Vayu Aerospace and Defence
INS Vikramaditya arrives in India
The Indian Navy’s new acquisition, the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, sailed into the Indian Ocean Region in early January 2014, a unique occasion for the Indian Navy as this was only the first time since 1992 that the Navy has operated two aircraft carriers together.
The 44,500-tonne carrier reached the end of its 8500 nautical mile voyage, without entering any other port enroute, arriving at INS Kadamba in Karwar on the night of 7 January 2014. INS Vikramaditya, under command of Captain (Commodore) Suraj Berry, had earlier been received at sea by a flotilla from the Indian Navy’s Western Fleet, led by the fleet commander Rear Admiral Anil Chawla. The flotilla consisted of the aircraft carrier INS Viraat, two Delhi- class destroyers including INS Mumbai, three Talwar- class frigates INS Teg, INS Talwar and INS Trikand, a Godavari- class frigate INS Godavari, plus a number of offshore patrol vessels including the INS Subhadra.
The Vikramaditya, which translates as ‘Strong as the Sun’, will now undergo a four-month integration phase with its air wing comprising MiG-29Ks and Kamov Ka-31 helicopters. The Vikramaditya is also to be equipped with Surface to Air Missiles and Close-In Weapon Systems in the coming months, and is expected to be fully operational by May, 2014.
XVII (Mountain Strike) Corps raised at Ranchi
On 1 January 2014, the Indian Army’s new XVII (Mountain Strike) Corps was formally raised at its temporary headquarters in Ranchi, Jharkhand. Major General Raymond Joseph Noronha hoisted the new colours of the XVII Corps, which is to be operationallised at a reported cost of Rs. 64,000 crore over the next seven years and will eventually comprise some 80,000 troops to give the Indian Army an ability to launch counter-offensives into the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) in the event of hostilities with China.
The Army already has three Strike Corps: I Corps at Mathura, II Corps at Ambala and XXI Corps at Bhopal, but these are tasked for offensive capabilities towards the western land borders with Pakistan. XVII Corps will be the first Strike Corps tasked with operations along the high mountain borders with China-Tibet. Two Mountain Divisions, (including the 59th and 72nd) two Independent Infantry Brigades and two Armoured Brigades, two Para-Special Forces battalions, apart from integral units, will constitute the XVII Mountain Strike Corps whose designated headquarters will be Panagarh in West Bengal, to be established by 2015. Panagarh is also where the Indian Air Force plan to deploy its new squadron of C-130J Super Hercules recently ordered from the United States, these providing essential airlift support to the XVII Corps with their ability to operate from high altitude and austere airstrips.
Six more C-130Js ordered for IAF
Asecond batch of six C-130J Super Hercules tactical transport aircraft have been ordered for the Indian Air Force, the ‘letter of offer and acceptance’ signed at New Delhi on 27 December 2013. The contract which is under the US Government foreign military sales (FMS) programme, stipulates delivery of the aircraft within three years. The new C-130Js will equip a second such squadron, the first being No.77 at Hindan, with the new formation to be based at Panagarh in West Bengal, also designated location for the Army’s new XVII Mountain Strike Corps.
Panagarh airfield was constructed during World War II and used as a supply transport airfield from 1942-1945 by the United States Army Air Force’s 10th Air Force and as a repair and maintenance depot for B-24 Liberator heavy bombers by the Air Technical Service Command.
First Rudra squadron formed
No.251 (Armed) Squadron of the Indian Army Aviation Corps was formally raised with the HAL Rudra (Advanced Light Helicopter Mark IV–Weapons Systems Integrated) in December 2013 and temporarily based at HAL Airport, Bangalore. Named Rudra by the Indian Army, this stands for the ‘embodiment of a storm god and unpredictable danger’.
The HAL Rudra is equipped with a self-protection suite, advanced electro-optical sensors, a 20mm chin-mounted autocannon, 70mm rocket pods, anti-tank guided missiles and IR homing air-to-air missiles.
Development of an armed variant of the ALH was sanctioned in December 1998, some six years after first flight of the TM 333 2B2 - powered ALH prototype. The ALH-WSI made its maiden flight in August 2007, and is equipped with the Shakti (Ardiden 1H1) engine ( see Vayu Issue II/2013).
