Monday, 18 September 2017

First Scorpene ready, Modi to commission INS Kalvari next month


INS Kalvari, on its recent sea trials

By Ajai Shukla
Mazagon Dock, Mumbai
Business Standard, 18th Sept 17

It has been twelve years in the making but, before end-September, Mazagon Dock Ltd, Mumbai (MDL) will hand over INS Kalvari to the Indian Navy -- the first of six Scorpene submarines being built in India in collaboration with French shipbuilder, Naval Group.

On receiving its new boat (sailors traditionally refer to submarines as “boats”), the navy will invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to formally commission the vessel.

INS Kalvari is likely to be commissioned in October, Modi’s engagements permitting. After that the submarine will slip into the Arabian Sea on operational deployment.

INS Kalveri will be the fourteenth submarine in a navy that calculates it needs at least 24-26, given India’s two-front threat from China and Pakistan, a sprawling 7,500-kilometre coastline and an exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of over two million square kilometres. 

During wartime, India’s submarine fleet would be required to seal entrances to the Indian Ocean from the Gulf of Aden to the west, the Horn of Africa to the south and four crucial southeast Asian straits – Malacca, Sunda, Lombok and Ombai-Wetar – that Chinese warships would use to enter the Indian Ocean from the South China Sea.

The current fleet is grossly inadequate for these tasks. There are currently four German HDW boats called the Shishumar class, after the lead vessel, INS Shishumar. These small, 1,850-tonne submarines were inducted in the 1980s and 1990s.

There are also nine larger, 3,076-tonne Russian submarines called the Sindhughosh-class, after the lead vessel, INS Sindhughosh. These were inducted between 1986 and 2000. Of the original ten, INS Sindhurakshak was lost in 2013 to a cataclysmic, on-board ammunition explosion in Mumbai dockyard.

To fill the submarine gap, the navy signed a Rs 18,798 crore contract in 2005 with French-Spanish consortium, Armaris to build six Scorpenes in MDL under what was termed Project 75. In 2007, Armaris was taken over by France’s Direction des Constructions Navales Services (DCNS), which changed its name to Naval Group this year.

All six Scorpenes were to be delivered between 2012 and 2015, but are running five years late. The second Scorpene, INS Khanderi, which is currently undergoing sea trials, is slated for delivery in March 2018, and the remaining four at nine-month intervals till end-2020.

The 1,565-tonne Scorpene will be the navy’s smallest submarines, but reputedly its deadliest. A submarine’s stealth is its greatest attribute and modern technologies make the Scorpene extremely difficult to detect. Its size is a major advantage in the shallow Arabian Sea, where the waters 25 kilometres seaward from Karachi are just 40 metres deep. Large submarines risk scraping the bottom in such shallow waters.

Larger submarines like the Kilo-class, or the six nuclear powered attack submarines that India plans to build, can operate more freely in the Bay of Bengal, where the continental shelf falls sharply and the ocean depth just 5 kilometres seaward from Visakhapatnam is over 3,000 metres.

The Kalvari-class Scorpenes are designed to carry a formidable weapons package – the tube-launched Exocet SM-39 anti-ship missile, and the 533-millimetre heavyweight torpedo.

However, the first Scorpene boats will be commissioned without state-of-the-art torpedoes, their primary weapon system. The defence ministry has suspended a Rs 2,000 crore contract for 98 Black Shark torpedoes signed with WASS, an Italian firm, WASS is a subsidiary of Finmeccanica, which the defence ministry proscribed after AgustaWestland -- another Finmeccanica subsidiary -- was accused of bribing Indian officials to win a helicopter contract.

To provide the Scorpene with basic torpedo capability, German firm Atlas Elektronik is upgrading and extending the life of the older SUT torpedoes that the navy acquired for its Shishumar-class submarines. Atlas also hopes to supply its sophisticated Seahake torpedoes for the Scorpenes.

