Articles and Analysis

10 April 2015

Top 10 UAV's 2015

Manufacturer : Vanguard Defense Industries
Country : USA

The ShadowHawk® can fly day-after-day, night-after-night, in adverse weather conditions, for up to 3 hours at a time, on an accurate flight path, under computer control. The ShadowHawk® can be airborne within minutes of mission authorization.

Manufacturer : General Atomics Aeronautical Systems
Country: USA

The General Atomics MQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) built by General Atomics and used primarily by the United States Air Force (USAF) and Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Initially conceived in the early 1990s for reconnaissance and forward observation roles, the Predator carries cameras and other sensors but has been modified and upgraded to carry and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles or other munitions. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, and Somalia.

Manufacturer : ASN Technology Group
Country: China

The ASN-209 UAV System (also known as the “Silver Eagle”) is a multi-purpose UAV product developed by ASN Technology Group and designed for Medium Altitude Medium Endurance (MAME) tactical missions. Via data link and ground control subsystem, the ASN-209 UAV can perform aerial reconnaissance, battle field surveys, target location, destruction validation and artillery fire adjustment in day and night in real time. The ASN-209 UAV System consists of aircraft, airborne mission payload, GCS and launch and recovery equipment.

Manufacturer : Lockheed Martin
Country: USA

The RQ-170 Sentinel nicknamed “Wraith”, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) developed by Lockheed Martin and operated by the United States Air Force (USAF) for the Central Intelligence Agency. While the USAF has released few details on the UAV’s design or capabilities, defense analysts believe that it is a stealth aircraft fitted with reconnaissance equipment.

RQ-170s have been reported as having operated in Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. It has been confirmed that the UAVs have operated over Pakistan and Iran; operations over Pakistan included sorties which collected intelligence before and during the operation which led to the death of Osama bin Laden in May 2011.

5. RQ-7 Shadow
Manufacturer : AAI Corporation
Country: USA

The RQ-7 Shadow unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is used by the United States Army, Marine Corps, Australian Army and Swedish Army for reconnaissance, surveillance, target acquisition and battle damage assessment. Launched from a trailer-mounted pneumatic catapult, it is recovered with the aid of arresting gear similar to jets on an aircraft carrier. Its gimbal-mounted, digitally-stabilized, liquid nitrogen-cooled electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) camera relays video in real time via a C-band line-of-sight data link to the ground control station (GCS).

6. RQ 11 Raven
Manufacturer : AeroVironment
Country: USA

The AeroVironment RQ-11 Raven is a small hand-launched remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicle (or SUAV) developed for the U.S. military, but now adopted by the military forces of many other countries.

The RQ-11 Raven was originally introduced as the FQM-151 in 1999, but in 2002 developed into its current form, resembling an enlarged FAI class F1C free flight model aircraft in general appearance. The craft is launched by hand and powered by a pusher configuration electric motor. The plane can fly up to 6.2 miles (10.0 km) at altitudes of appx 500 feet (150 m) above ground level (AGL), and over 15,000 feet (4,600 m) above mean sea level (MSL), at flying speeds of 28-60 mph (45–97 km/h).

7. nEUROn
Manufacturer : Dassault
Country: France

The Dassault nEUROn is an experimental Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) being developed with international cooperation, led by the French company Dassault Aviation. This delta wing stealth UCAV project is the final phase of the Dassault LOGIDUC 3-step stealth “combat drone” programme. Until June 2005 it had the form of the original Dassault developed Grand Duc vehicle: supersonic two-engined long-range unmanned bomber, capable of performing attacks with nuclear weapons.

Under the pressure of the international cooperation, especially from Sweden and Saab, it was transformed into a demonstrator of smaller single-engine technology. So it is now optimised for the testing of various technologies for the future UAVs and UCAVs, and will not enter serial production. It will only clear the way for a commercial product, that will use the technologies developed thanks to the nEUROn program. The full scale replica of the current configuration was unveiled at the Paris Air Show 2005.

8. Taranis
Manufacturer : BAE Systems
Country: UK

The BAE Systems Taranis is a British demonstrator program for Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) technology, being developed primarily by the defence contractor BAE Systems. A semi-autonomous unmanned warplane, it is designed to fly intercontinental missions, and will carry a variety of weapons, enabling it to attack both aerial and ground targets. It will utilise stealth technology, giving it a low radar profile, and it will be controllable via satellite link from anywhere on Earth. The Strategic Unmanned Air Vehicles (Experiment) Integrated Project Team, or SUAV(E) IPT, is responsible for auditing and overseeing the project.The aircraft, which is intended to demonstrate the viability of unmanned multi-role systems, is named after the Celtic god of thunder, Taranis. It is planned to conduct its first flight in 2013.

