Sunday, May 31, 2015

News Roundup: INS Vikrant Undocking Push Back and Pinaka Mk-2 Trial

IAC-1 Bridge under construction in April 2015. Photo Courtesy: MoD

INS Vikrant Undocking Pushed Back to Monday June 1, 2015

Undocking of INS Vikrant (IAC-1) has been pushed back to Monday, June 1, 2015. The aircraft carrier was to have undocked on Saturday, May 30 on completion of phase 2 structural build up. In preparation, the carrier - which will displace 40,000 ton on completion, but currently weighs just 26,000 tons - was loaded with ballast and flooding of the bay dock initiated on Friday, May 29, 2015.  However, undocking had to be pushed back to Monday due to unfavorable tide, unforeseen accumulation of silt, and a problem with lowering the building bay dock gate, which was last operated when the ship was brought in a year-and-a-half ago.

All major equipment has been fitted into the vessel, which has now acquired the shape of an aircraft carrier, with a finished hull.

Following undocking, for the next year-and-a-half INS Vikrant would be fitted with abling, piping, accommodation facility, air conditioning and ventilation systems as part of Phase-2 construction.

The equipment fitted on the carrier will be operated only towards the end of Phase-2 construction. Basin trials will commence in 2017 for eventual delivery in end-2018.

IAC-1 was officially launched on August 12, 2013 with over 80% of the structure completed; the ship was fitted with its two LM2500 Gas Turbines developing a total power of 80 MW, diesel alternators capable of producing about 24 MW and main gear box.

Following launch, the ship was moved out of the building dock and positioned in the refitting dock for the next Phase of outfitting. (The building dock cannot accommodate over 20,000 ton displacement)

IDP Sentinel members can read more about IAC-1 at the link below.

Indian Aircraft Carrier (IAC) Project 71 (INS Vikrant) - IDP Sentinel

Pinaka Mk-2 User Field Trial

During a user field trial at Pokhran range near Jaisalmer on May 30, 2015 six Pinaka Mk-2 rockets successfully hit a target at 53-km range.

More trials are planned.

Pinaka rocket at Aero India 2015

Earlier, DRDO's Armament Research & Development Establishment (ARDE) completed development of Pinaka Mk-2 following trials at the Chandipur range in Odisha from December 9 to December 12, 2014. A total of 20 rockets were fired in the four-day-long trial to ranges of 20-60 km.

Extended Range (ER) Rocket Ammunition for 122 MM Grad BM-21 MBRLS

On an aside, Indian Army is planning to procure Extended Range Rockets for 122mm GRAD BM-21 Multi Barrel Rocket Launcher System (MBRLS).

On May 21, 2015, the Army released a RFI to identify probable Indian vendors who can undertake the above project. Closing date for vendor response is July 1, 2015.

IDP Sentinel members can read more about the Pinaka MBRLS see link below

Pinaka Multi Barrel Rocket Launch System (MBRLS) (IDP Sentinel)

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Why MoD Picked the Kamov Ka-226T 'Hoodlum' over the Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec

Ka-226T Photo Courtesy: Russian Helicopters

The Defense Acquisition Committee (DAC) on May 13, 2015 accepted Russia’s offer to build 200 Ka-226T light-utility helicopters under the Make in India initiative. The cost and other moralities are being worked out.

An official source told Janes that around 50 Ka-226Ts may be imported off the shelf to address immediate IAF and Army Aviation Corp (AAC) requirements.

HAL would likely license produce the aircraft in India with the Gurgaon based SUN Group, which has a tie-up with Russian Helicopters, manufacturing main Ka-226T parts in India, including fuselage, column and main rotor.

HAL hopes to achieve a annual production rate of 30 to 40 Ka-226T helicopters, steadily increasing indigenous content, achieving 30 percent within the next 3 to 4 years.

India and Russia agreed in principle to assemble Kamov-226T helicopters in India during Russian President Vladamir Pution's visit to India on December 11, 2014.

