Monday, 22 January 2018

Naval Tejas stalled, no flights for eight months

Halt in flight-testing jeopardises Naval Tejas Mark 2 (Pic: Naval Tejas takes off from the SBTF in happier days)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Jan 18

Even as the Indian Air Force (IAF) version of the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) powers ahead, the naval version of the Tejas has ground to a worrying standstill.

Neither of the two Naval LCA prototypes has taken off in eight months.

Since the last Naval LCA sortie on May 20, one of the prototypes lies half dismantled in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), its interiors gaping open. The other stands forgotten on one side of the hangar.

Meanwhile the other 14 Tejas prototypes, which are flight-testing the IAF’s Tejas Mark 1, flew 406 test sorties last year – more flights than any preceding year, except 2013.

Navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, has publicly rejected the Naval Tejas Mark 1 as too heavy to fly combat missions off an aircraft carrier. Instead, he has backed the Naval Tejas Mark 2, which will have a more powerful engine. But, with the Mark 1 effectively grounded, the Mark 2’s development is also crippled, if not actually halted.

That is because many systems essential for the Naval LCA Mark 2, such as the arrestor hook and leading edge vortex controllers (Levcons allow the fighter to land on a carrier deck at a slower speed), are being designed and tested on the Mark 1 prototypes. The Mark 1 is a crucial technology test-bed and data generator for developing the Mark 2.

That would be a serious setback for the navy, which urgently requires the Tejas for its next aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, which will join the fleet in 2020, says Lanba. He said the Vikrant “is designed to operate the MiG-29K and the LCA.”

The eight-month gap in flight-testing the Naval Tejas has been a major setback for the test programme. At the “shore based test facility” (SBTF) in Goa – a concrete runway-cum-ramp that replicates an aircraft carrier deck – the easterly winter winds and furious west coast monsoon allow aircraft to take-off only in the February-to-June period. It was planned that the Naval Tejas would carry out an “arrested landing” in 2018, using the arrestor cables on the SBTF but, with no preliminary work done over the last eight months, this will now be possible only in February-to-June 2019. That means a project already heavily criticized for delay has just lost another full year.

Asked why HAL – which builds, repairs and operates Tejas prototypes – is going slow on the Naval Tejas, a senior HAL officer says the navy has turned its back on the programme.

“We have limited resources and manpower for Tejas flight-testing. The air force has committed to buying 123 Tejas fighters. The navy, on the other hand, has publicly rejected the Tejas. Why waste resources on the Naval Tejas?” says a top HAL executive.

However, technology development processes should not be linked with production orders, as HAL is doing, says a senior MoD official.

The navy chief insisted last month that he continues backing the Navy LCA. He said the navy has paid ~6 billion towards the Mark 1, ~3 billion for the Mark 2,  and would pay more as development continues. “As far as the LCA Navy is concerned, we are committed to indigenisation. We have supported the project and continue to [do so]”, said Lanba.

But merely allocating funds will not energise the Naval Tejas programme, retorts a senior officer in the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which oversees the Tejas programme. “A user service’s intent is evident from what it commits to the project in terms of test pilots, finance, oversight and most importantly moral support,” he says.

The navy has never committed more than three officers to the Tejas LCA. An ADA officer estimates that is one-fifth to one-tenth what the IAF has committed over the years.

Despite its protestations of support, the navy has steadily backed away from the Tejas programme. In March 2016, in the LCA Tejas Empowered Committee in the defence ministry, top admirals first declared the Tejas Mark I inadequate, but committed to supporting the Mark 2.

In May 2017, the navy declined to pay its 25 per cent share of the ~12.31 billion cost of enhancing the capacity of the LCA Mark I manufacturing line from 8 to 16 aircraft per year. The IAF is paying its share.

Difficulty is inevitable in translating an air force fighter into a naval, carrier-deck version, says aerospace expert Pushpinder Singh. It involves strengthening the entire aircraft, especially the undercarriage, to withstand the jarring impacts of carrier deck landings, which are often described as “controlled crashes”. This makes naval fighters heavier.