9. KAI Devil Killer
Manufacturer : Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI)
Country : South Korea

KAI refer to this unmanned craft as a “suicide combat unmanned air vehicle”. The purpose of the vehicle is to travel long range to a target area, loiter until commanded by the operator and then fly into the designated target and detonate. Same sort of idea as the Switchblade. Devil Killer is launched from a canister before deploying popout wings and tail surfaces. Two electric ducted fan motors either side of the rear body power the vehicle.

Devil Killer can be programmed for automatic strikes or manual control and if it can’t acquire its primary target, it can be redirected to another mission. It is expected to be deployed by 2016.

10. Switchblade
Manufacturer : AeroVironment
Country : USA

The Switchblade is an unmanned aerial vehicle developed by AeroVironment. It is designed as a “kamikaze,” being able to crash into its target with an explosive warhead to destroy it. The Switchblade is small enough to be carried in a backpack and can be launched from a variety of ground and air platforms.

17 March 2015

IAF: Falling out of the sky!

All air forces have accidents, but accounts of Indian warplanes crashing on training and sortie flights have become almost everyday news. The latest incident happened on 5th March, 2015, when a SEPECAT Jaguar crashed in Haryana state - the pilot surviving after ejecting for unspecified reasons, and earlier a MiG-21 jet crashed in Gujarat on 31st January 2015 which was preceded by a MiG-27 fighter jet crash on January 27, 2015 in Rajasthan.

The main culprit is these flyblown episodes are in large part Russian made planes and especially the vintage MiG-21's, which sadly is the backbone of India's fighter fleet. The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 was conceived and developed in the early 1950's by the erstwhile Soviet Union as an interceptor, in response to the more agile and sophisticated American fighter jets. The first prototype emerged in 1954. It is generally regarded as the most prolifically produced combat supersonic jet in aviation history and had the longest production run of any combat aircraft in the world, which began in 1959 to 1985 over all variants. The pedigree of this amazing jet is impeccable. 

However, the MiG-21 which is the combat backbone of the IAF for decades has seen so many accidents that it earned the ignominious sobriquet of a "Flying Coffin". An astonishing 490 MiGs, and planes of other types have crashed over the last 20 years. While over 200 IAF pilots have lost their lives during the last two decades, deaths have declined sharply over the years. IAF also operates other MiG designs such as the MiG-29 & Mig-27 and has since retired the MiG-23 & Mig-25 fighters. The loss in terms of value of aircraft and service property is assessed to be several thousand crores. That is just pouring a lot of money down the drain.

What is wrong with the MiGs?

  • Over the past 50 years, India has bought 976 MiG-21s, and over half of them are gone, mostly because of accidents. Other Air Force's don't fly the MiGs as much as India and ever since the collapse of the Soviet Union and with it the cold war, several flaws in the production process emerged such as poor quality control and reliability, tardy spares supply and difficulty in flying these jets caught up with the force. The once admired and feared combat jet was proving to be an expensive piece of liability.
  • India has about a 100 MiG-27s still operational, and all of them were grounded in 2005-6 when serious problems were discovered with the MiG-27's Russian designed engines.
  • While Russia does not have the reputation for making high quality equipment, they have insinuated India for poor quality production by the local industry and is not as per Russian specifications. Indian defence industry is largely controlled by state run units and it is no secret that much of the military equipment made is pretty shabby by world standards.
  • The delay in developing or procuring trainer aircraft is another count that has to be factored. Rookie pilots go straight from propeller driven trainer aircraft such as the antiquated HAL HPT-32 Deepak, to high performance jets like the MiG-21. This is made worse by the fact that the MiG-21 has always been a tricky aircraft to fly especially with regard to its high speed landing.
  • Though the Indian pilots are trained to exacting standards still the MiGs are not designed and built to be used on a regular basis during peacetime.
  • The MiG-21, MiG-29 and the MiG 27 aircraft are distinctly different designs, all are difficult and dangerous to fly and expensive to maintain. Over the last few years, all Indian MiG-23s were retired because of reliability and safety problems.
Note the chronology of accidents of IAF aircraft crashes in the recent past:

