Monday, 23 October 2017

Metallurgy skills are Kalyani Group’s springboard to defence production

The Kalyani Group's Bharat 52 gun, which is undergoing test firing at present

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 23rd Oct 17

Indian engineers, who struggled for decades to design high-tech weaponry like the Tejas fighter and Arjun tank, are enjoying unusually quick success in developing what promises to be a world-class artillery gun.

At firing trials on September 4, prominent defence firm, Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division), was cock-a-hoop when its Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) fired three shells to a world-record 47.2 kilometres – three kilometres longer than contemporary guns.

But Tata Power (SED)’s record lasted just one day.

The next morning, a second ATAGS gun, which the Kalyani Group has built according to a parallel development strategy, broke that record by achieving a range of just over 48 kilometres.

Both guns achieved this record-breaking performance with “high explosive – base bleed” (HE-BB) ammunition, which is optimised for longer ranges.

The Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), which conceived and designed the 155-millimetre, 52-calibre ATAGS, has fed the design to Tata Power (SED) and the Kalyani Group. Based on those requirements, the two companies have built and are test-firing competing gun prototypes.

While Tata Power (SED) has worked with the DRDO earlier, the new partnership with Kalyani Group is proving to be an inspired choice. The Pune-based firm has engineered a barrel and breech so good that the Tatas are using it in their gun as well.

While Kalyani Group is relatively new to modern defence systems that incorporate advanced information technology, its flagship company, Bharat Forge – the world’s largest forgings manufacturer – is a global leader in metallurgy expertise.

Metallurgy is fundamental to any defence industry, since it underpins the construction of guns, armoured platforms and warships. The 430-year-old German metals giant, Krupp, spearheaded the emergence of Germany’s defence industry, and leads it even today. The Kalyani Group believes it can do the same for India.

Says the Kalyani Group’s hard charging supremo, Babasaheb (Baba) Kalyani: “Our basic technology competence lies in metallurgy. We make our steel, we forge it, we machine it, we heat treat it. Very few companies in the world can match our skills in products like gun barrels.”

Over the years, Kalyani Group has integrated upstream as well as downstream from Bharat Forge. Pune-based Kalyani Carpenter and Kalyani Steels make alloy steel for the ATAGS barrel. Another group company, Mysore-based Automotive Axles, specialises in “drive lines”, on which the gun is mounted. A high-tech fabrication shop in Satara assembles the gun.

Business Standard visited the Kalyani Group facility in Pune, where the company is developing several artillery systems at its own cost, in order to develop skills. The guns are built in an artillery factory bought from Swiss defence firm, RUAG, and shipped in entirety from Austria to Pune.

Its produces include the 155-millimetre, 52 calibre Bharat 52, which is undergoing test firing; a 45 calibre version of the same gun; a truck-mounted 105-millimetre gun called the Garuda, which the army found so promising it financed it through the Army Technology Board; and a 155-millimetre, 39 calibre, titanium ultra-light howitzer that Kalyani is pitching against the BAE Systems M777 gun that India has contracted for.

“The Indian Army has already bought 145 M777 guns. But, by March [2018], my indigenous ultra-light howitzer will be ready to compete with the BAE Systems gun”, promises Kalyani.

Kalyani Group engineers who work on ATAGS say its exceptional range stems from its larger chamber – 25 litres, compared to 23 litres in similar guns. This allows the gun to be fired with more explosive, propelling the warhead further. To absorb the higher “shock of discharge”, Kalyani Group says it has built its barrel and breech with a complex new metallurgy.

Making ATAGS an easy-to-handle gun is an unprecedented all-electric system, in which machinery does what gun crews do manually in other guns: handling heavy ammunition, ramming it into the chamber and opening and closing the heavy breech.

Its one-of-a-kind, six-round “automated magazine” loads and fires a six-round burst in just 30 seconds. Most other guns in service have three-round magazines that must be reloaded after firing three rounds.

Firing off six rounds in 30 seconds is an important capability since artillery causes most casualties in the initial burst of fire, which catches enemy soldiers in the open. Once they dive into their trenches, artillery fire is less effective.

