Defence Manufacturing — Dawn of a New Era?

Panel discussion on the subject with Air Marshal NV Tyagi, former Deputy Chief of Air Staff, Behera of IDSA and self, broadcast on Thursday, Nov 16

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Strategic Importance of the Quadrilateral

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Stop the vilification campaign against Tejas

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(Tejas LCAs lined up on tarmac)

A planned vilification campaign is now underway against the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft programme. It has been initiated in newspapers and internet sites. Next one can see television — with TV channel reporters always ready for a joy ride in the Swedish Saab Gripen E (not NG) or the American Lockheed Martin F-16, talking down Tejas as they have done in the past.  (See, for example,,-not-enough-to-protect-Indian-skies-IAF-444423 and, in today’s Times of India —

This campaign is framed around a briefing by IAF and demanded by the NSA Ajit Doval who, supposedly, wanted some clarity on the single-engine aircraft the service is pushing for to, in quick time, enlarge a fieldable force of fighter squadrons.

Some of the comparisons of the 4.5 generation Tejas with Gripen and F-16 are laughable but swallowed whole by the Press and electronic media that don’t know any better. The IAF is dead set against the antique F-16. And unless the Modi government succumbing to Trumpian pressure (already evident in Mattis’ and Tillerson’s visits) compels IAF to buy this wretched old aircraft — and set back the indigenous defence industry by another 60 years, as last happened when the Indira Gandhi govt and IAF bought the Jaguar and killed off the Marut Mk-II in the ’70s), there’s no way, the F-16 will sport the IAF roundels.  So the fight really is between the home-grown and HOME-DESIGNED Tejas and foreign Swedish maal.

On the notional basis of the performance so far of the LCA operational ‘Flying Daggers’ 45 Squadron at Sulur Air Force Station, Tamil Nadu, these are the issues and figures given out which will be dealt with here ad seriatim. Mind you, so far there are 4 aircraft in the Squadron that have logged some 400 hours plus in the air. On this basis the Complaints are that:

Tejas logs 20 hours of maintenance per 100 hrs of flight per aircraft (Vs 3.5 hrs for F-16 and 6 hrs for Gripen.

Truth is right now the maintenance time is 14 hrs per 100 hrs of flight. But this is an entirely new aircraft with built-in diagnostic systems that are experience-driven. Meaning, the more the maintenance crews become conversant with the aircraft the less is the time they spend on upkeeping it. Moreover, the maintenance hours put in on aircraft is also a function of the confidence of the pilots in the fighter plane. An entirely new genus of aircraft necessarily results naturally in greater wariness of the pilots and their requirement that even the minutest doubts they may have be addressed. In other words, with more Tejas entering squadron service and more pilots becoming familiar with it on the basis of the sharing of piloting experience and technical solutions,  the less will be the demand for the kind of thorough maintenance the LCA presently is subjected to, and the maintenance protocol will be adjusted over time to trim the upkeep timeline. This is ABSOLUTELY NORMAL.

In contrast, F-16 is a 50-year old aircraft whose basic planform/architecture hasn’t changed a whit even as bells and whistles have been added periodically to “upgrade” the aircraft. It is as comfortable as your old pyjamas. And by which reckoning, perhaps, the IAF can call back the old Hunter aircraft — which was a wonderfully easy aircraft to fly and maintain. The Gripen E Saab is trying to sell to IAF has barely undergone speed taxi trials (meaning has never taken to the air). But because our military are institutionally inclined to accept anything foreign on faith — the Swedish item apparently evinces no worries.

Even more farcical is the IAF’s griping about “Endurance” — 1 hour for the Tejas Vs 3 hrs for Gripen and 6 hrs for F-16. Here, IAF is borrowing from the Indian Navy’s rejection of the naval LCA.

