Monday, March 21, 2011


February 2011

Neelam Mathews

Indian Air Force (IAF), the fourth largest in the world, is striving to match the pace of its modernization in step with India’s changing status in the global economic and security environment. With an escalating need for
India to project force beyond its troubled borders, the challenge for the IAF is to augment its reach and maintain its technological qualitative edge. In parallel with this commitment to qualitative measures of air power, the IAF also remains wedded to quantitative measures of strength. The IAF wants both numbers and quality.

Under implementation, the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) 2002-2017 seeks to acquire cutting edge technology, weapon systems and platforms. In a candid statement, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik said: “50 percent of equipment - including fighters, transport aircraft and air defence weapons - was obsolete, making the pressure to procure at a faster pace, more imminent.”

Lined up for induction over the next few years are new combat aircraft, military transport aircraft, utility and
attack helicopters, air-to-air refuelling (AAR) aircraft, basic jet trainers, intermediate jet trainers, new missile
systems and a host of other equipment to be acquired from both indigenous and foreign sources. On top of this, there is increasing emphasis on enhancing awareness of the battle space through the development of network centric warfare capabilities. The IAF is also embarking on a programme of new air base construction and is upgrading existing bases in strategic locations around the country as well.

Fighter Stream

The IAF, with many aircraft being phased out and a high accident/attrition rate, is currently down to having a fighter force of 33.5 squadrons against a sanctioned 39. The problem has worsened with the low serviceability of its fleet, the majority of which is of Soviet vintage.

Measures to rectify the dilution of the IAF fighter force are well in hand. In December last year, India and Russia concluded the preliminary design contract for their joint Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) project during Russian President Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to India. The cost of preliminary design is estimated at $295 million and India is expected to acquire around 250 aircraft to provide the high-end element of its fighter fleet.

The 30-ton FGFA based on the Russian Sukhoi T-50 PAK-FA, is priced at around $100 million. “It would be a swing-role fighter with highly advanced avionics, giving 360-degree situational awareness, stealth to increase survivability and smart weapons,” Indian Air Force Chief P.K. Naik said. Capable of covering long ranges without refuelling, it will have supercruise features along with advanced mission computers. The fighter will be a twin-seat aircraft for India and single-seat aircraft for Russia.

Once the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) materializes, hopefully at the end of this decade, the combat fleet of the IAF will include 270 Sukhoi Su-30MKIs acquired from Russia for $12 billion (both direct acquisition and license production), 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft to be acquired under an approximate $12 billion deal and 120 indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, in addition to upgraded RAC MiG-29s, Dassault Mirage 2000H/TH and Jaguar aircraft.

In 1983 the IAF envisaged an ambitious plan to manufacture the indigenous ‘Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)
Tejas’. According to the IAFs plan, the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) Aeronautical Development Agency-designed aircraft was to replace the ageing MiG-21 fleet. Delays in the Tejas programme have pushed back the phasing out the MiG-21s to 2015. However, Tejas finally received initial operational clearance (IOC) in January and that opens the way for the induction of the fly
into the IAF.

Only after the IOC can a “weaponised” aircraft be handed over to the IAF for squadron duty. The first four
aircraft will operate from Bangalore, to ensure teething problems, if any, could be rectified by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. The first two squadrons will be based at the Sulur air base in Tamil Nadu, said Air Chief Marshal Naik.

The IAF has plans to acquire a total of around 200 Tejas aircraft of which orders for the initial 20 have been placed. The current version of the LCA is equipped with the General Electric F404 engine, but India recently ordered 99 more powerful F414 engines from General Electric for the next LCA production batch.

Technical problems and programme delays have caused the cost escalation in the Tejas project. The final cost of the project is $1.3 billion against the initial cost of $730 million.

The six contenders for the 126-aircraft Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) programme include
Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, Lockheed Martin F-16IN, Saab Gripen, RAC MiG-35, Eurofighter Typhoon and Dassault Rafale. The IAF is closing in on the downselect phase of the procurement process, having completed the trials and technical evaluation phase. Discussions on the offset proposals of the various bidders are still to be held though. The first MMRCA is scheduled for induction in 2017 and the aircraft will be one of the mainstays of the IAF fleet for the following twenty years.

The IAF transport fleet comprises two Ilyushin Il-76 squadrons and five Antonov An-32 squadrons with poor serviceability record of less than 50 percent. The upgrade of 105 An-32s under a $400 million contract has already begun in the Ukraine. Modernization Transport Aircraft efforts aim at prolonging the life of the
aircraft to 40 years and increasing their operational payload from 6.7 tonnes to 7.5 tonnes, a new Israeli avionics package is installed in the aircraft.