  • Jan 31, 2015: A MiG-21 fighter jet of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed near Bed village in Gujarat's Jamnagar district
  • Jan 27, 2015: A MiG-27 fighter of the Indian Air Force crashed in Barmer on Tuesday, injuring a motorcyclist. The pilot ejected safely.
  • Jan 22, 2014: A Jaguar combat jet crashed near Bholasar village in Rajasthan's Bikaner district. The pilot and co-pilot ejected safely. According to defence ministry, pilots detected a technical problem while landing at Nal airport in Bikaner and ejected.
  • Oct 14, 2014: A Sukhoi-30 fighter jet of the Indian Air Force crashed at a village near Pune with both the pilots ejecting to safety.
  • Oct 1, 2014: A Jaguar combat aircraft of the Indian Air Force crashed while on a routine sortie from Bhuj air base but the pilot ejected safely.
  • Mar 28, 2014: The US-made C-130J Super Hercules military transport aircraft crashed near Gwalior after it took off from Agra, killing all five people on board.
  • Nov 8, 2013: A MiG-29 crashed near Jamnagar in Gujarat but the pilot ejected safely. The aircraft was on a routine sortie from the Jamnagar airbase.
  • Jul 24, 2013: A MiG-29 fighter aircraft today crashed near Lalparda village in Gujarat's Jamnagar district. The pilot ejected safely.
  • July 15, 2013: A MiG-21 Bison fighter aircraft crashed while landing at Uttarlai airbase in Rajasthan's Barmer district, killing the pilot. The aircraft had taken off from the airbase on a routine training sortie and crashed while landing.
  • June 7, 2013: A MiG-21 aircraft crashed in Rajasthan's Barmer district, with the pilot ejecting safely. The aircraft took off from the Uttarlai airbase and was on a routine sortie. It crashed 40 km from Barmer.
  • Feb 19, 2013: A Sukhoi SU-30 combat jet crashed in Rajasthan's Jaisalmer district but both the pilots ejected safely.
  • Feb 12, 2013: A MiG-27 aircraft crashed in Rajasthan's Barmer district but the pilot ejected safely. The aircraft was on a routine training sortie when it crashed near Allawani Ki Dhani after taking off from Uttarlai airbase.
  • Nov 30, 2012: A Jaguar aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF) crashed near Mangam in North Sikkim. The pilot bailed out safely.

15 March 2015

Top 10 Weapon Systems Developed by DRDO

The Defense Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is responsible for the development of technology for use by the Indian armed forces. In recent years it has been criticized for the delayed projects and cost over runs. Because of DRDO’s poor performance in successfully delivering weapon systems and meeting timelines country fulfill its 70% of defense needs by imports from various countries.

Apart from these criticism most of which are irrational and unfair to the part of DRDO, there are many weapon systems which were largely managed by DRDO have seen considerable success with many of the systems seeing rapid deployment as well as yielding significant technological benefits. DRDO has achieved many successes since its establishment in developing other major systems and critical technologies such as aircraft avionics, UAVs, small arms, artillery systems, EW Systems, tanks and armored vehicles, sonar systems, command and control systems and missile systems.

It is very difficult to short down top 10 weapon system developed by DRDO as it has developed so many weapon systems. Based on the technological challenges, strategic importance, defense needs and level of completion of the systems these are top 10 weapon systems developed by DRDO.

Top 10 Weapon Systems Developed by DRDO

1. AGNI-V - Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM)

Agni-V is a inter-continental Ballistic Missile with a range more than 5000 km. Agni-V is part of the Agni series of missiles. It is a solid fuelled and can be launched from a canister Tatra Truck. So It can be launched within five minutes of threat received. It can carry a nuclear war head of 1.5 tons.

This missile is the biggest achievement of DRDO and it is very important for the nuclear deterrent and strategic posturing. Agni-V would also carry MIRV (multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles) payloads being concurrently developed.

With this missile in armory India can Strike any part of China and Pakistan from its territory. This missile was a result of more than 30 years research in missile technology. This missile has put India in the elite club of nations who possess Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles. This missile can be used for India’s ballistic missile defense shield.