But the Tejas wing area (storing fuel) is larger [earlier typo, sorry] at 38.4 sq metres compared to 30 sq metres for Gripen. So how to explain the touted figures? Easy — compare apples and oranges! What is quoted for Gripen  is its ferry range, for Tejas the fully mission-loaded operational range at 0.7 Mach speeds. Is this fair? Further, if aerial refuelers are used the LCA range can be increased manifold (just as Gripen’s can be and F-16’s). This was proven when the Tejas flew to Bahrain for the 2016 Air Show with ONE refueling stop.

Even more ridiculous are the purported concerns about the Tejas’ lifespan– 20 yrs Vs 40 yrs for the Gripen/F-16.

The fact is the normal life of planes is 25-30 years, or 3,000 flying hours. The Tejas has been designed for FOUR TIMES this span at 12,000 hours! At 3,000 opl hrs is when the airframe of the LCA  will have to undergo strenuous tests to ensure there is no metal fatigue. BUT IN THIRTY YEARS MANNED COMBAT AIRCRAFT WILL BE FULLY EXTINCT. THEY ACTUALLY ALREADY ARE AS I HAVE REPEATEDLY POINTED OUT. So whether the Tejas lasts 12,000 hrs is hardly relevant. No more in any case than whether the F-16 will be mission ready in its 100th year with that mighty  repository of advanced technology — the Indian Air Force!!

One fervently hopes the Modi regime has enough sense to not buy the F-16 museum piece, and Doval to see that the Tejas is not being sidelined just so the purchase of the Gripen goes through. If IAF wants more combat aircraft quickly — farm out the production of the Tejas to the private sector that I have been suggesting for many years now. With two aircraft production lines at HAL and two, three or even four more lines with one each for Tata, L&T, Mahindra, and Reliance Aerospace (throw in the Adanis — if Modi is determined on it) — each rolling out 18 LCAs per year the IAF will have a large force of constantly improved and upgraded Tejas LCAs in less time than it will take to get the game up with Gripen/F-16. It will also once and for all shut down all excuses for looking abroad for “single engine” fighters.

And the comparable cost, clean configuration (i.e., w/o weapons, etc) : Tejas for $25 million, Gripen  $50 million and the rocking chair-ready F-16 at $100 million.


But the military services have realized that they can meet their craving for imported hardware by simply riding on Modi’s ill-thought out ‘Make in India’ policy. This is how the military is making nonsense of the PM’s basic idea by exploiting the slack in it. But PM Modi — advised by Doval?? —  is acting innocent of this ruse. Time to ask that such  procurement nonsense be stopped, Madam Defence Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman. And as first order of business instruct Vayu Bhavan to immediately cease THE VILIFICATION CAMPAIGN AGAINST THE TEJAS. And Messrs Modi and Doval better take note, unless they want history to remember them as dolts if not outright saps and suckers.

[Reproduced in The Quint on November 13, 2017,



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Ballsy Kim & his doings

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(Aegis CS firing a missile from a US warship)

Just been told (by a source) that North Korea has hacked into and made vulnerable the “open architecture” of the Aegis combat system (Baseline 7, Phase 1) equipping the three ‘Sejong the Great’-class destroyers of the South Korean Navy. A more advanced Aegis system is on board the 4 Kongo class destroyers of the Japanese Navy. All the Arleigh Burke class frigates and the Ticonderoga-class cruisers of the US Navy are armed with  the most advanced variant of the Aegis CS with  “new multi-mission signal processors, kill assessment systems, radio frequency upgrades”. The problem for the Japanese and US Navies is that with Pyongyang becoming familiar with the basic Aegis CS planform, all the ships with it have now to wonder how the North Koreans will utilize it to do what.

Obviously, the danger is greatest to the interception/interdiction capabilities of the Aegis interweaved with the US THAAD ABM units emplaced near the DMZ in South Korea. This to say that the hit rate is now considerably enhanced of all North Korean missiles — short-range, medium and longrange. According to an Israeli intel estimate the hwasong ICBM, powered by an Ukrainian rocket engine, fired on a flat trajectory can reach almost any targets in CONUS – continental United States.

