ISRO Beams in Private Firm to Make Two Satellites for Navigation

Alpha Design Technologies, the private company which will build the satellites, is an INR 4 billion defense equipment supplier.

This is part of the Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) strategy to expand and augment private sector participation in the multi-billion dollar satellite industry. In the short term, private sector participation is expected to lessen the burden on ISRO and in the medium- to long-term drive innovation and job creation.

India needs around 17 satellites every year for meteorological forecasts, communication and other purposes. The larger, and more complex, satellites that are capable of multi-tasking, can weigh 1.5 tons and above. Given its current capacity, ISRO alone cannot meet the target. It needs two satellites on stand-by mode should something go wrong with its seven satellites in orbit.

“I think the requirement we are foreseeing is nearly 16 to 17 satellites per year that we have to make. So it is a really, really, quantum jump,” Dr M. Annadurai, Director of the ISRO Satellite Center, told the media.

The development has been encouraging and will create a situation where the private sector will take the lead in future and ISRO will just mentor multiple stakeholders, says Dr Mayank N. Vahia of Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research.

“While it’s been going on for some time, ISRO expanding its engagement and awarding sub-contracts to Indian private sector players is an encouraging development. The most significant part is that catering to ISRO’s demands will drive technological innovation, entrepreneurship, and lead to new avenues of job creation. All major countries like the US, Russia and others have gone through a similar phase where public-private sector partnership creates an ecosystem driving entrepreneurship and job growth. Many of the technologies and experience in assembling will be used in other spheres and applied in product creation and differentiation,” Vahia told Sputnik.

With increased engagement, the Indian private sector can overcome skill and resources gap in the future, Vahia adds.

ISRO captured global attention in February by releasing a record 104 satellites into space, many of which belonged to other countries.


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Army starts process to purchase 1500 anti-materiel rifles

The army has started the long-delayed process to procure around 1,500 anti-materiel lightweight rifles capable of damaging targets like battle tanks, low-flying helicopters and bunkers.

The rifles are being procured to strengthen the army’s overall infantry and will particularly help it in operations in Jammu and Kashmir.

A Request for Information (RFI) for purchasing the rifles has been issued today according to which the weapons should have a range of at least 1.8 kilometres with a calibre of 12.7 mm/0.50.

At present, the army is using South African weapons which are not very light and that is why, it was decided to procure the lightweight rifles whose weight will not be more than 15 kg each.

As per the RFI, the ammunition which should be available for the riffles include armour piercing incendiary and tracer, saboted light armour penetrator, armour piercing explosive incendiary and high explosive armour piercing incendiary.

The interested manufactures have been asked to respond to the RFI by May 15.

The procurement of the anti-materiel rifles has been long overdue after the government had scrapped a deal for it in 2005.

South African firm Denel was banned by the UPA government in 2005 after allegations that it had paid kickbacks to secure a deal with the Indian Army in 2002 to sell 1,000 NTW-20 anti-materiel rifles, along with 3,98,000 rounds of ammunition.

Under the deal, 700 rifles were to be purchased directly and the remaining 300 licence-produced in one of the factories of India’s state-owned Ordnance Factory Board.

Only 400 rifles had been inducted into the army and the remainder put on hold after the 2005 blacklisting.

An anti-materiel rifle (AMR) is a rifle that is designed for use against military equipment (materiel) than against enemy troops.

As per the RFI, in case of foreign vendors, the army asked them to explain whether they will be ready to offer transfer of technology (ToT) to the Indian industry for licenced manufacturing of the weapons. They have also been asked to whether ToT will be offered for sub-systems.

The manufacturers have also been asked to give details about cost of annual maintenance, product support package and training of the crew.

State-run Ordnance Factory, in association with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), had developed an anti-materiel rifle called Vidhwansak in 2007. The rifle was offered to the Indian Army but it chose not to induct it due weight issues.

