Monday, January 27, 2014

The Andaman Tragedy: Authorities Were Aware of Overcrowding, Flouting of Safety Norms

The jetty at Port Blair, Andamans on December 30, 2013, unsafely overcrowded. Photo © Copyright: Vijainder K Thakur

The news this morning about the tragic sinking of a ferry in Andaman Islands was painful and frustrating for me, more so than such tragic incidents normally are. The ferry was taking tourists from North Bay to Ross Island.

During a recent visit to Andaman Islands our family experienced dangerous overcrowding at the jetty at Port Blair and in the boats that ferry tourists to North Bay and Ross Islands, as also blatant flouting of safety norms by boat masters.

On the Port Blair jetty on December 30, 2013, there was just one police constable to oversee boarding of ferry boats by hundreds of tourists. As the jetty gates opened, the constable made an effort to maintain order, beseeching tourists to form a line, but the constable's efforts were soon completely undermined by tour operators who openly encouraged their parties to jump the line. Eventually, the constable beat a retreat and chaos prevailed on the narrow jetty with hundreds of people including women and children jostling to board the ferries on a first come, first serve basis.

An American lady broke into tears seeing the mob like crowd; I and my wife did our best to reassure her that she was in no danger. We may have done a better job had the danger not appeared palpable to us also.

Boarding a ferry was a nightmare. The sea was rough causing docked ferries to rock 2-3 ft as travelers climbed on to them. The stairs leading down to the ferries were wet, making them unsafe for many tourists who were overweight, old, or women with children in arms. To make matters worse, two to three ferries were docked abreast against the jetty forcing travelers to negotiate one or two rocking ferries before finding a seat. (You know which ferry the first to reach sat down in.) I saw at least one overweight and elderly lady totter and recover as she tried to step on from the wet stairs to the rocking ferry. A fall may well have split her brains out!

All the ferry boats, including the one that we traveled in, were overloaded. I was among the dozen or so passengers who rode the boat standing. I counted the life jackets and estimated there was 25% shortfall. Later, when I tried to wear one life jacket I could only partially secure it.

I am not the activist kind. I am reconciled to the corruption and lawlessness that prevails in this country, in my country. It takes a lot to provoke me into reporting something to authorities. In the past, on a few occasions, I have reported jaw dropping wrong doings, both while serving in the IAF and post premature retirement in the civil street. On all occasions, I ended up wasting time. (While in the IAF, I reported a contractor who put a briefcase full of cash on my table. Nothing happened to the contractor or any other personnel in the unit. No investigation was ordered. I was posted out. The unit was in Delhi, my first posting to the Indian Capital, and I was told I needed to get used to how things work here!)

What I observed during my boat ride from Port Blair to North Bay was blood curdling. It was a disaster in the making; people could die, I felt. Suspending my well founded cynicism and fatalism about our country, I took time off from my vacation to report the matter to the authorities.

Following the ferry ride from Port Blair to North Bay, I went up to Sub Inspector KN Mistra, SHO Bambooflat, who was on duty at the beach during the morning hours on December 30 and reported that the ferry that I traveled in was over crowded and had more passengers on board than life jackets. Also , on arrival at North Bay, passengers were transported from the ferry boat to the beach in boats without any life jackets. I filed a written report.

Later, I followed up on the report and was told by the SHO that he had filed an FIR based on my report, having investigated the matter and confirmed the veracity of my statements from other ferry passengers.

On return to Port Blair that evening, I and my wife met with Deputy Resident Commissioner Vinod Kumar, at Andaman Information, Publicity and Tourism building and made an impassioned plea that the authorities needed to do something otherwise there would be tragedy. I apprised him of the FIR based on my written complaint and told him all that I had observed. The official assured me he could look into the issue, but added that such crowding was probably one off and highly unusual. Having been a part of the government, I realized that Shri Vinod Kumar wasn't likely to do anything.

I had once again wasted my time.

(I had planned to use Thumkar exclusively to express my opinion on military matters. Please bear with this blog; a one off exception.)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Textron Plugs FMS Sale of Bell 407 as 197 LUH Procurement Alternative

According to PTI, the US firm Textron has pitched procurement of its Bell 407 helicopter through FMS as an alternative route for meeting India's requirement for 197 LUHs, tendering for which has been stalled for the second time as a fallout of bribery allegations in the recently cancelled deal to purchase 12 AW-101 VVIP choppers from AugustaWestland.

