Sunday, June 10, 2012

Massive military helicopter buys allow for indigenisation

The Indian Air Force (IAF) purchase of 126 Rafale fighters has made global headlines, and the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) could be another jaw-dropper. But Indian military aviation could see an even more prominent growth area in helicopters, where the defence services are poised to induct well over 1,000 rotary wing aircraft in the coming decade, the majority of them developed and built in the country.

Already on the anvil for the army, IAF, navy and coast guard are the following:
The IAF is inducting 139 Russian Mi-17 V-5 medium lift helicopters, for an estimated $2.4 billion. The workhorse Mi-17, which transports 26 soldiers in combat gear, or four tonnes of supplies to high altitude posts, has been in IAF service for decades, but the new-model V-5 is a vastly superior machine, with new engines, rotor blades and avionics. An IAF order for 80 Mi-17s is already being delivered, which is likely to be followed by an order for 59 more.

Fifteen American CH-47 Chinook heavy lift helicopters will be bought to replace the IAF’s Russian Mi-26 helicopters, of which just three to four remain serviceable. The Chinook, built by Boeing, has seen extensive combat, most recently in Iraq and Afghanistan. The IAF has evaluated the helicopter and is pleased with its avionics and power, which allows it to accurately deliver 50 fully-equipped soldiers, or a payload of 12.7 tonnes, on to the roof of a house or the edge of a cliff.

The IAF has also completed trials for the purchase of 22 medium attack helicopters, and homed on to Boeing’s AH-64 Apache. Attack helicopters, which operate from close behind the forward troops, provide immediate fire support — cannons, rockets and anti-tank missiles — to soldiers that encounter the enemy, providing them a battle-winning advantage. Unlike most other countries, India has chosen not to use attack helicopters in counter-insurgency operations for fear of collateral damage.

The IAF and army have also placed a Rs 7,000-crore order for 159 Dhruv Mark III utility helicopters. These have been designed and built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which builds 36 Dhruvs each year. There is an estimated need for more than 350 Dhruvs for the Army, IAF, coast guard and paramilitary forces.

The Navy is buying an additional 50 light, twin-engine helicopters, most probably from AgustaWestland. The Dhruv does not meet its needs since its composite rotors cannot be folded up for stowing the helicopter in a warship’s tight confines.

In addition, the navy is procuring another 91 medium, multi-role helicopters to replace its vintage Sea King fleet, which flies from larger frigates and destroyers. A global tender is out for 16 helicopters, to which another 75 have been added.

Riding on the Dhruv’s success is HAL’s Rudra, a heavily armed version of the Dhruv, which carries a cannon, rocket pods, anti-tank missiles and a full suite of electronic warfare (EW) equipment. The army and the air force will buy 76 Rudras.

HAL is also developing the Light Combat Helicopter, of which 179 are on order (IAF 65; army 114). This 5.5-tonne light armed helicopter features the Shakti engine, the Dhruv’s dynamic components (main rotor, tail rotor, and the gearbox), and the weapons suite that is being developed on the Rudra. The LCH will be a high altitude virtuoso: taking off from Himalayan altitudes of 10,000 feet, firing guns and rockets up to 16,300 feet, and launching missiles at UAVs flying at over 21,000 feet.

The military’s other bulk requirement is for 384 light utility helicopters, or LUH’s, to replace the army and IAF’s obsolescent Cheetahs and Chetaks. This has been divided into two streams: 197 LuHs are being bought off-the-shelf through a global tender; and 187 LuHs are being developed and built in India by HAL. To ensure timely delivery, the Ministry of Defence has specified target dates for HAL’s development milestones: building of a mock-up; the design freeze; the first flight; Initial Operational Clearance, and so on. Each time HAL misses a milestone, its order reduces from 187.

Unlike IAF’s fixed wing aircraft acquisition plan that focuses on foreign buys, its rotary wing plan leans towards indigenisation. This after a strategic assessment in the mid-1990s, when Ashok Baweja was HAL’s chairman, that indigenisation could be realistically pursued in the less challenging rotary wing field than in the cutting-edge realm of fighter aircraft.

