Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Eurofighter offers Star Wars helmet to IAF

The BAE Systems-developed Eurofighter Typhoon Helmet Mounted Symbology System.
The European Eurofighter Typhoon consortium is offering its almost science fiction-evoking helmet to the Indian Air Force (IAF) as part of its bid to win the 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) tender, according to company sources. The helmet can enable a pilot to lock-on target and shoot by voice command, merely after looking at the target.
Company sources confirmed to StratPost that the Eurofighter Typhoon Helmet Mounted Symbology System, developed by BAE Systems and released last July, was part of its offering to the IAF. BAE Systems had issued a press release on the helmet earlier this month, calling it something out of Star Wars, in a reference to its seemingly filmy capabilities, where it said the helmet lets the pilot see through the body of the aircraft
Using the new helmet system, the pilot can now look at multiple targets, lock-on to them, and then, by voice-command, prioritize them. Its a lightning-fast system to let the pilot look, lock-on, and fire, said BAE Systems of the system, which also brings to mind the thought-controlled weapons system onboard the fictional MiG-31 in the Clint Eastwood-starring Firefox.
The helmet has a number of fixed sensors, which move in relation to the sensors on the aircraft as the pilot moves his head, ensuring the aircraft knows exactly where and what he is looking. Apparently, the pilot can zero-in on targets even if they’re out of line of sight or nowhere in the range of the aircraft vector.
Pilots of British Royal Air Force (RAF) Eurofighter Typhoons are expected to be become the first users of this helmet sometime this year.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Indian Navy sailing ship INS Sudarshini hits water

Indian Navy has named its new sailing ship as INS Sudarshini on commissioning at a later date. The ship is a follow on class of INS Tarangini. Sudarshini means “Beautiful Lady.” Smt Letha Sushil, her self a sudarshini, spouse of Vice Admiral KN Sushil, Flag Officer Commanding in Chief Southern Naval Command launched Navy’s next sail training ship at Goa Shipyard today.
INS Tarangani, named after waves is a three-masted Barque in sailing parlance i.e. square rigged on the Fore and Main masts

INS Sudarshini launch
and fore and aft rigged on Mizzen mast. The ship has been designed by Mr. Colin Muddie, a famous Naval Architect and yacht designer of U.K. and built by Goa Shipyard Ltd. Reputed firms from U.K have supplied the sailing rig.
INS Tarangini was commissioned on 11 Nov 1997, and is primarily meant for the sail training of cadets. She also conducts sail training capsules for cadets of the National Defence Academy, Naval Academy and INS Shivaji, the training establishment for technical cadets.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Meggitt wins two Indian jet trainer deals - Aerospace and defence group Meggitt plc announced two contracts from BAE Systems as part of the Indian Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer programme.

Meggitt Avionics will supply a range of cockpit display equipment and electro-mechanical instruments in a deal worth over £5m.

Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems Corporation has also won a contract on the jet trainer valued at over £8m.

The wins follow India's purchase of 57 aircraft in July, to be built under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics for the country's air force and navy.

Meggitt shares rose 5.8p to 365.5p.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Dogfight! India’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft Decision

The Indian air force (IAF) is entering the final stages of selecting a new medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). At a cost of about $10 billion for 126 aircraft, the MMRCA competition is the largest Indian fighter tender in years. Eight countries and six companies eagerly await the outcome of the selection process, which has garnered high-profile attention for its sheer size, its international political implications, and its impact on the viability of key aircraft manufacturers. Furthermore, the winner will obtain a long and lucrative association with a rising power and secure a toehold into other parts of India’s rapidly modernizing strategic industries. Once selected, the aircraft will play an essential role in India’s military modernization as the country transitions from a regional power to a global giant.

The MMRCA competition comes as challenges to India’s national security are increasing in intensity and complexity. Ever since the 1971 war, India’s defense strategy has relied on maintaining superior airpower relative to both China and Pakistan. In the event of a regional conflict, Indian air power would serve as the country’s critical war-fighting instrument of first resort. Due to delays in its defense procurement process as well as accidents and retirements of older fighter aircraft, however, India’s force levels have reached an all-time low of 29 squadrons, and the IAF is not expected to reach the currently authorized force levels of 39.5 squadrons before 2017. This growing and dangerous hole in the IAF’s capabilities comes as India’s neighbors are aggressively modernizing their own air forces, making India’s need to expand its combat aircraft inventories all the more urgent.

In choosing an aircraft, the government of India must employ a speedy decision process that is focused on the right metrics, taking both technical and political considerations into account. The IAF has already evaluated the six MMRCA competitors against 660 technical benchmarks and has provided its recommendations to the Ministry of Defense. While the IAF has paid special attention to the fighters’ sensors and avionics, weapons, aerodynamic effectiveness, and mission performance, India’s civilian security managers are certain to emphasize technology transfer as well as costs when making their decision. In fact, the winning aircraft for the IAF ought to be chosen on the triangular criteria of technical merit, relative cost, and optimal fit within the IAF’s evolving force architecture.