At a joint media interaction with Putin, Modi said, "I am pleased that Russia has offered to fully manufacture in India one of its most advanced helicopters. It includes the possibility of exports from India. It can be used for both military and civilian use. We will follow up on this quickly."

Follow-up quickly is just what the government has done, in a refreshing and reassuring change from the ways of the past.

Ka-226T vs AS550 C3

IAF and AAC personnel evaluated and approved the Kamove Ka-226T 'Hoodlum' and Eurocopter AS550 C3 Fennec as part of the procurement process for 197 light helicopters to replace aging Chetak and Cheetah helicopters in service.

So why did the MoD opt for the Ka-226T?

The biggest reason would have to be the Russian offer, made by President Putin himself. There is no parallel offer from Eurocopter.

Here are some other reasons that may have prompted the MoD decision in favor of Ka-226T

  • Being twin engine (Tubromeca Arrius 2G1), the Ka-226T is safer than the single engine (Turbomeca Arriel-2) AS550 C3.
  • Ka-226T's Turbomecca Arrius 2G1 engines are manufactured by France's Safran. HAL and Safran have an existing technical tie-up; they jointly developed the Shakti engine for HAL's Dhruv Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) and Light Combat Helicopter (LCH). The Shakti is a derivative of Safran's Turbomecca TM333-2B engine.
  • The Arrius 2G1, which is customized for the Ka-226, can reportedly use multiple grades of fuel without performance penalty. 
  • The Ka-226T engines can reportedly be restarted in 35 seconds; the AS550 C3 engine needs 45 seconds.
  • Ka-226T rotor blades can be folded back towards the tail boom, facilitating compact storage and easy transportation.
  • Ka-226T autopilot features four axis stabilization facilitating hovering, which is not case with AS550 C3.
  • The Ka-226T is bigger and heavier featuring more cargo space and 40 percent heavier payload (1160 kg vs 760 kg)
  • A helicopter with contra-rotating rotors is more stable in gusty winds such as those encountered in mountainous regions.
  • The use of contra-rotating rotors reduces rotor diameter, which facilitates higher max speeds


Saturday, May 16, 2015

Three Good Reasons for Indian Navy to Order Second Project 71 Aircraft Carrier

INS Vikrant model at DefExp 2014

According to The Hindu, Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) "has urged the Navy to place an order with it for a follow-on carrier of Vikrant-class." The CSL has reportedly committed to deliver the the follow-on Vikrant class carrier by 2022!

The Navy, however, wants its next home built carrier to be much larger than INS Vikrant; it wants a 65,000 ton, possibly nuclear powered, super-carrier that can operate heavy aircraft, such as AEW&CS platforms for more effectively protecting the carrier battle from enemy fighters and cruise missiles.

The Indian Navy (IN) currently operates two aircraft carriers - INS Virat and INS Vikramaditya. INS Virat's retirement in 2016 would reduce INs carrier strength to one. The Navy would then operate with a single carrier for at least the next 2 years, till INS Vikrant is commissioned in end 2018.

From 2019 onwards, for the next 10-15 years till the super-carrier is delivered, IN will operate two aircraft carriers. Factoring in the requirements for maintenance and refits, assured availability would be limited to just one.

The navy would need a third (reserve) aircraft carrier in order to operate two carrier battle groups, required to secure both the western and the eastern coasts. Reputed analysts like Ashley Tellis believe that India needs to monitor growing PLAN activity in the Indian ocean, which would be best done using a carrier battle group, not shore based aircraft.

A CSL official told The Hindu, "A follow-on carrier would be advantageous for the Navy, as there would be no time lost on detailed design, development of specialist material, technology, honing of skills of the workforce and so on. Since the Navy desires to operate two carrier task forces at any given time, it would be a good option to exercise."

