Sunday / February 16.


defNew Delhi: The geopolitical wrangling and heartburn over India’s mother of all defence deals, the lucrative $20 billion MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) project, is still not over. First, it was the Americans, then the Europeans and now, the Russians.


Even as India and France inch forward to stitch up the contract for acquisition of 126 Rafale fighters for the IAF, Russian ambassador Alexander Kadakin last week publicly questioned New Delhi’s decision to go in for the French jets.The Rafales can be “swatted like mosquitoes on an August night“ by the Russian-origin Sukhoi-27s, now being inducted by China, said Kadakin.


On Wednesday , French ambassador Francois Richier criticized “grumpy competitors“, who had lost out in the MMRCA competition after extensive technical and commercial evaluation, for using “bad language“ against Rafale’s combat capabilities. The jet’s “long-range strike capabilities“ stand out from other jets. With the MMRCA contract still to be inked after al most three years of final commercial negotiations between French major Dassault Aviation and the Indian defence es tablishment, rival fighters still harbor some hopes of flying back into the competition.


But, as earlier reported by TOI, there can be “no comebacks“ in the ongoing MMRCA project as per the Indian defence procurement policy rules.India can either ink the deal for the Rafales or scrap the entire MMRCA selection process undertaken over the last 7-8 years.


France hopes the final MMRCA negotiations will be concluded by early next year.“The negotiations are progressing well. The Dassault CEO was in India a few weeks ago to interact with MoD, IAF, HAL. We are going in the right direction,“ said Richier. MoD sources say 90% of the draft MMRCA contract is ready , with ToT, offsets and other issues all settled, and even the inter-governmental agreement with France has been finalized.


But the sticking point is Dassault’s reluctance to accept authority for the 108 fighters to be built by HAL as far as liquidity damages and timelines for production are concerned.

(Source: Times of India October 30, 2014)




New Delhi: Brazil’s decision to buy the Swedish JAS-39E/F Gripen (or Gripen NG) has opened a tantalising possibility for India’s defence ministry (MoD), which is frustrated after 33 months of negotiations with French company, Dassault on the proposed purchase of 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA).


On Monday, Swedish defence giant, Saab, which builds the Gripen, announced Brazil had signed a contract for 36 Gripen NG fighters for $5.475 billion.


Brazil chose the Gripen NG over the Rafale (Dassault, France) and the F/A-18 Super Hornet (Boeing, USA).


Brazil will now ask Saab to develop the Sea Gripen, says defence analyst, INS Jane’s. Twenty-four of these “navalised” fighters will equip Brazil’s aircraft carrier, Sao Paulo.


IHS Jane’s also highlights the Indian Navy’s need for the Sea Gripen for two carriers that Cochin Shipyard is building – the 40,000-tonne INS Vikrant and a larger, yet unnamed, successor referred to as the Future Indigenous Carrier.


So far, the Indian Navy had planned to fly a naval version of the indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA) – the Naval Tejas – from these carriers. However, the Naval Tejas, which the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) is developing, may not be ready for service by 2018, when the Vikrant will be commissioned.


The Sea Gripen constitutes a new option as the Vikrant’s light fighter. The navy already has a medium fighter, the MiG-29K, on order from Russia.


Indian analysts, like Manoj Joshi of Observer Research Foundation, say buying the Sea Gripen would let the DRDO engage Saab as a design partner for the Naval Tejas and Tejas Mark II, both advanced versions of the current Tejas Mark I.


In 2011, then DRDO chief V K Saraswat had approached Saab to collaborate in developing the Tejas Mark II. In 2012, the DRDO and Saab held detailed discussions. In January 2013, Saab was issued a Request for Proposal, which the DRDO examined and discussed. Yet, nothing came of it.


The DRDO’s interest in Saab stems from the numerous technical parallels between the Tejas and the Gripen. Both are light fighters in the 14-tonne class. Whilst developing the Gripen NG, Saab changed the engine to the more powerful General Electric F-414 turbofan, and added more fuel; which is exactly what the DRDO proposes for the LCA Mark II. Fitting the bulkier, heavier F-414 into the Tejas would require re-engineering of the fuselage; a problem that Saab has promised to solve.


“The greatest benefit to the Tejas Mark II could be from the Gripen’s superb networking. Aerial combat is no longer about eye-catching aerobatics; it is about data links; networking, and cockpit avionics, which is Saab’s strength,” says Joshi.