Despite the navy’s pusillanimous approach to the Tejas, that fighter remains crucial to the future of carrier deck aviation in India. The Russian MiG-29K has not proved a success and the navy is grappling with the consequences of that purchase. Procurement is under way of 57 multi-role carrier deck fighters, but that will take time and a cheap, light fighter like the Tejas will still be required on future aircraft carriers. “Realising the Tejas Mark 2 will require deeper reserves of fortitude and clarity than the navy, HAL and ADA have displayed so far”, says a senior naval officer.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Defence ministry simplifies private firms’ role in developing weapons prototypes

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Jan 18

In an initiative that is being welcomed by small private defence firms, Raksha Mantri Nirmala Sitharaman on Tuesday simplified the “Make II” procedure, which is a framework for defence firms to develop and build equipment the military has announced it wants.

The “Make I” procedure is aimed at large, expensive projects like the Future Infantry Combat Vehicle. It provides for private industry consortia to develop such platforms, with the ministry reimbursing up to 90 per cent of the cost incurred.

In contrast, “Make II” is an industry-funded initiative for small projects that do not incur a heavy development cost. It allows private companies to develop equipment that the military has publicly stated it requires, in a document called the “Technology Perspective and Capability Roadmap” (TPCR), which is posted on the defence ministry website.

Now, aiming to make the “Make II” process more practical for private firms, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) announced it has “simplified the procedure to make it industry friendly, with minimal government control.”

“The salient aspects of the revised procedure will now allow Ministry of Defence to accept suo-motu proposals from the industry and also allows start-ups to develop equipment for Indian Armed Forces”, said the announcement.

The first change involves broadening the playing field and allowing more companies access. While the earlier “Make II” procedure provided for shortlisting only two vendors to develop prototype equipment, now multiple vendors can participate.

The second change involves relaxing the eligibility criteria for private firms to participate in prototype development projects. According to the ministry, “The minimum qualification criteria to participate in ‘Make II’ projects has been relaxed by removing conditions related to credit rating and reducing financial net worth criteria.”

Thirdly, the “Make II” procedure has been simplified and decentralised. “The vendor will not be required to submit Detailed Project Report. After accord of approval… [by the DAC], all clearances will be accorded at Service HQ (SHQ) level”, announced the MoD. 
To hand-hold small scale firms and start-ups that might be technologically gifted but managerial novices, “SHQs will now setup project facilitation teams to act as the primary interface between the SHQ and the industry during the design and development stage. These teams would provide technical inputs, trial infrastructure and other facilities as required by the vendor”, announced the MoD.

Service headquarters have now been given greater flexibility. “Even if a single individual or firm offers innovative solutions, the SHQ will now have the option to accept and process the vendor’s development initiative. SHQs will be allowed to hire domain experts/consultants from private sector to increase outreach and enhance awareness among the industry”, the DAC decided. 

Finally, the DAC addressed the biggest bugbear for private firms, which is that even successful design work sometimes does not bring in orders for the product they have developed. The DAC decided today: “Most importantly, there will be no foreclosure of project after the project is sanctioned, except on default by the vendor, to ensure that the successful vendor has assured orders.”

Private defence industry has welcomed these announcements. “These changes are in line with what industry has been requesting. We are hopeful the ministry will implement these changes quickly and kick off the first “Make II” project within a few months to build confidence within industry”, says Jayant Patil, who heads the heavy engineering division in L&T. 

Defence ministry clears Rs 35.47 billion rifle buy under “fast track” process

The army plans to buy 250,000 foreign assault rifles, and 550,000 rifles made by the DRDO and OFB. (Pictured here: a DRDO carbine)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Jan 18

The defence ministry has gone back to the start line in procuring a basic weapon for the army’s infantry battalions – the footsoldiers who make up the bulk of the army, defend or capture territory in war and carry out counter-insurgency duties in peace.

After an earlier procurement was aborted last year after years of fruitless trials, the defence ministry announced on Tuesday its go-ahead for re-starting the procurement of 72,400 assault rifles and 93,895 carbines, worth an estimated Rs 3,547 crore (Rs 35.47 billion).

This is a fraction of the one million rifles and carbines that will be needed to re-equip the entire army. However, the ministry said it would “enable the Defence Forces to meet their immediate requirement for the troops deployed on the borders.”

The ministry’s apex procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), headed by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, cleared this procurement under the “fast track basis”, which requires a contract to be concluded in less than six months and delivery of weapons within a year of signing the contract.

