Friday, 18 August 2017

First violent clash between Indian and Chinese troops in Ladakh, where China has the advantage

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Aug 17

The two-month-long confrontation between Chinese and Indian troops in Doklam, on the Sikkim-Bhutan border, is raising tempers elsewhere on the Sino-Indian border, most notably Ladakh, where China enjoys an operational and logistic advantage over India, unlike large sections of Sikkim and Arunachal Pradesh.

For decades, Indian and Chinese patrols have confronted each other with relative restraint. At worst, words would be exchanged and some pushing and jostling carried out before both sides disengaged and returned to their camps. Even during longer intrusions, like at Depsang in 2012 and Chumar in 2013, both sides scrupulously avoided physical violence.

This absence of bloodshed has been instrumental in ensuring a peaceful Line of Actual Control (LAC), as visualised by the Sino-Indian “Peace and Tranquillity Agreement” of 1993.

On Independence Day, however, mounting Chinese frustration boiled over at the scenic Pangong Lake. At about 7 a.m., a couple of hours before the two sides exchanged traditional gifts of sweets at nearby Chushul, a Chinese patrol consisting of “border defence” troops from their post at Khurnak Fort began pelting stones at an Indian patrol that had come to the same location – the hotly disputed “Finger 5” area.

The Indian patrol consisted of a mix of personnel from the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP) and army soldiers from the local infantry battalion. They apparently retaliated before their commanders reined them in and defused the situation.

Participants in that clash say the Chinese were carrying iron rods, in addition to their personal weapons. This was apparently because an Indian patrol to the same area, the previous day, had carried wooden sticks (lathis).

No injuries were caused by firearms or the sticks, but there were minor bruises and cuts caused by the stone-pelting.

“We were restrained all through, but the Chinese border guards were very aggressive. There were a lot of abuses shouted at one another, but that was a waste in the absence of interpreters”, says an Indian officer, tongue-in-cheek.

“The code of conduct that has held since 1993 is now under stress. We are aware that Doklam is a factor on the Chinese side. But we are trying to ensure that the situation is not complicated by an incident where soldiers from either side are hurt. That would complicate Doklam even further”, he said. 

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Army gets its first attack helicopters, 6 Apaches cleared for Rs 4,168 crore

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Aug 17

For decades, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has resisted giving the army control of combat aviation assets, especially attack helicopters, which the air marshals have insisted on keeping firmly under their control.

Even as the army began operating light utility helicopters and established its own Army Aviation Corps, the IAF retained control of medium and heavy helicopters (Russian Mi-17 and Mi-26) and attack helicopters (Mi-35).

The IAF’s predominance in helicopters was underscored in September 2015, when $3 billion worth of helicopters – 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy lift choppers – were handed over to the IAF, overruling the army’s arguments that attack helicopters, which are an integral part of the ground battle, should be flown by army aviation pilots.

On Thursday, in a landmark decision, the defence ministry’s apex procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, cleared the Army Aviation’s first attack helicopters –a Rs 4,168 crore purchase of six Apaches, including associated equipment, spares, training, weapons and ammunition.

While the IAF will use its 22 Apaches for “air defence operations”, to take out enemy radars and command and control centres; the army’s Apaches would destroy enemy tanks and armoured vehicles on the mechanized battlefield.

It is understood the IAF has let go of the new batch of six Apaches with some reluctance, calculating that the air force budget – already strained because of the Euro 7.8 billion purchase of 36 Rafale fighters – could not sustain the added financial burden of more attack helicopters.

The army’s Apaches will only be delivered from 2020 after Boeing delivers the IAF its 22 choppers. Probably before that, Army Aviation would have inducted the first of its Light Combat Helicopters (LCH), which is at an advanced stage of development in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Like the Apache, the LCH will be flown by both the IAF and the army. The LCH is a 5-tonne-class helicopter, significantly smaller than the heavily armoured and armed Apache. It is untested in combat, while the Apache has flown a million mission hours in combat from the first Gulf War in 1991 to the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the LCH is optimized for extreme altitudes, and for providing fire support to soldiers at heights up to 6,000 metres.

Both attack helicopters are armed with anti-tank missiles, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground rockets and devastating chain guns that fire hundreds of shells per minute to rip apart lightly armoured vehicles.

Besides the Apaches, the DAC cleared the Rs 490 crore purchase of gas turbine engines from Ukraine for two Grigorovich-class frigates that Russia is building for the Indian Navy.

