Saturday, March 24, 2012

India readies to select mid-air refueler

New Delhi : India is readying to select the winner of the $2-billion tender for six mid-air refuelers for its air force, with both the contending planes from European consortium EADS Airbus and Russian Ilyushin clearing the flight trials.

According to informed sources, the Indian defence ministry is now considering the bids to arrive at the lowest bidder in the tender issued in September 2010. India is looking for six refuelers.

The tender had been reissued by the government after the Airbus' A330MRTT was selected by the Indian Air Force as the winner of an earlier tender in 2009.

But the finance ministry objected to the "high cost" for the A330MRTT. So the tender was cancelled in January 2010.

"After three trials in November, we have been informed that we are compliant with the specifications mentioned in the tender," Airbus Defence Capability Marketing vice president Ian Elliot told reporters here.

Ilyushin too has been found complaint, the sources said.

Asked about the finance ministry objections during the previous tendering process, Elliot said the concerns were relating to "capital investment cost."

But now, the lowest bidder for the tender will be worked out on the basis of life cycle cost of operating the plane over several decades.

During flight trials, Airbus had demonstrated midair refueling of Indian Air Force's Sukhoi-30 and Jaguar combat planes on its A330MRTT.

It also similarly demonstrated refueling of Mirage-2000s while contesting the United Arab Emirates tender. India has a fleet of nearly 50 Mirage-2000s. India also has a six-aircraft fleet of IL-78s.

Sukhoi Su-30SM: An Indian Gift to Russia’s Air Force

Russia’s Defense Ministry has ordered 30 heavy Sukhoi Su-30SM fighter planes. Given that the same model has been exported to India for more than 10 years, this choice seems both logical and pragmatic.

Thirty 30’s

The Defense Ministry and the Irkut Corporation, an affiliate of the United Aircraft Corporation, have signed a supply contract for 30 Su-30SM multirole fighter aircraft, a Defense Ministry spokesman told journalists Thursday, March 22. “Under the contract, Irkut Corporation will build for Russia’s Ministry of Defense 30 planes of this type by 2015,” he said.

Rumors that Irkut, a long-standing exporter, may supply several dozen fighter aircraft to the Russian Air Force began circulating late last year. Now the rumor has become a reality – a contract in black and white.

But why did the Defense Ministry choose the Su-30’s? After all, they have been mostly supplied to customers abroad rather than to the Russian Armed Forces, where just a few planes of this type are in use.

The Su-30, properly speaking, is an entire family of aircraft and the most famous Russian-made (not to be confused with Soviet-made) fighter plane outside of Russia. It was developed in the Soviet Union on the basis of the Su-27UB combat trainer aircraft as a command plane for Air Defense air regiments flying ordinary Su-27 interceptor aircraft.

In 1993, its export version, the Su-30K, was developed, sparking record demand and the sale of several hundred planes.

The family is further subdivided into two parts: the “Chinese” Su-30MKK/MK2, which were produced in Komsomolsk-on-Amur and exported to Venezuela, Indonesia, Uganda, Vietnam, and of course China; and the “Indian” Su-30MKI, manufactured in Irkutsk and purchased by India, Algeria and Malaysia.

The model ordered by the Russian military is a “localized” version of the “Indian” Su-30MKI. Earlier, Komsomolsk-on-Amur delivered to the Air Force four “localized” Su-30MK2’s.

A flying multi-tasker

As a basic platform for the multirole heavy fighter aircraft, the Su-30MKI is remarkable primarily for its universality. It boasts a so-called “open architecture”, making it relatively easy to add new systems in the basic electronic equipment and to use advanced guided weapons (supplied by different manufacturers).

The Su-30MKI sports a Russian radar and optic locator, French navigation and heads-up display systems, Israeli EW and weapon-guidance systems, and Indian computers.

The “Chinese” line is based on a different logic that prescribes parallel installation of new systems that fall short of full integration.

Most likely, the military is attracted by how easy it is to add different weapons and equipment to the Su-30MKI, transforming it into an attack fighter-bomber, a heavy interceptor aircraft, or something else.

Who placed the order?

It is hard to pinpoint who exactly ordered these 30 aircraft. The contract was signed by Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov and Irkut President Alexei Fedorov. After the signing ceremony, Serdyukov commented that the planes would “increase the Air Force’s combat power.”