Political considerations, however, will be key in the selection process. In choosing the winning platform, Indian policy makers will seek to: minimize the country’s vulnerability to supply cutoffs in wartime, improve its larger military capacity through a substantial technology infusion, and forge new transformative geopolitical partnerships that promise to accelerate the growth of Indian power globally. While Indian leaders may be tempted to split the purchase among vendors to please more than one country, doing so would needlessly saddle the IAF with multiple airframes in return for meager political gains.

Given the technical and political considerations, New Delhi should conclude the MMRCA competition expeditiously, avoid splitting the purchase between competitors, and buy the “best” aircraft to help India to effectively prepare for possible conflict in Southern Asia. Because of the dramatic transformations in combat aviation technology currently underway, the Indian government should select the least expensive, mature, combat-proven fourth-generation fighter for the IAF as a bridge toward procuring more advanced stealth aircraft in the future.

Under this criterion, the European aircraft are technically superb, but the U.S. entrants prove to be formidable “best buys.” If Washington wants an American aircraft to win the game, however, it will need to offer generous terms on the transfer of technology, assure India access to fifth-generation U.S. combat aircraft, and provide strong support for India’s strategic ambitions—to counter the perception that the older U.S. designs in the MMRCA race are less combat effective.

In making its decision, India’s government must keep the IAF’s interests consistently front and center to ensure that its ultimate choice of aircraft is the best one for the service. This will not only help India to strengthen its combat capabilities in the coming years but position it as a rising global power worthy of respect far into the future.

Friday, May 27, 2011

India to test major missile systems in 2011 new

Bangalore: India would be testing various new missile systems, including strategic ones such as the Agni-5, developed for the three Indian defence services, through 2011. The tests will begin in February, according to Dr VK Saraswat, scientific advisor to the defence minister and DRDO chief.

Dr Saraswat said the country was self-sufficient in missile technology and had the necessary technological wherewithal to produce various classes of missiles for the three defence services. He was speaking to news persons here.

Dr Saraswat also said that the need of the hour was to gear up the Indian industry, both private and public sector, to take up integration of missiles so that these systems could be produced in required volumes.

Significantly, he also said the country could even emerge as an exporter of some of the missile systems such as Akash and Nag. While Akash is an advanced medium range air defence system the Nag is an advanced anti-tank missile.

He clarified that domestic needs of the armed services would have to be first met before any exports of these systems could be considered. ''We do have requests and we can think about it only after meeting domestic requirements'' he said.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Arms majors to show off wares in Bangalore
The Times of India

NEW DELHI: With India's appetite for importing military hardware and software remaining unsatiated, global armament giants are once again making a beeline for the country to hawk their fighters, helicopters, submarines, missiles, howitzers and the like.

As many as 380 foreign companies are all set to display their wares during Aero-India 2011 at Bangalore, which kicks off on February 9. "It represents a 25% jump in foreign participation from the last Aero-India in 2009. Moreover, there will be 29 exhibiting countries, 70 visiting countries and eight countries with their own pavilions," said a defence ministry official.

There will also be 295 domestic companies, as opposed to 289 in 2009, during the five-day airshow. But, despite India being the 10th largest defence spender in the world, the country is still nowhere near having a robust defence-industrial base.

Consequently, it still imports almost 70% of its military requirements, making it the world's largest arms importer next only to China. If defence deals worth over $50 billion were inked in the decade since the 1999 Kargil conflict, the majority of them with foreign suppliers, it will spend more than double that amount in the current decade.

As per MoD figures, India spent Rs 71,336 crore on capital acquisitions from 1998-1999 to 2003-2004. This more than doubled in the 2004-2005 to 2009-2010 timeframe to register Rs 1,75,937 crore. "We hope to top the Rs 60,000 crore capital outlay in the current fiscal (2010-2011)," said a senior official.

Is it any wonder then that armament majors continue to be all agog about the immensely lucrative Indian arms bazaar. From Boeing, Airbus Military, BAE Systems and EADS to Israeli Aerospace Industries, Dassault Aviation and Sukhoi Design Bureau, all will be there at the Aero-India show.

There are rich pickings to be made. Boeing, for instance, is salivating at the biggest Indo-US defence deal, the $4.1-billion one for 10 C-17 Globemaster-III strategic airlift aircraft, which is on the verge of being inked. India, as reported earlier, may well order another six C-17s after the first 10. "We will have a C-17 on display in Aero-India," said a Boeingofficial.

There will be at least 22 military and 27 civil aircraft on display at the airshow. It, of course, comes at a time when the winner among the six foreign contenders for the gigantic $10.4 billion project to acquire 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft for IAF will soon be selected.

The armed forces are also looking to induct over 600 helicopters, ranging from VVIP and heavy-lift to attack and light utility ones, a major chunk of them from aboard, in the coming years for well over Rs 20,000 crore. While some deals have already been signed, others are in the pipeline.