“The ATAGS team has created a new benchmark in artillery. For decades, no new artillery gun has been designed anywhere in the world. This is the first gun in 30 years designed afresh, from scratch”, points out Baba Kalyani.

The next test for the gun is “cold weather trials” in Sikkim in December. Before then, the gun will undergo some modifications. To expedite trials, Tata Power (SED) and Kalyani Group will start the building of three more ATAGs prototypes.

“India will become one of the largest exporters of military hardware in the next 10-15 years”: Baba Kalyani

Baba Kalyani says Kalyani Group will turn over Rs 2,000 crore annually in defence manufacture

Q.         Large metals giants, like Krupp in Germany, have traditionally spearheaded the development of national defence industries. Is the Kalyani Group riding on such capabilities?

We are the Krupp of India. In fact, two years ago, we beat ThyssenKrupp in their own backyard to become the world’s biggest supplier of metallurgical components. Before 2005, we were not even in this business. Today, we have 60 per cent of the global market in high performance metallurgical components.

We are now global leaders in metallurgy. We make our steel, we forge it, we machine it, we heat treat it. Very few companies in the world can match us in manufacturing demanding products like gun barrels. Companies come to us from Europe for design, engineering, testing and validation of metallurgical components.

Q.        Artillery systems are your new thrust. What are the opportunities here?

The Indian army needs artillery systems. The programme for 1,500 towed guns alone will be worth Rs 25,000-30,000 crore, at Rs 15-16 crore rupees per gun. The army’s website projects a requirement for 4,000 different guns – ultra-light, self-propelled, towed and others. This is an Rs 45,000-50,000 crore opportunity, of which we can snap up half, based on our capability and cost competitiveness.

Q.         How much revenue would this generate on an annual basis?

About Rs 2,000 crore annually, counting replacement parts and maintenance.

Q.         How big is the Kalyani Group in defence today?

This year we will do Rs 500 crore of defence business. This is basically components like wheels for tanks, armoured vehicle components and ammunition shells to Europe. But, once we are asked to manufacture, say 1,000 Advanced Towed Artillery Gun Systems (ATAGS), our defence turnover will rise quickly.

Q.        Is it wise to put so many eggs in the ATAGS basket?

The ATAGS team has created a new benchmark in 155-millimetre artillery. For decades, no similar gun has been designed anywhere in the world. This is the first gun in 30 years designed afresh, from scratch. This will be a world-beater. Next year it will be in every Jane’s magazine. Nobody has a gun like this. With a range of 45 plus kilometres, it’s an amazing weapon.

Q.        You are also developing a titanium-based ultra-light howitzer (ULH). But the army has already bought these guns from abroad…

The army has bought 145 M777 guns from BAE Systems. By March [2018], our indigenous ULH will be ready to compete with that gun. The army needs many more.

Q.         Has MoD conveyed interest?

When [former defence minister] Manohar Parrikar visited us to inaugurate our plant, he was interested. We showed him the model of the ULH we were building and he assured us: “For all future guns we will come to you.”

But we’ll have to pass evaluation and we are ready to go through the process. We are very confident. It is not just for India, I’m sure our ULH will find buyers worldwide. Even Japan is interested in light artillery.

Q.         Private defence firms like yours are relying heavily on being nominated as “strategic partner” (SP). What are your views on the new SP policy?

Honestly, I think we need a lot of clarification about the SP policy. I’ve heard three versions of the SP model. But, looking at it positively, defence production will get a boost.

Q.         There is criticism that the SP policy is exclusionary, with nominated firms gaining everything, and the other left without orders. For example if you are chosen as SP for land systems, you get excluded from aerospace manufacture…

This is not correct. We can be a strategic partner for one segment, and a development partner, or Tier 1 or Tier 2 vendor for another. For building a fighter in India, at least 150 companies will be needed. There is space for all, not just the strategic partner.

