Friday, 9 October 2015

Air force women will fly fighter aircraft

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 9th Oct 15

India’s women in uniform will soon smash a massive glass ceiling that has held for 83 years of the Indian Air Force’s history. On Thursday, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, announced that women would soon be cleared for flying fighter aircraft, for the first time allowing women into front line combat.

So far, the IAF’s 1,500 women officers have been employed in logistic and administrative roles. About a hundred have earned their pilots wings, but they fly only transport aircraft and helicopters. These women pilots actually do perform combat roles, but they do not share the glamour and machismo that fighter pilots the world over have traditionally arrogated to themselves.

In the sub-continent, Pakistan took the lead in allowing women into fighter cockpits. Now, says Raha, Indian women too will deliberately and knowingly fly into combat.

“We are now planning to induct them into the fighter stream to meet the aspirations of young women of India”, said the IAF chief.

Raha said a proposal has been sent to the defence ministry, and it is a matter of time before women fly fighters. Given the training required, it would be at least two-to-three years before India’s first women fighter pilots are commissioned into the IAF.

The modest and low-key Raha is proving to be an unexpectedly reformist air force chief. He has done more than any of his predecessors to induct the indigenous Tejas fighter into service, a step that will go a long way to revive falling squadron numbers. Now he has taken the reformist step of allowing women as fighter pilots.

The air force is now ahead of the army and navy, which are still dragging their feet in permitting women into combat roles. The barrier between combat and non-combat, though, is steadily blurring. Naval women officers are not permitted into the executive branch, which actually sails warships and mans (not yet “womans”) its weapons systems. Yet, these women physically sail into harms way as logistics and administrative officers on frontline warships.

Similarly, women army officers are not allowed to serve in the three combat arms: armoured corps, infantry and mechanised infantry. Even so, they perform equally dangerous jobs as officers in the engineers and signals and logistical services that operate at the frontlines.

Military sociologists have theorised that man’s urge to keep women away from frontline soldiering stems from the patrimonial urge to “protect the weaker sex” and safeguard them from rape and abuse. However, this argument has frayed as women increasingly went into combat and proved themselves the equal of men.

The army’s last line of defence against allowing women into ground combat roles is that their smaller physique prevents them from carrying heavy combat loads over long distances. Now, the US military, even the hyper-macho Marine Corps, is allowing women to join, provided they can meet the physical standards that men must display.

In India, the barriers have fallen more slowly. India’s military began taking in women officers in the early 1990s for a 5-year, short-service tenure. That was extended to ten years, then 14 years. In 2010, the Delhi High Court ruled in favour of army and IAF women officers being allowed long-service, “permanent commissions”. Last month, the navy lost a case in the Delhi High Court, becoming the last of the three services allowing permanent commissions to women officers. 

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Samsung-L&T win Rs 12,500 crore artillery contract

Major production contracts likely for L&T facilities in Powai and Pune

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Oct 15

Indian engineering major, Larsen & Toubro (L&T), in partnership with Korea’s Samsung Techwin (STW), has bagged a Rs 4,875 crore ($750 million) order for supplying the Indian Army with 100 self-propelled (SP), tracked howitzers.

Business Standard has learnt the defence ministry has written to L&T and STW informing them that their gun --- called the K-9 Vajra --- has cleared army trials conducted in 2013 and 2014. Simultaneously, the ministry has written to the other vendor in contention, Russia’s arms export agency, Rosoboronexport (RoE), rejecting the gun it offered, the 2S19 MSTA howitzer.

The K-9 Vajra consist of a 155 millimetre, 52-calibre howitzer, mounted on a tracked vehicle. It is highly mobile and can keep up with tank columns in the open desert. The Indian army wants this gun for its mechanized strike corps, which launches rapid thrusts deep into enemy territory.

The strike corps’ T-90S tanks currently outpace their artillery guns, which are towed by wheeled vehicles. This constrains the tank spearheads to fight without artillery support at key moments in the advance. With the K-9 Vajra mounted on a tracked vehicle that keeps up with tanks, the armour spearheads would be assured of heavy fire support.

The contract falls under the “Buy Global” category of procurement, which provides for over-the-counter sales of ready-built defence equipment. Despite that, STW has partnered L&T to ensure that a full 50 per cent of the weapon system is built in India.

