Shibpur.

There are plans to expand the current, 3,000 feet-long airfield to allow the navy’s long range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft, the Boeing P-8I Poseidon, which currently operates from Arakkonam, Tamil Nadu, to stage through INS Kohassa. Being able to refuel and rearm at Kohassa, instead of doing the three-hour round trip to Arakkonam, would greatly increase the P-8I’s persistence over these waters.

Expanding the airfield to 10,000 feet would also allow wide-bodied airliners to carry out commercial operations from INS Kohassa, facilitating tourism in the Andamans.

“NAS Shibpur was identified by NITI Aayog as one of the ‘Early Bird’ projects as part of holistic island development. Towards this, [the navy] has been ready in all respects to facilitate civil flight operations from NAS Shibpur. The runway extension to 10,000 ft is also planned in the near future to facilitate operations of wide-bodied aircraft,” stated the navy on Thursday.

The other airfields in the Andamans include INS Utkrosh, in the union territory’s capital, Port Blair. This is a 10,000 feet-long runway, but a hill at one side makes commercial operations tricky, especially in windy conditions.

There is also the Indian Air Force (IAF) base of Car Nicobar, in the centre of the 750-kilometre-long Andaman chain. No fighter aircraft are permanently stationed at Car Nicobar, but the IAF rotates fighters on detachment through the air base.

Finally, there is INS Baaz, located in Campbell Bay, in Great Nicobar, the southernmost island in the Andamans. Here lies Indira Point, the southernmost tip of India – even further south than Kanyakumari. This is the navy’s most forward located base, sitting less than a hundred nautical miles from the Malacca Strait.

The navy has long pushed for extending the 3,000 feet strip at INS Baaz into a 10,000 feet runway that could allow fighters to be over the Malacca Strait in minutes. However, the development has been delayed by land acquisition issues and inter-ministerial wrangling with the ministries of home affairs and environment.

Meanwhile, causing heartburn in the navy, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo announced, on May 30 in Jakarta, that India would help Indonesia develop the port of Sabang, less than a hundred nautical miles from Campbell Bay.

“Instead of focusing attention and resources on developing an Indonesian port, New Delhi would do well to devote attention to upgrading INS Baaz, which is urgently needed,” says former navy chief, Admiral Arun Prakash.

Relations with Indonesia have not always been smooth. In the 1950s, Indonesian president Sukarno had claimed the Andamans, and offered to support Pakistan in the 1965 war by opening a naval front against India. New Delhi’s relations with Jakarta are now much closer. Since 2002, the two navies jointly carry out an annual India-Indonesia “Coordinated Patrol” (CORPAT) in the Andaman Sea.

Similarly, relations with Myanmar are now much friendlier. At the turn of the century, there were reports that Yangon had permitted China to open a radar monitoring station on the Coco Islands, barely 70 nautical miles from NAS Shibpur. However, then chief of the Andaman & Nicobar Command, Admiral Arun Prakash, recounts that, in 2001, Yangon took Indian navy officers on a Myanmar navy vessel to the Coco Islands and demonstrated that these fears were misplaced.

“The Andamans are strategic territory for India. We need at least three full-length, 10,000 feet airfields here, not just for military use but to serve multiple objectives of security, development and tourism to earn revenue,” says Vice Admiral Anup Singh (Retired), former chief of the Visakhapatnam-based Eastern Naval Command.

Friday, 25 January 2019

Pakistan tests tactical nuclear weapon, designed to foil Indian “Cold Start” attack

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th Jan 19

The Pakistan Army on Thursday announced a successful “training launch” of its short range ballistic missile “Nasr”, which is believed to have a range of just 60 kilometres.

This “tactical nuclear weapon” (TNW) has been developed as the Pakistan Army’s weapon of last resort if a successful Indian “cold start” offensive – a massed attack launched without lengthy mobilisation – rapidly advances into Pakistan, capturing territory and threatening vital cities and installations.

