Friday, 19 December 2014

India's first-ever warship export order: an offshore patrol vessel to Mauritius

India will hand over the Barracuda to Mauritius at Kolkata on Saturday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th Dec 2014

On Saturday, defence shipbuilder, Garden Reach Shipyard & Engineers (GRSE) will hand over to Mauritius a 1,300-tonne offshore patrol vessel (OPV) named “Barracuda”. This $58 million (Rs 365 crore) vessel is the first warship ordered by a foreign country from an Indian shipyard.

Meanwhile, GRSE is bidding to build two frigates for the Philippines Navy, for an estimated Rs 1,000 crore each. If GRSE wins that order --- for which major global shipyards are bidding, including Navantia of Spain, STX of France and Korean majors, Hyundai and Daewoo --- it would be the first time a warship designed and built in India is selected in an international tender.

India has gifted several warships to smaller Indian Ocean countries like Maldives, Seychelles and Mauritius. It has sold used vessels, such as a Sukanya-class OPV that now serves as the Sri Lankan navy’s flagship.

GRSE is also finalizing the design of a series of 140-tonne Fast Patrol Boats for the Vietnam Navy. New Delhi has offered a line of credit to Vietnam for that order.

Yet this is the first time an Indian shipyard has been commissioned to design and build a warship to specifications formulated by a buyer country. This marks an important first landmark in the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government’s drive to increase defence exports.

According to figures tabled in parliament on November 28, India’s total defence exports were Rs 446.75 crore in 2012-13; 686.27 crore in 2013-14 and Rs 166.67 crore this year, up to Sept 2014. The export of the Barracuda would, therefore, be a significant success.

The need to support defence exports has been understood for some time, with the United Progressive Alliance government formulating a “Defence Exports Strategy” and simplifying the procedure for granting export sanctions.

The BJP’s election manifesto in 2014 pledged: “We will encourage domestic industry to have a larger share in design and production of military hardware and platforms for both domestic use and exports, in a competitive environment.”

Senior naval officers have long argued for exporting warships to friendly countries in the Indo-Pacific region. This, they said, would strengthen India’s security partnerships, while providing economy of scale to India’s warship builders and ancillary companies.

Amongst all three services, the navy has most decisively promoted indigenous warship design and construction. All 41 warships currently on order for the navy are being built in Indian shipyards.

“Building in India provides significant cost advantages like cheaper labour, when compared with most foreign shipyards”, points out GRSE chief, Rear Admiral AK Verma (Retired).

As an example of successful indigenization, Verma points to the Kamorta-class anti-submarine corvettes that GRSE is building. He says: “The challenge is not just to build warships in India, but to also increase the indigenous content of each vessel. In the Kamorta-class, we have brought the overall indigenous content to about 90 per cent.”

Several navy chiefs have lamented the relative failure to indigenize engines, weapons and sensors. Earlier this month, the navy chief, Admiral RK Dhowan estimated that the float component of our warships (i.e. the hull) was more than 95 per cent indigenous; the move component (engine and transmission) was sometimes just 60 per cent; while the high-tech fight component (weapons and sensors) was barely 35-40 per cent indigenous.

Even so, the Mauritius coast guard is said to be pleased with the performance of the Barracuda, which has completed a month of sea trials. The GRSE chief says the vessel delivered a top speed of 22.5 knots (42 kilometres per hour), against the customer’s requirement of 20 knots (37 kilometres per hour).

The Barracuda has been designed for the usual OPV tasks --- anti-piracy; anti-smuggling; anti-poaching and search and rescue --- as well as additional tasks specified by Mauritius. The additional capabilities include: pollution response; external fire fighting; and the movement by sea of troops.

The Barracuda will be handed over by Minister of State for Defence, Rao Inderjit Singh, to the Mauritius government at Kolkata on Saturday. 