This, of course, is apparently known to the US President Trump but hasn’t stopped him mouthing off on how he’d destroy all of North Korea if Kim decides on letting off a Hwasong. But Kim is not so foolish. He means to defang the American threats by holding Japan and South Korea hostage. Except, two things — the nuclear destruction of NoKo Trump promises will, radioactivity-wise, take out South Korea as well. And, in such a scenario, with very little left to lose, won’t it incentivize Pyonyang to  shoot repeated salvos of every nuclear-tipped missile it has in its inventory to variously nuclear strike Japanese islands and US island presences — Guam, Midway, Hawaii besides selected CONUS cities?

So, we are back to contemplating that fable of the big bad wolf threatening to blow the houses down of the little piggies. He has blown away the houses of two of them — Saddam Hussein’s in Iraq and Col. Muamar Gaddafi’s in Libya, the second house remain intact with the Ayatollah-led Iran but only until Trump upends the nuclear deal the Obama Admin signed with it, a situation Tehran may be preparing for in order quickly to show its nuclear colours with an explosive test, that will secure it its future, something Saddam and Gaddafi did not do. Only Kim Jong-un learned the right lesson and with China’s help in the main quickly installed itself as a N-weapons state that was not willing to take any guff from the Americans, nor fall for the trap of a negotiated settlement short of a full panoply of nuclear and Hydrogen bombs and weapon state status for itself.

So Trump can huff and puff all he wants but won’t change the extant basic reality — a nuclearized NoKo. And because Trump will not, CANNOT, act against Kim — US extended deterrence only works when the targeted country is only conventionally armed and doesn’t hold CONUS at risk, US’s security umbrella will soon be shredded. Thus,  prepare for Tokyo and Seoul taking their fates into their own hands, rather than trusting in the whimsies of a Trump and his successors in Washington — and acquiring nuclear weapons. As fast as their own inhibitions allow them to.

All this nuclear dominoe stuff was, incidentally, foretold in chapter 1 of my 2008 book — ‘India’s Nuclear Policy’!!

And, more on NoKo cyber capabilities  [which’s reported by Reuters, — Kim and his cohort have hacked into and stolen the designs of the HDW 209 as also the more advanced HDW 214 that the South Korean industrial giant Daewoo is manufacturing under license from the German major, ThyssenKrupp. My, my, this means Pyongyang has SoKo by its military balls — nuclear-wise, above water, and underwater. And, given the ease with which NoKo is now hacking SoKo defence-industrial networks, almost anything the US and the West will sell them by way of military hardware and advanced capability, is immediately rendered — what’s the word — infructuous?

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Modi govt writing finis to Tejas?

Image result for pics of Russian FGFA


All work related to designing and developing the indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft and its variants, including the right-weighted naval Tejas, has come to a stop at ADA and HAL. The plan was for the air force Mk-II version of the LCA Tejas light combat aircraft — a much improved version of the Mk-IA equipped with the indigenous DRDO AESA radar that Parrikar succeeded in forcing on the Indian Air Force to, in turn, lead in a natural progression to the follow-on advance medium combat aircraft (AMCA), which would also incorporate design features of the Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). The FGFA to be produced in India is to include the features the IAF wanted in it, such as the 360 degree radar surveillance and tracking, a two-pilot configuration (the IAF under Charlie Brown asked for, but better sense prevailed as Vayu Bhavan realized that would increase its RCS) and  even a new power plant. The Indian Govt has already invested in this collaborative project to the tune of some $1billion-$1.5 billion, and was cleared by then defence minister Manohar Parrikar in February this year.

