Thursday, 28 February 2019

Avoid escalation

An IAF helicopter crashed in Kashmir on Wednesday, killing six servicemen and a civilian

By Ajai Shukla
Editorial Comment in Business Standard
28th Feb 19

The downing of an Indian Air Force (IAF) MiG-21 fighter on Wednesday (Pakistan has claimed it has shot down two) and the capture and vulgar parading on Pakistani television of an Indian pilot illustrates how quickly things turn for the worse once countries enter a spiral of violence. In a clear escalation of hostilities, Indian fighter jets also shot down a Pakistani aircraft. Later in the day, India issued a demarche to Pakistan on its “unprovoked act of aggression” and there were reports that mortar fire had been exchanged between Indian and Pakistani troops across the Line of Control. On Tuesday, India had achieved a tactical coup in successfully striking a Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist training camp in Balakot, deep inside Pakistan. It became clear a day later that the challenge for India and Pakistan now is to contain the latest escalation before things get completely out of control. If India decides to respond with more violence and Pakistan continues striking back, there could be many shifts of fortune, since escalation is a game of uncertain outcomes.

Pakistan has signalled that it wants immediate de-escalation. As the smaller and weaker country, it was under pressure to respond and, having done so, clearly believes it has saved face and wants to take this no further. India has demonstrated its anger at the killing of 40 security men near Pulwama and has demonstrated its ability, wherewithal and will to retaliate and impose costs on Pakistan. But de-escalation requires both sides to withdraw with prestige intact and that situation prevails at this moment. India would do well to wind down tensions. If either side decides it must impose itself further on the other, there is no telling where that leads.

New Delhi would reach that same conclusion through thinking strategically and logically about the consequences of uncontrolled escalation – and beyond a point, all escalation is uncontrollable – and a drift towards war. As the more powerful, wealthier country that enjoys growing international prestige, it has far more to lose than Pakistan, which would try to paint even a messy stalemate as a victory against India. The time has come to think strategically, eschewing jingoistic fervour and avoiding taking decisions through the prism of electoral benefits and compulsions. It is advisable to pull back from taking the spiral of violence any further.

India must harness the tide of international support that has turned in its favour after the attack on a terror camp in a non-civilian isolated area, a non-military target. That’s the reason why few countries have rushed to Islamabad’s defence so far. In this climate, India’s restraint is likely to be lauded. The high moral ground and international pressure will also play in India’s favour for a quick return of the captured pilot. The Pulwama attack and its aftermath have, going by Prime Minister Imran Khan’s statement on Wednesday, jolted Pakistani decision-makers and leaders. It must be looked at as an opportunity to tone down the rhetoric in a lead-up to resuming dialogue, both with Pakistan and within Kashmir.  In that context, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s statement in China that her country would “act with responsibility and restraint” is a relief.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

A quick look at the Mirage 2000 multi-role fighter

Inducted in the 1980s to counter the Pakistani F-16, the Mirage 2000 was India’s first “multirole” fighter, capable of shooting down enemy aircraft as well as ground strikes on the enemy.

In the 1999 Kargil war, Mirage 2000 fighters played a prominent role, having been “jury rigged” to carry precision-guided bombs.

In 2000, the Indian Air Force and Dassault, which built the Mirage 2000, proposed shifting the entire production unit to India, where 126 more Mirage 2000s could be built, to replace the IAF’s retiring MiG-21 fleet.

This was turned down by the NDA government of that time, and a fresh tender issued for 126 MMRCAs, which the Dassault Rafale finally won in 2012.

The Mirage 2000’s strong multi-role capability made them a natural choice for the cross-LOC strikes.

The Mirage 2000’s Thales RDY2 radar tracks air and ground targets at long ranges. Its new MICA missile can strike enemy aircraft at “beyond visual range” and strike ground targets from up to 80 kilometres away with the Crystal Maze bombs under its wings.

Helmet Mounted Display Sights (HMDS) allow pilots to aim weapons merely by looking at them.

IAF has 48 Mirage 2000 fighters, distributed between three squadrons:

No 1 Squadron: “Tigers”
No. 7 Squadron: “Battleaxes”
No. 9 Squadron: “Wolfpack”

These fighters are being upgraded to the Mirage 2000 I standard by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) under a Rs 17,547 crore contract. 

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Indian Air Force strikes Jaish-e-Mohammad terror camps in Pakistan

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 26th Feb 19

Indian fighter jets struck the biggest training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) inside Pakistan in a pre-dawn operation on Tuesday, killing over 300 terrorists. The synchronised strike, involving 12 Mirage 2000 aircraft and supported by a fleet of Sukhoi 30 jets, a mid-air refueller and two airborne warning and control systems, targeted JeM’s “five-star resort style” camp on a hilltop in Balakot, about 80 km from the Line of Control, sources said. 

The entire operation lasted about 20 minutes, and came days after the February 14 suicide bombing of a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama in which 40 troopers were killed. JeM had claimed responsibility for the Pulwama attack.