A second major induction of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles), ranging from micro and mini spy drones to attack and combat ones, as well as surveillance planes is also on the cards. The forces already have over 100 UAVs, mainly acquired from Israel, for surveillance and precision-targeting missions.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

British navy chief begins six-day visit to India tomorrow

Delhi, Jan 29 (PTI) British Navy Chief Admiral SirMark Stanhope begins his six-day visit to India tomorrow toenhance cooperation between the two countries in maritimesecurity and anti-terrorism efforts.

During the visit, the Royal Navy chief is likely todiscuss all aspects of UK defence and security policy as wellas the defence relationship, including maritime cooperationbetween the two sides, the British High Commission said in arelease here.

Stanhope would meet Defence Minister A K Antony andthe three services chiefs, it said.

The Naval officer would also visit the IndianNavy-sponsored think tank National Maritime Foundation (NMF)and deliver a speech on ''Indian Ocean and Maritime Security.''

In the latter part of his tour, Stanhope will go toMumbai where he would visit the defence shipyard MazagonDockyards Limited (MDL).

He will also meet the Western Naval Commander ViceAdmiral Sanjeev Bhasin and discuss with him ways to increasecooperation between the navies of the two countries.

The visit comes six months after Prime Ministers ofthe two nations highlighted their wish to see a strengtheneddefence and security relationship as a priority for theenhanced partnership between the UK and India.

The two countries have increased the military tomilitary cooperation with their Navies and Air Forces holdingwargames at regular intervals.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

2011 will see India entering the fighter plane industry

Anybody would have felt proud of one's country, sitting and watching the military prowess of India live. We were lucky being part of the audience of the full dress rehearsal of Republic Day Parade 2011. Spectacular welcome show by warplanes and helicopters, brave Indian children being rewarded, motorcycle rides by the daredevils contingent of the army, handsome marches by the para-military and other services, women marching ahead, synchronized dance performance by kids, fighter plane `Tejas' and beautiful tableaux showcasing India's rich diversity, were all there to fill you with a sense of awe.

The country's latest and the best military hardware were displayed at the full dress rehearsal. The weapons and planes ranging from battle tanks to missiles were flaunted at the parade show. Although it was only a dress rehearsal, but was a replica of the January 26 parade, projecting India's prowess as well as its rich diverse culture.

While on one hand it was an escalation of self esteem being a citizen of India, on the other hand it was a true showcase of negligence, carefree attitude, and apathy of our so-called authorities and security system towards the general public and kids. Well, the parade show was undoubtedly incredible, but the security and sitting provision was despicable.

The reason why this year's parade was important was because it was the first year when India will be turning into a participant in the global fighter plane industry with the Tejas and the PAKFA-T-50 .

Now instead of the US-Soviet Cold War, we may very well enter an era of the Indo-US cold war with fighter planes posing over the Indian ocean.

The watching public is always maddening, but there has to be a system to put things in a proper way. The VIP passes were distributed disproportionately to the available number of seats. The result was people were asked to shift to other sitting bridges. Audiences with infants were callously asked to chuck off their water bottles, biscuits and toffees/chocolates at the entrance gates only. Imagine the plight of kids without water and eatables for three hours, as there was no provision for drinking water at the sitting sections. Amazingly, one of audiences was not even permitted to take his homeopathy medicine inside. All was in the name of security.

Now let's look at the security provisions. Apparently, general public was asked to enter the sitting enclosures clear handed. But I, somehow listened to some clickclick sounds. Well yes, when I looked sideways squintedly, I found people clicking pictures with their cameras and mobiles. Were they from media? No. So who were they? They were defence people and their family members . Yes, that particular sitting enclosure belonged to the defence personnel and their familes. Total security breach it was.... Astonishingly, they were allowed to carry their baggage inside. And, on the other side, kids of other public were crying out hunger and thirst.

Also, interestingly public got to hone their cleaning skills as all the seats were soiled and had droppings. Hopefully, audiences wouldn't have faced similar security and sitting mess on January 26.

Now with the Tejas and the Pak-FA-T-50, we shall have shifted the focus of the fighter plane industry from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean where the United States will be using the F word (F-16, F-18, F-35, F-22 ) and we shall be equally responding.

There's been a few people talking about the massive ad campaign that Lockheed Martin has been promoting for its F22 Raptor plane in the United States press. We don't have too much to add to the discussion, other than to voice our disgust at having to see the full-page ads in the Washington Post back in 2008. Lockheed Martin are supposedly protecting 300 million people with their F22 Raptor (against whom, I have no idea - Shaktimaan? Spiderman? Doc Ok ??). I had no idea that a few hundred fighter interceptors would be doing so much work. Thankfully, our Tejas makes no such claims having been churned out by a public sector company.

