22 Januari 2010
F-35 STOVL version (photo : Lockheed Martin)
New Delhi. The India-US defence cooperation seems to be steadily growing with Washington now offering its latest Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) F-35 Lightning-II aircraft to India. But in the long run, there could be limitations over issues of Transfer of Technology (ToT) that India mandates now for major arms deals.
Representatives of Lockheed Martin, which is developing the aircraft, have indicated in the past that the aircraft could be available to India if the Indian Air Force (IAF) opted for the F-16 Super Viper in its quest for some 200 Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCAs) but recently, the company made a presentation to the Indian Navy without this condition.
Lockheed Martin’s Vice President for Business Development Orville Prins told India Strategic defence magazine that a presentation about the aircraft was made to the Indian Navy recently after it expressed interest in the newer generation of aircraft for its future carrier-based aircraft requirements.
The Indian Navy is buying 45 Mig 29Ks for the Gorshkov, or INS Vikramaditya, which it will get from Russia in 2012 and its first indigenous aircraft carrier. But for its second indigenous carrier, and possibly more in the future, the Navy is looking for a newer generation of aircraft.
Although the best of the weapon systems in the US are developed by private companies, the funding for their research and development is provided by the Government which exercises full control on the resultant products and their sale to any foreign country. ToT is a serious issue and in most cases, technology, particularly source codes, is not shared even with Washington’s best allies in the West or East.
Lockheed Martin apparently made the presentation to India after authorization by the US Department of Defense (DOD), but Prins pointed out that the F 35 could be sold only after clearance from the US State Department, for which bilateral negotiations between New Delhi and Washington would need to be held once India expressed interest.
The US is steadily emerging as a new supplier of sophisticated arms to India, which urgently needs to replace and augment its mostly outdated Soviet-vintage systems with high technology weapons of the 21st century.
Beginning 2002, when an agreement for the sale of 12 Raytheon’s artillery and short-range missile tracker system, the AN/TPQ 37 Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) was signed, the US has supplied systems worth nearly $ four billion. But over the last few weeks, the Indian Ministry of Defence has sent firm orders, or Letter of Request (LoR) for 10 C 17 Globemaster III strategic lift aircraft for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and 145 Bofors M 777 ultra light howitzers the Indian Army badly needs for its mountain operations.
The competing gun from Singapore Technologies lost out as the company was mired in allegations of corruption in an Indian Ordnance Factory Board scam.
Originally a Swedish company, Bofors was purchased by the US United Defense in 2000, and later acquired by the US arm of BAE Systems. In fact, as the US Administration had imposed restrictions on the sale of military equipment to India after the 1998 nuclear tests, President Bill Clinton went out of the way to allow United Defense- Bofors an exception to sell its guns to India if the Indian Army opted for them.
The Indian Army is badly in need of various types of artillery guns, and keeping in mind the developments in the neighbourhood, the Indian government recently cleared the acquisition of this ultra light howitzer in a government-to-government deal under the US Foreign Military Sales (FMS) programme. The gun has been deployed with excellent results in the rugged mountains of Afghanistan. Made with titanium alloys, the M 777 is about 40 per cent lighter than a standard gun and can be easily transported under-slung by a helicopter.
Originally a Swedish company, Bofors has been much maligned in India due to the allegations of corruption in the sale of its 155 mm FH 77B guns in the mid-1980s. Operationally however, these guns played a significant role in India’s victory in the 1999 Kargil War to evict Pakistani intruders from the Himalayan heights on the Indian side of the border. India has also deployed the gun at the highest battlefield in the world at Siachin.
Ferrying them to those daunting heights in parts and then assembling them has been a terrific job by itself for the Army.
Boeing C-17 Globemaster (photo : Jefflewis)
LORs for both the C 17 and M 777 have been issued only in the past couple of weeks.
India has less than 20 IL 76 Soviet-supplied Il-76 aircraft, which will mark 25 years of their induction in April 2010.
Although a fuel-guzzler, the IL 76 has served the IAF well and still has a residual life of 10 to 15 years with some periodic modifications as the IAF has utilized it carefully. Manufactured in Uzbekistan, which was a part of the Soviet Union, the IL 76 is now out of production and most of its existing serviceable units have been acquired by China.
There is no matching aircraft to replace the IL 76, the closest being the C 17, although bigger aircraft are available from both the US and Russia.
The C 17 has nearly double the capacity of an IL 76, but according to Air Marshal Goel, a veteran of IAF’s transport fleet, full load on an aircraft is never really carried as it hinders its range and fuel capacity. Unlike the IL 76 though, the C 17 can be refueled midair for much longer flights, and needs only two pilots and one loadmaster for operations, that is half the crew of what the IL 76 requires.
Despite its massive size, the C 17 can take off and land on unpaved grassy fields like a football ground at very steep angles, an important capability in battle conditions.
Lockheed Marton C-130J Hercules (photo : Benallsup)
Notably, IAF had also placed an order for six C 130J Special Operations aircraft with an option for six more in 2008 with the US Lockheed Martin. A smaller aircraft than the C 17, it is also very capable and can operate from small grassy fields to quickly get away after loading or unloading. Lockheed Martin has offered to transfer the manufacturing facility to India if 40 or 50 aircraft are ordered for military and civil use, particularly in the mountainous north-east regions.
The Border Security Force (BSF) is also considering to buy one or two C 130Js, albeit without some specialized systems that the IAF needs.
