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Monday, June 20, 2011

Giving Realistic Options A Chance

There are several reasons why India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) should be disinclined to approve the proposed ‘limited’ upgrade programme involving the 51 Dassault Aviation-built Mirage 2000H/TH multi-role combat aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force (IAF). Firstly, there is the issue of the techno-economic matrix, meaning whether or not the high expenditure to be incurred is justified. To understand this, one has to note that the term ‘limited’ upgrade excludes the option of re-engining the aircraft. In addition, there are to be no airframe modifications, no changes to major aircraft systems, no modification to equipment bays, limited cockpit modifications, and minimum retrofit line-modification facilities/activities. This would mean that even if the Mirage 2000H/THs are to receive a brand-new open-architecture mission/cockpit avionics suite and see their airframes being refurbished and re-lifed to stay in airworthy condition for the next 20 years, they still will not be able to remain flyable till 2038 (due to the 35-year guaranteed service-life warranty issued by Dassault Aviation) simply because the existing SNECMA Moteurs-built M53P2 turbofans would have reached the end of their certified total technical service lives (TTSL) by 2029.

This then brings us to the issue of costs. As is now known, THALES has refused to reduce its quotation of Rs96.4 billion (US$2.1 billion) for the ‘limited’ upgrade programme of the IAF’s Mirage-2000 fleet. The MoD considers this price—Rs1.96 billion ($41 million) per aircraft—unacceptably high, given that the engines will not be changed. THALES, as prime contractor has reportedly offered to deliver the first two upgraded aircraft from its facilities in France within 40 months of signing, while it will help Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) upgrade two more aircraft in India to gain familiarity. Thereafter, HAL would upgrade one aircraft every month, for 47 months. Initially, THALES had quoted $2.9 billion), which it brought down to the current level of $2.1 billion after the IAF diluted its upgrade requirements. The IAF had floated a request for proposal (RFP) for undertaking the ‘limited’ upgrade in April 2008, to which THALES had replied in July 2008. Interestingly, the IAF refused to even consider an alternative option offered by a joint team of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and HAL under which each of the Mirage 2000H/THs can be upgraded for only Rs520 million ($11.5 million). The reason being given by the IAF: a policy decision taken almost a decade ago by the MoD to appoint only the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM)—like Dassault Aviation and THALES in case of the Mirage 2000—as prime contractors for all aircraft upgrade programmes—be they ‘limited’ or ‘deep’ in terms of the scope of work. But if this is indeed the case, then how come the MoD had appointed HAL as the prime contractor when carrying out the Limited Upgrade Sea Harrier (LUSH) programme (codenamed Project Tiger) for 14 BAE Systems-built Sea Harrier carrier-based V/STOL combat aircraft between March 2005 and December 2009? And why was the DARIN-2 mission avionics upgrade programme for the IAF’s fleet of Jaguar IS/IM interdictor/strike aircraft carried out jointly by HAL and the DRDO in the late 1990s without appointing BAE Systems as the prime contractor? And what about the limited upgrade programme involving the IAF’s MiG-27M strike aircraft, which too was carried out jointly by HAL and the DRDO without any participation by Russia’s United Aircraft Corp? And if one is to safely assume that over the years both HAL and the DRDO have acquired the core technological competencies (thanks to the investments made in the Tejas LCA’s R & D effort) required for indigenously designing and developing open-architecture mission/cockpit avionics suites meant for both Europe-origin and Russia-origin combat aircraft, then why is HAL being prevented from being appointed as the prime contractor for the Mirage 2000 upgrade programme, especially when it is the French themselves who are now ‘advising’ the IAF to instead invest the huge sums of money (earmarked for the ‘limited’ upgrade) in the forthcoming M-MRCA procurement effort?

