Forget this dictum, and the devil will be ever-ready to haul all our arses back to hell. And this is exactly what has bedeviled the Barak-2 LR-SAM programme of the MoD-owned Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). And what has led to this rather expensive and time-consuming comedy of errors (about which I had known since 2011, but am revealing it all only now) being enacted is nothing else but the sheer lack of managerial skills of India’s present-day Defence Minister, Arakkaparambil Kurian Antony.
It may be recalled that India and Israel had inked the 70km-range Barak-2 naval LR-SAM’s joint five-year R & D contract—valued at US$556 million—on January 27, 2006, following 17 months of exhaustive contractual negotiations. For extended ground-based long-range air defence India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) had on July 12, 2007 approved a $2.47 billion project to co-develop the LR-SAM’s 110km-range variant for the Indian Air Force. Subsequently, on February 27, 2009 India signed a $1.4 billion procurement contract with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for the Barak-2’s IAF-specific LR-SAM variant, and this was followed in April the same year by a $1.1 billion contract for procuring the Barak-2’s naval LR-SAM variant. Both variants were to have been co-developed by a consortium of entities that included the DRDO’s Hyderabad-based Defence Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL), Hyderabad-based Research Centre Imarat (RCI) and Advanced Systems Laboratory (ASL), and the Bangalore-based Electronics R & D Establishment (LRDE); plus Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) and Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) on one hand; and a consortium of IAI’s MLM and ELTA Systems business divisions, RAFAEL and RADA Electronics. The LR-SAM’s critical design review was completed by early May 2008 and its DRDL-developed two-stage pulsed rocket motor was successfully test-fired earlier the same year. The first six sets of these rocket motors were shipped to RAFAEL by the DRDL in July 2008 for further test and integration activities. Series production was due to have begun in 2011 at the Hyderabad-based facilities of BDL.
Now, it so happened that during the contractual negotiations stage between IAI, RAFAEL and RADA on one hand and the MoD and DRDO on the other, the DRDO had ‘assumed’ that the Israeli OEMs would deliver fully integrated Barak-2 area air-defence weapon systems to the DRDO, which in turn would supply them to the Indian Navy (IN) through BEL and BDL. However, by 2012 it had become evident that the DRDO’s ‘assumption’ had in fact, morphed into the mother of all fuck-ups. And here’s why: the DRDO had wrongly assumed that the Barak-2 suite, comprising both the LR-SAM rounds and the 9-tonne, mast-mounted ELTA Systems-developed EL/M-2248 MF-STAR S-band volume-search active phased-array radar (APAR), would be fully integrated with the EMDINA Mk2 combat management system, or CMS (developed by the IN’s Weapons & Electronics Systems Engineering Establishment, or WESEE) on board the three Project 15A guided-missile destroyers (DDG). In reality, since the Barak-2’s risk-sharing co-development effort was solely DRDO-led-and-driven from the Indian side, the DRDO never even bothered to seek WESEE’s feedback regarding systems integration challenges and taskings, and consequently—believe it or not— what the MoD-approved joint R & D contract between the India and Israeli military-industrial consortiums specified on paper only pertained to integrating the LR-SAM rounds with the MF-STAR’s fire-control systems, and never addressed the need for integrating this fire-control system with the EMDINA Mk2 CMS.
Consequently, the WESEE, which since the late 1980s had designed and developed, along with Russia’s St Petersburg-based Northern Design Bureau and SUDOEXPORT FSUE, the BEL-built EMCCA computer-aided action information system (CAAIS) for the three Project 16A FFGs and three Project 15 DDGs, the BEL-built EMDINA Mk1 CMS for the three Project 17 FFGs and four Project 28 ASW corvettes, was tasked by the MoD to only develop the applications software of the BEL-built EMDINA Mk2 CMS, plus help the MoD-owned Mazagon Docks Ltd design and fabricate the 9-tonne main mast housing the MF-STAR for the three Project 15A DDGs. Therefore, no responsibility was contractually fixed (by the MoD in its all-knowing wisdom) on who should integrate the Barak-2 suite with the EMDINA Mk2 CMS. As matters now stand, development of systems integration software began in only late 2012 after a supplemental R & D contract was inked between the WESEE and the Israeli military-industrial consortium, and the final end-product will not be available for in-country firing trials till late 2015.