And then there are the 95,000 people in the United States supposedly reliant on the F22 for their livelihood (because it's the little people we worry about, not the defense firm's well-paid management). Interestingly, the production of 187 planes will run through 2011, so they all have steady employment for at least two years. And then there will be the substantial maintenance and operations needed for the planes - that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars more every year. But let's get past the American argument of whether defense spending is a stimulus bonus.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Wearable Computer for Indian soldiers

WAM New Delhi, 29th Jan. 2011 (WAM) -- India's Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is working on a wearable computer for soldiers.

The computer would have many useful applications, offering connectivity to soldiers in a group or with command headquarters. In case of a problem, like a missing soldier, the computer would help in locating him and his unit.

In tough, inhospitable terrains, the computer could also have GPS locators.

There are thousands of applications that in fact can be there depending upon the requirements.

A prototype of the Wearable Computer was displayed at the Indian Science Congress held in the southern Indian city of Chennai recently.

The device was capable of carrying out scores of applications like Situation Awareness, Command Control, Navigation, Sensor Data Processing, Video and Voice Streaming.

DRDO has successfully developed computer software for Indian Air Force's SU 30 MKI's aircraft, missiles and other combat systems.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

India’s China policy is going nowhere. The Chinese have bluntly declared that they will continue with their policy of issuing stapled visas as usual. Now the ball is in the Indian court. It is the Indian pride which is at stake – and it is not the India of 1962 when the Indian troops fought the Chinese without rudimentary battle uniform and were mauled.  

It is time India conveys to the Chinese that it will be forced to review its One China policy if the Chinese pinpricks on Jammu and Kashmir continue. China must be made to understand the Indian sensitivities on Kashmir and that Kashmir is to India what Tibet is to China.  

India did not sing the One China hymn in the joint communiqué that was signed at the conclusion of Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to New Delhi. That may be pragmatic but not bold enough. India has to convey the ‘enough is enough’ message to the Chinese in concrete terms, in its back-channel as well as official contacts. India has to tell the Chinese that if they continue to give stapled visas to the people from the Indian states of Jammu and Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh (no matter if in the case of the latter it is understood to be a ‘concession’ from the Chinese side) then India will retaliate in kind. 

China may respond by using the Sikkim card and going back on its pledge to the then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee that Sikkim is an integral part of India. But that should not deter India which is the third largest economy in Asia where China is number one. Let China go back on its commitment to India on Sikkim as it would only further expose the Chinese before the international community. In any case, the Chinese official media and Chinese tourist kits have several times portrayed Sikkim as an independent country even after the Chinese commitment. In June 2008 the PLA troops had intruded more than a kilometer into the “Finger Area” of Sikkim.  

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came up with unusually candid remarks on China during his meeting with editors in September 2010, though apparently he did not want to go on record. Nonetheless his remarks were widely quoted by mainstream print media. Singh said that China wanted to keep India bogged down in South Asia by playing on Indo-Pak tensions.  

Sample a couple of quotes of Manmohan Singh on the subject: 
  • “India had to take adequate precautions but not give up hope of peaceful resolution of issues with China…in reaction to ‘pinpricks’ by Beijing on Jammu and Kashmir and other issues.”
  • “China would like to have a foothold in South Asia and we have to reflect on this reality. We have to be aware of this.”

This is the first time when Indian assessment of China was articulated at the highest level in the public domain. Significantly, Singh’s remarks on China came close on the heels of reports of some eleven thousand Chinese troops in Gilgit-Baltistan area of Jammu and Kashmir which India considers as its own territory. India has not come up with any counter to the presence of PLA troops in Gilgit-Baltistan and it remains to be seen whether the UPA II would take any step at all.  

Upgrading India’s relations with Taiwan is another diplomatic option that is open to India but the Manmohan Singh government seems too timid to embark on such a bold move. Thus far, the position is that India does not engage with Taiwan officially. Taiwan does not even have a full fledged embassy in India. Indian officials -- leave aside the ministers and the Prime Minister-- ever engage with their Taiwanese counterparts officially. 

This paradigm has to change.  
The Indian Prime Minister’s take on China has been corroborated by a recent opinion poll by Pew Global Attitudes Project which said that only 34 percent of Indians view China favourably—the second lowest number in Asia after Japan. This compared with 58 percent in Indonesia and 85 percent in Pakistan. 
The Chinese pinpricks to the Indians are swelling by the day. They are flexing their military and diplomatic muscle with impunity and expect India to take it all in its stride. That is precisely what India has been doing so far. Take a military example.  

China’s highest military planning body, Central Military Commission (CMC), recently approved building two new aircraft carriers. One aircraft carrier – Varyag of Kuznetsov class -- is already under construction.  All the three aircraft carriers will be available to China by 2017 and each one will patrol South China Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean and will make the People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) a formidable power. The Chinese naval buildup has rung alarm bells in Japan and the US as China is trying to project to the world South and East China Seas as its areas of exclusive domain while it is of immense strategic interest to the international community that it has unfettered access  to South China Sea, Western Pacific and Indian Ocean.  

