Friday, 20 April 2018

The FGFA is dead... $8.63 billion advanced fighter aircraft project with Russia put on ice

NSA Ajit Doval tells Russia that India is shelving the $8.63 billion proposal to co-develop the FGFA

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 20th Apr 18

The proposal for India and Russia to jointly develop an advanced fighter – the eponymous Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) -- has been formally buried.

Business Standard has learnt that National Security Advisor Ajit Doval conveyed the decision to a Russian ministerial delegation at a “Defence Acquisition Meeting” in end-February.

Doval and Defence Secretary Sanjay Mitra, who attended the meeting, asked the Russians to proceed alone with developing their fifth-generation fighter. They said India might possibly join the project later, or buy the fully developed fighter outright, after it entered service with the Russian Air Force.

New Delhi and Moscow have discussed the FGFA since 2007, when they agreed that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) would partner Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau (Sukhoi) in developing and manufacturing the fighter. In 2010, Sukhoi flew the fighter, called Perspektivny Aviatsionny Kompleks Frontovoy Aviatsii, or “Prospective Airborne Complex of Frontline Aviation” (PAK-FA). Seven prototypes are currently in flight-testing.

Russia said the PAK-FA meets its needs, but the Indian Air Force (IAF) wanted a better fighter. So HAL and Sukhoi negotiated an $8.63 billion deal to improve the PAK-FA with the IAF’s requirements of stealth (near-invisibility to radar), super-cruise (supersonic cruising speed), networking (real-time digital links with other battlefield systems) and airborne radar with world-beating range. In all, the IAF demanded some 50 improvements to the PAK-FA, including 360-degree radar and more powerful engines.

Defence ministry sources who played a direct role in negotiations with Russia say much of this money was earmarked for Indian production facilities for manufacturing 127 FGFAs, and for India’s work share in developing advanced avionics for the fighter. It also included the cost of four PAK-FA prototypes for IAF test pilots to fly.

Now, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has backed away from the FGFA because it argues the PAK-FA – which Sukhoi has been test-flying since January 2010 – is not stealthy enough for a fifth-generation combat aircraft.

Aerospace analysts who support the PAK-FA reject this argument. They point out that the US Air Force F-22 Raptor, was built with an extraordinary degree of stealth, but that proved to be counterproductive, since it resulted in high maintenance and life-cycle costs. Burned by that emphasis on stealth alone, US designers de-emphasized stealth while building their latest fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. Instead, they focused on building its combat edge through better sensors, highly networked avionics and superior long-range weapons.

The cancellation of the FGFA project has far-reaching implications for the IAF, for which this was once its high-tech future fighter. United Progressive Alliance (UPA) defence minister AK Antony had ruled out buying the F-35 Lightning II, arguing that India would have the FGFA to meet its fifth-generation fighter needs.

Indian aerospace designers also cited the FGFA experience as essential learning for developing the indigenous fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) is pursuing.

Now, the FGFA’s burial sets the stage for the IAF to eventually acquire the F-35 Lightning II, which comes in air force as well as naval variants.

Indian military aviation, once overwhelmingly dependent upon Russian fighters, helicopters and transport aircraft, has steadily increased its purchases from America. On Tuesday, appearing before a US Senate panel for his confirmation hearings, Admiral Philip Davidson – nominated as the top US military commander in the Indo-Pacific, said the US should aspire to “break down” India’s historical dependence upon Russia.

The IAF has been split down the middle on the FGFA. Broadly, flying branch officers of the “French school”– whose careers have centred on Mirage and Jaguar fighters – have tended to oppose the FGFA. Meanwhile, officers from the “Russian school”, their careers grounded in the MiG and Sukhoi fleet, have supported the FGFA.

Opponents of the FGFA have even argued that the project would duplicate and hinder the indigenous AMCA project. However, last July, an experts group headed by Air Marshal (Retired) S Varthaman, set up to consider this question, ruled that there were no conflict lines between the FGFA and AMCA. It stated that the technological expertise that would be gained from working with Russian experts would benefit the AMCA project.

In co-developing the FGFA, HAL was expected to deploy its experience in working with composite materials, which were to replace many of the metal fabricated panels on the PAK-FA. India was also expected to participate in designing the 360-degree active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. In addition, the experience of flight-testing the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft would be refined by flight-testing a heavier, more complex fighter.

These challenges were expected to imbue Indian engineers with genuine design skills, of a far higher magnitude than the lessons learnt from licensed manufacture.