The Nasr TNW, which would carry a small-yield “sub-kilotonne” nuclear bomb, is not designed to cause widespread damage, in the manner of “citybuster” nuclear bombs of 20-kilotonnes and above. Instead, it is intended to serve the dual purpose of demonstrating Pakistan’s determination to protect its vital national interests; and to provoke international intervention to stop India. 

To avoid provoking a “massive” Indian retaliation, which New Delhi’s nuclear doctrine mandates and which would involve demolishing several Pakistani cities with large-yield nuclear weapons, Pakistan’s use of Nasr TNWs would aim to minimise destruction and, therefore, provocation. Analysts believe Pakistan is unlikely to use the Nasr TNW on Indian territory, far less Indian cities. Instead, the Nasr TNW is likely to be used on Indian forces deep inside Pakistan territory.

A video released by the Pakistan Army today showed a vehicle-mounted, four-tube missile launcher firing a salvo of four missiles. As each missile soars into the sky, troops shout “Allah-o-Akbar”. The video then shows the four missile striking their targets – flags embedded in the desert sand – within a few tens of metres.

“Nasr is a high precision, shoot-and-scoot weapon system with the ability of in-flight maneuverability,” claimed the Pakistan Army. It suggests that India’s ballistic missile defence system (still being developed) and other air defence systems (like the S-400 platform being procured from Russia) would not be able to intercept the Nasr TNW.

The Pakistan Army also claims that the Nasr TNW has augmented “full spectrum deterrence” – a Pakistani term for deterring India from launching even a conventional attack with mechanised formations, which could threaten vital Pakistani interests.

The video showed General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, who heads Pakistan’s Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee, congratulating scientists and engineers.

TNWs like the Nasr are globally recognised as highly destabilising weapons, since their use is very likely to trigger esclation to higher-yield bombs by the adversary, in this case India. That tit-for-tat escalation would very quickly degenerate into a full-blown nuclear exchange.

There is also international concern that Nasr batteries, which must necessarily be deployed early in any war, with their nuclear warheads mated with the missile, might fall into the hands of terrorist groups in Pakistan. Alternatively they might be used without authorisation by a rogue army commander.

Hayat attempted to allay these fears. “He expressed his complete confidence in effective command, control and security of all strategic assets and measures being taken to augment these aspects,” stated the official release.

The Nasr missile was first revealed after a test-firing in April 2011. The test programme is believed to have concluded in October 2013, after which the system is believed to entered service.

Also called the Hatf-9, the Nasr is believed to be derived from China's Sichuan Aerospace Corporation’s WS-2 Weishi rocket system.

Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Honeywell’s high cost threatens Jaguar fighter’s engine upgrade

Future of four Jaguar squadrons uncertain as IAF puts project on hold

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Jan 19

The plan to extend the service life of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) Jaguar fleet, by equipping 80 of the fighters with new engines, is in trouble. Indian planners believe Honeywell, which is the sole vendor in the project, is demanding an exorbitant price to replace the Jaguar’s existing Rolls-Royce engines.

Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which is leading the project, has written to Honeywell protesting its “high and unacceptable quote”, which HAL says will “kill” the plan to re-engine the Jaguar.

IAF, HAL and Honeywell sources confirm the US firm has quoted $2.4 billion for 180 engines – which include 160 engines for 80 twin-engine Jaguars, and 20 spare engines. That amounts to $13.3 million (Rs 95 crore) per engine.

That has taken the cost of “re-engining” each Jaguar to a prohibitive Rs 210 crore, including Rs 20 crore per aircraft that HAL will charge to integrate the new engines in the fighter and to flight-test and certify them.

Business Standard learns that, given Honeywell’s high quote, the IAF has put on hold the next step of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), which is to obtain the defence ministry’s “acceptance of necessity” (AoN) for the project.

The IAF currently has six Jaguar squadrons, comprising of 120 fighters. Only the 80 newest are getting new Honeywell engines, while the older 40 Jaguars will fly with their original Rolls-Royce engines until they retire in the early 2020s

If the “re-engine” project fails, all six Jaguar squadrons will retire. This would be a blow for IAF force planning, which counts on having four squadrons of “re-engined” Jaguars in service until 2035.

