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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Mapping Out An Incredible Rollercoaster Journey

The period between October 2015 and January 2017 saw a bizarre process being played out that has now come back full circle to the point where it all originally started: 
On October 17, 2014 the Indian Army HQ’s Directorate General of Mechanised Forces (DGMF) had issued a Request for Information (RFI) for the comprehensive upgrade for 2,600 BMP-2 infantry combat vehicles (ICV).
This was followed by another RFI issued on March 2, 3016 that invited proposals for upgrading the fire-control system (FCS) of the BMP-2 ICVs.
Then came yet another RFI—issued on March 14, 2016—that invited proposals for upgrading the powerpacks of the BMP-2 ICVs.
On the very same day, another RFI was issued, calling for proposals for arming the BMP-2 ICVs with new-generation anti-armour guided-missiles (ATGM).
And finally, on June 23, 2016 came the final RFI, this concerning the comprehensive upgrade of 1,500 BMP-2 ICVs.
Why were all these RFIs issued in such a staggered manner and what made the DGMF revert back to square one, i.e. proposals for the comprehensive upgrade of BMP-2 ICVs being issued twice (in October 2014 and again on June 2016)? Where were the disconnects and why?
(to be concluded)

Friday, January 13, 2017

Second CM-2000 Scorpene SSK Of Indian Navy's Project 75 Launched

Four other SSKs will follow in the wake of Khanderi, at intervals of nine months. However, none of them will be equipped with air-independent propulsion (AIP) systems of either indigenous or imported origin. This despite the DRDO’s Ambarnath-based Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL), along with the Kochi-based Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL) initiating R & D on an AIP module way back in 2002. It may be recalled that the Govt of India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security has approved the procurement of six CM-2000 Scorpene SSKs in September 2005 at a total cost of Rs 18,798 crore (US$4.2 billion) and the contract was signed in October that year. The project cost was subsequently revised to Rs 23,562 crore in February 2010, along with a revision in delivery schedules. In 2010, it was envisaged that an indigenously-developed AIP module would be fitted on to the latter three of the six CM-2000s. However, a series of delayed decision-making processes thereafter caused all six CM-2000s to be bereft of the AIP modules. 
While the DRDO was insisting that it will be able to deliver on-time a proven AIP solution as demanded by the Indian Navy, the MoD was unsuccessful in drafting a long-term industrial roadmap for new-generation SSK procurements by using the CM-2000 procurement effort as the foundation. By 2012 itself, when it was crystal-clear that the NMRL-developed AIP module was nowhere in sight for the latter three CM-2000s, the MoD should have approved the procurement of an additional three CM-2000s with the proviso that they be equipped with the NMRL-developed AIP module—especially when DCNS at that time was more than willing to invest US$100 million in the R & D programme in partnership with both the NMRL and Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders Ltd (MDL). Had such an option been approved, then even the first six CM-2000s could have been be retrofitted with such AIP modules during their subsequent mid-life refits. 
Without snorting, a diesel-electric SSK can only expect to stay continuously submerged for a maximum of about 100 hours if cruising continuously at 4 Knots. The SSK must snorkel on a regular basis to preserve the charge in its main battery. The ratio of time spent snorkelling to not snorkelling is referred to as the INDISCRETION RATIO and will normally be kept as low as possible. Indiscretion ratios vary from 30% during transits to 5% for a SSK in an operational area. By and large, snorkelling is the Achilles Heel of the SSK, exposing it to counter-detection. Firstly, snorkelling requires a periscope/optronics mast, an ESM mast and a snorkel induction mast to be raised, all of which expose the SSK to enemy visual sensors and radar. It is possible for an enemy to detect masts and their plumes and wakes visually, particularly during the day. Visual counter-detection opportunities increase with the number of masts exposed, the speed of the SSK and the calmness of the sea. Designers try to minimise mast visual profiles by minimising mast sizes, using camouflage to blend masts into the background environment and streamlining masts to reduce plumes and wakes. Operators try to minimise plumes and wakes by minimising snorkelling speeds; a simple rule-of-thumb being Knots = sea state + one. Radar counter-detection is also a function of the number of masts exposed and the speed of the SSK, although good radar performance is not limited to daylight. Techniques used to minimise visual counter-detection generally work equally well in also minimising radar counter-detection. Additionally, radar absorbent