Thursday, 17 August 2017

Army gets its first attack helicopters, 6 Apaches cleared for Rs 4,168 crore

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 18th Aug 17

For decades, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has resisted giving the army control of combat aviation assets, especially attack helicopters, which the air marshals have insisted on keeping firmly under their control.

Even as the army began operating light utility helicopters and established its own Army Aviation Corps, the IAF retained control of medium and heavy helicopters (Russian Mi-17 and Mi-26) and attack helicopters (Mi-35).

The IAF’s predominance in helicopters was underscored in September 2015, when $3 billion worth of helicopters – 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy lift choppers – were handed over to the IAF, overruling the army’s arguments that attack helicopters, which are an integral part of the ground battle, should be flown by army aviation pilots.

On Thursday, in a landmark decision, the defence ministry’s apex procurement body, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Arun Jaitley, cleared the Army Aviation’s first attack helicopters –a Rs 4,168 crore purchase of six Apaches, including associated equipment, spares, training, weapons and ammunition.

While the IAF will use its 22 Apaches for “air defence operations”, to take out enemy radars and command and control centres; the army’s Apaches would destroy enemy tanks and armoured vehicles on the mechanized battlefield.

It is understood the IAF has let go of the new batch of six Apaches with some reluctance, calculating that the air force budget – already strained because of the Euro 7.8 billion purchase of 36 Rafale fighters – could not sustain the added financial burden of more attack helicopters.

The army’s Apaches will only be delivered from 2020 after Boeing delivers the IAF its 22 choppers. Probably before that, Army Aviation would have inducted the first of its Light Combat Helicopters (LCH), which is at an advanced stage of development in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Like the Apache, the LCH will be flown by both the IAF and the army. The LCH is a 5-tonne-class helicopter, significantly smaller than the heavily armoured and armed Apache. It is untested in combat, while the Apache has flown a million mission hours in combat from the first Gulf War in 1991 to the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the LCH is optimized for extreme altitudes, and for providing fire support to soldiers at heights up to 6,000 metres.

Both attack helicopters are armed with anti-tank missiles, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground rockets and devastating chain guns that fire hundreds of shells per minute to rip apart lightly armoured vehicles.

Besides the Apaches, the DAC cleared the Rs 490 crore purchase of gas turbine engines from Ukraine for two Grigorovich-class frigates that Russia is building for the Indian Navy.

The two frigates, which form part of a $4 billion order for four such frigates, are almost fully built in Russia’s Yantar Shipyard at Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea. With relations between Russia and Ukraine at rock bottom after Moscow’s annexation of the Crimea, it has fallen to New Delhi to buy the Ukrainian gas turbines that the Grigorovich class frigates were designed to be powered by.

Negotiations are under way for building two of the four frigates in Goa Shipyard Ltd, under the Make in India programme. The purchase of gas turbines for those vessels will be cleared subsequently.

Dynamatic sets sights on becoming “private sector HAL”

Dynamatic Technologies seeks to develop “system integrator” skills by building UAVs

By Ajai Shukla
Devanhalli, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 17th Aug 17

In an environment where large corporations with no experience in building defence equipment – such as the Adani and Anil Ambani Groups – are hoping to be chosen by the defence ministry as “strategic partners” for defence manufacture, Dynamatic Technologies Ltd (DTL) is a rarity: a company that has incrementally developed the capability to design and manufacture military equipment; in pursuit of a clear aim to graduate into the manufacture of military aircraft.

Last month, on the sidelines of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel, DTL signed a partnership with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), a global leader in unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). DTL plans to leverage this partnership to become an Indian “systems integrator” – the entity at the apex of a manufacturing chain, which integrates assemblies and sub-assemblies built by Tier-1 and Tier-2 suppliers into a final product.

Manufacturing state-of-the-art UAVs, like the “medium altitude long endurance” system that India’s military is buying, is only a waypoint for DTL. Eventually, the company – which already builds one-sixth of the fuselage of the Sukhoi-30MKI, and one-fifth of the Tejas fighter’s fuselage for Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) -- aims to become a full-scale systems integrator of sophisticated combat aircraft.