Contacted for comments, the IAF has not responded.

Business Standard has examined a detailed protest note that HAL sent to Honeywell this month, arguing that the US firm’s current $2.4 billion quote – which can be reduced to $1.9 billion by placing a consolidated order for development and manufacture – prices each engine at twice that of an earlier quote, submitted by Honeywell in 2013.

That quote was submitted when the plan was for Honeywell to supply 275 engines. That included 240 engines for all 120 Jaguars, plus 35 engines spare. For all these engines, Honeywell had demanded $1.634 billion, or just under $6 million per engine. 

HAL’s note to Honeywell points out that its current quote of $13.3 million per engine is more than double the 2013 quote. Even if a consolidated order were placed – which would bring down Honeywell’s cost to $1.9 billion, or $10.6 million per engine – that is still 75 per cent higher than the 2013 price.

In 2013, Honeywell was also responsible for integrating the F-125IN engines onto the Jaguar, flight-testing and certification, developing a new alternator to power the other aircraft systems and providing maintenance knowhow. The US firm had quoted an additional $2.1 billion for all this, taking the 2013 quote to $3.734 billion.

Given the unaffordability of this, HAL undertook to lead the project, assuming responsibility for integrating the F-125IN engine onto the Jaguar, and carrying out all the airframe modifications, aero analysis, flight-testing and certification that Honeywell was responsible for in the 2013 tender. While Honeywell had quoted $1.6 billion for this work in 2013, HAL has now quoted under $300 million.

Since Honeywell has not yet submitted a formal quote, it still has the opportunity to reduce its costs. The figures it has quoted are towards compiling a “rough order of magnitude” (ROM) cost, or a rough, ballpark figure for the IAF to obtain a green light from the defence ministry for the “re-engine” project. Honeywell’s high quote is forcing the IAF to rethink, but a revised ROM could set things back on track.

However, Honeywell sources tell Business Standard that, after years of delay and expenditure on the “re-engine” project, the company has concluded that the IAF is not serious about the contract and that it would serve no purpose to spend more money, resources and mind space on this.

Honeywell sources say they have spent at least $50 million, including on buying two old Jaguar fighters to physically integrate the F-125IN engine into those airframes. Another $50 million have been spent on expenses relating to the contract.

So exasperated is Honeywell that it insisted on charging HAL $73,000 for two visits by HAL officials in 2017 to its facility in Phoenix, Arizona to examine the integration work already done by Honeywell. The money also paid for a workshop for the ROM costing. “We will not spend a dollar more on this”, says a Honeywell executive.

Honeywell’s pessimism is also evident in the company’s decision not to participate in the Aero India 2019 show in Bengaluru in end-February.

The F-125IN engines, were India to order them, would be built in Taiwan by International Turbine Engine Company (ITEC), a joint venture between Honeywell and the Taiwanese government’s Aerospace Industrial Development Cooperation. ITEC builds the F-124 engine, which powers Taiwan’sF-CK-1 Ching-kuo fighter. The F-125IN is the same engine, with an afterburner to increase peak thrust. 

The Jaguar’s current Rolls-Royce Adour 804/811 engines deliver a maximum thrust of 32.5 KiloNewtons. In comparison, Honeywell’s F-125IN engines generate 40.4 KiloNewtons each, with full afterburners, providing it a significant combat edge.

Saturday, 19 January 2019

Derailed by Russia’s invasion of Crimea, IAF’s AN-32s upgrade resumes

An Antonov-32 transporter makes a first-landing of an aircraft of this class at Pakyong, in Sikkim. The upgrade of the IAF's fleet of AN-32s, held up by Russia-Ukraine tensions, is now about to resume

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Jan 18

Demonstrating the versatility of its most rugged and reliable workhorse, an Indian Air Force (IAF) Antonov-32 (AN-32) transport aircraft made a first-ever landing at the challenging, 1,650 metre-long Pakyong airfield near Gangtok, in Sikkim on Wednesday.