Following Project 75, will be Project 75-I, which envisages building six more submarines under the Strategic Partner (SP) procurement model. This involves identifying an Indian private shipbuilder – Larsen & Toubro and Reliance Defence are the only two with suitable shipyards – that will enter into a technology partnership with a global Original Equipment Manufacturer and bid to build the boats in India.

Navy sources say the Project 75-I submarines are to be built with DRDO-developed Air Independent Propulsion for enhanced underwater endurance, and the capability to carry Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles.

Given that the tendering for Project 75-I could take another three-to-five years, MDL is pitching to build another three Scorpene submarines in the meanwhile. Shipyard executives argue this would keep alive submarine manufacturing skills, acquired during the Scorpene build.

The navy’s 30-year submarine building programme, which was cleared by the cabinet in 1999, caters for building 24 submarines by 2029. With Project 75 and Project 75-I accounting for 12, another 12 submarines are required to be indigenously built. With the aging Shishumar and Sindhughosh class submarines approaching obsolescence, naval planners say the Scorpene only begins to cover an impending shortfall.

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Astra air-to-air missile is major indigenous success

India joins US, Europe, Russia and China in exclusive club of air-to-air missile developers

By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 16th Sept 17


On Friday, the defence ministry announced the successful development of the most challenging missile India has developed so far – the Astra. Fired from a fighter aircraft travelling at over 1,000 kilometres per hour, the Astra destroys an enemy fighter 65-70 kilometres away.

According to the ministry, the latest round of trials conducted off the Odisha coast on September 11-14 saw seven Astra missiles fired from a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter at pilotless aircraft that were designated as targets. All seven Astras hit their targets.

This round of tests “has completed the development phase of the [Astra] weapon system successfully”, stated a defence ministry release on Friday.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman congratulated the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO), which developed the Astra; Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), which integrated the Astra onto the Su-30MKI fighter; and over 50 private firms that participated in building the missile.

The Astra – designated a “beyond visual range air-to-air missile”, or BVRAAM – involves radically different technology challenges compared to ballistic and tactical missiles. For one, a typical Astra engagement has both the launcher and the target moving at speeds in excess of 1,000 kilometres per hour.

Fired from a pylon on the wing of a Su-30MKI fighter, the Astra’s smokeless propellant quickly accelerates it to about 4,000 kilometres per hour, as it screams towards its target. The Su-30MKI tracks the target continuously on its radar, and steers the missile towards it over a data link. About 15 kilometres from the target, the Astra’s on-board radio seeker locks onto the target; now, it no longer needs guidance from the Su-30MKI. When it reaches a few metres from the enemy fighter, the Astra warhead is detonated by a “radio proximity fuze”, spraying the target with shrapnel and shooting it down.

Only a handful of missile builders – in the USA, Russia, Europe, China, Israel, South Africa, Japan, Brazil and Taiwan – have mastered the technologies that go into air-to-air missiles. India is now joining that elite group.

Ultimately, a fighter aircraft is only as good in combat as the missiles it carries. An aircraft can close in with an enemy fighter and position itself dominatingly. But, eventually, an air-to-air missile must shoot the enemy down.

The Astra is fired from the Russian Vympel launcher – a rail under a fighter aircraft’s wing from which the missile hangs, and is launched. The Vympel launcher is integrated with all four of India’s current generation fighters --- the Su-30MKI, MiG-29, Mirage 2000 and the Tejas – allowing the Astra to be fired from all of them.

Astra components that have been developed indigenously include the missile’s propulsion system, its on-board computer, inertial navigation system, the radio proximity fuze, and data link between aircraft and missile.

Even so, the missile’s seeker head – a key component of most tactical missiles – is still imported. This is a key development thrust for the DRDO.

On the drawing board is a longer-range Astra Mark II, intended to shoot down enemy fighters up to 100 kilometres away.

