Saturday, July 12, 2008

Comparing the Indian and Chinese navies

After 10 years of steady effort, both India and China have made significant qualitative changes in their navies. In terms of submarine capabilities – the construction of SSNs and SSBNs – China is now far ahead of India, however.

China has built two 094 SSBNs and two 093 SSNs, along with JL2 and JL1M submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) that are ready to go into service in the PLA Navy, if they have not already done so.

In contrast, India is only preparing to receive one Russian-made Akura SSN for testing purposes by the end of 2008. In February 2008, the Indian Navy also launched from under water a 700-kilometer-range K-15 ballistic missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Nonetheless, India’s pace in the construction of large-tonnage surface battleships and an aircraft carrier is faster than China’s. Thanks to the 290-kilometer-range BrahMos supersonic multirole missile jointly developed by India and Russia, the overall technological standard of the Indian Navy’s ship-to-ship missile is superior to that of China’s PLA Navy. India’s surface battleships currently being built will all be fitted with BrahMos SSMs, according to the plan of the Indian Navy.

Ships added to the PLA Navy over the past 10 years include two 051C DDGs, two 052B DDGs, two 052C DDGs, four 956E/EM DDGs and one 051B DDG, all of which have a full-load displacement of over 6,000 tons. Six additional ships, 054 and 054A FFGs, have also been built. These surface battleships are the flagships of the modern Chinese navy.

In the Indian Navy over the past 10 years three Delhi Class DDGs and three 4,000-ton class Type 1135.6 FFGs have been commissioned, with the latter armed with 300-kilomter-range Club-N surface-to-surface missiles. The Indian Navy has also received three Type 16A FFGs with full-load displacement of 4,500 tons and armed with 16 units of H-35 surface-to-surface missiles.

As a result, in terms of the construction of surface battleships above 6,000 tons, China is temporarily ahead of India, while in the building of 4,000-ton class missile frigates, India and China are about equal, with India slightly ahead in technology.

The Indian Navy is also armed with one Hermes aircraft carrier with a full-load displacement of 28,000 tons as well as 12 Sea Harrier FRS Mk 51 fighters. Obviously, the Indian Navy’s experience in the use of an aircraft carrier is surely superior to that of the PLA Navy.

Regarding the surface battleships under construction right now, India seems to be much more ambitious than China. Since 2007, the only large surface battleship China has been building is the 054A FFG. In contrast, the Indian Navy has started to build three P-15A DDGs at its Mazagon Shipyard. This is an upgraded variant of the Delhi Class DDG, with drastic changes. So far one P-15A has already been launched.

A source from the Mazagon Shipyard told the author in New Delhi that the P-15A construction program is now giving way to the Shivalik, or P-17 FFG. The first P-17 will be delivered to the Indian Navy within this year, and the second and third will be delivered in 2009 and 2010 respectively.

The two types of surface battleships mentioned above will all be fitted with a vertical-launched version of the BrahMos SSM. The P-15A will be armed with 16 such missiles. The P15A DDG has a full-load displacement of 7,000 tons, and still uses the Shtil-1 ship-to-air missile. The P-17 is India’s indigenous stealthy FFG and has a full-load displacement of 5,300 tons. It is also armed with Shtil-1 ship-to-air missiles.

Russia’s Yantar Shipyard currently is also building a second batch of three Type 1135.6 FFGs for the Indian Navy. The first three vessels of this model were built at the Baltic Sea Shipyard, but the contract for the latest three vessels has been awarded to the Yantar Shipyard, which has no experience building this type of missile frigate.

Apparently Russia intends to bail out the Yantar Shipyard, which has not received such an order in recent years through Russia’s system of allocating contracts. For this reason, it is worth watching the progress of this construction project to see if the shipyard can deliver a quality product. India is also concerned whether the overall price of building these vessels will rise as a result of this.

India has also begun building its own indigenous aircraft carrier, which is obviously proceeding faster than China’s program. India is building its aircraft carrier at Cochin Shipyard and is expected to complete it in 2013. However, past experience has shown that the Indian Navy’s vessel construction projects are usually delayed by two to three years.

With the Italian Fincantieri Company providing design assistance, this indigenous Indian aircraft carrier has a full-load displacement of 37,000 tons and will be powered by four LM-2500 heavy-duty gas turbines, with a maximum speed of 28 knots. China’s first indigenous aircraft carrier will also very likely be powered by heavy gas turbines.

The design blueprint of the Indian aircraft carrier has already been published, with a deck length of 830 feet and a runway of 600 feet. The aircraft use ski-jump takeoff and landing. The steel plate used to build the aircraft was imported from Russia and the cutting process was completed in 2007.

As for the Gorshkov aircraft carrier that India purchased from Russia, it should have been delivered to the Indian Navy within this year accordance to the original agreement. The retrofitted Gorshkov’s full-load displacement has been increased to 45,400 tons and it will be equipped with 12 MiG-29K fighters. India and Russia held the latest round of meetings concerning this aircraft carrier in February in Moscow, and the two sides reached a final consensus on the increased price of retrofitting the carrier. The new delivery time is now set at 2011.