This policy drew strength from the technological breakthroughs of the Dhruv helicopter and the Turbomeca-HAL Shakti engine. Both these were optimised for high altitude operations up to 20,000 feet, a unique feature in the army’s operating environment.

P Soundara Rajan, HAL’s helicopter chief, says the Bangalore-based division will ramp up turnover from the current 10 per cent of HAL’s turnover to 25 per cent a decade from now. Having taken 40 years to build its first 700 helicopters, which were basic second-generation machines, HAL aims at building another 700 fourth-generation within the next 15-20 years.

Delays and challenges for Indo-Russian fighter

Seven years before its scheduled completion, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has already announced a two-year delay in the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) India and Russia are to jointly develop.

Defence Minister A K Antony has been saying the FGFA would join the Indian Air Force by 2017. On Monday, his deputy, M M Pallam Raju, told Parliament, “The fifth generation aircraft is scheduled to be certified by 2019, following which the series production will start.”

The FGFA is the flagship of the Indo-Russian partnership. Both countries say it would be the world’s most advanced fighter. But interviews with Indian designers who have overseen the project suggest significant disquiet. There is apprehension the FGFA would significantly exceed its current $6 million budget, because this figure reflects the expenditure on just the basic aircraft. Crucial avionics systems would cost extra.

On the positive side, Indian designers say the FGFA project would provide invaluable experience in testing and certifying a heavy fighter aircraft that is bigger and more complex than the Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), India’s foundational aerospace achievement.

The Russian and Indian air forces each plan to build about 250 FGFAs, at an estimated cost of $100 million per fighter. That adds up to $25 billion each, in addition to the development cost.

The FGFA’s precursor has already flown. In January 2010, Russian company Sukhoi test-flew a prototype called the PAK-FA, the acronym for Perspektivnyi Aviatsionnyi Kompleks Frontovoi Aviatsy (literally prospective aircraft complex of frontline aviation). Now, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will partner Sukhoi to transform the bare-bones PAK-FA into an FGFA that meets the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s requirements of stealth (near-invisibility to radar), super-cruise (supersonic cruising speed), networking (real-time digital links with other battlefield systems) and world-beating airborne radar that outranges enemy fighters.

But Sukhoi insists the PAK-FA already meets Russia’s requirements, says N C Agarwal, HAL’s design chief, who spearheaded the FGFA negotiations until his recent retirement. HAL worries Russia might ask India to pay extra for further development, particularly the avionics that transform a mere flying machine into a lethal weapons platform. That would leave the $6-billion budget in tatters.

The IAF clearly wants a top-of-the-line FGFA. According to Ashok Nayak, who spoke to Business Standard as HAL’s chairman before retiring last October, the IAF has specified 40-45 improvements that must be made to the PAK-FA. These have been formalised into an agreed list between Russia and India, the Tactical Technical Assignment.

A key IAF requirement is a ‘360-degree’ AESA (airborne electronically scanned active) radar, rather than the AESA radar that Russia developed. Either way, India would pay Russia extra: either in licence fee for the Russian radar; or hundreds of millions, perhaps billions, for developing a world-beating, 360-degree AESA radar.

Nor is the IAF clear on whether the FGFA should be a single-seat fighter like the PAK-FA, or a twin-seat aircraft like the Sukhoi-30MKI. A section of the IAF backs a single-seat fighter, while another prefers two pilots for flying and fighting a complex, networked fighter. During the ongoing preliminary design phase (PDP), for which India paid $295 million, the two sides would determine whether developing the PAK-FA into a twin-seat aircraft (inevitably more bulky) would reduce the FGFA’s stealth and performance unacceptably.

“The single-seat FGFA is essential for the IAF, and we will transform the Russian single-seat fighter into our single-seat version with a large component of Indian avionics. The twin-seat version will depend on the PDP conclusions,” says Nayak.

The PDP also requires Sukhoi to hand over design documentation to HAL, providing it a detailed insight into the design processes of the PAK-FA. Since India took years to decide to join the FGFA project, HAL missed out the design phase entirely.

