Thursday, 23 November 2017

Rafale deal faces turbulent weather: Part 1

Four questions over India’s most expensive recent acquisition

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 17

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi – on April 10, 2015 in Paris -- stunned the global military aerospace industry with the announcement that India would buy 36 Rafale fighters in a government-to-government arrangement with France, effectively ending an eight-year global procurement process for 126 fighters. There is controversy too over how the deal was announced – by the prime minister himself, during a state visit to France – without clearances from his cabinet or defence ministry.

That announcement resulted in a Euro 7.8 billion ($9.2 billion, Rs 58,000 crore) contract for 36 Rafale fighters, signed in June 2016. It has led to charges of corruption and nepotism, levied by the opposition Congress Party against the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government. The Congress alleges that Dassault, which builds the Rafale, is being paid far more than the price earlier negotiated. And that largesse, in the form of defence offsets, is flowing to Reliance Defence, headed by Anil Ambani, a Gujarati industrialist with no experience in aerospace manufacture, but perceived to be close to the PM.

The BJP’s riposte, delivered last Friday by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, accuses the Congress of delaying the Rafale procurement for ten years from 2004-14, while heading the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. Sitharaman says that Modi, worried about a precariously under-equipped Indian Air Force (IAF), boldly went ahead in the national interest, following all procedures, to buy the Rafale.

Questions still arise

Beyond political mud slinging, four major questions arise.

First, did the PM follow due procedure in announcing, alongside French President Francois Hollande, that France would supply 36 fully built Rafales? Or was this Modi’s decision alone?

Second, rather than serving the deal on a platter to a single vendor – private French firm, Dassault – could the PM have brought in another vendor, creating a competitive environment for price discovery and cost negotiation?

Third, was the UPA guilty of a full decade of foot-dragging between 2004-14 on the eventually aborted procurement of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), leading to such a fighter shortage in the IAF that an emergency purchase of 36 Rafales became essential.

Fourth, does the per-fighter cost in the 36 Rafale contract work out lower than what France had offered in its MMRCA bid, which was a key condition of the purchase?

Due diligence done?

Addressing the media on Friday, a feisty Sitharaman insisted the PM had followed due process, with the purchase of 36 Rafales having been cleared by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). “In September 2016… the Inter-Governmental Agreement for buying 36 Rafales was signed in the presence of the defence ministers of France and India”, she stated, underlining that one of her predecessors, Manohar Parrikar, was on board.

In fact, Parrikar wasted no time in distancing himself from the decision after the Modi-Hollande announcement. “Modi-ji took the decision; I back it up”, he told Doordarshan on April 13, 2015. Elaborating to NDTV, he described the decision as “the outcome of discussions between the prime minister [of India] and the president of France.”

In fact, Parrikar had learned about Modi’s impending announcement precisely a week in advance. As Business Standard reported (September 23, 2016 “As Rafale pact is inked, many concerns remain”), Parrikar was driving to the airport on April 3, 2015 to catch a flight to Goa, when he received a call on his mobile phone summoning him to the PM’s office. There, Modi sprung the bombshell about the proposed announcement and tasked Parrikar to manage the media during Modi’s nine-day tour of France, Germany and Canada.

Both Sitharaman and Parrikar point out the defence procurement procedure (DPP) permits regular procurement procedures to be bypassed on strategic grounds. Indeed, Paragraph 71 of the DPP caters for “occasions when procurements would have to be done from friendly foreign countries which may be necessitated due to geo-strategic advantages that are likely to accrue to our country.”

However, Paragraph 71 also stipulates that this requires prior clearance. It says: “Such procurements will be done based on an Inter Governmental Agreement after clearance from CFA (competent financial authority)”, in this case the CCS.

Further, Paragraph 73 of the DPP says: “Decisions on all such [strategic] acquisitions would be taken by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on the recommendations of the DPB (Defence Procurement Board)”.

No ministry or cabinet body was consulted before Modi committed India to the Rafale purchase on April 10, 2015. The CCS sanction was processed and obtained only later.

Putting Dassault in the driving seat

A key criticism of this procurement is that Modi’s Paris announcement effectively handed Dassault a single-vendor contract, ignoring the readily available option to bring in one more vendor.