Bell helicopters has been pitching the Bell 407 to India for a while without fanfare, as is evident from this. photo showing the helicopter flying unannounced during evening hours at Aero India 2013.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Rafale's Heavily Armed Configuration in Indian Context

Rafale in its heavily armed configuration. Photo Credit: Dassault

The Rafale was recently tested for the first time in its heavily-armed configuration, comprising six air-to-ground precision AASM Hammer missiles, four medium and long range air-to-air missiles from the MICA family, two very long range METEOR missiles, as well as three 2,000 liter fuel tanks.

Rafale has 14 hard-points, including 8 under the wings, and is the only fighter capable of carrying a load that is 1.5 times its own weight.

Two Rafale aircraft represent the same potential as six Mirage 2000 aircraft.

Its payload capacity and the mix of weapons that it can carry, give the Rafale a lot of versatility and firepower. From the outset, Dassault pitched the Rafale as a swing role fighter to India capable of performing interdiction and interception during the same sortie.

The question is - How relevant is a swing role fighter to the Indian context. Launching an aircraft heavily armed with air-to-ground and air-to-air weapons is most effective when the airspace is uncontested, as was the case for allies in Libya and Iraq. In a conventional Indian war against Pakistan or China, airspace on both sides of the border is likely to be heavily contested. Attacking aircraft are very likely to be challenged by enemy fighters. A heavily armed swing role aircraft would be forced to jettison its weapon load frequently in such an environment resulting in a lot of wasted missions.

However, a swing role aircraft would come in pretty handy in a Kargil like situation, where the airspace in the area of operation is uncontested, because there is no conventional war underway.

The fact that the IAF has opted for the Rafale could be a pointer to the types of wars that it expects to fight in the future.

Kargil did happen and could happen again. Indeed, another Kargil is more likely to happen than a conventional war across the international border. This is true even in the context of China. Swing role fighters could well save the day in case large portions of Arunachal Pradesh were to fall to the PLA following quick mobilization and attack.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Defence R&D - Organizational Restructuring or Change in Culture?

Tejas LCA at Aero India 2013. Photo Credit: Vijainder K Thakur

Defence Innovations in India - The Fault Lines, an Occasional Paper written by Dr. Laxman Kumar Behera, a research fellow at the Institute of Defense Studies and Analysis (IDSA), makes interesting reading.

The Occasional Paper reviews India's performance, especially the performance of the Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and conclusively proves  it has been dismal. The paper uses unimpeachable parameters - patents granted and value of import substitution achieved (negligible) over the past two decades - and reliable data published by Indian government's sources and reputed foreign institutions to reach its conclusions.

The author attributes the uninspiring performance to, among other factors, the poor quality of scientists employed by DRDO, low R&D spending by public sector defense industry giants such as HAL and BEL, and practically no R&D spending by shipyards and Ordnance Factories (OFs). The lack of R&D culture in shipyards and OFs makes it difficult for them to even absorb technology, either painstakingly developed by DRDO or procured at great cost from abroad as happened with Arjun MBT and Scorpene submarines production, the paper points out.

After an incisive analysis the author surprisingly concludes that higher organizational restructuring is the way out of morass! The paper ends with a banal plug for the creation of the Defense Technology Commission first proposed  by The Rama Rao Committee (RRC), constituted by the MoD to review the functioning of DRDO, in its report - Redefining DRDO - submitted in March 2008.

Interestingly, a recent op-ed in The Hindu has Ashok Parthasarathi, former S&T adviser to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi and Secretary to the Government of India, in several S&T departments, explaining why the creation of a Defense Technology Commission would not address the shortcoming in the functioning of Indian Defense Industry.

The author completely overlooks increased accountability, focus on proven past excellence  achieved in missiles, fighters, warships, tanks and submarines development,  improved management and the employment of world class scientists being paid world class salaries as the way forward.

Trying to master the entire spectrum of defense production all at once is what we have been attempting to do without any discernible success. Where is the imperative to produce all armament indigenously? We are not an isolated country with great power ambitions, as Russia was and China is. Thanks to our foreign policy, we have the option to buy our weapons from multiple sources, all of good repute.

Self sufficiency in defense production should be a long term goal not an immediate one. Keeping ourselves adequately armed to ward of threats from China and Pakistan is a more immediate goal.

The correct approach would be keep buying excellent weapons from abroad, while progressively funding domestic excellence in armament production. For example, after its notable success with the LCA, ADA should be funded and pushed to work on the LCA Mk-2 and the AMCA projects. Funding ADA makes more sense than funding HAL's participation in the FGFA project, in view of HAL's poor performance in producing fighters.

Nirbhay Cruise Missile Capability Analysis

Nirbhay Cruise Missile Debut Test on March 12, 2013. Photo Credit: DRDO

The second test of the Nibrhay cruise missile is due (The Hindu had reported on November 24, 2013 that the test would take place in December 2013) on Friday, October 17, 2014 and this post presents a recap and analysis of the missile's reported capabilities.