There is also another point to be noted: for reasons best known to them, both Dassault Aviation and THALES have, over the past decade, failed to offer a range of ‘limited’ upgrade options for the Mirage 2000—more than 600 of which have been built for nine air forces worldwide. One would like to believe that companies like Dassault Aviation, THALES and Sagem Défense Sécurité would be actively promoting their respective aircraft service life extension/avionics suite upgrade packages to countries like Brazil (with 10 ex-French Air Force Mirage 2000Cs and two Mirage-2000Bs), Egypt (16 single-seat Mirage-2000Ms and four tandem-seat Mirage-2000BMs), France (87 Mirage-2000Cs, 30 Mirage 2000Bs, 75 Mirage-2000Ns, 37 Mirage 2000-5F, and 86 Mirage-2000Ds, Greece (36 single-seat Mirage 2000EGs and four tandem-seat Mirage-2000 2000BGs and 15 Mirage 2000-5 Mk2s), India (52 Mirage-2000Hs and seven Mirage-2000THs), Peru (10 Mirage-2000Ps and two Mirage-2000DPs), Qatar (nine Mirage-2000-5EDAs and three Mirage-2000-5DDAs), Taiwan (48 Mirage-2000-5EIs and 12 Mirage-2000-5DIs), and the United Arab Emirates (22 Mirage-2000EADs, eight Mirage-2000RADs, six Mirage-2000DADs, 20 Mirage-2000-9s and 12 Mirage-2000-9Ds).  However, it is the opposite that holds true.

As far back as early 2007 both Dassault Aviation and THALES had a golden opportunity to offer a new-generation mission/cockpit avionics suite for prospective Mirage 2000 upgrade programmes when  the French Centre d'Experiences Aeriennes Militaires (CEAM, or Military Aerial Experimentation Center) and the CEV flight-test center in Cazaux, southwest France, modified a Mirage 2000 B501 to flight-qualify the combination of the THALES-built Radar à Balayage Electronique-2 (RBE-2) AESA-MMR and the Optronique Secteur Frontal (OSF) infra-red search-and-track (IRST) sensor for eventual fitment into the Rafale M-MRCA. If at that time THALES had taken a decision to develop lower-cost derivatives of both the RBE-2 and OSF as viable retrofit options (like what Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and IAI/ELTA Systems are now doing with the SABR, RACR and EL/M-2052 AESA-MMRs and what SELEX Galileo is doing with the Skyward IRST sensor) for the Mirage 2000, then THALES today would have been in an enviable position, especially in India. Since this has not happened, it makes little sense for the IAF now to opt for a mission avionics package that uses a RDY-2 X-band multifunction Doppler radar with a mechanically scanning antenna and which is devoid of an IRST sensor.

A far better option, therefore, could see the IAF selecting a package co-offered by HAL and IAI that would comprise a fully integrated but open-architecture mission avionics suite (integrated by the Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment, or DARE) to include a new-generation mission computer; AESA-MMR; an IRST sensor; helmet-mounted display (HMD); two-way airborne data-links for communicating with friendly combat aircraft, AEW & C platforms and unmanned aerial vehicles; an integrated defensive aids suite (IDAS) that includes a combined radar/missile approach warning system, countermeasures dispenser, and an internal self-protection jammer; an air-to-air/air-to-ground software-defined radio system that harnesses the power of its distinctive automatic routing and relay capabilities to offer extended range, while offering video, voice and data simultaneously at an exceptionally high data rate; a laser designator pod; tactical reconnaissance pod; and escort jamming pod. Structurally, the aircraft’s weapons pylons could be modified to accept triple-ejector racks capable of launching precision-guided munitions (PGM) like the 125kg/250kg AASM (from the France-based Sagem Défense Sécurité subsidiary of the SAFRAN Group) laser-/GPS-/imaging infra-red sensor-equipped standoff munition, small-diameter laser-guided bombs, and CBU-105 sensor-fuzed weapons from Textron Systems. As far as the X-band AESA-based MMR goes, the EL/M-2052 would be the ideal choice, while the IRST sensor could be SELEX Galileo of Italy’s 55kg Skyward. The HMD could come from Elbit Systems. HAL could supply the RAM-1701AS radio altimeter, TACAN-2901AJ and DME-2950A tactical air navigation system combined with the ANS-1100A VOL/ILS marker, CIT-4000A Mk12 IFF transponder, COM-1150A UHF standby comms radio, UHF SATCOM transceiver, and the SDR-2010 SoftNET four-channel software-defined radio (working in VHF/UHF and L-band for voice and data communications), and the Bheem-EU brake control/engine/electrical monitoring system, all of which have been developed in-house by the Hyderabad-based Strategic Electronics R & D Centre of HAL. The open-architecture IDAS, which has been under joint development by DARE and Germany-based Cassidian since 2006, would include the AAR-60(V)2 MILDS F missile approach warning system, the EW management computer and Tarang Mk3 radar warning receiver (developed by DARE and built by Bharat Electronics Ltd), and  countermeasures dispenser built by Bharat Dynamics Ltd. Contenders for supplying the pod-mounted escort jammer could include IAI/ELTA with its ELL-8251, and RAFAEL’s Skyshield. For self-protection, Elettronica of Italy’s Virgilius family of directional jammers (as part of the IDAS suite), which make use of active phased-array transmitters for jamming hostile low-band (E-G) and high-band (G-J) emitters, could be installed. For tactical strike missions, the Mirage 2000 could be equipped with the Litening-3 LDP and RecceLite tactical reconnaissance pod—both built by RAFAEL.