So why did things go so horribly wrong? There are two reasons for that. Firstly, the MoD’s existing discredited practice of maintaining two separate files—the Service File (owned by the concerned armed services HQ) and the Ministry File (owned by the MoD’s civilian component) for each procurement project, and between which the latter is always the only one that is considered sacrosanct and is the only one that makes its way to the CCNS for final approval, needs to be done away with post-haste. Instead, joint accountability for every procurement decision-making process must be enforced so that the concerned Project Director from the concerned armed services works together with the concerned Joint Secretary of the MoD as an embedded team, instead of functioning within administratively isolated cubicles as is presently the case.
Secondly, the DRDO, apart from approaching the IN for learning the art of contract negotiations of a military-industrial nature, should also have invested in acquiring a trials vessel on board which both the Barak-2 LR-SAM suite should have been integrated with the EMDINA Mk2 CMS and subjected to a series of developmental firing-trials at sea. Only after the successful completion of such sea-trials and their validation by the WESEE should a series-production indent have been placed by the MoD with the Indian and Israeli military-industrial consortium. One can now only hope that valuable lessons have been learnt by the MoD and DRDO and history won’t be allowed to repeat itself on board the four Project 15B DDGs and seven Project 17A FFGs.
Creating Comatose Institutions
Creating Comatose Institutions
Another cardinal sin committed by RM A K Antony has been his total inability to transform the HQ of the Integrated Defence Staff (IDH) to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) in to a functional institution. While the IDH should have been instructed and empowered by the MoD to introduce an element of discipline in the military procurement system (such as coordinating the procurement of LUH helicopters for the Army, IN and the IAF, and procurement of the combined package of 15 Boeing CH-47F Chinook heavylift helicopters and 145 BAE Systems-built LW-155 ultralightweight 155mm/39-cal howitzers), it can do very little since the officer heading the IDH, the Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff (CISC), is a three-star officer and is therefore junior to the four-star armed services chiefs. A brief explanation of the IDH and the CIDS will help appreciate the procurement process better. Following the Group of Ministers’ report released in February 2001, it was agreed that whle the institution of the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) would be the primary step in the structural reforms suggested for the MoD, the appointment of a Vice-CDS was instead created within weeks. But as the post of the CDS was soon opposed by the then Parliament’s Select Committee on Defence, the appointment of the Vice-CDS became untenable (vice to whom?). Finally, the Vice-CDS’ office was renamed and the CIDS to the COSC (CISC) came into being in September 2001. The CISC, who heads the IDH, now has two responsibilities: he is answerable to the MoD like any other Secretary in the MoD; and on the military side he is answerable to the Chairman of the COSC. Unfortunately, there are two fundamental limitations to both these roles. For, unlike the four Departments of the MoD—Defence, R & D, Production & Supplies, and Finance—the IDH has not been designated as the MoD’s fifth Department, and hence its activities are not coordinated by the Defence Secretary.
The reason for this is that while the armed services personnel could theoretically be posted within the MoD, a civilian cannot be expected to understand and do the armed services personnel’s job. Consequently, the CISC at present essentially remains answerable only to the COSC, and has little or no reason to report to the Defence Minister. Within the COSC, the individual armed service chiefs remain more aligned with their service needs than with the common causes, and there is always dissonance between the purple team (comprising the IDH with officers from the three armed services) headed by the CISC, and the COSC. This shortcoming can only be overcome with the appointment of the CDS, who is senior, and hence does not report to the COSC. The CDS would then become a voting member of the COSC and in that capacity he would provide single-point military advice to the Defence Minister and the CCNS. Therefore, had the three four-star armed service chiefs been instructed by A K Antony to work together to support the creation of the post of CDS, there would have been no need for them to individually and persistently explain to the Prime Minister’s Office and his National Security Adviser (who by the way needs to have a serving three-star military officer as a Deputy National Security Adviser) the five cardinal truths about national security, and by now the DRDO would have become far more accountable since, fearing technical audits of its diverse R & D projects, it would have ended its skullduggery—one example of which is its proposal to indigenously develop a 155mm/52-calibre ATAGS towed howitzer for the Army, while conveniently forgetting to hold consultations with the IN, which requires turret-mounted 155mm howitzers to serve as the main artillery armament for its future warship acquisitions.