L&T plans to build 13 major sub-systems of the K-9 Vajra at its facilities in Pune, Talegaon and Powai. This includes the fire control system, ammunition handling system, muzzle velocity radar, and the nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) system.

With the acquisition subject to 30 per cent offset liability, the high percentage of domestic manufacture meets that requirement easily.

The exact cost of the deal is still unknown, since the commercial bid submitted by STW and L&T has not yet been opened. However, STW-L&T are the only ones remaining of the four companies that originally bid: Bharat Earth Movers Ltd (BEML), Tata Power, RoE and STW-L&T. The first two didn’t make it to the trial stage, while RoE failed to meet the army’s requirements during trials.

The army requires at least three K-9 Vajra regiments for each of its three armoured divisions, and another regiment for each of the independent armoured brigades in the three strike corps. The eventual requirement, therefore, is of 12 regiments of tracked SP guns, i.e. 252 K-9 Vajra systems.

That suggests supplementary purchases of the K-9 Vajra would take the order up from the initial Rs 5,000 crore for 100 guns, to at least Rs 12,500 crore. The vendors would continue reaping benefits from maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade of the gun through its 30-40 year service lifetime.

L&T has pursued its relationship with STW strategically, ever since the two sides struck up a partnership in 2007. Noting that the Samsung gun’s turret fired only a single type of high-explosive ammunition, against India’s requirement of multiple warheads, L&T re-engineered and indigenized the gun control system to conform to the Indian Army’s requirements.

Besides the K-9 Vajra, the army is looking to buy several more gun types to equip its 264 artillery regiments that have not bought new equipment since 1986, when Bofors controversially supplied India 410 FH-77 howitzers.

In the pipeline now are 114 howitzers from the Ordnance Factory Board (OFB), with the order possibly rising to 414 guns if they perform well. The Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is partnering Indian private companies in the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun (ATAG) project to develop a new 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun. A contract could be concluded soon with BAE Systems for 145 ultralight howitzers for mountain formations. In November, the ministry sanctioned the purchase of 814 mounted gun systems (MGS) for an estimated Rs 15,750 crore. Meanwhile separate tenders are out for 180 wheeled (self-propelled) howitzers, and 1580 towed guns.

The defence ministry and L&T declined to comment on this subject.

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Air force protects Dadri victims, but minorities remain tricky question for military

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 7th Oct 15

Theatre director Amir Raza Husain’s open-air extravaganza in 2000, just after the Kargil conflict, titled “The 50 Day War”, had a scene where a young Pakistani soldier in a bunker high above Kargil, hears an azaan (the Muslim call to prayer) drifting up from an Indian army unit across the front lines. Snatching his rifle, the young soldier snaps, “The Hindustanis are mocking our religion”. The grizzled old-timer with him calms the youngster, explaining that India’s military had people from many religions, including Muslims, all of whom worshipped whoever, and however, they liked.

This remains largely true. Yet, the murderous assault on Mohammad Akhlaq on September 28, in Bisara village, near Dadri, on Delhi’s eastern outskirts, after rumours that he had beef in his refrigerator (not a crime under Indian law), highlights the pulls and pressures on Muslim soldiers, sailors and airmen from growing communal polarisation outside the cantonment.

An example is the murdered man’s son, Mohammed Sartaj, who is an Indian Air Force (IAF) corporal, based in Chennai. On Saturday, in New Delhi, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, reacted to Akhlaq’s gory lynching with the promise that Sartaj and his family would get accommodation and refuge in an IAF station.

“We are already in touch… Whatever protection is required, we are giving it to him. We are trying to move (them) to some air force area. We are with him, and our people are there to assist the family,” said Raha.

The IAF chief has displayed unusual political courage, given that the government and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) have downplayed the incident. Party members have leavened their condemnation with the rider that this was an isolated accident.

Echoing the party position, the co-convener of its ex-servicemen’s cell, Group Captain (Retired) Karan Singh Bhati, told Business Standard: “Even earlier there used to be communal riots. Ahmedabad has a history of such disturbances. But this has never had a bad effect inside the services.”

Raha knows he is swimming against the tide. He carefully stated: “Writing to the state government or central government, I think, is superfluous because everybody has understood in the government that such things cannot be accepted. Adequate action is being taken at the government level, both central as well as state.”

