2017: Eventful for Military Aviation

While the Indian government has initiated steps to address issues related to strengthening the capabilities of the Indian armed forces, much still remains to be done

Issue: 1 / 2018By Rohit SrivastavaPhoto(s): By Karthik Kumar / SP Guide Pubns, US Navy, Boeing, HAL
Scaling New Heights: LCA Tejas in flight

The year gone by has been eventful for military aviation not only across the globe, but for India as well. With the escalating confrontation between the United States and North Korea and the aggressive moves by China to dominate the South China Sea, the level of tension globally and the possibility of a wider conflict breaking out has been increasing. Closer home, the stand-off between India and China at Doklam and the perpetually burning fire in Jammu and Kashmir, the deteriorating security scenario in the region has also been a matter of concern. While the Indian government has initiated steps to address issues related to strengthening the capabilities of the Indian armed forces, much still remains to be done. Some of the developments in this regard during the year 2017, have been catalogued in the succeeding paragraphs.

RFP for 83 LCA ‘Tejas’

In December 2017, Indian defence public sector major the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) received a Request for Proposal (RFP) for 83 LCA Tejas aircraft from Indian Air Force (IAF). The new proposal will populate four fighter squadrons of the IAF and the production will begin after from 2019-20 after completion of the Final Operational Clearance (FOC). The Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the apex body of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for defence acquisitions, cleared proposal for purchase of 83 LCA Mark 1A including ten twin-seat trainer version. The proposal is expected to cost over 50,000 crore.

Till date, the IAF has signed two contracts with HAL for procurement of 40 Tejas aircraft to populate two squadrons. The first contract was signed on March 31, 2006, to procure 20 Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) standard aircraft. HAL was required to finish delivery by December 2011. In the second contract signed on December 23, 2010, for 20 Final Operational Clearance (FOC) standard aircraft to be completed by December 2016.

BrahMos on Su-30MKI

Indo-Russian BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, was successfully test-fired on November 22 for the first time from the IAF’s frontline fighter aircraft Sukhoi-30 against a sea-based target in the Bay of Bengal. The missile was gravity dropped from the fuselage of the Su-30 and the two stage missile’s engine fired up and propelled the BrahMos towards the target.

The successful maiden test-firing of BrahMos Air Launched Cruise Missile (ALCM) from Su-30 is expected to significantly bolster the IAF’s air combat operations capability from standoff ranges. BrahMos ALCM weighing 2.5 tonnes is the heaviest weapon to be deployed on India’s Su-30 fighter aircraft modified by HAL to carry the weapon.

BrahMos Air Launched Cruise MissiLe (ALCM) was successfully test fired from Su-30

RFI for Indian Navy’s Carier-Based Fighters

The Indian Navy has floated a Request for Information for 57 carrier-based aircraft to arm its next aircraft carrier. The tender was issued in January 2017 after the naval version of the under-development LCA Tejas was rejected by the Indian Navy. The fresh tender was issued to explore the market for a foreign make aircraft. The Request for Proposal for the programme is expected sometime this year. Dassault’s Rafale-M and Boeing’s F-18 are the main contenders.

Dassault’s Rafale-M are the main contenders for Indian Navy’s Carrier-Bssed Fighters

RFP for Light Combat Helicopters

In an encouraging development for the Indian defence manufacturers, defence aerospace major, the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, on December 22, received a Request for Proposal (RFP) for 15 Light Combat Helicopters (LCH) from the Indian armed forces. The proposal for the procurement of 15 helicopters was cleared by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), the apex body for defence procurement in the Ministry of Defence (MoD), in November 2016 for around 3,000 crore under IDDM category of the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP). Ten helicopters are expected to go to the IAF and the rest to the Indian Army.

Maiden Flight of Boeing KC-46A Tanker

The first Boeing KC-46A tanker that will be delivered to the US Air Force next year, successfully completed its first flight and airborne tests, taking off from Paine Field and landing after more than three hours later. The KC-46A, derived from Boeing’s commercial 767 airframe, is built in the company’s Everett facility. Boeing is currently on contract for the first 34 of an expected 179 tankers for the US air Force.

Boeing KC-46A tanker successfully completed its first flight and airborne tests in 2017

China Develops Missile Interceptor

China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation has stated that they have made a “new-generation aerospace defence missile” that incorporates top space technologies and which it describes as one of the cornerstones of a world power’s strategic prowess. It is claimed that the ultrafast anti-missile interceptor is capable of knocking down incoming projectiles that is flying ten times faster than a bullet. Only US and Russia have this technology.

Thales Develops Active Array Radar for HAL

Thales has developed an active array radar that meets the specific needs of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), to equip the LCA Tejas Mk-1A, the multirole Light Combat Aircraft operated by the IAF. Thales radar is an advanced Fire Control Radar designed for air superiority and strike missions, based on fully solid-state Active Electronically Scanning Array technology, enabling the radar to achieve long detection ranges, high mission reliability and multi-target tracking capabilities. The radar has successfully completed initial flight test designed to measure its performance level.

Chinese J-20 Enters Service

The much awaited Chinese stealth fighter Chengdu J-20, in September last year, entered service of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. The aircraft has gone into serial production at the Chengdu Aerospace Corporation. According to the Chinese media, the fighter J-20 is China’s fourth-generation medium and long-range fighter jet. It made its maiden flight in January, 2011 and was first shown to the public at the 11th Airshow China in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, in November 2016. The armaments bay configuration of the J-20, similar to F-22, has two lateral bays for small air-to-air missiles and another bay under the fuselage for long range weapons.