Defence ministry questions the need to replace Avro

Airbus C-295 that is flying with the Ghana Air Force

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Dec 2014

The ministry of defence (MoD) on Wednesday declined to clear the Indian Air Force (IAF) proposal for an Indian private sector company to build 56 medium transport aircraft in India. Instead, the ministry has asked the IAF why a new aircraft is needed at all.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar raised the question today at a meeting of the ministry’s apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC). The IAF will be required to answer.

The IAF has been arguing that replacing its ageing fleet of Avro HS-748 constitutes a domestic manufacturing opportunity for the private sector, building up a rival to public sector aerospace monopoly, Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Accordingly, tenders were sent out to reputed global aerospace vendors, including US firms Boeing and Lockheed Martin; European multinational Airbus Defence & Space; Antonov of Ukraine; Swedish company Saab; Ilyushin of Russia; and Italian company, Alenia Aeromacchi.

They were required to select an Indian private sector partner (HAL was explicitly ruled out) who would build 40 aircraft in the country with foreign technology, within eight years. The first 16 aircraft were to be built abroad and delivered quickly.

The response has been unenthusiastic, with only a single bid coming in by October 22, when the bids closed. That was from Airbus Defence and Space, which proposed to build the Airbus C295 medium transport aircraft in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL).

Meanwhile, Indian aerospace experts have written to the MoD pointing out glaring flaws in the so-called “Avro replacement programme”.

The first big question the IAF will be required to answer is: what operational role the new aircraft will play? The Avro itself has no operational role, being a “communications aircraft”, an air taxi that flies senior officers around the country.

Instead of replacing the Avro with a brand new aircraft, HAL has proposed extending the Avro’s service life by replacing its current Rolls Royce Dart engines with modern, fuel-efficient engines. HAL, which had built the Avro fleet between the 1960s and the 1980s, points out that each Avro flies barely 350 hours a year, and the airframes have thousands of hours of service life remaining.

The defence minister is now asking why the Avro needs replacement at a cost earlier estimated at Rs 11,897 crore. Given the rupee’s decline, the project cost would be currently be closer to Rs 14,000 crore.

The MoD is also questioning the wide variation between the Avro’s specifications and those of the C295 aircraft that has been offered. The Avro is basically a civil airliner, with side doors for passengers and without military attributes like a fuselage that opens at the rear and a ramp for loading equipment quickly. The “Avro replacement” on the other hand has the specifications of a military tactical transport aircraft, including: rear ramp, auxiliary power generator, and the capability to lift cargo to high altitude airfields like those on our border.

Parrikar is wondering why the IAF needs 56 new tactical airlifters, given its large fleet of AN-32s (which are being upgraded); newly-bought C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III; and the ageing IL-76.

In addition, India and Russia are jointly developing and building a brand new “Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA)”, which would overlap with the “Avro replacement aircraft”.

Furthermore, the MoD has observed the “Avro replacement” was sanctioned as a 50-seat aircraft that could lift 5 tonnes of cargo. The Airbus C-295 is a 71-seat aircraft that can lift 9.25 tonnes of cargo.

For the Tata Group, a cancellation of this project would be a blow. Its specialist defence manufacture company, Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL), hopes to expand on the back of a C-295 production line. So far, TASL has garnered relatively small manufacturing orders --- like helicopter cabins for Sikorsky; and C-130J parts for Lockheed Martin.

Already the MoD was reluctant to sign a contract with Airbus – Tata, since they were single vendors in the bidding. Now, however, the very rationale of replacing the Avro is being examined afresh.

Purchases cleared by MoD


Four survey vessels for navy
Rs 2,324 crore

Hydrological survey of seabed for naval operations

Upgrading Samyukta electronic warfare equipment

Rs 1,682 crore

Modernising equipment that listens to and jams enemy radio and radar

P-7 Heavy drop platform
Rs 402 crore

Para-dropping 7-tonne loads, like heavy equipment and light vehicles

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Defence Minister Parrikar gives window into his thinking --- likely to allow arms agents, impose steep fines for wrongdoing

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Dec 14

Publicly enunciating his impending policy initiatives, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar indicated today he could soon allow defence companies to have representatives in India; impose financial penalties on errant vendors rather than blacklisting them; and focus procurement on giving soldiers essential combat kit such as boots.