LCA scores ‘bullseye’
Flying Tejas LSP-7 (KH2017), Gp Capt Suneet Krishna, test pilot with NFTC launched a R-73 infrared heat seeking close combat air missile against a towed target over the Arabian Sea range off Goa on 8 December 2013, scoring a ‘bullseye’. This marked virtual culmination of LCA weapon trials before achievement of the initial operation clearance (IOC). Two LCAs had been detached to INS Hansa at Dabolim, Goa for these trials, which involved critical co-ordination with naval ships, with the Lakshya pilotless target aircraft, towing the heat-emitting target being launched from the frigate INS Betwa.
According to the official statement, “a team from the National Flight Test Centre ( NFTC), ADA, HAL, ADE ( DRDO), CEMILAC, DGAQA and the Indian Navy worked in perfect unison to achieve this feat. PS Subramanyam, Programme Director LCA, Director ADA and Air Cmde KA Muthana, Project Director, Flight Test supervised operations from the National Flight Test Centre (NFTC). K Tamil Mani, S. DG (Aeronautical Systems) reviewed the flight trial”.
Tejas LCA gets IOC (II)
On 20 December 2013, at a well-publicised ceremony in Bangalore, the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft was given its Initial Operational Clearance–II, which was marked by the Defence Minister AK Antony handing over ‘Release to Service’ Certificate to then Air Chief NAK Browne. In his address, the Defence Minister confessed that he had had his “share of anxieties regarding the future of LCA when he had taken over as the Defence Minister in 2006 but today, we are putting behind the moments of self-doubt,
frustrations and setbacks which we as a nation have gone through in the last 30 years.”
In his address, Avinash Chander, Scientific Advisor to the Defence Minister stated that “those who perform will be asked to perform more. The Team Tejas will have have to now sprint the last lap towards FOC. The FOC team will equip Tejas with inflight refueling, Beyond Visual Range Missiles, new Close Combat Missiles, the GSh-23 gun, additional weapons and new drop tanks for supersonic flight. The teams are also working on a higher variant the Tejas Mk-2 with a higher thrust engine. Tejas Mk.2 will have improved performance and upgraded avionics.”
It will be recalled that the Tejas LCA had first received its ‘Certificate of Release to Service’ on 10 January 2011, the ceremony presided by Defence Minister AK Antony, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik and Dr VK Saraswat, SA to RM. That event is now recalled as IOC-I ( see Vayu Issue I/2011).
500 flights by Tejas in 2013
On 27 December 2013, eve of the new year, a Tejas LCA flew the 500th sortie by this type in a calendar year. The highest number of flight sorties attained earlier was less than 300. Congratulating the Tejas team, Avinash Chander, SA to RM lauded “the synergy of teamed efforts by ADA, DRDO, CEMILAC, HAL and IAF”.
The Tejas LCA has achieved several key milestones in 2013, with various aircraft detached to seven locations throughout India for various flight, systems and armament trials. These included trials for in-flight relight (shutting off and then reigniting the single engine), high energy brake testing, flight envelope expansion, R-73E missile firing with radar guidance, air to ground weapon tests, emergency jettisoning of entire stores, aircraft in wake tests, wet runway trials and demonstration of its ‘swing role’ capability during exercise ‘Iron Fist’ in February 2013 ( see Vayu Issue II/2013).
General Bikram Singh appointed new COSC
General Bikram Singh, the COAS, took over as Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) on 31 December 2013. According to analysts, General Bikram Singh’s main challenge would be “the successful induction and integration of the large number of weapon systems that India is either manufacturing or procuring at present”.
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha is Chief of the Air Staff
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha took over command of the Indian Air Force as the 24th Chief of the Air Staff on 31 December 2013. Commissioned into the Flying Branch in December 1974,( about the time the Vayu was launched) Air Chief Marshal Raha had graduated from the National Defence Academy (NDA), Poona with the President’s Gold Medal in 1973. An experienced Qualified Flying Instructor (QFI) holding ‘A2’ instructional category, Air Chief Marshal Raha, has served as Directing Staff at the Flying Instructors School (FIS), Tambaram as well as at the Tactics and Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) and has nearly 3,400 hours of flying experience, mainly on fighter aircraft.
