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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Miscellaneous Year-End Jottings

More good news has trickled in before the year’s end. The two additional A-50I PHALCON platforms (each housing ELTA Systems’ ELW-2090 mission sensor/management suite) have been cleared for procurement at a cost of Rs.3,306 crore. The airframes will be supplied by Russia’s Ulyanovsk-based AVIASTAR JSC, while BERIEV Aircraft Company will customise the airframes for housing the mission sensor/management suites. Also cleared for procurement are six aerostat-mounted radars worth Rs.3,310 crore. Thus far, BAE Systems, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, ThalesRaytheon, Israel Aerospace Industries/ELTA and Rosoboronexport State Corp have responded to the IAF’s global RFP for supplying both the aerostats and their on-board airspace surveillance radars. The IAF requires about 60 such radars, which can be deployed up to an altitude of 15,000 feet above sea level, have a surveillance envelope ranging from 10km to 35km, and are able to pick up airborne targets ranging from ground level to 30,000 feet.
RAFAEL Advanced Defence Systems, on the other hand, will get a Rs.950 crore contract for supplying additional RecceLite pods (meant for Su-30MKIs) and their related ground-based imagery exploitation stations. While the former will be supplied directly by RAFAEL, the latter will be supplied via the MoD-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd.
Below is my favourite ATGM/PGM choice for arming the Army Aviation Corps’ Rudra helicopter-gunships, and possibly the LAH version of the IAF’s Light Combat Helicopter as well as Mi-17V-5s. The Hermes-A is a 2-in-1 solution aimed at neutralising both armoured vehicles and hardened bunkers/shelters on the battlefield. Developed by Russia’s Tula-based KBP Instrument Design Bureau, the laser-guided Hermes-A can also be guided by LDPs like LITENING, and as such can also be launched by fixed-wing combat aircraft during battlespace interdiction missions.
INS Kolkata, the first of three Project 15A guided-missile destroyers (above) for the Indian Navy, is expected to be commissioned into service by the Indian Navy by next March.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Nirbhay Cruise Missile Family Finally Revealed!

The topmost schematic shows the 1,200km-range subsonic Nirbhay nuclear-armed cruise missile, which will be available in both air-launched and submarine-launched versions. The ALCM version (minus the solid-rocket booster) will be qualified for use by 20 specially customised Su-30MKIs, while the SLCM variant (incorporating the solid-rocket booster) will go on board the S-2, S-3 and S-4 SSBNs. The air-launched and nuclear-armed Nirbhay will have an estimated length of 6 metres, diameter of 0.55 metres, wingspan of 2.7 metres, launch mass of 1,200kg, cruise speed of Mach 0.7, and a 250kg warhead-section. Its cruising altitude over water will be 10 metres (33 feet), while its cruising altitude over land will be 30 metres (98 feet). The MoD-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL) Bengaluru-based Engine Test Bed Research & Development Centre (ETBRDC) has developed a turbofan (see below) for powering all members of the Nirbhay cruise missile family.
A hybrid inertial navigation system using a ring-laser gyro (RINS) coupled with a GPS receiver and a digital radar altimeter (all developed by the DRDO’s Research centre Imarat, or RCI, and integrated jointly by the Advanced Systems Laboratory, or ASL, and the Aeronautical Development Establishment, or ADE) will provide a CEP of 20 metres. All on-board avionics, inclusive of the ones mentioned above, plus the mission computer and missile interface unit, have been developed as spinoffs from the BrahMos-1 supersonic multi-role cruise missile’s R & D cycle, which lasted between 1998 and 2005. While the ASQRs and NSQRs for the nuclear-armed Nirbhay were drafted by 2005, hands-on R & D work began in only 2007, with all R & D-related activity due for completion by late 2014.