The DRDO was also hoping to learn from Saab’s maintenance philosophy, which has made the Gripen the world’s most easy-to-maintain fighter. According to independent estimations, the Gripen requires three to five man-hours of maintenance per flight hour. That means, after an hour-long mission, 6-10 technicians require only 30 minutes to put the fighter back in the air.


In contrast, the Rafale is estimated to require 15 maintenance man-hours per flight hour; while the F-35 Lightening II requires 30-35 man-hours.


According to a Jane’s study, the operating cost of the Gripen is $4,700 per hour. The Rafale is thrice as expensive, at $15,000 per hour.


“The Tejas Mark I has not been designed with operational availability in mind. It is a maintenance nightmare, with sub-systems inaccessible. The Tejas Mark II will need Saab’s help in radically re-engineered these,” says a DRDO engineer.


Senior Saab officials say, off the record, they are keen to partner India in developing the Tejas Mark II. They say the Tejas Mark II, built cheaply in large numbers, would eliminate the need for a heavy, costly, highly sophisticated fighter like the Rafale. Saab sees major profit in co-developing the Tejas Mark II.


Brazil’s contract for 36 Gripen NGs comes on top of Stockholm’s decision to buy 60 of these fighters for the Swedish Air Force.


In 2011, Switzerland too had selected the Gripen over the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon. However, in an astonishing, nationwide referendum on the proposed $3.5-billion purchase, the Swiss people voted to spend the money instead on education, transport and pensions.


The current version of the Gripen NG, the Gripen D, is currently in operational service with the Swedish, Czech, Hungarian, South African and Royal Thai Air Forces, and also with the UK Empire Test Pilots’ School.

(Source: Business Standard October 30, 2014)




The Narendra Modi government has done well in cementing ties with Vietnam further particularly in defence and oil exploration sectors during the just-ended India visit by Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, but the problem is that China will most certainly not take this growing India-Vietnam bonhomie lying low.


The past, it is said, often predicts the future. China had reacted in an unprecedented way when President Pranab Mukherjee visited Vietnam last month and on the last day of his visit seven bilateral agreements were signed on 15 September.


The same day Chinese launched an ambitious incursion into Chumar in Jammu and Kashmir’s Ladakh region. The incursion continued and the Chinese troops’ numbers were beefed up even as Chinese President was on the Indian soil for his first-ever official visit to India (17-19 September). The incursion was eventually lifted only in September end.


On 28 October Prime Minister Narendra Modi had intensive talks with his Vietnamese counterpart in New Delhi and seven more bilateral agreements were signed during Dung’s visit. These were: (i) Memorandum of Understanding on the Establishment of Nalanda University; (ii) MoU on Conservation and Restoration of the World Heritage Site of My Son, Quang Nam Province, Vietnam; (iii) MoU on Establishing the Centre for English Language and Information Technology Training at the Telecommunications University; (iv) Cultural Exchange Programme 2015-17; (v) MoU on Exchange of Audio-Visual Programmes; (vi) HoA between OVL and PetroVietnam; and (vii) MoU between ONGC and PetroVietnam.


The two prime ministers also vowed to increase India-Vietnam bilateral trade from the existing $7 billion to $20 billion by 2020. The two sides have also agreed to have direct air connectivity for the first time. Jet Airways and Vietnam Airlines have already concluded an code sharing agreement and Jet Airways will commence direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City from 5 November onwards. Vietnam Airlines is to reciprocate shortly thereafter.


So far so good; but the real red rag for China in India-Vietnam strategic partnership is their increasingly close ties in the areas of defence and oil exploration, both of which are big no-no from the Chinese perspective. The two sides’ synchronized position on the South China Sea issue is another irritant for Beijing.


Modi and Dung agreed that freedom of navigation and overflight in the East China Sea/South China Sea should not be impeded and called the parties concerned to exercise restraint and avoid threat or use of force. A Joint Statement released after Dung’s visit said the two prime ministers “welcomed the collective commitment of the concerned parties to abide by and implement the 2002 Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea and to work towards the adoption of a Code of Conduct in the South China Sea on the basis of consensus.”


This is absolutely contrary to China’s recent foreign policy push. China has routinely used military means to enforce its claims over the entire South China Sea region, a stand most powers, including Vietnam and India, vehemently oppose.