An alumnus of the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) and the National Defence College, New Delhi, he was an inspector in the Directorate of Air Staff Inspection at Air Headquarters and Staff Officer to the Chief of the Air Staff. He was deputed as the Military and Air Attache in the Embassy of India, Kiev, Ukraine from 1999 to 2001 and has held many operational assignments including command of No.47 Squadron with MiG-29s, and was AOC Advance Headquarters Western Command at Chandimandir. He later took over as Senior Air Staff Officer (SASO) at Headquarters
Western Air Command and became Air Officer Commandingin-Chief, Central Air Command before taking over Western Air Command, following which he became Vice Chief of the Air Staff (VCAS) on 1 July 2013.
In his first outstation visit after taking over as the new CAS, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha visited Leh in the Ladakh sector, where he was briefed on the prevailing situation in the region by Lt Gen Rakesh Sharma, XIV Corps Commander and interacted with Army personnel to provide an impetus to jointness with the Army. Air Cmde R Isser, the AOC at Leh, updated the CAS on the progress of significant ongoing infrastructure projects in the Ladakh Sector, where the average temperatures in winter are -20°C.
New IAF chief’s priority
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha has the induction of new fighters, helicopters and mid-air refueling aircraft as his “priority”. The new Chief will have to squarely face up to the reality of an ageing and depleting combat aircraft inventory, with some dozen squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s earmarked for phaseout over the next three years, during his tenure. That the new Air Chief realises this fact, is evident by his statement that “accretion through new acquisitions, replacement of obsolete equipment and upgrade of vintage weapon platforms will bolster our capabilities.”
Lt Gen Dalbir Singh takes over as VCOAS
Lt Gen Dalbir Singh took over as Vice Chief of Army Staff on 31 December 2013 after handing over reins of Eastern Army Command to Lt Gen MMS Rai.
He was commissioned into the 4th Battalion 5 Gorkha Rifles ( FF) in June 1974 and possesses tremendous operational experience which includes tenure as a Company Commander in ‘Op Pawan’ in Sri Lanka. He raised and commanded 33 RR (58 GR) in Nagaland from October 1994 to June 1997 as well as commanded 53 Infantry Brigade which was committed on Counter Insurgency Operations in the Kashmir Valley from July 2003 to March 2005. He was GOC 8th Mountain Division in J&K deployed on the LoC in High Altitude Area from October 2007 to December 2008. The General Officer then took over III Corps looking after the dual responsibility of CI Ops in the North Eastern States, as well as conventional operational tasks along the Indo-China border from March 2011 to June 2012. He was GOC –in-C Eastern Command till December 2013.
He has earlier held the key appointment of Inspector General SFF, Cabinet Secretariat from April 2009 to March 2011. Lt Gen Dalbir Singh is Colonel of the 5th Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force).
Lt Gen Arun Kumar Sahni is GOC-in-C South Western ommand
Lt Gen Arun Kumar Sahni has taken over as GOC-in-C South Western Command. An alumnus of the National Defence Academy and Indian Military Academy, he was commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery, being awarded ‘Sword of Honour’ for and the best all round Gentleman Cadet and the ‘President’s Gold Medal’ for standing first in his course.
The General Officer has had an excellent professional career and has attended prestigious courses including ‘Long Gunnery Staff Course’, ‘Defence Services Staff College’, ‘Higher Command’ and ‘National Defence College’. His career highlights include command of a Self Propelled Artillery Regiment in the desert sector, a Mountain Artillery Brigade employed in Counter Insurgency Operations in the North East, an Independent Infantry Brigade
in Jammu & Kashmir and the famous 4th Infantry Division (‘Red Eagles’) as part of a Strike Corps. He later commanded III Corps in the North East, responsible for security along a large part of the northern borders with China, Myanmar in the east and Counter Terrorist Operations in four of the NE States.
Lt Gen MMS Rai is GOC-in-C Eastern Command
Lt Gen MMS Rai has assumed office as GOC-in-C Eastern Command. Commissioned into the Corps of Engineers on 15 December 1976, he has excelled in academics as well as in the sports arena, commanded an Armoured Engineer Regiment in the plains, a Mountain Brigade in the North East and a Rashtriya Rifles Force in Jammu and Kashmir. After commanding a Corps in Rajasthan, he was Chief of Staff of South Western Command. He is presently Colonel Commandant of the Bombay Engineering Group.