With Pakyong now usable by AN-32s, the army can quickly move soldiers, weapons and supplies to this highly sensitive sector, which includes flashpoints like Doklam, Nathu La and the Siliguri Corridor that connects the eight north-eastern states with the rest of India.

Business Standardlearns there is even better news for the IAF’s ageing fleet of 105 AN-32 transporters, which were bought from the Soviet Union in the 1980s. Their $400 million upgrade, which was contracted in 2009 with Ukrainian aircraft maker Antonov, is about to resume.

The upgrade programme was halted in 2014, when Antonov had refurbished only 45 out of the IAF’s 105 AN-32s. After Russia annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula that year, relations between Kiev and Moscow broke down and Russia refused to supply critical equipment needed for the AN-32 upgrade – including navigation and communications equipment, avionics and on-board oxygen generating equipment.

Consequently, the upgrade of the remaining 60 aircraft, which is to be carried out in the IAF’s base repair depot in Kanpur, has remained in limbo. Ukraine, which has a sophisticated defence industry, undertook to develop domestic substitutes for all Russian sub-systems in the AN-32. Kiev committed to completing the work at the originally contracted price.

That process has now been completed. The IAF has already received the first batch of upgrade kits from Ukraine and more are on the way. Work in Kanpur will soon begin.

Asked how long it will take to complete the fleet upgrade, Ukrainian sources said it would depend upon how quickly the IAF maintenance personnel pick up the job. IAF sources estimated it would take another three-to-four years.

The overhaul, which costs about $4 million per AN-32, involves overhauling its engines, airframe, navigation and communications equipment and avionics. This will increase the aircraft’s service life by at least ten years.

Ironically, the AN-32 grew out of Russia’s friendship with India. After former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev requested then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to buy a new, uprated version of the AN-26, India became the launch customer for the AN-32.

The aircraft, which carries a payload of over 6 tonnes, or up to 50 passengers, is recognisable by its hulking, oversized Ivchenko turboprop engines. It is ideally suited for delivering supplies to the army by operating from small border airfields like Kargil, Mechuka and Pakyong. After delivering supplies, it ferries out local people from several remote locations.

Ukraine is now pitching to sell India a brand new evolution of the AN-32, called the AN-132. Antonov, financed by Saudi Arabia, has already flown a prototype of the AN-132. The aircraft is due to fly in the Aero India 2019 show in Bengaluru next month.

Ukrainian officials hope to convince Indian defence ministry officials to choose the AN-132 as a replacement for the IAF’s 56-aircraft fleet of HS 748 Avro aircraft. This Rs 15,000 crore “strategic partner” (SP) programme involves building the aircraft in India by an Indian private firm with technology provided by a foreign vendor.

Friday, 18 January 2019

HAL successfully test-fires air-to-air missile from Light Combat Helicopter

By Ajai Shukla
Bengaluru, 18th Jan 19

Last Friday, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL’s) eponymous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) successfully test-fired an air-to-air missile, engaging and destroying a fast-flying Banshee air target with a direct hit at a test range at Chandipur, Odisha.

This means LCH pilots can fire the heat-seeking Mistral missile, sourced from Anglo-French missile firm, MBDA, allowing the heavily armed and armoured helicopter to shoot down enemy aircraft six kilometres away.

Last year, the LCH successfully test-fired the two other weapons it carries: a Nexter cannon mounted below the helicopter’s nose, which fires a thousand 20-millimetre steel bullets each minute, shredding enemy soldiers and even light armoured vehicles. 

Also successfully tested last year was the LCH’s 70-millimetre Thales rockets, which are mounted on pods on either side of the helicopter. Now all that remains to make the LCH a full-fledged attack helicopter is the addition of an anti-tank guided missile (ATGM). Towards this the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is putting finishing touches on its helicopter-mounted Nag missile (HELINA).

