Monday, March 21, 2011


Asian Defence and Diplomacy
Neelam Mathews
March 2011

Indian Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik addressing
a press conference in Bengaluru at Aero India
summed up the India Air Force plans for increasing numbers,
replacement and capabilities upgrade under what he
termed as “four pillars.” These include ‘See’ (surveillance
through satellites and Airborne Early Warning Systems),
‘Reach’ (air-to-air refuelling), ‘Hit’ (air-to-surface missiles)
and ‘Protection’ (protection of these assets with surface-toair

The Indian Air Force has repeatedly voiced concerns on
the depletion of its squadrons with the shortage of aircraft
in the fleet expected to last through till 2014. Naik created a
flutter when he said the mother of all contracts, the 126 Medium
Multi Range Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) order would
be announced by September this year. The six contenders
for the MMRCA programme include the MiG-35 from Russia,
the Lockheed Martin F-16IN and Boeing F/A-18E/F
from the US, the Saab Gripen from Sweden, the Dassault
Rafale from France and the Eurofighter Typhoon.

“The CNC (Cost Negotiation Committee) is likely to
start in a week or two. Taking that as the datum and giving
(CNC) another six-eight months, the contract is likely
to be signed in September,” said Naik. However, he added
a postscript- “unless dissatisfied vendors put spokes (in)…
then it will take its own course.” Naik was alluding to the
politics likely to come into the fray.

However, the last stage for evaluationis a review of offset obligations that
have not as yet been submitted. “So adelay is inevitable,” says an OEM.
Naik also assured everybody that the much delayed upgrade deal for
around 50 Mirage 2000H/TH aircraft would be signed by March. The Indian
Air Force is looking at extending the life of the Mirages by 20 years
with updated avionics, integration of advanced multimode pulse doppler
radar and fire-and-forget missiles. The Mirage 2000 upgrade programme is to
be jointly conducted by Dassault and Thales of France, along with Indian
Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Other features of the upgrade include modern glass cockpit, a new electronic
warfare suite and sensors.

The increasing use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) is also a prime
area on the Indian Air Force shopping list, according to Air Chief Marshal
Naik. “There is an increasing use…we do not like to call them UAVs. We prefer
to call them Remotely Piloted Aircraft, since they need an extensive use
of manpower. As technology improves the military is increasingly looking at
them,” he added.

Tankers And Trainers

Vociferous on the rejection of the six Airbus Military A330-based Multi-
Role Tanker Transport tanker/transport aircraft, a programme that is now
being rebid with the Russian Ilyushin Il-78 as the competitor. Naik said the
tanker chosen by us was found to be too expensive. “It has delayed (purchase
of) more tankers,” he added.

The A330 has advantages compared to the Il-78, says a defence official. The
A330’s cruising speed is higher and the commonality with civil aircraft
makes its maintenance hassle free. Its range of 15,000 km compares well
with the Il-78’s 9,000 km. It can also simultaneously carry 292 passengers
while fuelling aircraft.

The Indian Air Force Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) programme meant to
replace the old Kiran trainers, will receive its initial operational clearance
by July this year, according to Naik.

The IJT is a Stage-II trainer for pilots who will then go on to graduate to the
Hawk advanced jet trainer. The IJT with a maximum take-off weight at
5,100 kg, including 1,000 kg of armaments on five hard points, has a speed
of 750 km/h, and can also carry drop tanks.

The present ageing fleet of over 100 HPT-32 (Hindustan Piston Trainers)
have suffered a spurt of crashes, leaving India to depend on its second
line of limited trainers. The Air Force Academy near Hyderabad grounded
the HPT-32 basic trainer aircraft and was forced to train pilots on the higher
performance Kiran Mk II aircraft.

The HPT-32 trainers have a take-off speed of around 200 km/h versus the
Kiran’s at 500 km/h.

India is anxious to make a procurement decision on its trainer fleet by
March 2011. In 2008, the Comptrollerand Auditor General (CAG) of India
had noted that the IAF was facing an acute shortage of pilots and lack of
quality training. It attributed this to the lack of adequate state-of-the-art
training aircraft with the IAF. This is being addressed with the bids for
basic trainer aircraft that have completed trials.

The Request for Proposals (RfP) for 75 basic trainers; includes a possible
additional 106 aircraft to be manufactured by government-owned Hindustan
Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) through technology transfer. The contenders
include the Beechcraft T-6C military trainer, Pilatus PC-7, Grob G-120TP,
Airbus Military PZL 130 Orlik and the Korea Aerospace KT-1. Word has
it the downselect has already been made. The CNC is expected to start in
a month.

Changes and Futures

With many older ageing Russian aircraft being retired, Naik said: “We
have only one squadron of the MiG-21Type 77 left.” The MiG-21 era might
be coming to an end, but now the Indian Air Force (IAF) is moving on to a
much more challenging generation of combat aircraft.

“The difficulties in joining this programme (Fifth Generation Fighter
Aircraft - FGFA) are over,” said defence
minister A.K. Antony, a day before Naik’s press conference, of
the joint collaborative project with Russia. Naik reconfirmed: “We are
looking for a fifth generation aircraft. We are looking for an aircraft which
is capable of super-cruise, capable of very potent long range weapons,
capable of higher level of avionics, which are not there in a fourth generation
aircraft. 2017 is the expected induction date. Our plan is to have
about 200-250 of them, not more.” He added that the IAF wanted most as

The government wording for the
RfP for the Jaguar engine deal, for
which Honeywell and Rolls-Royce
are the bidders, has become controversial
with Rolls-Royce pulling out
of the competition to provide engines
for 120 aircraft (each Jaguar has twinengines,
so over 240 engines are required).
This coincidentally followed
Naik’s remarks that the RfP is for a
re-engining programme rather than
an engine upgrade programme. The
Rolls-Royce solution for the IAF Jaguar
programme was to upgrade the
existing Adour engines, last year they
said that an upgraded Adour would
minimise aircraft integration issues
and utilise the existing Adour infrastructure
at HAL. It is not clear why
the RfP took a different approach.

The decision on the acquisition of
nearly 350 helicopters of different
models is also likely to come to a conclusion
within the next month, says
Naik. The $600 million procurement
to acquire 22 attack helicopters to replace
ageing Mi-35 helicopters, with
flight trials completed by the two
contenders (the Mil Mi-28 and Boeing
AH-64D Apache), is moving towards
its final phase.

Modernization plans for IAF
heavy-lift and medium-lift helicopters
is also moving towards finalisation,
confirmed Naik. The IAF is also
acquiring 12 AgustaWestland AW 01
VVIP helicopters that will be delivered
shortly, with 80 Mi-17 IV helicopters
being inducted this year with 50
more to be added. Flight evaluation is
left for 12 heavy-lift helicopters, the
bidders for which include Boeing’s
Chinook and the Russian Mi-26.
Candid on the indigenous Light
Combat Aircraft (LCA) Naik said
concerns were there. “Quality is an
important issue…(it) is a concern.”

While the MoD has given the LCA
the operational clearance, the IAF
will now work towards attaining
Final Operational Clearance (FOC)
for the aircraft, expected by the end
of 2012. The IAF will deploy the
aircraft at one of its bases in Bengaluru.

The next development of the
LCA, the LCA Mk2, will be ready
for operational service by the end of
2015, according to Defence Minister

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