Friday, March 27, 2009

Can They Or Can’t They?

Is there any existing shipyard in India that can undertake modular warship-building? For that you ought to look for some visual signs of it, instead of asking any of the existing shipbuilders, be it Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL), Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers Ltd (GRSE), the Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks Ltd (MDL), or Cochin Shipyard Ltd (CSL). Because one will only get a warped answer that skirts the entire issue of modular shipbuilding and tries to oversimplify the industrial challenges. Before we go any further, let us examine in simple terms what modular warship-building is all about. Simply put, it was pioneered by Germany’s Blohm + Voss and ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (now grouped as the German Naval Group, or GNG), with the scope of work to be performed consisting of integrated modular designs (using TRIBON CAD/CAM software) for both onboard and off board systems that are designed specifically for the varied deployment of standardised modules (weapons, electronics and the ship’s technical equipment) which, in addition, are connected with the power supply, the air-conditioning and ventilation system and the data network for example, via standardised interfaces. All the components needed to run a specific system are accommodated in a single module. Depending upon the particular task they are required to perform, a distinction is made between weapons, electronics and the ship’s technical modules. Containers, pallets and mast modules are installed during the construction phase. Such modularity allows a wide range of choice in the selection of the on-board systems, whether it be with regard to the integration of customer-supplied systems or the use of products that the customer already has in service from various manufacturers. By simultaneously building the warship’s platform at a shipyard and the modules at the suppliers’ premises, a significant savings in both time and cost can be achieved. The modular construction principle also reduces the costs of maintaining and modernising the vessels during both periodic refits and service life-extension programmes (SLEP). Following the example and standards set by the GNG, other European shipyards like The Netherlands’ Schelde Naval Shipbuilding, the UK’s BAE Systems and Italy’s Fincantieri have actively embraced such shipbuilding practices and processes.

This now leads us to the question at hand: can shipyards like GSL, CSL, MDL and GRSE presently undertake modular warship-building? The answer is a clear no, as they are not only not equipped with the required industrial infrastructure, but they do not have any standardised roadmap or time-bound infrastructure development implementation plan. A cursory look around any of these shipyards will reveal that none of them even have syncrolifts, which must be accompanied by related shiplift piers, and dry berth. For modular shipbuilding the syncrolift (for transferring the various modules into the final enclosed assembly hall), dry berths and assembly halls must all be connected by a modern, land-level ship-transfer system. The only such syncrolift that exists within India is the one at INS Kadamba (Project Seabird) in Karwar, having been ordered on May 20, 2002 at a cost of US$32 million and delivered by Rolls-Royce Marine Systems in late 2004. Configured as a 10,000-ton shiplifter, it is a large marine elevator used for lifting warships out of, or lowering ships into, the water. To dock a warship, the platform and cradle are lowered into the water, and the vessel is then moved into place over the platform. When in position, the syncrolift raises the platform, removing the vessel from the water. Work on the vessel can then be done in situ, or the vessel transferred offshore, leaving the syncrolift available to dock other vessels. On completion, the process is reversed. The hoists, platform and associated ship-transfer system were all made in India and the project was managed by Syncrolift Inc, the world leader in shiplift systems with 224 installations in 67 countries.

Making matters worse is the disparate state of military-industrial cooperation between the Indian shipyards and their foreign counterparts. For instance, GSL has a longstanding agreement with Schelde Naval Shipbuilding, The Netherlands’ Maritime Research Institute (MARIN) and Haskoning Nederland BV, and Germany’s Raytheon Anschutz GmbH. MDL, on the other hand, openly declares its preference for ARMARIS of France, while CSL is now in bed with Fincantieri, with GRSE preferring to team up with the GNG. These varying and competing industrial tie-ups are now indulging in intense lobbying within the MoD for securing the contract for supplying the Indian Navy with seven Project 17A guided-missile frigates (FFG), seven Project 15B guided-missile destroyers (DDG) and up to three amphibious assault vessels. While the Navy’s Directorate of Naval Design (DND) has clearly indicated its preference for adopting the GNG’s proven and globally popular MEKO concept of modular design/construction, BAE Systems, ARMARIS, Schelde Naval Shipbuilding and Fincantieri haven’t yet lost hope and are exerting intense pressure on the MoD to at least share the cake (comprising the projected FFG, DDG and LPH projects) as a compromise. The latest entrant into the fray is South Korea’s Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction, which is offering the Dokdo-class LPH and KDX-3 DDG.

As far as selecting the design of the Project 17A FFG goes, ARMARIS’ Fremm FFG, the GNG’s F-125 FFG and Navantia’s F-310 FFG are likely to be shortlisted. The foreign shipyard whose FFG design wins the tender will be required to build two FFGs at its own yard, using craftsmen from the selected lead Indian shipyard. For the Project 17A FFG, the Navy is seeking revolutionary solutions aimed at seamlessly operating under various scenarios under a global deployment spectrum. For instance, the Navy wants the vessel’s dwell-time in the area of operations of up to one year, without having to return to its homeport for scheduled maintenance during this phase. This concept of operations is thus aimed at doubling the warship’s time-on-station between major overhauls by maintaining the warship’s uninterrupted operational availability, and drastically cutting down (by several weeks) on long-transit times. In addition, a high degree of on-board automation will be specified to enable the warship to be manned by a crew complement of less than 100, with the crew complement on deployment being swapped at-sea according to a four-monthly cycle. An identical concept will be specified for the three planned seven Project 15B DDGs.