In addition, the FGFA’s foreclosure means the loss of $295 million that India sunk into its “preliminary design phase” between 2010-13.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

US commander seeks to supplant Russia’s influence

 
Admiral Davidson, likely next PACOM chief, sees “historic opportunity” in India

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 19th April 18

Admiral Philip S Davidson, who President Donald Trump has chosen to replace Admiral Harry B Harris as the top US military commander responsible for the Indo-Pacific region suggested the US should replace Russia as India’s premier security partner.

Asked in his confirmation hearings on Tuesday by the US Senate Armed Services Committee about what he envisaged – military sales, or military training – as the key tool for engaging India, Davidson stated: “India’s military has long relied on the former Soviet Union for some of their technology and training. We have to break down that historical background, to a certain extent. Break down is not the correct word, but we willing to work with that so we can move forward with India.

As Pacific Command (PACOM) chief over the last three years, Harris has assiduously cultivated India as a military partner for helping contain Chinese expansionism. However, his likely successor, Davidson, has gone even further.

Davidson’s statement comes just days after Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman snubbed Russian arms exhibitors at Defexpo 2018 in Chennai. As this newspaper reported (April 15, “Russia rues its declining role as arms supplier to India”) Sitharaman turned her back on Russian exhibits, ignoring them as she strolled past, looking instead at the Israeli exhibits across the aisle.

Questioned in Washington D.C. by the Senate panel about which Indo-Pacific countries he regarded as “most important”, Davidson mentioned America’s “five treaty allies in the Pacific” – Japan, [South] Korea, Australia, Philippines and Thailand – but then switched tack to India. “Of partners, I think the historic opportunity for the United States going forward is probably with India. That would be a relationship that I intend to work on with great energy”, he stated.

Davidson was also questioned about his views on the “quadrilateral, which Senate Committee described as “a loose coalition between the United States, Japan, Australia and India”.

Davidson responded: “I agree there is some opportunity there, Senator. Absolutely, to come together on issues where our interests converge.”

“I will seek to prioritize increasing maritime security cooperation, expanding the military-to-military relationship across all Services, concluding key foundational agreements, facilitating greater Indian contributions to Afghanistan, and deepening defense cooperation,” Davidson said.

As a navy officer, Davidson made his worry clear about China’s growing capability in submarine warfare, which threatened to erode the US Navy’s “perishable lead”.

“They have new submarines on both the ballistic missile side and on the attack submarine side and they’re achieving numbers in the build of those submarines as well”, Davidson stated.

Asked by Senate panel members whether cyber espionage was responsible for China’s growing submarine capabilities, Davidson was blunt: “I believe they are stealing technology in just about every domain and trying to use it to their advantage”, he said.

With no apparent hurdles to Davidson’s confirmation as the next commander of PACOM – the Hawaii-based military command whose responsibilities sprawl across the Pacific Ocean, the seas around China and much of the Indian Ocean, including India – he is likely to take over command from Harris in the middle of 2018.

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Russia rues its declining role as arms supplier to India

Sitharaman ignores Russian stalls in her Defexpo “walkabout”

By Ajai Shukla
Chennai
Business Standard, 15th Apr 18

For years, Russian equipment and defence firms were the highlight of Indian Defexpo and Aero India shows. After live displays, mainly featuring Russian aircraft, helicopters and armoured vehicles, the crowds would throng the glitzy, neon-lit Russian exhibits where executives in lightweight suits and improbably long-legged lady receptionists politely fielded the buzz surrounding the next big Russian contract.

Few would have predicted how quickly change has come. On Wednesday, after opening Defexpo 2018, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, in a swarm of subordinates and bodyguards, was touring the exhibits in Hall 1, where the big Russian exhibitors and Israeli defence vendors were arrayed opposite each other. Senior Russian officials recount that Sitharaman turned abruptly to the Israeli firms – Israel Aerospace Industries, Rafael and Elbit Systems – and strolled past without bothering to even look at a single Russian exhibit.

Russian attempts to engage her attention were blocked by the guards around her.

“This is what the India-Russia defence relationship has come to. India’s political environment is no longer that friendly to Russia”, says a top Russian executive.

He ruled out a suggestion that Sitharaman’s snub might have been inadvertent. “A defence minister prepares for an event like Defexpo. She has assistants and advisors, who guide her along. It was deliberate”, he declared.

Contacted by email for confirmation, the defence ministry has not responded.

Only later in the day were the Russians placated, when the navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba and other senior admirals visited the navy-related Russian exhibits.