Towards this end, DTL has proceeded systematically. From manufacturing precision-engineered hydraulic pumps in the 1980s, to aerospace grade components in the 1990s, to aerospace assemblies later that decade, to major aerospace assemblies today, DTL believes the next logical step towards building sophisticated aerospace systems is to be a systems integrator for UAVs – flying platforms, but less complex than manned combat aircraft.

“We believe this is the logical moment to transition up the value chain to become a systems integrator. En route to building complete fighter jets or bigger aerospace systems, we believe that UAV development and integration is realistic and achievable for Dynamatic”, says the company’s chief executive, Udayant Malhoutra.

“In my mind, we are working to become the private-sector HAL of tomorrow”, he emphasizes.

To assess DTL’s ambitions and capabilities, Business Standard visited its brand new manufacturing location – a 27.5-acre facility at Devanhalli, adjoining Bengaluru’s new international airport, where the UAV line will come up. Capable of housing half a million square feet of hangar space, Devanhalli is accessible by large cargo trucks and provides ready access to the airport.

At nearby Doddabalapur, DTL owns a large research farm that could be converted to manufacture later, if required.

With DTL’s long-standing facility at Peenya, outside Bengaluru, running short of space, the manufacture of flap-track beams for Airbus’ A330 wide-body airliners has already been shifted to Devanhalli, along with the assembly of Bell-407 cabins for Bell Helicopters.

Meanwhile, DTL’s Peenya plant continues manufacturing flap-track beams for every one of the 54 single-aisle airliners (A318, A319, A320 and A321) that Airbus assembles each month; and also components for Boeing’s P-8I maritime aircraft and CH-47E Chinook helicopters.

In contrast to the relatively stable income from global aerospace manufacturers, DTL would be in uncertain territory in UAV manufacture. The company visualises a market opportunity in India of about 5,000 UAVs for military and civilian uses but, so far, there are only three “requests for information” (RFIs) issued by the military, for which the DTL-IAI combine will have to compete with global UAV manufacturers.

This includes an RFI issued last year for 150 MALE UAVs for the three services; a 2015 enquiry for 50 Naval Shipborne Unmanned Aerial Systems (NSUAS) for use from large ships for surveillance of coastal waters and India’s exclusive economic zone; and a 2015 RFI for 600 mini-UAVs for the army’s infantry battalions.

DTL has experience in UAVs, having participated in the DRDO’s programme to build the Lakshya pilotless vehicle. In 2015, DTL signed a “teaming agreement” with US company, AeroVironment, to co-develop the Cheel UAV – which is one of six pilot projects designated during US President Barack Obama’s visit to India. However, no orders have resulted from that initiative.

Even so, Malhoutra remains bullish about the opportunities for UAVs, particularly in civilian applications. He cites the potential for low-cost UAVs for crop spraying or as airborne sensors to gauge soil conditions. Pointing to DTL’s long experience in agriculture (70 per cent of all Indian tractors incorporate DTL’s hydraulics), he forecasts: “UAVs will initially come in for military applications, but will find sustainable value mainly from the civilian market.”

Dynamatic: Operating figures

(in Rs crore)


Net Profit
Interest burden

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Tejas fighter finally achieves production target

Eight Tejas to roll out this year; heavily outsourced to private sector

By Ajai Shukla
HAL, Bengaluru
Business Standard, 16th Aug 17

Since December 2013, when the indigenous Tejas fighter was operationally cleared to join the Indian Air Force (IAF), Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has struggled to establish an assembly line that could build the homegrown light fighter quickly and cheaply.

With just three Tejas delivered until this year out of the 20 ordered in 2013, the IAF’s complaint that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) had taken too long in development gave way to the charge that HAL was not building the fighter fast enough to replace the IAF’s retiring MiG fighters.

HAL’s manufacturing shortfall became even starker last November, when the defence ministry cleared the acquisition of 83 more Tejas 1A fighters. This successor to the Tejas Mark 1, with four specified capability improvements, is required to enter production in 2019. This plan hinges on establishing a high-capacity assembly line.

Now, finally, HAL’s Tejas assembly line in Benguluru is meeting its targets. On a visit by Business Standard to the Tejas assembly line, HAL chief T Suvarna Raju has confirmed that eight Tejas fighters will roll off the line this year – the rated capacity of the assembly line.