There is also an urgent need by the MoD to take a final call on the proposed ‘deep’ upgrade package for up to 100 MiG-27Ms, which has been under consideration since 2006. Under this proposal, HAL and the DRDO will be supplying an open-architecture mission/cockpit avionics package similar to the DARIN-3 package already developed by HAL and the DRDO for the 120 to-be-re-engined Jaguar IS interdictors. On the other hand, United Aircraft Corp along with HAL and MMPP Salyut will re-engine the MiG-27Ms with the 99-30S turbofan, which is derived from the NPO Saturn-built AL-31FP turbofan already powering the IAF’s Su-30MKIs. The 99-30S turbofan offers increased thrust (1 ton more than the existing Klimov R29B-300), is lighter by 200kg, and offers fuel savings of up to 15%.—Prasun K. Sengupta


Anonymous said...

Agree with just does not make sense to spend so much on 25-30 yr old airframes; better to get more 24+ Rafales (at $85 million each ??).
(and, also the upgrade timeframe seems quite long - 9 years !!! that means by the time the upgrades are thru the airframes will be 35+ yrs old )

Unless, the IAF knows something that we all don't know !!!

Heard that the Mig-27 UPG for the balance 60 odd a/ NOT going to just too many issues with the a/c.

Anonymous said...

Kindly share your opinion on the following article, with specific reference to the equipment being provided to Pakistan by America

Anonymous said...

An excellent article. Must be given a serious thought.

sachin_sathe said...


MoD is not known to take practical solutions & implement them on timely mannwer.Thus, MoD wasting time on the upg programs for 5 yrs is hardly a surprise.

True, the M2k upg would hav been a much better with IAI's involvement along with DARE. It aslo could hav been done a lot quicker!!!!

What are the Mig-27M deep upg?Does it give the a/c the ability to use weapons like griffin-3 lgbs or the CBU-105 SFW?

will the jag re-engining prg be done under FMS now that it is in a single vendor state as the BAE has withdrawn?

Can u if possible post more on IAF's choice of the basic trainer? Is it the Pilatus PC-7 mk2 or PC-9?

Anonymous said...

Hi Prasun,
What exactly the US defence companies gained by pushing for an bilateral 10-years Defence Framework signed on 28 June 2005 b/w india and the US?
What was the strategic objective?
What was their requirement to prtner India?
Bcoz as per news reports, now they are going back on their promise of clean exemption for India for importing Enrichiment and reprocessing technologies .
They must be very angry (MMRCA decision perhaps?

Then did anything intrest you in the wikileaks revelations abt US policies?

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Anon@11.48AM: The hardware being provided are all COMINT gear aimed at intercepting terrestrial wireless communications in support of special operations forces. Nothing of any military significance.