Q.        So the Kalyani Group is betting big on defence?

In the next 10-15 years, India will become one of the largest exporters of military hardware. It may not be fighters or highly sophisticated stuff, but will include equipment like land systems, artillery, ammunition, missiles, bombs; we will master these technologies quickly, and do it cheaper than anybody else. The Kalyani Group will be a big part of this.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Navy blues: policy shortsightedness dogs Indian warship building

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Oct 17

The commissioning on Monday of India’s third and newest anti-submarine corvette, INS Kiltan, by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman is good news. But it also underlines the ills that plague warship building in India. The Kiltan was commissioned five years later than originally scheduled and without anti-submarine capabilities that are fundamental to such a corvette. Three and a half years after the National Democratic Alliance came to power promising to quickly make up the military’s arms shortfalls, it is evident that, in warship building like in the procurement of other weaponry, this government has performed no better than the United Progressive Alliance before it.

In April, the navy’s warships acquisition chief told defence industrialists in New Delhi that the navy would increase its strength from 140 vessels currently to 170-180 ships by 2027. This requires increasing warship numbers by three or four every year, as well as inducting four or five new vessels annually to replace warships that complete their service lives of 25-30 years. Against this requirement for seven to nine new warships every year, the navy is barely able to induct three or four. This lackadaisical production rate in domestic defence shipyards has forced the navy to look overseas at offers like the Russian one to build four follow-on frigates of the Talwar-class.

A key reason for building delays is the navy’s penchant for the latest, with admirals demanding that each warship incorporates newer and more sophisticated technology. This is a recipe for delay. In contrast, fast builders like China finalise a particular design and then churn out a large number of those warships, benefiting from economies of scale, the certainty of supply orders and worker experience in building a particular “type”. The People’s Liberation Army (Navy) has already commissioned 25 Type 054A Jiangkai-II class frigates and is building three more. It has already inducted six Type 052D Luying-III class destroyers and work is under way on at least eight more.

In contrast, the Indian navy builds barely three or four warships of one type before going back to the drawing board and reworking specifications. It built just three Delhi-class destroyers under Project 15 and then took years to rework the design into what it called a “follow-on” class – Project 15A – but which was actually a substantively different warship. Even before three destroyers were built under Project 15A, the navy reworked the design into Project 15B, to build four new destroyers. Frigate orders have been similarly broken up. After Project 17 (three ships), there is now a follow order under Project 17A for seven frigates but, inexplicably, this is distributed between two different shipyards. A different kind of disjointedness characterises the four-corvette Project 28 order. The ship commissioned on Monday, INS Kiltan, has an all-composite superstructure in place of the steel superstructures on the first two Project 28 corvettes.

Besides design and planning confusion, warship building is also dogged by capacity limitations. All four public sector warship yards – Mazagon Dock (Mumbai); Garden Reach (Kolkata); Goa Shipyard (Goa) and Hindustan Shipyard (Visakhapatnam) – are located in metropolitan areas with little scope for expanding facilities. To add capacity, the defence ministry created the “strategic partner” policy to bring in private sector shipbuilders like Larsen & Toubro and Reliance Defence Industries. But the poorly conceived policy faces opposition, not least from within the defence ministry itself. Consequently, projects earmarked for strategic partners languish, such as Project 75-I to build six new submarines, even as Mazagon Dock’s submarine building facilities increasingly lie idle. Without policy clarity within the ministry, the navy’s strength and numbers are set to fall further.

Like all its predecessors, INS Kiltan joins navy fleet with major vulnerabilities

It doesn’t have towed array sonar, essential for detecting enemy submarines in the shallow Arabian Sea

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 17th Oct 17

Like numerous Indian warships before it, the navy’s newest anti-submarine warfare (ASW) corvette, INS Kiltan, joined the fleet on Monday without equipment crucial for discharging its primary role – detecting and destroying enemy submarines.

The Kiltan, like two predecessor ASW corvettes, INS Kamorta and INS Kadmatt, was commissioned by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in Visakhapatnam without “advanced towed array sonar” (ATAS), essential for detecting enemy submarines in the shallow Arabian Sea where the peculiar temperature and salinity gradients sharply limit the effectiveness of conventional sonars.