As this newspaper first reported (November 4, Infantry to get foreign rifles, others to get ‘made in India’), the army – struggling to make do with a strained procurement budget – decided against importing the army’s entire requirement of 800,000 assault rifles. Instead, it would cut costs by importing only 250,000 assault rifles for about Rs 200,000 each; and ask the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) and the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) to design and build the remaining 550,000 rifles in the country. An indigenous rifle, it is estimated, would cost less than half the price of an imported one.

On Friday, army chief General Bipin Rawat explained that some high-quality assault rifles would have to be imported in order to “empower the infantry soldier”, who fights eyeball-to-eyeball with the enemy.

It is still unclear whether the remaining 1,77,600 assault rifles needed for frontline infantry would be imported, or manufactured in India with technology transferred by a foreign vendor. Rawat raised that possibility, stating: “Let us see if this imported weapon can subsequently be manufactured in India also by our own industry.”

Meanwhile, the DRDO is continuing perfecting the indigenous INSAS 1C rifle, and the OFB is separately developing another rifle it calls the Ghatak. These weapons are still to pass army trials.

Once these new weapons are introduced, the army will simultaneously juggle two different weapon philosophies. The frontline infantry’s heavy 7.62 x 51 millimetre rifle will be optimised for conventional war, with a longer range and heavier bullets that kill or completely incapacitate enemy soldiers that they strike. These rifles will also be equipped with reflex sights and modern night vision sights.

The indigenous weapons that will arm soldiers other than frontline infantry, will be lighter 5.56 x 45 millimetre weapons, optimised for counter-insurgency operations, with smaller bullets that soldiers can carry in larger numbers.

Monday, 15 January 2018

As Netanyahu arrives, will Spike missile go the Rafale fighter route?

Better missiles like Javelin (above) and MPP are now available, but only Spike has undergone trials

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 15th Jan 18

The defence industry is watching to see if the Indian government will go the same way with the Spike anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) as it did with the Rafale fighter – which is to abandon half-way a competitive global tender and instead conclude a government-to-government contract, for smaller numbers, using the logic of “operational necessity”.

Two weeks before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s five-day visit to India which began on Sunday, Rafael Advanced Defence Systems – the Israeli firm that makes the Spike missile –announced it had “received an official statement from the Indian Ministry of Defense on the cancellation of the Spike missile deal”.

The tender that New Delhi cancelled was for 321 ATGM launchers and 8,356 missiles, worth an estimated $500 million (Rs 3,200 crore). Rafael was required to dicharge offsets worth 30 per cent of that value and to transfer technology to Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) for building an estimated 30,000 more Spike missiles in India.

The tender was cancelled, as revealed by army chief General Bipin Rawat on Friday, because the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is going to develop and supply an indigenous ATGM. Since the DRDO missile would be manufactured in numbers only by 2021-22, Rawat’s concern is: “How do we bridge the gap between now and 2021-22?”

To do so, the army has recommended buying “lesser numbers” of a foreign ATGM, which could by default be Spike. Rawat says: “Whether it is going to be Spike or somebody else [we don’t know]. But we have tested the Spike; we haven’t tested the other missiles. So if we have to go in for a faster procurement, we may have to go in for a G2G (government-to-government buy). That is the issue being discussed.”

Defence industry experts say, if India restricts itself to Spike in bridging this gap, it will deny itself the opportunity to buy more advanced and capable ATGMs that were unavailable in 2010, when New Delhi issued a global tender. These are: the American FGM-148 Javelin, and the Missile Moyenne Portee (MPP, or “medium range missile”), built by MBDA of France.

The Javelin, produced by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, is a true “fire-and-forget” missile, whose inbuilt seeker locks onto targets up to 4,000 metres away, steering the missile autonomously and allowing an infantryman to quickly take cover after firing the missile. This capability is also referred to as “lock-on-before-launch”.

In contrast, the Spike, which has a range of only 2,500 metres, requires the infantryman to remain exposed for almost 30 seconds, while he guides the flying missile towards the target.

The MPP, like the Javelin, it is a true “fire-and-forget” missile with a range of 4,000 metres.