To Sachin Sathe: Even in a single-vendor situation it is possible to proceed with contract signature. The deal, however, will not be under the FMS scheme since FMS applies to only those hardware that are already operational with the US armed forces. With regard to the MiG-27M's deep upgrade, yes it will be possible to integrate any kind of PGMs as the mission avionics suite will be of the open-architecture type. As regards the IAF's basic turboprop trainer, it is the Pilatus PC-7 Mk2 (already in service with the Royal Malaysian Air Force), and not the PC-9/Texan-2 nor the PC-21. The PC-7 Mk2 is an excellent cost-effective option, if selected for procurement.

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Anon@8.21PM: The strategic objective of the bilateral 10-year Defence Framework signed on 28 June 2005 was very simple: to act as an enabler for the US military-industrial complex to engage and cooperate with its Indian counterpart towards meeting the force modernisation reqmts of the Indian armed forces. The US knew all too well that the Indian armed forces were keen to replace some key military hardware procured from the erstwhile USSR, and the US also wanted to ensure that India's emerging military-industrial complex had a very strong Western (i.e. North American or European or Scandinavian or Israeli) foundation when it came to R & D work on new-generation weapon systems. You're already seeing all that happen now, be it with the Tejas LCA, or the LCH, or the IAC, or the Arjun Mk2 or nano-satellites for reconnaissance. Eventually, the DRDO-initiated BMD programme too will follow suit.
As for the 'clean' exemption for India for importing enrichiment and reprocessing technologies, it applies only if the facilities to be set up within India are done under IAEA auspices and as a joint venture with existing nuclear energy institutions based in the US, Europe or Russia.

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Anon@8.21PM: As for the wikileaks revelations about US policies, what they only demonstrate and reveal is that the US is an avid practioner of the tenets of grand geo-strategy as propogated by the likes of Chanakya/Kautilya and Zhuge Liang thousands of years ago. It is a sad irony that India does not do so likewise.

buddha said...

is there any news of F-35 brought into MMRCA scenario
read it in a blog

can India consider 100 F-35 customized version ...if it provides full ToT and no restrictions;;as india's strength is depleting thick and fast regarding china

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To buddha: That is an impossibility. The F-35 will not enter the M-MRCA competition. Regarding China the threat to India is not from the PLAAF as of now.

sachin_sathe said...


the intent to go for PC-7mk2 indicates tht IAF is not looking for an armed turboprop trainer. Does tht mean Hawk mk132 will take the weapons training & in some cases COIN duties(if req)? If so the wht abt HJT-36? tht prg seems to be stuck. any updates?

The is IAF's decision to go for DERBY AAM on LCA an indication tht the eventual AESA radar for Tejas mk2 will be EL\M 2052 or a variant there off?

There are indications tht IAF may acquire more than 16(10+6) C-17's wht does tht mean for IL-76 in IAF?
will they be scrapped or used as spares for the A-50EI fleet?

the intent on the ssbn project seems to be to use arihant as a teck-demo cum evaluation cum development platform. Does this mean tht the real SSBN is atleast a decade off & the 2 follow-on boats are actualy SSGN's which will be used in strategic role till it arrives. U said tht the new quing class ssk is better than scorpene as it has AIP how quickly is it possibble for IN to go for AIP & implement it if possible on scorpene class ssk? also can AIP added to Kilo class ssk?

Anonymous said...

pilatus PC-7 is a bloody 1960s plane... Antonia Maino's bank a/c gonna fatten

Anonymous said...

Hi Prasun,

News reports of the US may re-enter MMRCA race and offering F-35 to IAF.
Your take on that .
How did this come about, and possible reactions on our side.

Why is the Senate Armed Services Committee of the US is pushing the Defense Department to offer India the high-tech F-35 stealth fighter as per news reports?

Do they want to make it look like they are desperate for the order to massage the Indian ego?