Air Marshal R K Sharma becomes Vice Chief of Air Staff
Air Marshal Ravi Kant Sharma took over as Vice Chief of the Air Staff (VCAS) on 1 December 2013. A Qualified Flying Instructor, he is an Experimental Test pilot who has flown around 3,300 hrs on several different types of aircraft including the LCA. In his operational career, he commanded No. 6 Maritime Strike Squadron (‘Dragons’) with Jaguars. He later commanded the Test Pilots School and Prototype Test Squadron at Aircraft System Testing Establishment (ASTE), Bangalore and has also functioned as the Project Director (Flight Test) of the ongoing LCA Project. He was Assistant Chief of the Integrated Defence Staff (Financial Planning) at HQ IDS, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Plans) at Air HQ, and Deputy Chief of the Air Staff (DCAS), before taking over as AOC-in-C Eastern Air Command at Shillong.
Air Marshal RK Jolly now AOC-in-C Eastern Air Command
On 1 January 2014, Air Marshal Rajesh Kumar Jolly took over as the new AOC- in- C, Eastern Air Command at Shillong. He was formerly AOC-in-C, Southern Air Command and has the distinction of heading two IAF operational commands consecutively.
He was commissioned in the fighter stream of the IAF on 11 July 1975, has flown various aircraft types, which include the Hunter, HF-24 Marut and all MiG-21 variants and has over 3800 hrs of flying. A qualified flying instructor, he has held many important field and staff appointments. He commanded a premier forward fighter airbase and was the Air Attaché at Embassy of India in Washington DC from 2005 to 2008.
HAL Dhruv ALH for the Maldives
An example of the HAL Dhruv advanced light helicopter was handed over to the Maldivian Defence Forces at a function organised by the Southern Naval Command at INS Garuda, Cochin on 14 December 2013. The Maldivian Defence and National Security Minister Mohamed Nazim accepted, what he called “precious gift from India” in presence of Vice Admiral Satish Soni, C-in-C Southern Naval Command and T. Suvarna Raju, Director (Design and Development), HAL.
A HAL technical support team will be positioned on Gan Island in the Maldives to provide maintenance and logistic support. HAL has so far exported the Dhruv ALH to Ecuador, Mauritius and Nepal.
INS Arihant on sea trials in early-2014
It is learnt that INS Arihant, the first indigenous nuclear submarine, will head to sea for extensive user trials in February-March 2014. During a Navy Day press conference, Chief of Naval Staff Adm DK Joshi stated that the Arihant’s reactor, which had gone ‘critical’ last August, is gradually being monitored to produce full power. Comprehensive and meticulous checking is required as the reactor power is slowly ramped up (5-10% at a time), and following the successful conclusion of this crucial activity, the submarine will be ready for user trials. The trials are expected to last a year, following which the Navy will be in a position to decide whether to operationalise the submarine or make further changes. The trials could include test firings of K-15 SLBMs.
Fast Patrol Vessels for ICG
Cochin Shipyard Limited (CSL) launched the fifth and sixth Fast Patrol Vessels (FPVs) being built for the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) on 29 November 2013 where present were senior officials of the Coast Guard and shipyard. The vessels were named Achook and Agrim at the ceremony.
20 FPVs have been contracted by CSL for the ICG, the contract signed in 2010 with the delivery of the last vessel scheduled for 2017. These vessels have a design speed of 33 knots, their primary role being fisheries protection and monitoring, patrol within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and coastal patrol, anti smuggling, search and rescue operations and anti piracy operations.
ICGS Rajdhwaj and Abheek commissioned
Indian Coast Guard Ship Rajdhwaj an Inshore Patrol Vessel (IPV), 8th in the series of eight IPVs, was commissioned on 11 December 2013 at Chennai by GK Vasan, Minister of Shipping in the presence of Vice Admiral Anurag G Thapliyal, DG Coast Guard and other dignitaries. The IPV is equipped with advanced and sophisticated navigational and communication sensors and equipment, is propelled to a maximum speed of 31.5 knots by three MTU 4000 series diesel engines of 2720 KW capacity each, coupled with three 71S2 Rolls Royce Kamewa Jets.