material and shape optimisation are used. ESM masts and systems are employed to determine the presence of dangerous radar signals and masts are lowered when rackets approach dangerous levels. “Gulping” can be used to reduce visual/radar counter-detection opportunities, particularly in scenarios where there is a heavy airborne ASW presence, but a pressing need to snorkel. “Gulping” involves raising the snorkelling mast just above the surface of the water. Wave action results in the mast washing over from time to time—which causes discomfort to the crew as vacuums are pulled inside the SSK and then released on an alternating basis. Despite all the methods employed by submariners to minimise counter-detection while snorkelling, modern optronic systems and periscope detection radars, particularly airborne, still present challenges to submariners. Another significant snorkelling counter-detection source stems from running diesels and associated equipment noises. Snorkelling can increase a SSK’s acoustics radiate noise source-level between 20 and 30 decibels. Assuming propagation losses of six decibels per doubling of range, and all other things being equal, the acoustic counter-detection ranges of a snorkelling SSK can increase eight- to 16- fold!  Of course, SSK Commanding Officers will take advantage of any increases in ambient noise such as that caused by evening or fish choruses and heavy rain. They will also top up the battery packs with short snorkellings whenever tactically possible. Nonetheless, snorkelling presents significant challenges to SSK commanders. AIP-equipped SSKs don’t have the same Achilles Heel as diesel-electric SSKs. Whilst conventional AIP systems don’t assist SSKs in transits or in high-speed runs, they do allow them to operate at low-speed for up to three weeks (or 504 hours) without the need to snorkel. 
For most land-based applications, a fuel cell uses oxygen from the air as the oxidant since this saves the weight and volume of having to carry an oxygen source. However, for SSK applications, oxygen must be carried. A disadvantage of a fuel cell-based AIP system that uses a reformate gas as opposed to pure hydrogen is that the reforming system will have a higher oxygen demand. This is because, in addition to operating the fuel cell, oxygen is also required to reform the liquid fuel into hydrogen, either for partial oxidation reforming or to burn a small proportion of the fuel or off-gas to provide the heat for steam reformation. This extra oxygen requirement must be factored into any calculations. A further complication of reforming systems is that carbon dioxide is also produced as a byproduct of the reaction and this needs to be stored or disposed of safely and discretely. Carbon dioxide has a high solubility in water and, if necessary, can be discharged without producing bubbles by pre-dissolving the gas. Liquid fuels, such as methanol and diesel, have the advantages that they are readily available, may be stored in tanks and have a high-energy density. Often, these advantages outweigh the complications introduced by a reformer. Carbon monoxide is a potential byproduct of the reformation process. This is a reversible poison for the platinum catalyst used in PEM fuel cells (of the type developed by Siemens of Germany) and therefore purification of the gas is required before it is fed to the fuel cell.
The DRDO’s Ambarnath-based Naval Materials Research Laboratory (NMRL), along with the Kochi-based Naval Physical and Oceanographic Laboratory (NPOL), have since 2002 been trying to develop an on-shore AIP system that will enable an SSK to stay submerged continuously for about 25 days. The methanol-based steam reforming system suitable for a SSK needs comprises a storage vessel for methanol, a storage vessel for oxygen, a steam reformer assembly, a gas purification stage, and a carbon dioxide handling system. Methanol is a liquid at room temperature and can be stored in tanks. The methanol will be consumed as it is used by the NMRL-developed Borohydride Hydrolysis/Phosphoric Acid-based fuel cell, and a hard conformal tank requires compensation to accommodate the changing volume to prevent it from collapsing. Direct water contact with methanol is unacceptable because the two are miscible. External storage of methanol in soft conformal bags is now being tried out. The bags are fabricated from methanol-resistant material and, during operation, the seawater naturally displaces the consumed methanol without coming into contact with it. Methanol is a toxic, flammable liquid that burns without a flame, but is easily contained and therefore, if the system is correctly designed, it should not pose a safety hazard. There is also considerable interest in methanol reformer systems for use in automobiles and buses. Alcohols and hydrocarbons can, in theory, act as fuel for a fuel cell and be directly oxidised like hydrogen. One of the commonest fuels of this type is methanol, which is used in the Direct Methanol Fuel Cell (DMFC) of the type now being developed by Germany’s HDW.