According to the defence ministry, the latest Astra tests included engagement of long-range targets, high-manoeuvring target at medium range and launches of missiles in salvo to engage multiple targets. Two missiles were also launched in the combat configuration with warheads.

With the Indian Air Force operating 600-700 fighter aircraft, there will be a need for several thousand Astra missiles. With air-to-air missiles costing in the region of $2 million each, the Astra will provide major business opportunities to Indian firms.




Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Build that carrier, quick!

All of this year, the navy’s INS Vishal proposal has gone back and forth between defence secretary and navy

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 12th Sept 17

The Duke of Wellington’s description of the Battle of Waterloo – “The nearest run thing you ever saw in your life, by God!” also describes the Sino-Indian stand-off at Doklam that ended last month in a mutual pullback. But we must also consider what might have happened had it come to hostilities, and the frank answer would be: Besides China’s infrastructure and equipment advantages on the land border, India would have been caught short even in the theatre where it enjoys strategic advantage over China – the maritime domain in the Indian Ocean.

All of this year, the navy’s proposal for building a second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal, has gone back and forth between the defence secretary and the navy. The ministry lets it be known that a hurried decision would be unwise, since an aircraft carrier is such a high-value platform that it would block badly needed procurements for the army and air force. Meanwhile, on March 31, underlining how much concern it really has for equipment procurement, the ministry surrendered Rs 7,000 crore of unspent capital funds – more than what it would have paid out last year had a contract been signed for building the carrier.

INS Vishal is set to be one of the military’s most long-drawn procurements, with the navy itself having taken years to identify its precise requirements. After extensive consultations with the US Navy, India’s admirals concluded they required a nuclear powered aircraft carrier of at least 65,000 tonnes, embarking at least 50-55 aircraft and a high-tech electromagnetic catapult to launch aircraft quicker and with greater payloads than the ski-jump that currently equips Indian carriers. At the heart of a carrier battle group, which would include multi-role destroyers and frigates, the Vishal would be able to control swathes of the Indian Ocean or project power across the Indo-Pacific.

While the defence ministry goes back-and-forth over the Vishal, the navy makes do with a single carrier, INS Vikramaditya, which carries just 26 unreliable MiG-29 fighters and 10 helicopters – an insufficient capability to battle a serious foe. The first indigenous carrier, INS Vikrant, which Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL) is building with agonizing slowness, will be ready for displays and galas by 2019, but for battle only by 2022-23. Given the eight-year time overrun in building the Vikrant, CSL would surely take more than a decade to build INS Vishal, once the order is placed. And that seems nowhere in sight.

In contrast, China – latecomers to aircraft carriers – is vaulting ahead. Having learnt the ropes on a rebuilt Ukrainian carrier that it renamed Liaoning, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLA(N), launched a second carrier in April, called the Shandong. Going by the speed with which China churns out warships, the Shandong should enter PLA(N) service in 2020. Chinese analysts say this will be followed by a state-of-the-art carrier, with capabilities similar to INS Vishal. Eventually the PLA(N) would operate 5-6 carriers, while the Indian Navy operates three.

The power balance is shifting not just in platforms but also skills. An aircraft carrier is only as good as the experience and skill of its crewmembers, particularly those that operate its aviation complex. A large number of operating procedures – including space management, split-second launch procedures, deck discipline – make the difference between launching an aircraft every 30 seconds, and a launch interval of three minutes.

This is especially true of “catapult launches”, in which an aircraft is accelerated to take-off speed by a steam catapult under the carrier’s deck. In the 1960s and 1970s, the navy operated the Sea Hawk fighter off the original INS Vikrant – developing catapult-launch skill sets similar to the US Navy today. In 1983, when the “vertical take off and landing” Sea Harrier replaced the Sea Hawk, the navy’s skills at catapult launches began attenuating. The decisions to buy HMS Hermes (later INS Virat) and the Gorshkov (now INS Vikramaditya), both in the ski-jump launch tradition, and the decision to build the new INS Vikrant with a ski-jump, has killed India’s catapult launch tradition altogether. The new INS Vishal will return to the catapult launch tradition, but navy skill sets would have to be built afresh.