Hours after the IAF’s operation, India’s foreign secretary, Vijay Gokhale, said this was an “absolutely necessary” attack on the proscribed terrorist group, which was readying for a major terrorist strike in India. 

“In an intelligence-led operation in the early hours of the day, India struck the biggest training camp of JeM in Balakot. In this operation, a very large number of JeM terrorists, trainers, senior commanders and groups of jihadis who were being trained for fidayeen action were eliminated,” Gokhale said. 

“This facility at Balakot was headed by Maulana Yousuf Azhar (alias Ustad Ghouri), the brother-in-law of Masood Azhar, chief of JeM,” he added.

Gokhale made it clear this was a counter-terrorist strike that targeted only JeM, not the Pakistan military or civilians. “The government of India is firmly and resolutely committed to taking all necessary measures to fight the menace of terrorism. Hence, this non-military pre-emptive action was specifically targeted at the JeM camp. The selection of the target was also conditioned by our desire to avoid civilian casualties,” he said.

The attack stunned Pakistan, which vowed to respond "at the time and place of its choosing" and raise the matter at the United Nations and other international forums. At a hurriedly called special meeting of the National Security Committee (NSC), Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan asked the armed forces and the people of his country to remain prepared for "all eventualities". Several nations, meanwhile, appealed to both India and Pakistan to exercise restraint. 

Tuesday’s retaliatory air strikes are the first time since the 1971 Indo-Pakistan war that Indian combat aircraft crossed into Pakistan-held territory. Even during the Kargil war in 1999, when IAF fighters repeatedly struck Pakistan Army soldiers who had crossed into the Indian side of the LOC, great care was taken to ensure Indian aircraft did not violate the LoC. But in this case, military planners realised early that Pakistan would be prepared for ground strikes. Besides, the political need was for a more forceful response. That left air strikes as the only acceptable option. 

Both sides have signed onto a confidence-building measure (CBM) that prohibits fixed wing aircraft from flying within 10 km of the LoC, and helicopters from coming closer than 5 km without informing the other side beforehand. By disregarding this, the IAF has sent a stern message to Islamabad.

Tuesday’s air strikes constitute a stronger message than the “surgical strikes” of September 28, 2016, when Indian commandos attacked four terrorist camps across the LoC as retribution for the killing of 19 Indian soldiers by Pakistani militants in the town of Uri.

Since there are two Balakot towns, there was initial confusion over which target was struck, and how deep across the LoC it was. However, sources later confirmed that the strike occurred in Balakot in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK) province.

“If this is Balakot in KPK it’s a major incursion & a significant strike by IAF planes. However if it’s Balakot in Poonch sector, along the LoC it’s a largely symbolic strike because at this time of the year forward launch pads & militant camps are empty & non-functional,” tweeted former J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah.

According to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondent in Pakistan, the IAF air strikes took place at Jaba Top, in Balakot (KPK), where Hizbul Mujahideen operates a training camp. Local villagers also report hearing explosions in the area, reports the BBC.

This raises serious questions over the capability of Pakistani air defences. Their porousness was first dramatically exposed in the US operation against Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad in 2011. They have now been exposed again by the IAF’s ability to strike 80 km into Pakistan without being intercepted or incurring casualties.

For now, Pakistan is downplaying the air strikes. Three hours after the strikes, Major General Asif Ghafoor, chief of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), tweeted: “Indian aircraft intruded from Muzafarabad sector. Facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force released payload in haste while escaping which fell near Balakot. No casualties or damage.”

At 8:41 am, Ghafoor tweeted four photographs of craters in a forested area, with the message: “Payload of hastily escaping Indian aircrafts fell in open.” At 9:59 am, Ghafoor tweeted again: “Indian aircraft’s intrusion across LoC in Muzafarabad sector within AJ&K (Azad Jammu & Kashmir) was 3-4 miles. Under forced hasty withdrawal aircrafts released payload which had free fall in open area. No infrastructure got hit, no casualties. Technical details and other important information to follow.”

Indian army units have been placed on alert in anticipation of Pakistani retaliation. The Indian Navy, which was conducting a large-scale exercise “Tropex”, has taken an “administrative pause”, which actually means switching from training to operational mode. And, commercial flight tracking software has detected Indian “airborne early warning and control” aircraft patrolling the Indo-Pakistan border. 

Sunday, 24 February 2019

Part II on small, high-tech companies: Aeron Systems’ technology attracts Kalyani Group interest

The Sarvatra bridge, which uses tilt sensors developed by Aeron

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Feb 19

On Friday, the giant, $3 billion Kalyani Group, which is making a determined foray into defence, announced an understanding with Aeron Systems, a small, Pune-based high-technology firm, at Aero India 2019 in Bengaluru.

“Kalyani Group and Aeron Systems, a Pune-based smart technology company, developing indigenous Inertial Navigation Systems (INS) and Internet of Things (IoT) solutions, have come to an understanding to explore investment options into Aeron Systems, with the former coming on board as a strategic investor,” said a Kalyani Group announcement.