By contrast, Fedorov went on record as saying last summer that the Defense Ministry was going to order 40 aircraft. Later the press reported, citing the Irkutsk aircraft plant’s general director Alexander Veprev, that the deliveries were likely to be made in two installments: the first 28 aircraft were intended for the Air Force and another 12 as an option for naval aviation. Air Force C-in-C Alexander Zelin confirmed the figure of 28 in fall 2011.

As we can see, the first batch of Sukhoi-30’s has been purchased. The remaining 12, as some military sources intimated to the press, were intended for the Black Sea Fleet’s naval aviation.

Given that naval aviation has seen cuts in combat aircraft, it seems logical to reinforce it with heavy Su-30SM two-seaters that are efficient both in air-to-air combat and against ground and surface targets.

Thus far, however, there is no mention of plans to buy the Su-30 for the Navy. Possibly the option will be realized later.

Exporters’ courtesy

There is another simple explanation for choice of the Su-30MKI. Irkut has been churning out these planes for 10 years thanks to its completely streamlined production method. This means that its products are of high quality, relatively cheap (which pleases the Defense Ministry in particular) and will be supplied on time.

It is one thing if, in order to make 30 aircraft, you have to breathe life into an idling plant, to fine-tune (or develop anew) your technological method, buy additional equipment, and – still worse – hire personnel. But it’s quite another if you have been manufacturing standardized aircraft for years and years and can easily divert your workforce to produce an “improved” modification for your own country’s Air Force. The cost of this batch on the side is dramatically lower.

This approach (buying quickly and on the cheap what can be produced immediately) has been growing in popularity in the Russian military. We have mentioned the Su-30M2 combat trainer aircraft intended for the Russian Air Force. The same goes for the carrier-based MiG-29K, which in its present form was developed for the Indian Navy.

This approach is logical in its own way. The military expects certain fundamentally new models that are being tested with some degree of success. The Air Force is eying the T-50, the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, and the Navy has been trying to get into shape its Lada project involving the construction of non-nuclear submarines. The Land Forces have boycotted the purchases of all currently existing armor models, urging manufacturers to invent something totally new.

In the meantime, the Armed Forces will buy cheap, mass-produced, well-equipped, if ordinary, military hardware, like the Su-30SM.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

IAF set to induct 6 LCA squadrons

First two Tejas aircraft will be stationed in TN

Giving a big thrust to the indigenous fighter jet programme, Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to induct six squadrons of Tejas light combat aircraft over the next 10 years, which will allow the IAF to pack more punch in its aerial strikes.

“IAF plans to induct six LCA squadrons by the end of the 13th Plan,” minister of state for defence M M Pallam Raju said in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.

The development phase for LCA (light combat force) began in 1983 and the first technology demonstrator flew in 2001. Four years later, IAF placed the first order of 20 Tejas at a cost of Rs 2,700 crore. Subsequently, it placed order for another squadron.

The first two squadrons – 40 aircraft – of LCA, are first generation Mark-I version. The additional four squadrons would be Tejas Mark-II aircraft with a higher powered engine.

Raju indicated that money would not come in the way of LCA development. The Centre sanctioned Rs 11,845.2 crore to Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) till date while the total expenditure incurred so far is Rs 5,051.46 crore, he said.

Only last week, the penultimate developmental aircraft Tejas limited series production - 7 (LSP-7) successfully undertook its maiden flight from HAL airport. The LSP-7 aircraft, along with LSP- 8 will be offered to the IAF for user evaluation trials.

The LSP-7 flight is also the first time that a LCA maiden flight was not accompanied by the customary chase aircraft, which is an indicator to the level of confidence defence scientists and IAF have in the machine, defence research and development organisation stated. IAF plans to station the first two LCA squadron at Sulur near Coimbatore and Kayathir near Tuticorin.

Indian Air Force has initiated process of inducting 'Tejas': Defence Ministry

The Indian Air Force has initiated the process of inducting Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) 'Tejas' and has placed an order for 40 aircraft with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Defence Ministry told the Rajya Sabha today.

In written reply to a question on development of LCA, Minister of State for Defence M M Pallam Raju said, "Action for induction of Tejas into IAF has been initiated. IAF has placed orders for 40 aircraft on HAL... Initial Operational Clearance-1 (IOC-1) for the aircraft was achieved in January, 2011."