Also dogging the INS Vishal is a tired old debate over whether aircraft carriers are an asset or liability in modern warfare. Like most military arguments, its roots lie in the battle for resources. Air forces the world over view the aircraft carrier as a navy intrusion into the aerospace domain. Air forces simplistically describe carriers as enormously expensive, floating airfields that could be sunk by a single torpedo or anti-ship missile. Air forces claim that shore-based fighters, with their ranges extended by mid-air refuelling, can strike maritime targets hundreds of kilometres away. Finally, opponents argue that aircraft carriers require an entire flotilla of warships to escort them, tying up destroyers, frigates, corvettes, submarines and minesweepers in essentially protective duties.

Then, there is submariners’ opposition to aircraft carriers – an internal navy contest for resources, framed as a strategic debate between “sea control” and “sea denial”. The aircraft carrier battle group is the prime instrument of sea control, dominating an area that could be thousands of kilometres away – e.g. shipping lanes in the southern Indian Ocean from/to the Horn of Africa – with its aircraft-based surveillance and strike capability, and the surface and sub-surface strike capability of its accompanying warships. The option of shore-based air support starts becoming less persuasive as the carrier’s operating area moves further into the ocean, but the “sea denial” option – predicated on submarines ambushing surface vessels on predicted routes – retains validity. Proponents of sea denial argue that a submarine fleet costs less than a carrier, spreads risk across a large number of platforms, while still denying the enemy the use of the sea lanes, choke points and harbours that the submarines interdict. What they seldom mention is that submarines cannot hope to achieve three-dimensional control over a large expanse of ocean, far from one’s shores, which is the basic task of a carrier battle group. There is also the question of vulnerability of submarines when they surface to charge batteries or communicate with their controllers.

In any case, the navy is not choosing between aircraft carriers and submarines – it needs significant capabilities in both. It has an expansive, internationalist mandate of protecting the global commons, responding to natural disasters and being a net security provider in the Indian Ocean. This is over and above the national wartime objectives of protecting two coastlines, projecting power across the Indian Ocean, and supporting the land battle through the maritime domain. The debate has been settled in the navy’s long-term maritime capability perspective plan, which specifies three aircraft carriers and a fleet of 24 submarines. It is time to start building these quickly, before the navy is embarrassed in war. Perhaps we should remind ourselves of another Wellington aphorism: “Wise people learn when they can; fools learn when they must”. 

Friday, 8 September 2017

Boeing flags inexperience of private sector “strategic partners”

Boeing says global experience demands public-private partnership to leverage experience of public sector

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 8th Sept 17

In New Delhi on Thursday, the world’s largest aerospace corporation, The Boeing Company, openly expressed what many global arms vendors have complained about in private: The Indian private sector is not yet capable of manufacturing complex military aircraft under transfer of technology (ToT).

Pratyush Kumar, Boeing’s India chief, proposed that highly experience defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) – like Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) – be coopted, since that is where aerospace expertise and experience lies in India.

Speaking “from the vantage point of a company that has been in aerospace industry for 100 years, across the world”, Kumar in effect proposed a major reorientation of the defence ministry’s new Strategic Partner (SP) policy.

The SP policy aims at creating capable defence manufacturers in the private sector, to compete with the DPSUs and Ordnance Factories (OFs) that have historically dominated defence manufacture in India. The SP policy requires private firms chosen as SPs to enter technology partnerships with nominated global “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs), and jointly bid for contracts to build aircraft, helicopters, submarines and armoured vehicles for the Indian military.

But Kumar, speaking at a seminar organized by the Centre for Air Power Studies, the air force’s think tank, pointed out that successful examples of ToT-based manufacture all involved “co-opting of public enterprise and private enterprise in a way that leveraged the investment made in the public enterprise for multiple decades”.