A spinoff from this programme is the development of a smaller, conventional warhead-armed air-launched subsonic variant of Nirbhay (see illustrations above) with a range of 750km, which will be qualified for launch from combat aircraft like the DARIN 3-standard Jaguar IS as well as Rafale M-MRCA. Presently, there are no plans for developing warship-launched/submarine-launched/surface-launched versions of this missile, which will have an estimated length of 6.2 metres, diameter of 0.6 metres, launch mass of 1,350kg, a 400kg HE blast-fragmentation warhead, cruising altitude of 20 metres over land, cruise speed of 240 metres/second, target aspect angle of +/-180 degrees, and a launch altitude varying between 500 metres and 11,000 metres. The hybrid inertial navigation system will ensure autonomous navigation via at least 15 waypoints, while for terminal guidance, use will be made of a noise-immune guidance system that will employ an X-band monopulse SAR radar similar to the one now being developed for the Prahaar NLOS-BSM. The conventionally-armed ALCM variant of Nirbhay will be procured by both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy.
Following the entry into service of the nuclear-armed Nirbhay’s ALCM and SLCM versions, India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) will have at its disposal four distinct types of highly survivable nuclear warhead delivery systems that will be optimised for retaliatory nuclear strikes, these being the 4,500km-range SLBM now under development, the 600km-range air-launched supersonic LRCM that is also now under development (for delivering tactical nuclear warheads), plus the Nirbhay’s ALCM and SLCM versions, both of which will be able to deliver boosted-fission nuclear warheads.
For conventional strikes in-depth, precision-strike cruise missiles presently available to India for land-attack comprise the land-launched BrahMos-1’s 290km-range Block-2 and 550km-range Block-3 (for the Indian Army), and 290km-range Novator 3M-14Es that can be launched by both principal surface combatants (the three Project 17 FFGs and three Project 1135.6 Batch -1 FFGs) and by five of the Navy’s nine remaining Type 877EKM SSKs.   

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Updated: RIP HTT-35, HTT-40, HJT-36 & LUH, Thanks To The Grifters' Long-Cons

The above three photos graphically illustrate both the missed opportunities for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to deliver new-generation basic turboprop trainers (BTT) to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy (IN) almost two decades ago. The first photo is that of the long-forgotten HTT-35 advanced turboprop trainer, in particular its full-scale mock-up, which was designed and fabricated in-house by HAL in the late 1980s and rolled out in the early 1990s—all in all a four-year effort. The objective at that time was to team up with a global avionics supplier (most probably THALES) and co-design the semi-glass tandem cockpits and offer the aircraft for evaluation by the IAF by 1998. However, after 1994 the HTT-35 disappeared, literally! One can only speculate on what exactly happened to this full-scale mock-up, or on why did the MoD or IAF HQ develop a coordinated ‘memory loss’ on the need to series-produce the HTT-35 almost a decade ago! For it was realised as far back as 1998 that the induction of fourth-generation combat aircraft such as the Su-30MKI, and the impending induction of Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA), Tejas Mk2 MRCA and the fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) would force the IAF sooner than later into undertaking a critical revision of its flying training practices that included primary/basic flying training, advanced flying training, and lead-in fighter training (LIFT). Despite this, the HTT-35 BTT was scrapped, and instead of calling for the development of the HJT-36 as a swept-wing advanced jet trainer, the IAF in its all-knowing wisdom wrongly decided 14 years ago to have the HJT-36 as an intermediate jet trainer (IJT), a decision it is now regretting and that perhaps explains why the IAF has, since 2008, been maintaining sustained silence over HAL’s inability to develop the HJT-36.
And now that a precedent has been set by the MoD with the HTT-40, a similar fate now looks set to befall HAL’s single-engined Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) project as well, since logic will henceforth dictate that it is indeed unwise to operate fixed fleets of aircraft that are intended to perform the same mission, UNLESS the MoD cancels the on-going tender evaluation process for off-the-shelf procurement of 197 single-engined reconnaissance-and-surveillance helicopters (RSH) from abroad and instead authorises HAL to upgrading almost 80 of the Army Aviation Corps’ and IAF’s existing SA.315B Lama/Cheetah LOHs into the Cheetal RSH configuration that will see such helicopters being equipped with glass cockpits, FLIR turrets and defensive countermeasures suites. The Cheetals will thus be able to serve for at least another decade, thereby giving HAL enough time to complete development of its homegrown LIH/RSH platform.
The MoD, which has a stated requirement for 384 LUH/RSH units, has split the order between a global tender for 197 2-tonne helicopters (of which 60 will be procured off-the-shelf and the remainder to be licence-built) worth US$550 million, and has asked HAL to develop and build 187 LUH/RSH units by 2017, which itself is an impossible target to achieve. The global tender is mired in uncertainty, with the MoD cancelling and re-issuing it more than once. Of the 197 LUH/RSH machines, 64 are for the IAF, and 133 for the Army. However, it is fairly logical to conclude that the MoD will sooner rather than later reach the same conclusion as that reached for the BTT project: it will be far cheaper to acquire only one type of LUH/RSH platform (i.e. procuring all 384 units from the chosen foreign OEM), instead of splitting the orders between an imported solution and an indigenous one.
Presently, HAL’s in-house Rotary Wing R & D Centre (RWRDC) is going full steam ahead with fabrication work on the 3-tonne LUH/RSH’s first prototype, which will be powered by a single Turbomeca/HAL Shakti/Ardiden 1H engine. Rollout of this prototype is targetted for late 2013, almost a year behind schedule, with flight-tests commencing a year later and deliveries beginning in early 2017 and lasting till 2019. While the RWRDC is designing the main rotor, tail rotor, gearbox, transmission and weapons-launch systems, the fuel control/supply system, environment control system, hydraulics/accessories and cockpit avionics will be outsourced from local and foreign suppliers. On paper, the LUH/RSH will feature a roof-mounted stabilised optronic turret housing an integrated long-range observation system comprising a thermal imager, laser rangefinder and daylight TV.

