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Thursday, June 21, 2012

Clearing The Mist On India’s Small Turbofan R & D Efforts & Updates On T-90S MBT Upgrade

Since 2007, there’s been intense speculation by several India-based bloggers/journalists about the kind of turbofan-based powerplants being developed for both strategic and multi-role tactical weapon systems, when all it takes to get to the truth is to have an honest chat with the Ministry of Defence-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL) Bengaluru-based Engine Test Bed Research & Development Centre (ETBRDC), and with the DRDO’s Bengaluru-based Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), which is exactly what I did. And here are the results:

1) HAL has developed a turbofan (see HAL's officially released data below) for powering a strategic cruise missile (supposed to be the air-launched and submarine-launched Nirbhay) as well as a tactical cruise missile, which, if developed by the DRDO, will have performance parameters similar to the Taurus KEPD-350 CALCM. This turbofan, which will also be powering a cruise missile simulating drone, is presently undergoing its flight certification tests under the guidance and supervision of CEMILAC. Therefore, it is high time all speculation ends on the Nirbhay missile being powered by ducted-fans, prop-fans or turboprops!!! And by the way, the ETBRDC is also close to commissioning an engine testbed centre in Sulur for the first squadron of the IAF’s Tejas Mk1 MRCAs. This testbed is capable of measuring engine thrusts up to 150kN. The ETBRDC will also be developing both the starter-engine for the FGFA and Tejas Mk2, as well as the APU for the FGFA and Tejas Mk2. 
2) GTRE, with the help of Russia’s NPO Saturn, is developing the ‘Laghu Shakthi’ turbofan (below) for a MALE-UAV now being developed by the DRDO. This is in response to an IAF requirement for a single turbofan-powered MALE-UAV capable of operating over mountainous areas—a task which cannot be optimally performed by piston-engined UAVs like the Nishant, Searcher Mk1/2 and Heron-1. The Indian Navy too has evinced deep interest in this R & D programme, especially since its piston-engined MALE-UAVs like the Searcher Mk2 and Heron-1 cannot operate from India’s island-based territories due to adverse wind conditions. A turbofan-powered MALE-UAV, on the other hand, will face no such limitations. 

Lastly, I’m glad to report that user-trials of a T-90S MBT equipped with IRDE-developed and BEL-built (see below) commander’s panoramic sight and driver’s uncooled thermal imager (derived from that developed for the Arjun Mk1A MBT) have just gotten underway. If all goes well, then these two items will be retrofitted on to both the first 310 T-90S MBTs acquired for the Indian Army just about a decade ago, as well as on 1,000 T-72M1 MBTs that are due to undergo a deep upgrade. For both MBT-types, VRDE has already developed the APU, which too is now undergoing user-trials.

The Russia-supplied T-90S MBTs originally came with the 1A43 fire-control computer, 1G46 gunner’s laser rangefinder, IV528-2 digital ballistics computer (comprising BV-1 and BV-2 modules), 1V216-M1 correction input device, 1PM-96MT ESSA gunner’s thermal imaging sight (now being produced by the Dehru Dun-based Opto-Electronics Factory of the MoD-owned OFB), and the commander’s T01-K04 sighting/night vision system using the PK-5 stabilised sight-mounting.
The CVRDE-upgraded prototype of the T-90S has done away with the T01-K04 and substitutes it with the IRDE-developed and BEL-built commander’s panoramic sight (which houses a SAGEM-built MATIS-STD thermal imager operating in the 3-5 micron bandwidth), which has resulted in enhanced static visibility levels for both the gunner and commander. 
In addition, the IV528-2 digital ballistics computer has given way to an indigenous solution developed by TATA Power Strategic Electronics Division, while the IRDE-developed driver’s uncooled thermal imaging night sight has replaced the TVN-5 night-vision device. 
Furthermore, a DEAL-developed MMW-based IFF system has been installed for enhancing the MBT crew’s situational awareness. 
Lastly, the T-90S’ track-wraps have been indigenised by AMW-MGM Forgings Pvt Ltd, which has also developed tracks with metal/rubber-brushed parallel pin-jointed gearings, stamped track-links adapted to accept rubber pads, with steel needles on the track-pins providing conductivity and picking up static electricity from rubber-brushed pin-jointed gearings during movement. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