The Boeing chief says he “tried hard, and could not find a single example [of successfully building an aircraft under ToT] where it was just the brand new private enterprise with limited aerospace experience. Look at Turkey, look at Japan, look at Brazil - look at multiple countries. In all cases there is a fine balancing act of co-opting the capabilities of both public and private enterprise.”

Other foreign companies are less forthright than Boeing. With two multi-billion dollar aircraft acquisitions already launched via the SP route – for single-engine fighter aircraft and helicopters – foreign OEMs have begun partnering Indian private firms. Lockheed Martin has partnered Tata Advanced Systems Ltd (TASL); and Saab has partnered the Adani Group anticipating a tender for the single-engine fighter.

This although TASL has never assembled an aircraft, while the Adanis have never built a single aerospace component. Foreign OEMs resent having to partner novices, but comply quietly so as not to rock the boat, says a foreign executive based in India.

Boeing is more forthright, bolstered by the confidence of being the most successful arms vendor in India over the last decade. Since 2009, Boeing has sold India aircraft worth $12 billion. These include eight P-8I maritime aircraft in 2009, and then four in a follow-up order; ten C-17 Globemaster III heavy lift aircraft in 2011; and 15 Chinook CH-47F and 22 Apache AH-64E helicopters in 2015.

While these were all sales of ready-built aircraft, Boeing is perhaps anticipating having to “Make in India” with an SP in another forthcoming contract– the navy’s multi-billion dollar acquisition of 57 ship-borne fighters for its aircraft carriers. In that acquisition, for which a tender is awaited, Boeing’s F/A-18E/F Super Hornet would possibly compete with Dassault’s Rafale-Marine; Saab’s Sea Gripen and an upgraded version of the Russian MiG-29K/KUB.

Aspiring Indian SPs, like TASL, admit that their role in an SP contract would remain “build to print”, i.e. manufacturing sub-assemblies and assemblies to blueprints provided by the OEM. Yet, it would provide a lucrative growth opportunity.

“The need of the hour is for the ministry of defence to go forward with the two very large aerospace orders [for] single engine fighter and helicopters. Frankly, in my mind, there is nothing else to it”, said TASL chief, Sukaran Singh, at the same seminar.

In contrast, HAL chief T Suvarna Raju talked up his engineers’ design skills and experience. Pointing to the range of helicopters HAL has designed ground-up – the Dhruv advanced light helicopter, Rudra armed helicopter, and the eponymous Light Combat Helicopter and Light Utility Helicopter – Raju declared: “Each component of our helicopters demonstrates the skill sets of HAL designers, of their capabilities and innovation efforts. Look at the carbon composite blades and the transmission system, composite body structure, glass cockpit and many more…”

The air force, however, continues to back the SP policy. “The only way to sustain the momentum in the aerospace manufacturing space is to start manufacturing here and strategic partnership model is a step in [that] direction”, said Air Marshal Shirish Deo, the air force’s vice chief.

The SP policy has been in the making since 2014-15. It remains contested and a work in progress.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

The light fighter debacle: a case study of dysfunctional procurement

A case study for the new defence minister to see how dysfunctional procurement hamstrings the military

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard editorial, 6th Sept 17 

Among many other things, the new Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, would do well to study the long-running procurement of a single-engine, light fighter for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to understand how dysfunctional procurement hamstrings the military. Friday’s announcement by Swedish company, Saab, and the Adani Group to build the Gripen E single-engine fighter in India; which followed a similar tie-up in June between US major, Lockheed Martin, and Tata Advanced Systems Ltd to build the F-16 Block 70 fighter and has brought the wheel full circle from 1999 when the IAF demanded 126 combat aircraft to replace its fleet of MiG-21 and MiG-27 light fighters. It was originally hoped that the Tejas light combat aircraft would replace the MiGs. However, it was nowhere in sight during the Kargil conflict (1999). So the IAF decided to supplement its three-squadron fleet of Mirage 2000 multi-role fighters, which had performed well during Kargil. French vendor, Dassault, proposed shifting the Mirage 2000 production line to India. The idea was that if, after building the IAF’s immediate requirement of 126 fighters, the Tejas was not yet available, it would be easy to build more Mirage 2000-5s.