Budgetary Constraints

There must be a good reason why the Navy has not shown interest in a follow-up Vikrant class carrier, and that reason could only be a tight budget! However, a solution to budgetary constraints may well lie in the inevitable project execution delays associated with new class ships in general and an ambitious super carrier in particular.

The super-carrier, which received its first budgetary sanction for design work during the May 13, 2015 DAC meeting, may not materialize for at least 20 years (2035) assuming it's nuclear powered, by which time the refurbished INS Vikramaditya would be heading towards the scrapyard. (Its 30-year designed life would end in 2041)

The following are three good reasons why the Navy's coveted super carrier could take a long time to join the fleet.

Extended Construction Period

INS Vikrant is expected to be delivered to the Indian Navy by end 2018, over 9 years after its keel was officially laid in February 2009. (Order for the ship was placed in 2002-03. Construction started in 2006, but stalled due to paucity of steel. It picked up pace after Defense Metallurgical Research Laboratory (DMRL) and the Steel Authority of India (SAIL) developed carrier-grade steel indigenously.)

Clearly, a first of its class 65,000 tonnes nuclear powered, super carrier capable of launching heavy aircraft using EMALS would likely take 10-12 years to build.

Extended Harbor and Sea Trial Phase

The Navy wants the new super carrier to be nuclear powered. That would require development of new nuclear reactors and propulsion system. Harbor and sea trials of such a nuclear powered carrier would take a long time. Longer perhaps than for INS Arihant, which was launched in 2009, and is still undergoing sea trials 6 years later.

Mastering CATOBAR air operations

Air operations on the new carrier which will feature catapult assisted T/O will differ substantially from air operations on INS Vikramaditya and INS Vikrant which feature ski-jump short take-off.  IN has no experience in designing a CATOBAR carrier. The last CATOBAR carrier that it operated, INS Vikrant, belonged to the Jurassic era of naval aviation. A new shore based training facility (SBTF) would be required.

For those who still think my construction period estimate of 20 years is an exaggeration, here is the clincher - What if Saint Anthony returns as the RM!!! Haaaah!


Make in India is fine, but how much sense does making a single ship of a class make? The IAF gets lambasted in the media for ordering just 40 Tejas LCAs, when it actually doesn't want any. Here we have the Navy ordering just one ship of a class that it designed for itself! And every one thinks the Navy is the smarter of the two services! 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

VRDE Developing Aero-Diesel Engine for UAVs - IDPS Exclusive!

IAI Super Heron HF at Aero India 2015 

Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (VRDE), Ahmednagar, Maharashtra plans to  develop an aero-diesel engine as UAV powerplant in collaboration with the Indian private industry.

The DRDO establishment has invited Expression of Interest (EOI) from Indian Industry/Organization for Joint Development of 200 HP Aero-Diesel Engine with an installed weight of approximately 250 kg.

The requirement is for a four stroke, four cylinder, inline arrangement, internal combustion, diesel engine fitted with propeller governor, turbocharger and 28V self starter, 5.6 kW alternator and FADEC controlled.

Rated power requirements are as follows

Sea Level: 195-205 hp
10,000 ft: 195-205 hp
20,000 ft: 145-155 hp
30,000 ft: 105-115 hp

Primary fuel should be ATF K-50, and secondary fuel, diesel. The total installed weight of the engine with  all its accessories should be around 250-kg

Best economy SFC at sea level sought is 210g/kWh

Heavy Fuel Advantage

Heavy fuels such as ATF K-50 and diesel have higher calorific value as compared to gasoline. Using a heavy fuel powerplant on a UAV can improve range and endurance. The downer is, HF engines weigh considerably more than gasoline engines.

Israel has pioneered the use of heavy fuel engine as UAV powerplant. Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) displayed its Super Heron HF UAS at Aero India 2015 in Bengaluru in February 2015.

Super Heron, which was first unveiled at the Singapore Air Show in February 2014, has a heavy fuel 200 hp engine that increases its rate of climb and performance.