The air chief’s public support will help Sartaj and his family in coming to terms with what has happened, says Colonel (Retired) Jaideep Singh, who has commanded army Muslim sub-units for two decades. “The IAF’s support will prove psychologically crucial for Sartaj’s morale, and for easing his family’s trauma”, says Singh.

Sartaj’s own conduct in the face of personal grief and public provocation has so far been statesmanlike. On NDTV, he called for restraint, not political point-scoring, saying: "Because of some people, the atmosphere is being vitiated. I appeal to them for peace and communal harmony. It is not time for politics but for empathy."

Serving military officers say that, given the charged communal temper created by incidents like the Akhlaq murder, it is often difficult to retain a sense of communal well being inside units with Muslims.

“Within the fauj, a Muslim seldom feels different from his fellow soldiers. The army systems cater for religious and regional differences. Muslim soldiers get halal rations in units where there are a significant number of Muslims. They can pray in a unit masjid, which is looked after by a military maulvi”, says a retired Muslim officer.

Diverse units like the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry (JAK LI), which has Hindu, Muslim and Sikh soldiers, worship in common prayer halls called Sarv Dharam Sthal (institution of all religions). In an irreverent professional touch, some JAK LI units have started calling them MMGs --- for ‘mandir, masjid, gurdwara’; but also the widely used military acronym for ‘medium machine gun’.

Compared to this relaxed communal environment that Mohammad Sartaj enjoyed in his duty station in Chennai, many wonder how he adjusted to Dadri’s knife-edge communal tension when he went home on leave.

Senior officers admit the BJP’s revival, and the mainstreaming of the Hindutva narrative that has accompanied this political shift, have complicated communal relations within the army.

A senior officer says: “Hindutva is now equated with nationalism. And it is assumed that those who oppose Hindutva are, somehow, anti-national.” Minorities like Muslims and Christians finds themselves on the wrong side of this divide.

Commanders’ worst nightmare is a communally divided military. The revolt by even small number of Sikh troops after the army’s June 1984 assault on the Golden Temple has left a traumatic imprint.

Compared to Sikhs, there are far fewer Muslim soldiers, sailors and airmen. Recognising the political sensitivity of these numbers, the military has refused to release figures, rebuffing right to information queries after the Sachar Commission report.

Business Standard is aware only of a classified study in the early 1990s, which found the army had less than 450 Muslim officers, just 1.5 per cent of the officer cadre. Informed sources say it is about 750 today, still fewer than 2 per cent, and disproportionately lower than the 13-14 per cent Muslim share of India’s population.

“Every commander wants to insulate his troops from the ills and difficulties of society. This was possible when cantonments were cloistered environments. Today, with soldiers on mobile phones and social media, the cantonments are a part of the world outside. The military’s secular motivation of “naam, namak aur nishan” (reputation, loyalty and flag) rallies troops across the religious divide. But it is getting difficult”, says a recently retired lieutenant general.

Even so, former chief of the Minorities Commission, Wajahat Habibullah, rejects the notion that there is widespread communal disharmony outside the cantonment and complete harmony inside. “Incidents like the assault on Mohammed Akhlaq are not the norm; much of the Hindu and Muslim population co-exists peacefully. But when people start unthinkingly disturbing this delicate balance, they are playing with fire. And the cantonment walls cannot keep out such a fire”, says Habibullah. 

Monday, 5 October 2015

Indian Air Force chief expects full strength of 42 squadrons by 2027

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Oct 15

Indian Air Force (IAF) boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, has verified Business Standard’s report (October 2, “Parrikar cuts Gordian knot to boost Tejas line”) that the air force was ordering 120 (six squadrons) Tejas Mark I Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), triple the 40 aircraft it had previously committed to buying from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday, in the lead up to Air Force Day on October 8, Raha declared: “We are ready to take more --- 120 (fighters), six squadrons of Tejas… We are ready to take it as soon as they (HAL) can provide it. That means they have to ramp up the production rate, which is running behind schedule… But we will take all 120.”

Raha endorsed Business Standard’s description of the configuration of the additional fighters, which is being dubbed the Tejas Mark 1A. It will have an under-wing pod for electronic warfare and jamming, aerial refuelling capability, better air-to-air missiles and rearranged internals for easy maintenance.