However, there was no matching announcement from Aeron Systems.

The decade-old Aeron Systems, with its focus on developing high-tech navigation devices rather than tie-ups, did not even participate in Aero India 2019. Over the preceding year, it has focused on developing fibre optic gyros (FOGs) that form the heart of INS devices. These allow fast moving objects – such as spacecraft, aircraft, missiles, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), aerial bombs or land vehicles – to continually track their own location with an accuracy of just inches.

Aeron’s INS devices are in demand for mine-laying vehicles, unmanned ground vehicles (for bomb disposal), precision guided (PG) kits for rockets and are now being offered for the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) Jaguar and Tejas fighters. The firm has started adapting INS technology for use by global “original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) of autonomous and driverless vehicles, especially agricultural tractors.

Cheap and accurate INS technology is also crucial for the futuristic generation of long haul trucks, which incorporate cruise control and autopilot. “We are being evaluated by global OEMs, but cannot reveal any names just yet,” say Aeron representatives.

Bharat Forge, the Kalyani flagship, which is closely intertwined with the international automotive industry, to which it is a major supplier of forgings and castings, was quick to see the potential synergy with Aeron.

Like so many micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) operating at the cutting edge of technology, Aeron Systems was driven by the ambition of two young engineering graduates. In 2008, after graduating from Pune University, Ashvani Shukla and Abhijit Bokil set up a company that quickly caught the eye of technology czars at the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO). 

Within two years, the DRDO adopted their “digital tilt sensor” for the launcher of the Akash missile. Before long, their tilt sensor was in use in the mobile Sarvatra combat bridge, which is manufactured by Larsen & Toubro. Even now, about 40 tilt sensors are supplied each year for the Sarvatra programme.

Aeron’s core technology, INS, complements and backs up satellite navigation, which allows moving objects to glean their own location using signals from a network of satellites called the Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) – a more accurate version of Google Maps.

However, satellite signals can be disrupted by bad weather, or while traversing dense foliage or tunnels or in deep mountain valleys. Signals can be deliberately jammed by the enemy, or spoofed (a false signal created) to divert a missile or UAV from its intended course.

Furthermore, missiles or aircraft that travel 500 meters per second need their location updated 50-100 times each second. GNSS satellite signals are updated only once a second. For that reason, spacecraft, missiles and fighter aircraft navigate primarily with INS, using GNSS as back up. 

An INS system uses multiple data inputs, especially a highly accurate gyroscope, to calculate its position. Its accuracy lies in the sophistication of its data fusion algorithm that fuses all the data into an output that minimises navigation errors.

Aeron intends to launch its own fibre-optic gyro (FOG) by mid-2019, and is working towards the holy grail of a ring laser gyro (RLG). While confident of successfully building one, Shukla says a high quality FOG provides inputs that are practically as accurate as an RLG.

In 2017, Aeron was awarded the Defence Equipment Manufacturers Association (DEMA) Excellence Award for indigenising INS equipment.

“We have obtained international certification for our products, including getting JSS Penta-5 certification, which is equal to Mil Standard 810F”, says Bokil.

“The potential investment from Kalyani Group will provide impetus to the development efforts of Aeron for indigenous tactical and navigation class inertial sensors and INS systems thereof,” said the Kalyani Group release on Friday.

Conscious of the need to buffer against lumpy domestic defence procurement, Aeron has consciously reached out to the export markets. This year, it appointed distributors in the US, France, Spain and Singapore to expand its markets.

Tata Aerospace & Defence, Airbus, await contract to manufacture 56 aircraft

The Airbus C295 on display at Aero India 2019

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 24th Feb 19

An unusual sight in Bengaluru, the Portuguese Air Force Airbus C295 transporter shuddered as the pilot revved its twin turboprops to maximum. As he released the brakes, the plane shot forward, accelerating down the runway almost like a fighter, lifting off in just 700 metres and climbing rapidly to mission altitude. On board the aircraft, which was displayed at Aero India 2019, Business Standard was shown its multiple mission capability – the ability to transport 71 people, lift 7.25 tonnes of cargo or monitor the sea for 11 hours non-stop, using sophisticated radar and infra-red scanners. 

Descending in tight turns to the Indian Air Force (IAF) base at Yelanhanka, the C295 rolled to a stop just 350 metres after touching down.

This is the medium transport aircraft Tata Aerospace & Defence (Tata A&D) is slated to build in India, as part of the Ministry of Defence’s (MoD’s) intention to develop a private sector rival to Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL). At the on-going Aero India 2019 show, both Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, singled out the C295 for mention as one of the transformative projects in the pipeline.

Yet, paradoxically, there is only glacial movement towards awarding a contract. Six years after issuing a tender and five years since Airbus submitted a bid to build the C295 in partnership with Tata A&D, the cost negotiation committee (CNC) is only now finalizing its report. With the cabinet required to okay the approximately Rs 12,000 crore contract, the looming elections and a cash crunch stand in the way of an early clearance.