On the emotive issue of One Rank One Pension (OROP), a key demand of ex-servicemen who are demanding equal pension for retirees of equal rank who served for equal time, Parrikar promised it would come through in four to eight weeks, but retirees would get somewhat less than they hoped for.

On terrorist infiltration from Pakistan, Parrikar promised a policy within six months that would "end or at least reduce these blatant attacks." Significantly, Parrikar echoed the military’s line that India had military options short of full-scale war.

The defence minister spoke at a “conclave” in New Delhi on Friday, organised by the Aaj Tak television channel.

The ministry of defence (MoD) had banned “arms agents”, or representatives of foreign defence suppliers, after the Bofors kickbacks scandal in the late 1980s. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has proposed removing this ban and legalising registered representatives.

Parrikar said, “Whether you call them middlemen or agents or lobbyists or representatives, they should be formalised and legalised."

Endorsing the policy revision initiated by his predecessor, Arun Jaitley, Parrikar pointed out that company representatives served useful purposes, e.g. as a convenient channel of communication between the MoD and the company.

Parrikar warned that doubts about “defence agents” were aroused when their fee structure included a success fee, or a percentage of the contract value.

Instead the ministry would demand that the company submits full information about its representative’s fee structure and method of payment. “We would require a clear agreement, deposited with the MoD in advance with heavy financial penalties if you violate (the agreement).”

Parrikar rejected the blacklisting of companies that violated procurement norms, recommending punitive monetary penalties instead. Citing the example of Italian corporation, Finmeccanica, which faces severe restrictions after the MoD blamed its subsidiary, Agusta Westland, for corruption in the sale of AW-101 VVIP helicopters to India, Parrikar pointed out that Finmeccanica had 39 subsidiaries, some of which were involved in crucial contracts with India.

“Should we rule ourselves out of dealing with all of those 39 subsidiaries? There has to be a clear policy on that,” said the defence minister.

The Finmeccanica companies involved in important MoD acquisitions include marine specialist, WASS (torpedoes); Selex Electronics Systems (radar and communications); Alenia Aeromacchi (aircraft); and Otomelara (naval guns).

Instead of blacklisting, Parrikar suggested that “How much you (the company} violated, pay the Indian government 4-5 times that, only then will you be permitted to participate in defence tenders.”

Parrikar clarified that this was just “loud thinking” and that the actual policy on representatives and blacklisting would be announced in January 2015.

On OROP, Parrikar said the MoD was identifying the financial cost. Estimating that ex-servicemen would get about 80 per cent of their demand, Parrikar said, “100 per cent satisfaction to everyone is never given in real life.”

Parrikar expressed confidence in his own decision-making, declaring that he had the competence to understand complicated matters, isolate key issues and arrive at the right decision.

Implying that his predecessor, AK Antony, did not go into details adequately, Parrikar claimed “I get up early in the morning; I spend half an hour, or an hour reading a complicated file. Once you have good intentions, there can be no questions about the quality of the judgment”, said Parrikar.

However, Parrikar declined to praise Antony for his probity, saying, “Honesty is not a solution”. Instead, what was needed was “decision making ability”.

Parrikar promised he would also bring wrongdoers to book. “You have to get into the muck to clear the muck… I am not scared of going into a room full of dirt. When I come out, I will go into a shower and clean it off,” he declared.

Based on his interaction with soldiers in high-altitude posts, Parrikar says he will give top priority to providing combat essentials like boots to soldiers, even those who were not entitled to the high-quality clothing issued at Siachen Glacier.

“If I can give good boots and equipment in Siachen, why not to these soldiers?” said Parrikar.

Significantly, Parrikar indicated boots etc would be prioritised over high-cost combat platforms. Pointing out that 90 per cent of the procurement budget was already committed towards earlier contracts, he said, “If there are resource (constraints), I will prefer to settle the smaller amounts.”