Russia remains India’s largest arms supplier, but its share is dwindling rapidly. A report last month from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute states that, in the five-year period 2013 to 2017, India sourced 62 per cent of its defence imports from Russia. That was down from 79 per cent in the previous five-year period.

A key reason for Russia’s decline was evident at Defexp: India’s frustration at the low serviceability of Russian equipment and the shortage of spares. An India-Russia Military Industrial Conference held at DefExpo 2018 focused on “improvement of after-sales support of Russian origin defence platforms being exploited by Indian defence forces and also to facilitate domestic manufacturing of some of the identified spare parts…”, India’s defence ministry announced.

The seven memoranda of understanding signed between Indian private firms and Russian OEMs were all aimed at ensuring the smooth supply of spares and assemblies for Russian-origin weaponry already in service in the Indian military.

A veteran Russian defence industry technocrat, who has supplied arms to India since Soviet Union days, says that Indian attitudes towards arms purchases had changed dramatically. In earlier times, the Soviet Union sold cheap, rugged and unsophisticated equipment – which was all India could afford anyway.

“Now India has progressed. It can buy expensive and sophisticated weaponry and it is no longer content with cheap, rugged Russian arms. But, even though India’s military still has high regard for Russian arms, New Delhi’s political attitude to Moscow has changed”, he says.

“Moscow sold weaponry to India on a friendship basis, at friendship prices. But India now wants Russia to compete in open global tenders. Fine! We will also deal with India on a purely commercial basis then,” says a Russian company chief executive.

In any such conversation with Russians, India’s “growing closeness with America” quickly bubbles to the surface. But when countered with the charge that Moscow too has come closer to Pakistan and China, the Russians quickly interrupt.

“There is no friendship in those relationships, like there is with India. Moscow engages Islamabad in order to have a handle on the Taliban. And China shares a long border with Russia. Every country deals with its immediate neighbours on a special basis”, claims the veteran Russian technocrat.

When we point out that India and Russia cooperate on projects that no other country does – for example, in designing and building INS Arihant, the nuclear missile submarine, and the lease of INS Chakra, a Russian nuclear propelled submarine – the Russians bitterly point at India’s “backtracking” on conventional submarines under Project 75-I.

“In 1999, India’s 30-year submarine programme decided to build six western-origin and six Russian-origin submarines. India bought the first six Scorpene submarines from France, but where is the contract for the other six? India wants Russia to compete with western shipyards in an open tender to build six boats equipped with “air-independent propulsion”. Why is India not giving Russia the order for the next six [submarines]?” says the Russian executive.

The Russians also point to long-standing inter-governmental agreements that have been languishing for years – specifically naming the deals to co-develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft, build Kamov-226T light helicopters and buy the S-400 long range ground to air missile system.

“Countries with genuine security problems buy simple, rugged weaponry. Rich countries, which maintain ‘trophy militaries’, buy sophisticated costly kit that may or may not work in war. India faces real threats. It should not forget its longstanding Russian friendship”, he concludes. 

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Navy to consider new ship-borne Kamov-226T helicopters



By Ajai Shukla
Chennai
Business Standard, 14th Apr 18

Of the 146 foreign arms vendors attending Defexpo 2018 in Chennai, Russian Helicopters, which builds the iconic, dual-rotor Kamov helicopters, is amongst the few with an assured major order.  In 2015, on Vladimir Putin’s personal request, Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to buy 200 Kamov-226T utility helicopters for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and army without competitive tendering.

Moscow and New Delhi have agreed that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) would manufacture the Kamov-226T with technology transferred by Russian Helicopters. The two signed a shareholders agreement in October 2016, granting a 50.5 per cent majority stake for HAL, and 49.5 per cent for Russian Helicopters. Now Russian Helicopters is pitching to score another billion-dollar home run by winning the navy’s tender for 111 “naval utility helicopters” (NUH).

With at least 140 Kamov-226T to be built in India (the other 60 are being supplied from Russia fully built), Russian Helicopters believes it can offer a compelling commercial deal for building an additional 111 as India’s NUH requirement.

“A delegation from the Indian MoD (defence ministry) is to visit Kamov Design Bureau… in order to participate in the demonstration flight of a light utility Ka-226T rotorcraft and to familiarize themselves with its ship-based version”, a Russian Helicopters press release stated on Thursday.

In October 2017, the defence ministry gave its nod to commence the procurement of 111 NUHs. In December, the navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba revealed that five global “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs) had conveyed interest in the navy acquisition that is being pursued under the “strategic partner” (SP) model of the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 (DPP-2016). This requires an Indian company, specifically selected by the defence ministry, to manufacture the helicopter in India with technology transferred by the chosen OEM.