Furthermore, the Spike trails an optic-fibre cable behind it as it flies towards the target, through which guidance commands are given to the missile. This cable can snag on trees and power lines, disrupting the missile. In contrast, the Javelin and the MPP missiles trail no cable, since the missile is guided by on-board software.

The Javelin and MPP are also superior in their capability for “soft launch”. When a missile is fired, a gas canister propels it forward for the first ten metres, after which its on-board rocket motor ignites. This allows the missile to be launched from closed spaces, like bunkers. In earlier missiles like the Spike, the rocket motor ignites on launch, creating a “back blast” that would destroy a bunker or room from which it is launched.

The army’s motivation is clear: it wants an ATGM without delay, to equip its 350-plus infantry battalions. Senior generals say they would choose the less capable Spike missile now, over years more spent in evaluating the Javelin and the MPP.

When asked if this meant that a sluggish procurement process was denying the army state-of-the-art and potentially cheaper weapons systems, the general nodded agreement.

Netanyahu’s 130-member delegation includes the chief of Rafael Advanced Defence Systems.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Chinese troops remain in Doklam: Indian Army chief gives authoritative account

The map Beijing released in June. The Torsa Nallah is in green, flowing left to right through Doklam

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Jan 18

In New Delhi on Friday, army chief General Bipin Rawat provided the first authoritative account of a globally watched 73-day confrontation last year when India and China almost came to blows. The face off between several hundred armed soldiers from China and India took place at Doklam – an 89 square kilometre patch of land that is claimed by both China and Bhutan.

The face-off began on June 16, when Indian troops moved in strength into Doklam –territory that it did not own or claim – to block a large team of Chinese construction workers, escorted by troops of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), who began extending a track partly built during previous years. After weeks of tension, the crisis de-escalated on August 28 after tough negotiations between New Delhi and Beijing.

With both governments non-committal, analysts on both sides claimed victory – that they had forced the other side to withdraw. But today, Rawat admitted that Indian troops withdrew to their side of the border, while the PLA remains in Doklam.

Rawat’s verbatim account, with editors’ notes in brackets, is as follows.

“Doklam is an area that is divided into two parts: North Doklam and South Doklam. The Torsa nallah separates the two (green line on map, flowing left to right in Dong Lang, the Chinese name for Doklam). In South Doklam is a ridge called the Jampheri ridge, where the Royal Bhutan Army maintains a seasonal post. This is at the southern extremity of Doklam.

“As far as Northern Doklam is concerned, there are three passes… Through these passes, specifically through a pass called Batang La, the Chinese had been building a road since 2000… a little before. Till June 2016, they had come in quite close to our area and to the Torsa Nala. They would come, build a road and go back.

“But one fine day last year the Chinese came with fairly large amount of equipment, large amount of people, supported by the PLA. Up to June 2016 there was fairly inconspicuous activity – one or two bulldozers that would scrape the earth and go away. But this time we found that the kind of equipment and manpower they came with, they meant business. We felt they would probably try and claim the whole of Doklam and build a road there, and probably reach where the RBA post was [at Jampheri]. That was our impression.

“We realised that if this was going to happen, we would have to block it. This was posing a threat to us and was changing the status quo… and violating our agreement with the Chinese to maintain the status quo. So we were compelled to take action and block them. That led to a stalemate, which continued [for 73 days].”

“[After the negotiated disengagement of August 28] the PLA has occupied Northern Doklam. They are there...

“During the Doklam crisis, let me tell you we had excellent coordination with the government; I daresay between the PMO, the ministry of external affairs (MEA), the ministry of defence and the army.

“The issue was that we had actually stepped into territory that wasn’t ours. And when you step into a territory which is not yours, the MEA comes in. It is not that you have stepped into your territory, but into territory which either belonged to China or to Bhutan. It didn’t belong to us.

“So hereinafter, what happened is that the China have stayed put in that area… The disengagement said that we should not have a face-to-face confrontation, because here we were face-to-face. We said we should separate out. That separation has taken place.

“We have come back from where we had stepped in, [and returned] to our own territory. We are now on the watershed. And the Chinese too have gone back that much distance. But behind that, they have continued to maintain themselves.