By: ET

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India Doesn’t Require F-16s When it has the LCA Tejas

PM Narendra Modi’s visit to the US to meet President Donald J Trump is now on the front burner, with an emphasis on ‘deliverables’. If Delhi is keen on easing the H1B visa regime for Indian techies, Washington is eager that Modi sign up for the fourth generation F-16, a deal seen as ‘open sesame’ for endless future transactions on military hardware, and implement the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement.

If the fourth generation F-16 is the key, what does it say about India that the BJP Government is interested in an antique American combat aircraft, optimised for air warfare of the 1970s, as a frontline fighter for the Indian Air Force well into the 21st century?

The Lockheed F-16 and the Swedish SAAB (Svenska Aeroplan Aktie Bolag) JAS 39 Gripen are competing for the single-engined fighter slot in the IAF, a requirement casually conceived to fill the gap the indigenous Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), earmarked to replace the large numbers of the Russian MiG-21 as the bulk combat aircraft in the Air Force, has failed to meet. It is another matter that the delays suffered by the Tejas programme can be traced mainly to machinations to derail it, including frequent changes in specifications, and the ordering of the LCA in small batches to curtail economies of scale and deter HAL and private companies from investing in multiple LCA production lines. (See my ‘The Tragedy of Tejas’, February 17th, 2017). Despite starting with negligible technology and industrial capability, the LCA is operational, has impressed as a compact, multi-role, highly agile, fly-by-wire, 4.5 generation warplane, and can even become an export revenue earner for the country.

So, why isn’t Modi publicly hailing Tejas as a remarkable story of Indian grit, talent and technological innovation, and as a showcase for his ‘Make in India’ policy and the country’s capacity to design complex weapons systems? He should be ensuring that the IAF is invested fully in the aircraft, and that it is a runaway military and commercial success at home and abroad. Except, it turns out that, as Baba Kalyani of Bharat Forge observed at Aerospace India 2017, by ‘Make in India’ Modi probably means ‘Assemble in India’, and that too, any old piece of foreign equipment. The Prime Minister’s aim apparently is to draw American defence manufacturing companies to set up shop here, solidify India’s status as ‘major defence partner’ of the US, and use the F-16 (and possibly the Boeing F-18) to extract more ‘give’ from Trump on issues dear to him. The collateral benefits Modi espies are the firming up of the ruling party’s financial support base among NRIs in America (and the West generally), and enhancing his electoral appeal among the Indian middle-class.

It also suggests that Modi is reconciled to America not delivering on cutting-edge technologies, or committing itself to jointly designing and developing advanced armaments, a reluctance evidenced in the US Congress rejecting NATO-partner status for India and the India-US Defence Technology & Trade Initiative being a non-starter, with only technologically obsolete weaponry phased out by the US military—the M-777 ultra-light howitzer, the aged F-16 and F-18, etcetera—being offered for licensed manufacture.

The IAF has always liked the Gripen, the reason why Sweden jumped in with the E variant in the race against the F-16 Block 70. But both Gripen E, almost the same as the NG (New Generation) and Block 70, only another name for the ‘IN Super Viper’, had entered the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) sweepstakes, which Modi settled with his impulse purchase in April 2015 of 36 Rafales from France.

On a comparative basis though, which of these aircraft is superior? S Paul Kapur and Sumit Ganguly, in a piece, ‘F-16s, Made in India: Second Best may be Best’ in Foreign Affairs, while acknowledging that set alongside Gripen, the F-16 is ‘second best’, nevertheless argue that the American aircraft is the better buy because the benefits to India from dealing with the US, a great power, outweigh the gains from dealing with Sweden, a fairly marginal European state. Moreover, they claim, it’s a selection that will build ‘trust’ and ‘bind the two countries together’ in the larger geopolitical contest afoot against China. Allowing the assembly of F-16s in India is not the preferred option for America either, they maintain, as Lockheed would rather have India as a ‘customer’. And, after rubbishing the Tejas as under-powered, under-performing and not induction- ready aircraft, they aver that the F-16 or even the Gripen will reverse the trend of the Air Force’s supposed depleting squadron strength. But a ‘second best’ fighter plane for India in the context of the top- of-the-line Su-30s for strike missions and MiG-29s for distant air defence in the IAF inventory makes no sense unless Delhi agrees with Washington’s assessment of the Indian military as second rate and India as Third World.