As a supplement to and then eventual replacement for the Il-76 fleet, the IAF has signed a deal to purchase the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III, military transport aircraft. The IAF may soon exercise its options to buy more. Once the acquisition of 10 Globemaster III for $5.8 billion is completed, India will become the largest C-17 user outside the US, which operates 200+ C-17 aircraft.Other C-17 users are the UK (7 aircraft), Australia (4 aircraft), Canada (4 aircraft), Qatar (2 aircraft) NATO (3aircraft) and the United Arab Emirates
(UAE) that has six aircraft on order.

This transport aircraft is capable of operating from short, mud-paved landing strips such as those on India’s
borders and can lift 75 tonne payloads over strategic distances without refuelling. It can also transport a combat-loaded Arjun or T-90 tank, or a Chinook-sized helicopter. In terms of payload and range, the arrival of the C-17 will transform the transport capabilities of the IAF.

The IAF is adding to its US transport aircraft platforms and is acquiring six C-130J Super Hercules airlifters under a $ 1.2 billion deal. A total of nine IAF crews (18 pilots, nine loadmasters and nine combat system operators) are undergoing training in the US and the first five crews will complete their training by February. In addition, nearly 100 maintenance officers and technicians are also being trained.

On 17th December 2010, Lockheed Martin delivered the first of six C130- Js for the IAF and all the deliveries to India are to be completed by 2011.

Powered by four Rolls-Royce AE2100 engines, the C-130J is designed to support Special Operations Forces (SOF). The transport aircraft will be the backbone of anti-terror operations and will be used for special operations such as deployment of elite special force of National Security Guards (NSG) that operated during the Mumbai terror attack. The squadron operating the C-130J aircraft will be based at Hindon air base in the central state of Uttar Pradesh, close to the capital New Delhi. The infrastructure to station a squadron has already been established.

Indian transport aircraft needs are extremely large, as evidenced by the C-17 and C-130 acquisitions plus the
An-32 upgrade. There is IAF interest in acquiring more C-130J, but now a new contender has come into the
marketplace in the form of the Airbus Military A400M. Airbus Military says the A400M can fill a niche between the Boeing C-17 and Lockheed Martin C-130J that India is taking into service.

India is considering issuing a request for information for a transport aircraft that could transport large payloads
and land on airstrips without concrete runways. The A400M has a range of 2,450 nautical miles with 30 tonnes of payload, or 3,450 nautical miles with 20 tonnes of payload.

It would appear that the IAF is evaluating practically every transport option available at the present time. Furthermore, one should not ignore the Multirole Transport Aircraft (MRTA) programme that will see
the development of a new transport aircraft that will replace the An-32 in IAF service. The MRTA is a joint
venture programme between Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), the Irkut Corporation of Russia, part of
the United Aircraft Corporation, and Rosoboronexport.

The shareholders agreement for the MRTA joint venture company was signed in September 2010, with
the development cost of the aircraft, some $600 million, to be equally divided between the partner companies.
With a maximum take-off weight of 65 tonnes, payload capacity of 15-20 tonnes, cruise speed of 800 km/h and a range of 2,500-2,700 km, the MRTA will have two engines, full authority digital engine control, modern avionics and glass cockpit. Development and certification of the MRTA will take 6 years from the official starting of the project.

IAF rotary wing acquisition programmes have not really kept pace with operational requirements since the 1990s, but that situation is in the process of changing. This is due to the recognition that new helicopter capabilities are needed to meet the full spectrum of military requirements and the need to provide assistance to
civilian agencies in case of emergencies and natural disasters.

Comprehensive plans are being developed to add to the capabilities of the IAF helicopter fleet, much of which is still of Soviet origin, through upgrade programmes for existing equipment and the acquisition of new
equipment. Major programmes in the offing include the acquisition of dedicated attack helicopters, plus heavy
lift and medium lift helicopters. Existing fleet assets such as the Mi-17 multi-role helicopters and Mi-35 attack
helicopters will be upgraded, as a part of a plan underway is to renew assets over the next 10 years.

As a part of its new helicopter acquisition strategy, India has recently sent a letter of request for 15 heavylift
CH-47 Chinooks and 22 Apache AH-64D attack helicopters to the US government. The IAF is planning to
procure 22 attack helicopters to eventually replace its fleet of ageing Mi-35 attack helicopters.