On the Indian Navy’s plans to acquire up to three LPH-based multi-role support ships (MRSS), a total of eight companies from The Netherlands (Schelde Shipbuilding with its Enforcer LPD), France (Armaris’ Mistral LHD), the UK (BAE Systems Marine’s Ocean-class LHD), Germany (ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems’ MHD-150), Italy (Finantieri’s 20,000-tonne LHD), the US (Raytheon’s San Antonio-class LPD-17), Spain (Navantia’s 21,500-tonne Strategic Projection Ship, two of which were ordered by Australia on October 9, 2007) and South Korea (Hanjin Heavy Industries & Construction’s 14,500-tonne assault landing ship, three of which have been ordered for the ROK Navy) have begun lining up for marketing their respective solutions. It is believed that the Indian Navy originally desired a LPD design capable of undertaking sea logistics and humanitarian relief operations. Now, however, the Navy has projected a requirement for helicopter carriers (LHD) that will also host rear flooding decks to accommodate armoured wheeled/tracked amphibious assault vehicles and LCAC-type assault hovercraft. This means the MRSS will in essence be a LHD that will also be capable of supporting ‘over-the-horizon assaults’ by heliborne and LCAC-borne infantry forces. That being the case, the Navy’s to-be-selected MRSS will have to host on board at least six medium-lift utility helicopters.—Prasun K. Sengupta

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The New Untouchables

In every endeavour you require the services of middlemen, a much maligned term that sounds more respectable when referred to as ‘facilitators’. While people of diverse faiths require the services of both ordained priests and self-styled godmen/Sadhvis to operationalise the two-way communications links between the Almighty and us mortal human beings, so too are such ‘facilitators’ required for expediting the decision-making processes associated with the procurement of major weapon systems for India’s armed forces. By the mid-1990s, in the aftermath of the scandals associated with Sweden’s Bofors AB and Germany’s HDW, the closely-knit community of such facilitators—having both business and political backgrounds—closed ranks in India and resolved to devise a fool-proof method of conducting their businesses based on a win-win doctrine. It was quite an ingenious and totally legal way of doing business. How? Kindly allow me to elaborate. The two key essential elements of this business plan are: an India-based citizen who must have access to business venture capital; and an NRI or PIO whose business interests are located abroad, and whose business activities are registered in an offshore tax-free haven. The next step is to register a shelf company in this tax haven and develop a business plan in areas where the Govt of India allows either 100% foreign ownership or majority shareholding by foreign corporate entities. Once ready, this business plan is then peddled in search of venture capital and bridging loans. Concurrently, the owners of this business plan—the facilitators—establish political linkages with those in power within the executive branch of the Govt of India—to gain insights into the short-term, medium-term and long-term weapons procurement programmes of the Indian Army, Indian Navy, Indian Air Force, the Indian Coast Guard Service, the central paramilitary forces, and the central intelligence agencies. Once the key programmes are identified the search then begins for suitable OEMs that are ‘preferred’ by both the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and by the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), keeping in mind the supreme national interests of India. Interestingly, by this stage, the decision-makers within the Govt of India have already decided who the preferred OEM will be, with the yet-to-be-conducted competitive tendering process just being an eyewash and an exercise in futility. I say this because under the existing decision-making process for military procurements, the end-user is only mandated to indulge in evaluating the competitive bids and has no final say in zeroeing in on one specific OEM/supplier. That is a political decision to be made by the Cabinet Committee on National Security after factoring in various variables such as the financial offer, state of bilateral trade/international relations between India and the country hosting the respective bidders, etc.

After having received the key selection criteria inputs from the MoD and MEA, the concerned facilitator, armed with his/her business plan, initiates contact with the already preferred OEM and takes the OEM into confidence, and consequently, the OEM conducts an independent audit of the business plan (which may include the setting up in India of a private airline, or business air charter service, or a telecommunications-related business franchise) and agrees to provide the necessary venture capital for setting up such business activities within India in lieu of being awarded the procurement contract from the MoD. The venture capital is then transferred by the OEM (usually through one of its business subsidiaries) to the offshore shelf company registered by the facilitator’s NRI/PIO business partner who in turn acts as the foreign institutional investor making a perfectly legal and no-nonsense investment in a newly registered business entity within India. The facilitator in turn appoints his/her proxies to the Board of Directors of the business entity to run the show, with the plan being to turn the private limited company into a publicly-listed company within 24 months of its launch, thereby getting access to additional venture capital through the capital markets both within India and abroad, something I like to refer to as OPM, or other people’s money.