Shortly thereafter, the Indian Coast Guard Ship Abheek, second in the series of twenty fast patrol vessels (FPVs), was commissioned on 31 December 2013 at Kochi by Defence Minister AK Antony, in the presence of Vice Admiral Anurag G Thapliyal, Director General Coast Guard.
‘Standard’ presented to 89 Armoured Regiment
The Indian Army’s 89 Armoured Regiment was presented its ‘ Standard’ by the COAS General Bikram Singh at a ceremonial mounted parade at Namkum, Ranchi on 30 November 2013. This honour has been bestowed upon 89 Armoured Regiment “in due recognition of the dedicated and meritorious service rendered by the Regiment since its raising on 1 February 1980”.
The ceremony involved both the marchpast and mounted columns where a phalanx of 25 T-72s moved on the parade ground even as military bands played martial music. The parade was commanded by Colonel Jagat Singh, Commandant 89 Armoured Regiment.
The Indian Future Main Battle Tank (FMBT)
In an interview ( see this Issue), General Bikram Singh the COAS has stated that the envisaged FMBT for the Indian Army will be “comparable to any other advanced armoured fighting vehicle (AFV) in the world and capable of operating in high intensity, high technology, network enabled digitised battlefield of the 21st century.” The ‘Qualitative Requirements’ are being presently deliberated upon and “we hope to achieve a major technological breakthrough with reference to the FMBT in the next two to three 5-year plan periods”.
DAC ‘clears’ Barak missile deal
The Defence Acquisitions Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister A K Antony, has finally cleared the procurement of 262 Barak-I air defence missiles from Israel for Rs. 880 crore. The deal was put on hold pending ‘investigations’ and has now been given the go-ahead. The Barak-I missile system is fitted on 14 frontline warships, including the aircraft carrier INS Viraat.
Private Sector in FICV project
The private sector is anticipating involvement in the Indian Army’s $10-billion futuristic infantry combat vehicle (FICV) project, which had been in suspense since last 18 months. Amongst the companies are Tata, Mahindra, L&T and Ashok Leyland, all of whom have suitable credentials for the same and could possibly be joined by a consortium led by Bharat Forge and Punj Loyd. FICV is a project for the production of an armoured off-road vehicle with high maneouverability and strike power, but in mid-2012, the MoD instead decided to go for an upgraded version of the BMP-2 infantry fighting vehicle. However, there is now strong support for an indigenous FICV, with the Indian private sector having already invested substantially in the project.
GSLV-D5 with indigenous cryogenic engine
On 5 January 2014, the Indian Space Research Organisation marked a major success with the launch of its GSLV-D5, powered by an indigenous cryogenic engine which injected a telecommunication satellite, the GSAT- 14 into orbit. With precision, the satellite reached its targeted perigree (nearest point from Earth) of 179 km and 36,000 km apogee (farthest point from Earth). As the GSLV-D5 mission director later observed, “behind the 1,000 wonderful seconds of GSLV-D5’s flight were more than a thousand days of dedication of our scientists.”
India’s quest to acquire cryogenic technology had faced not just technological challenges but was also mired in geopolitical sanctions. In fact, the USA had at one point tried to ‘scuttle’ India’s Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle project. A decade before that, in December 1982, India had formed a cryogenic study team to focus on the development of an engine which could generate a thrust of 10 tonnes.
Exercise ‘Shahbaaz Ajay’
Shahbaaz Ajay, mounted by the 36th Reorganised Army Plains Division (RAPID) was held in the western deserts of Rajasthan during December 2013. 36 RAPID, part of the Bhopal-based XXI Strike Corps, “validated new concepts and refined existing battle procedures as prevalent in the 21st century battlefield milieu”. 15,000 troops of the Division participated in the exercise which included more than 100 armoured fighting vehicles among the other advanced artillery and air defence equipment. “A high degree of integration was achieved with the Indian Air Force while undertaking specialised operations which included an airborne assault and special helicopter borne operations.”
Army Chief awarded ‘Legion of Merit’ in USA
General Bikram Singh, Chief of Army Staff, has received the Legion of Merit, a US military award that is given for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.” The award was given by US Army Chief General Raymond Odierno during the former’s visit to the USA in December 2013, to discuss India-USA military ties. A ‘full honour’ ceremony accompanied the award, with the 3rd Infantry Regiment of the US Army on parade in ceremonial attire. The Legion of Merit has earlier been bestowed on some Indian Service Chiefs, including Field Marshal KM Cariappa, General SM Srinagesh and Admiral JL Cursetji.