Says a senior defence ministry official of that time who has recently retired but requests anonymity: “The PM chose Rafale based on the IAF’s technical evaluation and flight evaluation trials in the MMRCA process. Why did he ignore the second fighter, Eurofighter Typhoon, which had also passed that IAF evaluation? If the government wanted to truncate the MMRCA contract into a 36-fighter buy, India’s interest clearly demanded that both Eurofighter and Dassault be asked for new price bids. That would have created a competitive procurement, with two rivals bidding against each other. Instead, the PM inexplicably handed Dassault a walk-over with a single-vendor contract”.

Interestingly, Eurofighter had kept its India office open, even after India declared Dassault the winner of the MMRCA procurement in 2012. Asked why, a top Eurofighter official told Business Standard in 2013: “If India decides, for whatever reason, to re-evaluate its MMRCA decision, it is our duty as the L-2 (second lowest bidder) to provide India an alternative option.”

As it turned out, India did re-evaluate that procurement, but inexplicably ignored the opportunity that Eurofighter presented. The resulting financial loss is hard to assess, but aviation industry analysts assess it was at least in the hundreds of million dollars.

Why did UPA stall Rafale?

Sitharaman cites the UPA’s “inability” to conclude the MMRCA deal as justification for Modi’s buy of 36 Rafales. Repeatedly blaming the Congress Party for having failed to buy fighters “for an entire decade between 2004-2014”, Sitharaman alleged this “act of omission” led to severe fighter depletion in the IAF.

In fact, Sitharaman’s accusation of a decade of neglect is chronologically inaccurate. The MMRCA tender was issued in 2007. For the next four years, the IAF conducted technical evaluation and flight trials; only in 2011 were the Eurofighter Typhoon and Rafale declared to have met IAF criteria. Only on January 30, 2012 was the Rafale declared the L-1 bidder. If there was Congress foot-dragging on the Rafale, it was for two years and three months till the May 2014 transfer of power, not for a full decade.

Notwithstanding Sitharaman’s exaggeration, the question remains: why did the UPA drag on cost negotiations for over two years with Dassault? And why did two NDA defence ministers – Arun Jaitley, then Parrikar – also fail to conclude the contract for a year.

The incredible answer – given that Modi bought 36 Rafales based on the logic that Dassault had won the MMRCA tender – was that the defence ministry had realised as far back as 2012 that Rafale might have been erroneously declared the lowest bidder.

Defence ministry sources in the Cost Negotiating Committee (CNC) – a multi-member body that evaluated Dassault’s commercial bid – say the sketchiness of Dassault’s bid forced them to make certain costing assumptions in declaring its bid lower than Eurofighter’s. These assumptions related to a new model of bidding based on Life Cycle Costing, which was being tried out for the first time in a tender.

This sharply divided the CNC in 2012-13, when three members wrote a dissenting note demanding that the costing assumptions made for Dassault’s bid should be officially approved at the competent level, rather than leaving the onus on the CNC.

When Dassault itself presented different costing figures for Rafales built in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd – a tender stipulation – it became clear, including to then defence minister, AK Antony, that Dassault had been incorrectly named the L-1 vendor.

Parrikar himself has substantiated this account. On April 13, 2015, three days after Modi’s Rafale announcement, Parrikar stated on Doordarshan: “There is another reason why the [tender] for the Rafale is stuck. When the CNC determined the L-1 vendor, many people raised questions on the Life Cycle Costing model that was used to compare bids. In this connection, the last defence minister issued a directive to go ahead with the CNC negotiations, fix a price, and then come back and verify whether L-1 determination was correctly done.”

Asked to confirm this during her press conference on Friday, Sitharaman declined to comment.

Says a retired secretary-level defence ministry official about the CNC’s assumptions that led to Dassault being declared L-1 in the MMRCA contest: “In my view, a vendor’s commercial bid that has serious gaps should be treated as an incomplete bid and the vendor disqualified. Costing assumptions can be made only on minor issues.”