By the time contract signature takes place between the preferred OEM and the MoD, the OEM has seen to the following: that the FDI has been pumped into India for a perfectly legitimate business venture; that the business venture has a clearly defined business roadmap under which it will undergo public listing within a pre-defined timeframe, and the resultant OPM will be used—perfectly legally—for making financial donations or extending aerial logistics support to the concerned political parties whenever required; that the venture capital extended by the OEM to the facilitator will be returned in successive tranches (via the OPM) back to the OEM or one of the OEM’s designated business subsidiaries. So what you have in the end is no legal wrongdoing, no financial impropriety, no stashing away of slush funds, and a totally transparent business plan whose execution is flawless and beyond any suspicion. If questioned, the OEM on its part is also able to prove beyond reasonable doubt that its adherence to the mandatory ‘Integrity Clause’ contained within the military procurement contract is total without any breach, that no financial remuneration was paid to anyone either within India or abroad for facilitating the military procurement’s contract signature, and there was no ‘hidden’ inflation of the contract value.
But let it be known that to date, following exhaustive internal enquiries and investigations conducted by Indian authorities, no shred of evidence has emerged to directly and conclusively imply that the business methodology I have outlined above was employed by any party in securing the Scorpene SSK procurement contract. Consequently, during a recent meeting held at the MoD between the Central Vigilance Commission, Central Bureau of Investigation, the Indian Navy HQ, and the Indian Chapter of Transparency International (headed by former Chief of the Naval Staff, Admiral (Ret’d) R H Tahiliani), everyone concluded that it was impossible for anyone concerned to prove beyond reasonable doubt any allegations of corruption involving the on-going procurement of the six Scorpene SSKs. Consequently, life goes on as usual….Prasun K. Sengupta
Murky Deals
For a country with the world’s third-largest standing Army, seventh-largest Navy and the fourth-largest Air Force it should not come as a surprise when, from time to time, there are cases of financial misappropriations or alleged kickbacks associated with military procurements undertaken to sustain the armed forces’ force modernisation efforts. But what is undeniably surprising is that almost all the procurement scandals that have come to light thus far since the early 1980s have involved Western companies such as Sweden’s Bofors Defence, Germany HDW and recently South Africa’s Denel Group. Despite the fact that more than 70% of the armed forces’ operational weapon systems have since the early 1980s been imported from the former Soviet Union (USSR) and its successor state, the Russian Federation (in total, from 1960 till 2000, the USSR and Russia supplied India with almost $35 billion worth of military hardware), there has never been even a single recorded or revealed case of questionable purchases of weapons by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) from either the USSR, or Russia, or other former East Bloc countries like Poland, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine or Belarus. That is until now.

The first ever revelation about alleged kickbacks received by senior MoD officials, including a Defence Minister himself, as a quid pro quo for purchasing weapons from the erstwhile USSR appears in the book titled ‘The Mitrokhin Archive, Volume II: The KGB and the World’, published by Penguin/Allen Lane. The book opened a Pandora’s box not only about the nature of bilateral relations between India and the erstwhile USSR between the 1950s through to the late 1980s, but also throw some light on how military-industrial cooperation between the two countries and India’s defence procurement practices throughout the 1970s and 1980s, both marked by a remarkable degree of opacity during this period, climbed to dizzying heights. The book, jointly written by Vasili Mitrokhin, a former senior archivist of the USSR’s civilian intelligence agency, the KGB, and Cambridge University Professor and intelligence historian Christopher Andrew, is a sequel to the whistle-blowing Volume I that was published in 1999 (detailing the KGB’s operations conducted in the West between 1917 and 1991) and has since been appreciated worldwide for the authoritativeness, quality, minutae and detail of the information copied over a 12-year period from thousands of top-secret KGB files by Mitrokhin, who defected to the UK after the USSR collapsed in 1992. Volume II deals with the KGB’s attempts to ‘communise’, ‘Sovietise’, make friends and influence people in the developing world, and two of its chapters reveal how in the 1970s India was one of the countries most successfully penetrated by the KGB, how and why India became a model of KGB infiltration of a Third World government, and why the KGB ‘residency’ in Delhi was one of the largest in the world outside the Soviet bloc, and was awarded the rare honour by the Centre (KGB HQ in Moscow) of being promoted to a ‘main residency’. The most significant revelation, as far as military hardware procurements from the erstwhile USSR go, is that India’s Defence Minister V K Krishna Menon in the mid-1960s was successfully persuaded to buy MiG-21PF (Type 74) interceptors instead of the English Electric Lightning for the Indian Air Force (IAF), and in return his general election campaigns in 1962 and 1967 were KGB-funded.

Yet, despite such authoritativeness, caution would be well-advised here. For while it is generally appreciated that the Soviets were extremely active in trying to influence Indian ‘intellectual opinion’ between the 1950s and 1980s, Volume II reveals only a part of the whole story. And this is because the KGB constituted only a part of the gigantic Soviet information-gathering apparatus that in a country like India also had several personnel and ‘indigenous high-value assets’ working in parallel for/in the payroll of other Soviet agencies such as the GRU (military intelligence), accredited Soviet mass media agencies such as Izvestia, ITAR-TASS, Novosti and Pravda, and most importantly, the Delhi-based Trade Representative’s Office that reported to the USSR’s Ministry of Foreign Economic Relations, which in turn was the sole Soviet government organ responsible for marketing and supplying weapons of Soviet origin to 76 countries, including India. To gain a comprehensive appreciation of the former USSR’s ‘intellectual penetration’ of India and its consequences as far as Indian military hardware procurements go, it is best to start with trying to find out where India found itself in the Soviet scheme of things. The USSR began engaging India seriously soon after the Sino-Soviet split in the early 1960s and took India seriously since the late 1960s because it had global interests, notably a definite military threat from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and a desire to reduce the US influence in the subcontinent. This was the only basis for the India-USSR relationship, which acquired a strategic dimension in August 1971 when both countries inked the
India-Soviet Treaty of Peace, Friendship, and Cooperation and consequently both countries got what each wanted—the USSR achieved strategic encirclement of the PRC while India got:
· A credible but limited duration nuclear umbrella to discourage and even neutralise any Chinese military adventurism targeted against India in the event of a future round of India-Pakistan military hostilities.
· The much-needed diplomatic support from the East Bloc at the UN Security Council as well as the crucial military hardware-cum-war wastage reserves required to successfully undertake the 14-day ‘Lightning Campaign’ that resulted in the dismemberment of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh in December 1971.