An economic case for the F-16 was reportedly made by Ashley Tellis of Carnegie Endowment directly to Modi. Predictably, he greatly under- estimates the F-16 unit cost and lifetime costs, and exaggerates the size of the supposedly uptapped global market for 500 F-16s, and for spares for more than 3,500 of this aircraft operating worldwide. Also, his contention that the production monopoly of this aircraft immunises India against a US cutoff of critical items for the F-16, is iffy at best. But the knowledgeable Tellis can be convincing especially to an Indian audience predisposed to believe him.

The fact though is that with the up-front payment for the transfer of the F-16 assembly line to India and for the full complement of SKD and CKD kits for aircraft assembly, there’s no incentive for Washington not to shut down the F-16 or any other supply line at will should Delhi not conform to the contingent US policy interests. In light of Trump’s ‘America First’ outlook, there’s already some backsliding with Lockheed saying that 25 per cent of the production of F-16 spares and critical assemblies would be retained at its Fort Worth plant in Texas, which could be a precursor to its deciding that continued production of this aircraft in small numbers in the US serves its interests, just so workers don’t lose jobs and Trump is kept happy. In the event, paying an awful lot of money for a vintage aircraft and, instead of facilitating the country’s entry into the global supply chain, seeing the F-16 become an albatross around India’s neck, is a real prospect.

Then again, how does the Tejas compare with the other planes? According to the just retired LCA project chief, Commodore CD Balaji in an interview to Aeromag Asia, the LCA “is far superior to the MiG-21 in all aspects”, and “far ahead in terms of technologies and performance …to the Chinese JF-17 [flown by the Pakistan Air Force], and [is] at par with Gripen.” But which aircraft has the operational edge? In aerial warfare with Beyond Visual Range weapons, the ability to locate an adversary aircraft is of paramount importance, and here a fully loaded LCA has a lethal edge in terms of its very small radar cross section of 0.5 sq m. Relative to Gripen’s RCS of 0.7 sq m plus, and of between 3 sq m and 6 sq m for the F-16 and Rafale, the Tejas, is virtually invisible. Making the LCA stealthier still is the fact that 40 per cent of its body is made of radar-absorbing carbon composites versus 25 per cent for Gripen, and 10 per cent for F-16.

Moreover, armed with an entirely tested and proven all-Indian designed and developed ordnance suite of the Surdarshan laser- guided bomb, Astra air-to-air radar-homing missile, and outfitted with the Uttam Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, the Tejas weapons system is powerful. The weapons (like the French Meteor missile at $5 million each) carried by Gripen and Rafale, on the other hand, are all inordinately expensive and will incur very high expenditure to obtain and periodically to replenish the weapons stocks for the lifetime of the aircraft. Further, unlike Gripen E, which has yet to pull speed taxi trials, will enter Swedish service in 2020, and whose AESA radar has tested ‘unstable’, the Tejas has logged over 3,000 flying hours, successfully negotiated the most onerous flight regimes, and proven itself in war exercises in the air defence and ground attack roles.

Notwithstanding everything in its favour, including national pride, should the Tejas be sidelined, it will perpetuate India’s status as an arms dependency and mock the country’s technological ambition. If the F-16 is chosen, it will end up reducing India to a spear-carrier for the US. Were Gripen to get the nod, then as the long-time DRDO’s resident wit, the now retired rocket engineer, V Siddhartha punned, it will be because Modi believes in ‘SAAB ke saath, SAAB ka vikaas’.

By: Bharat Karnad

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Indian army chief arrives in Dhaka

A special Indian aircraft carrying him reached Dhaka airport Friday.

Indian Army Chief General Bipin Rawat has arrived in Dhaka on a three-day visit.

General Rawat is leading a four-member delegation, including his wife, and reached the capital on a special aircraft from India on Friday.

Major General Ataul Hakim Sarwar Hasan, Logistic Area Commander of Bangladesh Army, received the Indian Army delegation at the Bangladesh Air Force base Bangabandhu, at Kurmitola, reports BSS.