It is not presently known what production plans the Chinese navy has in terms of the construction of large-tonnage surface battleships before 2010. Yet judging from the current status of shipbuilding within the PLA Navy, and with two aircraft carriers entering service in the Indian Navy before 2012, India will resume its absolute technological and tonnage lead in the construction of surface battleships above 6,000 tons. Of course, with China initiating its aircraft carrier construction soon, such a trend may later be reversed.

As far as the construction of conventional submarines is concerned, China still holds an obvious lead. The PLA Navy is already armed with two Yuan Class submarines, about ten Song Class submarines, four Kilo 877 and eight Kilo 636M submarines.

The Indian Navy has a fleet of more than ten Kilo 636 and four Type 209 1500 submarines. India’s most ambitious submarine construction plan is to build Scorpene Class submarines at its Mazagong Shipyard under license, code-named P-75.

The first batch of P-75s involves importing and assembling six submarines, and India plans to assemble the first P-75 independently in 2012. After that, production of the P-75 will proceed at the pace of one submarine each year. Based on this calculation, the whole project will not be completed until the end of 2017.

India’s latest plan shows that the Indian Navy may very likely expand the Scorpene fleet to 12. In terms of shipbuilding technology and production craftwork, however, especially in such production processes as cutting, welding and spray-painting, the military vessels produced by China -- particularly those vessels built at the two shipyards in Shanghai -- are far superior to the Indian navy ships.

Nag anti-tank missile back in reckoning

Eighteen years after it was first tested, the meandering saga of the indigenous Nag anti-tank guided missile (ATGM) is finally entering the climax phase after an expenditure of over Rs 300 crore.

Or so it seems, with Defence Research and Development Organisation planning the "final developmental flight trials" of Nag at Pokhran on July 27-28, which will be followed by the "user-trials" in mid-September, say sources.

Having placed an order for 443 Nag missiles and 13 Namicas (Nag missile tracked carriers) for induction over three years, the Army is keeping its fingers firmly crossed.

The urgent need for ATGMs can be gauged from the fact that after ordering 4,000 Konkurs-M missiles, the Army is now looking for 4,100 "advanced" ATGMs with tandem warheads for "better kill probability" of enemy tanks.

The Army, in fact, has agreed to reframe its GSQRs (general staff qualitative requirements) for the 4,100 new missiles - by reducing its "essential" strike range from 2,000 metres to 1,850 metres - to enable defence PSU Bharat Dynamics Ltd (BDL) to participate in the programme.

BDL, incidentally, manufactures variants of the second-generation 2-km-range "Milan" and 4-km-range "Konkurs" ATGMs, under licence from French and Russian companies, at around Rs 4.50 lakh per unit.

The third-generation Nag missile, with a four-km strike range, will also be manufactured by BDL. But there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Over 60 developmental trials of Nag have been conducted over the years but recurring problems in the guidance systems, especially in the "imaging infra-red (IIR) sensor-based seeker", has meant the missile is still to become fully operational. DRDO, however, is quite confident now, holding that Nag will be among the world's most advanced ATGMs, better than other contemporary missiles like Israeli 2.5-km Gill and four-km Spike missiles.

"The Army has already accepted the Nag, which has fire-and-forget, day-and-night and top-attack (the missile pops up and hits the tank's vulnerable upper portion like the gun-turret) capabilities," said a DRDO official. "There have been delays due to import embargoes, problems in development of the IIR seeker, change in NAMICA configurations and the like. But Nag, which also has high immunity to counter-measures, is fully-ready now," he added.

Apart from the NAMICA platform, that can carry 12 missiles, Nag will also have an airborne version named "Helina" to be fitted on the Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter, which will be configured to carry eight missiles in two launchers.

Incidentally, Nag was one of the "core missile systems" of the country's original Integrated Guided Missile Development Programme (IGMDP), launched as far back as in 1983. Announcing the IGMDP's "virtual closure" earlier this year, DRDO declared that development work on all other missiles - Agni, Prithvi, Akash and Trishul - had been completed.

Though work on "strategic" long-range nuclear-capable missiles like Agni-III (3,500-km range) and Agni-V (over 5,000-km) will still be "undertaken in-house", India will also look at foreign collaboration in other armament projects to cut down on delays.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

DRDO to undertake first full test flight of ASTRA - air to air beyond visual range missile

In a major technology leap, Indian defence scientists are ready to go ahead with the first full test flight of its indigenously developed air to air beyond visual range missile, ASTRA.

The test flight from an IAF Sukhoi fighter aircraft could be undertaken "anytime in the next 45 days", top DRDO officials said.

A successful test flight of ASTRA will plunge India into a select group of nations to have such a technology. Only US, France, Russia and China have so far produced such advance missiles, which enables fighter pilots to lock-on and shoot down enemy aircraft almost 90-120 km away.

Describing ASTRA as a futuristic missile, DRDO scientists said the weapon will intercept the target at mach 1.2 to 1.4 speed. The missile has already been tested on ground to prove its avionics, guidance and other sub-systems including propulsion.

Any success with air to air ASTRA missile will come as another milestone in defence research and cap recent strings of success the DRDO scientists have had in building at producing for the country -- short to medium range -- surface to surface missile system capable of delivering nuclear war heads at long