But in 2002, burnt by the Tehelka sting, the government shied away from single-vendor procurement and ordered a global tender. Washington, driving for a closer relationship with India, cleared the F-16 for sale to New Delhi, the Russians offered their new MiG-29M and Saab of Sweden jumped in with its Gripen light fighter. With the simple Mirage 2000-5 solution scuppered, the IAF took two years to issue a Request for Information (RFI) to these four fighter vendors in 2004. Three years later, when the IAF issued its tender, the original plan to build an affordable, single-engine, light fighter was officially dead. Boeing had joined the fray with an offer for its F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the Eurofighter GmbH consortium had offered the Typhoon, both heavy fighters. Dassault, furious at losing out on an assured order and having to compete in a global procurement, dropped its offer of the Mirage 2000-5 and fielded the Rafale instead. This was now the “medium multirole combat aircraft” (MMRCA) contest between a smorgasbord of dissimilar fighters – heavy, twin-engine fighters competing with medium, single-engine ones.

Predictably, the IAF did what air forces do and finally picked the Rafale – the most expensive heavy fighter in the fray. With a price tag that neither the United Progressive Alliance nor the National Democratic Alliance was willing to pay, the government has bought 36 Rafales for a mind-boggling Euro 7.87 billion. That is one-and-a-half times what was budgeted for 126 MMRCA. And the IAF, down to just 33 squadrons against the 42 needed to handle a China-Pakistan collusive threat, has gone back to the start line. Thankfully, the new RFI specifies a single-engine fighter that must be built in India by the private sector. But now there are fresh questions. Will there be space for the Tejas, which is now close to completion? And can novice aerospace companies like TASL and the Adanis graduate straight to assembling complex fighters?

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Nirmala Sitharaman’s zones of action

Defence ministership is considered a coveted and glamorous assignment. But the new incumbent has just 20 months to fulfill a challenging agenda

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 6th Sept 17

Early morning on May 24, 2004, when Pranab Mukherjee, the surprise defence minister of the surprise United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government was leaving for his first day in office, this correspondent buttonholed him between his front door and his car. “What will be your priorities as defence minister?” I asked.

The Congress Party’s most formidable intellect pondered for only a moment. “Can you ask me that after three months please? I’ve been the finance minister, foreign minister and held numerous posts in government and parliament. But the defence ministry is a mystery to me. It will take me some time to understand”, he replied.

Nirmala Sitharaman, with only a fraction of the governmental experience that Mukherjee brought to the defence ministry, will surely take that long to grasp the technical, financial and administrative intricacies that make the defence ministership a politician’s most challenging, coveted, and even glamorous assignment.

Were she a full-term defence minister, Sitharaman, feted for being only the second woman to hold the job, would have had the time to understand and reform the ministry according to her priorities. She could then have addressed issues such as reversing the military’s “self reliance index” that currently stands at 70 per cent imported equipment and 30 per cent indigenous. However, she has just 20 months, of which the last 12 will see the government in election mode, leading into the 2019 general elections.

In the short time at her disposal, Sitharaman will have to come to grips with three separate armed forces, numbering 14 lakh men and women, steeped in tradition and distrustful of civilians. There are also the ministry’s five departments, each headed by a secretary – the departments of defence, defence production, defence finance, research and development (R&D) and ex-servicemen’s welfare. Getting these to work in unison would be an achievement for Sitharaman that none of her predecessors have managed.