Between 1972 and 1975 there were no major procurements of USSR-built military hardware by India, and the Soviets were quite happy to keep India engaged (and simultaneously keep the PRC strategically encircled and contained) by offering sops like the bilateral rupee-rouble trading system (despite this, non-military trade was never a high point of India-USSR relations), supporting India’s indigenous space technology development projects, and continuing the off-the-shelf supply of weapons like MiG-21M/bis combat aircraft and Mi-8T utility helicopters. These geo-strategic imperatives, however, began undergoing a sea-change when the Indian National Congress led by the then Prime Minister Mrs Indira Gandhi lost the 1976 general elections to the Janata Party. At around the same time, the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force were gearing up to undertake a gigantic, 10-year-long phased force modernisation effort that called for the procurement of big-ticket items like deep penetration strike aircraft (DPSA) and medium multi-role combat aircraft (M-MRCA); principal surface combatants like guided-missile frigates (FFG), guided-missile destroyers (DDG) and both single- and double-hulled diesel-electric submarines (SSK); main battle tanks (MBT) and infantry combat vehicles (ICV); mobile air defence artillery systems, 155mm/39-calibre towed field howitzers; attack and utility helicopters, plus tactical and strategic transport aircraft.

For obvious reasons, alarm bells must have started ringing in the Kremlin in 1978 when the Janata Party government led by the KGB’s bete noire (Prime Minister Morarji Desai) signed a contract with British Aerospace (now BAE Systems) for the purchase of 120 SEPECAT Jaguar IS/IM DPSAs. Next on the list were MBTs for which the Army had shortlisted contenders from France, Germany, and the UK; ICVs for which Army HQ wanted to evaluate French and German offers; the M-MRCA for which Dassault’s Mirage 2000 was the preferred choice, and single-hulled SSKs for which Kockums of Sweden and HDW of Germany were the preferred suppliers. What made matters far more complicated for the Kremlin was India’s attempt to normalise relations with the PRC in the post-Mao Tse-Tung era, while for Delhi the USSR’s inability to prevent Beijing from ‘teaching a lesson’ to Hanoi (by being unable to avert the Sino-Vietnam War of February-March 1979) revealed the true limits of Soviet politico-military power projection. And what was also not known then to India as well as the West was the USSR’s plan to undertake the invasion of Afghanistan in the fall of 1979 despite the steadily deteriorating economic situation of the Warsaw pact member-states. By 1980 the Warsaw Pact countries were collectively importing 110 million tonnes of crude oil to satisfy internal requirements even though the USSR was by then the world’s largest producer of crude oil and the second largest gold producer. What made matters far worse for Moscow were efforts made by the West led by Reagan Administration to irreversibly cripple the Soviet economy into a state of perpetual decline by forcing the USSR to increasingly to borrow from the West.

For the Kremlin, therefore, it must have come as enormous relief to see Mrs Gandhi being elected as Prime Minister for a third term. And this is where the mystery deepens and the ground gets murkier. For, despite the known limitations and decline of Moscow’s economic/military prowess, the MoD, without any fanfare, in May 1980, inked a $1.6 billion weapons procurement agreement with the USSR (at concessionary terms of 2.5% interest rate) and also followed Moscow in establishing diplomatic relations with the Vietnam-installed Cambodian government of Heng Samrin. This was followed by another gigantic contract signed in 1981 for procuring weapons worth $2.5 billion, followed by yet another contract in 1984 worth almost $3 billion, despite the latter two deals proving to be a heavy burden for the Indian economy, and becoming the main reason why India applied for a $5.65 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (when the USSR collapsed, New Delhi’s debt to Moscow was estimated at $16 billion, including interest, thanks to the rupee-rouble trading practice). As a consequence of all this, at least three major Indian force modernisation plans mutated to the following:
· Instead of the IAF acquiring a single M-MRCA, the requirement was broken down to an astonishing five aircraft types—49 Mirage 2000H/TH M-MRCAs were ordered in 1984, while 90 MiG-23BNs and 50 MiG-27Ms were imported off-the-shelf between 1981 and 1986 (and another 165 produced in-country between 1983 and 1997) to serve as tactical air support aircraft, and 40 MiG-23MFs and 50 MiG-29B-12s were procured in 1983 and 1986 directly from the USSR as dedicated air superiority combat aircraft. The clinching argument in favour of these procurements was then spelt out by the Soviets to a gullible MoD as: quantity has a quality of its own!
· Against all logic the Navy’s SSK procurements were broken up among two parties, with the single-hulled SSKs procured being the four Class/Type 209 from HDW, along with their advanced, prohibitively expensive licenced-fabrication facilities since 1982, while at the same time eight double-hulled Type 877EKM Kilo-class SSKs were procured off-the-shelf from the USSR. This led to avoidable and wasteful expenditures incurred for creating from scratch two parallel types of on-shore infrastructure for SSK training and maintenance.
· The Indian Army, which wanted to acquire a MBT incorporating hit-survivability design features (something that the home-grown Arjun Mk1’s design strongly signifies), from late-1982 became surprisingly reconciled to acquiring some 1,900 T-72M/M1s that incorporated hit-avoidance features. This despite the fact that by late 1980 when the Army conducted field trials of the T-72M it found out to its utter horror that basically, with the exception of the T-55, the overall Soviet approach to MBT design in the post-World War II era was found to be flawed on two major counts: namely, the gamble on not being hit rather than on surviving hits, and the refusal to perceive survivability of the tank crew as a quite distinct issue from survivability of the vehicle, with the former having priority over the latter. The combination of these two shortcomings produced design solutions such as the T-72M’s carousel autoloader and ammunition reserve being accommodated on the turret floor. This indeed allowed for a very compact configuration and ensured that the ammunition is less likely to take a direct hit—but it also entailed a very high risk of ignition or sympathetic detonation should the fighting compartment be penetrated, in which case there went the MBT and the crew with it. In fact, in mid-1982 in Lebanon the 105mm APFSDS rounds fired by Israeli Merkava Mk1 MBTs with 105mm rifled-bore guns routinely pierced the Syrian T-72M’s front glacis, went straight through the MBT and exited through the engine compartment, leaving a turretless hulk behind. The Indian Army got a first-hand demonstration of the T-72M’s acute vulnerability in October 1987 when LTTE guerrillas exploded improvised explosive devices underneath two T-72Ms deployed with 65 Armoured Regiment for Operation Pawan during the battle for Jaffna, which resulted in armour penetration and the ensuing catastrophic detonation of the MBT’s ammunition reserve (this being stored in a carousel autoloader on the turret’s floor), resulting in the turrets being blown off. Subsequent events in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm would convincingly highlight the T-72M’s totally flawed design features.

