Tuesday, June 28, 2011

China Needles, India Responds

The latest transport aircraft purchase by India is just a first step in a transformation of its military. It’s China that has it worried.

This month, India’s Cabinet Committee on Security approved the purchase of 10 C-17 Globemaster III heavy-lift transport aircraft from the United States for use by the Indian Air Force, in a deal worth $4.1 billion.

The contract, which has an offset obligation of about $1 billion, is the highest single value military contract that New Delhi has entered into with the United States, and will certainly go some way to assuaging any hurt feelings on the US side over its losing out in the race to secure a lucrative contract to supply 126 combat jets to the Indian Air Force.

But the diplomatic benefits aside, the C-17 planes will significantly enhance India’s strategic lift capacity. With a payload capacity of more than 73,600 kilograms, the planes are capable of carrying 188 passengers, have reverse thrust engines for short turnaround, and are equipped with a missile warning system with flares to disengage any incoming missile attack. Until now, the Russian IL-76 ‘Gajraj’ and AN-32 has been the Indian Air Force’s mainstay for transporting men and material.

Combined with the purchase of half a dozen tactical lift C-130J Super Hercules aircraft from the Lockheed Martin stable earlier this year, the Indian Air Force is now well on its way to effectively equipping itself to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

The Air Force, currently the largest beneficiary of India’s rising military budget, is in the middle of shifting its focus from being a purely Pakistan-centric force, to one that will be capable of simultaneously meeting the twin threats posed by an insecure Pakistan and an increasingly belligerent China.

In fiscal 2009-10 alone, for instance, the Air Force spent over $4 billion in capital acquisition, almost three times the amount spent by the Army. And over the next few years, the Air Force budget for new purchases is only likely to rise with plans to buy six new-generation tanker transports, 22 attack helicopters, 12 heavy-lift helicopters and nearly 200 basic trainer aircraft.

But there has been more to the Indian build-up than just hardware acquisition as India undertakes a doctrinal shift in all three forces. The IAF, for example, is currently in the middle of tweaking its ORBAT (Order of Battle). This shift has involved reviving and expanding air bases close to the border with China border, including placing a squadron each of Sukhoi-30 MKIs—currently India’s most advanced fighter jets—at two hitherto small bases at Tezpur in north-east India and Bareilly in the north.

Air Force planners say this is just the beginning. Over the next three years, India has plans to deploy at least a squadron of Sukhois at Nyoma—currently just a basic air strip—about 25 kilometres from the Chinese border in the high altitude desert of Ladakh.

Military analysts say operationalization of the Nyoma airfield will be a major step in India beefing up its defences in the region close to a disputed boundary. Coupled with the Indian Army’s plans to raise, induct and deploy more mountain divisions along the Chinese frontier, India hopes to have a major deterrent against any Chinese aggression.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Dassault, Eurofighter submit revised offset bids

Couple of months after being shortlisted, French firm Dassault and consortium of European companies Eurofighter have submitted their revised offset bids for the multi-billion dollar 126 combat aircraft deal, the process for which is expected to be completed by the year end.

On 27 April, India has shortlisted the two European companies for procuring 126 Medium-Multirole Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) deal for the Indian Air Force (IAF) in which six companies were participating.

An Italian Eurofighter EF-2000 Typhoon lands at the Birgi NATO Airbase in Trapani. The European consortium is among the two shortlisted for the mega-deal of the Indian Air Force. Alessandro Bianchi/Reuters

“The offsets offer, which were completed until April 14 this year, have been asked to be revised until June 17 that is today,” German Ambassador Thomas Mattusek told reporters here.

Officials in Dassault also said they have already submitted the revised bids with the ministry.

Under the offsets clause in the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), foreign vendors bagging deals worth over Rs 300 crore have to reinvest at least 30 percent of the contract amount into Indian defence, civilian aerospace or the homeland security sectors.

In the M-MRCA competition, companies have to invest 50 percent of the worth of the deal into the Indian defence sector only.

“The shortlist and commercial biddings are expected to be opened in the next few weeks so that the whole project is expected to be finalised by the end of this year,” the German Ambassador said.