Other hurdles stand in the way of this procurement of 56 aircraft to replace the IAF’s venerable HS-748 Avros. First amongst them is HAL’s initiative to extend the life of the Avro, by replacing its old Rolls-Royce Dart engines and modernizing its cockpit and avionics. HAL chief, R Madhavan told Business Standard last month: “Only one-third of the Avro’s structural life of 100,000 hours has been used. With a new engine, the Avro can remain in service for a long time.”

To create a prototype, HAL is spending Rs 50 crore to upgrade its own Avro aircraft, with new engines and a glass cockpit.

Another dilemma is the offer – made by Ukraine to Dhanoa during Aero India 2019 – of the new Antonov -132, an aircraft in the same class as the C295, which the Ukrainian firm has developed in partnership with Saudi Arabia Military Industries (SAMI). 

The Antonov-132 on display at Aero India 2019

Antonov did not respond to the Avro-replacement tender because it was facing a crisis with the Russian annexation of the Crimea, but repeatedly asked for a bidding extension. With Ukraine now resuming the upgrade of the IAF’s An-32 fleet, it could exercise some leverage.

The third hurdle is the difficult terms of the Avro-replacement RFP. Of the 56 aircraft, Airbus is required to supply the first 16 C295s in flyaway condition from its plant in Sevilla, Spain. That is to be followed by eight C295s built by Tata from semi-knocked down (SKD) kits; and then another eight from completely-knocked down (CKD) kits. Then, Tata A&D must build the remaining 24 in India, indigenizing the sourcing of assemblies and sub-assemblies. Given the large number of aircraft being supplied fully built and in kits, meeting the 50 per cent indigenization requirement will be a challenge.

Airbus, however, is confident of meeting the indigenization requirements. Its senior executives anticipate India will order more C295s for its military and central armed police forces (CAPFs), which, after Pulwama, have already spoken about moving a larger share of troopers by air.

Airbus also cites the reactivation of advanced landing grounds (ALGs) in the border areas, which would create a requirement of rugged aircraft like the C295 to operate off them, including for the UDAN programme.

The Airbus-Tata bid is currently being processed as a single-vendor procurement, for which MoD sanction has been obtained. In 2013,tenders had been sent out to US firms Boeing and Lockheed Martin, Antonov; Swedish company Saab; Ilyushin of Russia; and Italian company, Alenia Aeromacchi, besides Airbus Defence & Space. However, for various reasons, such as not having an aircraft with the specifications that the IAF wanted, only Airbus responded. 

While the IAF already operates a large fleet of AN-32s (which are being upgraded), the ageing IL-76 and new C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster IIIs, there is a need for more utility and transport aircraft, not just for tactical use but also for disaster relief and emergencies.

There is also an awareness of a shortfall in military airlift capability with the falling through of the Indo-Russian project to jointly developing and build a new “Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA).” 

Airbus and Tata executives anticipate employing about 2,500 workers on the C295 line and 8,000 more in Tier-1, Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers.

Saturday, 23 February 2019

Small companies like Zeus Numerix at cutting edge of Make in India

Amongst over 200 high-tech R&D projects, Zeus did the separation studies for integrating BrahMos missile onto the Sukhoi-30MKI

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Feb 19

In Aero India 2019, Indian exhibitors pay vast amounts to showcase weapons and equipment they are building with technologies licensed from foreign vendors, there are also a handful of Indian innovators with such technological confidence that they do not even bother to rent a display booth.

One such company is Zeus Numerix, whose co-founders, Abhishek Jain and Basant Kumar Gupta move from one client meeting to another. For a company with just 40 employees, their impressive string of technological innovations makes them sought after by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), BrahMos Aerospace, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for the most challenging simulation and design projects.

In 2005, Zeus Numerix moved out of a small room in the aerospace department of Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bombay and started competing for design projects. Since then, they have logged success in projects like integrating the BrahMos missile on the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter (specifically the separation of the missile from the fighter), detecting and deceiving laser guided bombs and designing a ramjet engine for South Korea for missile applications.

Former HAL chairman, RK Tyagi, says that Russia asked for Rs 1,300 crore to integrate the BrahMos missile onto the Sukhoi-30MKI, but Indian firms like Zeus managed to do this for just Rs 80 crore. 

Signalling Zeus’ credentials in genuine research and development (R&D), in 2004 it became the first and only Indian company to develop software in the complex field of computational fluid dynamics, especially its most cutting edge application in hypersonic missiles.

In 2007, they developed India’s first and only prediction software for stealth, which makes an aircraft or warship near-invisible to enemy radar. Their code for stealth is being used in the most advanced Make in India projects – such as the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft and in fine-tuning missile seekers to home onto their targets more effectively.

Partnering Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers (GRSE) in designing an inshore patrol vessel, Zeus reduced its stealth signature by 70 per cent.

Along the way, they won the Lockheed Martin India Innovation Growth Medal, which is a highly competitive programme for honouring innovation in India and helping to commercialise successful innovations.