What needs to be noted is that HAL, by being a wholly-owned MoD military-industrial entity, cannot undertake any R & D project aimed at producing an indigenous weapon system or sub-system without receiving authorisation from the MoD. What this means is that HAL’s management has neither the financial nor managerial autonomy to develop even a single product that is not required by any Indian end-user. Therefore, when HAL took up the task of developing the HTT-35 BTT, it was only after being instructed by the MoD to do so at the IAF’s behest. For it was a fairly well-known fact since the early 1980s that the HAL-developed piston-engined ab-initio primary HPT-32 ‘Deepak’ was not what the IAF wanted and HAL consequently had been mandated to develop the HTT-34 turboprop trainer with side-by-side seating, and a flying prototype was indeed built. The IAF then changed its mind and asked HAL via the MoD to develop a tandem-seat BTT (probably after watching the advent of Pilatus PC-7As and PC-9As, and Embraer/ShortsTucanos since the mid-1980s), to which HAL responded with the HTT-35. What happened next is that sometime in 1995, HAL was instructed by the MoD at the IAF’s behest that this project was not a priority and was told to cease all further R & D activity, probably due to India’s reduced defence spending-levels in the period 1989-1999 (the so-called ‘lost decade’) as a result of the 1990 financial crisis.

Similarly, HAL began developing the HJT-36 IJT in 1997 after being told by the MoD to do so at the IAF’s behest, since no one from the IAF was expecting any Govt of India to have the guts to recommence significant military hardware procurements from non-Russian OEMs after the unearthing of Bofors and HDW scams. Consequently, the IAF, faced with the prospect of not receiving its long sought-after AJTs, instead settled down for an IJT as part of a compromise formula. It was only in March 2004 that the initial 66 Hawk Mk132 AJTs were ordered (to the IAF’s utter surprise) from BAE Systems and when this happened, the IAF realised that the requirement for IJTs had become totally irrelevant and what had become more important was the procurement of BTTs and LIFTs, with deliveries commencing by 2010 (this being expected by IAF HQ in order to have a three-stage flying training curriculum comprising BTTs, AJTs and LIFTs, as is the universal norm). This is where things got very murky, since even by 2004 no one from the MoD or IAF HQ asked HAL to resurrect the HTT-35 project and complete its R & D cycle. Had this been done, then by 2007 a few HTT-35 prototypes would have been airborne for flight-tests. Instead, six more years were allowed to go waste before IAF HQ refloated its requirement for a BTT (even though the HPT-32 was found unsuitable since the early 1980s!) and given the urgency of requirement, the only option then left on the table was the direct importation route. Therefore, someone or some party who/that is obviously adept at doing the math and is a grifter beyond match when it comes to playing the long-con, came up with a plan that would, on the surface, seem great, but in reality would be totally ludicrous (and thereby be a self-defeating and financially unviable exercise), i.e. splitting the BTT procurement exercise into two by importing a little less than half of the requirement (75 units) and developing an indigenous alternative for the rest (106 units). Now, imagine a fleet of PC-7 Mk2 BTTs powered by PWC turboprops/Hamilton Sunstrand propellers having to co-exist with a fleet of HTT-40 BTTs powered by Honeywell (Garrett) turboprops/Hartzell propellers, which will only serve to double the BTT fleet’s annual MRO budget for the IAF’s Training Command. Therefore, it was a known fact since 2009 that there can be only one BTT in service and at the same time (June 2011) that the PC-7 Mk2 was selected by the IAF as its BTT of choice, the BTT-40 project should have been terminated. In fact, I’m highly surprised that both the MoD and the IAF took such a long time to come clean by admitting that the project to develop the HTT-40 was, after all, just a con-job.