The rest, as they say, is history. The collapse of the Soviet Union reduced India’s military preparedness to a parlous state throughout the 1990s, thanks to the one-sided weapons procurement policies initiated in the early 1980s. The limited war in Kargil in 1999 and Operation Parakram in 2002 further highlighted the inadequacy of the country’s war-waging capabilities and block technological obsolescence of the armed forces. India today is totally dependent on Israel and France for ‘surgically upgrading’ the performance of almost all its weapons of Soviet origin. And Russia till today is unable to ensure the guaranteed supply of critical military spares because it no longer controls the various military-industrial facilities now spread out throughout Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia and the Central Asia Republics. The present UPA government led by the Congress (I), the very party that inked some of the highly questionable arms deals with the erstwhile USSR more than two decades ago, is eminently qualified to explain exactly what ‘enlightened national interests’ prompted the MoD to embark upon such a one-sided and disastrous defence procurement policy, even if it is for posterity. And the most qualified official to do so is none other than the present Minister for External Affairs, who was the Union Finance Minister during the 1980s.--Prasun K. Sengupta

Who Is The Real Enemy Of India?

Surprising as it may seem, the greatest threat to India’s national security interests has always been and continues to be the Government of India’s executive branch. The total lack of strategic visioning, consistently developing cold feet when it comes to enacting the much needed administrative and procedural reforms within the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and its Department of Defence Production & Supplies (DDPS), and politicising the procurement of weapon systems from abroad starting with the Bofors FH-77B towed howitzers have all had the most frustrating and terrible impacts on the force modernisation efforts of the country’s three armed services since 1988. Add to this the kind of vindictive politics now being practiced and one has the most poisonous cocktail ever concocted to make the armed forces the real and only losers. The most glaring example of such shameful and possibly treasonous conduct was evident in April 2004 when the then newly-elected UPA coalition government abruptly shelved the well-conceived Rs250 billion (US$5.3 billion) Defence Modernisation Fund (DMF) that was created by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led NDA coalition government earlier in February 2004 for fast-tracking the long-overdue acquisition of critical military hardware. The fund was meant to be ‘non-lapsable’, meaning the MoD would not have to surrender its capital account funds if they were not used within the fiscal year they were allocated for. It was thus meant to reverse the trend of the past years, when the MoD returned on average more than $3.8 billion per annum to the national exchequer. However, the then Defence Minister (and presently the Minister for external Affairs) Pranab Mukherjee said on June 19, 2005 that such a concept was neither constitutionally nor legally valid, although he was subsequently contradicted by Prime Minister D Manmohan Singh, who said in April 2005 that he was not averse to the DMF being resurrected. When coupled with the ruling UPA government’s decision to examine all arms deals inked during the NDA government’s tenure for any traces of financial kickbacks, the lack of a consolidated DMF has had a paralytic impact on, among other things, the Army’s ambitious plans to re-equip its aviation, infantry, armoured, air defence artillery and field artillery formations, the Navy’s plans for acquiring deep-submergence rescue vessels, a fleet of intelligence-gathering vessels, and a DRDO-owned but Navy-operated fleet of telemetry tracking vessels. The following are but a few of the projects that have been put on hold since 2005, pending the outcome of CVC/CBI-led investigations into allegations of financial impropriety, reported manipulation of qualitative requirements (QR) to suit a particular vendor, to outright misrepresentation of the recorded conclusions of competitive field evaluations.

1) Recall the much hyped-about procurement of deep-submergence rescue vessels for the Indian Navy? Well, nothing has been inked so far as the CVC in 2007 put on hold the contract signature. The Indian Navy had selected the Remora 2000 remotely operated rescue vehicle (RORV) for its submarines by mid-2005, along with its launch-and-recovery system (LARS) and a fully integrated self-contained emergency life support system (ELSS) package, all to be supplied by Canada’s Ocean Works International of North Vancouver. The yet-to-be-signed contract, however, ran into rough weather two years ago amidst allegations of irregularities (i.e. kickbacks) during the contractual negotiations phase. The 20.6-tonne Remora 2000 RORV has a depth rating to 610 metres, can accommodate 18 men, can dry-transfer personnel under pressures up to 6 atmospheres into surface decompression facilities, and is designed for operations in Sea State 5 and transport in Sea State 6. The related surface decompression facility can treat more than 100 personnel. The entire Remora 2000 system can be air-transported for rapid deployment. Similar systems built by the same company are currently operational with the navies of Australia, Russia and Singapore.

