Archive for June, 2017

India’s quest for advanced surveillance drones to keep a hawk eye on the Indian Ocean Region will now be met through the proposed acquisition of Predator naval drones from the US. But what it really wants is combat drones or unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs) in the long run.Akin to fighter jets but remotely controlled through satellites from thousands of miles away , combat drones are capable of firing missiles and precision-guided munitions on enemy targets before returning to their home bases to re-arm for the next mission. Their gamechanging impact on modern-day warfare can be gauged from the way the US has been extensively using Predator and Reaper armed drones to fire deadly `Hellfire’ missiles against Taliban targets in the Af-Pak region with devastating effect.

India, as of now, is in talks with the US for only unarmed Predator, or MQ-9B Guardian unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which are high-altitude, long-endurance drones capable of flying non-stop for over 27 hours for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance missions. This, too, became possible only after India joined the 34-member Missile Technology Control Regime, which prevents proliferation of missiles and UAVs over the range of 300km, in June 2016.

Ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s trip to Washington, the Trump administration had cleared the sale of 22 MQ-9B Guardian drones manufactured by General Atomics to India, in what will eventually be a governmentto-government deal after the US Congress is first notified and long-drawn bilateral negotiations are then held.

Though figures upwards of $2 billion for the 22 drones, with their associated spares, maintenance and training package, are being quoted, government sources said the actual procurement process was yet to begin.

“The US has just responded to our `price and availability inquiry’. It’s early days yet,“ said a source.While India is slated to become the first country outside the NATO alliance to get these drones, Washington is so far unwilling to sell actual combat or armed drones to New Delhi because it believes the move will disrupt the military balance in the region.

India, however, is on course to acquire 10 HeronTP missile-armed drones for around $400 million from Israel, even as PM Modi is scheduled to visit the Jewish state early next month, as was earlier reported by TOI.The IAF already has Israeli Harop “killer“ drones.

The IAF, incidentally , has proposed the creation of a separate cadre to handle UAVs, apart from the flying, technical and ground duty branches, in the future.


The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency’s (DARPA) new self-steering bullet is about to change the pretend part into reality. As part of its Extreme Accuracy Tasked Ordnance (EXACTO) program, DARPA has been developing a .50 caliber ammunition that can maneuver in flight after being fired from a weapon.

DARPA has created self-steering bullets which use a real-time optical guidance system to hit both moving and accelerating targets with high accuracy.
A post in DARPA’s website describes EXACTO’s specially designed bullet as using a “real-time optical guidance system” that not only tracks but directs the bullets right to their targets. This guiding system is what ensures the high accuracy rate of snipers—regardless of external factors that could affect the trajectory of the bullet such as weather, wind, and target movement. “For military snipers, acquiring moving targets in unfavorable conditions, such as high winds and dusty terrain commonly found in Afghanistan, is extremely challenging with current technology,” DARPA said. “It is critical that snipers be able to engage targets faster, and with better accuracy, since any shot that doesn’t hit a target also risks the safety of troops by indicating their presence and potentially exposing their location.”

In 2014, DARPA demoed its guided sniper bullets for the first time. The video showed the EXACTO bullet changing direction in mid-flight, almost like it was following its target. Live-Fire tests were conducted February 2015, which showed the EXACTO rounds self-steering to hit not just moving, but also accelerating targets.
“True to DARPA’s mission, EXACTO has demonstrated what was once thought impossible: the continuous guidance of a small-caliber bullet to target,” said Jerome Dunn, DARPA program manager. “This live-fire demonstration from a standard rifle showed that EXACTO is able to hit moving and evading targets with extreme accuracy at sniper ranges unachievable with traditional rounds. Fitting EXACTO’s guidance capabilities into a small .50-caliber size is a major breakthrough and opens the door to what could be possible in future guided projectiles across all calibers.”

US air force is trusting the billionaire to launch its secret space plane this summer, and the stakes are high
Not long ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk cracked what he once labelled a monopoly for defence department space launches, successfully breaking into a business that was dominated by United Launch Alliance.The defence department’s appetite for space access is voracious, given the myriad reconnaissance, defence and communications roles there, coupled with a future where conflicts are almost certain to involve space assets. Musk’s 2014 lawsuit against the government was settled out of court and the Pentagon cer tified SpaceX, also known as Space Exploration Technologies Corp., as a suitable supplier of military space launches.