A prime example of wasted opportunities due to sheer mismanagement of both the MoD and the IDH concerns the procurement of CH-47F Chinooks and LW-155 howitzers. While the Indian Army had by 2006 zeroed in on the need for air-portable ultralightweight 155mm/39-cal howitzers and had even drafted a GSQR for its procurement, the IAF, taking a cue from the Army, too finalised its ASQR for heavylift helicopters required for airlifting such howitzers by 2007. At this point in time itself, it should have become obvious even to someone with below-average IQ that irregardless of which howitzer would be ordered (the LW-155 or the Pegasus from Singapore’s ST Kinetics), the only available heavylift helicopter that is certified to airlift both these howitzers in an underslung configuration is the CH-47F—meaning while the howitzer could be selected after a competitive bidding process, the helicopter would have to be procured under a sole-source contract. This in turn meant that, in order to avoid corrupt practices while procuring the CH-47F, it was preferable to order the 15 CH-47Fs not by the direct commercial sale route, but via the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. Instead, exactly the opposite was allowed to happen, i.e. Boeing and Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp were invited to: present their commercial bids in July 2009; and send their respective platforms—CH-47F and Mi-26T2—to India for in-country flight-trials on a no-cost-no-commitment basis. At the same time, the MoD conveniently forgot to coordinate matters with IDH and the COSC for the sake of killing two birds with one stone, i.e. requesting BAE Systems and ST Kinetics to send the LW-155 and Pegasus to India so that the Army and IAF could create a combined evaluation team for conducting competitive firepower/mobility evaluations in which both the CH-47F and Mi-26T2 too could have participated.
Another option that could have been pursued by the MoD via the IDH was to ensure that both the CH-47F and LW-155 were available in India for field-trials in February 2009 so that the CH-47F which had been ferry-flown to Bengaluru earlier that month for giving flying demonstrations at the Aero India 2009 expo, would subsequently be available for demonstrating the LW-155’s air-portability to both the Army and IAF. However, all this was not to be.
Consequently, this is how matters played out in a dysfunctional manner: while both Boeing and Rosoboronexport State Corp submitted their respective proposals to the IAF in October 2009, the MoD’s Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC) cleared the proposal for buying 145 LW-155s for $660 million on only May 11, 2012 through the FMS route (even though Army HQ had forwarded all paperwork to the MoD as far back as July 2010 when the LW-155 deal was estimated to cost only Rs.30 billion ($477 million). In addition, an Army ‘maintainability evaluation team’ had visited the US from February 8 to 25, 2011 to examine the LW-155. However, it was only on August 2, 2013 that the MoD officially requested the US for the sale of 145 LW-155s, whose price had then escalated to $885 million. Subsequently, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSAC) on August 7, 2013 notified the US Congress of a potential FMS of the LW-155s along with Selex-built laser inertial artillery pointing systems (LINAPS), warranty, spare and repair parts, support and test equipment, maintenance, personnel training and training equipment, as well as engineering and logistics support services and other related elements of logistics support.
Later that year, when the LW-155 was deployed to Sikkim for in-country high-altitude firepower/mobility trials, the absence of the CH-47F was direly felt and consequently, the trials could not be conducted in the areas specified by the Army due to the absence of in-theatre certified heavylift platforms. It is due to this reason that the LW-155 was: unable to demonstrate its direct firing capabilities by day and night; unable to demonstrate its compatibility with the Army’s Firing Tables; unable to demonstrate its air-portability in underslung mode; unable to demonstrate its sighting system at nighttime; and unable to demonstrate its built-in communications system at high altitudes. The IAF too refused to airlift the LW-155 in underslung mode with its existing Mi-26Ts in Sikkim. And why did the IAF refuse to do so? Simply because A) the Mi-26T is not certified to carry this weapon underslung and consequently the IAF does not have SOPs in place to carry out such a heavylift operation; and B) the IAF therefore did not have in its possession the hooks and cables required for rigging the LW-155 to the Mi-26T in underslung configuration.
Yellow Journalism Yet Again
In this news-report (http://www.sunday-guardian.com/news/russians-go-slow-sukhoi-fleet-in-trouble), it has been alleged that 50% of the IAF’s Su-30MKI fleet remains grounded because of A) multiple cases of repeated failure of Mission Computer-1 and blanking out of Head Up Displays (HUD) and all Multi-Function Displays (MFD) in flight since 2012. B) Due to non-availability of facilities for overhaul of aggregates (aircraft parts), following which the serviceability (availability for flying) of Su-30MKI is slowly decreasing and demand for Aircraft on Ground (AOG) items on the rise as of December 24, 2013. C) Due to Russia’s inability to set up the MRO workshops at HAL’s Nashik-based facility by December 2013, and that this facility was originally scheduled to overhaul the first Su-30MKI by June 2014. Consequently, five Su-30MKIs are already parked at HAL for extensive overhaul, and another 15 will be due for overhaul in the current year.