The 18-month PDP, which terminates this year, will be followed by the ‘R&D phase’, which could take another seven years, says the HAL chairman. The FGFA would be designed in both countries. About 100 HAL engineers already operate from a facility in Bangalore. Another contingent would move to Russia to work in the Sukhoi design bureau.

“Our boys will learn the Russian language, their way of working, their design rules and their design norms. We are left-hand drive, while they are right-hand drive. The Russians say they would part with all these things,” says Nayak.

But the most valuable learning, say HAL executives, would take place during the FGFA’s flight-testing. “Unlike the basic design phase which we missed out on, we will actually gain experience during flight testing. This phase throws up dozens of problems, and we will participate in resolving these, including through design changes,” says Agarwal.

HAL designers also relish the FGFA’s specific challenges. For achieving stealth, its missiles, rockets and reconnaissance payloads are concealed in an internal bay under the wings. Before using these, a door slides open, exposing the weapon for use.

The Russians clearly believe HAL possesses useful capabilities, including the ability to design the AESA radar. Also attractive is India’s experience in composites.

“The LCA programme has generated a high level of expertise in composite materials within the National Aerospace Laboratory and some joint teams. The FGFA requires ‘higher modulus’ composites, which can withstand the 120-130 degree Centigrade temperatures that arise whilst flying at Mach 1.7 speeds,” says Agarwal.

Despite the continuing imponderables, HAL believes the FGFA project provides genuine technological skills, far more useful than licensed manufacture. Agarwal says, “We will pay some $6-7 billion to France for the licence to build the Rafale in HAL. In the FGFA project, a similar sum would bring in genuine design knowledge that will help us in the future.”

Pilatus PC-7 MK II clinches India basic trainer contract: reports

Media reports from India indicate that the Cabinet Committee on Security has approved the purchase of 75 Pilatus PC-7 MK II basic trainers, a major step to filling the Indian air force's profound capability gap in training.

The committee, headed by prime minister Manmohan Singh, reportedly approved the basic trainer deal in its weekly Thursday meeting.

If the news is confirmed, it will be welcome news for the Indian air force, which stands to receive 75 PC-7 MK IIs produced by Pilatus in Switzerland, followed by an additional 106 produced locally by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Under current plans, Pilatus will be required to deliver an initial batch of 12 aircraft within two years of a contract signature.

The selection comes just one week after India's defence ministry announced that it dismissed an 11th hour protest by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI) about the selection procedure.

Last year, an industry source familiar with the competition told Flightglobal that Pilatus had surprised rivals by pitching the PC-7 MK II, a less advanced - and less expensive - basic trainer than the company's PC-21.

Other types that underwent technical trials by the Indian air force include the Airbus Military-promoted PZL-130 Orlik, Alenia Aermacchi M-311, Embraer EMB-314 Super Tucano, Grob G120TP, KAI KT-1 and Raytheon T-6 Texan.

Separately, defence minister AK Antony told parliament that the air force is increasing its simulator capabilities. The force has procured four simulators for the BAE Systems Hawk 132 advanced jet trainer.

The air force has also contracted for eight simulators for the HAL HJT-36 intermediate jet trainer (IJT), although this type's service entry continues to suffer delays.

India also wants to develop an indigenous replacement for the HPT-32. At 2011's Aero India show, a model of the proposed HTT-40 was on display at the HAL stand.

The HTT-40 will have an 11m (36ft) wing span, a fuselage length of 11.3m and a maximum take-off weight of 2,800kg (6,170lb). The type will be capable of flying at a maximum speed of 243kt (450km/h) and at altitudes of up to 19,700ft.

Air force rookie pilots to train on Swiss aircraft

Decks cleared for purchase of 75 Pilatus aircraft at the cost of Rs 1,800 crore

The Defence Ministry (MoD) is pressing ahead with the Rs 1,800 crore purchase of seventy-five PC-7 Mark II basic trainer aircraft from Pilatus Aircraft Ltd of Switzerland. For the last one year, the purchase of desperately needed trainers for the Indian Air Force has been stalled by a protest from a rival vendor, Korea Aerospace Industries. KAI alleged that Pilatus’ bid was incomplete and, therefore, did not conform to the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2008 (DPP-2008) that governs this tender.