The question of cost

Said Parrikar on Doordarshan on April 13, 2015, explaining the conditions of the 36-Rafale buy: “Our deal is being finalized on very clear terms: ‘Better terms than those existing’. It will be on cheaper terms than those quoted in [Dassault’s bid in the MMRCA tender].”

The BJP insists this condition has been met. However, the government has released no figures for Dassault’s earlier quote, nor a cost breakdown of what Dassault is being paid for 36 Rafales.

On Friday, asked for cost breakdown by the media, Sitharaman promised: “We will give you the figures that you want”. She ordered Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, who was sitting beside her, to provide them. Despite repeated enquiries, no figures have been released so far.

[Tomorrow, Part II: “Was the Rafale bought cheaper?” A financial analysis of the price paid to Dassault]

Air-launched BrahMos boosts deep strike capability

Will target terrorist camps, enemy airfields, tactical nuclear weapons, enemy warships

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Nov 17

The supersonic BrahMos, already one of the world’s most highly-regarded cruise missiles, has moved onto a fast-development track.

Six months after an advanced, Block III, land attack BrahMos was successfully tested in the Andaman & Nicobar Islands, the defence ministry announced on Wednesday the successful test of the first BrahMos air launched cruise missile (ALCM), launched from a Indian Air Force (IAF) Sukhoi-30MKI fighter to strike a target floating in the Bay of Bengal.

The BrahMos ALCM enhances the IAF’s ability to strike heavily defended targets deep in enemy territory. Instead of having to run the gauntlet of enemy air defence systems all the way to the target, the Sukhoi-30MKI can release an ALCM from several hundred kilometres away, perhaps even without crossing the border. The BrahMos’ navigation system would be pre-fed the target’s coordinates, enabling a pin-point strike.

While most contemporary cruise missiles, like the US Tomahawk or Pakistan’s Babur, fly at subsonic speeds, making them vulnerable to being shot down, the BrahMos flies supersonic, at speeds up to Mach 2.5, giving the enemy little time to react.

Suitable targets for the BrahMos ALCM are terrorist camps deep inside enemy territory, high-value military targets like headquarters or tactical nuclear weapon batteries, enemy airfields or high-value strategic infrastructure.

“The completion of [the] tactical cruise missile triad will significantly bolster the IAF’s capabilities in long-range air combat operations”, Tweeted Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman after the test.

The ministry announcement noted this would “significantly bolster the IAF’s air combat operations capability from stand-off ranges.”

Land attack versions of the BrahMos are in already in army service, while naval warships like the Kolkata-class destroyers are armed with ship-launched BrahMos missiles for attacking targets ashore from the sea. However, the size and weight of the BrahMos made an air-launched version a daunting developmental challenge.

To achieve this, two development agencies worked together. Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) modified two Sukhoi-30MKI fighters – brutishly powerful aircraft already – to carry a missile as large and heavy as the BrahMos.

Meanwhile, BrahMos Aerospace, the Indo-Russian joint venture that developed the BrahMos, shortened and lightened the original version, bringing it down to an 8 metre-long missile that weighs 2,560 kilogrammes.

On a visit to HAL, Business Standard was briefed that this involved strengthening the Sukhoi-30MKI’s airframe and installing new, heavy-duty mounting stations under the fighter’s belly to carry the missile.

This was tricky, since even the shortened BrahMos extends ahead of the Sukhoi-30MKI’s air intakes, potentially blocking the airflow to the engines. Computer simulations by HAL and the Indian Institute of Technology, Mumbai, ensured the airflow remained unimpeded.

Another challenge was to ensure the BrahMos separates cleanly from the aircraft when fired, with the signal going from the cockpit, through the Sukhoi-30’s 1553 data bus, to all 12 mounting stations. Only after clearing the aircraft to a safe distance can the BrahMos missile’s propulsion system ignite.

The BrahMos joint venture was established through Inter-Government Agreement between Moscow and New Delh in February 1998. The name BrahMos is an amalgam of two rivers – Brahmaputra and Moskva.

According to figures tabled in parliament, India and Russia contributed the JV’s share capital of $250 million in the ratio of 50.5 and 49.5 per cent respectively. This was enhanced by $50 million to develop the BrahMos ALCM.