However, with the defence ministry still deliberating whether public sector firms like HAL are eligible to be nominated an SP, there is the illogical possibility that HAL manufactures the air force and army Kamov-226T choppers, while a private sector SP builds the 111 Kamov-226Ts being procured under the NUH tender.

“This dichotomy will only be resolved when the SP policy is finalised and implemented”, said a source in the defence ministry.

Unlike the standard, land-based Kamov-226T helicopter, a ship-based version is required to have special “foldable” main rotor blades, which allows the chopper to be housed in a small hangar on the ship’s deck. Further, a ship-based NUH is required to operate in the challenging maritime environment, where it must be able to land on the pitching deck of a moving ship and carry out missions like search and rescue, medical evacuation and combat missions in anti-piracy and anti-terrorism operations.

“The ship-based configuration of Ka-226T helicopter has already been developed and successfully operated in Russia for special purpose aviation since 2017”, said an official Russian Helicopters release at Defexpo 2018.

The Kamov-226T has already received certification for its “folding blade system”, for operating at ambient temperatures of over 50 degrees Centigrade, and for medical evacuation usage, says Russian Helicopters.

While western-origin fighter aircraft are eroding Russia’s pre-eminence as a supplier to India, Russian Helicopters has remained dominant in several rotocraft categories, since the 1950s. There are currently 400 Russian-made helicopters in India’s military, including a large Mi-17 medium lift fleet, and three Kamov types with the navy – the Kamov-25, Kamov-28 and Kamov-31. 

Friday, 13 April 2018

Boeing, HAL, Mahindra tie up to build Super Hornet fighters in India

(L to R) Boeing's Pratyush Kumar, HAL's T Suvarna Raju and Mahindra's SP Shukla join forces to build Super Hornets

By Ajai Shukla
Chennai
Business Standard, 13th Apr 18

Adding a new dimension to the heated global contest to manufacture fighter aircraft in India, The Boeing Company on Thursday announced a partnership with public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and private sector Mahindra Defence Systems (MDS) to make the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in India.

The partnership would come into effect if India were to select the Super Hornet in any one of two ongoing fighter procurements: An inquiry for 57 “multi-role carrier borne fighters” (MRCBF) for the navy, or another inquiry issued last week for 110 multi-role fighters for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

By most calculations, a win by the Super Hornet in one of the tenders would create the financial logic for a win in the other tender as well. That is because production costs in India would progressively reduce as the number of fighters increased.

“Boeing is excited to team up with India’s only company that manufactures combat fighters, HAL, and India’s only company that manufactures small commercial airplanes, Mahindra”, said Pratyush Kumar, Boeing India chief, at the signing ceremony.

Boeing’s “public-private” strategy contrasts with the approach of rival aerospace vendors, Lockheed Martin and Saab, in a separate procurement of single-engine fighters that eventually morphed into the ongoing acquisition of 110 “multi-role fighters”, for which the IAF issued a “request for information” on April 6.

Lockheed Martin and Saab have both partnered private sector firms – Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL) and the Adani Group respectively – to build in India. That was because the defence ministry required the single-engine fighters to be built in India under the Strategic Partner (SP) category, which mandates a private sector Indian partner.

Now, however, the defence ministry is reportedly reviewing the SP policy, and considering whether to permit public sector firms to participate in SP category acquisitions.

The Boeing-HAL-Mahindra partnership constitutes a flexible arrangement in which any of the three – the foreign partner, the public sector firm or the private entity – can be the face of the consortium. For example, if a private sector lead is mandatory, Mahindra can be the prime entity, with Boeing and HAL as technology partners.

The entry of HAL, which has an airfield and manufacturing hangars in Bengaluru, could significantly reduce the Super Hornet’s price.

The partners say they are still deciding where manufacture would take place, and are evaluating HAL’s Bengaluru’s facilities as one option.

“We want to build a brand new, 21st century facility for building the F/A-18 Super Hornet in India that allows for final integration and checks. Whether we can house that alongside HAL’s existing runway facilities or we have to create a new space is something that would be worked out between the three partners”, says Kumar.

Boeing, unlike Lockheed Martin and Saab, has been sceptical about the Indian private sector’s ability to manufacture a complex fighter aircraft with technology transfer. Speaking in New Delhi last September, Kumar publicly stated that global experience, including in Turkey, Japan and Brazil, showed that success required “a fine balancing act of co-opting the capabilities of both public and private enterprise.”

Now Boeing, HAL and the Mahindras have done exactly that.