Unlike former air force chiefs who have often used Air Force Day to paint a dire picture of a weakening air force with dwindling aircraft numbers, an optimistic Raha predicted “We are looking forward to building up our combat fleet to 42 squadrons by the end of the 14th plan, by 2027. I think it is possible, it is viable, there are a lot of options available with us, and discussions are already on.”

Raha’s optimism rests on his acceptance of indigenisation, a notable turnaround from his predecessors, who never planned beyond one-to-two Tejas squadrons. Raha’s acceptance of six Tejas squadrons immediately makes the numbers better.

Furthermore, he is bullish on the next-generation “advanced medium combat aircraft” (AMCA) that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has begun designing in close partnership with the IAF.

Raha sees the AMCA, which he says will take 15 years of development and prototype testing, as the IAF’s future, along with the “fifth-generation fighter aircraft” (FGFA) that Russia and India plan to co-develop.

The AMCA would come into service around 2030, just in time to replace three types of IAF combat aircraft whose service lives are currently being extended through avionics upgrades (MiG-29 and Mirage 2000), and an engine replacement programme (Jaguar).

Raha signalled growing IAF disenchantment with the FGFA, something that has been increasingly evident from the inability of New Delhi and Moscow to agree on an R&D contract. The air chief confessed: “There are some issues which have cropped up in terms of the work share, in terms of the present technological and technical aspects of the PAK-FA (the Russian FGFA prototype, which is undergoing test flights), and of course the cost visibility. So these are the issues we are looking at and they have been taken up at the highest level.”

However, the air chief believes that the AMCA’s promise compensates for uncertainty over the FGFA. Says Raha: “If the FGFA comes through it is fine, otherwise the Indian FGFA --- that is the AMCA, the advanced medium combat aircraft --- we still have over 15 years to work on it before the MiG-29 upgraded aircraft retire, before the Mirage 2000 upgraded ones retire, as well as Jaguar upgraded ones retire in another 15 years.”

In contrast to its aloofness from the Tejas programme, the IAF has immersed itself in the AMCA programme, to the DRDO’s pleasant surprise. Raha enthuses: “I’m very sure, if we put our hearts and souls together, and if the air force, the DRDO, the ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) and HAL and other agencies involved take joint responsibility, joint accountability and joint ownership, [AMCA] is highly possible.”

Notwithstanding Raha’s embrace of indigenisation, he retains the IAF’s conviction that it is essential to have at least six squadrons of the Rafale.

Interestingly, he leaves the door open for any other medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). “I cannot give you numbers, but definitely we would like to have the MMRCA type of aircraft, at least six squadrons to my mind. But let’s see, there may be some other alternatives as well,” he said.

The IAF chief stressed on the on-going development of advanced landing ground (ALGs) along the Himalayan frontiers, especially in Jammu & Kashmir and the north-east. He said Nyoma and Kargil airports in Ladakh are important “Not only for capability enhancement of the air force in support of the army, it is also going to help us in increased tourist traffic and economic development.”

Indicating that Kargil would be developed as a tourist hub, Raha said the IAF would “extend the runway not only so that it can be used by larger bodied aircraft of the air force, or combat aircraft, but also larger-bodied (civil) aircraft…”

In contrast, Nyoma, which is being developed as a fighter-capable airfield in remote Southern Ladakh, at an altitude of over 13,000 feet, would take longer, because of its hostile climate and short working seasons. “So even if we can start the work this year, it will take several working seasons, to my mind between three and five to complete the work.” 

Saturday, 3 October 2015

Indo-Pak dialogue off the table, no viable options in hand

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 3rd Oct 15

Just five out of 33 paragraphs in Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj’s speech at the United Nations (UN) General Assembly on Thursday referred directly to terrorism, specifically Pakistan-backed terrorism. Yet, Swaraj’s measured comments, a day after an official from India’s Permanent Mission at the UN fired an unrestrained broadside at Islamabad while exercising India’s “Right of Reply” to Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s speech earlier on Wednesday, doused hopes of any early resumption of the Indo-Pakistan peace dialogue

There was already a pall over the dialogue process after New Delhi’s cancellation of a meeting scheduled on August 23 between the two national security advisors (NSAs). That cancellation resulted from Islamabad’s insistence that NSA Sartaj Aziz would raise the Kashmir question during his visit to New Delhi, even though the two prime ministers had agreed in July at Ufa, Russia, that the NSAs would discuss terrorism.