On the issue of sharing of water of rivers that are flowing from China to India, the situation is no different. The Chinese are going hammer and tongs against Indian national interests and following what they perceive to be best in their national interest. The series of dams that the Chinese are building on the Brahmaputra – 32 by British media account – is a case in point.  

It is not just India that is facing problems from the Chinese dam-construction activities on international rivers. Myanmar too is feeling the heat. A new controversy has erupted between China and Myanmar over a multi-billion dollar dam construction project on the Longjiang River on the China-Myanmar border. The river, known as Shweli in Myanmar, flows through Shan state in Myanmar and eventually joins the Irrawaddy River in the Saigaing region. China has already built three dams on the Longjiang River that have substantially depleted the water levels of the river in Myanmar. The new dam will inevitably exacerbate this crisis further which will pinch the Myanmarese traders even harder as they depend on water transport for carrying merchandise. Besides, the new dam will trigger new social, environmental and ecological problems for the Myanmar government which already has its plate full. Large number of local people will be displaced in Myanmar which will heighten ethnic tensions. 

This is what the Chinese are doing to their time-tested allies like Myanmar. It is any body’s guess what the Chinese will do to India which they want to see divided into thirty parts as has been so eloquently and publicly projected in the state-controlled Chinese media some time ago. The question is: when will the Indians ever learn and when will the Indian elephant finally muster the courage to respond?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

  • Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper
Essentially an F-16 Block 60, the F-16IN is one of two single-engined aircraft in the competition. Powered by the General Electric F110-132A, the F-16IN has a Northrop Grumman APG-80 AESA radar. Lockheed Martin makes much of its combat record: more than 100,000 missions flown, and a 72-0 record in air-to-air victories.
Given that more than 4,000 units have been built, ramping up production would not be a problem - 928 F-16s have been produced by licence partners. F-16 variants are also flown by India's arch rival, Pakistan.
  • Dassault Rafale
The Rafale has yet to win orders outside France, but its single-engined predecessor, the Mirage 2000, reportedly performed well for India in the high-altitude Kargil conflict with Pakistan in 1999. In French service the Rafale has been successful in Afghanistan.
  • Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet
In late October, Boeing said it was optimistic of making the MMRCA shortlist. One possible point in the Super Hornet's favour is its General Electric F414 engine, which will also power the indigenously developed Mk II version of India's Tejas light combat aircraft.
Boeing has offered India its Super Hornet International Road Map, which includes conformal fuel tanks, an enclosed weapons pod and other systems.
  • Saab Gripen IN
The Gripen IN is essentially the Gripen NG, a successor to the Gripen C/D used by the air forces of Sweden, the Czech Republic, Hungary and South Africa.
As with the Super Hornet, the Gripen IN will use a GE F414, potentially creating synergies with the Tejas Mk II. Interestingly, the original Gripen was designed to operate from roads with basic logistics support, under the assumption that in an invasion by a "larger neighbour", the Swedish air force would not have access to airfields.
Saab plays up the affordability of single-engined fighters, its complete openness to technology transfer, and Sweden's practical, common-sense design traditions.
  • Eurofighter Typhoon
"Enthusiastic support" for the Indian government's 50% offset target and technology transfer ambitions are a cornerstone of the Eurofighter bid, says consortium member BAE Systems.
Eurofighter touts the Typhoon's "swing-role" capabilities, which enable the aircraft to perform simultaneous air-to-air and air-to-surface missions. It is also actively wooing India as a full partner in the programme. With that status, India would take a share of future Typhoon sales.
  • RSK MiG-35
Formerly known as the MiG-29OVT, the MiG-35 is touted as a generation 4++ multirole fighter. It can carry a weapons load on nine external stations and is also configurable for use as a tanker.
"Upon customer request, the fighters can be equipped with all-aspect thrust-vectored RD-33MK engines, ensuring superiority in a manoeuvring dogfight," says RSK.
India has been a long-time buyer of Russian aircraft. Many observers see the MiG-35 as an outsider because the Indian air force already operates a number of Russian types, including the Sukhoi Su-30MKI at the heavy end of the fighter spectrum.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Battle royale for India's MMRCA crown