Furthermore, with an additional investment of Rs 1,231 crore sanctioned for enhancing capacity, the Tejas line is projected to build 10 fighters in 2018-19; and 16 Tejas Mark 1As each year from 2019-20 onwards.

Thereafter, the line is expected to build the Tejas Mark II fighter, an advanced variant of the Tejas with a more powerful General Electric F-414 engine and upgraded avionics.

Outsourcing to private defence firms has been key to achieving HAL’s production targets. “HAL is now focusing mainly on putting together large assemblies that are built and supplied by private aerospace companies. That has allowed us to speed up work exponentially”, says Raju.

HAL has created five “Tier-1” suppliers that each build a part of the Tejas. The front fuselage is supplied by Dynamatic Technologies Ltd, Bengaluru; the centre fuselage by VEM Technologies, Hyderabad; rear fuselage by Alpha Tocol, Bengaluru; wings by Larsen & Toubro, Coimbatore; and the tail fin and rudder by National Aerospace Laboratory and Tata Advanced Materials Ltd.

Each of these Tier-1 suppliers sources components and sub-assemblies from lower-order Tier-2 and Tier-3 suppliers, creating an aerospace industry around the Tejas.

In addition, a range of equipment is sourced from other private firms that are emerging as players in the aerospace realm: avionics racks and air intakes from Lakshmi Machine Works, Coimbatore; electrical panels from Amphenol, Pune; slats and elevons from Aequs, Belgaum; pipelines from Rangson, Mysore, and precision mechanical assemblies from Sri Koteswara Cam Systems, Secunderabad.

HAL plans to eventually outsource 69 per cent of the production of Tejas structural modules, with just 31 per cent of the work done in-house – consisting mainly of assembly and equipping work.

A visit by Business Standard to the Tejas production hanger reveals the most technologically advanced production line that HAL has ever set up – significantly more high-tech than the Hawk advanced jet trainer line that was established with BAE Systems.

The production jigs, on which Tejas components are fabricated, are calibrated with lasers to an accuracy of 50-80 microns (one micron is one-thousandth of a millimeter). This ensures repeatability, which means that every component coming off a jig is precisely the same, and can be switched across aircraft.

There are also robotic machines to drill the thousands of holes that are required in each Tejas’ carbon “skin”. These robots drill in two days what manual drillers earlier took two months to do.

“It earlier took us 19 months to build a Tejas, from start to finish. This is now down to 11 months, and we will be building each Tejas in nine months by September this year”, says Raju.

HAL’s plan for expanding Tejas production to 16 fighters per year involves establishing a second assembly line. This has physically replaced the Hawk trainer line that is close to completing delivery of its orders.

The cost of Rs 1,231 crore is being half-funded by HAL, with the IAF and navy picking up the tab for the other half.

Tejas production schedule    


Upto March 31, 2017
3 Tejas Mk 1
3 Tejas Mk 1
IOC configuration
2017 – 2018
8 Tejas Mk 1
11 Tejas Mk 1
IOC configuration
2018 – 2019
10 Tejas Mk 1
20 Tejas Mk 1
5 single-seat IOC
4 twin-seat IOC
1 (spare capacity)
2019 – 2020
16 Tejas Mk 1A
20 Tejas Mk 1
16 Tejas Mk 1A

2020 – 2024
67 Tejas
20 Tejas Mk 1
83 Tejas Mk 1A

2024-25 onward
Tejas Mark II

(IOC: Initial Operational Configuration)

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Book review: Shadow play in the Himalayas

Title:  Shadow States: India, China and the Himalayas, 1910-1962
Author:  Berenice Guyot-Rechard
Cambridge University Press
321 Pages
Rs 550/-

Seventy years after independence, Indian policymakers continue fumbling ineptly in administering our frontiers, resulting in unabated tensions in strategic border states like Jammu & Kashmir (J&K), Manipur and Nagaland. Now here is a book with lessons for our mandarins: A detailed account of how newly-independent India – administratively inexperienced, resource-starved and preoccupied with problems with Pakistan over J&K – established its writ over the North East Frontier Province (NEFA) – today the state of Arunachal Pradesh, peopled by staunchly committed citizens of India.