Each of these departments patronises and protects sprawling fiefdoms. R&D includes 50 laboratories of the Defence R&D Organisation, which controls a budget of Rs 14,818 crore and opposes equipment import reflexively, even when it is critically needed and an indigenous solution is not in sight. Defence production feels obliged to feed business to its 39 ordnance factories and nine defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs), often at the cost of more efficient private sector producers. In numerous court rulings, the ironically named department of ex-servicemen’s welfare has been castigated for lavishing time and public money on litigating endlessly against retired soldiers who had the temerity to approach the courts for retirement and medical benefits they feel were due to them.

As BJP spokesperson from 2010-14, and as minister for commerce and industry since May 2014, Sitharaman has evinced the discipline, dignity and work ethic that an inherently conservative military would appreciate. But, winning the military’s loyalty and confidence would require Sitharaman to do more than just paying lip service to “hamaare bahadur jawan” (our brave soldiers). She would have to learn the military’s ethos, culture and to publicly bat for an organisation that feels increasingly marginalised and underappreciated.

In all this, Sitharaman’s hands would be tied to some degree. Given the prime minister’s office’s (PMO’s) proclivity to micromanage governance; and the defence ministry’s reliance on the finance ministry for the allocation and disbursement of funds and clearances for procurements, both these organisations retain a veto power on the defence minister’s initiatives.

For example, Sitharaman is theoretically responsible for spending the annual defence budget – Rs 3,59,854 crore this year. Of this, the capital allocation for new equipment is Rs 86,488 crore, a ridiculously low proportion that Parliament’s defence committee has slammed as inadequate. Yet, year after year, the defence ministry surrenders large chunks of this allocation (it returned Rs 7,000 crore last year) because the finance ministry, which must endorse large procurements, deliberately delays clearances until the money lapses. Sitharaman must try to remedy this situation.

Defence analysts routinely chorus the imperative for allocating 3 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to defence, from the current allocation of 2.14 per cent (or 16.8 per cent of government spending). Sitharaman would probably realise that, given Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s focus on job creation and social sector spending, raising the defence budget substantially is a pipe dream. But she could focus on improving efficiencies and optimising duplicated structures, besides fully utilising the existing defence allocations.

Getting such a process underway, and thus establishing her credentials as a serious reformist, would require Sitharaman to focus laser-like on creating the structures of tri-service command. Fortunately for her, the spadework has already been done. The Naresh Chandra Task Force in 2012 recommended appointing a four-star permanent chairman to the Chiefs of Staff Committee (CoSC), and the integration of the defence ministry with the three service headquarters. Last year, the Shekatkar Committee made similar recommendations. Last week, Arun Jaitley implemented 65 measures proposed by Shekatkar, but ducked on the vital tri-service reforms, which, when implemented, would save Rs 25,000 crore annually, according to the report.

Captains of defence industry wonder what brief Sitharaman would receive from the prime minister, since that would determine her direction. If her brief as defence minister were to strengthen combat capability and fill in equipment voids, acquisition policy reforms are essential to enable expeditious decision-making. One of her NDA forebears, Manohar Parrikar, tried hard to simplify procedures, but bureaucratic safe play ensured that his flagship Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 remains as hidebound as its predecessors. Similarly, his Strategic Partner policy – which sets out procedures for building up Indian private firms as defence specialists – has been defanged by bureaucrats who want to avoid the exercise of choice and discretion.

Fortunately for Sitharaman, she will inherit more capable bureaucrats than her predecessors had to work with. The new defence secretary, Sanjay Mitra, has a reputation for dynamism unlike his predecessor, G Mohan Kumar, who spent long years opposing ministry reform. A new secretary for defence production will also be in place in October, and Sitharaman would do well to influence this selection.

If Sitharaman’s brief is to quickly galvanize job creation, she already has templates to work to. Earlier this year, CII handed Parrikar a list of 30-40 defence contracts languishing in the pipeline, each worth under Rs 500 crore. If these were pushed through quickly, a range of Indian defence firms would get work, for which they would step up hiring. Says one defence entrepreneur, who hopes to win one of these contracts: “If I get the production order, I will hire 40-50 people right away.”