IAF considering private firms for maintenance work
The Indian Air Force are considering involvement of Indian private sector firms for maintenance of various Russian-origin aircraft, including An- 32 medium tactical transport aircraft, amongst these being the Tata Group, Max Aerospace and Taneja Aviation.
The IAF, which is faced with a number of problems relating to foreign OEMs, appears to have decided to energise more maintenance activities in-country and bolster domestic industry at the same time. RFIs for the maintenance agreements were circulated in late-2013 with seven companies reportedly responding to the same. Bids are now to be invited, with the IAF hopeful of signing a contract by March 2014. Initially, the IAF will assist the private companies in building their expertise, after which the companies will take over all the maintenance work.
US report: “India increasing nuclear arsenal”
The Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), a US-based think tank, has reported that the Rare Materials Plant (RMP) Mysore could be producing highly-enriched uranium for military purposes, thus greatly bolstering India’s ability to increase the size of its nuclear weapons stockpile or produce more powerful nuclear weapons. The report was based on the pace and scale of construction activities noted at the Mysore plant, believed to house a gas centrifuge enrichment facility. Nonetheless, intelligence sources in the US, both current and former, continue to view Pakistan as “a greater threat to nuclear non-proliferation, noting that neither Iran nor North Korea would be nuclear states today without Pakistani assistance”.
Combined exercises between Indian and Japanese Coast Guard
Ahigh level delegation led by Admiral Yuji Sato, Commandant of the Japan Coast Guard (JCG), made an official visit to India from 12-15 January 2014 for high level discussions including those on combined exercises with the Indian Coast Guard (ICG). The visit was in pursuance of the Memorandum of Cooperation (MoC), signed between the two Coast Guards on 24 November 2006, which stipulates that heads of the two organisations meet every year to discuss maritime issues of mutual concern and formulate a cooperative approach to address these. The Memorandum of Cooperation between the two Coast Guards encompasses issues of maritime search and rescue, combating marine pollution, technical assistance for responding to natural disasters and exchange of information regarding crimes at sea, including smuggling and illicit trafficking. The Indian delegation in this interaction was headed by Vice Admiral Anurag G Thapliyal, Director General Indian Coast Guard.
Meanwhile, ‘Sahayog- Kaijin 2014’, 13th edition of the Indo-Japan Coast Guard joint exercise was held off the Kochi coast on 14 January 2014, as part of the continuing bilateral cooperation between the two countries. JCG (Japan Coast Guard Ship) Mizuho and its integral helicopter, Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Samrat, plus Chetak helicopter, Dornier 228 aircraft and ICGS C-404 took part in the exercise held about 20 nautical miles off Kochi. The exercises included cross deck landings, anti-piracy drills, search and rescue demonstration and a fire fighting demonstration.
Admiral Yuji Sato, Commandant of Japan Coast Guard and Vice Admiral Anurag G Thapliyal, Director General of Indian Coast Guard who were onboard Indian Coast Guard vessel Samrat witnessed the exercise along with Inspector General SPS Basra, Commander Coast Guard Region West and senior officials of Japan Coast Guard delegation.
Air India to join Star Alliance
Air India’s long-planned entry into Star Alliance, the world’s largest global airline alliance, could finally take place in 2014. Star Alliance is a global union of 28 international carriers serving nearly 200 countries and, for Air India, this would mean an increase in passenger traffic as a result of increased cooperation with airlines across the world, while for Star Alliance it would be the end of a long process aimed at securing a foothold in the Indian air travel market, one that is comparatively small at present but has immense potential for future growth.
Air India was originally intended to become a member of Star Alliance in 2007, but owing to the company’s continued operational troubles, the integration was halted in 2011 on grounds that the carrier “had failed to meet the minimum joining requirements agreed upon in 2007”. Following this, Star Alliance unsuccessfully attempted to bring in Jet Airways until that airline entered into a strategic partnership with Etihad, which is a member of the competing OneWorld alliance. Air India’s concerted efforts at returning to profitability have apparently been noted, resulting in the renewed agreement to join Star Alliance. An AI statement said that the alliance would grant passengers “seamless transfers across the world, more frequent flier mileage points, code-sharing and a wider choice of flights.”