In order to get down to the bottom of this rip-off/con-job, the MoD’s archives need to be declassified so that one can get to the root of the decision-making process prevailing in the period 1992-2010. Only after this is done will one be able to zero in on the true culprits/wrongdoers within both the MoD and IAF HQ. However, there are strong indications that the HTT-35 project was terminated by 1995 at the IAF’s behest, with the MoD having a minimal say in this matter. One must also note that it is not just the IAF that will be procuring the PC-7 Mk2 BTTs, but also the IN (which requires 30 BTTs), just as both the IAF and IN have also procured the Hawk Mk132 AJTs. However, between the two armed services, the IN seems to have come out as the wiser one since, unlike the IAF, it never got involved in the con-job of supporting either the HJT-36 IJT project (despite the fact that the IN too has been using HAL-built HJT-16 Mk2 basic jet trainers) or the HTT-40 BTT project.

And the same type of long-con is now being played out for the RSH procurement project (for the Indian Army and IAF) and thus it is only a matter of time before HAL’s LUH R & D project too will meet the same fate as that of the BTT. For, in today’s world of competing priorities for defence funding allocations (given the ever-increasing costs of procuring new-generation platforms), even countries like China or India cannot afford the luxury of procuring two almost-identical platforms for doing the same job—that’s the elementary and cold-blooded truth. Those who choose to believe otherwise are only deluding themselves and residing in a make-believe world.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

TATA Power SED's 155mm/52-cal Motorised Howitzer Detailed

Since none of the “desi” journalists have so far bothered to showcase the first fully-functional prototype of the 155mm/52-calibre truck-mounted howitzer unveilled last week by TATA Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (SED), I might as well as be the one to provide certain insights!
Dubbed as being 55% indigenous by content, this motorised howitzer was jointly developed by TATA Power SED and South Africa’s DENEL Land Systems. Essentially a re-engineered version of DENEL’s T5-52 motorised howitzer (which was showcased during DEFEXPO 2002 along with SOLTAM Systems’ ATMOS, with both of them at that time making use of a TATRA-built truck, the latest ‘avatar’ of this weapon system has unveiled last March/April at the DEFEXPO 2012 expo at Pragati Maidan, New Delhi. At that time, TATA Power SED officials seemed confident of exporting this motorised howitzer to Indonesia. If this deal does fructify, then Indonesia’s Army (TNI-AD) would become the third ASEAN army to procure such howitzers, the other two being the Royal Thai Army with six Nexter Systems-built Caesars in service, and Myanmar’s army with 12 Yugoimport SDPR-built Noras in service.
DENEL Land Systems has supplied the monoblock gun barrel fitted with a double-baffle muzzle brake, gun cradle with an integrated buffer system, swing-and-slide breech mechanism, electrically-activated firing mechanism, autoloader/rammer, ballistics charts, muzzle velocity radar, an automatic laying and land navigation system using a RLG-INS, a panoramic optical-mechanical sight mounted directly to the trunnion, incorporating a compensation system for trunnion cant, which forms a backup for indirect fire, and a telescopic sight for direct fire that is mounted to the compensation system. TATA Power SED, on the other hand, developed the digital ballistics computer, telecommunications system, the hydraulic system that supplies hydraulic power for deployment of the outriggers and the top-carriage hydraulics, all on-board electrical systems, the gun management computer, and the ‘Rajak’ driver’s vision enhancement system. The customised 8 x 8 truck comes from TATA Motors.
Overall, TATA Power SED’s solution is being touted as being the cheapest option, a claim that will undoubtedly be contested by the likes of other contenders like the Larsen & Toubro/Nexter Systems partnership that is offering the Caesar, the Kalyani Group/ELBIT Systems partnership that is likely to offer the ATMOS, and the Punj Lloyd/Yugoimport SDPR partnership that is likely to propose the Nora. However, a simple visual comparison between TATA Power SED’s solution and the Caesar reveals the fact that the latter’s overall design is superior as it can be airlifted by transporters like the C-130J-30. In addition, the Caesar has also been combat proven in both Afghanistan and along the Thai-Cambodian border.
However, one thing is certain: the Indian Army’s demand for such motorised howitzers (labelled by the Indian Army as Mounted Gun Systems), which first arose immediately after OP Vijay in 1999, will be for at least 1,800 units (and not 814 as is being erroneously claimed in some quarters) in the years to come, since it is now virtually certain that the Indian Army will no longer procure the 1,580 towed 155mm/52-cal howitzers that it had earlier planned to, given the fact that the DRDO has succeeded (only God knows how!) in convincing the Ministry of Defence that it, along with India’s private-sector firms and public-sector undertakings, will be able to deliver a futuristic 155mm/52-cal advanced towed artillery gun system (ATAGS) by 2022.
The 155mm/52-cal MGS is the second such product to emerge from TATA Power’s stable, the first being a truck-mounted version of the 105mm India Field Gun Mk2, which was co-developed with the MoD-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) about seven years ago.