Heron UAV - which is used by the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force - is powered by 1 × Rotax 914, 86 kW (115 hp) gasoline engine.

Here is an interesting insight. The Rustom-2 MALE UAV under development by DRDO/HAL is currently powered by 2 x Rotax 914 engines, each driving a twin blade variable pitch propeller. Yes, its the same engine that powers the Heron, as also many other UAVs including the US developed MQ-1 Predator.

A DRDO official told IDP Sentinel during DefExpo 2014 that a study is on to assess the feasibility of powering the Rustom-2 with a diesel engine. The similarity of the specs between the Super Heron HF engine and the one proposed to be developed by VRDE is interesting.

It's early days in the development cycle, so any speculation on the eventual use of the  aero-diesel engine developed VRDE would be highly speculative.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Analysis: Brahmos Block-3 LACM Test on May 8, 2015

Brahmos Block-3 LACM test on May 8, 2015

The Brahmos Block-3 LACM tested today (May 8, 2015) was likely the Block III Near Vertical Dive variant of the missile.

On October 16, 2014 Brahmos CEO Sudhir Mishra told The Hindu that a near vertical dive variant of the Brahmos Block-III missile was under development.

“We want to demonstrate a 'near vertical dive and surround' capability to take the enemy by surprise. While radars do not have 360 degree coverage in the mountains, we would like to show the missile taking a turn in the horizontal axis and decimating the target around the hill. We hope to do this in a year’s time,” Mishra said.

Brahmos Block-3 LACM test on May 8, 2015

The press release announcing the launch said:

The land-to-land configuration of BRAHMOS Block – III version was test launched from a Mobile Autonomous Launcher (MAL) for its full-range of 290-kms at 1310 hrs....

...Meeting all flight parameters including high level maneuvers, the supersonic cruise missile successfully hit the designated land-based target with desired accuracy, officials confirmed. 

The reference to the high level maneuvers may well be the 'turn around the vertical axis' that Brahmos CEO Sudhir Mishra told The Hindu about.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

DRDL Developing Long Duration High Power Ramjet

Brahmos-M side-by-side with Brahmos at DefExpo-2014

Defense Research & Development Laboratory (DRDL) Hyderabad is developing a high energy, long duration, solid fuel ramjet propulsion system.

The laboratory recently released a RFP for development of ceramic nozzle for the ramjet combustion chamber.

The throat diameter of ramjet nozzle directly affects the performance of ramjet propulsion system. Any erosion of ramjet throat adversely affect the ramjet performance. A ceramic nozzle would minimize erosion and facilitate long duration flight. Also, a ceramic nozzle would   ensure that temperature of metal casing and insulating materials remains within acceptable limits for long duration of operation of ramjet combustion chamber.

The configuration of the ramjet system is similar to the solid propellant ramjet - solid booster combo engine that powers the Akash missile.

The ramjet combustion chamber initially houses solid propellant for boost phase. In other words, the propellant is cast inside ramjet combustion chamber. The booster propellant is required to be configured in such a way that it acts like a nozzle less booster. Towards the end of boost phase, the ceramic nozzle will also encounter the combustion products of booster propellant though for a very short duration (0.5 sec). It is important that the ceramic layer of the nozzle bonds strongly with the propellant. If required a suitable suitable adhesive is used to provide required bond strength.


The requirement for high energy and long duration suggest a ramjet engine is being developed for a bigger and longer range missile than a Akash follow-up variant.

It maybe noted that Brahmos Aerospace is in the process of developing Brahmos M, a smaller 1.5 t variant of the 2.5 t Brahmos missile. Brahmos-M would be capable of launch from any medium fighter, ship based missile container, submarine torpedo tube or land based missile container. Brahmos M would require a smaller ram-jet engine than the one fitted on Brahmos. Also, in order to make Brahmos-M suitable for launch from submarine torpedo tubes, the missile would need a solid fueled ramjet instead of the the liquid fueled ramjet fitted on Brahmos.

Is DRDL de