This entire plan is now unraveling with the Modi govt, at IAF’s persistent prodding, doing a rethink on the FGFA despite enormous investment of monies and Indian effort into it. The HAL chairman T Suvarna Raju has written to defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman strongly pitching for the FGFA program, especially stressing the fact that India stands to gain very advanced technologies that no other country is prepared to transfer in full,  including computer source codes for every technology and feature in it, which will be the building blocks for the indigenous aerospace industry. (See )

The question is will Sitharaman display some little common sense and see that the F-16 and F-18 combo the US govt under Trump is pushing on Delhi supposedly to cement the “100 year” strategic partnership that Rex Tillerson offered as a means of containing China and maintaining peace in the Indo-Pacific/ Asia-Pacific region,  will take India back half a century in aerospace terms. That’s how old the Lockheed Martin F-16 and the Boeing F-18 really are. Agility-wise, the Tejas can run circles around the F-16 and F-18, what to talk of the Pakistan Air Force — flying the F-16 for the last 30 years — which no doubt, is licking its chops in anticipation of the IAF fielding its own F-16s, and once again making a grievous historic blunder of the kind that led to GOI, on IAF’s say-so, junking the Marut Mk-II in the early 1970s, buying instead the British Jaguar deep penetration and strike aircraft that cannot strike hard and penetrate deep at the same time, and ending the prospects of locally designed and produced combat aircraft and aerospace industry, and sealing the future of the country as an arms dependency.

Parrikar understood very well the importance of the LCA as lead-in hereafter to only Indian aircraft in IAF and Indian Navy’s inventory and resisted all overtures from the armed services in the direction of the FGFA rejection. Because let’s be clear what IAF’s enthusiasm for AMCA really is — it is a cover to ditch all indigenous aircraft altogether. Because without Tejas Mk-II and FGFA there’s no AMCA! This is the kind of brilliant tactical strategy the Indian military excels in — sawing off the limb of a tree the country is perched on. Parrikar saw through it, but lacked the guts to explain to Modi, stuck on simple-minded notions of ‘Make in India’  the importance of sticking with Tejas and marshaling all national resources into it, and going with the economical Su-30-Tejas variants option backed by FGFA as technology seedbed. But Modi went ahead and procured 36 Rafales from France anyway, preempting Parrikar’s correct choice of relying on augmented numbers of Su-30 upgraded to “super Sukoi” model, that would have resulted in a far superior Indian air order-of-battle than the hodge-podge fleet IAF will be fielding in the 2020s and beyond. God help the country.

Now what of Sitharaman? Her background is curious. A JNU product and, like many of this Leftist local university’ s alumni, she took to the opportunities offered by the big, bad, Western world like fish to water. She worked at a senior position in the American firm,  Price Waterhouse Cooper, in London, and as a producer at the British Broadcasting Corporation, requiring security clearance from the UK security services. Incidentally, was this background of no concern to the ruling BJP and GOI before she began climbing their ranks to now be the Union defence minister? So, it should surprise no one greatly if she speedily puts her signature on contracts to buy the obsolete F-16s and F-18s, 100 more or whatever of the Rafale, and similar, usually technologically dated, imported hardware from US, UK, France, Israel, et al the armed services keep pleading for.

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Takeaways from Tillerson’s visit

Rajya Sabha TV panel discussion programme — ‘The Big Picture’ broadcast yesterday Oct 26, 2017.

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Tillerson offers nothing new, just another bandwagon

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US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will be in Delhi Oct 24 to further what he says is President Trump’s new South Asia strategy. At a curtain raiser to the visit he made a speech at a Washington think-tank Oct  18 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

A bit grandly, he conceived, in effect, a 100 year partnership with India in the Indo-Pacific region to which he believes the “world’s center of gravity is shifting”, just so it emerges as a counterweight to China that, “while rising alongside India, has done so less responsibly, at times undermining the international, rules-based order.” Other than running FONPs in the South China Sea, that he alluded to, and talking up a “security architecture” that the Japanese PM Shinzo Abe exactly a decade back described as the “security diamond” involving  India, the US, Japan, and Australia, Tillerson said little of note, other than emphasizing America’s “constructive relations” with China.