Now, let’s separate fact from fiction. Firstly, both the Su-30MKI and MiG-29B-12 were originally designed and certified to log in no more than 120 flight-hours per annum. Despite this, the IAF has been following Western standards of flight operations by requiring its air warriors to log in at least 25 flight-hours per month, or about 275 flight-hours every year, or 2,750 hours in a decade. Furthermore, the IAF has been way behind schedule when it came to service-induction of cockpit procedures trainers and full-flight simulators for the Su-30MKI. Ideally, such flying training aids should have been commissioned into service in a progressive manner since the last quarter of 2002, but this process didn’t commence until the final quarter of 2009. Now, if 275 flight-hours are logged in by a Su-30MKI, then within five-and-a-half-years itself it would have reached its scheduled time-between-overhauls (TBO) of 1,500 hours for both the airframe and turbofans, while the prescribed Russian timetables call for the Su-30MKI to approach its TBO after only a decade, i.e. after the Su-30MKI has been flown for 120 hours every year for at least a decade. What this translates into is that the HAL-owned-and-operated MRO facility for the IAF’s Su-30MKIs should have become operational by early 2008 at the latest. Consequently, HAL is behind schedule by six full years when it comes to commissioning such a MRO facility.
Now, coming to the issue of the premature in-flight malfunctions of the Su-30MKI’s ELBIT Systems-built Type 967 HUD, THALES-developed MFD-55 and MFD-66 AMLCDs, and the DARE-developed and HAL-built mission computer. Firstly, it must be noted that the malfunctions are not across-the-board or affecting the entire fleet of Su-30MKIs, but only those airframes produced for the last tranche of 10i-standard Su-30MKIs and the first tranche of 11i-standard Su-30MKIs. At most, therefore, no more than 40 Su-30MKIs will be affected by such avionics-related malfunctions. This then brings us to the probable causes of such malfunctions. Prima facie, there is only one probable cause: faulty hardware—most likely wiring harnesses or cable connectors. What has to be established is whether these items came directly from Russian OEMs (in which case product liabilities will those of Rosboronexport State Corp and IRKUT Corp) or were they sourced from India-based OEM-licenced vendors. This can easily be done PROVIDED HAL has its in-house required set of item-specific test-benches and ATE equipment. As another option, HAL can also make use of ADA’s test-benches and ATE equipment, while DARE can be approached for replicating a fully-functional mock-up of the Su-30MKI’s cockpit avionics architecture—since DARE is presently involved with a similar task concerning the cockpits of the projected Super Su-30MKI.
But what is most exasperating is that despite decades of experience in licenced-manufacturing of various types of combat aircraft of foreign origin, neither the MoD’s Department of Defence Production & Supplies nor HAL till this day have grasped the need for achieving 100% indigenisation for the tens of thousands of rotables, consumables and accessories that go into each aircraft-type. Instead, the focus continues to be on the licenced-production of airframes through raw materials sourced locally and from abroad. Such a distortion can only result in an undesirable reliance on foreign OEMs for the smallest but most critical components, which in turn severely compromises the IAF’s operational sovereignty over its aircraft/weapons assets.
Lastly, a word on the so-called combat aircraft fleet availability rates in peacetime. No air force in peacetime boasts of combat aircraft fleet availability rates of 75%. Such high rates are mandatory for only flying training aircraft like BTTs, AJTs and LIFTs. In reality, the availability rate of combat aircraft fleets hovers between 50% and 60%. If the national security scenario worsens over a period of time, then the availability rates are increased progressively (as was the case with the IAF in both 1999 and 2002), depending on the type of conflict envisaged, i.e. limited high-intensity conflict confined to a single theatre, or a full-blown all-out war. In case of the latter, fleet availability rates are jacked up to 90% for Day-1 of the war. By Day-2, the rate drops to 75% and by Day-4, the availability rate stabilises at 50% while ensuring a high tempo of daily sortie generation. It is based on such estimates that any self-respecting air force does its force-structure planning.