At the end of December 2010, the US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of
a possible Foreign Military Sale of 22 AH-64D Block III Apache helicopters to India, along with related equipment and training. The complete package would be worth approximately $1.4 billion. DSCA says it notified Congress of the potential sale “so that, in the event that the Boeing-US Army proposal is selected, the United States might move as quickly as possible to implement the sale.”

If Boeing wins the competition, India will request a direct commercial sale of 22 AH-64D Block III Apache
helicopters, 50 T700-GE-701D engines; 12 AN/APG-78 Fire Control Radars; 12 AN/APR-48A Radar Frequency Interferometers; 812 AGM-114L-3 Hellfire Longbow missiles; 542 AGM-114R-3 Hellfire II missiles; 245 Stinger Block I-92H missiles and simulators; global positioning system/inertial navigation
systems; communication equipment; spare and repair parts; tools and test equipment.

The enhancement of IAF utility helicopter capabilities will also be progressed with the delivery of 80 Mi-17V5 helicopters beginning in March, under the terms of a $1.3 billion deal signed with Rosoboronexport in 2008.

These new Mi-17 will start to replace the existing fleet of around 150 Mi-8 helicopters in IAF service. Beyond this purchase of 80 Mi-17V5, there is an IAF plan to purchase an additional 52 Mi-17V5 helicopters. There is also an  intention to upgrade more than 50 existing IAF Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters
to extend their service life by ten years.

In terms of national helicopter programmes, the successful flight of the indigenously built HAL Light Combat
Helicopter (LCH) in 2010 has heralded the entry of India into a select group of countries capable of developing their own combat helicopters. The helicopter will be ready for induction only by 2014-2015.

Tanker Programmes

The Request for Proposals (RfP) for six tankers has been released twice over the past four years. In pursuit
of the IAF tanker programme two main competitors have emerged – the Ilyushin Il-78s and the Airbus
A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (MRTT). The IAF tanker deal is expected to have a value of around $2
billion. The IAF says it urgently needs an improved tanker to add of its existing tanker ing fleet of Ilyushin Il-78MKI tankers.

Last year, the Ministry of Defence cancelled an ongoing contract for tankers after the Finance Ministry raised objections to the high price of the Airbus A330 MRTT aircraft that had been selected for the IAF requirement. The competition to acquire an IAF tanker capability is now to be re-opened and once again Airbus will find themselves competing against Ilyushin for the six-tanker order.

With the IAF acquiring US aircraft, many of which use the flying boom in tanking operations rather than the probe and drogue system, which could change how the IAF looks at its tanker requirements. “With aircraft
such as the P-8I, and the C-17 on order, it makes logical sense for the [defence ministry] to ask for a boom on the centre line station and two probes on the wingtips in the RFP expected to come out soon on tankers.

“This will bring in a commonality of equipment,” an IAF official says. There is other AAR activity in India
to consider as well. After two years of joint development, HAL, Lockheed Missiles Martin and Cobham have developed an F-16 refuelling probe for the MMRCA program, to fulfil India’s requirement that the MMRCA to be able to use probe and drogue-equipped tankers.

HAL is expected to sell this AAR system to other vendors even if the F-16 is not chosen for the MMRCA programme.

Lockheed Martin could use the probe as part of the offset banking process for the six C-130Js being delivered to India. Most of India’s Russian fighters are fitted with the probe-and drogue system.

Basic Trainers

Over a year after the trainer fleet of HPT-32 aircraft was grounded following a spate of crashes and engine
failures, the IAF recently completed the field trials for its new initial trainer aircraft programme. The bidders
include the Beechcraft T-6C, Pilatus PC-7, Grob G-120TP, Airbus Military PZL-130 Orlik and the Korea Aerospace Industries KT-1. The IAF is looking to buy 75 aircraft with a possible additional 106 aircraft to be manufactured by HAL through technology transfer. India is anxious to make a procurement decision by March 2011.

The trainers will be stationed at the Air Force Academy in Hyderabad.

The RfP says that the first 12 trainer aircraft will be delivered within 24 months of the contract being signed.
The IAF plans to keep these aircraft in its inventory for at least next 30 years.

One of the basic requirements for the new aircraft is to have an ejection seat. In the last crash of the HPT-32
in 2009 in Andhra Pradesh, both crew on board were killed. The crash led to the grounding of the entire fleet of the trainers, which has reportedly had about 100 engine failures. The aircraft, made by HAL, has been in service for nearly three decades and had over 70 incidents between 1988 and 1995.

The grounding affected pilot training in the IAF, which is already short of  400 pilots. Usually around 140-150 cadets of the flying branch were trained on the HPT-32 and then graduate to the intermediate flight and weapons training aircraft such as the Kiran.