“Very early, we recognized the need to indigenize more deeply, by not just accumulating manufacturing know how, but mastering the process of designing those products and improving them,” says Jain. 

In 2009, they won their first design and development order, for a testing facility for the DRDO, which incorporates a rocket sled that moves at a velocity of 1,800 kilometres per hour – the only such facility in Asia.

By 2010, top scientists in DRDO, BrahMos and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) saw the potential of Zeus’ young team and began mentoring them in developing advanced technologies that fed into projects like the integration of the BrahMos missile onto the Sukhoi-30MKI.

To work in this field requires the highest levels of aerospace certification and this was accorded to Zeus by the DRDO’s certification agency, Centre for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC).

In March 2018, Zeus became the first small company to be awarded a project under the defence ministry’s Technology Development Fund to develop a sea water pump made of composite materials that are lighter and do not corrode. This pump is currently being tested; if it is successful, Zeus will be the world’s second company – after US firm, SIMSITE – to have succeeded in this.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) has recognised Zeus as an R&D company, which brings in tax benefits and opportunities to work in government-funded R&D programmes with foreign collaborators.

Already, Zeus has executed over 200 assignments in defence for DRDO, DPSUs and major private defence firms in India. These include designing a framework for “low noise aircraft wing” for Airbus Innovation Works – which funds futuristic technologies.

Underscoring its focus on cutting-edge R&D, the company is guided by a technology team composed of IIT Bombay professors and alumni. It has raised money once from an Angel investor, but now says its on-going projects provide all the funds they need.

Friday, 22 February 2019

Improved, Tejas Mark 1A to fly by 2022, if contracted this year

Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, flew in the Tejas fighter at Aero India 2019

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 22nd Feb 19

An advanced version of the Tejas light fighter could fly by 2022, said Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) on Thursday, a day when army chief, General Bipin Rawat, and principal scientific advisor to the government, Vijay Raghavan, both took flights in the fighter at the Aero India 2019 show in Bengaluru.

However, that depends on a crucial step: the Ministry of Defence (MoD) must place the contract for 83 Tejas Mark 1A fighters this year. HAL executives point out that building a complex fighter from ground up requires three years. For each year delay in ordering, there will be a corresponding delay in delivery.

The MoD accorded “Acceptance of Necessity” for 83 Tejas Mark 1A in December 2017. HAL submitted its technical and commercial bids in March 2018 and technical clarifications have been obtained. Now the MoD must open the commercial bid, negotiate a price with HAL and then place a formal contract. Only then does the three-year clock start running.

“Even Dassault insisted on three years lead time for delivering the first Rafale. Similarly, we can only start ordering the long-lead items needed for building the first Tejas Mark 1A once we have a contract in hand”, explained R Madhavan, chairman and managing director, HAL.

The Tejas Mark 1A fighter will have four major improvements over the current Tejas Mark 1, which was granted interim “final operational certification” on Wednesday. The two most challenging involve equipping the fighter with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, in place of the current manually scanned Israeli Elta EL/M 2032 radar; and mounting a “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) on a pod under the Tejas’ wing.

Two other upgrades – improving the “maintainability” of the fighter, and fitting it with external refuelling capability – are already well in hand.

While awaiting an order, HAL has gone to extraordinary lengths to prevent delay. Business Standard learns it has already invested Rs 700 crore of company funds into ordering the AESA radar and EW suite from Elta. This will allow development to proceed, even without an order.

Once the Mark 1A obtains operational clearance, HAL plans to deliver all 83 fighters – each of them priced at about Rs 400 crore – in three-four years.

To ramp up production, HAL has set up a second production line in Bengaluru and resorted to outsourcing aerostructure assembly. On December 20, 2017, the defence minister told parliament: “For ramping up production capacity from existing eight aircraft to 16 aircraft per annum, Government of India has sanctioned Rs 1,381.04 crore in March 2017”.

After significant delays due to teething troubles in manufacture and repeated changes in specifications by the IAF, HAL is on track to deliver eight fighters in 2018-19.

“We are expanding our capacity to 16 Tejas per year. By the time the Tejas Mark 1A goes into production, our capacity will increase to 24 at least. That is how we intend to deliver the entire order for 83 Mark 1A in three-four years”, explained HAL’s design director, Arup Chatterjee.

An area of conflict in the Tejas Mark 1A is the IAF’s wish to integrate the Meteor air-to-air missile into the fighter. The Meteor’s vendor, MBDA, has made it clear it would not integrate their prime missile with an Israeli radar, which has been chosen for the Tejas Mark 1A. But HAL says the IAF has not formally opted for the Meteor.

“The IAF has not included the Meteor as a firm requirement. Weapons come under the category of ‘customer furnished equipment’. If they provide us with the Meteor missile, we will see how it can be integrated with the Tejas,” said Chatterjee.