The debut test of the Nirbhay cruise missile on March 12, 2013 was aborted after about 20 mins of flight. A DRDO statement following the test said, "After travelling approximately mid-way, deviations were observed from its intended course.  Further, flight was terminated to ensure coastal safety."

Following launch from a road mobile launcher, the first stage rocket booster separated, the second stage turbojet engine starter fired, and the engine attained full thrust; the missile reached a cruise speed of 0.7 M (460 k or 900 kph).

The missile is reported to have successfully navigated to two waypoints and was flying at a height of 4.5 km when the mission was aborted.

The test was planned to the max range of the missile, which is 1,000 km. The missile successfully covered half the distance, proving many of the critical systems of the missile such as vertical launch and boost, tip over to horizontal flight, engine light up and cruise at max turbojet power. DRDO correctly labels the test as a partial failure.

Nirbhay's Reported Capabilities

Nirbhay is projected to be a terrain hugging (30m AGL) stealthy cruise missile capable of delivering different warheads as per mission requirement.

A DRDO official told the press that the missile would be capable of carrying 24 types of warhead.

On March 11, 2013 The Hindu reported that the Nirbhay is capable of dropping bombs and coming back. The missile cruises at 500-m to 1-km and has a cruise speed of 0.67M.

A DRDO missile engineer told The Hindu of Nirbhay, "It will cruise in the atmosphere like an aircraft and it is capable of travelling up to 1,000 km. The biggest advantage with Nirbhay is that it can be launched from land, air and sea. It is a potent system. ”

An unnamed DRDO official reportedly told The Hindu in March 2012 that the Nirbhay will be able to carry multiple payloads and engage one of several targets.

“Even if there are multiple targets, it can pick out a target and attack it. It is a loitering missile; it can go round and round a target, perform several manoeuvres and take it apart. It has precision, endurance and accuracy. It is an important missile,” the official said.

Flight Profile

Nirbhay takes off vertically from a road mobile launcher using its first stage solid rocket motor booster. As it reaches 500-m to 1-km, it archs to a horizontal flight path and accelerates. On burn out, the first stage motor drops off and the second stage turbo-jet engine powered by aviation kerosene lights up. The missile then cruises to its target at a speed of 0.67 Mach.


Nirbhay has no LO shaping, though the missile has a clean design and a recessed, shielded air-intake to reduce radar signature, like in the US Tomahawk CM.


Loitering Missiles

Typically, a loitering missile can fly a search pattern over a wide area for identifying targets and relaying their location back to the command center, where these targets are engaged by direct attack PAMs or by other assets.

Toward the end of its mission, or when a priority target appears, the missile brakes out of its search pattern and attacks the target.

The Nirbhay's loitering capabilities are likely inspired by those of the Tactical Tomahawk or RGM/UGM-109E Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM Block IV). The missile has network-centric warfare-capabilities - it can use targeting data from multiple sensors (aircraft, UAVs, satellites, foot soldiers, tanks, ships) to find its target and its sensors can send data to these platforms - which allow it to be re-targeted during a loiter. Instead of attacking target coordinates stored in its memory, the missile can be directed to attack fresh co-ordinates uploaded in realtime.  The missile entered service with the US Navy in late 2004.

The TLAM-D carries 24 canisters containing 166 bobmlets (7-ea in 22 canisters and 6-ea in 2 canisters).  The missile can perform up to five separate bombing runs dispensing two canisters, one from each side, at a time during a run, allowing it to attack multiple targets. However, typically the missile dispenses all 24 canisters sequentially from back to front to ensure the density of bomblets on target is adequately destructive.

The DRDO official who reportedtly told the press that the missile would be able to carry 24 types of warhead was likely referring to this capability.

Nirbhay's Loitering Capability

A loitering ability at a range of 750 km would require reliable satellite based communication link, something India doesn't have yet. Besides, loitering deep in enemy territory would make the missile susceptible to enemy defenses.

For loitering to be effective, it would have to be from a height where the missile will be an easy target for enemy air defenses.  The missile's reported max speed of 0.67 M or approximately 400 kts should make it an easy target, despite the LO features, were it to loiter in contested airspace.

It's likely the Nirbhay will have separate versions, like the Tomahawk, for strategic (single nuclear warhead) and tactical (multiple munitions) use, with only the tactical version using loitering capabilities.

It is possible that the Air Force satellite GSAT-7A will give the IAF an ability to control the Nirbhay right through to its limiting range.

Most likely the Tactical version of the Nirbhay will operate at limited range so that it can remain effectively networked, with AWACS providing a high bandwidth data link.

Recoverable Missile

DRDO scientists have alluded to the Nirbhay having an ability to engage targets and return.