2) What is known so far about the so-called ‘leaks’ (first revealed in May 2005) is that Navy officers posted in the Operations Directorate of Naval Headquarters were found trading off classified information of a commercial nature. What has not been revealed until now is that after the procurement costs of INS Vikramaditya, it is the cost of procuring a fleet of four 8,000-tonne intelligence-gathering vessels, and a DRDO-owned but Navy-operated fleet of three 15,000-tonne telemetry tracking vessels (each equipped with three monopulse radars capable of tracking the flight of multiple independent re-entry warheads) that constitutes the second biggest contract (in financial terms) to be awarded by the MoD for the Navy. But what makes the procurement of these types of vessels so lucrative is the sheer number of vendors involved—not just for supplying the vessels off-the-shelf—but for equipping them with more than 600 different systems and components, each of which are to be procured after intense competitive bidding under individual, supplemental multi-million dollar contracts. In essence, this is the dream contract that every ‘facilitator’ cherishes, and could potentially create more than 600 Indian multi-millionaires. Consequently, so great was the demand for access to the combined Navy/DRDO-drafted QRs for each of the 600+ systems that thumb-drives had to be employed for copying the QR files for onward dispatch to potential local and foreign vendors! Of the two types of naval vessels sought, the telemetry tracking vessels are of a strategic nature and there’s a pressing need for them simply because without them there’s no other credible way of tracking and validating the MIRV’s re-entry flightpath. Yes, you guessed right: thus far all test-firings of ballistic missiles carried out by the DRDO out of the ITR have involved only single re-entry warheads and until such time as India acquires such telemetry tracking vessels, the DRDO will be unable to test-fire MIRV-equipped ballistic missiles. Bu then again, the wait is likely to be a long one, as the procurement of such vessels is now on hold due to the on-going CVC/CBI investigations.

3) Another procurement that has been put on hold, again for reasons of alleged financial impropriety, is that concerning Swedish Space Corporation’s (SSC) supply of mission sensor suites for an initial three Dornier Do-228-211s of the Indian Coast Guard Service. SSC had won the competitive bidding process in mid-2007 for supplying the maritime surveillance system, each of which comprises an Ericsson-built SLAR (typically covering 18,000 km² per hour for oil spills and small objects on the water surface and 48,000 km² per hour for large vessels), and Argon ST (formerly Daedalus) 1221 IR/UV linescanner (operating in the 8.5-12.5µm region and in the 0.32-0.38 µm region and providing high-resolution imagery of oil spills and other features on the sea surface).

4) This may sound extremely depressing, but there’s a reason why the upgraded M-46S 155mm/45-calibre towed howitzers have gone missing from the Republic Day and Army Day parades since 2007. One may recall that in 1990, the Indian Army firmed up its plans for upgrading the 130mm M-46s and year later the MoD approved the plan, and SOLTAM Systems of Israel was selected as the prime contractor among five bidders. In-country field trials of the upgraded prototypes were carried out in 1993, but the MoD took another five years to sanction the funds. On paper, 430 upgraded M-46S 155mm/45-cal towed howitzers (for 20 Regiments) were to be supplied (since 2002) by the state-owned Ordnance Factories Board (OFB) under licence from Israel’s SOLTAM Systems, making the M-46S the Army’s tube artillery system with the longest reach, being able to fire ERFB-BB rounds out to 38.5km and VLAP rounds out to 42km when using bi-modular charges. The bad news is that the upgrade programme has been terminated after only 40 howitzers were modified, this being due to a fatal barrel explosion taking place two years ago. Army HQ has since then asked the MoD to terminate this project for good and efforts are now on to initiate legal proceedings against SOLTAM and seek liquidated damages.

5) Remember the big splash made in April 2007 when the MoD reportedly leaked news about the Eurocopter-built AS.350B3 Fennec winning the competitive bid for supplying the Army’s new-generation single-engined light observation-cum-utility helicopter? Well, the news is that this result was already known two years ago, when Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) and Eurocopter had inked a Global Industrial Cooperation Partnership Agreement in February 2005 to jointly produce Ecureuil and Fennec helicopters for the world market. Yet, Eurocopter’s rival, Bell Helicopters Textron, prudently decided to give the MoD the benefit of the doubt and took part in the in-country flight evaluations throughout 2006. But it got the shock of its life when in May 2007 the MoD invited Eurocopter for final contractual negotiations. And this happened even after the Fennec convincingly failed to perform as advertised during the ‘cold soak’ tests in January 2007 at Leh air base during which both competing helicopters’ engines had to be switched off overnight and re-started at high-altitude the following day. Apparently, the Bell 407 had no problem activating its engine with the help of the internally-mounted battery-operated starter-generator. But the AS.550B3 Fennec could not follow suit and it had to remain grounded for 48 hours, awaiting the arrival of an external ground power unit (GPU) from NOIDA. Consequently, fed up with the charade of flight-tests, Bell Helicopters has since decided for good measure not to take part in the subsequent round of competitive flight trials. Reportedly, Bell Helicopters now believes that HAL and Eurocopter are now hand-in-league to divide the MoD’s now inflated order for LOH/LUH helicopters (for all three armed services)—have the cake and eat it as well. Nothing else can explain how HAL can state that it will require a ridiculous timeframe of six years to develop a single-engined 3-tonne variant of the twin-engined 5.5-tonne Dhruv ALH! Thus, the stage is now set for other competitors like OBORONPROM (proposing the Kamov Ka-226) and AgustaWestland (offering the A-119LUH) to smell a rat and refuse to take part in the forthcoming competitive bidding process.--Prasun K. Sengupta