RFI for Naval Utility Helicopters

The Indian Navy, in August 2017, sent out a global Request for Information for 111 Naval Utility Helicopters. The selected helicopters will be manufactured in India through strategic partnership model and will replace the aging HAL’s Chetaks (Allouette III) helicopters. The first 16 of them will be bought off the shelf rest will be manufactured in India. The helicopters will be used in the search and rescues and logistic roles.

RFI for Naval Multi-Role Helicopters

In August 2017, the Indian Navy issued the global Request for Information for 123 naval multi-role helicopters (NMRH). The Indian Navy wants to deploy one helicopter on each of its warships. Earlier tenders to acquire small number of NMRH did not fructify and this time, the government wants to manufacture these helicopters in India to replace the Kamov and Sea King anti submarine warfare helicopters currently with the Indian Navy and is expected to have anti-surface and logistic capabilities also.

Europe’s Sixth Generation Combat Jet

The European government and the industry are gearing up for the development of a new sixth-generation combat jet which could involve a combination of manned and unmanned systems. Despite being complicated by the UK’s planned exit from the EU, European leaders have gained fresh impetus to commence the programme as relations with US President Donald Trump remain uneasy due to his attacks on some NATO member’s lower-than-expected defence spending commitments. The project is likely to cost far more than Euros 10 billion.

THAAD System Cleared for Saudi Arabia

The US State Department’s Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) has cleared the sale of Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) systems to Saudi Arabia. Valued at an estimated $15 billion, the package includes the provision of 44 THAAD launchers, 360 THAAD Interceptor Missiles, 16 THAAD Fire Control and Communication System and seven THAAD radars. Lockheed Martin Space System and Raytheon will act as lead contractors in the deal.

India Signs $2 Bilion Contract for MR-SAM

In April 2017, India signed a contract worth $2 billion with the state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) for supplying advanced medium-range surface-to-air missile systems (MRSAM). Out of the two billion, $1.6 billion will go to the IAI and rest will go to Rafael for component and systems. The MRSAM has been jointly developed by the DRDO and IAI and can engage enemy aircraft, UAVs and other aerial platforms at range up to 70km.

Sea Guardian for India

Giving a major filip to Indo-US defence cooperation, India has begun the process to procure remotely piloted Predator ‘B’ Sea Guardian unmanned aerial vehicles from the United States (US). During Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the US in June 2017, an offer to sell Predator B was made to India. Minister of State for Defence Subhash Bhamre, on December 20, 2017, in response to a question in Lok Sabha, stated, “Request for Information for Predator ‘B’ Sea Guardian was issued to the US Office of Defence Cooperation on November 14, 2017 and response is awaited.” Procurement of Sea Guardian is “progressed under Buy (Global) category and no transfer of technology is envisaged.”

Predator B Sea Guardian UAV

UTC Buys Rockwell Collins for $30 Bilion

On September 04, 2017, United Technologies Corporation (UTC) struck a $30 billion deal to buy avionics and interior maker Rockwell Collins, thus making them one of the world’s largest makers of civilian and military aircraft components. The Rockwell Collins and UTC’s aerospace systems segment will be combined to create a new business unit named Collins Aerospace Systems.

Sabb and Adani Announces Collaboration Plan for Aerospace and Defence in India

Defence and security company Saab and Indian infrastructure conglomerate Adani Group, in September last year, announced a collaboration plan for aerospace and defence sector in India. The intended collaboration would encompass design, development and production of Gripen for India and high-tech products of national importance for India and also the creation of joint venture in India in line with and in support of the Make in India policy. The Gripen is a modern multi-role fighter aircraft featuring state-of-the-art technology, including advanced data links and sensor plus a unique extensive electronic warfare suite.

Indigeneous Hawk

In January last year, the Indian aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) rolled out the first indigenously upgraded Hawk Mk 132 advanced jet trainer (AJT) in record time. The aircraft which was rolled out on the eve of the Republic Day, was also showcased at the Aero India 2017. This fulfils the commitment made jointly by the BAE System and HAL at the Aero India, 2015 to explore possibilities for the Hawk aircraft for India and export markets.

HAL rolled out the first indigenously upgraded Hawk Mk 132 AJT in record time in january 2017

US Air Force’s Secret Space Plane

The US Air Force’s unmanned X-37B space plane that has been zipping around the Earth for nearly two years on a classified mission, landed successfully on May 7, 2017. The aircraft that resembles a miniature space shuttle, landed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre. The space plane, also known as Orbital Test Vehicle, made history by landing after 718 days of orbit endurance. This was the fourth mission of the aircraft.

Unmanned X-37B space plane from USAF

RFI for Engine for MRH-HAL

After unveiling the full-scale model of the Indian multi-role helicopter, the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), in June 2017, issued a Request for Information for turboshaft engine for 10 to 12.5 tonne AUW class twin-engine helicopter. The preferred total engine weight with all accessories and harness is to be within 250 kg. The chopper is expected to fly in six-seven years.

A mock up of Indian multi-role helicopter from HAL

F/A-18 Upgrade

Boeing is planning future upgrades for the F/A-18 Super Hornet that will keep the fighter flying into the 2040s. If approved, the plan will see continued development of the aircraft after the current Block 3 enhancement planned for the E/F variants of the Super Hornet which enters production in 2020. Speaking on the plan, Larry Burt, Director of Global Sales and Marketing for the Global Strike division, said that there “could well be lots of new capabilities added after Block 3.”

Boeing’s F/A-18