“This is the first time in the country that a helicopter has carried out air to air missile engagement… With this, LCH has successfully completed all weapon integration tests and is ready for operational induction,” said HAL chief, R Madhavan, in an official release. 

The LCH will enable the army to provide fire support to soldiers at altitudes of 15,000-20,000 feet, where the oxygen-depleted air prevents them from carrying weaponry heavier than their personal rifles and light machine guns.

For soldiers charging uphill at extreme altitudes to capture an enemy bunker, an attack helicopter in support, firing bullets and rockets to keep enemy heads down, could be the difference between success and failure, life and death.

Towards this, the LCH was especially designed to operate up to 20,000 feet. French engine-maker Safran (earlier Turbomeca) specially designed its Shakti engine to deliver outstanding high-altitude performance. The Shakti engine, which is now being built in Bengaluru, powers HAL troika of successful helicopters: the Dhruv advanced light helicopter, Rudra weaponised helicopter, and the LCH.

“LCH is the only attack helicopter in the world capable of operating at altitudes as high as Siachen glacier,” announced HAL on Thursday.

The LCH will also be essential to army mechanized offensives in the plains of Punjab and Rajasthan. The army’s Cold Start Doctrine hinges on “integrated battle groups” (IBGs) striking across the border and rapidly overwhelming enemy defences. For that, heavy, accurate and flexible fire support is essential, using platforms like the LCH.

The LCH obtained “initial operational certification” (IOC) in August 2017. The army has committed to ordering 114 LCHs and the air force 65 – totally 179 helicopters. But, so far, the ministry of defence (MoD) has so far only approved the building of 15 “limited series production” LCHs for about Rs 3,500 crore.

On a visit to HAL’s helicopter complex in Bengaluru, Business Standard found that HAL had already begun building the 15 LCHs cleared for production, even though the army and IAF were still to place orders. HAL executives said they are aiming for a production rate of 18-20 helicopters per year.

The LCH, with its Rs 231 crore price tag, is the most heavily armed and expensive of HAL’s successful helicopter lines. The Rudra, or weaponised Dhruv costs about half of that, while the Dhruv is currently priced at about Rs 70 crore each.

At current prices, the cost of building all 179 LCHs would add up to over Rs 40,000 crore and necessitate the building of a new assembly line in Bengaluru or Tumkur.

The 5.5 tonne LCH seats two pilots, one-behind-the-other, in an armoured cockpit that protects them from bullets and shrapnel. The LCH’s features include a hinge-less main rotor, a bearing-less tail rotor, integrated dynamic system, crashworthy landing gear and an intelligent, all-glass cockpit.

HAL says the pilots have state-of-the-art helmet-mounted sights,which allow them to fire missiles at a target merely by turning their head and looking at it.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Build defence aerospace

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard (unsigned edit)
17th Jan 19

The Indian Air Force (IAF), which has long preferred to import rather than build its aircraft, continues to treat Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the country’s only experienced aircraft integrator, like a stepchild. For example, in the recent cases of the Tejas Mark 1A and the HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft, the IAF has discouraged indigenous development projects, especially by delaying the placement of manufacturing orders. This is disrupting the smooth and uninterrupted flow of HAL’s aircraft assembly lines. Then the IAF cites the resultant delay and expense to further criticise HAL and argue for more imports to meet “critical needs”. A new phenomenon is the IAF’s non-payment of bills for aircraft and services already delivered by HAL, adding cash-flow issues to the defence public sector unit’s (DPSU’s) brimming pile of woes. Inexplicably, the defence ministry, which should be overseeing this activity, seems reluctant to intervene. This neglect of indigenous manufacturers, combined with the IAF’s poor force planning, has resulted in its fleet consisting of seven different types of fighters, which will rise to eight when the first Rafales arrive this year. This logistical nightmare in peacetime could become an operational nightmare during war.