Last year, Minnesota-based BRS Aerospace, manufacturer of whole airplane parachutes, was contracted to integrate and help certify its parachute recovery systems for the grounded fleet of HPT-32s. Once BRS has completed the installation design, the company will work with HAL and the IAF to test and certify the customised whole-airframe parachute system.
The Integrated Guided Missile Defence Programme (IGMDP) sanctioned in July 1983 has come a long way since its inception. It initially consisted of the Agni, Prithvi, Trishul,Akash and Nag missiles and went on to add Project K-15. The Trishul programme failed, but new indigenous missile programmes, such as the Agni-V and Barak 8, have emerged to satisfy India’s continuing missile ambitions.

Being designed and developed by the Advanced Systems Laboratory in Hyderabad, Agni-V also known as Agni-III+, as almost 60% of the subsystems of the two missiles are similar, is a 3-stage, solid propelled,
canister-based missile with a Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRV) warhead, that
will bring India one step closer to developing its first true ICBM.

For the first time India is building a 3-stage missile. It has added an additional 1,000 kg in weight and five metres in height to the missile. To keep the missile weight in check, the entire 3rd stage and parts of the other 2 stages are being built from composites. With the material cutting stage completed in February 2010 and sub-system testing is currently in progress, Agni-V is India’s first missile to be equipped with a MIRV and this
will enable India to have a decisive second strike capability in the event of a nuclear conflict. It will also be the first strategic missile capable of canister launch allowing it to deployed and fired from remote corners of the country.

Designed for submarine launch capability, the Shaurya, is a twostage, solid propellant, missile that can reach speeds of Mach 6 at low altitudes. This missile is very similar to the Sagarika, a project for developing a strategic SLCM. The IAF is actively considering attaching Sagarika to its fleet of MMRCA to act as a  standoff missile.

The IAF will be the last force in the military to receive the Brahos cruise missile. The IAF variant weighs approximately 2,000kg and has a single booster onboard. This is because the missile will be launched from a fighter that is travelling at Mach 1.5. On launch the missile will free fall for about 150 metres, before its booster kicks in. The range of the missile is anticipated to be 290km.

The air-launched version of BrahMos will also be shorter in length than the other variants and have a selfstart capability. The ignition system has also been modified to enable the missile to be fired at high altitudes, says an official.

Two IAF Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft were sent to Russia in March 2009, as a part of the integration  programme for the air-launched BrahMos system. This saw carriage and firing trials for the missile completed. It is expected that the air-launched BrahMos will enter IAF service by 2012 and that 40 aircraft will be equipped to launch the missile. BrahMos is capable of being launched from multiple platforms such as submarines, ships, aircraft and land-based Mobile Autonomous Launchers (MAL).

One regiment of the 290-km range BrahMos-I variant is already operational with the Indian Army, while the Indian Navy has begun inducting the first ship-launched version of BrahMos. Plans are afoot to design a hypersonic version of the BrahMos with a speed of Mach 5-7 and a range of 290 km. It is expected that the missile will be ready by 2015.

The IAF is improving its air defence capabilities, having recently ordered 750 Akash medium range surface-to-air missiles from Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL); this $1.11 billion programme will see six squadrons
equipped with the Akash system. This follows on from an earlier order for 250 Akash missiles, valued at $240 million, placed in 2008. As well as the IAF, the Indian Army has also placed major orders for the Akash air defence systems. The launcher for the Akash system is built by Tata Power SED and is based
on a modified BMP-1 chassis.

As noted above, India has developed an air-launched version of the BrahMos cruise missile to provide IAF Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft with a long-range strike capability. However, there is another cruise missile
under development for the Su-30-MKI. Known as the Nirbhay, it will have three times the range of Brah-
Mos system. India is also intending to develop a ground-launched version of the Nirbhay system.

Nirbhay is an extremely ambitious programme and the system is designed to have an operational
range of between 800 km and 1,000 km. The Nirbhay is thought to weigh in the region of 1,000 kg and have a speed of Mach 0.7.

The Hyderabad-based Advanced Systems Laboratory, part of the Defence Research and Development
Organisation’s (DRDO), is currently leading the Nirbhay. At this point it is not yet clear which turbojet India
plans to use for Nirbhay. Another issue is that India has not said what kind of navigation and terminal guidance system it will use with the Nirbhay. Although there is a high likelihood that the Russian GLONASS
satellite navigation system will  be used, as India and Russia have reached agreement on providing
the high precision GLONASS signal to India.

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