India to strengthen links with Afghan military
The governments of India and Afghanistan will strengthen defence and security cooperation so as to increase capabilities of the Afghan military. In December 2013, Afghan President, Hamid Karzai said “we hope to have an army to defend Afghanistan through its own resources and citizens. To that objective, we are being helped by India.”
India has already been training Afghan Army personnel, with a batch of cadets recently graduating from IMA, Dehra Dun in December 2013, capping off a total of 574 trained till now. That number is expected to increase to swell to over a thousand by the end of 2014. More recently, the Indian government has mooted plans to train Afghan troops in their own country and establish training facilities staffed by Indian instructors within Afghanistan.
In a significant move, the GOI will supply three HAL Dhruv helicopters to Afghanistan, with deliveries to take place between March and May 2014. Afghanistan had earlier submitted a “wish list” of defence equipment to India and the helicopters are anticipated to be the first of many transfers of equipment to the Afghan military. “Both sides hope that closer cooperation between the nations will yield strategic dividends once US-led ISAF forces withdraw from Afghanistan in 2014”.
Amongst Afghanistan’s list of requirements are artillery guns and medium battle tanks, as also Mi-17 helicopters. The difficulties envisaged in fulfilling the requirements is that India has “no excess military equipment” as also the “complex licensing and end use qualifications that guide India’s virtual import dependant defence supplies.”
Meanwhile, on a visit to Indian Military Academy on 14 December 2013, former Afghan Army General and now Provincial Governor from Ghazni, Lt Gen Musa Khan visited Dehra Dun to witness commissioning of his son Abdul from the IMA. General Musa Khan was amongst the Afghan cadets who were trained at the IMA in Dehra Dun during the 1970-1980s.
Agni-3 test launched
Strategic Forces Command (SFC) test-launched the long range Agni 3 missile, having a range of over 3000 kms, from Wheelers Island, off the Odisha coast on 23 December 2013. The trajectory of the trial was tracked by a battery of radars, telemetry observation stations, electrooptic instruments and naval ships from its launch till the missile hit the target area with “pin point accuracy”.
The Agni 3 intermediate range ballistic missile is equipped with advanced high accuracy navigation systems and guided by an innovative guidance scheme. Quoting an SFC spokesman, “such successful training launches clearly indicate our operational readiness to meet any eventuality as also establishes the reliability of this deterrent component of India’s strategic arsenal”.
VVIP helicopter imbroglio
On New Year’s day, the MoD terminated the existing contract with AgustaWestland to supply 12 VVIP helicopters to the Indian Air Force. According to reports, Defence Minister AK Antony met Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh before the official announcement was made. However, “no decision has been taken on blacklisting the firm and a call will be taken after the CBI finishes its probe.”
SpiceJet deal with Tigerair
Two of Asia’s leading low-cost airlines, India’s SpiceJet and Singapore’s Tigerair, have signed a three- year inter- line agreement to provide greater connectivity on flights operated by both the carriers. According to the agreement, customers travelling on SpiceJet’s domestic network from 14 Indian cities will have seamless connection through on to Tigerair’s Singapore-bound flights starting from 6 January 2014. The 14 cities are Ahmedabad, Bhopal, Chennai, Kolkata, Coimbatore, Delhi, Goa, Indore, Mangalore, Madurai, Pune, Bengaluru, Tirupati and Visakhapatnam.
GoAir improves market share
Mumbai-based low cost carrier, GoAir has improved its market share, going up to 8.8% in the second half of 2013 while IndiGo lost market share for the first time in the same period. Overall passenger traffic grew at a slower pace in November with an increase of only 2.3 per cent to 51.4 lakh passengers as against 50.2 lakh passengers in the same month last year. National carrier Air India regained the second spot with a 19.3 per cent share of the market while SpiceJet fell to the third spot with 19 per cent. Jet Airways and JetLite combined had a market share of 24.1 per cent, but the two airlines file data separately. Stand-alone Jet Airways had 18.5 per cent while JetLite had 5.6 per cent market share.