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Russian roulette: Putin arrives for Indo-Russian summit

Ties between the close allies are fraying as Russia looks to Pakistan

by Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Dec 14

For most of the past half-century, New Delhi and Moscow have been the closest of geostrategic partners. During India's deep tensions with China in the 1960s, its 1971 war with Pakistan, during Russia's ill-fated occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s, through India's military struggle against Pakistan-backed insurrections and in their joint support to the Northern Alliance against the Taliban, New Delhi and Moscow have been able to truthfully declare that there was not the slightest conflict of interest between the two countries. Russia's strategic interests in South Asia were fully met through backing India; while New Delhi's differences with Western capitals during the Cold War, especially Washington D C, kept it onside with Moscow in every important way. Even without a significant trade relationship or people-to-people exchanges, Russia-India cooperation in the strategic defence, space and nuclear power sectors allowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi to tell Russia's President Vladimir Putin during the BRICS summit in July that every child in India knows that Russia is its best friend.

Mr Putin comes to Delhi at a time when this close relationship has begun to fray. Irked perhaps by India's growing relationship with the United States, which recently supplanted Russia as India's top weapons supplier, Moscow has transgressed a major Indian red line with a new arms-supply relationship with Pakistan. In mid-November, Sergei Shoigu became the first Russian defence minister to visit Pakistan since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In Islamabad, he signed a military cooperation agreement with Pakistan, declaring that the world “wants to do business with Pakistan now”. There is talk of a sale of Russian military helicopters to Pakistan. Moscow and Islamabad agreed to increase port calls by their respective naval warships, fight terrorism together and, perhaps most galling for New Delhi, work together to stabilise Afghanistan.

Even more worrying for New Delhi is Russia's deepening embrace of China, accelerated by Russia's isolation after its Crimean adventure. Although Moscow is painfully aware of its strategic and economic vulnerability vis-à-vis China, economic need has induced Russia to step up energy supplies to China, and supply arms and sensitive defence technologies that it knows China will quickly absorb, reproduce and even export. Russian technology and equipment previously supplied to China - such as the RD-93 jet engine - were diverted to Pakistan; the RD-93 engine now powers the Pakistan Air Force's JF-17 Thunder fighter.

As Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin sit down together for the 15th Annual India-Russia Summit, they would do well to reflect on ways of resuscitating the “special and privileged strategic partnership”. There are still many common interests that can be built upon. Even as India diversifies its purchase of tactical weapon systems, it looks mainly to Russia for strategic projects like the design and leasing of nuclear submarines; and the co-development and manufacture of a fifth-generation fighter aircraft. India remains dependent on Russia for maintaining its huge Russian-supplied arsenal. Even as Moscow signs and negotiates gigantic hydrocarbon supply arrangements with China, it would want to retain a hedge by enhancing supply agreements with India. New Delhi has already pointed out that it refused to endorse western sanctions after Russia's annexation of the Crimea, and declined to apportion blame. New Delhi has announced that the two countries would spell out a joint road map for the next decade.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Rare video footage of Pakistan Army surrender in Bangladesh


Amazing response from a Pakistani brigadier, who was asked what he felt about surrendering, "Part of the game, I suppose", he replied.

It was also "part of the game" to kill half a million Bangladeshis, I suppose!

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Confusion in command in Jammu & Kashmir

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Dec 2014

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has shocked the army, and possibly alienated it seriously, with his statement in Srinagar on Monday that, under his BJP government, “for the first time in 30 years, the army admitted its mistake.”

Already junior field commanders were simmering at the restraints placed on them by top generals in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). In a furious WhatsApp message that whizzed through army networks, junior officers blamed the deaths of eight soldiers in a militant strike near Uri on Friday, on tight operational restraints that were allegedly blunting the combat edge of frontline units.