Before starting to build the Mark 1A, HAL must deliver existing orders for 20 Tejas Mark 1 single seat fighters. Also on order are eight twin-seat Tejas Mark 1, but repeated changes in specifications by the IAF – notably the demand for mid-air refuelling, which the IAF earlier required only in the single-seat Tejas – has preventing them from being produced.

Meanwhile, the Defence R&D Organisation’s Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is working on giving the Tejas the remaining three capabilities required for final operational certification. These include expanding the envelope of its “beyond visual range” missile, giving it mid-air refuelling capability by night, and of carrying out “windmill relight” if its engine switches off during flight.

Capability to build Rafale

Rejecting allegations that HAL was not capable of building the Rafale, Madhavan said HAL might start slowly but, after building 50 Rafales, it would be as fast, or faster than Dassault builds in France.

He explained it was internationally acknowledged that the learning curve for aerospace manufacture has a coefficient of 1.79. In other words, if building a fighter requires 179 man-hours at the start of production, that reduces to 100 man-hours when production stabilizes.

Applied to the Rafale, if building in India requires 2.7 times as many man-hours at the start of production as building in France, that figure would come down to 1.5 times the French figure, once production stabilizes. Then, if production continues, it would match, and then surpass, the French figure.

HAL executives point out that the Hawk trainer began being built at a slow pace, but then matched, and then surpassed, the speed it was built in the UK by BAE Systems.

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Sitharaman bats for Make in India, but hurdles remain

At Aero India inauguration, defence minister appeals to foreign vendors, but hurdles remain

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 21st Feb 19

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while inaugurating Aero India 2019 on Wednesday, appealed to foreign defence vendors to build and invest in India. The National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government had, she claimed, created an investor-friendly policy environment.

Urging foreign “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs) to build in partnership with Indian defence firms, she promised: “You have an assured market and, in fact, a captive buyer in the Indian armed forces”, she said.

Seeking to dispel the perception of sluggish procurement, Sitharaman said the government had, over the last four years up to October 2018, signed 150 contracts worth Rs 1,27,500 crore (Rs 1.28 trillion) with Indian vendors.

She also sad the government had initiated 154 procurements worth Rs 2,79,950 crore (Rs 2.8 trillion) under “Make in India” categories where tenders are issued to Indian vendors.

“In the defence ministry we are ensuring that procurement orders are given to Indian vendors, who can tie up with OEMs from different parts of the world who can come here and start producing in India”, said the defence minister.

Besides these, Sitharaman said, the private sector got a substantial share of the orders placed on the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) and Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs).

“The volume of production of OFB and DPSUs has gone up from Rs 43,277 crore in 2013-14 to Rs 58,160 crore in 2017-18 Out of this, 40 per cent of production is outsourced to the private sector”, she said.

“So when we give the OFB an order, it is definitely a government run institution, but the order is not at the cost of the private sector. The private sector does get a substantial part of the order and, therefore, there is a happy blending of both the private sector and the public sector under the Make in India programme.

The defence minister also said that 424 private firms had obtained defence production licences over the last four years.

Foreign direct investment (FDI) liberalisation, however, had not enabled large investment inflows. According to the defence minister, total FDI during 2014-18 was Rs 200 crore through the automatic route (below 49 per cent FDI). During this period, only six companies obtained government approval for FDI over 49 per cent, amounting to Rs 237 crore.

Sitharaman claimed the government had streamlined defence exports by cutting down the time taken for granting export permissions. According to statistics displayed in the Make in India pavilion, Indian defence exports have grown from Rs 1,150 crore in 2013-14 to an expected Rs 8,000 crore in 2018-19. This includes the export of Dornier 228 aircraft to Mauritius, Dhruv helicopters to Nepal, Mauritius and Maldives, Cheetal helicopters to Afghanistan and radar warning receivers to Russia.

The Defence Production Policy of 2018 (DPrP 2018) has an ambitious target of $5 billion in annual defence exports by 2022.

Just over four years ago, on February 18, 2015, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, while inaugurating Aero India 2015, spelt out an ambitious agenda for defence production and procurement reform. The NDA’s achievements in this have fallen significantly short of his benchmarks.

Modi had said: “Even a 20 to 25 per cent reduction in [defence] imports could directly create an additional 100,000 to 120,000 highly skilled jobs in India. If we could raise the percentage of domestic procurement from 40 per cent to 70 per cent in the next five years, we would double the output in our defence industry.”

Over the last five years, defence production has gone up by only one third. Job creation in defence has been equally sluggish.

Regarding offsets, Modi had said: “I want our offsets policy not as a means to export low-end products, but to acquire state-of-the art technology and skills in core areas of priority”.

Instead, offset policy was diluted in 2016 to allow foreign vendors to select their mode of offset and offset partners. Naturally, most choose to protect state-of-the-art technology and discharge offsets through low-technology manufacture.

In 2015, Modi had acknowledged a key private sector demand for access to cheap finance (western vendors enjoy finance at three to four per cent, while Indian industry pays 13-14 per cent). The PM had called for “a financing system suited to the special needs of this industry. It is a market where buyers are mainly governments, the capital investments are large and the risks are high.”