The two frigates, which form part of a $4 billion order for four such frigates, are almost fully built in Russia’s Yantar Shipyard at Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea. With relations between Russia and Ukraine at rock bottom after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea, it has fallen to New Delhi to buy the Ukrainian gas turbines that the Grigorovich class frigates were designed to be powered by.

Negotiations are under way for building two of the four frigates in Goa Shipyard Ltd, under the Make in India programme. The purchase of gas turbines for those vessels will be cleared subsequently.

Dynamatic sets sights on becoming “private sector HAL”

Dynamatic Technologies seeks to develop “system integrator” skills by building UAVs

By Ajai Shukla
Devanhalli, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 17th Aug 17

In an environment where large corporations with no experience in building defence equipment – such as the Adani and Anil Ambani Groups – are hoping to be chosen by the defence ministry as “strategic partners” for defence manufacture, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd (DTL) is a rarity: a company that has incrementally developed the capability to design and manufacture military equipment; in pursuit of a clear aim to graduate into the manufacture of military aircraft.

Last month, on the sidelines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, DTL signed a partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a global leader in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). DTL plans to leverage this partnership to become an Indian “systems integrator” – the entity at the apex of a manufacturing chain, which integrates assemblies and sub-assemblies built by Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers into a final product.

Manufacturing state-of-the-art UAVs, like the “medium altitude long endurance” system that India’s military is buying, is only a waypoint for DTL. Eventually, the company – which already builds one-sixth of the fuselage of the Sukhoi-30MKI, and one-fifth of the Tejas fighter’s fuselage for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) -- aims to become a full-scale systems integrator of sophisticated combat aircraft.

Towards this end, DTL has proceeded systematically. From manufacturing precision-engineered hydraulic pumps in the 1980s, to aerospace grade components in the 1990s, to aerospace assemblies later that decade, to major aerospace assemblies today, DTL believes the next logical step towards building sophisticated aerospace systems is to be a systems integrator for UAVs – flying platforms, but less complex than manned combat aircraft.

“We believe this is the logical moment to transition up the value chain to become a systems integrator. En route to building complete fighter jets or bigger aerospace systems, we believe that UAV development and integration is realistic and achievable for Dynamatic”, says the company’s chief executive, Udayant Malhoutra.

“In my mind, we are working to become the private-sector HAL of tomorrow”, he emphasizes.

To assess DTL’s ambitions and capabilities, Business Standard visited its brand new manufacturing location – a 27.5-acre facility at Devanhalli, adjoining Bengaluru’s new international airport, where the UAV line will come up. Capable of housing half a million square feet of hangar space, Devanhalli is accessible by large cargo trucks and provides ready access to the airport.

At nearby Doddabalapur, DTL owns a large research farm that could be converted to manufacture later, if required.

With DTL’s long-standing facility at Peenya, outside Bengaluru, running short of space, the manufacture of flap-track beams for Airbus’ A330 wide-body airliners has already been shifted to Devanhalli, along with the assembly of Bell-407 cabins for Bell Helicopters.

Meanwhile, DTL’s Peenya plant continues manufacturing flap-track beams for every one of the 54 single-aisle airliners (A318, A319, A320 and A321) that Airbus assembles each month; and also components for Boeing’s P-8I maritime aircraft and CH-47E Chinook helicopters.

In contrast to the relatively stable income from global aerospace manufacturers, DTL would be in uncertain territory in UAV manufacture. The company visualises a market opportunity in India of about 5,000 UAVs for military and civilian uses but, so far, there are only three “requests for information” (RFIs) issued by the military, for which the DTL-IAI combine will have to compete with global UAV manufacturers.

This includes an RFI issued last year for 150 MALE UAVs for the three services; a 2015 enquiry for 50 Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial Systems (NSUAS) for use from large ships for surveillance of coastal waters and India’s exclusive economic zone; and a 2015 RFI for 600 mini-UAVs for the army’s infantry battalions.

DTL has experience in UAVs, having participated in the DRDO’s programme to build the Lakshya pilotless vehicle. In 2015, DTL signed a “teaming agreement” with US company, AeroVironment, to co-develop the Cheel UAV – which is one of six pilot projects designated during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India. However, no orders have resulted from that initiative.

Even so, Malhoutra remains bullish about the opportunities for UAVs, particularly in civilian applications. He cites the potential for low-cost UAVs for crop spraying or as airborne sensors to gauge soil conditions. Pointing to DTL’s long experience in agriculture (70 per cent of all Indian tractors incorporate DTL’s hydraulics), he forecasts: “UAVs will initially come in for military applications, but will find sustainable value mainly from the civilian market.”