Germany along with United Kingdom, Spain and Italy is one of the four partner nations in the Eurofighter consortium and is the lead country for the Indian campaign.

Two more Super Hercules planes on way to India

Donning Indian Air Force colours, the third and fourth of six C-130J Super Hercules planes acquired by India in a $950 million deal have left for their new home, Air Force Station Hindon, outside New Delhi.

The remaining two C-130Js on order will be delivered later this summer, the plane's manufacturers Lockheed Martin said announcing the departure of the aircraft from its facility in Marietta, Georgia, Wednesday.

Equipped with an Infrared Detection Set, the aircraft can perform precision low-level flying, airdrops and landing in blackout conditions, Lockheed said.

Self-protection systems and other features are included to ensure aircraft survivability in hostile air defence environments. The aircraft also is equipped with air-to-air receiver refuelling capability for extended range operations, it said.

India's first acquisition from the US through the foreign military sales route in decades, the C-130J is expected to enhance Indian special forces' reach for their specialist operations behind enemy lines.

The four-engine aircraft, powered by the Rolls-Royce AE2100D3 turboprop, has a maximum cruise speed of 355 knots or 660 kmph. The maximum takeoff weight is 75,390 kg and it can carry a maximum payload of 21,770 kg.

The aircraft is required by the Indian armed forces to airlift about 92 paratroopers for special operations, though the platform has a multi-mission capability, including cargo lifting and medical evacuation.

India set to decide big military aircraft deals

India is set to decide on the world’s biggest combat aircraft deal of this century yet as well as those for new combat, utility and heavy lift helicopters within the next few days, weeks, or months, but all within 2011.

Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal P V Naik, told India Strategic defence magazine (www.indiastrategic.in) that the commercial bids of the two finalists in the race for 126-plus Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCAs) would be opened mid-June (possibly before the Paris Air Show beginning June 20), while those of the combat, heavy lift and utility helicopters and the basic trainer aircraft “anytime between the next few days to few weeks.”

In an interview for India Strategic’s Paris Air Show edition, the Air Chief said that IAF had already finalized its choice for the combat helicopter while that of the utility helicopter had also been through with the Indian Army, which is the lead buyer in this case. IAF will follow and buy the same helicopter.

As for the heavy lift helicopter, “the final report can be expected within the few days,” he said.

All the required reports were either already now with the Ministry of Defence (MoD) or just about to be submitted, he said pointing out IAF was well on its way towards transformation by 2022 or 2025.

Boeing’s Apache AH 64D and the Russian Mi 28NE are the two contenders in the race for combat helicopters while Boeing’s Chinook – the only helicopter which can float on water – and Russian Rosoboronexport’s Mi 26 are in the fray for the heavy lift role. The utility helicopter race for the Indian Army and IAF has the EADS Eurocopter and Russian Kamov in the race.

There is another project for an Indian-made Multi Role Helicopter later in the decade.

Basic Trainer Aircraft

In the basic trainer role, Swiss Pilatus 7. Korean KT 1 and US Beechcraft T 6 have been short-listed by the IAF, and the finalist is also due to be announced.

Existing Combat Aircraft

Notably, except for the Su 30 MKI aircraft and Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers, nearly all the aircraft with the Indian Air Force (IAF) are due for replacement as they were bought during the 1980s a quarter century ago. There is also a need to ensure that the new systems are in line with the revolution in electronic warfare systems, precision combat radars like AESA and missile technologies.

The Air Chief did not give any figures, but a rough calculation shows that IAF could be announcing deals worth $ 30 billion, or more, by the end of 2011.

The Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal, for which only the Eurofighter and Rafale remain in the fray, could touch or exceed $ 15 billion if the option for additional 63 aircraft is exercised in addition to the 126 units given in the tender. The three helicopters and the trainer aircraft, along with support and training packages, could be another $ five billion.

IAF has already selected 12 VVIP helicopters from Agusta Westland and 80 multi role Mi 17 1V from Russia. A project to acquire and build some 200 Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft has also already been signed with Russia.