The JSF is a fifth generation aircraft, to be used by the US Air Force, Navy and Marines, and perhaps will be the last manned aircraft by that country before unmanned, high-powered long-range drones and helicopters fully take over the skies by the middle of this century. The USAF is already conducting joint manned and unmanned combat operations in Afghanistan, clearly indicating the gradual transition underway.
The unmanned systems, controlled from airbases in the US itself on the other side of the globe, are both reconnaissance and armed, and their use has increased in the recent years to neutralize terrorists in the troubled mountainous region on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistan border.
F 35 is a single-engine, single-seat stealth aircraft, being developed with several foreign partners to help reduce development and production costs, and is still being tested for its varied capabilities. It will be available in conventional takeoff and landing mode as well as in short-take-off-and-vertical-landing (STOVL) for carrier landings. Thanks to the numbers, it could cost as low as $ 50 million only per unit, or the price of a modern Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) despite its highly advanced features.
The JSF 35B conducted its first STOVL propulsion test in flight for the first time on Jan 7 last week at the Naval Air Station (NAS) Patuxent River, and it will be some time before it goes into production. Its programme partner countries include Britain, Italy, Netherlands, Canada, Turkey, Australia, Norway, Denmark , Singapore and Israel, all of whom would possibly supply some components, and investments.
Whether India joins the production programme or not is an open question, depending upon the numbers required. The Indian Navy cannot have a large requirement and the Indian Air Force is already committed to buying the similar but perhaps more expensive Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) to be jointly produced by Russia’s Komsomolsk-on-Amur Aircraft Production Association (KNAPPO) – which produces SU 30 jets – and India’s HAL.
The Russians have done substantial work in this regard, and hope to fly its single seat version by 2015-16 while the IAF hopes to induct its two-seat version by 2017. IAF wants the second seat “missionised” for weapon operations for the co-pilot, a practice that the Israelis have also opted for in their F-16 aircraft.
China, which has been accused of stealing technology by Russia, is also trying to develop a 5th generation fighter.
In any case, it’s a question of time when the environment in the strategic Indian Ocean region, and around India, is filled by the likes of stealth and futuristic aircraft.
The Americans had proved to be unreliable in the 1960s when they made several promises for equipment after the Chinese aggression on India and did not fulfill them. The geopolitical realities have perhaps changed and they are willing to offer some of their best technologies.
The US is steadily opening its stable of sophisticated weapons to India. After the sale of Raytheon’s WLRs, which was actually the first combat system under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) received from the US after India’s nuclear tests in 1974 and 1998, the US has also sold eight highly advanced Boeing P8-I Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA) to the Indian Navy to patrol the Indian Ocean. The aircraft is still under development, and significantly, will be available to the Indian Navy nearly at the same time as to the US Navy, which has paid for its development.
This was preceded by the transfer of an old amphibious ship, USS Trenton, renamed INS Jalashwa, and its six onboard Sikorsky utility helicopters at nominal costs for the Indian Navy.
Boeing P-8 Poseidon (photo : Nemesiscom)
The P8-I is the most hi-tech system yet to be acquired by India, and according to Boeing’s Integrated Defense Systems India Head, Dr Vivek Lall, “its sale is unprecedented” in terms of US transfer of technology.
In August last year, another US arms major, Northrop Grumman, also offered its futuristic Hawkeye 2-D combat management aircraft to the Indian Navy. This aircraft is also under development and it India opts to buy it, then this system will also be available to the Indian Navy nearly at the same time as the US Navy.
The P8-I deal is the biggest yet at $ 2.1 billion, while the other major deal for C 130Js has been placed at nearly $ one billion.
The deal for the 10 C 17s, which was formally announced by Boeing from Long Beach. California on Jan 8, could be bigger than that of the P8-Is, depending upon the configuration and requirements of the Indian Air Force. No details are available.
Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper (image : Lockheed Martin)
Notably, Boeing and Lockheed Martin have also fielded their respective F/A-18 Super Hornet and F-16 Super Viper combat jets to India in the six-cornered MRCA competition, but the US is also adding other sophisticated systems like the Lockheed Martin’s Aegis shipboard anti-missile system, which had been used two years ago to shoot down a satellite in space with precision as part of an apparent technology demonstration.
Orville Prins said that presentation on the Aegis system had also been made to the Indian Navy and the Ministry of Defence.
On offer are also some of the best precision missiles and engagement systems from Raytheon, which does not make any platforms but builds onboard capabilities. Sources say that it is also offering its latest Airborne Standoff Radar (ASTOR), which is perhaps the latest in Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) technology, to India. The system has been fielded in Afghanistan by the British forces only llast year.
Notably, most of the combat systems with the Indian Armed Forces are either old or outdated. For instance, except for the Su 30MKI combat aircraft, all the fighter and transport aircraft with the Indian Air Force are at least 20 years old.
Onboard precision engagement technology is the key to modern warfare and defence.
The US has that. But how far India goes in buying the US systems will largely depend not only on the technology and price offered, but also on the Transfer of Technology (ToT) that most major deals now warrant as a policy.
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India Looks at KC-767
21 Januari 2010
Boeing KC-767 tanker aircraft (image : Australian Aviation)
India has requested information from Boeing on the KC-767 tanker after the Indian Finance Ministry cancelled an order for six Airbus A330 based MRTT tankers last month.
The request is for six KC-767s potentially valued at US$1.5bn (A$1.62bn), with Indian defence officials telling local media that they “urgently need refuellers” and that they intend to “speed up the acquisition process”.
The KC-767 is in service with Japan and is due to enter service with Italy this year after a delayed development process.