However, no significant R & D breakthroughs have been achieved by the NMRL nor are they expected to be achieved in the latter half of the decade. To date, only 30% of the required test-points have been obtained, despite the shore-based AIP module being in operation as a technology demonstrator since 2011. Apart from the NMRL and NPOL, other DRDO laboratories and industrial entities that are involved with this R & D venture are Larsen & Toubro, THERMAX, IOCL, TEXOL, Indian Institute of Petroleum, AKSA, CEEFES, C-DAC, DIGITRONICS, NSTL, RCI, ROLTA and MDL.
The Messy Project 75I
As of now, there is no clarity within either the MoD or Naval HQ on what Project 75I is all about and how it ought to proceed. For instance, while Naval HQ on one hand is insisting that the six SSKs of imported design under this project must be equipped with indigenous AIP modules and the SSK hulls must be built with indigenously produced DMR-292A steel (all six CM-2000 Scorpenes are built with HLES-80 high-yield stress-specific steel supplied by ArcelorMittal, which will allow the SSKs to reach diving depths of up to 300 metres/1,150 feet and achieve an average of 240 days at sea per year per submarine), it is now also clamouring for financial sanction for procuring six indigenously designed and built nuclear attack submarines (SSN).
Now, if an all-new imported SSK design is to be chosen for Project 75I, it would mean that hull-design selection cannot take place unless and until the indigenous AIP module emerges as a proven solution. Add to that the time taken for such an AIP module to be integrated with the selected hull-design after a lengthy process of sea-trials (which can last for up to four years for the lead boat). Consequently, if one is to believe the NMRL’s assurances of a full proven AIP module being available by 2020, then the RfP for procuring the six AIP-equipped SSKs will not be released until 2018 at best, and the first AIP-equipped SSK will not enter service before 2026 at best. What further complicates matters is that the NMRL-developed AIP module presently has structural dimensions and electro-mechanical interfaces tailor-made for seamless integration with the CM-2000 Scorpene’s hull.
Both common-sense and logic therefore demand that the scope of Project 75I be limited to the immediate procurement of only three additional CM-2000 Scorpene SSKs all equipped with the indigenous AIP modules.   

Monday, January 9, 2017

A Not-So-Silent War

The mystery surrounding the alleged interception of an Indian Navy (IN) diesel-electric submarine (SSK) on November 16 last year by a Pakistan Navy (PN) P-3C Orion LRMR/ASW aircraft can at last be resolved, thanks to the arrival in Malaysia of a Type 039G1 Song-class SSK (of the South Sea Fleet’s 32nd Submarine Flotilla located at Zhangjiang naval base in Guangdong province) and its accompanying ocean salvage & rescue ship, the Type 925-class Chang Xingdao 861 (of the North Sea Fleet’s 1st Combat Support Flotilla), which docked at the Royal Malaysian Navy’s submarine base at Sepanggar Bay in Sabah from January 3 till 7 for picking up perishable supplies and for their crew complements to rest after conducting anti-piracy patrols off the coast of Somalia.
From the above, it can safely be deduced that the Type 039G1 Song-class SSK left its homeport in the South China Sea sometime in mid-October last year accompanied by Chang Xingdao 861 and the Type 054A FFG Handan 579 (built by the Huangpu-based Wenchong Shipbuilding Co Ltd and commissioned on August 16, 2015 with the PLAN’s North Sea Fleet) . These three vessels would surely have been trailed first by the US Navy right up to the Indonesian archipelago, following which an Indian Navy Type 877EKM SSK hailing from either the 8th or 11th Submarine Squadron (homeported at INS Virbahu in Visakhapatnam under the Eastern Naval Command) would have trailed them right up to the western part of the Indian Ocean, following which the trailing would have been continued by a  Class 209/Type 1500 SSK of the 10th Submarine Squadron (homeported at INS Bajrabahu in  Mumbai under the Western Naval Command). 
Interestingly, while the PN officially announced on November 16 in its official website that a PLAN Flotilla including the Chang Xingdao 861 and Handan 579 had arrived Karachi on a goodwill visit to Pakistan and would later take part in the 4th PN-PLAN bilateral exercise encompassing harbour and sea phases, the announcement kept quiet about the presence of the Type 039G1 Song-class SSK.
Instead, the PN made a big song-and-dance about an ‘unidentified’ IN SSK being tracked by a PN P-3C Orion since November 12 in international waters south of Karachi, and ultimately culminating in the IN SSJ ‘being forced to snorkel’ some 40nm outside Pakistan’s territorial waters. And this narrative was further spin-woven to showcase the PN’s mastery in undersea warfare against its Indian counterpart. In reality, what transpired was that the IN’s Class 209/Type 1500 SSK had already completed its assigned task (and therefore had no need to stay hidden) after handing over its flotilla shadowing tasking to another Class 209/Type 1500 SSK that had remained undetected in the same area and was subsequently successful (along with a P-8I LRMR/ASW aircraft) in monitoring the 4th PN-PLAN bilateral exercise in the northern Arabian Sea. 