Even if the missile is capable of being recovered, like the Lakshay-2, it would be limited to a few reuses. The cost of recovering the missile and subjecting it to rigorous testing for reuse would likely be close to the cost of a new missile if it is being produced in large enough quantities.

Fitted with a nuclear warhead, Nirbhay's loitering capabilities makes no sense and it's low cruise speed make it highly vulnerable.

It is possible that the ability of the missile to return is a reference to a recall of the missile, but no reuse.

For additional details about the Nirbhay missile, please visit the link below

Nirbhay Cruise Missile - IDP Sentinel

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Work Starts on Fathebad Nuclear Reactor as India Aims for 20,000 MW capacity by 2020

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh being briefed about the project model, at the foundation stone laying ceremony of the Gorakhpur Haryana Anu Vidyut Pariyojana (Nuclear Power Project), in Fatehabad, Haryana on January 13, 2014. The Governor of Haryana, Shri Jagannath Pahadia and the Union Minister for Social Justice & Empowerment, Kumari Selja are also seen.

The Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, laid the foundation stone of the 2,800 MW Gorakhpur Nuclear Power Reactor Complex on January 13, 2014, taking India another step closer to achieving its nuclear power generation goals.

India currently operates 20 commercial nuclear power plants with a total installed capacity of 5,680 MW.

The installed nuclear power capacity will reach 10,080 MW by the year 2017 on progressive completion of projects under construction. The XII Five Year Plan proposals envisage start of work on 19 new reactors with a capacity of 17400 MW.

Planned Reactors

The details of nuclear reactors planned to be constructed within the XII Five Year Plan are:

Indigenous Reactors

 Project        Location Reactor Type  Capacity (MW)
 Gorakhpur, Units 1&2 Gorakhpur, Haryana PHWR 2X700
 Chutka, Units 1&2 Chutka, Madhya Pradesh PHWR 2X700
 Kaiga, Units 5&6 Kaiga, Karnataka PHWR 2X700
 Mahi Banswara, Units 1&2 Mahi Banswara, Rajasthan PHWR 2X700
 Fast Breeder Reactor, Units 1&2 Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu FBR 2X500
 Advanced Heavy Water Reactor Site to be decided AWHR 300

LWRS with International Co-operations

 Project        Location Reactor Type  Capacity (MW)
 Kudankulam Units 3&4 Kudankulam, Tamil Nadu LWR 2X1000
 Jaitapur Units 1&2 Jaitapur, Maharashtra LWR 2X1650
 Chhaya Mithi Virdi Units 1&2 Chhaya Mithi Virdi, Gujarat LWR 2X1100
 Kovvadda Units 1&2 Kovvada, Andhra Pradesh LWR 2X150

Reactors Under Construction 

A total of  9 commercial and one prototype reactors are currently under construction.

Four 700 MW PHWR reactors at Gokhpur (Fathebad) in Haryana
One 1000 MW VVER reactor at Kudankulam. (Unit-1 started commercial operations in January 2014)
Two 700 MW PHWR reactors at Kakrapar in Gujarat (KAPP 3&4).
Two 700 MW PHWR reactors at Rawatbhat, near Kota in Rajasthan (RAPP 7&8). [Construction started on July 17, 2011]

In addition, Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam is building a 500 MW prototype fast breeder reactor at Kalpakkam.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Tejas LCA: Brilliant, but not cheap!

Tejas LCA at Aero India 2013

HAL has reportedly priced the first 20 Tejas LCA, now under production in Bengaluru, at Rs 162 crore each. ($25 million at current exchange rate.) The price tag looks very impressive when compared with the reported price tags for the upgrades of IAF Mirage 2000 ($45 million ea.) and MiG-29 (Rs 87 crore ea.) per aircraft.

One reason why the Tejas is priced so low is because HAL is not including development costs in the price tag. HAL didn't develop the aircraft, ADA did and the Indian government footed the development costs. On the contrary, Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 manufacturers are upgrading the aircraft on India's request and exclusively for India; the unit price of the upgrades reflects a hefty development cost.

Considering India's limited industrial base and consequent need to import many of the critical components featured on a fighter like the Tejas, lower production cost for Indian developed weapon systems is a myth; it defies logic.

At comparable skill levels, the cost of an employee in India isn't significantly lower than in developed western countries. If you factor in the inefficiency and the perks associated with employees working in the public sector, employee cost is likely at par.

Also, foreign help in developing a weapon system like the Tejas (ADA sought foreign assistance for overcoming slow speed handling issues, obtaining IOC and strengthening the undercarriage for the Naval variant.) doesn't come cheap even after the pound of flesh implicit in such assistance.