“Therefore, the contribution from the Indian side was Rs. 634 crores. DRDO also contributed Rs 370 crores to realize the required infrastructure, technologies, production facilities and systems for Indian Armed Forces”, the government told parliament in 2007.

According to the Times of India, the IAF has already placed orders worth Rs 6,516 crore for the BrahMos ALCM. That takes the value of total orders from the three services to Rs 27,150 crore.

Friday, 17 November 2017

Defence minister issues 5-point rebuttal of Rafale accusations

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Nov 17

Underlining the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP’s) unease at Congress Party allegations of wrongdoing by the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government in the Rs 58,000 crore purchase last year of 36 Rafale fighters from French company, Dassault, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman led a counterattack on Friday.

Flanked by Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra and Indian Air Force (IAF) procurement chief, Air Vice Marshal Rathunath Nambiar, Sitharaman lashed out at the Congress on five counts.

First, she stated, the previous BJP government had, as early as 2000, “recognised the need to strengthen the IAF”, leading to procurement being initiated for 126 medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA). Yet, the Congress Party was unable to conclude the purchase of Rafale fighters “for an entire decade between 2004-2014”, she said.

That “act of omission” had led to severe fighter shortages in the IAF, Sitharaman charged. “This was the grim situation when this government came to power in 2014”, she said.

In fact, the MMRCA procurement was initiated only in 2007, with the issue of a Request for Proposals (RfP or tender). Over the next four years, the IAF evaluated six contending fighters --- Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet: Lockheed Martin’s F-16IN Super Viper; RAC MiG’s MiG-35; Saab’s Gripen C, the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Rafale --- in what was hailed worldwide as “the world’s most professionally run fighter competition.”

In April 2011, the IAF ruled out four fighters, leaving only the Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale in the fray. In January 2012, the Rafale was identified as the winner of the contest and negotiations began with Dassault over the cost. Therefore, the UPA can, at worst, be accused of two years and three months of vacillation, until the BJP came to power in May 2014.

Sitharaman’s second rebuttal related to the Congress accusation that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had not followed due procedure, and not even consulted his defence minister before announcing during a state visit to France in April 2015 that India would buy 36 Rafale fighters in fly-away condition.

“When the prime minister went to Paris in 2015 and agreed [on the purchase of 36 Rafales], he followed the due process of getting it cleared through the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS)”, said Sitharaman. “In September 2016, almost a year and a half later, the Inter-Governmental Agreement for buying 36 Rafales was signed in the presence of the defence ministers of France and India”, she said.

While it is true the CCS cleared the Rafale purchase after Modi returned from Paris, no CCS permission, or from any defence ministry procurement body, was obtained before Modi and French President Francois Hollande announced the Rafale buy in April 2015.

Thirdly, Sitharaman countered the Congress’ accusation that the NDA government had obtained the Rafale without transfer of technology, whilst the MMRCA contract the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was negotiating involved full transfer of technology (ToT) for building the Rafale in India.

“This is simple economics. When we are talking about building 126 aircraft [in India], ToT makes economic sense. But when you are buying 36 aircraft across-the-counter… it makes no economic sense for ToT to be added on”, she correctly stated.

Fourthly, Sitharaman rejected the Congress’ oblique allegation that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Ltd (RDL) had benefited from his proximity to the PM to be unfairly picked as Dassault’s Indian partner for discharging the 50 per cent offset clause that came with the Rafale deal.

“If two private firms come together, that doesn’t require government’s permission”, said Sitharaman. She argued the PM does not control the composition of his business delegation and it does not matter if it includes “a certain individual”.

Finally, Sitharaman argued that “The price we have obtained [the Rafale for] is far less [than the UPA]”.

However, she was unable to address media queries about how must the government was paying for 36 Rafales, compared to what the UPA government had negotiated.

“We will give you the figures that you want”, said Sitharaman, directing the query to the defence secretary. However, he did not have the figures either.

In April 2015, the announcement in Paris by Modi and Hollande of their agreement over the Rafale took the defence ministry by surprise. This was evident from a series of uncoordinated statements from then defence minister, Manohar Parrikar, who was left fielding questions in India.