In contrast, the navy, which embraced indigenisation whole-heartedly half a century ago and now operates mostly Indian warships, has systematically created the eco-system needed for designing and building warships in the country. It has instituted its own design bureau, a directorate of indigenisation, and ensures that carefully chosen admirals head the four DPSU shipyards that build its fleet. Unlike the navy, which has taken ownership of the process of designing, developing and manufacturing warships, the IAF stays aloof from HAL, preferring to sit in judgment. If the IAF is convinced that HAL is not functioning efficiently, it too should ensure a steady flow of recently retired air marshals to head the organisation and make it conform to the IAF’s requirements.

It is a truism that India has long been the world’s largest importer of defence equipment. However, unlike other large importers such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, India has a well-developed industrial base, skilled workers and a large and well-qualified pool of scientific manpower. As one of the world’s largest automotive component manufacturers, and as a leading space power, we have demonstrated our ability to conceive, plan and achieve high-technology outcomes. And as the navy has demonstrated, we can do this in the field of defence. If India continues to lag in the field of aviation, this is largely because we have failed to leverage our large defence budget – and the IAF has the largest capital allocations of any service – to build capacity within Indian industry. There is no shortage of good intentions. The defence ministry has ordained that Indian-designed, developed and manufactured weaponry will be top priority for procurement. A “Defence Production Policy” has declared that India will become one of the world’s top five defence producers by 2025, with defence exports multiplying ten-fold to $5 billion that year. But all this will remain just talk until the IAF follows the navy’s lead and starts developing an eco-system of domestic aerospace vendors by ensuring the flow of indigenous projects. No other country with as big a defence budget as ours – be it the US, China, Russia or the European nations – ignores its key domestic manufacturers, as the IAF disregards HAL. This situation must change.

Wednesday, 16 January 2019

HAL fights for indigenous HTT-40 trainer, over Swiss Pilatus

By Ajai Shukla
Bengaluru, 16th Jan 19

In a coup for indigenisation, the Hindustan Turbo Trainer - 40 (HTT-40) basic trainer aircraft, designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), has outperformed all the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) demanding specifications. The final qualifications – stall and spin tests – are proceeding well and HAL expects full certification by June.

However, even as HAL seeks a green light for manufacturing the HTT-40, the IAF is pressing for buying 38 more Pilatus PC-7 Mark II basic trainers from Switzerland, to supplement the 75 it already operates. This would mean building fewer Indian trainers.

There has always been a contest between the Indian and Swiss trainers. In 2009, the ministry of defence (MoD) divided the IAF’s requirement of 181 basic trainers between the two. The IAF was allowed to buy 75 trainers in “flyaway condition” from Pilatus, while HAL began developing the HTT-40 with the aim of building the rest. 

The MoD stipulated that, if HAL’s trainer had not flown by the time the first imported trainer is delivered, the IAF could active an “options clause”, buying 38 more imported trainers and a building those many less in India. 

Citing that condition, the IAF is insisting on buying 38 more Pilatus. Asked why by Business Standard, the IAF stated: “In 2013, the first PC-7 Mk II Pilatus was delivered but the HTT-40 was still not ready to fly.”

Today, the HTT-40 is not just flying, but outperforming the Pilatus, as well as the IAF’s performance criteria, called the Preliminary Air Staff Requirements (PSQRs).

Against the IAF’s demand for a top speed of 400 kilometres/hour, the HTT-40 has been tested to 420 kilometres/hour; it has flown to 20,200 feet, exceeding the IAF’s ceiling requirement of 20,000 feet. The HTT-40 takes off and lands in just 800 metres of runway, against the PSQR demand of 1,000 metres. It had demonstrated that it can climb faster, turn tighter and glide longer than the IAF requires.