Now the MoD has ruled Pilatus’ bid valid. Today, in a written reply submitted to the Rajya Sabha, Defence Minister A K Antony stated that, “A representation submitted by M/s Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), one of the bidders, has been found to be devoid of merit.”

As Business Standard reported last month (“Pressure mounts for air force basic trainer aircraft”, April 15, 2012) the Korean government had strongly backed KAI’s protest against awarding the contract to Pilatus. The South Korean embassy in New Delhi had formally protested; and South Korean defence minister, Kim Kwan-jin, wrote to Antony asking for a “high-level review” of the “allegations on irregularity.”

The decision to go ahead with the purchase is a relief to the IAF, which has resorted to ad hoc — and heavily criticised — methods for training its rookie pilots since July 2009, when its basic trainer fleet of HPT-32 Deepak aircraft was grounded following a fatal crash. The obsolete Deepak trainer has already claimed the lives of 19 pilots in 17 crashes.

Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence, in its report released on Monday, has commented on the “critical deficiency of the trainer aircrafts” (sic), pointing out that the IAF was making do with just 255 trainers out of the 434 that had entered service (including basic, intermediate and advanced trainers). Highlighting the IAF’s accident rate, the Committee noted that, “as per the replies furnished by the ministry, in the 46 per cent of the cases the cause behind accident of aircraft is Human Error (Aircrew)” (sic).

The Committee also noted that training simulators are in short supply, with just 30 of the IAF’s 46 training simulators operational.

In addition to buying 75 Pilatus trainers in fly-away condition from Switzerland, the IAF has asked Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) to develop an indigenous trainer aircraft (dubbed the Hindustan Turbo Trainer–40, or HTT-40), and to build 106 of those trainers for the IAF.

But the MoD and HAL have dragged their feet on this indigenous project, says Pushpindar Singh, editor of Vayu aerospace magazine. “Since HAL has made little headway so far, they could end up building 106 PC-7 Mark II trainers under licence from Pilatus, instead of developing an indigenous trainer. That would be an opportunity lost,” says Singh.

Indicating that the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II might soon be available to the IAF, Antony told Parliament that the MoD would stick to laid down procurement timelines. The purchase, he said, “is awaiting consideration of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).”

The Pilatus trainer will overcome the key shortfalls of the HPT-32, which did not even have an ejection system; in emergencies, pilots ejected manually. Poor instrumentation and avionics restricted training to good weather. The HPT-32 had no recording equipment, so instructors never knew when trainee pilots, flying solo, had violated flying procedures. The PC-7 Mark II is capable of aerobatics, instrument and night flying and tactical operations. It is a hybrid aircraft, with a PC-9 airframe mated with a smaller, PC-7 engine to lower procurement, flying and maintenance costs. It is in service with several air forces, including South Africa and Malaysia.

Ukraine on Brink of Missile Deal with India

Ukraine is close to signing one of its biggest ever defense deals for air-to-air missiles with India, according to Russian media reports.

Nezavisimaya Gazeta says the deal for R-27 missiles, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, is in the final stages and is waiting for approval from the Ukrainian leadership.

The Vympel R-27 (AA-10 Alamo) missile is a medium-to-long-range air-to-air missile developed by the Soviet Union. It is similar to U.S. AIM-7 Sparrow.

The missile comes in infrared-homing (R-27T), semi-active-radar-homing (R-27R), and active-radar-homing (R-27AE) versions. It would be fitted to India’s MiG-29 and Su-30 fighter jets.

While the deal has not been confirmed officially, the paper quotes a source close to Ukraine’s national security and defense council, saying both nations are sensitive to Russian concerns over the deal and want to make sure that it would not irritate Moscow.

Tensions between Kiev and Moscow could arise later because if the deal is successful, India may want to buy other weaponry from Ukraine, entering a market dominated by Russia, defense analysts quoted by the paper said.

Some industry experts believe Moscow would not oppose the deal as the Ukrainian company is the only manufacturer of these missiles, although Russian firms supply some components for R-27.

The R-27 was originally designed by Vympel, a Russian missile design bureau, in the 1980s. Vympel is now part of Russia's Tactical Missiles Corporation, which now produces successor weapons to R-27.