Sharif’s speech at the UN, which followed his Indian counterpart’s comparatively restrained address, made it clear that Islamabad had decided to use the UN podium for grandstanding on Kashmir, rather than for a return to dialogue. Sharif’s “four-point proposal” for peace with India violated key Indian red lines. First, he proposed that “Pakistan and India formalise and respect [the] 2003 understanding for complete ceasefire on LoC [Line of Control] in Kashmir”, towards which the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) should be expanded. Ever since the Shimla Agreement of 1972, in which the two countries had agreed to settle all disputes bilaterally, New Delhi has argued that UNMOGIP, which represents a multilateral body (the UN), must be wound up.

Sharif’s second proposal was that “Pakistan and India will not resort to the use or the threat of use of force under any circumstances”. New Delhi and Islamabad have batted around the idea of a “no war pact” since 1949, when it was first raised by India. However, each country has rejected it in turn. For New Delhi at present, signing a “no war pact” would amount to renouncing the use of its powerful military, which is seen as an essential deterrent to Pakistan’s export of terror to India.

The Pakistani PM’s third suggestion was even more provocative, proposing, “steps be taken to demilitarise Kashmir.” With Indian security forces daily combating Pakistan-sponsored militancy and separatism in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), New Delhi has ruled out demilitarising even relatively peaceful districts of that state. Any suggestion to demilitarise the state would be quickly dismissed by Indian security planners as “giving a walk-over to the separatists”.

Sharif’s fourth suggestion of “an unconditional mutual withdrawal from Siachen Glacier, the world’s highest battleground” is quite simply a non-starter. India’s military has made it clear that any demilitarisation of Siachen, which is dominated fully by Indian picquets, would have to be preceded by a delineation of existing front lines so that Pakistan cannot sneak back and occupy the heights of the Saltoro Ridge.

This is all well known to Pakistan but, over the last two years, that country’s approach to dialogue with India has dramatically changed. No longer does Islamabad or the Pakistan Army hanker for peace talks. They have understood the futility of talking to an India that is unwilling, and unable, to make concessions on Kashmir. Nor, since the departure of General Pervez Musharraf, has there been a Pakistani leader who could carry off domestically an agreement like the “four-point formula” on J&K reached between Musharraf and then Indian prime minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, which involved “making the border irrelevant”.

New Delhi too has concluded that dialogue is currently unachievable. Said Swaraj on Thursday: “Yesterday the Prime Minister of Pakistan proposed what he termed as a four-point new peace initiative. I would like to respond. We do not need four points, we need just one --- give up terrorism and let us sit down and talk.”

Effectively, this signals an end to New Delhi’s longstanding system of rewarding and punishing Islamabad by scheduling or cancelling talks. Nor are there any alternative diplomatic incentives at hand. That leaves New Delhi with only verbal or military options, both of questionable utility.

Like many antagonists before them, New Delhi and Islamabad could theoretically bypass the thorny disagreements of J&K, Siachen and terrorism, and instead discuss issues like trade and commerce and people-to-people ties that would create constituencies for peace. However, Islamabad has always seen discussions on these topics as a concession to India, while New Delhi has seen discussions on the security related issues of J&K, Siachen and Sir Creek as a concession to Pakistan.

Pakistan’s current belligerence stems from the belief within its security establishment that events in Afghanistan are going its way; that China is emerging as a credible alternative to America as a superpower sponsor; and that the Pakistan Army is prevailing in the fight against anti-Pakistan terrorist groups like the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), Baluch separatists, and rising disaffection in Gilgit-Baltistan.

As India and Pakistan disengage from the dialogue process, presumably temporarily, the strength that they return to the table with depends upon how they deal with these internal conflicts. Despite Pakistan’s current optimism, its apparently favourable internal environment could quickly turn hostile. The Taliban’s lightning capture of Konduz, in Afghanistan, this week indicates how fast events are moving. The history of AfPak from 1996-2001 has shown that, as the Taliban grows stronger, it becomes less amenable to control by Pakistan.