Why did New Delhi feel the need to quickly consolidate its presence in the wild and unexplored borderlands of the Eastern Himalayas, which the British had largely left alone, categorising it an “Excluded Area”? Since NEFA was a territorial entity not administered by the British colonial state, its accession to India was problematic; New Delhi needed to explicitly exert jurisdiction. But with China simultaneously consolidating its control over Tibet, including its outlying Kham and Amdo areas, the two Asian giants shared a border for the first time in history. The author’s thesis, which runs through the book, is that India and China, in asserting control over their new territories, acted as “shadow states” to each other – with state-making and nation-building playing out as a contest for the allegiance of border people. As she puts it, this “turned into processes of mutual observation, replication and competition to prove themselves the better state – becoming in short, anxiety-fuelled attempts at self-definition against one another.”

Berenice Guyot-Rechard, who teaches history at King’s College, London, has comprehensively mined archives in London, New Delhi, Guwahati and Itanagar and a wealth of primary and secondary sources to tell the story of India’s entry into NEFA. She recounts the halting decision-making, first by the British in pre-1947 India and then by the new Indian state to enter NEFA; the difficulties faced by administrators as they inched into terra incognita, and the constant paring of aims and objectives due to sheer lack of resources. In contrast, China moved with relative authority into Tibet, cajoling, co-opting and coercing the Tibetan people in eventually establishing Beijing’s authority over that vast territory.

Ms Guyot-Rechard postulates that, through these processes of state building, both New Delhi and Beijing were acutely aware of being watched and compared by the border populations who were, given the porous borders, highly mobile and able to switch sides to where they assessed the better opportunities lay. With both sides insecure about the other’s “pull” over the border people, competitive “state shadowing” eventually led to war.

The most interesting chapters describe India’s travails in pushing administration forward to the McMahon Line border, frequently having to backtrack after outrunning material and manpower resources. The author describes the mechanisms that frontier officials established to communicate with the locals – “political interpreters”,  gaonburas” (headmen) and “dobashis” (interpreters); and the sophisticated ways that locals exploited these conduits to suit their own ends. Ultimately, it was local participation that determined the success or failure of administrative consolidation, since local cooperation was essential for navigating the trackless mountains, finding water sources, obtaining porters, re-supplying posts and a myriad of other functions. As the author put it, “[T]he reach of the Indian state went in many places only so far as the feet and backs of tribal men and women would take it.”

A select cadre of frontier officials that New Delhi specially recruited for NEFA, Nagaland and other border areas, spent weeks “hiking at a snail’s pace around the countryside”. True, but the author – biased, perhaps, by comparison with China’s more purposeful consolidation – is unkind in her descriptions. The speed at which the officials trekked through their jurisdictions indeed constrained the area they could cover. But it gave them a worm’s eye view of the areas they moved through and the time to internalise that unfamiliar environment. India’s establishment of an administration with limited resources and expertise was, at one level, a bumbling, amateurish exercise worthy of ridicule. But it was also a feat of determination that, against all odds, eventually led to success.

Many would regard China as the unquestioned victor in projecting itself in the borderlands as a state – both in establishing a functional administration and, in the ultimate display of state capability, in waging war. Yet, as the author herself notes, the weakness of the Indian state made it more acceptable to NEFA than the all-powerful Chinese state. If, during the 1962 war and in two months of Chinese occupation after fighting ended, Beijing had demonstrated its capability to win and to effectively administer the same area that India had struggled to govern, the local population also figured that they had very little control over what exactly Beijing chose to deliver. The author assesses: “Arguably, [China’s] demonstration of invincibility, impeccable efficiency, and self-sufficiency had been too convincing (italics in original)… The Indian state, by contrast, was fragile and imperfect; but its tensions, its vulnerabilities, its reliance on the population, and perhaps its focus on relief and rehabilitation offered [the local people] more space to negotiate, criticise and make demands.”

Ms Guyot-Rechard’s fine book will be a reference work for all students of Sino-Indian relations. Finely judged and elegantly written, the book is illustrated with numerous photographs of that time and several extremely useful maps. Usefully, footnotes are placed at the bottom of each page, saving the reader the bother of leafing back and forth. My only production complaint is an insufficiently readable font – darker would have been better.