China’s Latest Weapons For Export Shown At Eurosatory 2012

NORINCO of China showcased two of its latest products for the export market at the recently concluded EUROSATORY 2012 expo in France. The MBT-3000 has been touted as hosting a digital vectronics suite, carries 38 rounds of 125mm ammunition (including 22 in an armoured autoloader carousel) with a loading speed of eight rounds per minute. The MBT’s gunner and commander are provided with second-generation cooled thermal imagers, while the driver uses an uncooled thermal imager. The 1,300hp powerpack uses a water-cooled turbocharged electronically-controlled diesel engine. In the years to come, once can safely expect the Al Khalid Mk2 MBT to be an exact replica of the MBT-3000.
The second NORINCO product displayed in scale-model form at EUROSATORY 2012 was the Sky Dragon MR-SAM system, which is an export variant of the LY-80E MR-SAM system.
Now, notice how similar the design of the Sky Dragon’s four-cell MR-SAM erector/launcher (above) is to that of the Babur LACM’s three-cell erector/launcher (below). As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words!!!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Eurosatory 2012 Highlights

Israel Aerospace Industries’ ELTA Systems has unveilled its EL/M-2138T ‘Green Rock’ Tactical Counter Rockets, Artillery & Mortars (C-RAM) weapon locating radar for supporting a variety of ground forces missions, including force protection, fast response to enemy-attack and friendly-fire correction. Installed on all-terrain vehicles (ATV), the system comprises a dual-band radar system to acquire and track trajectories of ballistic munitions such as MBRL rockets, field artillery projectiles and mortar rounds. The EL/M-2138T calculates the launching point and predicts the point of impact. Whenever a threat to friendly forces is detected, a warning is sent to the area’s control centre and to the interception systems to respond to the threat and its source/s.
The Leopard 2 MBT's design never ceases to evolve! This should serve as a valuable lesson worthy of emulation for the CVRDE when it comes to the Arjun Mk2 MBT.     
Elbit Systems has launched the Clip-On Coyote (above), a modular un-cooled sight that easily integrates in front of any sniper’s rifle telescope. Weighing less than 1.7kg, the Clip-On Coyote enables shooting ranges on accurate calibres for snipers for more than 1,000 metres, cutting-edge thermal imagery quality, detection range of 2.5km and more than 8 hours of continuous operations. Specially designed for team operations, the system also offers a Video Net Kit for team efficiency. Comprised of video recording, transferring and receiving capabilities, the kit has also the ability to connect several snipers to the same net, enabling them to share and coordinate mission data. It also provides enhanced command and control and advanced monitoring and investigating capabilities.
Below is the Artemis 30 air-defence cannon from Greece’s Hellenic Defence Systems, which is now the only system left in the fray after the Skyranger/Skyshield 35 deom Rheinmetall Air Defence (formerly Oerlikon Contraves has been disqualified by the MoD. However, the future prospects of the Artemis 30—being promoted by Bharat Electronic s Ltd--in India is also in grave doubt now, since Abhishek Verma’s Ganton Ltd is also enmeshed with Hellenic Defence Systems. Which in turn means bidding ‘goodbye’ for good to the procurement of gun-based air-defence systems for the Army, Navy & IAF, and instead going ahead with the procurement of only missile-based VSHORADS/MANPADS and SHORADS solutions. The other option is to procure from Russia some 500 ZU-23-2 guns and have them upgraded in a manner similar to what will be done to the Army's existing 468 ZU-23-2s, for which Punj Lloyd and an industrial partnership of OFB/BEL are competiting for the upgrade contract.