New Delhi, with little control over those developments, would do well to use this interval for instituting a serious internal dialogue with Kashmiri separatists, one that would undermine Pakistan’s own channels of communications with them. For too long, New Delhi has acted as if all roads to Srinagar pass through Islamabad. It is time to forge a credible New Delhi – Srinagar axis. 

Friday, 2 October 2015

Parrikar cuts Gordian knot to boost Tejas line

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 2nd Oct 2015

For years, the development of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) has followed a two-stage roadmap: first, an initial Tejas Mark I was to be developed, powered by the General Electric (GE) F-404IN engine. A more capable Tejas Mark II, featuring the more powerful GE F-414 engine, would follow this.

The Business Standard first reported (August 13, 2015, “With Tejas Mark II years away, HAL asks air force to buy Tejas Mark 1A”) the proposal to build an interim fighter, referred to as the Tejas Mark 1A.

Now the Business Standard has details of the interim fighter, which would fly with the same F-404 engine as the Tejas Mark I, but yet be more capable than the version currently cleared for production.

The aeronautical establishment is referring to the interim fighter as Tejas Mark 1A, though this name has not been officially allocated.

The Mark 1A will overcome a major drawback in the Mark I, the absence of a “self protection jammer”. Fighter aircraft have these “electronic warfare” (EW) systems to jam or blind enemy radars, preventing them from detecting the aircraft; and to prevent air-to-air and ground-to-air missiles from homing onto the fighter.

The Tejas Mark I was to have an “on-board EW system”, but lacks the space for one. It has, therefore, been decided to develop an EW pod for the Mark 1A, which will be carried externally under the fighter’s wing.

The Mark 1A will also have a mid-air refuelling probe to enhance its endurance and operational range. It will be integrated with long range Derby and Python air-to-air missiles for aerial combat, and its internal systems will be re-arranged for better accessibility, making the fighter easier to maintain.

Ministry and Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) sources say Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has thrown his weight behind this initiative. At his persuasion, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has begun preparing a procurement proposal for 80 Tejas fighters, over and above the 20 Tejas Mark I already on order in “initial operational certification” configuration.

The IAF had earlier agreed to buy another 20 Tejas Mark I, once the fighter obtains “final operational certification”, a much-delayed landmark expected in early 2016. It is unclear whether that order will stand, or be integrated into the proposed order for 80 Tejas Mark 1As.

Parrikar’s decisive move cuts through a Gordian knot that has bedevilled Tejas production. For years Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the agency that will mass-produce the Tejas, has resisted increasing production-line capacity, because the IAF has only committed to buying 40 fighters. In a chicken-and-egg situation, the IAF cites HAL’s slow production rate as the reason for not ordering more Tejas.

The result: in the last two years, HAL has built just one Tejas. Meanwhile, the IAF responds to its dwindling fighter numbers --- now just 34 squadrons --- with demands for quickly buying large numbers of the Dassault Rafale from France.

Parrikar calculates that, with an order for 100 Tejas in hand, HAL will have the business case for quickly boosting production to at least 16 fighters per year.

Meanwhile the Tejas Mark II will continue development, say sources in the DRDO, which oversees the Tejas development programme.

A defence ministry official concurs, pointing out: “The Tejas Mark II is not just for the IAF. The navy believes the Naval Tejas must have an F-414 engine to be able to take off from an aircraft carrier’s short deck. So Tejas Mark II development will continue alongside the Mark 1A.”

With the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) --- the DRDO agency that has built the Tejas --- targeting 2022-23 for completing the Tejas Mark II, HAL has seven years of production of the Mark I and the Mark IA before the production line switches over to building the Tejas Mark II. The defence ministry calculates that a 100-Tejas order is essential to keep it working to capacity till 2022-23.

Meanwhile, alongside the Tejas Mark II, ADA would also be working on the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), an indigenous, fifth-generation fighter already on the drawing board. ADA engineers point out that advanced technologies being developed for AMCA would inevitably leak into the Tejas Mark II, making the light fighter more advanced than currently anticipated.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

INS Kochi commissioned; anti-missile system coming, but wait for sonar continues

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 1st Oct 15

On Wednesday, in Mumbai, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar commissioned the Indian Naval Ship (INS) Kochi, a 6,800-tonne guided missile destroyer that will be the tenth destroyer in the navy’s fleet.