An air show on the scale of next week's Aero India is bound to throw up surprises, but one certainty is a massive push by the six contenders in India's pivotal medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition.
Delegations from Boeing, Dassault, Eurofighter, Lockheed Martin, RSK MiG and Saab will number in the dozens, if not hundreds, and no expense will be spared on chalets, booths, flight simulators and pricey flight demonstrations.
It is hard to overstate the importance of the $10 billion MMRCA competition. With an order of 126 fighters on the cards, and likely follow-on orders, the winning programme could see its life extended well into the next decade. As for the losers, most will end their production runs in the middle of the decade as the world's major air forces enter the era of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.
F-16IN, Lockheed Martin
 © Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin's F-16IN Super Viper has set its sights on India's MMRCA contest
The contenders are diverse. US airframer Boeing is offering its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and arch-rival Lockheed Martin the F-16IN Super Viper - essentially an F-16 Block 60. Sweden's Saab has the Gripen IN, Dassault is seeking its first foreign order for the Rafale, Eurofighter is pitching the Typhoon, and Russia is offering the RSK MiG-35.
Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh's recent appointment diary underlines the stakes. Foreign leaders including UK prime minister David Cameron, French president Nicholas Sarkozy, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev and US president Barack Obama have all trooped to New Delhi recently, intent on building business and defence ties with the subcontinental superpower.
No winner will be announced at the show, however - a shortlist is due to be drawn up in April or May, although some reports suggest this could be delayed until later in the year.
"All the technical evaluations are done," says an industry source. "The next stage will be a downselect some time after the Aero India show. This will determine which aircraft go into contract negotiations."
An already tight and fiercely fought competition could get even messier, however. Another source says there is no fixed number of aircraft for the downselect, and that all six aircraft types could, in theory, advance to the contract negotiation stage. "After Aero India, they will open the commercial envelopes and see who is cheapest," says one executive involved in the competition.
The evaluation process has been long and arduous. An initial tender stipulated 660 requirements, and the first proposals issued by the airframers ran to 5,000-6,000 pages each. Comprehensive field tests of each aircraft were then undertaken, including flying the aircraft - borrowed from various air forces - to India at the manufacturers' expense.
There they were subjected to batteries of tests reflecting India's varied geography of tropical, desert and mountainous regions. Tests took place at Bangalore (a tropical region), Jaisalmer (desert) and the Himalayan air base of Leh, said to be the highest operational air base in the world.
"We spent quite a lot on the tests with no guarantee of a sale," says another executive involved in the race. "That said, the air force got a very good impression of all the aircraft."
MMRCA contenders table
As with any competition on such a scale, the merits of aircraft alone will not determine the winner. Politics will play a part, and that could hurt Boeing and Lockheed.
India's defence ties with the USA are improving rapidly. Long gone are the Cold War days of frosty relations between the two nations, or the chilly ties after India's nuclear tests in 1998. In response to India's help in the war on terror, the then-US president George Bush lifted sanctions in the mid-2000s. In 2008, India purchased six C-130J Hercules aircraft from Lockheed and is considering six more. It has also signed up for eight Boeing P-8I Poseidons and has committed to ordering 10 C-17 strategic transports.
But although impressive in themselves, these orders are small compared with the MMRCA contract. In addition, India's military has not forgotten the sanctions Washington imposed after the 1998 nuclear tests.
One former member of the Indian navy was a junior officer and helicopter pilot at the time of the sanctions. "The US sanctions made a strong impression on us," he says. "They penetrated very deeply. At that time, we had sent some helicopter gearboxes to the UK for repair, but these repairs ceased with the sanctions, and it hurt our operational readiness."
"Operational sovereignty" is a phrase often heard among Indian defence pundits. Although the USA and India have reportedly agreed on the language of an end-use agreement, India has yet to sign the Communications Interoperability and Security Memorandum of Agreement (CISMOA). In theory, this could see key technologies excluded from any F-16 or F/A-18 purchase.
Teal Group analyst Joel Johnson says: "If the Indians want access to top-level US weapons systems, and given that the USA wants to deepen its defence relationship with India, then an agreement will be reached that satisfies US security concerns and lets India save face. The CISMOA could well get another name, but it will in fact be a CISMOA."
Also, many commentators say that although the US vendors make much of interoperability, some Indians see it as an impingement on sovereignty.
"India has its own systems and is proud of them," says one industry source close to the race. "The country is unique, and templates that apply elsewhere simply don't apply there." The source points out that India initiated the Non-Aligned Movement of nations in 1954. "India prides its sovereignty," he adds.
Indeed, Eurofighter and Saab executives stress the operational independence they feel their respective products offer.
On the other hand, both US aircraft have performed well in combat. In terms of joint exercises and training, Indian air force pilots will have the most opportunity to train with pilots from the US Navy, which operates F/A-18s from aircraft carriers that are often on station in the Arabian Sea.
As Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia points out, the Super Hornet comes with theRaytheon APG-79 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. Although other aircraft being pitched have AESA radars, the APG-79 is used by the US Navy, providing an excellent long-term upgrade programme.
Of all the contenders, the MiG-35, essentially an updated MiG-29, is seen as the outsider. Although India has been a long-time buyer of Russian arms, it is now inducting a large fleet of Sukhoi Su-30MKIs in the heavy fighter category. State-owned Hindustan Aeronauticshas built about 100 of a total order of 180 Su-30s, and expects a deal for 42 more.
India also bought 40 Su-30s from Russia as flyaways in 2010. Over-reliance on Russian aircraft hurt the Indian air force's operational readiness in the early 1990s when the Soviet Union collapsed, choking vital spares for India's vast fleet of MiGs.
Apart from aircraft performance capabilities, another crucial element in the MMRCA competition is the offset package. Typically, India seeks offsets of 30% for defence programmes, but for high-value programmes such as this, the figure is 50% as India targets job creation and technology transfer. Only 18 aircraft will come as flyaways, with the remaining 108 produced by HAL.
HAL chairman Ashok Nayak says development of the production capacity required to produce the eventual MMRCA winner is already under way.
"We will have to set up new infrastructure for this," he says. "It will not happen in one of our existing factories, but hopefully will still be in Bangalore." He estimates Hindustan Aeronautics alone will employ 3,500 workers to produce the MMRCA, and it will take about three years to set up the facility.
Hinting at frustration, several MMRCA contenders say the rules governing offsets in India are something of a moving target. Offset rules continue to evolve, mainly because of changing and evolving technologies. Technology transfer is, of course, a critical aspect of the MMRCA competition. One peculiarity, say some race contenders, is that the offsets apply only to the defence sector, rather than the broader aerospace industry.
"They are very new to offsets," says one industry source, who tells the story of one Indian defence specialist relishing the idea of $30 billion in MMRCA offsets. "I reminded him that there will be only $5 billion in offsets, as there can be only one winner. Some of them see the offsets as free money."
Naturally enough, the various suppliers are reluctant to discuss intricate details of their bids, although all insist they comply with India's offset requirements. India's defence ministry is also tight-lipped on how the different aircraft and their offset packages are faring at the evaluation stage. Whatever India's final decision is, the aviation world is unlikely to see a repeat of the two-decade procurement saga of India's BAE Systems Hawk.
Vivek Lall, Boeing's country head for defence, space and security, says the P-8I deal took just two and a half years from India's request for proposals to a decision to purchase the aircraft. "There is a paradigm shift here in terms of embracing technology, and what the world has to offer," says Lall.
Conversations at Aero India 2011 will, inevitably, turn to the MMRCA battle, the biggest jet fighter export deal in history. A heady mix of fighter performance, weapons, technology, offsets, politics and luck will decide which aircraft move on to the next round. All this in a fervid Indian media environment, with reporters desperate to generate "scoops" about the competition.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Coast guard to triple fleet size by 2020


