So near …. yet so far !
Vital aspects of the Dubai Air Show (for India)
Once more, Vayu brings to its readers an on-the-spot report from the recently held Dubai Air Show, with vital aspects highlighted for the Indian polity and professionals. Considering that Dubai (part of the UAE) has an overwhelming Indian presence in terms of people and prosperity, the absence of India’s Aviation industry and its products was surprising.
It is often quipped that “Dubai is the best city in India” and considering that there are a score or more direct flights between various cities in India and the Gulf region every day, the traveller from Delhi/ Mumbai/Hyderabad/Bangalore/Cochin/ Chandigarh to Dubai/Sharjah/Abu Dhabi can well be forgiven for feeling that way ! It takes about the same time from Amritsar to Chennai as from Trivandrum to Dubai and the traveller could well think he had arrived at another city ‘in India’ as he would most likely be greeted in his own language by the taxi driver or hotel manager.
So much for distances. Then the people. There are over a million Indians in the Gulf region, working for a living and repatriating part of their income to families back at home. Of course, Indians in Dubai (and the other Emirates) work shoulder-to-shoulder with those from other parts of the subcontinent, including Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka in seeming fusion (as also those from the Philippines, Korea, Vietnam and so on, only the latter do not take part in cricket matches) !
So why all this preamble when the article is about the Dubai Air Show ? Well, considering the logic of major Indian participation and presence at this event, there was strangely no official representation from India at this biennial world- class Air Show, the mandarins at South Block perhaps believing that it is the ‘other’ Show at Bahrain which is more vital to Indian interests in promoting hardware, software, technology, goodwill, exports …
However, those in India’s immediate neighbourhood thought otherwise. Pakistan’s Aeronautical Complex were arguably one of the biggest exhibitors at Dubai Air Show 2017, with a huge stand in the main hall, two aircraft types on static and aerial display, senior officers and men of the Pakistan Air Force conspicuous by their presence in large numbers (possibly flown to Dubai from home country and back the same day, just a couple of hours flight and so saving hotel costs). Flying display by the PAC/CAC JF-17 Thunder was impressive, the example on static display being from
No.14 Squadron (‘Tail Choppers’) whose exploits in both the 1965 and 1971 air wars have been enshrined in their history.
More on the JF-17 Thunder : foreign observers familiar with the programme have reported that the PAF have taken delivery of 14 Block II aircraft in 2017 thus completing the batch order for 50 (which have followed a similar number of Block I aircraft). There are now five units of the PAF operational on the Type, including Nos.2, 14, 16 and 26 Squadrons plus the Combat Commander School (CCS) at Sargodha.
The JF-17 Block III represents a definite progression, incorporating new avionics, modern EW Systems, increased payload and more sophisticated weapons, including Mk83 (1,000lb) and Mk84 bombs fitted with indigenous range extension kits (IREKs). The close relationship between Turkish and Pakistani establishments is illustrated by the likely adaption of Turkey’s Aselpod targeting pod system with a PACdeveloped data link. The Block III will have an airborne electronically scanned array (AESA) radar to replace the Block I/II’s older KLJ-7 fire control radar, and there could be retrofitting of earlier Block I/II aircraft with many of the enhancements.
The two- seater JF- 17B first flew at Chengdu in April 2017, having several modifications including a dorsal spine to house more fuel, compensating for the space taken by the additional seat. The vertical stabliser has also been modified with the swept tail housing components for a new three-axis fly-by-wire flight control system, the nose also enlarged to accommodate the AESA radar of choice.
The PAC also displayed their Super Mushshak piston-engined trainer which has done the manufacturer proud, being now operated not only by the home team (both Air Force and Army) but exported to some dozen countries with attendant advantages of profit and prestige. The PAF Wing Commander on site was exuberant in his description of this relatively simple but essential trainer which has the same engine (Textron Lycoming IO-540 V4A5 horizontally opposed 6 cylinder of 260hp) as had the HAL HPT- 32 which was grounded enmasse in 2009 because of fuelfeed problems.
The PAC Super Mushshak continues its exports success stories, with Turkey having ordered 52 aircraft and Azerbaijan 10. This follows orders by the Nigerian Air Force for 8 and Qatar for a similar number (see Vayu Issue VI/2017). Looking ahead, PAC are planning to weaponise the Super Mushshak, including with air-to-ground missiles and the installations of an electro-optical infrared system. Also on the cards is the integration of an indigenous forward-looking infrared
( FLIR), all of these systems giving this Swedish- origin, Pakistani- adopted basic trainer a completely new visage.