HTT-40 exceeds the specs

IAF Requirements
Achieved by HTT-40

Maximum speed
400 kilometre/hour
420 kilometres/hour
Maximum altitude
20,000 feet
20,200 feet
Time to climb to 3,000 metres
8 minutes
7 minutes, 30 seconds
Take off/landing distance
1,000 metres
800 metres
Maximum G-force
6G and -3G
6.25G and -3G
Glide ratio (flying without engines)

Making the IAF’s insistence on the Pilatus trainer even more puzzling is the fact that the original purchase of 75 PC-7 Mark 2 trainers – as the media had widely reported – came under the Central Bureau of Investigation’s (CBI’s) scanner for alleged links between Pilatus and alleged arms dealer, Sanjay Bhandari, who has since fled to London. A former air force chief’s role is also being investigated.

In December, in a meeting in the ministry of defence (MoD), HAL officials strongly argued for fast-tracking HTT-40 clearance, even playing out a video of the HTT-40 smoothly handling the on-going spin testing. Impressed by its performance, the MoD has backed the Indian trainer.

Besides performance, the Make in India policy favours choosing the HTT-40. The Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 gives top priority to procuring equipment in the category of “Make – Indian Designed, Developed and Manufactured” (Make IDDM) – which the indigenously developed HTT-40 squarely falls into.

HAL has funded the HTT-40 development programme with Rs 500 crore of company funds. It now needs to pay Honeywell -- the US firm that builds the HTT-40’s engine – Rs 180 crore to develop a digital controller for the engine. HAL’s chairman, R Madhavan, says he would be happy to pay from HAL’s resources to save time. 

“But HAL’s board, by way of abundant caution, has stipulated that the money should be paid once the IAF issues an RFP so that recovery is assured. That is why we want an RFP from the air force urgently,” says Madhavan.

An air force RFP is also required for HAL to start setting up a production line for the HTT-40. Given the large number of trainers the IAF needs, Madhavan says HAL intends to deliver two HTT-40s the first year, then ramp up to eight next year and, in the third year, stabilise the line at 10 aircraft per year.

In 2015, the MoD green-lighted the procurement of 70 HTT-40 trainers. But HAL says an order for 38 additional trainers would let development costs be recovered over a larger number of aircraft, lowering the price of the Indian trainer.

HAL also points out that an Indian trainer aircraft could be weaponised, or fitted out for a reconnaissance role. Such modifications would be impossible with a Swiss trainer, given the tight end-user conditions imposed by Pilatus on the IAF.

Further, the HTT-40 can be maintained, overhauled and upgraded through its 30-40 year service life by HAL, far more cheaply than the Swiss trainer for which the IAF would have to keep going back to Pilatus.

HTT-40 versus Pilatus trainer

Pilatus PC-7 Mark 2

Indigenous content
70 per cent indigenous
Zero indigenisation
Design authority
Indian IP, no cash outflow or permissions to modify
Dependence on Pilatus for entire 30 years lifetime.
Periodic upgrade
By HAL, no cash outflow
Lifetime dependence
Fully Indian decision
Denied by end-user clauses
Aircraft sub-systems
80 per cent indigenous
100 per cent imported
HAL to build under ToT with Honeywell, 50% indigenous
Fully imported Pratt & Whitney engine
Maintenance support
In-house by HAL
Dependence on Pilatus
Forex exposure
Limited to 30 per cent of cost
100 per cent exposure
Supply chain
Stable, mostly Indian vendors
Dependence on Pilatus
Training scope
Basic and intermediate
Only basic training

The IAF has already paid Pilatus Rs 300 crore for maintaining the PC-7 Mark II fleet for the first five years. Now, Pilatus is demanding another Rs 550 crore for maintenance know how.

The IAF, however, says it needs 38 more trainers so urgently that it cannot wait for HAL’s HTT-40 production line to kick in. It says it will issue an RFP once the HTT-40 is certified.

Who wins the impending order for 38 PC-7 Mark 2 trainers – Pilatus or HAL – is now in the hands of the MoD. Industry experts believe the Make in India trainer will prevail.

The Pilatus and HTT-40 are basic trainers, used for training rookie pilots before they graduated onto the more advanced Kiran, and then the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT). Only after these three stages of training are pilots posted to combat squadrons to fly frontline fighters.