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Sachin Sathe: The IAF never wanted an armed basic turboprop trainer. And no one in India has ever called for such aircraft to be used for COIN operations. For COIN operations armed aeroscout-type helicopters are always the best option. The HJT-36 IJT and Hawk Mk132 LIFT will be entrusted with the task of imparting training on weapons employment and cockpit systems/mission avionics management. The HJT-36 IJT’s flight certification schedule was disrupted due to delayed availability of the AL-55I turbofan and the loss earlier this year of one of the two flying prototypes. Therefore, until HAL is given funds by the MoD to replace this loss by building another flying prototype, the HJT-36’s flight certification will be further delayed by another two years, at least. As of now for the Tejas Mk2 the EL/M-2052 AESA-MMR is the frontrunner. The IL-76MDs are already undergoing a second LIFEX (airframe life extension programme) and will be retired before the end of this decade. Regarding SSBNs, thus far orders have been placed for only two Arihant-type vessels. Irregardless of how many such vessels may be procured, credible and demonstrable sea-based survivable nuclear deterrence will be achieved only AFTER the DRDO succeeds in developing an 8,500km-range SLBM, a task unlikely to be achieved over the next five years. No AIP modules will go on any of the six Scorpene SSKs or four Class/Type 1500 SSKs, nor will the Type 877EKM Kilo-class SSKs receive any AIP modules. The Indian Navy’s six SSKs to be procured under Project 75I will be the first vessels to have fuel cell-based AIP modules.

To Anon@7.26PM: There’s a huge difference between the PC-7 and the PC-7 Mk2. The latter also comes with cockpit procedures trainers and flight simulators of the type already operational with the Royal Brunei Air Forces.

To Anon@9.53PM: The F-35 JSF is highly unlikely to be even considered for the IAF’s M-MRCA competition, simply because of the M-MRCA’s induction timeframe. Instead, what is happening is that Lockheed Martin is now positioning itself to market the F-35 for the Indian Navy’s IAC-2 aircraft carrier programme, whose designing will get underway after 2015. And that is also the reason why during Aero India 2011 last February Eurofighter GmbH was for the first time promoting a carrier-based variant of the EF-2000 equipped with CFTs.

Austin said...

Prasun nice write up , the Mig-27 upgrade with Russian Engine will not go further as the IAF will maintain 4- 60 odd aircraft with limited DARE upgrade and then replace this with MMRCA or Tejas Mk2.

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Austin: The M-MRCAs from 2015will first be replacing the MiG-21Ms and MiG-21 Bisons. The Tejas Mk2 MAY BE available from 2016. By that time the IAF's effective combat aircraft strength will be down to 26 squadrons. Purely due to circumstances, the IAF now has no choice but to begin re-engining the MiG-27Ms--an argument that even certain quarters within IAF HQ are now supportive of and it is this very lobby that's opposed to the cost-prohibitive upgrade of the Mirage 2000s.

Anonymous said...

Interesting article with many technical inputs.

However, by always supporting Israeli cause or offering solutions from blacklisted companies, your credibility could be seriously called into question...

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

Nothing lasts forever, as the sages once said. Blacklistings, therefore, are temporary and are not in perpetuity. And what kind of 'Israeli cause' are you accusing me of supporting? Is it wrong to voice support for a cost-effective solution? If that's the case, then how exactly would you define an 'objective cause'?

Heberian said...

Hi Prasun,

Just finished reading this post, and the comments. Your reference to Zhuge Liang brought a smile to my face :)

Apart from a few ex R&AW/ NTRO folks, the newere generation dont know much about our neighbours. Their learning is limited to Mandarin and Cantonese with no other dialects like Teochew or Hokkien or Hokchew at all, and very little in terms of ancient Chinese thought, and the influence it has on the Zhongnanhai inhabitants. Its a sad state of affairs that our folks have let this decay set in... while Beijing even has a Tamil radio channel with regular broadcasts in putonghua accented, but otherwise excellent classical Tamil.

We dont learn from our ancient thoughts/ history/ mistakes and dont learn from our neighbours, except talk rot about how we WERE great.. or are going to have a comprehensive BMD in place..

Would you know if our intelligence apparatus has started working on their Chinese skills at all?