On development plans for advance version of the aircraft, Raju said, "Tejas Mark-II aircraft is under development with an alternate higher powered engine with considerable improvements. Final cost assessment will be available only after the development phase of Mark-II is completed."

On cost assessment of Tejas Mark-I, he said the scope for its cost reduction has been examined and the same is assessed as not feasible in view of limited quantities.

Rs 11845.20 crore has been sanctioned by the government to Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) for development of Tejas, and so far a total expenditure of Rs 5051.46 crore has been incurred.

IAF plans to induct six LCA squadrons by the end of the 13th Plan.

While replying to a question on deployment of IAF helicopters in foreign countries, Defence Minister A K Antony said the the information can not be divulged in the interest of strategic concerns.

HAL likely to handover 1st batch of Tejas to IAF by next year

The first batch of the country's indigenously developed light combat aircraft (LCA) "Tejas" was likely to be handed over to the Indian Air Force by next year, a senior Aeronautical Development Agency official said today.

"As far as LCA is concerned, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is the prime agency. Last year they have started production. I hope from next year onwards they (the LCAs) will start entering the service..", Kota Harinarayana, Dr D S Kothari DRDO Chair, ADA, Bangalore, told reporters here.

In the first batch, IAF had placed orders for 40 LCAs. "Airforce has committed about 80 aircraft. Navy also wants similar aircraft", he said.

Harinarayana, former Programme Director for the LCA project at ADA, also mooted integration of auto component companies with HAL.

"See, HAL should not manufacture from bottom to top..that is from pin to aircraft. Pins should be made by pin-specialist. HAL can concentrate on integration. The problem is, there are no Tier I and II companies (to support other products for the construction of an aircraft)..we have to bring in that technology and innovation.", he said.

"The real challenge is we have to bring in technology at low costs which are globally competitive. We should be able to sell it elsewhere in the world", he said.

Earlier, addressing a seminar at the third edition of Tamil Nadu Manufacturing Summit, organised by CII, he said the global aerospace market was estimated to be USD 100 billion and dominated by US and European Union based industries.

In the next 20 years, India would need more than 1,200 aircraft worth USD 100 billion, he said.

He was of the view that Indian companies can enter into an agreement with Tier-I companies of the world so that there could not be any difficulty in bringing such technology to India.

India advances air force modernisation

India's medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition has all the hallmarks of a classic Indian love story, Bollywood-style. In the late 1990s the Indian air force loved its French Dassault Mirage 2000 aircraft, and in 2001 said it favoured buying 126 more. But India dithered, Dassault decided to pitch the Rafale instead, and in 2004 New Delhi decided to tender, with five other suitors emerging to woo its air force. Only after a decade of high drama did the service return to the eager arms of its first true love, the French.

More drama may lie ahead. Dassault has confirmed it and partners Snecma and Thales have attained L1 vendor status in the competition, meaning they will eventually enter exclusive negotiations linked to the 126-fighter deal. But while the French are in prime position, there is a long road ahead. Media reports suggest the companies and nations behind the Eurofighter Typhoon are willing to cut their price in a last-ditch attempt to thwart a Rafale deal, and there are persistent rumours the USA hopes India will drop the MMRCA process altogether and buy the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II instead.

In addition, recent precedents suggest a Dassault win is far from certain. In 2007, Eurocopter was poised to clinch a 197-aircraft tender for light utility helicopters, but the competition was abruptly cancelled owing to allegations of irregularities in the selection process. In another example, New Delhi selected the Airbus Military A330 multi-role tanker transport, but its purchase was cancelled after its finance ministry raised concerns over the price tag.

However entertaining outside observers have found the $10-20 billion MMRCA competition, it is impossible to understate the winner's crucial role in the modernisation of the Indian air force. Despite its significance, however, MMRCA is only one element in a broad effort that also includes major indigenous combat aircraft, a competition for new tankers, and enhanced airlift capabilities. The Indian navy is also modernising, with new aircraft carriers in the pipeline and ambitious plans to improve oversight of India's vast oceanic frontiers.

"Adding a capable, reliable, high-end jet to India's fighter force will be transformational," says Teal Group analyst Richard Aboulafia. "Most of the Indian air force is comprised of either lighter, older planes such as the [Mikoyan] MiG-21 or Sepecat Jaguar, or heavier, but not completely reliable, Sukhoi Su-30s.