Tata-SIA select Airbus A320s
Singapore Airlines (SIA) have selected the Airbus A320 for launch of its Indian venture with the Tata Group. Twenty A320s will be sourced from leasing companies rather than buying these directly from Airbus. “It’s going to be an Airbus A320 fleet. The aircraft will be on lease,” spokesman Sanjay Singh said in a statement. The Tata-SIA airline will start operations from July 2014, after regulatory approval in India. The Tata Group will hold a 51 percent stake and Singapore Airlines Ltd 49 percent in the new venture, which will have an initial combined investment of $100 million from the two stakeholders. This marks the third foreign direct investment in the Indian civil airline sector since the government declared last year that international airlines could buy as much as 49 percent of local carriers.
Creation of an SPV for IRTA
The Government of India has directed the creation of a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) charged with the responsibility of designing, developing and producing the Indian Regional Transport Aircraft (IRTA). Genesis of the SPV is linked to the NMCC
( National Manufacturing Competitiveness Council) meeting headed by V Krishnamurthy held on 30 April 2013 on the issue of National Civil Aircraft Development. Subsequently, a meeting of the High Level Committee on Manufacturing (HLCM), was chaired by the Prime Minister on 9 July 2013 following which various key decisions were taken.
Essentially, the dedicated SPV will be created with NAL and HAL in partnership for design & development and production of the civil airliner, respectively, also seeking possible collaboration with both the public and private sector, beginning with identification of suitable power plants, detailed market analysis with selection thereafter of the aircraft configuration concerning its size, performance and future variants.
MEHAIR to expand
MEHAIR (Maritime Energy Heli Air Service Pvt Ltd), presently the lone seaplane operator in India, are to shortly launch services in Mumbai/Maharashtra. They are currently operating from Port Blair in the Andamans to nearby islands, particularly Havelock over the past three and a half years. The company was launched by three entrepreneurs and partners Siddharth Verma, SS Mann and CL Lakshmanan, who were recently awarded as the ‘Innovative Start-up of the Year’.
Unit Citations on Army Day 2014
The Chief of Army Staff, General Bikram Singh, on occasion of the Army Day 2014, awarded Unit Citations to a total of 16 units during the parade ceremony held at the Delhi Cantonment parade ground. These units were the 262 Field Regiment, 39 (Independent) Reconnaissance & Observation Flight, 51st Engineer Regiment, 15th Battalion Maratha Light Infantry, 21st Battalion Rajputana Rifles, 5th Battalion Sikh Regiment, 18th Battalion Sikh Regiment, 6th Battalion Sikh Light Infantry, 12th Battalion Garhwal Rifles, 12th Battalion Kumaon Regiment, Garhwal Scouts, 21st Battalion (Guards) Rashtriya Rifles, 29th Battalion (Grenadiers) Rashtriya Rifles, 55th Battalion (Grenadiers) Rashtriya Rifles, Army Hospital (Research & Referral) and 5th Battalion Assam Rifles.
Army Day is celebrated every year on 15 January to commemorate the appointment of Lt Gen (later Field Marshal) K M Cariappa as the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, succeeding Sir Francis Butcher, the last British Commander in 1949.
MiG-21FLs retired from IAF service
Vayu visited Air Force station Kalaikunda on occasion of phase out of the MiG-21FL (Type 77) on 11 December 2013. The MiG-21FL was inducted into the IAF in 1966, nearly fifty years ago and was the first supersonic fighter to be built in India, ushering in a new era of aviation technology and manufacturing. The Type-77 was in operational service when hostilities broke out in late 1971, and the aircraft has distinguished itself in both the air-to-air and air-to-ground roles. Over time, as newer combat platforms were inducted, the Type-77 formed the backbone of IAF combat flying training at the MiG Operational Flying Training Unit (MOFTU) at Tezpur and Operational Conversion Unit (OCU) based at Chabua, and later Kalaikunda. [ see book ‘First to the Last’ published by the Society for Aerospace studies, released in April 2013]
The phaseout ceremony involved a parade by the personnel of AFS Kalaikunda, as well as flypasts of MiG-21FLs from OCU and MiG-27MLs from No. 18 Squadron ‘Flying Bullets,’ the other squadron based at Kalaikunda. The last aircraft to land had tail number C1149 and was piloted by Wg Cdr M Kumaria, a flying instructor at OCU. Flight Lieutenant Nagarajan, the youngest OCU graduate, then handed over the Form-700 of one of the retiring MiG-21FLs to the Air Chief.