The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) will triple its fleet size from the existing 100 vessels to 300 ships by 2020, ICG Director General Vice Admiral Anil Chopra said here Monday. The maritime security force will also double its aviation wing's strength from the present 50 to 100 aircraft, apart from raising  its manpower to 20,000 personnel from the existing 12,000 in the next one decade.
"We will be tripling our size from the 2008-end levels in this decade, apart from doubling the aircraft fleet and manpower in the period," Vice Admiral Chopra said at an annual press conference on the eve of Coast Guard Day Tuesday.
First, he disclosed, the coast guard would double its ship strength to 200 vessels by 2012. It already has about 160 vessels on orders with Indian shipyards, Chopra said, adding that the increase in strength would be achieved despite some of its older ships being de-commissioned this decade.
He said the government has given its approval for a proposal to buy 30 new helicopters for the coast guard and for leasing eight surveillance helicopters. The leased helicopters would be based in Mumbai, Kochi, Visakhapatnam and Port Blair in Andaman and Nicobar.
"Aviation is a complex business. This is the first time that the defence ministry is leasing helicopters... there are several legal issues that need to be considered and hence the slight delay in the leasing of the helicopters. Any aircraft acquisition takes about two to three years for signing contract and another two to three years before the supplier can deliver," he said.
Vice Admiral Chopra said Hindustan Aeronautics Limited had supplied a helicopter to the coast guard last year. It had been ordered before the 26/11 terror attacks in 2008. Three more helicopters were expected to be supplied by March this year.
The defence ministry has also placed orders for four Dornier patrol aircraft to augment the existing strength of 24 Dorniers. These aircraft were expected to be delivered by April this year.
Also, the government had in 2009 sanctioned acquisition of 12 more aircraft, taking the total strength to 40 Dorniers.
"We have signed a contract to upgrade the systems on the existing 24 Dorniers such as latest surveillance radars and infra-red sensors and automated identification system. These upgraded aircraft will be more capable after being retrofitted," he said.
On the training of coast guard personnel, Chopra said the government had sanctioned construction of an academy to train its officers on the lines of the Naval Academy. Though land had been identified in a couple of places, there were some pros and cons and it was yet to be finalised.
Asked when would the coast guard have a director general from its own cadre, instead of the current practice of appointments from the Navy for the top job, Chopra said the government had recently decided to have an additional director general in the ICG from its own cadre.
"In due course, the government will decide (on appointing ICG cadre officers as its director general)," he added.
Asked about the project to install a coastal surveillance network of radars and why it was moving at a slow pace, Chopra said the task was huge as radars would have to be placed atop 46 lighthouses, but most of these were over 100 years old.
He said the ICG, with help from Indian Institute of Technology and Bharat Electronic Limited, would carry out surveys and study the strength of the structures. "If there is delay due to these efforts, it is fine," he added.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