Dynamatic: Operating figures

(in Rs crore)


Net Profit
Interest burden

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tejas fighter finally achieves production target

Eight Tejas to roll out this year; heavily outsourced to private sector

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 16th Aug 17

Since December 2013, when the indigenous Tejas fighter was operationally cleared to join the Indian Air Force (IAF), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has struggled to establish an assembly line that could build the homegrown light fighter quickly and cheaply.

With just three Tejas delivered until this year out of the 20 ordered in 2013, the IAF’s complaint that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) had taken too long in development gave way to the charge that HAL was not building the fighter fast enough to replace the IAF’s retiring MiG fighters.

HAL’s manufacturing shortfall became even starker last November, when the defence ministry cleared the acquisition of 83 more Tejas 1A fighters. This successor to the Tejas Mark 1, with four specified capability improvements, is required to enter production in 2019. This plan hinges on establishing a high-capacity assembly line.

Now, finally, HAL’s Tejas assembly line in Benguluru is meeting its targets. On a visit by Business Standard to the Tejas assembly line, HAL chief T Suvarna Raju has confirmed that eight Tejas fighters will roll off the line this year – the rated capacity of the assembly line.

Furthermore, with an additional investment of Rs 1,231 crore sanctioned for enhancing capacity, the Tejas line is projected to build 10 fighters in 2018-19; and 16 Tejas Mark 1As each year from 2019-20 onwards.

Thereafter, the line is expected to build the Tejas Mark II fighter, an advanced variant of the Tejas with a more powerful General Electric F-414 engine and upgraded avionics.

Outsourcing to private defence firms has been key to achieving HAL’s production targets. “HAL is now focusing mainly on putting together large assemblies that are built and supplied by private aerospace companies. That has allowed us to speed up work exponentially”, says Raju.

HAL has created five “Tier-1” suppliers that each build a part of the Tejas. The front fuselage is supplied by Dynamatic Technologies Ltd, Bengaluru; the centre fuselage by VEM Technologies, Hyderabad; rear fuselage by Alpha Tocol, Bengaluru; wings by Larsen & Toubro, Coimbatore; and the tail fin and rudder by National Aerospace Laboratory and Tata Advanced Materials Ltd.

Each of these Tier-1 suppliers sources components and sub-assemblies from lower-order Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers, creating an aerospace industry around the Tejas.

In addition, a range of equipment is sourced from other private firms that are emerging as players in the aerospace realm: avionics racks and air intakes from Lakshmi Machine Works, Coimbatore; electrical panels from Amphenol, Pune; slats and elevons from Aequs, Belgaum; pipelines from Rangson, Mysore, and precision mechanical assemblies from Sri Koteswara Cam Systems, Secunderabad.

HAL plans to eventually outsource 69 per cent of the production of Tejas structural modules, with just 31 per cent of the work done in-house – consisting mainly of assembly and equipping work.

A visit by Business Standard to the Tejas production hanger reveals the most technologically advanced production line that HAL has ever set up – significantly more high-tech than the Hawk advanced jet trainer line that was established with BAE Systems.

The production jigs, on which Tejas components are fabricated, are calibrated with lasers to an accuracy of 50-80 microns (one micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter). This ensures repeatability, which means that every component coming off a jig is precisely the same, and can be switched across aircraft.

There are also robotic machines to drill the thousands of holes that are required in each Tejas’ carbon “skin”. These robots drill in two days what manual drillers earlier took two months to do.

“It earlier took us 19 months to build a Tejas, from start to finish. This is now down to 11 months, and we will be building each Tejas in nine months by September this year”, says Raju.

HAL’s plan for expanding Tejas production to 16 fighters per year involves establishing a second assembly line. This has physically replaced the Hawk trainer line that is close to completing delivery of its orders.

The cost of Rs 1,231 crore is being half-funded by HAL, with the IAF and navy picking up the tab for the other half.

Tejas production schedule    


Upto March 31, 2017
3 Tejas Mk 1
3 Tejas Mk 1
IOC configuration
2017 – 2018
8 Tejas Mk 1
11 Tejas Mk 1
IOC configuration
2018 – 2019
10 Tejas Mk 1
20 Tejas Mk 1
5 single-seat IOC
4 twin-seat IOC
1 (spare capacity)
2019 – 2020
16 Tejas Mk 1A
20 Tejas Mk 1
16 Tejas Mk 1A

2020 – 2024
67 Tejas
20 Tejas Mk 1
83 Tejas Mk 1A

2024-25 onward
Tejas Mark II

(IOC: Initial Operational Configuration)