“When this [Doklam] escalation took place, we saw a large number of [Chinese] troops in other areas of Tibet, including some guns and some tanks and other equipment. But let me tell you that we have seen that complete equipment almost gone. But as far as the North Doklam area is concerned… the Chinese are there.

“But there too, thinning out has happened. We had worked out in the disengagement that we would keep the separation between us. But even behind that, while there are a large number of tents in that area, a large amount of troops have gone back from that area. We are not seeing the kind of activity that we were seeing in that area in the month of June, July and August.

“The tents remain. He (the Chinese) had constructed some toilets and those toilets remain. He had created some observation posts… and those structures remain. But we are seeing a reduction in manpower.

“As of now, we feel the de-escalation has happened because of the winter months, maybe; or because he felt it was time to de-escalate. But because the structures are still there – he has a lot of temporary structures – there is a possibility of movement again taking place once the winter months get over.

“Should he come in again, we will again take a call on what has to be done. But let me tell you diplomatic efforts are on to de-escalate everything and see that everything returns to normalcy.

“More important now is the engagement between Bhutan and China, and how they resolve the issue. There are border demarcation talks also happening between Bhutan and China. How they progress, we will have to wait and watch.”

Friday, 12 January 2018

New US ambassador proposes Indo-American helicopters, unmanned combat vehicles

Juster wants US-India tri-service exercises, like India's Exercise Indra with Russia

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Jan 18

Kenneth Juster, America’s recently arrived ambassador to India, has identified defence and counter-terrorism as a “key pillar” of Indo-US cooperation.

Making his first public speech in New Delhi on Thursday, Juster noted that “In little more than a decade, US defence trade with India has expanded from virtually nothing to over 15 billion dollars and includes sales of some of America’s most advanced military equipment.”

Juster outlined a US wish list for the next wave of arms sales to India, naming “fighter aircraft production; and the co-development of next generation systems, including a Future Vertical Lift platform or Advanced Technology Ground Combat Vehicles.”

Washington officials have been backing an offer by Lockheed Martin to manufacture the F-16 Block 70 fighter in India, and Boeing’s offer to build its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter for the Indian Navy. However, this is the first time a senior US official has publicly mentioned a proposal to co-develop a range of combat helicopters (Future Vertical Lift platform) or unmanned ground vehicles (Advanced Technology Ground Combat Vehicle). So far, these have been discussed only within the Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI), a high-level US-India joint forum for overcoming bureaucratic hurdles and exploring new initiatives.

Senior Indian military officials, speaking off-the-record, say an Indo-US helicopter or an autonomous combat vehicle would provide a major impetus to the relationship.

Juster, who has worked since 2000 on the US-India relationship, is keenly aware of the potential for enhancing trust through co-development projects. He stated: “I want to emphasize that the United States is more than just another [arms] supplier… We seek to assist India’s efforts to build up its indigenous defence base and capabilities, as well as enhance the inter-operability of our two forces as major defence partners in the Indo-Pacific region.”

Pointing out that the two countries already conduct robust single-service exercises together, the US ambassador suggested: “it is time to consider a multi-service exercise, perhaps focused on humanitarian aid and disaster relief… [in order to] increase our comfort, ease and confidence in working together.”

The only country with which India conducts a tri-service exercises is Russia. In October, the Indian army, navy and air force sent troops to Vladivostok to take part in the tri-service Exercise Indra 2017 alongside the Russian military.

Juster also sought increased military-to-military exchanges between the two countries to build operational familiarity. “Over time, we should expand officer exchanges at our war colleges and our training facilities, and even at some point post reciprocal military liaison officers at our respective combatant commands.”

Behind the scenes, Washington has been encouraging New Delhi to station a senior military official in each of the two US combatant commands whose responsibilities cover South Asia: the US Pacific Command (PACOM) headquartered in Hawaii, and Central Command (CENTCOM) in Tampa, Florida.

Juster outlined a vision of US-India ties that rest on five pillars: defence and counter-terrorism; economic and cultural relations; energy and the environment; science, technology and health; and regional cooperation, including on Afghanistan.

Underlining Washington’s changed approach to Afghanistan, and its growing disenchantment with Pakistan, Juster pointed out that India and the US “both have a strong interest in promoting peace, security and prosperity… [by] supporting Afghanistan’s National Unity Government and helping build that country’s democratic institutions.