Anyway, the talk of the town here at EUROSATORY 2012 is the utter intellectual backwardness of the Indian Army, which is very aptly being described as an institution “preparing for third-generation warfare (conventional conflicts) with a World War-2 mindset”. Take for instance, the sheer ineptitude with which the Indian Army prepares its GSQRs. Since September 2010, no less than 41 RFPs have been issued and nullified due to faulty GSQRs, stringent GSQRs, faulty vendor analysis prior to issuing the RFPs, and deficiencies in defining & fine-tuning ToT issues by deliberately keeping the Army’s Master General Ordnance (MGO) Branch out of the competitive tendering processes. On average, Army HQ takes several years to draft a GSQR, a task that ought to be completed within two years. Next, instead of taking just a month to draft the RFP, it takes nine months. Subsequently, the technical evaluation of the RFPs, which ought to be concluded within a 3-month period, instead takes six months. Finally, the subsequent General Staff evaluation, which ought to be wrapped up within 7 months, is instead concluded by the 18th month.
To top it all up, there is the regressive mindset that is now being witnessed in the forthcoming competition for 155mm/52-cal howitzers. For instance, the Indian Army, instead of focussing on just mounted gun systems (MGS) like motorised and tracked self-propelled howitzers that can be air-transported by platforms like the C-130J-30, C-17A and IL-76MD, is instead hell-bent upon acquiring 1,580 new-build 155mm/52-cal towed gun systems (TGS) and only 800+ motorised MGS. The second issue that irks many is the Army’s strange and unexplainable mindset which believes that motorised howitzers are more expensive than the TGS, which requires a separate tow-truck and is therefore far more expensive than a motorised MGS.
Coming to the TGS competition, the principal bidders are expected to be the TRAJAN (a towed version of the Caesar) that is being proposed by prime contractor Nexter Systems of France and its Indian industrial partner Larsen & Toubro, the FH-77B05L52 from the Mahindra Defence Systems/BAE Systems consortium, and the ATHOS-2052 from prime contractor ELBIT Systems (which now owns Soltam Systems) and its Indian industrial partner, the Kalyani Group. Both TGS contenders have been invited for competitive mobility-cum-firing trials on a no-cost no-commitment basis, which are expected to be held between this December and next June. It remains to be seen whether or not the FH-77B05L52 will take part in the trials. RFPs for the motorised MGS and for upgrading the existing M-46 field guns to 155mm/45-cal standard have yet to be issued, although RFIs were issued two years ago!
Which then brings us to the future of the inventory of existing 39-cal FH-77B TGS. Depending on whom to believe, it would seem that the MoD’s OFB-/BEL-developed 155X45 proposal for an upgrade package that will transform the existing FH-77B into a 155mm/45-cal howitzer will have to be subjected to competitive trials against the re-engineered GHN-45 155mm/45-cal TGS now being developed by the Kalyani Group with the help of ELBIT Systems. The moot question here is: can India afford to have such cost-prohibitive competitions involving local military-industrial entities on a no-cost no-commitment basis, or should a well thought-out market segmentation procedure be practiced in the interests of deriving win-win solutions within the shortest possible timeframe? 
My formula for success would be as follows: scrap the requirement for acquiring 1,580 new-build 155mm/52-cal TGS and instead authorise the OFB/BEL consortium to upgrade all existing 360 FH-77Bs to the 155X45-standard, and also authorise the Kalyani Group/ELBIT Systems industrial partnership to upgrade up to 800 M-46s to 155mm/45-cal standard, and procure at least 1,600 motorised MGS, preferably that version of the Caesar that can be air-transported even by C-130J-30s. 