Nothing has been done in this regard. Indian vendors still bear the handicap of expensive finance.

Even so, an upbeat Sitharaman cited policy reform like FDI cap liberalisation, the defence offset policy of 2016, de-licensing of defence items and establishment of a Defence Investors Cell to claim credit for the manufacture in India of assemblies and structures such as the S-92 helicopter cabin, an advanced aircraft cockpit, a glass cockpit for the Dornier-228 and wing pylons for the Chinook helicopter.


Lockheed Martin unveils “new” F-21 fighter for India: Old wine in new bottle

The poorly conceived move seeks to rebrand the venerable F-16 as a brand new fighter 

By Ajai Shukla
21st Feb 19

US aerospace giant Lockheed Martin has unveiled a “new” fighter, dubbed the F-21, which it intends to offer India, instead of the F-16, in the global contest to sell the Indian Air Force (IAF) 114 fighters.

Launched on Wednesday, the first day of Aero India 2018 in Bengaluru, the F-21 has the tagline “The F-21: Different – Inside and Out”. But in almost every respect – engine, basic airframe and most avionics – it is a slightly improved F-16 Block 60, an aircraft already in service.

In rebranding the F-16 into the F-21, Lockheed Martin appears to have accepted what many have warned it for years: that the IAF would never buy a fighter whose very name is associated across India with the Pakistan Air Force, which has operated the F-16 since the 1980s.

The F-16 also carries the reputation of a dated fighter, having already been in service for four decades. A new F-21 which Lockheed Martin says is “specially configured for the IAF”, would perhaps overcome the reputation of an old-timer.

To be sure, this is not the first time this ploy has been used. Russia Aircraft Corporation (RAC) rebranded its MiG-29 as the MiG-35, and fielded it as a new aircraft in India’s medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) contest from 2007-2015.

Lockheed Martin has briefed Business Standard on the improvements in the aircraft, not all of which it says can be revealed due to operational secrecy. However, the airframe remains largely the same, as does the fighter’s engine.

Randy Howard of Lockheed Martin says the changes include a “dorsal fairing” – a rib along the fighter’s spine in which additional equipment can be carried in the future, in order to improve the fighter’s avionic capability. The IAF has not asked for a dorsal fairing, but Howard says it is a “unilateral offer from Lockheed Martin.”

Aerospace experts say there is little to differentiate the F-21 from the F-16 Block 70, which will first enter service in Bahrain, The dorsal fairing, they say, is an attempt to overcome the IAF’s key reason for rejecting the F-16 in the MMRCA contest – that it lacked potential for growth.

“This is a straight marketing play, following the same playbook as the Russians did when they rebranded the MiG-29 as the MiG-35”, says Pushpinder Singh, who publishes the aerospace trade journal, Vayu. 

“Lockheed Martin has basically added a few new features to the F-16 to make the fighter more capable. Even so, this is a rebranding exercise on what remains an improved F-16 fighter”, says Vishnu Som, NDTV’s defence editor.

Incongruously, the US military already has an F-21 fighter, suggesting the rebranding was done in haste. In the late-1980s, the US Navy bought the Israeli Kfir fighter to play the role of “aggressor” (enemy) aircraft in two-sided air exercises. That aircraft was named the F-21.

In unveiling the F-21 fighter, Lockheed Martin stated: “The F-21 addresses the IAF’s unique requirements and integrates India into the world’s largest fighter aircraft eco-system with the world’s pre-eminent defence company. Lockheed Martin and Tata Advanced Systems would produce the F-21 in India, for India.”

Meanwhile, a US Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon is carrying out aerobatic displays at Aero India, as are three Boeing F/A-18EF Super Hornets. The Rafale has a high voltage presence, with two flying displays daily.

Swedish company, Saab, which intends to offer the Gripen E in the IAF tender for 114 fighters, is not participating in the flying display, but is displaying a fighter and a cockpit simulator.

The other aircraft in the contest – the Eurofighter and Russia’s MiG-35 and Sukhoi-35 are not being displayed.

On Wednesday, Aero India 2019 also witnessed the “Final Operational Certification” of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). This clears the way for manufacture of another 20 Tejas fighters – the IAF’s second Tejas squadron.


Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Amid tragedy, Aero India 2019 to kick off in Bengaluru on Wednesday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Feb 19

Aero India 2019, the defence ministry’s biennial aerospace exposition being held in Bengaluru from Wednesday to Sunday, will begin on a sombre note. On Tuesday, two Hawk jets of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) aerobatics team, Suryakiran, collided in mid air, resulting in the death of one pilot and the hospitalization of two more.

The lead up to Aero India 2019 has been dogged by confusion. First, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman inexplicably decided to shift Aero India to Lucknow, even though it has always been held in Bengaluru, where suitable infrastructure exists. Field visits to the Lucknow airfield revealed its unsuitability but, by the time it was decided to retain Bengaluru as the venue, it was already November.