“HAL has always been at the forefront of aerospace developments in India’s aerospace sector”, pointed out T Suvarna Raju, the HAL chief.

The Super Hornet is the US Navy’s main carrier borne fighter, and will remain in production out to 2035 according to Pentagon estimates. A new, Block III evolution has gone into service with enhanced network capability, longer range with conformal fuel tanks, an advanced cockpit system and a life of over 9,000 flying hours.

In December, navy chief, Admiral Sunil Lanba, stated that the RFI for the MRCBF had evoked four responses and that a Request for Proposals would be issued by mid-2018. The four fighters in contention are believed to be the Super Hornet, 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.


Lanba stated that the MRCBF would be required for INS Vikrant, which is scheduled to be commissioned in 2021, as well as for the subsequent INS Vishal, which is at least 15 years in the future.

Modi points to green shoots, claims “humble beginning” in building defence industry

Modi also attended demonstration by the seashore of army, navy and air force indigenous equipment

By Ajai Shukla
Chennai
Business Standard, 13th Apr 18

Three years ago in Bengaluru, on February 18, 2015, while inaugurating Aero India 2015 — the first defence exhibition of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led government — Prime Minister Narendra Modi had outlined an ambitious “Make in India” agenda for defence production. “We have the reputation as the largest importer of defence equipment in the world. That may be music to the ears of (foreign defence vendors) here. But, this is one area where we would not like to be Number One!” he quipped.

Three years later, inaugurating Defexpo 2018 in Chennai on Thursday, a more sombre Modi would have been conscious that little has changed. India remains the world’s top arms importer. The “additional 100,000 to 120,000 highly skilled jobs in India” he visualised in Bengaluru, which he planned to create by “raising the percentage of domestic procurement from 40 per cent to 70 per cent in the next five years”, remains an aspiration.

So Modi focused on the policy positives in a determinedly upbeat speech at Chennai. In what he characterised as “a humble beginning”, he cited progress “on defence manufacturing licences, on defence offsets, on defence exports clearances, on foreign direct investment in defence manufacturing, and on reforming our defence procurement.”

He said “The defence procurement procedure has been revised with many specific provisions for stimulating growth of domestic defence industry.” In truth, defence industry growth has been anaemic. 

A key reason for this lacklustre industrial growth has been conservative, single-digit annual growth in the defence budget. Modi showed some recognition of this when he stated: “We are conscious that defence manufacturing is unique in terms of government involvement. You need the government to grant a license to manufacture arms and ammunition. Since the government is almost the only buyer, you need the government to grant an order. You need the government even to grant permission to export.”

Without domestic off-take, defence industry would have to rely on exports for growth. Here Modi cited figures to claim better performance than the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government. “In May 2014, the total number of defence export permissions granted stood at 118, for a total value of 577 million dollars. In less than four years, we have issued 794 more export permissions, for a total value of over 1.3 billion dollars”, he stated.

How much of this sanctioned figure has actually been exported is not known.
However, Modi pulled no punches in criticising the UPA government’s defence preparedness. “There was a time when the critical issue of defence preparedness was hampered by policy paralysis. We have seen the damage such laziness, incompetence or perhaps some hidden motives, can cause to the nation. Not now, Not anymore, Never again”, he declared.

The PM pointedly charged the previous government with apathy towards the jawan, contrasting the BJP’s actions with its predecessors. “You would have seen how the issue of providing bullet proof jackets (BPJs) to Indian soldiers was kept hanging for years. You would have also seen that we have brought the process to a successful conclusion with a contract that will provide a boost to defence manufacturing in India.”

The government recently signed a contract for over 186,000 BPJs, out of the approximately 386,000 jackets that the army alone requires. Earlier, a fast track contract for 50,000 jackets had been concluded by the government.

Modi also claimed credit for having “taken bold action to meet our immediate critical requirements (for fighter aircraft), but have also initiated a new process to procure 110 fighter aircraft.”

While earlier tenders, like the 2007 one for medium multirole combat aircraft dragged on without yielding a result, Modi indicated that this one would have a speedy conclusion.

The PM also claimed credit for providing impetus to defence start ups across the country. “We have launched the 'Innovation for Defence Excellence' scheme. It will set up defence innovation hubs throughout the country to provide necessary incubation and infrastructure support to the start-ups in defence sector”, he said.

Before leaving Chennai, Modi also witnessed an operational demonstration staged by the sea shore in which naval warships, air force fighters and helicopters and army tanks and helicopter-borne commandos displayed their capabilities.


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