Spac eX’s f i rst g ig for t he military was in May when it launched a satellite for the National Reconnaissance Office.But in a very public sense, Musk and the government this summer will test the theory that cheaper space launches are suitable for sensitive military missions.

In August, SpaceX will carry one of the Pentagon’s premiere yet highly classified platforms into orbit. The X-37B spy craft, an unmanned miniature version of the Space Shuttle, logs missions that are well over a year in length. The most recent X-37B sojourn ended in May after more than 700 days circling the Earth.Boeing has built two of the craft, with the first launched in 2010.The August blastoff will be the programme’s fifth flight.

One major reason for SpaceX’s app e a l t o Pent a gon br a s s : Sticker price. With its launches starting around $ 61 million, Musk’s company has been able to undercut its more established rival. United Launch Alliance, a Colorado-based joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin, boasts an unblemished record of more than 100 launches, but it’s still working to bring its cost below $100 million. It plans to do so by 2019.

SpaceX’s new role as a military contractor is a key source of income for Musk’s company and supplements its Nasa contracts for resupply missions to the International Space Station. Its far more ambitious plan, flying astronauts to the ISS, is set for next year.

The Cabinet Committee on Security of GoI recently cleared the Strategic Partnership (SP) model for defence acquisitions. This essentially allows for joint ventures between Indian and foreign firms for defence manufacturing in India. This has been pending for more than a year after the revised Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) was announced in March 2016.

Much of the changes to the DPP were based on the 27 recommendations of the Dhirendra Singh Committee Report submitted in July 2015.The committee had also recommended the SP model for certain areas of strategic importance. Later, the task force under former Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief V K Aatre laid down the criteria for selecting SPs among Indian private sector companies that was made public in April 2016.

Over the years, all defence procurements were based on general staff quality requirements that allowed widely spread technical criteria, and then selection by the lowest price (L1) after necessary technical evaluation.The adherence to procurement guidelines strictly based on fair play and probity -and set under the guidelines of the Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) -often led to system acquisition. This was not necessarily the best deal, in terms of state-of-theart and modern technical aspects in the long procurement cycle.

Also, indigenous capacity-building in most areas was never brought into focus. This resulted in continuing foreign acquisitions due to operational necessities. So, almost 30 years were frittered away , despite policy and intent to reduce defence imports.

So far, only four segments have been chosen to set the SP model rolling: single-engine fighter aircraft, helicopters, armoured fighting vehicles and submarines. In all these four segments, some level of collaboration exists, with Indian entities -mostly public sector undertakings (PSUs), ordnance factories and shipyards -partnering an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) as a serial manufacturer or providing its premises for such manufacturing.

However, the intent of the Narendra Modi government is very clear as to its focus on `Make in India’ with defence as a major focus area. Also, the intent of the SP model is to clearly establish the base, have the supply chain system established, and imbibe in the latest technology for these equipments and systems. So, the focus on matching and mapping respective OEMs to Indian private sector players should be defined with the extent of technology available to build a modern and robust system.

While the platform-based approach might be a natural start with the absence of significant success via the DRDO or defence PSU route, the larger advantage of the SP model is to leverage the strengths that are residual in Indian industry and look at more futuristic areas in the system as well as subsystem stage. This way , optimal capacity-building would be possible in many areas. A case in point is the competence of Indian engineers in IT-based systems.With most platforms today performing under a Command, Control, Communications, Computers and Intelligence (C4I)-based tactical approach, focus on C4I systems integration can be very pertinent. Future warfare will be more around electronic approaches and focusing to complete the Tactical Command, Control, Communication and Intelligence (Tac3I) with superior competency .

Picking cyber security as a first-phase strategic area would have been more optimal today . As an increasing number of countries build cyber arsenals and treat this as a future battlefield, India’s competence and advantage in the sector can be put to advantageous use.

Most of the OEMs in the fray in the SP projects have already focused and built their competency in technology aspects under various guises of C4I.It would be wise to involve them to orient our interests on these technologies, and at the same time, incorporate India’s indigenous encryption.This way , it can be ensured that mandatory national security checks are always adhered to.