During his visit to Bangladesh, the Indian Army Chief will pay a courtesy call on President M Abdul Hamid, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and chief of three services and Principal Staff Officer of the Armed Forces.

He is also scheduled to pay visits to some military establishments, including a war field of the Liberation War in 1971.

The Indian army delegation is expected to leave Dhaka on April 2.

By : Dhaka Tribune

BHEL seeks ISRO as partner in aerospace foray

Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel) plans to collaborate with Isro for manufacturing space grade solar cells and partner for satellite launches.

State-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (Bhel) is planning to enter the aerospace sector.

India’s largest power generation equipment maker plans to collaborate with Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) for manufacturing space grade solar cells and partner for satellite launches. Bhel also plans to enter the maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) business for aircraft engines.

“Bhel has been supplying various components and systems for the satellites by Isro since 2002. While meeting the projected enhanced requirements of Isro, Bhel plans to enhance its engagement by manufacturing space-grade solar PV (photo voltaic) cells; on-board energy storage cells, which have been hitherto imported by Isro and packaged by Bhel as solar modules and on board batteries,” said a Bhel spokesperson.

“Bhel is also exploring the feasibility of manufacturing cells and batteries with Isro- developed technology for application in e-vehicles,” the spokesperson added.

Bhel is positioning itself as a transportation solutions provider, particularly in crowded urban settings, Mint reported in February. The company wants to become a turn-key metro rail end-to-end solutions provider and also manufacture electric vehicles such as buses, cars, two-wheelers and boats.

“We are talking to Isro for wider collaboration. We have signed an MoU (memorandum of understanding) with Isro for manufacturing heterogeneous solar cells, provided there is a business case for it. We are also looking at working with Isro for its satellite launches,” said a senior Bhel executive, requesting anonymity.

India’s power sector outlook is uncertain, with India’s current installed capacity of 314,642MW and projects under construction expected to meet the country’s electricity demand till 2026. This leaves Bhel with little choice.

“We have also been talking with defence ministry for the maintenance of aircraft engines,” said the second Bhel executive cited above.

Bhel has manufactured the compact heat exchangers for Tejas, the indigenously developed light combat aircraft inducted by the Indian Air Force last year.

“Business opportunities in the maintenance, repair and operations of aero-engines is also being explored along with OEMs (original equipment manufacturers),” the spokesperson said adding, “Under the ambitious diversification plan, Bhel, through its newly formed Defence and Aerospace Business Group, is vigorously exploring more opportunities in the aerospace business.”

Experts say the going will get tougher for Bhel.

“One large picture seems to be there will not be much of an uptake in conventional power sector in India in terms of establishing new projects. It is unlikely that there will be any demand for conventional power generation equipment that Bhel manufactures, either domestically or internationally. That leaves them with little choice,” said P. Uma Shankar, a former power secretary.

With an order book of Rs98,400 crore that has contracted by 10% compared to a year earlier, Bhel’s order inflow has become a cause of concern. The company’s paltry order inflow of about Rs1,300 crore represents a steep 79% fall from a year ago. The total order inflow for the nine months ended December was about Rs6,500 crore. While the capital goods manufacturer has a manufacturing capacity of 20,000MW per annum, its order inflow has trickled to around 6,000MW every year.

Queries emailed to the spokespersons for Isro and India’s defence ministry on Monday evening remained unanswered.

By: Livemint

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Strategic Push: India explores feasibility of connecting Tawang with Rail Network

  • Centre has asked Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju to explore feasibility of the rail network
  • It takes 18 hours from Guwahati in Assam to reach Tawang through road

Giving strategic interests a further push, the Centre is exploring feasibility to connect India-China border district Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh with the railway network.

The Centre has asked Minister of State for Railways Manoj Sinha and Minister of State for Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju, who is also an MP from Arunachal West seat, to explore the feasibility of the rail network in the remote area.