Artem, a Ukrainian arms firm involved in R-27 production in Ukraine, could not be reached for comment.

Ukrainian R-27s displayed by the Artem and Arsenal companies at the Moscow air show in 2011 featured what the makers claimed were upgraded seekers. Arsenal said it had developed a new infra-red seeker for the R-27 extending its detection range from 18 km to 30 km.

New Delhi showed interest at the recent DEFEXPO-2012 arms show in Ukrainian anti-tank missiles and new engines for Mi-family helicopters produced by the Ukrainian Motor Sich company, according to Ukrainian officials.

Russia to Show New Tank in India

Russia will display a prototype model of its new T-90S tank at the Defexpo 2012 arms exhibition in India later this week, arms firm Rosoboronexport delegation head Viktor Komardin said on Monday.

"This new tank will be the gem of the show," Komardin said. "Its first foreign presentation will be the main event," he added.

"The Indian Army already operates the T-90, so its modernized variant - which, by the way is an absolutely new machine - will be of great potential interest to the Indians," he said.

The show will take place in Delhi from March 29 to April 1.

India has overtaken China as the world's largest conventional arms buyer in the last five years, according to a report from the Swedish Stockholm International Peace Research Institute released last week. India spent $12.7 billion on weapons in that period, 80 percent of which came from Russia.

India and Russia to Develop Hypersonic Cruise Missile

Russia and India are in talks to jointly develop a hypersonic cruise missile and will soon agree on a general outline of the design, the head of the BrahMos Indian-Russian cruise missile program, Praveen Pathak, said on Friday at the Defexpo defense show in Delhi.

"In the near future, we will set up a joint working group which will work out the parameters of the missile in cooperation with developers, and also decide how much each side will contribue to the project," Pathak said.

The weapon will be capable of flying at Mach 5-Mach 7 speeds, he said.

"We want to create a weapon which would not differ much from the existing BrahMos missile in weight and dimensions, so that it could be used in existing launchers on ships or mobile launchers. In this case it would not take too much work to convert such systems to hypersonic," he said.

"Russia has a longstanding interest in high-speed weaponry and scramjet propulsion, which an Indo-Russian programme could draw on," said Douglas Barrie, air warfare analyst at the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies. "The design of a genuine hypersonic missile, given the performance requirements, would likely be 'new' rather than using the present 3M55 Onyx/Brahmos design which uses a ramjet for sustained supersonic flight," he added.

India's Defence Research and Development Organization has previously displayed a demonstrator model of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator at airshows. NPO Mashinostroeniye, India's partner in the BrahMos program, developed a hypersonic missile known as 3M25 Meteorit, but it was never deployed.

India will also carry out the first test-firing of the air-launched variant of the BrahMos Russian-Indian supersonic cruise missile by the end of this year, Pathak said.

"We hope by the end of the year we'll carry out the first launch from an aircraft. It will be an air-launch," he said.

Work on adapting the air-launched variant of BrahMos to arm India's Su-30MKI aircraft is being undertaken for the Indian air force, he said. Several aircraft have already been modified to carry the weapon, he added.

Su-30MKI (Flanker-H) multirole fighter

The Indian air force has already taken delivery of enough of the ground-launched variant to equip  two battalions. The missiles will be based near India's borders to strike at enemy airfields, air defense sites and radar stations, said Pathak.

India tested a ground-launched BrahMos earlier this month. "The missile flew its maximum range, 290 km. The terminal phase of the flight was a steep diving trajectory. This is one of the requirements for the ground forces," he said, adding that a steep diving attack profile was necessary for hitting targets in mountainous terrain.

BrahMos, a derivative of the Russian NPO Mashinostroeniye 3M55 Yakhont naval cruise missile, is one of the most capable weapons of its class, combining long-range (up to 290 km), high speed (up to Mach 2.8) a heavy warhead of up to 250 kg, a low radar profile and a variable attack profile, including low level flight down to 10 meters and up to 14,000 meters. The weapon operates on a fire-and-forget principle.

The ground-launched variant weighs around three tons at launch.