An equally big irritant for China is the growing defence cooperation between India and Vietnam which entails exchange of visits, annual Security Dialogue, service to service cooperation, ship visits, training and capacity building.


The two prime ministers called for early implementation of $100 million Line of Credit agreement for defence procurement extended by India to Vietnam, first time ever when India has made such an offer to Vietnam. The MoU for $100 million Line of Credit was signed during Pranab Mukherjee’s visit to Vietnam.


Besides, despite China’s stern warnings to India, New Delhi and Hanoi are deepening their cooperation in the oil exploration sector.


ONGC Videsh Limited (OVL) and PetroVietnam signed an MoU on 20 November, 2013 in the presence of then Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam with an objective to enhance mutual cooperation in hydrocarbon sector. PetroVietnam offered new blocks to OVL for oil and gas exploration and production.


OVL is keen to expand its presence in Vietnam and is evaluating the blocks on offer. This Letter of Intent will further consolidate cooperation between India and Vietnam in energy sector and pave way for future collaboration between the two countries in this area.


Now coming back to the “past predicting the future” point made earlier, it is inevitable that China will retaliate. One will have to wait and see how soon the Chinese retaliation comes and how strong it is.


The Modi government’s deepening of ties with Vietnam is in the larger national interest of India. Actually India is doing nothing but responding to the “string of pearls” policy Beijing has been following for years vis a vis India under which China has made deep forays into India’s neighbourhood.


China has not spared a single neighbour of India as part of its “string of pearls” strategy. India watched silently, though anxiously, as the Chinese dragon enlarged its strategic footprints all around India.


Now India is paying back in the same coin. Vietnam is just one of the anti-China powers that India is deepening its bilateral ties. Japan is another such major power.


In case China comes up with a knee jerk reaction to the growing India-Vietnam proximity, it will be interesting to see how the Modi government deals with Taiwan.

(Source: First Post October 30, 2014)





Bangalore: Riding on the recent success of its Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM), India plans to revisit the planet in 2018, possibly with a lander and rover to conduct more experiments, a space official said on Wednesday.


“We plan to launch a second mission to Mars in 2018, probably with a lander and rover, to conduct more experiments for which we have to develop new technologies,” Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) satellite centre director S Shiva Kumar said.


The state-run space agency successfully inserted its spacecraft (MOM) September 24 in the Martian orbit with five scientific instruments to search for life-sustaining elements on the planet over nine months after it was launched November 5, 2013 from its spaceport at Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh and about 90 km northeast of Chennai.


“We will be able to take the Mars-2 mission after launching the second mission to the moon (Chandrayaan-2) in 2016 with our own lander and rover, which will help us develop a separate lander and rover for the red planet,” Kumar said, ahead of a three-day ‘Engineers Conclave-2014’ by the space agency with the Indian National Academy of Engineering.


As missions to Mars can be launched only at an interval of two years, the space agency is looking for a slot in 2018 and by which it hopes to have a heavy rocket fully operational to carry a lander and rover with scientific experiments as additional payloads.


“We hope to have fully operational heavy rockets over the next two-three years for carrying communication satellites weighting two-three tonnes into the geo-stationary orbits around the earth,” Kumar said.


The space agency has developed the geo-synchronous satellite launch vehicle (GSLV-Mark I-III) with indigenous cryogenic engine to launch heavier satellites weighing more than two tonnes and three tonnes into the geo-orbit at 36,000 km above Earth.


“GSLV-Mark I-III will be used for Chandrayaan-2, which will have heavier payload than its predecessor (Chandrayaan-1) and later for Mars-2 mission, as both will have a lander and rover in addition to scientific experiments,” he said.


The space agency launched Jan 5 a GSLV rocket with an indigenous cryogenic engine from the spaceport and placed a communication satellite (Gsat-14) in the geo-stationary orbit.


Chandrayaan-1 was launched Oct 22, 2008, using a polar satellite launch vehicle (PSLV-C11), a four-stage rocket.

The 475 kg Mars Orbiter was also launched onboard a polar rocket.

The GSLV-Mark III’s maiden launch is likely to be in December.

(Source: IBN Live October 30, 2014)





New Delhi: India is readying for the full-fledged test-firing from a canister of an indigenous long-range missile that carries a one-tonne nuclear warhead and can target cities as far as Beijing.


The previous two launches of the 5,000 km Agni-5 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with dummy warheads have been from open mobile launchers. The canisterised version has a much longer shelf-life, with the container being made of special steel that absorbs the blast of the takeoff.