The two ministers will tour the state on Saturday to study the viability of connecting Tawang with Bhalukpong which is the last station of Indian Railways on Assam-Arunachal Pradesh border.

Sinha and Rijiju will be visiting Arunachal Pradesh from April 1 in connection with commencement of final location survey of new broad gauge line connecting Bhalukpong with Tawang which is a distance of 378 kilometres.

It takes 18 hours from Guwahati in Assam to reach Tawang through road. Guwahati is the nearest major city and citizens of Tawang depend on it for any medical emergency.

Other new broad guage railway lines which will be part of the survey will be 249-kilometre North Lakhimpur-Bame -Silapathar which is between Pasighat airport and Rupa in Arunachal Pradesh.

Sinha and Rijiju will also be meeting citizens, elected representatives and senior railway officers during the visit.

Tawang is of immense strategic importance to India as it is located on the China-India border and China has been laying claim to it.

China claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of Tibet and routinely objects to any visit by top Indian leaders, officials and diplomats to the area.

It had recently objected to a proposed visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh.

The government has said the Dalai Lama is going to visit the state as a religious leader+ and there is no reason to stop him as his followers are demanding he should come.


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India, Russia make progress toward Ka-226T helicopter production

India and Russia have drawn the road map for the joint production of Kamov Ka-226T light utility helicopters in the South Asian country, kick-starting the $1 billion program.

“With the road map now in place, the production of Kamov 226T helicopters has formally taken off,” said a top executive of the state enterprise Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, which was the production agency nominated by the two nations.

Gopal Sutar, the chief of media communications at HAL, said: “The helicopters are to be produced through a joint venture company as per the intergovernment agreement between the two countries in October 2016, and the road map for the acquisition is finalized.”

The joint production of the helicopters in India now awaits formal approval by Russian President Vladimir Putin, which will lead to the new production entity Indo-Russian Helicopters Private Limited.

Russian government-owned Rostec Corp. will own a 49.5 percent stake in the new entity, and India’s HAL will own the remaining 50.5 percent. Thereafter, the Indian Ministry of Defence will issue a single-vendor tender to Indo-Russian Helicopters Private Limited, which will then submit its technical and commercial proposal within six months.

While some analysts say the price of the helicopter remains an concern, the top HAL executive said the issue will be sorted out in the technical and commercial proposal.

Bharat Kumar, a defense analyst and retired Indian Air Force air marshal, said the intergovernmental agreement would have already provided a time frame for the delivery of 40 helicopters by Russia and the supply of kits, subassemblies and so on. “I am more than sure that the agreement would also have indicated the price and other financial details, including share holdings in the joint venture,” he added.

Under the $1 billion deal for 200 Kamov Ka-226Ts, India will buy 60 helicopters in fly-away condition from Russia while another 40 will be assembled in India and the remaining 100 fully built in India.

The manufacturing will take place at a new complex in Tumkur near HAL’s Bangalore helicopter complex.

“Apart from production, the plan also includes setting up repair and maintenance facilities to provide faster support to the armed forces,” the HAL executive said.

However, the overall composition of the Ka-226T helicopter in regard to components and systems remains a concern, according to Baldev Singh Pawar, a retired Indian Army lieutenant general and former director general of Army aviation.

Pawar said the engine and some “key systems and avionics have been sourced by the Russian company from the global market,” adding that Russia continues to be under U.S. sanctions.

An Indian MoD official insisted “all the obstacles will be cleared,” but did not provide details

India needs a light utility helicopter to replace its aging Cheetah and Chetak helicopters produced under license from France.

“The Cheetah and Chetak continue to be reliable and heavily used helicopters despite their age. The imperative to procure a replacement has as much to do with the growing requirement for light helicopters as creeping obsolescence of the existing light helicopter fleet,” offered Vijainder K Thakur, a defense analyst and retired Indian Air Force squadron leader.

Although the Ka-226T program is making progress, the MoD has not quashed its requests for information that it floated separately in 2014 for the joint development of light utility helicopters for the Indian Navy and Air Force; and in this India may keep its options open for the procurement of light utility helos from other sources.

By: Defense News

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