Causing further confusion, the Defence Exhibitions Organisation (DEO), which exists only to organize shows like Aero India, was divested of organizational responsibility and the defence ministry ordered Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to organize the entire show.

Business Standard learns that over 200 employees from HAL have been diverted from their jobs since December to organize Aero India 2019.

Eventually, a total of 414 companies will be participating in Aero India 2019, 247 of them being Indian. For the first time, 45 French firms participating will comprise the largest foreign representation, many of them hoping to forge industrial partnerships to discharge offsets connected with the Rafale purchase.

There are also 37 companies from the US, 23 from Russia, 19 from the UK and nine from Israel.

Aero India shows from 2005 to 2015 were enlivened by the IAF’s then on-going procurement of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). All six vendors in the fray – Boeing and Lockheed Martin from the US, MiG from Russia, Dassault from France, Saab from Sweden and the European consortium Eurofighter GmbH – had sent across their fighters to show off their aerobatics capabilities.

That contest eventually ended as a damp squib, with the purchase of 36 Rafale fighters from Dassault. However, the IAF has re-initiated the procurement of fighters, calling for interest in building 114 medium fighters in India. All six of the MMRCA vendors have responded, and Sukhoi has joined them with an offer of its Sukhoi-35 fighter.

Several vendors, however, say they have learned not to commit too much money into the early stages of an Indian procurement. Of the foreign fighters, only the Rafale and Boeing’s F/A-18E Super Hornet will be displaying aerobatics in Bengaluru.

Also joining them will be the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), which has steadily expanded its flight envelope. After Aero India, the Tejas will be going to Malaysia next month, where it will be demonstrating its aerobatics capabilities at the Langkawi Air Show. The Malaysian Air Force, which, like the IAF, flies an upgraded Sukhoi-30, is understood to be evaluating the Tejas and the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 Thunder in the light fighter category.

Sitharaman will inaugurate aero India 2019 on Wednesday. The minister for civil aviation and Karnataka’s chief minister will also attend.

Sunday, 17 February 2019

IAF shows off its strike power in Exercise Vayu Shakti

By Ajai Shukla
Pokhran, Rajasthan
Business Standard, 16th Feb 19

On Saturday, two days after the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) terrorist group orchestrated a deadly suicide car bombing in Kashmir that killed some 40 troopers from the Central Reserve Policy Force (CRPF), 138 aircraft from the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck ground targets 200 kilometres due South of Bahawalpur, the headquarters of the JeM.

This was not retaliation. The targets struck were well inside India, in the Pokhran Field Firing Range. This was a pre-planned exercise called Vayu Shakti, which the IAF carries out once every three years, to demonstrate it is equipped, rehearsed and ready for action. It has been rehearsing Exercise Vayu Shakti for almost a month.

“Today we will display the way we would influence events on the ground [in a war]. We are showcasing our ability to hit hard, hit fast and hit with precision, hit during day, hit during night and hit under adverse weather conditions through our autonomous bombing capability”, said IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, while inaugurating the demonstration.

Like every year, dozens of diplomats, mostly foreign military officers posted in embassies in New Delhi, were flown out to Pokhran in an IAF aircraft and shown the display. Interestingly, there were no diplomats from Pakistan or China – the two countries to whom New Delhi would most like to send out messages of operational readiness.

Business Standard learns diplomats from these two countries were not issued invitations to the demonstration.

Exercise Vayu Shakti was mostly about displaying the IAF’s ability to strike targets on the ground – such as enemy convoys and tanks, radar stations, railway yards and military headquarters. The other important dimension of air power, air-to-air combat, had been practiced a few months ago in a large IAF exercise called Gagan Shakti.

Dhanoa did not miss the opportunity to correlate Vayu Shakti with the recent events in Kashmir. “While wars are few and far between, we have an ever present sub-conventional threat as the enemy knows he cannot defeat us in a conventional conflict. So today we showcase our ability to punish, our ability to insert and extricate our troops from hostile territories”, he said.

This was demonstrated in spectacular fashion, with Dhanoa himself arriving in a C-130 special forces aircraft that landed right in front of the spectators on a makeshift airstrip barely 800 metres long. The C-130 is built for inserting commandoes into enemy territory using makeshift airstrips.

Thereafter, the Pokhran Ranges resonated with explosions as each of the IAF’s fighter aircraft struck a variety of simulated targets with unerring accuracy. For the first time, the MiG-29UPG – an air-to-air fighter that has now been upgraded to a multi-role aircraft – showcased its new ground strike capability.

Also featuring for the first time was the swing role capability of the Tejas fighter, which fired a missile at an enemy aircraft and also struck a ground target in the same mission. The indigenous Akash missile also engaged and directly hit a simulated aircraft target by night.

Exercise Vayu Shakti is conducted once every three years. This firepower demonstration was earlier conducted at the Tilpat Ranges outside Delhi. But, after 1989, it was shifted to Pokhran Ranges where more land is available.