Monday, June 4, 2012

Games being Played Along India’s Eastern Seaboard

What else could one expect from a hyperventilating news broadcast channel last week (see: & other than sheer ill-informed and misguided revelations about the US Navy’s 7th Fleet trying to gain a firm foothold in Bangladesh. That broadcast journalism has hit a new low is no longer in doubt, but what is far more worrisome is the attitude of certain self-styled India-based ‘strategic experts’ to justify the purpoted US presence-to-be inside Bangladesh’s territorial waters as being a counter-balance to an alleged military presence of the People’s Republic of China inside Myanmar. To say the least, the facts say otherwise. Here’s what the issue is all about.     
Given the need to demarcate the maritime boundaries of Bangladesh and Myanmar without any further delay, Dhaka in October 2009 brought the issue before the International Tribunal for Arbitration, having exhausted all attempts to reach a bilateral agreement with Yangon. Consequently, Bangladesh was recently awarded 111,000 square kilometres of exclusive economic zone (EEZ) waters in the Bay of Bengal, almost the same size of Bangladesh, which includes all sea-based resources currently available for exploitation (especially oil and gas) and all such resources that may be discovered in the future. The Tribunal also awarded Bangladesh a 12-mile territorial sea around St Martin's Island, overruling Myanmar’s argument that it should be divided in half. The judgment is final and without appeal, with Bangladesh winning by 21 votes to 1. The biggest advantage for Bangladesh that is likely to stem from this judgment is that it will now be able to utilise the area that had been in dispute for the last 38 years. But in the absence of any bilateral agreement between the two countries clearly delimiting their maritime boundaries, what factors pushed the two governments toward a judicial solution? It was the strong likelihood of newly accessible gas and heightening demand in both countries that eventually motivated Bangladesh and Myanmar to pursue a solution through international arbitration, since the demand for natural gas in Bangladesh is immense, and the country’s acute power crisis has also emerged as a burning political issue. For Myanmar, demand for gas in the export markets has motivated the government to export more gas in order to gain greater foreign reserves.
Bangladesh has also gained several other important economic benefits from this verdict. Firstly, the government can now start drilling for oil and gas 200 nautical miles out to sea. The discovery of new oil and gas may help the country meet its domestic power demands, and the government could also generate capital by allocating blocks to international companies (especially US-, UK- and China-based) for further exploration. Secondly, Bangladesh will now be able to access different types of perishable marine and mineral resources, which should help strengthen its economy. Dhaka is also expected to find various types of minerals, including cobalt, manganese, copper, nickel and sulfite. Thirdly, this verdict will help increase the number of skilled workers capable of extracting much-needed resources from the sea. This issue has already been discussed between Bangladesh’s Foreign and Education ministries, which have agreed to open oceanography departments at Dhaka and Chittagong Universities. Fourthly, these developments could also help Bangladesh win the maritime dispute with India, which concerns the western side of the Bay of Bengal. India is insisting on the principle of equidistance instead of equality in demarcating the maritime boundary. The verdict on this dispute is expected to be handed down by 2014 through international arbitration.
Set against this background, what could the US possibly stand to gain from Bangladesh, apart from the expected lucrative offshore hydrocarbons exploration contracts? For one, the US is well aware that in the years to come the Bay of Bengal will indeed witness a naval arms race of sorts between India and China. India is already on record for having specified that its eastern seaboard will house the naval establishments required for supporting her survivable nuclear deterrent, i.e. the fleet of SSBNs and associated SSNs. For both the US and China, therefore, logic demands that the navies of both countries seek and develop suitable shore-based naval logistics infrastructure aimed at monitoring the envisaged growth of India’s nuclear-powered undersea warfare platforms. Between the US and China, it was the latter that took the first logical step forward, when in August 2011 saw Myanmar officially inviting China to develop logistics facilities for visiting PLA Navy (PLAN) flotillas at the existing port in in Kyaukpyu in the Bay of Bengal. The ultimate intention behind the creation of such naval logistics infrastructure is to provide support for the PLAN’s warships, ballistic missile tracking vessels and oceanographic survey vessels, that will be engaged in persistently monitoring India’s sea trials for its SSBNs, SSNs and SLBMs along the Bay of Bengal and southern Indian Ocean, and also for  providing protection for Beijing’s expanding offshore oil-and-gas exploration facilities in the Bay of Bengal. This was reportedly the main topic of discussion between Myanmar’s recently-elected President Thein Sein and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao when the former visited Beijing between May 26 and 28 last year on his first official overseas visit. The strategic port of Kyaukpyu, a multi-billion dollar project totally financed by China, will house a network of pipelines which, after being commissioned in 2013, will have the capacity to transfer to Yunnan Province more than 80% of China’s imported oil from the Middle East and Africa, as well as natural gas from the Shwe Gas Field--currently Myanmar’s largest gas reserve with an estimated 7.0 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It may be recalled that Yangon chose to sell the natural gas from Shwe to China over India in 2007, a move that consolidated Myanmar’s position as a valued ally of Beijing. The Kyaukpyu project includes upgrading the existing airport on Ramree Island where Kyaukpyu is located.
It is also believed that the PLAN will also make use of Kyaukpyu for providing logistics support for a new generation of ocean-going intelligence-gathering vessels. The first such vessel, the Uranus (No853), was last August commissioned into the PLAN’s South Sea Fleet. The PLAN also intends to deploy its new-build ocean surveillance catamarans being built at Guangzhou’s Huangpu Shipyard. The first three such vessels (991, 992 and 993) are presently in service with the North Sea Fleet, while the fourth vessel will be deployed with the South Sea Fleet. These vessels will lead the flotilla of marine exploration vessels which China will soon be dispatching after having obtained a deep-sea mining licence in central Indian Ocean (Southwestern Indian Ridge) from the International Seabed Authority (ISA). The State-run China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association had applied for the licence in May 2010 to explore for polymetallic sulphides in the Southwest Indian Ridge. It would now be required to sign a contract with the ISA, allowing it to explore up to 10,000 sq km over the next 15 years in line with the new rules on polymetallic sulphides adopted by the ISA last year. China, which has ratified the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention and is an ISA member, has been active in deep sea exploration since 2002 when it launched a programme that included developing an active diving submersible—Jiaolong--designed for a maximum depth of 7,000 metres.