Without ATAS, enemy submarines can sneak undetected to within 50-80 kilometres of Indian warships and destroy them with heavy torpedoes from standoff ranges.

The Kiltan will also make do without another vital ASW platform – a naval multi-role helicopter (NMRH), which flies low over the sea, lowering “dunking sonar” into the water, listening for audio signals from enemy submarines. The navy is left with just a handful of NMRH choppers – 12 Sea Kings, of which no more than six are usually operational at any time; and eight Kamov-28, of which four-six are available. The navy must distribute these 10-12 helicopters between some 35 capital warships.

“An ASW corvette without towed array sonar and an ASW helicopter, is nothing more than a feeble joke”, says a retired navy commodore with decades of ASW experience.

Yet, neither of the two Indian warships that called on the Japanese port of Sasebo last week – the frigate INS Satpura and ASW corvette, INS Kadmatt – has towed array sonar. While passing through the South China Sea, these warships would have been at the mercy of Chinese submarines.

In June, the defence ministry scrapped an NMRH purchase that had been initiated in 2009 and was at the point of conclusion. Instead, returning to the start line, the navy has now re-initiated fresh procurement for 123 NMRH.

After this newspaper reported that every Indian warship built after 1997 lacked towed array sonar (“Warships in peril as defence ministry blocks sonar purchase”, May 16, 2014), the defence ministry contracted for six ATAS systems from German naval systems giant, Atlas Elektronik, for just under Euro 40 million (Rs 306 crore).

Those six ATAS systems were earmarked for the navy’s three Talwar-class frigates (INS Talwar, Trishul and Tabar) and three Delhi-class destroyers (INS Delhi, Mumbai and Mysore). In effect, a Rs 50 crore ATAS multiplied the survival chances of warships worth several thousand crore apiece, each crewed by hundreds of sailors.

Yet, the National Democratic Alliance government has gone slow on a follow-on proposal to build ten more ATAS systems at Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL), in partnership with Atlas Elektronik. Those ten systems are intended for three Shivalik-class frigates (INS Shivalik, Satpura and Sahyadri); three Project 15A destroyers (INS Kolkata, Kochi and Chennai) and four Project 28 ASW corvettes, the third of which was commissioned today.

Without ATAS, India’s frontline capital warships, including the aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya, rely on a relatively ineffective Passive Towed Array Sonar (PTAS), and an indigenous hull-mounted sonar called HUMSA to detect enemy submarines.

Perhaps oblivious to all this, Sitharaman stated today while commissioning Kiltan that: “[T]he government fully appreciates the nation’s defence requirements and requisite finances… would be made available for the modernisation and development plans of the Navy”, according to a defence ministry release.

INS Kiltan’s keel was laid in Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers, Kolkata (GRSE) in August 2010 and she was launched in March 2013. She has been undergoing sea trials since May, and has taken more than seven years in construction.

The corvette, manned by 13 officers and 178 sailors, is propelled by a combination of four Wartsila diesel engines to achieve a cruising speed of 25 knots. She has an endurance of 3,500 nautical miles.

In a significant departure from her predecessors, INS Kamorta and Kadmatt, INS Kiltan is India’s first major warship with an all-composite superstructure. This has made the vessel lighter by about 100 tonnes.

Her weapons package includes heavy weight torpedoes, ASW rockets, an Otomelara 76 millimetre anti-aircraft gun and two multi-barrel 30 mm AK-630 guns for close-in protection against enemy aircraft.

The corvette, in naval tradition, inherits her name from a previous INS Kiltan (numbered P 79), a Soviet-supplied Petya-class ASW vessel that served in the fleet for 18 years before she was decommissioned in June 1987.

The four Project 28 corvettes are all named after islands in the Andaman & Nicobar chain in the Bay of Bengal, and the Lakshadweep archipelago in the Arabian Sea.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

After Doklam, army anticipates next Chinese intrusion in Uttarakhand

Orders faster road building to four critical border passes in Central Sector, beefs up troops

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14th Oct 17

In August, knife-edge diplomacy between New Delhi and Beijing managed to defuse a tense 71-day confrontation between border troops at Doklam, near the border tri-junction between India, China and Bhutan. But now, India is readying for possible Chinese retaliation in Uttarakhand, on the border tri-junction of India, China and Nepal.