The morning after the announcement, Parrikar erroneously told PTI in Goa that the 36 fighters would join IAF service within two years. Apparently distancing himself from the Rafale deal, Parrikar termed it “a great decision taken by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on better terms and conditions.”

Nor was Parrikar aware of how many Rafales would be bought. He told Doordarshan: “It may be worked out that we will buy another 90 Rafales… The ‘Make in India’ part will be decided only after government-to-government talks.”

With the Congress pressing home its attack over "insurmountable loss" of taxpayers' money, the BJP is marshalling its counter. On Thursday, IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa stated the NDA had pulled off “a cheaper deal”  than what the UPA was contemplating.

In fact, between 2013-14, UPA defence minister, AK Antony, had repeatedly made clear his deep reservations over the Rafale procurement, telling close associates that he was never going to sign it.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Boeing and HAL discuss building F/A-18 fighter in India

Boeing, HAL and Mahindras exploring public-private consortium

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Nov 17

The Boeing Company (hereafter Boeing), which is a vying strongly to supply the Indian Navy with 57 “multi-role carrier borne fighters” (MRCBF), has entered talks with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to explore the co-manufacture of its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter in India, say credible sources in the defence ministry.

Along with HAL, Boeing also intends to involve the Mahindra Group in building Super Hornets in India.

Boeing and HAL have already held exploratory discussions in Bengaluru in September and are scheduled to meet on Friday in Bengaluru for another round of talks. They will also finalise a “non-disclosure agreement” that binds all sides to keep their negotiations confidential.

Contacted for comments, a Boeing spokesperson responded: “HAL has been a key partner of Boeing for over two decades and today manufactures components for our commercial and defense platforms, including for the F/A-18 Super Hornet. We are continually exploring ways to expand that relationship.  Needless to say, we cannot comment on specific discussions with our partners.”

The defence ministry did not respond to a request for comments.

Boeing seeks to leverage HAL’s long experience in licence-producing aircraft in India, most recently the Hawk trainer, and Jaguar and Sukhoi-30MKI fighters; and to present the defence ministry with a clear plan for co-producing the Super Hornet in India with a high indigenous content.

This would provide the US aerospace giant valuable advantage over rival vendors who partner private sector firms that are novices in aerospace manufacture.

Furthermore, Boeing’s partnership with HAL – which already has an airfield and manufacturing hangars in Bengaluru – would significantly reduce the price of each Super Hornet. In contrast, a vendor that partners a private Indian firm would need to factor aerospace infrastructure into its pricing.

Boeing has already expressed public reservations about the private sector’s inexperience in aerospace. As Business Standard reported (September 8, Boeing flags inexperience of private sector ‘strategic partners’) Boeing India chief, Pratyush Kumar, stated in New Delhi that the Indian private sector is not yet capable of manufacturing complex military aircraft under transfer of technology (ToT).

Urging India to co-opt public and private enterprise, Kumar said he “could not find a single example [of successfully building an aircraft under ToT] where it was just the brand new private enterprise with limited aerospace experience. Look at Turkey, look at Japan, look at Brazil, look at multiple countries. In all cases there is a fine balancing act of co-opting the capabilities of both public and private enterprise.”

Now Boeing is doing exactly that, by seeking to co-opt HAL and the Mahindra Group into co-producing Super Hornets.

Boeing’s public-private strategy contrasts with the approach being followed by Lockheed Martin and Saab in a separate procurement of 114 single-engine fighters, which is expected to gather momentum shortly. Since the defence ministry requires the single-engine fighters to be built in India under the “strategic partner” (SP) policy, Lockheed Martin and Saab have both partnered private sector firms – Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) and the Adani Group respectively – to build in India.

In contrast, the “request for information” (RFI) for the MRCBF acquisition, which the navy issued in January, predates the SP Policy that was promulgated only in June. Unlike Lockheed Martin and Saab in the single-engine fighter procurement, Boeing is not restricted to partnering only a private sector company.

The RFI for the MRCBF specifies: “GoI (Government of India) is desirous of license production of the aircraft after acquiring ToT in the case (sic).” While this appears to place the procurement in the “Buy and Make” category, the “request for proposals” (RFP) is likely to clarify this issue. Industry experts say the RFP might conceivably shift the acquisition into the SP category.