The perception that unit and sub-unit commanders’ hands are tied is rooted in two recent events. The first is the public admission (referred to by the prime minister) by Lieutenant General DS Hooda, the army’s top general in J&K, that soldiers at an army checkpoint made a mistake in shooting dead two Kashmiri boys on November 3 after their car ran an army check post near Chhattergam village in South Kashmir. An immediate court of inquiry swiftly found nine soldiers culpable and further disciplinary action will follow. The second event on November 15 was the awarding of life sentences by a court martial to five soldiers, including two officers, for cold-bloodedly murdering three innocent Kashmiri men who were cynically labelled terrorists. This perception will only be reinforced by the PM’s ill-advised statement.

In fact, while these events sent a powerful message through the army, there is nothing to support the allegation that soldiers unnecessarily died in the Uri attack because sentries hesitated to shoot at the militants as they approached the army post. The army rightly insists that soldiers manning a vehicle check post on a busy public road in broad daylight should be restrained in opening fire, even when suspicious behaviour is observed. Yet no commander has, or would, demand restraint from a sentry at an isolated post near the Line of Control when he sees figures approaching him during a night curfew. Army media managers have been active on social media, highlighting this crucial difference.

Even so, this has highlighted crucial issues for the army. The first is the contradiction between the generals’ insistence, on the one hand, that the army must operate with restraint, winning over the populace by avoiding collateral damage; while on the other hand demanding a high operational tempo, with the performance of field commanders measured largely in the currency of militants killed. Junior officers are confused and angered by irreconcilable demands for both “kills” and winning hearts and minds.

There is also contradiction between demanding a soft touch from the field; while simultaneously professing that the army cannot operate without the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA). This act, which allows even non-commissioned officers to kill on suspicion, was designed for mass insurrection where public order evaporates. To insist upon it in today’s Kashmir sends a confusing message to the frontlines: “If you shoot the wrong person or destroy the wrong house, you are protected against the criminal justice system and the law of the land. But, nevertheless, we will court martial you under military law.”

The bull that nobody wants to take by the horns is the reality that, as long as Kashmir remains a battleground between two opposing sets of heavily armed men, with both sets wary of being attacked any moment, errors like the one at Chhattergam will take place. No army conducts a serious counter-insurgency campaign in a heavily populated area without collateral damage. Mistakes will have to be condoned, or else transform the army’s mission to armed policing.

If the generals were really serious about eliminating collateral damage, they would think seriously about lifting AFSPA from select areas. This would break a negative spiral by boosting public confidence in a positive future; reduce support for armed militancy; and create a climate for progressive demilitarisation; which is the best way to diminish the possibility of damaging errors by the security forces. Operational errors cannot be eliminated by orders from headquarters.

Even as the generals have ignored the possibilities of this virtuous spiral, New Delhi has failed to understand that hard men with guns cannot manage Kashmir forever. The army can only create the security environment for a political settlement, something that it has already done several times at enormous cost. Yet, each time, the opportunity has been squandered through political lassitude; and instead of transforming the Kashmir narrative into a peace dialogue, it has reverted to accusations of human rights violations, fuelled by incidents like Machhil and Chhattergam. The army’s convoluted attempt to retain both AFSPA and restraint stems from its recognition that, while minimising the possibility of collateral damage, it must retain legal cover in case Kashmir goes up in flames.

Thirdly, this has underlined the need for the military to come to terms with social media like WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter, which will inevitably become forums for the voices of junior ranks. The army’s top command has long been blessed with a rank and file that keeps its opinions to itself. Today, the anonymity of social media has given a voice to even the most supine juniors. These voices will be increasingly heard over social media unless the army transforms its deeply unequal and hierarchical relationship structures into ones that cater for the expression of dissent over issues like operational restraint. With few signs of democratisation, the army’s media managers need to reflect on how they will manage anonymous dissent. The reflexive urge to restrict social media is unlikely to succeed. Only a vibrant internal discourse that allows a frank exchange of views and an outlet for grievances will prevent those from being increasingly leaked into the public space. Today the junior officers are venting angst; tomorrow it will be the increasingly techno-savvy rank and file. 