Transport Aircraft

Notably, IAF has already finalized a deal to acquire 10 Boeing C 17 Globemaster III strategic transport aircraft, and there is a decision to add six and “some more” later.

It may be noted that as most deals involve Transfer of Technologies and offsets, there are still additional costs as the manufacturers pass various charges essentially to the buyer.

He said that IAF had already inducted two of the six special operations C 130J Super Hercules aircraft ordered from US Lockheed Martin, and by Feb 2012, all of them would be in the IAF inventory.

The support infrastructure is in place, on time, he said adding: “There are plans to acquire an additional six C 130J through the same Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route from the US Government.

MMRCA Milestones

Air Chief Marshal Naik said that in the case of the MMRCA, the last significant milestone in the selection process was over with the completion of the Technical Oversight Committee (TOC) report. The MoD could open the commercial tenders submitted by Eurofighter and Rafale mid-June to determine the lowest, or L-1, bidder.

However, it would still take a couple of months as it just won’t just be the price mentioned, but the package in terms of direct costs, support programmes, training, offsets and life cycle costs which would determine the winner. The race though is expected to be close.

Asked if the Eurofighter and Rafale were superior in technologies to the other four contenders – Boeing F/A 18 IN Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F 16 IN, Swedish Gripen and Russian Mig 29 – the Air Chief said: “In all fairness, all the six aircraft in the competition were good, and more or less close to one another in performance. But some of them had to be out, and some had to be in, and that’s it. Let’s say that the two European finalists were the most-compliant in the 600-plus parameters that the IAF selection team had set.”

The Air Chief observed that admittedly, the US had the best of the combat radars, weapons and systems. But then, each of the six contenders had given in writing that they would match the IAF requirements, including those for systems to be sourced from the US.

IAF Transformation

Air Chief Marshal Naik, who is at the vantage point in overseeing the transformation process of the Indian Air Force before his retirement in July, said that by 2020, “as part of our capability buildup plan, IAF would have dedicated combat, medium and heavy lift helicopters in all sectors to adequately meet our requirements.”

By then MMRCA and FGFA would have been inducted and the existing Mirages, Mig 29 and other aircraft upgraded to serve for some more years.

Pilot Training

It was important, he pointed out, that IAF pilots should be tech-savvy.

“Over a period of time, IAF will be tech savvy not only in terms of weapons and equipment but also in its style of functioning,” he said adding that pilot training is going to be intensified at all levels, and facilities expanded to train more pilots.


Air Chief Marshal disclosed that the last of the three Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems Aircraft) had arrived in India in March and deployed.

Two more AWACS mounted on IL 76 platforms had also been ordered.

The process to augment the electronic surveillance capability with aerostats – balloons with electronic surveillance radars – was continuing.

Air Chief Marshal Naik also said that the process to induct more midair refuellers was progressing. EADS’ Airus 330 MRTT and Rosoboronexport’s IL-78 (Mk 90) are competing.

Private Sector

Air Chief Marshal Naik said that the private sector had to play a great role in defence, aerospace and homeland security, and that the government was now set to facilitate its participation.

There should be fair competition between the state run companies and the private sector but “it is time, the private sector also set up a strong industrial R&D base to make this participation meaningful," he observed.

IAF looks for more C-130J aircrafts

The Indian Air Force is actively pursuing the purchase of more transport aircrafts, include Lockheed Martin's C-130J Super Hercules, to bolster its strategic lift capabilities, even as it seeks to move an increasing number of troops and military equipment along the Line of Actual Control, which the country shares with China.

"Yes, we would like to have more C-130J and C-17 aircrafts. We will start with the statement of case soon," outgoing Air Chief Marshal PV Naik said during a press briefing held at the IAF's Headquarters Training Command on Wednesday.

The Air Chief's statement comes six months after ET had reported that Lockheed Martin had held talks with New Delhi for a follow-on order for six 130J Super Hercules aircrafts.

The aircrafts, which are reputed to be the best in its class, were purchased for $962.7 million, and have been customised for Special Forces operations.