The Super Hornet, which is the US Navy’s main carrier borne fighter, is likely to face competition in India’s MRCBF tender from French company Dassault’s Rafale-M fighter; Swedish company Saab’s Gripen Maritime, and the Russian MiG-29K/KUB that already flies off the navy’s lone carrier, INS Vikramaditya.

The India Navy has already bought 45 MiG-29K/KUB fighters from Russia to equip its current aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, and the second aircraft carrier, the indigenously built INS Vikrant, which is expected in service by 2021. A new, more capable MRCBF was envisaged for the second indigenous carrier, INS Vishal, which is expected in service by 2030 or so. However, unacceptably low serviceability rates of the MiG-29K/KUB are making the MRCBF vital for the navy in a much shorter time frame.

Furthermore, Boeing is looking beyond the supply of 57 Super Hornets to the navy, at the supply of “Made in India” fighters to the Indian Air Force (IAF) too. The IAF, which is down to 32 squadrons of fighters against its requirement of 42 squadrons, had hoped to procure six-to-nine squadrons of medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) over the last decade. The Rafale was eventually selected, but then only two squadrons were procured, leaving a void that Boeing hopes to fill by establishing a Super Hornet manufacturing line in India. 

Army generals describe biggest-ever arms deal: $25-30 billion tank and ICV buy

1,770 tanks under “strategic partner” policy by 2025-27; 2,600 ICVs under “Make” procedure

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 16th Nov 17

In New Delhi on Wednesday, army chief General Bipin Rawat and a battery of senior generals explained details of India’s biggest-ever weapons acquisition – the on-going twin procurements of futuristic tanks and infantry combat vehicles (ICVs), which they estimated to be worth $12.5-15 billion (Rs 80,000-100,000 crore) each.

Pakistan already feels threatened by India’s vast tank strength. This includes three strike corps, each with hundreds of tanks and ICVs. In addition, eight-to-ten tank-heavy “battle groups”, drawn from defensive corps, are poised to scythe through Pakistan in a “Cold Start” offensive.

While tanks, with their heavy armour protection and huge guns spearhead an advance into enemy territory, tracked ICVs move close behind them, carrying infantrymen to occupy the captured area.

The procurements explained by Rawat, which include new tanks and ICVs, would significantly enhance Pakistan’s insecurity.

Justifying the build up, Rawat stated: “Tanks are expected to operate on western front as well as the northern borders [with China].”

The generals told a defence industry gathering that the mechanised forces would be boosted on three parallel tracks. The first is the manufacture of 1,770 advanced, 50-tonne tanks – termed Future Ready Combat Vehicles (FRCVs) – under the “strategic partner” (SP) policy to replace the ageing T-72 fleet. For this, private Indian firms will bid in partnership with global “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs) to set up a production line in India by 2025-27.

Last Wednesday, the army floated a global “request for information” (RFI) inviting global OEMs to outline what they would offer India. Simultaneously, the ministry is shortlisting Indian SPs that will bid in partnership with the chosen OEMs.

“This process involves identifying a mature, in-service tank in the world, which can be tweaked to meet our requirements”, stated Lieutenant General MJS Kahlon, the army’s planning chief.

While the FRCV will be a derivative of an in-service tank, the “future infantry combat vehicle” (FICV) will be a brand new, futuristic system. It will be pursued under the “Make” procedure, with the defence ministry funding 90 per cent of the development cost, and the private firm paying 10 per cent. Six firms/consortia have submitted proposals for the FICV, and the MoD must select two. These will design competing FICV prototypes and build an estimated 2,600 of the winning design.

“The FICV and FRCV will be game changers for indigenous defence industry”, said the mechanised forces chief, Lieutenant General Ashok Shivane.

Kahlon pointed out that this would be the first time indigenous production would take care of our armoured requirements. “So far, we bought all our armour on a government-to-government basis -- from the west till late 1960s and from the Soviet Union and Russia since then.”

That dependence forced the army to adapt its warfighting doctrines to platforms that had never been designed with India’s tactical needs, geography and manpower in mind. “We bought what was available and adapted our doctrines onto that”, rued Kahlon.