Nor did he depart from the script on issues pertaining to the subcontinent. He made much of the fact that he had designated Hizb-e-Mujahideen as “a Foreign Terrorist Organization” without saying much about containing the most problematic India-centric terrorist outfit being run by the Pakistan Army’s ISI — the Lashkar-e-Tayyaba (LeT). And, he pushed into India’s lap the program for financing and running socio-economic development in Afghanistan, something the Trump Administration washed its hands off by saying it will not any more engage in “state building” projects. Meaning it will fight Boko Haram and Daesh-IS affiliates in Western Africa, station US Special Forces in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban there to a  standoff to the extent the US society is able to tolerate the unending return of American soldiers in coffins, and Washington is willing to fund such activity, but otherwise leave the Afghans (and the African states– Chad, Niger, etc) to their own devices in shaping a political order according to their respective native norms.

And on  the most important subject of transfer of advanced military technology, Tillerson did not budge a millimeter, referring to the minor sale of Guardian maritime surveillance drones as indicative of a changed, more catholic mindset,  of the US. Indeed, he offered the clearest statement by any US official yet about why India — designated “major defense partner” can expect no cutting-edge military technology, EVER. When asked by CSIS head John Hamre, the Clinton-era US Deputy Secretary of Defence about the Indian grouse about not receiving US military hi-tech, Tillerson said this, and ‘am quoting this in full, so people in GOI appreciate what was said:  “I think as everyone appreciates, the U.S. has the finest fighting military force on the planet, first because of the quality of the men and women in uniform – all-volunteer force, but they’re also equipped with the greatest technologies and weapons systems that are unmatched by anyone else in the world. So that’s an enormous advantage to our military strength, so we don’t provide that lightly, and that’s why we have such rigorous review mechanisms when we get into technology transfer.” In other words, India does NOT pass muster and therefore will not be allowed to avail of such technology. Modi, MEA and MOD, all of whom have put a lot of store by US technology, may wish to pay attention.

This is in line with what I have long maintained in my books and writings from the early 1990s, namely, that the US will not, for love or money let alone “shared values” — which the Secretary of State repeatedly stressed — risk eroding in any way the technological edge the US military enjoys over its counterpart forces the world over. And that India will have to be content with that stock of old and antiquated weapons, or non-lethal stuff like “aircraft carrier technologies”, namely the Electro-Magnetic Aircraft Launch system (EMALS) that is so unaffordably expensive the US Govt feels compelled to unload it on undiscriminating buyers, such as the Indian Navy, to help amortize the R&D costs of this system. So, in Tillerson’s words, what India will get are “Guardian UAVs, aircraft carrier technologies, the Future Vertical Lift program, and F-18 and F-16 fighter aircraft, … all potential game changers” and, MARK this reference, “for our commercial and defense cooperation”. “Commercial” is just that because EMALS makes no military sense, for the reasons elaborated in past posts and in my book ‘Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)’. This to say that being a “major defense partner” makes not a whit of difference to the level of technology India will be permitted to access.

The only anomaly here the “Future Vertical Lift Program”. This relates to one of two things — the follow-on to the tilt-rotor Osprey that was supposed to revolutionize the US Marines’ mobility, except the Osprey has witnessed no end to problems, especially for pilots when the plane transitions at 300-500 feet heights from vertical lift to horizontal flying. Or, it concerns a new combat helicopter. The fear I have is this: as Modi’s Rafale buy for IAF sidelined the Tejas LCA by robbing it of financing,  so will this helo project completely decimate the HAL’s Light Combat helicopter and ALH and its armed variant, Dhruv and follow-on indigenous programs.  Washington wants India to come in on one or both these programs with its money  — for COMMERCIAL reasons — but with absolutely no sharing of IPRs nor any technology transfer for any product developed, if it ever is, thereof. It will be Indian monies once again down a sink. That’s how foolish Washington estimates the Indian govt and military to be. After all, did Delhi not agree to precisely this when its funds kept alive Russia’s Su-30 program in the mid-90s? So why shouldn’t American defense companies not swill at the same Indian trough in the same way the Russians did?

Yes, India has to be part of an Asian security architecture, but  it has to be a security diamond MINUS the US, just as I have argued India should try and engineer a BRICS WITHOUT China, or BRIS. That’s the Strategic Vision Modi and Delhi should work to realize for India’s benefit, not latch on to every passing bandwagon as has become Delhi’s habit.


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