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

IDAS For Indian T-90 MBTs Selected

Sweden’s flagship company Saab Group, which also owns Gripen International and late last January opened its representative office in New Delhi, recently won two significant contract awards from the Ministry of Defence, one worth US$24 million for supplying the CIDAS integrated all-digital defensive aids suite for the 16 armed Dhruv ALH helicopters now being built by HAL for the Indian Air Force (IAF), and the other for supplying the LEDS-150 active protection system (APS) for the Indian Army’s T-90S+ and T-90M main battle tanks (MBT). Presently, the DRDO’s Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) and SaabTech are co-developing the MILDS AN/AAR-60 missile approach warning system (MAWS), which forms only one component of the CIDAS defensive aids suite. The MAWS is of South African origin and was further co-developed by EADS ewation (Germany) and Grintek Ewation (South Africa) after decided to merge by 2001. This was followed by SaabTech taking a stake in Avitronics (part of Grintek). SaabTech now owns both the South African companies (Grintek and Avitronics) as well as the EADS-Grintek joint venture. Therefore, in conclusion, the prime contractor for supplying the CIDAS defensive aids suite is SaabTech. The CIDAS will also find its way on board the HAL-developed Light Combat Helicopter, whose first prototype will be rolled out this March. In addition, the CIDAS will also most likely be on board the to-be-upgraded Ka-28PL, Ka-31 and Sea King Mk42B helicopters of the Indian Navy, and also on the 60 armed Dhruv ALHs that the Indian Army will be procuring for its projected Combat Aviation Brigade, which will also be employed for vertical envelopment operations in support of expeditionary amphibious warfare campaigns. A version of CIDAS also exists for combat aircraft and will in all probability be selected for installation on board the Su-30MKI in the near future, since the Su-30MKIs lack on-board missile approach warning systems and laser warning systems. Another aircraft to be equipped with CIDAS will be the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) now being co-developed by HAL and Russia’s United Aircraft Corp.

The contract for supplying the LEDS-150 APS suite for installation on board 987 T-90 MBTs has been won against stiff competition, and follows the Army HQ’s issuance of RFPs on April 24 last year. A total of six companies (Israel Military Industries, RAFAEL, BAE Systems, Raytheon, Rosoboronexport, Saab, and Germany’s IBD Deisenroth Engineering) were invited for submitting bids for supplying 1,657 APS suites worth $270 million. APS suites offered were Russia’s Kolomna-based KBM Engineering Design Bureau’s Arena-E, Israel Military Industries’ Iron Fist, RAFAEL Advanced Defence Systems’ Trophy, Raytheon’s Quick Kill, Saab’s LEDS-150 and Deisenroth Engineering’s AMAP-ADS. Eventually, the LEDS-150 was selected and its procurement contract was inked last month. The Land Electronic Defence System (LEDS) combines active signature management, soft-kill and hard-kill mechanisms to provide full spectrum active protection to armoured vehicles. Full hemispherical coverage is provided to detect incoming threats and alert the crew. When installed in full configuration, the LEDS-150 offers MBT-comparable protection to light and medium combat vehicles against engagement by weapons like RPG-7s, anti-tank guided-missiles, KE ammunition, mortars and field artillery shells. The LEDS-150 typically comprises laser warning sensors, ADC-150 active defence controller AD, a number of munition confirmation and tracking sensors, and high-speed directed launchers, which allow the combination of soft- and hard-kill countermeasure deployment capability to the platform, optional displays, and interconnecting harnesses. The hard kill feature of the LEDS-150 is characterised by its capability to physically destroy the efficiency of the terminal ballistic capability of attacking munitions without residual penetration of the protected vehicle. The hard kill system detects and tracks a single or simultaneous threats and calculates if the attacking munition will hit the platform or not. The system determines the best inertial intercept position and provides the slew and firing commands to the launchers. The Mongoose-1 countermeasure missile is launched at a predetermined time to intercept and neutralise the detected munition off-board at a distance of between 5 metres and 15 metres from the vehicle to minimise the collateral damage to own forces.--Prasun K. Sengupta

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Too Many Secrets....