"The best part of their fleet is the 50 or so Mirage 2000s, which are almost medium fighters and relatively modern. India has never had a significant force of capable, reliable planes. Whether they get Rafales or Eurofighters, they'll get a significant number of modern, medium/large capable jets. That represents a major qualitative improvement."

Certainty of this qualitative improvement has moved closer with Dassault's coveted L1 status, but it is not yet within the grasp of either the French or their customer. By late February, the Indian defence ministry had still not made a formal announcement on Dassault's L1 status, and was uncertain about the timeframe for this. "Nothing is official yet," according to a defence ministry source.

Assuming the formal granting of L1 status for Rafale, final negotiations between Dassault and the Indian government's Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) could take between six months and one year. According to defence ministry tender guidelines, a CNC should comprise individuals representing the stakeholders involved in an acquisition. In the case of MMRCA, an industry source believes the air force, Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) and other key parties will be represented.

The CNC will conduct a two-stage negotiation. The first will deal with details such as contract language and deliverables, the second with pricing. On clearing the CNC, the contract will need the approval of the Defence Acquisition Council and India's finance ministry. Finally, the package will go before India's Cabinet Committee on Security, which will give the final sign-off.

"The L1 price is not necessarily the price you will win with," says the source. "There will be multiple stakeholders involved in the decision and negotiations."

Aboulafia also questions the true cost of the MMRCA deal, as the winner is required to plough 50% of the contract value into offsets.

"India needs to understand the cost of offsets," he says. "While technology transfer and local manufacturing sound good, they are an extremely expensive mark-up to an already pricey aircraft deal. The selection of the 'lowest cost' aircraft is somewhat surreal. Nothing about this project is low cost at all, so it's like choosing between a Ferrari and a Lamborghini on the basis of the sticker price."

Under the terms of the award, 18 aircraft will be delivered in a flyaway condition, with 108 to be built under licence by HAL. Although the Rafale has struggled in late-stage negotiations in Brazil and the United Arab Emirates, recent French wins on the subcontinent bode well for the successful conclusion of Dassault's MMRCA campaign.

In July 2011, the company won a long-awaited $2.2 billion deal to upgrade the Indian air force's Mirage 2000H fighters to its Mirage 2000-9 standard. In early January, missile-maker MBDA confirmed a deal to equip the modified aircraft with Mica air-to-air missiles, although an official contract has yet to be signed.

One of India's major goals in the MMRCA competition is to boost its indigenous aerospace sector, but media reports from the subcontinent frequently suggest the country continues to struggle with high-profile programmes such as the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) Tejas light combat aircraft and the Dhruv advanced light helicopter.

Despite conveniently achieving initial operational capability only weeks before last year's Aero India show in Bengaluru, the Tejas is reportedly nowhere near achieving final operational capability, although it conducted about 240 test flights in 2011.

A naval variant of the Tejas, unveiled in 2010, has yet to conduct its first flight, despite a programme official's confidence last year that the aircraft would fly in October or November 2011. Indeed, The Hindu newspaper recently quoted Chief of the Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma as saying the ADA had "let the service down" with the naval version of the Tejas. After completing initial test flights, the aircraft will still need to prove itself capable of ramp-assisted take-offs and arrested landings for carrier-based operations.

The Indian air force has received all six Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules ordered in 2008, and is in talks to obtain six more

Meanwhile, New Delhi is co-operating with Sukhoi to develop the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, a variant of the company's PAK-FA/T-50 design. It has also conducted a study into the indigenous fighter known as the medium combat aircraft (MCA), which would be a stealth type similar to the F-35.

Both plans are highly ambitious and could yield fruit, but the record of HAL and the ADA with the relatively basic Tejas suggests an extremely challenging development period for both fighters, especially the MCA.

Aside from a cloudy outlook on the fighter front, India's acquisition of a new basic trainer has also been delayed. India's Cabinet Committee on Security was due to approve a deal to buy 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mk IIs as flyaways, with another 106 produced under licence by HAL. A protest by the South Korean government has apparently delayed this deal, with the Korea Aerospace Industries KT-1 having also been involved in the competition. However, an industry source says questions from the Ministry of Finance about the tender are behind the delay.

Any hold-up in the procurement is troublesome for the air force, which suffers a profound capability gap in basic training and arguably needs a new capability more urgently than any other type. The service's HAL HPT-32 Deepak basic trainers were grounded in July 2009 following a series of crashes.