The US strategy is plain and simple: it too, like China, has an overriding need to monitor India’s sea-based nuclear weapons-related developments, and what better than to do this under the guise of conducting perfectly legal offshore oil/gas exploration activities within Bangladesh’s EEZ. After all, all that the US will be required to deploy will be a fleet of no more than three non-militarised ocean surveillance vessels and two EP-3-type airborne ELINT aircraft, for which all that the US will require will be a ‘civilian’ shore-based logistics station that includes a runway, all of which can be built within a short span of time at Bangladesh’s St Martin’s Island. For tracking the sea-trials of India’s SSBNs and SSNs, both the US Navy and the Royal Navy will be able to deploy on short notice their SSNs from their bases in Diego Garcia, located 1,200 nautical miles (2,200km) south of the southern tip of India, and from The Maldives’ Gan Island.
In a related development, the DRDO’s Kochi-based Naval Physical & Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL) has released the first definitive illustration of the next-generation S-5 SSBN, which externally bears a close resemblance to the Project 667BDRM Delta IV SSBN. The illustration, carried on a brochure of the NPOL-developed submarine sonar suite (SSS I-12), which is still under development for the S-5, which will carry twelve 6,500km-range SLBMs. Thus far, India’s MoD has sanctioned the fabrication of only three SSBNs: S-2 (Arihant), S-3 and S-4. Financial sanction for fabricating the S-5’s hull has yet to be obtained.   The double-hulled Project 667BDRM Delta IV SSBN has an operational diving depth of 320 metres and a maximum depth of 400 metres. The propulsion system allows speeds of 24 Knots (44kph) submerged while using two VM-4 pressurised water reactors rated at 180mW that drive two GT3A-365 turbines each rated at 27.5mW.