Therefore, the presence of a PN P-3C Orion (which was sent to escort the inbound PLAN flotilla to Karachi) over the snorkeling IN Class 209/Type 1500 SSK in international waters was a mere coincidence, and was not by design by any stretch of imagination.   
The number of PLAN submarine sorties has approximately quadrupled over the last seven years, with an average of 12 patrols being conducted each year between 2008 and 2015, following on from six in 2007, two 2006 none in 2005. In the Indian Ocean region (IOR), the PLAN has so far carried out six submarine patrols (all accompanied by Type 925/Type 926 submarine tenders), with the submarines being kept its vessels out at sea for 95 days during each patrol. 
The PLAN’s first SSN patrol within the IOR lasted from December 3, 2013 till February 12, 2014. One Type 093 Shang-class boat left Longpo its bastion at Yulin on December 3. Ten days later, on December 13, the SSN reached the Gulf of Aden via the Ombai Wetar Strait near Indonesia. It remained on patrol in the area for nearly two months. Next to follow was the Type 039G1 Song-class SSK ‘Great Wall 329’ of the South Sea Fleet’s 32nd Submarine Flotilla, which later docked at the China-funded Colombo International Container Terminal in Sri Lanka from September 7 to 14, 2014 along with the Type 925-class tender Changxingdao 861. This was followed by a patrol of a Type 093 SSN from December 13, 2014 to February 14, 2015. After its two-month escort mission in the pirate-infested waters of the Gulf of Aden, this SSN returned to its base in Qingdao, Shandong province in April. Next came a S-20/Type 041A Yuan-class SSK 335 from the North Sea Fleet’s 2nd Submarine Flotilla that docked at Pakistan’s Karachi port on May 22, 2015, and was accompanied by the submarine tender Chang Xingdao 861. These two vessels had set sail from Hainan Island on March 31.
In January 2016 a Type 093 SSN was reportedly lurking in waters around the Andaman Sea. The vessel was in international waters and the IN’s P-8Is conducted specific ASW sorties over the Bay of Bengal and Andaman Sea. This SSN was accompanied by three warships that were part of the anti-piracy task force on duty off the coast of Africa, which returned to China after a four month deployment. Yu Manjiang, deputy chief of staff of the PLAN’s South China Sea Fleet, was the commanding officer of this flotilla. On its return journey, the flotilla was docked in Colombo, Sri Lanka, from January 17 to January 21. The anti-piracy escort force departed from the Gulf of Aden on January 3 and first headed for Pakistan. Colombo was its second stop, which was followed by a stopover at Chittagong, Bangladesh on a five-day goodwill visit in late January. Two of these warships (not the SSN) then arrived in India for the international fleet review on February 6/7 at Vishakapatnam. The flotilla comprised the Type 054A guided-missile frigates Liuzhou 573 and Sanya 574 of the South Sea Fleet, and a replenishment tanker, Qinghaihu 885. The Sanya 574 and Qinghaihu 885 arrived at Laem Chabang Port, Thailand, on February 17, 2016 for a five-day goodwill visit. This flotilla returned to a military port in Sanya on the morning of March 8, 2016, after completing 218-day missions and traveling nearly 90,000 nautical miles.
A Type 093 Shang-class SSN (SSN-409) was placed at Karachi in May 2016 with Type 925 submarine tender Yongxingdao 863 of the South Sea Fleet. A month later (June 2016) it was crossing through the Malacca Straits off the coast of Singapore along with Yun Cheng 571 FFG of the South Sea Fleet’s 1st Frigate Group.
From this, it can be deduced that in the years to come, the PLAN will continue with this practice of launching at the very least two annual long-distance patrols—one each by an SSN and SSK—into the IOR. Entry while remaining submerged into the IOR from either the South China Sea or the Pacific Ocean will be made through either the Lombok Strait or the Ombai Wetar Straits astride Indonesia. To logistically support such long-range deployments, China plans to build 18 to 19 overseas strategic supply bases in Djibouti, Yemen, Omen, Kenya, Tanzania, Mozambique, Namibia, Seychelles and Madagascar. In Namibia, China plans to build a naval supply base at Walvis Bay.