Since the FRCV and FICV projects are time-consuming projects, the army will simultaneously upgrade the existing T-72 tank fleet to remain battle-worthy till the new platforms are inducted. Shivane said T-72s would get more powerful engines, day and night vision thermal sights, and improved guns and ammunition.

“The chosen vendors would also take care of life cycle management of his equipment, with indigenous solutions coming from him. This would make good operational sense for us and good business sense for the vendors”, said Shivane.

The FRCV is intended to carry out roles other than that of a tank. The RFI states it will be the base platform for a range of additional armoured vehicles, including self-propelled artillery and air defence guns, mine trawls, bridge-layer tanks (BLTS), armoured engineering vehicles, etc.

Looking beyond the heavy, tracked FICV, both Rawat and Kahlon raised the need for a wheeled infantry carrier that could move on roads, and in towns and cities, without damaging infrastructure. “Imagine infantry being able to travel in its own transport, with ballistic protection, wherever it needs to go… say all the way up to Leh”, said Kahlon.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Trump to press Modi on F-16 fighter contract in Manila

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Nov 17

On Monday, when they meet in Manila, President Donald Trump plans to urge Prime Minister Narendra Modi to move quickly on finalising the selection of a single-engine fighter for the Indian Air Force (IAF), say US defence industry sources.

While the Modi-Trump meeting has not yet been announced, India’s foreign ministry said on Friday that it is “in the process of being finalized”. However, Trump’s talking points for the meeting include following up on US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s visit to New Delhi last month, when he announced Washington would support transferring F-16 and F/A-18 technology to India.

The US has high stakes in this purchase of 100-200 single-engine fighters that could be worth $15 billion. The frontrunners are: Lockheed Martin’s F-16 Block 70; and Swedish company Saab’s Gripen E. Washington has thrown its weight behind Lockheed Martin’s proposal to shift the F-16 production line (which is closing down due to lack of orders) from Fort Worth, Texas, to India.

The F-16 line will be shifted only if the IAF opts for that fighter. Lockheed Martin says that, after the F-16 line is re-established in India in partnership with Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL), it will be the world’s sole source of F-16 fighters and major spares.

Trump is using his on-going 11-day Asia visit to hard-sell US weaponry to friendly Indo-Pacific nations. In Japan last week, he urged Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to buy “a lot of military equipment from the United States”.

But while Japan has been a traditional buyer of US weaponry, India’s defence ministry has not yet plumped in favour of a foreign fighter. The IAF is under pressure to buy more indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA) instead of a more expensive (if more capable) foreign fighter.

As India Today reported on Friday, the defence ministry “asked the IAF to scrap its plans of acquiring single-engine fighters from global [vendors]”. The IAF top brass was asked to explain to the ministry why the Tejas could not do the job instead.

This is unsettling for Lockheed Martin and Saab, both of whom have responded to the IAF’s “request for information” (RFI) issued in October 2016.

However, it is of a pattern for India’s military procurement organisation. A tender that the IAF issued in 2007 for 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) dragged on for six years, eventually culminating, in September 2016, in the procurement of just 36 Rafale fighters from French vendor, Dassault.

After the collapse of that tender, and with the IAF facing a shortfall of 10 fighter squadrons – it currently has just 32 squadrons against a requirement of 42 – the RFI for the single-engine fighter was issued.

While the previous two US administrations, headed by Presidents George W Bush and Barack Obama, pursued their relationships with India more on the basis of strategic convergence than weapons sales, Trump makes no bones about expecting New Delhi (like Tokyo) to buy American weapons.

Over the last decade, Washington has run up $15-18 billion in defence sales to India, including the C-130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, P-8I maritime surveillance aircraft and CH-47F Chinook and AH-64E Apache helicopters. It is now eyeing a second wave of defence sales, worth $18-25 billion, including F-16 and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighters, naval helicopters, and the Sea Guardian unmanned aerial vehicle.

Modi and Trump are in the Philippine capital to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean).

On Monday, Trump will be marking the 40th anniversary of US-Asean relations, and meeting world leaders, probably including Modi, on the side-lines.