High sea villains to face Indian law for the first time

For the first time, pirates caught on the high seas will face the Indian law. Fifteen suspected Somali pirates nabbed in a joint operation by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard will be brought to India and tried in an Indian court. They will be handed over to the Yellow Gate police today morning.
The pirates had launched an attack on MV CMA CGM Verdi, a merchant vessel flagged from Bahamas around 10.30 am. The crew spotted two high-speed skiffs approaching the vessel and alerted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) on the IBSAR radio seeking help.
A CG Dornier was flown to the spot. On noticing the aircraft, the skiffs changed direction and moved towards another vessel. The small boats were hoisted aboard another vessel, identified as Prantalay. It was the mother vessel being used by the pirates.
Prantalay tried to escape moving towards the West, but it was intercepted by INS Cankarso, a recently commissioned fast attack aircraft. After a chase of three hours Cankarso finally closed in and tried to establish contact with Prantalay on the international mercantile marine band radio. The crew did not respond.
A warning shot was fired from Cankarso above the bows of Prantalay to make it stop but and its crew started returning fire.
The pirates’ vessel caught fire in the exchange of gun shots. Naval personnel spotted people jumping off Prantaly and rescued them.
Twenty of them were Thai and Myamarese fishermen. They were held hostage on the vessel since April last year when the vessel was hijacked.
Fifteen pirates were also nabbed and taken into custody. A senior defence personnel said there had been several instances where pirate attacks were thwarted but crew members of the vessels asked naval personnel to release the pirates fearing that they would attack them later.
“Moreover, if the attack happens in international waters nothing much can be done against the pirates,’’ he said.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

High sea villains to face Indian law for the first time

For the first time, pirates caught on the high seas will face the Indian law. Fifteen suspected Somali pirates nabbed in a joint operation by the Indian Navy and the Coast Guard will be brought to India and tried in an Indian court. They will be handed over to the Yellow Gate police today morning.
The pirates had launched an attack on MV CMA CGM Verdi, a merchant vessel flagged from Bahamas around 10.30 am. The crew spotted two high-speed skiffs approaching the vessel and alerted the Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre (MRCC) on the IBSAR radio seeking help.
A CG Dornier was flown to the spot. On noticing the aircraft, the skiffs changed direction and moved towards another vessel. The small boats were hoisted aboard another vessel, identified as Prantalay. It was the mother vessel being used by the pirates.
Prantalay tried to escape moving towards the West, but it was intercepted by INS Cankarso, a recently commissioned fast attack aircraft. After a chase of three hours Cankarso finally closed in and tried to establish contact with Prantalay on the international mercantile marine band radio. The crew did not respond.
A warning shot was fired from Cankarso above the bows of Prantalay to make it stop but and its crew started returning fire.
The pirates’ vessel caught fire in the exchange of gun shots. Naval personnel spotted people jumping off Prantaly and rescued them.
Twenty of them were Thai and Myamarese fishermen. They were held hostage on the vessel since April last year when the vessel was hijacked.
Fifteen pirates were also nabbed and taken into custody. A senior defence personnel said there had been several instances where pirate attacks were thwarted but crew members of the vessels asked naval personnel to release the pirates fearing that they would attack them later.
“Moreover, if the attack happens in international waters nothing much can be done against the pirates,’’ he said.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Nuclear attack on India will finish Pakistan, says Brajesh Mishra

Former NSA Brajesh Mishra.
If Pakistan ever uses nuclear weapons against India, it will be finished, says former national security adviser Brajesh Mishra, who has held the office under the Atal Bihari Vajpayee government.

Mishra, awarded Padma Vibhushan last week, was talking to M. J. Akbar, editorial director, India Today on Aaj Tak's Seedhi Baat . He said Pakistan's army, which plays a central role in formulating the country's policies on issues such as Afghanistan, nuclear weapons and India, will never permit peaceful coexistence with India.

On the Pakistan- China relationship, Mishra said the two countries are strategic partners.

"As China changed its stance on Kashmir, I said in next two- three years, we have to be careful on both the fronts. While China, like India, will adhere to the policy of no- first use of nuclear weapons, this cannot be said of Pakistan, but they will be finished if they use weapons against India," he said.

Asked why Vajpayee held talks with Pakistan, including the Agra Summit, if he was aware of such hostility, Mishra said: " I was against the Agra Summit. It was a political decision and I was kept out of it … I had then remarked it will not succeed." He added all Indian PMs have wanted to hold talks with Pakistan.

Akbar then referred to former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf's statement that some people in the Indian government were out to sabotage the talks. " When there was no agreement, how can there be sabotage? The cabinet had decided against the terms of the agreement," Mishra said.

To a question concerning speculations that the former NSA M. K. Narayanan's term was not extended owing to his differences with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh over Pakistan, Mishra said: " Maybe what you are saying is right."