However, India appears to be making progress with its renewed competition for additional tankers, with Airbus Military confirming in January that the nation had completed trials of the A330 MRTT and rival Ilyushin IL-78MK. The air force plans to acquire six tankers initially, followed by more to augment its existing active inventory of seven Il-78s.

An off-the-shelf purchase of attack helicopters is also progressing, with Boeing confirming at the Singapore Airshow in February that its AH-64D Apache Longbow is poised to win a 22-aircraft contract after seeing off Russia's Mil Mi-28. India's air force also plans to obtain 65 HAL light combat helicopters with deliveries to start in 2013-2014.

Transport is proving to be a bright spot for the Indian air force. It has received all six Lockheed Martin C-130J Hercules ordered in 2008, and is in talks to obtain six more. India will also begin receiving 10 Boeing C-17s in 2013-2014, and 105 Antonov An-32s are being steadily upgraded with significantly improved avionics.

Work is also well under way on India's Boeing 737-based P-8I maritime patrol aircraft. In February, Raytheon announced it has delivered the first APY-10 surveillance radar for the aircraft, eight of which will enter navy service. The radar is specifically customised for India, with its surface search capability built on with air-to-air and weather modes. India is obtaining eight P-8Is.

While India appears to be doing well with the acquisition of key support aircraft, its main challenge remains to fill out its fighter squadrons and obtain a modern basic trainer. The situation will only grow more challenging as Pakistan increases its force of Chengdu/Pakistan Aeronautical Complex JF-17 Thunders, and China develops its high-altitude airfields in the Himalayas. The Indian air force's future MMRCA fleet is essential to counter these threats.

Four-hour Bollywood movies are great fun while they last, but all the singing and dancing account for nothing without a decisive finale.

Sukhoi gets special shelters at Lohegaon

‘All-weather maintenance structures will provide protection to the aircraft’

The coming summer might be relatively cooler for Sukhoi aircraft fleet at city's Indian Air Force (IAF) station in Lohegaon. The station, a home to two squadrons of the country's frontline fighter, has installed All-Weather Maintenance Shelters for the aircraft parked at the station which will protect them from harmful ultraviolet rays of direct sun. So far, the aircraft would be covered by canvas while parked on the tarmac.

Speaking to The Indian Express, an IAF officer said, "Maintenance shelters have been installed at IAF Lohegaon station and have been in place now for about a month or so. The metal-fibre structures are capable of accommodating one aircraft each." Two squadrons of Sukhoi-30 MKI, fighter No. 30 squadron - Rhinos and No. 20 squadron - Lightenings, are stationed at the IAF Lohegaon Station. Third squadron, No. 31 squadron - Lions, was relocated to Jodhpur in September. Maintenance shelters have also been erected at other IAF bases where Sukhois are stationed. The light weight structures are such that even if they fall, the aircraft systems are not damaged.

Sections of the media had reported that the IAF decided to put the maintenance shelters in the aftermath of the Sukhoi-30 MKI crash near Pune. Media reports had also suggested that the crash was a result of exposing the air dominance fighter to harmful ultraviolet rays which resulted in damaging the aircraft's critical systems but the officials rubbished the reports saying the process was initiated about a year ago. A quick search revealed that the IAF had started the process for shelters in December 2010, a year prior to the Pune crash.

"One cannot put two plus two in such cases. If UV rays are to be given a thought, then they are more direct when the aircraft is flying at higher attitudes. The plan has been under consideration for quite some time. In fact, we had made such shelters a part of the original project when we were drafting the contract for Hawk aircraft," said an IAF officer.

Commenting on the development, Air Marshal Bhushan Gokhale, former vice-chief of air staff said, "Today, technological advancements are such that paints, coatings on the aircraft protect the machine to a great extent as against earlier ones. However, in the longer run, this is certainly a step in the right direction given that the structures provide protection to the aircraft from all types of environment besides human comfort and avoiding direct heating of sensors due to direct sunlight."

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti flew the ninth production model of the F-35 Lightning II, F-35A AF-14

Lockheed Martin test pilot Bill Gigliotti flew the ninth production model of the F-35 Lightning II, F-35A AF-14 (Air Force serial number 09-5001), on its inaugural flight on 2 March 2012 from NAS Fort Worth JRB.