A destroyer is a large, multi-role warship, bigger than 6,500 tonnes. Their size lets them carry weaponry to engage varied threats. INS Kochi will carry Brahmos cruise missiles to destroy enemy ships and shore targets 295 kilometres away; Long Range Surface to Air Missiles (LR-SAM) to blast incoming aircraft and anti-ship missiles out of the sky; and torpedoes and rockets to engage enemy submarines. Each of these weapon systems is paired with sophisticated sensors, such as radar and sonar.

Adding capability to INS Kochi’s sensors are two on-board helicopters. One of them --- a Sea King or Kamov-28 is kitted for anti-submarine warfare (ASW) with a dunking sonar that the helicopter lowers into the water to detect giveaway sounds of enemy submarines. The other, a Kamov-31, has airborne radar to detect enemy aerial targets at extended ranges.

INS Kochi is the second vessel of the so-called Project 15A. Prime Minister Narendra Modi commissioned the lead destroyer, INS Kolkata, on August 16, 2014. Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) is building three destroyers under Project 15A for Rs 11,662 crore, almost Rs 3,900 crore per vessel.

That cost has ballooned from the originally sanctioned Rs 3,500 crore (Rs 1,200 crore per vessel), even as the completion date has slipped by six years from 2010 to 2016.

The final cost of Project 15A would only become clear after the third destroyer, INS Chennai, is commissioned next year. Despite the cost escalation, building warships in India continues to be significantly cheaper than buying from abroad.

MDL is India’s only warship yard with the capacity and capability to build destroyers. It is full to capacity. Even as the Mumbai yard completes Project 15A, it has begun work on four more destroyers under Project 15B, for Rs 29,348 crore (Rs 7,350 crore per vessel).

The first Project 15B destroyer, INS Visakhapatnam, was launched into the water on April 20, towards a commissioning date of July 2018. The next three will follow it at two-year intervals, i.e. July 2020, 2022, and 2024.

As Business Standard reported (August 17, 2014, “PM talks tough, but new warship lacks teeth”) INS Kolkata had joined the fleet without key defensive systems against missiles and submarines. INS Kochi too has these operational deficiencies.

However, naval and industry sources say one delay is finally over. These destroyers will soon have a weapon system to provide credible protection against the primary threat to large warships --- sea-skimming, anti-ship missiles (like the Harpoon, or Exocet) fired from over 100 kilometres away by enemy aircraft, ships or submarines.

Protection against this threat will come from the long-delayed LR-SAM, which Indian and Israeli engineers are finally close to completing. Far surpassing the current generation of anti-missile missiles, which have ranges of just 20-30 kilometres, the LR-SAM was designed to detect incoming anti-ship missiles at ranges beyond 100 kilometres and destroy them in mid-flight at ranges out to 70 kilometres.

Recent tests suggest this performance could get even better. On September 25, authoritative defence blog Livefist reported that the LR-SAM had successfully destroyed anti-ship missiles at ranges out to 90 kilometres, in recent tests in Israel.

If operationally deployed LR-SAMs can replicate these test results, destroyers like INS Kochi would safeguard the entire fleet with a vast protective bubble against anti-ship missiles.

Yet, the wait continues for another vital system: “advanced towed array sonar” (ATAS), that is essential for detecting enemy submarines in the warm, shallow waters of the Arabian Sea, where salinity and temperature gradients baffle conventional “bow mounted sonar”, making Indian warships blind to lurking enemy submarines.

An order has been placed with German company, Atlas Elektronik, for six ATAS systems. These, however, are earmarked for the three Delhi-class destroyers; and three Talwar-class frigates. The defence ministry has failed to progress a second order for ten more ATAS systems. These are earmarked for three Kolkata-class destroyers; three Shivalik-class frigates, and four Kamorta-class corvettes that Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata is building.

INS Kochi derives her name from the vibrant port city of Kochi, which is home to the navy’s Southern Command. The ship’s crest depicts a sword and a shield, with a snake boat riding the blue and white ocean waves, symbolising the Malabar region’s rich maritime heritage.  The ship’s Sanskrit motto --- “Jahi Shatrun Mahabaho” --- means “Oh mighty armed one… conquer the enemy”.