The past week was by all accounts a momentous one, as no less a person than former Pakistani President and former Chief of the Army Staff, Gen (Ret'd) Pervez Musharraf, assertively disclosed what has been a 'no-go' area for India's mainstream media and the otherwise hyper-ventilating broadcast media thus far: that India's Defence Intelligence Agency (DIA) has, since 2002, waged a highly successful covert war against Pakistan by actively rendering all kinds of financial assistance to Balochistan-based separatists. But mind you, such covert warfare has not been waged by the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW), but by the tri-services DIA and Afghanistan's Riyast-i-Amniyat-i-Milli, and in addition to his routine assignment as India's Defence Adviser at the Embassy in Kabul, Brigadier Ravi Datt Mehta was officially dolling out huge financial assistance--as ordered by the DIA--to the Baloch separatists as and when required. For the past one year such activities being undertaken by the DIA wer, in fact, openly discussed by both serving and retired senior military officials at both the Armed Forces Gymkhana and the United Services Institution within the National Capital Region. It, therefore, did not come as a great surprise to South Block when Brig Mehta was specifically targetted for assassination by the Pakistan Army's Peshawar-based 324 Military Intelligence Battalion . This in many ways is reminiscent of the era ranging from the mid-1980s and early 1990s during which RAW had succeeded in gaining the trust of what would later morph into the Northern Alliance. In fact, by 1986, despite India's official recognition of the then Soviet-backed Afghan regime led by Dr Najibullah, India had begun extending medical assistance to the guerrilla forces led by the legendary leader Ahmad Shah Massoud and as a consequence of this, one wing of the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) was completely cordoned off by South Block and it was there that all those Mujahideen wounded in battle while fighting the Soviets under Massoud's leadership received the urgent medical attention that they deserved. So impressed was the Northern Alliance by India's humanitarian assistance that this relationship, at first opportunity, got elevated to a higher level when, in the early 1990s after the breakup of the USSR, the Northern Alliance succeeded in securing Tajikistan's approval for an Indian Army-run field hospital to be established at Farkhor.

Last week also saw BrahMos Aerospace successfully test-firing the Block 2 version of the BrahMos supersonic multi-role cruise missile's land attack variant. But here again, India's mainstream media failed to illustrate what has thus far been a severe shortcoming for both BrahMos Aerospace and the Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO): there are NO available firing ranges in India that can host test-firings of surface-to-surface or air-to-surface battlefield support missiles (like the BrahMos or Prithvi SS-150/SS-250) out to their maximum range envelopes! The firing range at Pokhran where such missiles are routinely test-fired, measures at most 58km and that too after two villages have been temporarily evacuated, even though the DRDO has been pleading with the MoD since the late 1990s for making available a firing range that can support missile firings out to 100km over land.

Yet another revelation for me last week was an update on the launch status of the nuclear-powered Advanced Technology Vehicle (ATV): the new Project Director has, rightly, adopted a cautious attitude towards advancing the launch-date of the hull by conducting a thorough and controlled 'flushing' of the ATV's complex network of steam piping associated with the vessel's BHEL-built heat exchanger, which had previously proved to be quite problematic. In addition, the new-design vertical silo for housing a yet-to-be-available 8,500km-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) is now being removed from the ATV's hull as the priority is to--as part of the ATV's multi-phase sea trials schedule--firstly, establish the ATV's hull integrity under operational conditions, and secondly, to establish the functional maturity of the ATV's nuclear propulsion system. Only after these two milestones have been achieved that the weaponisation phase will be put to effect. The Govt of India's Cabinet Committee on National Security last January decided to accord only 'conditional & on principal' approval for constructing two ATV-derived vessels: one being the SSBN and the other being the escorting SSN.--Prasun K. Sengupta

Coming up soon: how the Indian Navy recently saved the Scorpene SSK project from being scuttled by the already-concluded investigations into allegations of corruptions, and how exactly the 'agents' involved with the deal and their principals succeeded in legally covering up their tracks and skirting around the 'Integrity Clause' that was integral to the procurement contract.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Batch 3 Of Project 1135.6 FFGs To Be Ordered

Contractual negotiations for ordering a third batch of three Project 1135.6 guided-missile frigates (FFG) are expected to be wrapped between India's Ministry of Defence and Rosoboronexport State Corp, with contract signature taking place before the year's end. Each of these three FFGs will have a stretched hull with broadened beamwidth to house the vertically-launched Shtil-1 M-SAM and the eight-cell UVLM for the BrahMos vertically-launched supersonic multi-role cruise missile. The on-board mission sensor suite's components are currently being finalised, but the suite will include some 20 systems of non-Russia origin, including the hull-mounted panoramic sonar and the towed-array sonar, the marine navigational radar, and the Link-2 fleetwide communications system.--Prasun K. Sengupta

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

CMS, Radars & VLS Modules Of Project 1135.6 FFG & Project 17 FFG

The top two diagrams illustrate the EMDINA combat management system (CMS) originally co-designed by the Indian Navy's Weapons and Electronic Systems Engineering Establishment (WESEE) and TATA Power as part of project MEDINA. This centralised CMS architecture has been adopted for the Navy's three Project 17 guided-missile frigates (FFG), three Project 15A guided-missile destroyers (DDG), and the four Project 28 ASW guided-missile corvettes. The following two diagrams illustrate the EMCCA Computer Aided Action Information System (CAAIS), also co-developed by WESEE and TATA Power, under Project MECCA and is presently on board the three Project 16 FFGs, three Project 16A FFGs and three Project 15 DDGs. The Fregat-M2EM radar can be found on board all six Project 1135.6 FFGs and the three Project 17 FFGs, while the Fregat MAE-4K radar has been developed by FSUE Salyut for installation on board the aft mast of the Project 1135.6 FFG and Project 17 FFG. However, these have not yet been installed, and the Indian Navy will likely select a L-band radar of either Indian or Israeli origin. The SGPFS vertical launch system for the Club-M is the bottom-most illustration. This VLS is on board both the first three Project 1135.6 FFGs and Project 17 FFGs. For the follow-on three Project 1135.6 FFGs now being built by Russia's Kaliningrad-based Yantar Shipyard the UVLM system will be installed. The UVLM module is built by Larsen & Toubro for the BrahMos supersonic MRCM and it is this module that will also be on board the three upgraded Kashin 2-class DDGs and three Project 15A DDGs.--Prasun K. Sengupta