HAL trainer aircraft or Pilatus? Govt verdict today

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Dec 14

The moment of truth has arrived in the long running duel between the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) over which trainer aircraft should be used for teaching IAF rookies to fly.

Business Standard has learnt that, on Tuesday morning, the ministry of defence (MoD) will hold a special meeting of the apex Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, to definitively choose between their competing demands.

The IAF wants the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 Mark II, while HAL wants to supply the Hindustan Turbo Trainer – 40 (HTT-40) it is developing, which is slated to fly next year. On Thursday, both sides made final presentations before the MoD.

In 2009, the ministry had ruled the IAF would buy 75 trainers from abroad, while HAL developed and built 106 HTT-40 trainers in India, thus meeting the IAF’s need for 181 aircraft. In May 2012, the IAF bought 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainers for Swiss Francs 577 million (Rs 3,727 crore).

Then, the IAF demanded the HTT-40 programme be scrapped, and 106 more aircraft be bought from Pilatus. It alleged the HTT-40 was too expensive; would take too long to deliver; and that the IAF could not operate two different kinds of basic trainer aircraft.

On Thursday, HAL forcefully rebutted these contentions before a high-level MoD “categorization committee”. HAL officials stated the HTT-40 was cheaper than the Pilatus, which has priced the PC-7 Mark II at Swiss Francs 6.09 million each (Rs 38.5 crore). HAL has priced the HTT-40 at Rs 32.8 crore per aircraft.

A key part of HAL’s presentation focused on the HTT-40’s high indigenous content. Unlike the Swiss aircraft, which is bought over-the-counter without any indigenization, HAL promised the HTT-40 would be 70 per cent indigenous.

HAL explained that, of its trainer’s 95 systems, 55 are of Indian design and build. Another 35 systems will be built in India with transferred technology, including the aircraft’s Honeywell engine. Only 5 systems will be built abroad.

HAL explained this would make it easy to support the HTT-40 through its service life. The 53 PC-7 Mark II trainers already delivered by Pilatus face problems with service support. Pilatus has asked HAL to negotiate licensing and service agreements with more than 28 separate vendors.

“If Pilatus is playing hardball with the IAF with a contract for 106 trainers in the offing, imagine how difficult they’ll be when that contract is in the bag,” an HAL official told the MoD.

HAL officials made another powerful argument to the MoD on Thursday --- that “end user” agreements with Pilatus ban India from weaponising the PC-7 Mark II, which means kitting it out as a light fighter with guns, bombs and rockets. In contrast, weaponising the HTT-40 and selling it to allies like Afghanistan would require no foreign permission.

HAL also briefed the MoD on the progress of the HTT-40, which is expected to make its first flight next year. The MoD was shown photographs of the HTT-40’s front fuselage, which is already built.

Finally, countering the IAF’s argument against two types of basic trainers, HAL told the MoD that several air forces operated two basic trainers. The Turkish Air Force has bought the indigenous Hurkus trainer, even as most of its pilots train on the T-37 Tweety Bird. Ankara did this to support the Hurkus, which is built by Turkish Aerospace Industries.

The IAF argued that the HTT-40 would be costlier than the Pilatus trainer over its 30-year service life. When HAL challenged this contention, the IAF was not able to back it with figures.

The MoD categorisation committee will deliver important inputs into the DAC meeting on Tuesday. The final choice will be exercised by the DAC.

“Backing the HTT-40 would be line with the prime minister’s “Make in India” thrust. It would help create a network of small and medium aerospace suppliers that would be essential for future indigenous aircraft programmes”, says Pushpindar Singh, publisher of Vayu Magazine and a respected aerospace expert.

Rookie pilots learn to fly in 80 hours of Stage-1 training in a basic trainer. Those found fit to become fighter pilots then do Stage-2 training on the Kiran trainer, which will be replaced by the Sitara Intermediate Jet Trainer that HAL is developing. Stage-3 training is on the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT), after which pilots graduate to the frontline fighters that they would fly into battle.