For Nirmala Sitharaman, whose report card will be evaluated going into the 2019 elections, short-term objectives and initiatives will take precedence over long-term structural changes. The lessons of Doklam are still fresh: operational readiness has to be addressed on priority. It remains to be seen whether this hardheaded minister with a reputation for demanding results from her subordinates can get the defence ministry dinosaur moving.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

World record “gun salute” to incoming defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman

Prototypes of the Advanced Towed Artillery Gun System (ATAGS) that broke world range record on Monday

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Sept 17

On Monday, in trial firing at the Pokhran Ranges in Rajasthan, the advanced towed artillery gun system (ATAGS) being indigenously developed for the Indian Army demonstrated its potential to be a world-beating system.

The 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun-howitzer fired three shells out to a world-record distance of 47.2 kilometres from the gun position. This was achieved using special, long-range ammunition called “high explosive – base bleed” (HE – BB).

In comparison, 155-millimetre, 52-calibre guns in service worldwide fire this ammunition to maximum ranges of 40-45 kilometres.

The achievements coincides with the appointment of Nirmala Sitharaman as defence minister.

The ATAGS is being developed by the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) on two parallel tracks – one prototype in partnership with Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division) and another with Bharat Forge. The prototype that broke the record was the Tata Power (SED) gun.

Earlier, on Saturday, the same gun had broken another record by firing “high explosive – boat tail” (HE – BT) ammunition to a range of 37.2 kilometres.

Range, accuracy and consistency are the key attributes of an artillery gun. A longer range allows more area to be engaged from a “gun position”, without having to redeploy (or shift) the guns.

The secret of the ATAGS longer range is its larger chamber – 25 litres, compared to 23 litres in most 155-millimetre guns like the French Nexter and Israeli Elbit guns the military has evaluated. A larger chamber packs in more high explosive propellant, which shoots out the warhead further.

The need to cater for this higher “shock of firing” makes the ATAGS a heavier gun. It weighs in at 17-18 tonnes, while comparable guns worldwide weigh 14-15 tonnes.

So promising is the ATAGS that both existing prototypes were paraded on January 26 in New Delhi.

After the gun successfully completes development and firing trials, the army is likely to procure at least 2,000 ATAGS. At an estimated Rs 15 crore apiece, that will result in Rs 30,000 crore in business for the production eco-system, benefiting a large number of private defence firms.

With the current round of “summer trials” having successfully concluded in Pokhran, the ATAGS will now undergo modifications and prepare for “winter trials” in December, probably in Sikkim. Each vendor will build three more ATAGs gun prototypes to expedite trials.

The first ATAGS firing trials were carried out in Balasore, Odisha, last December.

While ATAGS looks much like the Bofors FH-77B – the infamous “Bofors gun” that India bought 410 of in the 1980s before scandal derailed indigenous construction – the ATAGS is in face significantly bigger than the 155-millimetre, 39-calibre Bofors.

When talking about a 155-millimetre, 52-calibre gun, the first figure denotes the “bore” of the gun, or the width of the gun barrel; while calibre relates to barrel length. The higher the calibre, the longer the barrel and, therefore, the greater its range. A third parameter is chamber size, which determines how large a projectile can be fired from the gun, and therefore how much damage a round can inflict on the target.

Another global first in the ATAGS is its all-electric drive, which supersedes the more unreliable hydraulic drives in other towed guns. The all-electric drive operates all the ATAGS’ gun controls: ammunition handling, opening and closing the breech, and ramming the round into the chamber.

The ATAGS is the world’s only gun with a six-round “automated magazine” that fires a six-round burst in just 30 seconds. Most other existing 155-millimetre, 52-calibre guns have three-round magazines, which must be reloaded after firing three rounds.


A high “burst fire” capability will provide the army a significant advantage since artillery causes most casualties in the initial burst of fire, when enemy soldiers are caught in the open (and not after they dive into their trenches).