The Babur-3 SLCM Bakwaas Exposed 
On January 9, 2017 the following press-release was released by Pakistan’s ISPR (and curiously not from the PN):

From the contents of this press-release, it can safely be deduced that the cruise missile, a member of the Hatf-7 family, has a wingspan of 3.1 metres, length of 6 metres, diameter of 0.514 metres, and a mass of 900kg. Range of this SLCM has been claimed to be 450km, although it can attain 600km when carrying a 300kg warhead. The press-release’s contents need to be dissected, since they provide some pretty interesting insights into what is really at play here.
Firstly, it has been claimed that the maiden test-firing of the Babur-3 SLCM was conducted from an underwater, mobile platform that was located at an undisclosed location in the Indian Ocean. This test-firing, hailed as a 100% successful effort, was witnessed by the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee (CJCSC) General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, DG Strategic Plans Division (SPD) Lieutenant General Mazhar Jamil, and the Commander Naval Strategic Force Command (NSFC). Notable absentees from this event were the PN’s Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Muhammad Zakaullah, and Shahid Nabeel, Chairman of the National Engineering and Science Commission (NESCOM)—a state-owned entity that owns the National Defence Complex, the industrial entity that has reportedly the Hatf-7/Babur family of cruise missiles. Short video-clips of this alleged test-firing ( showed a cruise missiles breaking a water surface and adopting a shallow trajectory in elevation (meaning it was launched from a torpedo-tube and not a VLS cell), then cruising over land and finally hitting its designated target area somewhere in the vicinity of Balochistan’s central Makran mountain range.
Now, if the Babur-3 was indeed launched from a SSK belonging to the PN—and the PN has only three Agosta 90B and two Agosta 70B SSKs all of which are equipped with the THALES-supplied SUBTICS combat management system—then the fire-control system servers required for computing and transmitting the firing solution for/to the encapsulated Babur-3 would have to be integrated with the SUBTICS and the 533mm torpedo launch-tubes. This is an impossible task, given the fact that THALES does not share the operating source-codes of thre SUBTICS’ fire-control algorithms with anyone. Secondly, for the Babur-3 to have been fired from anywhere in the IOR and for the SLCM to reach Baluchistan, NOTAMs would have had to be issued at least 10 days in advance for clearly identifying the flight-path trajectory and cruising altitude for both airmen and merchant mariners. This was NOT done. Thirdly, as the video-clip shows, the test-firing was initiated from a submerged vehicle in calm waters (i.e. shallow waters), following which the SLCM cruised over a vast landmass, meaning the Babur-3’s entire flightpath was well within Pakistan’s territorial; waters and airspace. Lastly, the PN does not possess any naval vessel equipped with long-range precision-tracking radars, which is a prerequisite for any navy that is involved in test-firing land-attack cruise missiles from locations in the deep seas. Therefore, all this brings us to only one conceivable conclusion:
The test-firing was initiated from a submerged Type 093 Shang-class SSN (that had possibly left its homeport at Yulin in Hainan Island in the third week of December 2016) located well inside Pakistan’s territorial waters, and the SLCM fired was of 100% Chinese origin. And the video-clip of the test-firing was obviously edited and spliced to give the impression that the Babur-3 followed a text-book flightpath over land. This alleged westward flightpath first along Pakistan’s coastline and then into western Balochistan was showcased to give the impression that the flightpath was ideal for the NESCOM’s missile trajectory-tracking sensors located at the Sonmiani Flight Test Range in Sindh province. All this also ties in well with the Naval Strategic Force Command’s  inauguration in 2012, and the commissioning of a VLF communications facility—PNS Hameed—on November 15, 2016.
But the far more realistic probability is that of a Type 093 Shang-class SSN firing the SLCM not anywhere in the Arabian Sea or Indian Ocean (since even China had not issued the mandatory NOTAM whenever missile-firing drills are to be conducted over international waters, apart from the fact that any such test-firing would be considered as being highly provocative), but in the Bohai Sea sometime in the past, and not on January 9. This ties in perfectly well with the gray-colour scheme of the SLCM, which is the same colour adopted by all LACMs (like the K/AKD-20) and SLCMs in service with the PLA Navy. 
The Hatf-7/Babur family of LACMs on the other hand have always sported a bright orange colour-scheme whenever they have been test-fired.