This week, an on-going biannual conference of top army commanders in New Delhi discussed reinforcing the army in what is called the Central Sector – a 545-kilometre stretch of border that separates Tibet from Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, ending at the Nepal tri-junction. The generals also ordered road building to be stepped up for better access to four critical border passes.

“It has been decided that there would be a concerted heft towards road construction activities in this Sector. To that end, four passes to Niti, Lipulekh, Thangla-1 and Tsangchokla have been decided to be connected by [road by] 2020 on priority”, said an army statement, read out by a three-star general in New Delhi today.

As elsewhere on the border, China has already built all-weather roads to these passes, emanating from the Western Highway that links Lhasa with Xinjiang. This allows China to move troops to these flashpoints more quickly than India can.

In India, three existing main roads from the Indo-Gangetic plain must wind 300-400 kilometres to the border through landslide prone moutainside. These roads are: from Kalka – Shipki La; from Rishikesh – Mana Pass; and one to Dharchu La.

The generals also discussed interlinking these border passes with lateral branch roads and additional roads linking the Central Sector better with the plains.

“Road maps for intra sector connectivity within [the] Central Sector and inter-sector connectivity with neighbouring areas have been deliberated [upon]”, said the army statement today.

Besides improving road access, the army commanders discussed a plan to pump more soldiers into the Central Sector. This would be done under the army’s on-going Accretion of Forces initiative, under which a new corps headquarters has been raised in Panagarh, two mountain divisions (40,000 soldiers) in Pathankot and West Bengal, and an armoured brigade each for Ladakh and the Sikkim-West Bengal areas.

 “Organisation changes of some of the [army] formations have also been examined for capability enhancement”, stated the spokesperson blandly.

So far, the Central Sector has never seen active hostilities, remaining peaceful even through the 1962 war that saw pitched battles in the Western Sector (Ladakh), and the Eastern Sector (Arunachal Pradesh). After Sikkim became a part of India in 1975, the Sikkim-Tibet border was included in the Eastern Sector.

A reason for the Central Sector having remained peaceful is the towering Himalayan watershed that defines the border. Occupying territory across the high border ridgeline would leave defenders cut off by snow in winter.

That has not stopped China from contesting it in some places. Barahoti sees patrol confrontations regularly. China also lays claim to grazing grounds at Harsil (near Uttarkashi) and Rimkhim (near Joshimath) which are well on the Indian side of the border.

Highlighting the more benign nature of the dispute in the Central Sector, the two sides have agreed in ongoing Sino-Indian border talks to exchange maps of this area, marked with their perceptions of the border. In contrast, Beijing is unwilling to exchange similarly marked maps in the Eastern and Western Sectors.

Even going by China’s territorial claims, the Central Sector is a small part of the overall dispute. In the Western Sector, China claims about 35,000 square kilometres of territory that India regards as its own, including the vast Aksai Chin plateau. In the Eastern Sector, China claims 90,000 square kilometres of Indian-held territory, including much of Arunachal Pradesh. In the Central Sector, however, the dispute is over 2,000 square kilometres, in eight separate areas.

Even so, with tensions rising on the border, the performance of the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) is coming under the scanner. According to figures tabled in parliament on August 8, BRO has managed to construct only 33, 49 and 34 kilometres of roads in Uttarakhand in 2014-15, 2015-16 and 2016-17 respectively. In the same period, the BRO built 154, 130 and 154 kilometres of roads in Jammu & Kashmir; and 99, 103 and 100 kilometres of roads in Arunachal Pradesh.

The BRO’s “roll-on” plan for the period 2015-20 envisages building/improving 519 roads, measuring 22,225 kilometres. Of these, 61 roads, measuring 3,417 kilometres, are designated strategic Indo-China Border Roads (ICBR).