“The test will happen by the end of November or early December. It will be another feather in the cap of Indian missile scientists,” an official of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that developed the 50-tonne missile told IANS on condition of anonymity.


“We have already successfully fired two dummy missiles, and we are confident that the canister launch will be successful,” the official added. The dummy missiles tested were of exact mass and height as the Agni-5, but without the warhead.


According to the official, in the launch, a gas generator inside the canister ejects the missile up to a height of about 30 metres. A motor is then ignited to fire the missile.


As the launch process happens inside a canister, it takes away the need of a jet deflector on the launcher that is otherwise needed for redirecting the high energy exhaust.


The strength of the surface of the launch pad is not a critical factor either, making it possible to launch the missile from anywhere.


In addition to giving the user more flexibility, a canister-based missile offers the option to launch at a very short notice and with less manpower.


“Canister launch provides the missile a quick reaction stop-and-launch system,” the official said.


“As the missile is sealed in a canister, there is no impact on the outside environment. This protects the missile, and many pre-checks are not needed, making the launch process shorter,” the official added.


The Agni-5 is the most advanced version of the Agni, or Fire, series, part of the Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme that started in the 1960s.


Before this, DRDO scientists successfully conducted from an underwater pontoon the K-15 ballistic missile that will be used to arm the Indian Navy’s submarines.

(Source: Business Standard October 30, 2014)




New Delhi: A new, lighter version of the supersonic cruise missile BrahMos called BrahMos-M (Mini) weighing around 1.5 tonnes is being planned for use by the Navy and the Air Force. “BrahMos Aerospace is currently getting the user requirements to finalise the configuration,” said Sudhir Mishra, CEO and MD of BrahMos Corporation (BA).


Once inducted into the Navy, the Mini can be launched from submarines torpedo tubes. For the Air Force a mini version means a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile compatible with future platforms namely, the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) and Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA).


When questioned about test firing the air launched variant from a modified Su-30MKI aircraft, Mr. Mishra told The Hindu that work was progressing to complete the test firing by April-May 2015.


The submarine variant which was test fired from a submerged pontoon was a technology demonstration to the Indian Navy. Further, developmental trials will happen only when the Navy evinces an interest which they haven’t yet, partly due to non-availability of platforms.

(Source: Hindu October 30, 2014)




It was a flight that far exceeded the expectations of the missile and aeronautical engineers of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) on October 17. It was only the second flight of Nirbhay, India’s subsonic cruise missile, which takes off vertically like a missile, jettisons its booster engine and then starts flying horizontally like an aircraft at a subsonic speed of 0.7 Mach.


However, the smooth flight of Nirbhay on that day for more than an hour, covering a range of 1,010 km, demonstrated not only the DRDO’s ability to blend missile and aeronautical technologies into a single contraption but also filled a vital gap in India’s arsenal. While India’s supersonic cruise missile BrahMos has a range of just 290 km, and can carry only a conventional warhead, Nirbhay is a long-range missile that can attack targets 1,000 km away. Besides, it can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads. In addition, it is a “treetop” missile: it can fly at a height of just five metres, undetected by radars.


It is a “loitering missile” as well: it can hover above an area for several minutes, pick out a target and attack it with precision. In several DRDO engineers’ reckoning, Nirbhay is the base on which more powerful subsonic cruise missiles with longer ranges can be developed.


The sky was clear at 10-05 a.m. at the Integrated Test Range (ITR) near Balasore, Odisha, when Nirbhay lifted off from a mobile launcher, a TATRA truck. This is the sequence of its test launch: Nirbhay’s booster engine revved up; it rose vertically to a height of 800 metres; a mechanism in the missile tilted it horizontally; the booster engine fell away; the turbo-jet engine, akin to an aircraft’s, ignited; and with its wings spread out Nirbhay started cruising like an aircraft at an altitude of five km.


It was carrying a 300-kg dummy warhead. It flew for more than an hour and 10 minutes, traversing more than 1,010 km against the targeted 800 km. It progressed from one waypoint to another, covering 16 waypoints on its flight path. At the end of 1,000 km of flight, with its aviation turbine fuel exhausted, Nirbhay plunged into the Bay of Bengal.


All along, a Jaguar fighter-aircraft of the Indian Air Force tailed it, videographing its flight.

(Source: Front Line October 30, 2014)

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