While on the subject of basic trainers, it was interesting to examine the B-250 Bader basic turboprop trainer which made its debut at Dubai Air Show 2017, its parentage announced as being Calidus LLC, an Industrial Machinery and Equipment Company located in Abu Dhabi but whose antecedents are traced to Brazil, and the Kovacs K-51 Peregrino trainer. Nonetheless, the B-250, in UAE Air Force markings, establishes a niche in UAE’s effort to become part of the world of aviation.
The Chinese industry, and Air Force, were well represented at Dubai 2017, with AVIC displaying aircraft, UAVs and a whole range of products in model form in their large stand. For the very first time, the PLAAF showcased their J-10 fighters, seven of them at that, with six of the ‘ August 1st Aerobatic Team’ carrying out impressive formation aerobatics at the Air Show. The Chinese fighter pilots, who were very much in ‘Top Gun’ mode, swaggered around the tarmac, clearly enjoying the attention and were quite relaxed in answering questions on their aircraft and programme. The J-10s were from the 24th Fighter Division based at Yangcum Air Base.
Certainly a major attraction of the static display line were the Chinese trio of armed unmanned air vehicles including the jet-powered Cloud Shadow being touted as a high-altitude, long endurance platform. Alongside was the Wing Loong II, the Chinese equivalent of the MQ-9 Reaper as also the earlier Wing Loong I, these having had their international debut at the Paris Air Show 2017. The Chinese UCAVs are already operational with the air arms of Iraq, Kazakhstan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE and there are reports that both Egypt and Jordan may have inducted these as well.
Clearly the Chinese are taking advantage of the Military Technology Control Regime (MTCR) rules which prevent proliferation of systems that can deliver nuclear biological and chemical weapons, thus staying the export of General Atomics MQ-1 Predators
and MQ- 9 Reapers. China’s Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC) have developed the CH-4 Rainbow while the Loong I is designated as GJ-1 in Chinese service. Because of the export restrictions, and China’s very low price (the CH-4 costs one-fifth that of an MQ-1), there is little doubt that there will be a proliferation of Chinese UCAVs in the Middle East in the years ahead. Also at Dubai was the Turkish Anka-S, a medium altitude, long- endurance unmanned air system to which has been added hard points to enable fitment of Roketsan Cirit laserguided rockets, and 10 examples have been ordered by the Turkish Air Force.
Flags of the Turkish Aerospace industries were also flying high at Dubai 2017, with three aircraft on static display and the T129 ATAK helicopter participating in the flying display. The latter, developed in conjunction with Leonardo, resembles the AW129 Mangusta in much detail but is fitted with Turkish-developed sensors, avionics and weapons. With 59 ordered by the Turkish Land Forces, there is clear interest in the type by Pakistan, with the country’s Prime Minister having been given a personal presentation during his visit to Turkey. Should the sale go through, it is likely that the T129 will be final assembled in Pakistan by the PAC.
Other Turkish aircraft on display were the TAI Hurkus turboprop trainer, whose splendid colour scheme resembled that of HAL’s HTT-40 turboprop trainer which is presently under development at Bangalore but clearly is ahead in terms of series production. Meanwhile TAI have begun flight testing the Hurkus-B, 15 of which have been ordered by the Turkish Air Force while development of the Hurkus-C, a light attack version with hardpoints for missiles and bombs, is proceeding apace.
Rounding off the Turkish display was a mock-up of its T625 six-tonne medium utility helicopter which has commonality with the T129 attack helicopter, much the same approach as HAL’s ALH has with the LCH.
The absence of India’s aviation industry and its products at the Dubai Air Show 2017 was remarked upon by many who
Aermacchi MB-339NAT jet trainers of the ‘Al Fursan’ aerobatic demonstration team of the United Arab Emirates Air Force at Dubai Air Show
Chengdu J-10s of the PLAAF August 1st Aerobatic Team
Explaining cockpit features of the Super Mushshak
Tail of JF-17 Thunder at Dubai
J-10 on static display at Dubai Air Show
‘Top Guns’ of the PLAAF Insignia of the Chinese display team
T129 ATAK helicopter on static display
The Chinese Wing Loong II at Dubai