Naik, who will be replaced by Air Marshal NAK Browne as the country's Air Chief, also said that any such deal would be negotiated through the Foreign Military Sales route.

The heavy-lifters are seen as critical to the IAF's needs as it looks to replace its Soviet-era IL-76 transport aircraft fleet, which have been dogged by a lack of serviceability and spares, and are also coming to the end of their operational lifespan.

"The IL, which is a 40-tonne plus aircraft, as a fleet has served us very well, but it is aging now. So, one strategy is their up-gradation and overhauling, but they do not have too much life left. The other strategy is the purchase of the C-17 aircrafts, which carries twice the load of an Ilyushin, and has the advantage of landing on shorter air strips," Naik.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Russia may buy An-70 transport planes by 2012-13

Russia may start buying Ukrainian-built An-70 propfan military transport aircraft in 2012-2013, deputy commander of the Russian Air Force Maj. Gen. Viktor Bondarev said on Wednesday.

"The plane is undergoing factory tests, and next year it will be tested by [Russian] military pilots," Bondarev said.

A final decision on the purchase of the An-70 will be maid by a state commission on the basis of the tests results, General Bondarev said.

The An-70 is a medium-range propfan-powered military transport plane developed by Ukraine's Antonov design bureau. The Antonov company first tested a prototype An-70 in 1994, but a lack of Ukrainian state funds, and political disputes between Moscow and Kiev have prevented large-scale production of the aircraft.

Russia said in 2006 that it would pull out of the project, and buy the Il-76MF instead, after the program suffered a series of setbacks including problems with the propfan engine and two crashes involving prototypes.

The recent thaw in Russian-Ukrainian relations saw Moscow renew long-stalled funding to Ukraine in 2009 for eventual joint production of the plane, although the Ukrainian Defense Ministry said last year it would not finance the project.

There are up to 300 transport aircraft in service with the Russian Air Force, including An-12 Cub, Il-76MD and An-124 Condor transport aircraft.

The An-70 is intended to replace Russia's ageing An-12 aircraft.

Russian Airborne Troops Commander Lt. Gen. Vladimir Shamanov said last year that his service had ordered 40 An-70 planes under the new state arms procurement program for 2011-2020.

Poland, U.S. to sign airbase deal after Obama visit

The Polish defense minister confirmed on Friday that Warsaw and Washington would sign a deal on the permanent deployment of a U.S. air detachment in Poland after U.S. President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the European state.

Polish media reports have speculated that Obama could announce the transfer of an F-16 squadron from the Aviano base in Italy to the Lask air field in central Poland during his May 27-28 visit to Warsaw.

"An agreement on the permanent deployment of U.S. Air Force assets in Poland and the periodic rotation of F-16 fighters in the country will be signed after Barack Obama's visit," Defense Minister Bogdan Klich said in an interview with the TOK FM radio.

The U.S. detachment will service F-16 fighter jets, Hercules transport planes, and land personnel periodically visiting Poland, the minister said.

Klich expressed hope that the F-16 rotation could start as early as in 2013.

Meanwhile, Russia warned Poland against hosting U.S. fighter jets, saying it would counter the move.

IAF to induct indigenous radars

India will on Friday induct an indigenous medium-power radar at the Naliya air base to enhance its air defence capabilities over Gujarat's airspace, an official said on Tuesday.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik, will do the honours and induct the 'Arudhra' medium-power radar developed by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment of the Defence Research and Development Organisation ( DRDO), the official said.

The induction would be done on the sidelines of the three-day Gandhinagar-based South Western Air Command (SWAC) commanders' conference beginning Wednesday.

"This state-of-the-art radar is being inducted towards strengthening the air defence in the Surashtara-Kutch region and forms an important component in the IAF's plan to achieve network-centric operations," the official said.

With the operationalisation of the Integrated Air Command and Control Systems (IACCS), an automated command and control system of the IAF, the overall air defence of the country would achieve a quantum leap. The Arudhra radar, along with the legacy radars, would all be networked in this system.