Project Status: Under Trials

2. Light Combat Aircraft - TEJAS

This is the costliest and longest going programme of DRDO. It is a 4+ generation fighter plane developed by Aeronautical Development Agency. Tejas is a lightweight multi-role jet fighter. It is a tailless, compound delta wing design powered by a single engine. It came from the LCA programme, which began in the 1980s to replace India’s aging MiG-21 fighters.

It integrates technologies such as relaxed static stability, fly-by-wire flight control system, multi-mode radar, integrated digital avionics system, composite material structures, and a flat rated engine. It is supersonic and highly maneuverable, and is the smallest and lightest in its class of contemporary combat aircraft. Navy and trainer variant of the plane has also been developed and they have received initial operational clearance.

To keep is mind the future requirements of the country, ADA is currently working on Mark-II and Mark-III of Tejas aircraft. These versions will have 5th generation features such as stealth, upgraded avionics, modified aerodynamic designs and AESA radar.

Project Status: Initial Operational Clearance is given (IOC) for production

3. INS ARIHANT - Nuclear Powered Ballistic Missile Submarine

The Arihant class is a class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines being built for the Indian Navy. The lead vessel of the class, INS Arihant, was first launched in 2009 and began sea trials in December 2014. Four vessels are planned and are expected to be in commission by 2023.

The Arihant-class vessels are India’s first indigenously designed and built nuclear submarine. There are only 4-5 countries have technical capabilities to developing a nuclear powered submarines. So it’s a big technical breakthrough for the development of larger submarines in the future.

Arihant has four vertical launch tubes, which can carry twelve (three per launch tube) smaller K-15 missiles or four larger K-4 missiles. The K-4 is a longer range missile (3,500 km) and it is undergoing trials. Submarine will be fitted with USHUS sonar, developed by DRDO lab, for detecting and tracking enemy submarines, surface vessels, and torpedoes and can be used for underwater communication and avoiding obstacles.

Project Status: Under See Trials

4. RUSTOM - II - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle

Rustom is a Medium Altitude Long Endurance unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) being developed by Aeronautical Development Establishment in Bangalore for the three services of the Indian Armed Forces. Rustom-II is developed by India on the lines of the American Predator drones.

I will be equipped with air to surface medium range missiles to destroy enemy targets. For target acquisition and ranging it has sophisticated Medium & Long Range Electro-Optical Payloads, Laser Ranger Finders with high resolution and precision stabilized platforms.

Rustom-II is equipped with various advanced technologies and systems which includes Digital Flight Control and Navigation System, Automatic Take off and Landing, Digital communication technologies for revealing data links to control and operate the mission and relay UAVs.

Project Status: Under Trials

5. ARJUN - Main Battle Tank

The MBT Arjun is a third generation main battle tank developed by Combat Vehicles Research and Development Establishment (CVRDE), a DRDO lab in Chennai, for the Indian Army.

The Arjun features a 120 mm main rifled gun with indigenously developed Armour-piercing fin-stabilized discarding-sabot ammunition, one 7.62 mm coaxial machine gun, and a 12.7 mm machine gun. It has a four-man crew. Automatic fire detection and suppression and NBC protection systems are included. Arjun Tank is equipped with high resolution day and night vision devices which is supported by laser range finder.

The Mark-2 of Arjun has been developed which is an advanced third generation main battle tank and an upgraded version of the Arjun main battle tank with several improvements. Its development was completed in 2 years owing to experience gained from developing the first version. The top speed of the tank would be at 60 km/hr compared to 40 km/hr in Arjun mark 1. It had outclassed the T-90 during the trials. The new variant possesses superior missile firing capabilities and can fire missiles accurately up to a range of 2 km.

Project Status: Under Production

6. BRAHMOS -  Super Sonic Cruise Missile

The BrahMos has been developed as a joint venture between the Defence Research and Development Organization of India and the Federal State Unitary Enterprise of Russia under BrahMos Aerospace. The missile is named after two rivers, the Brahmaputra and the Moskva.

It is the world’s fastest cruise missile in operation. The missile travels at speeds of Mach 2.8 to 3.0. The land-launched and ship-launched versions are already in service, with the air and submarine-launched versions currently in the testing phase. An air-launched variant of BrahMos( Fitted with Su-30 MKI) is planned which is expected to come out in 2016 and will make India the only country with supersonic cruise missiles in their army, navy, and air force.

A hypersonic version of the missile namely BrahMos-II is also presently under development with speed of Mach 7 to boost aerial fast strike capability. It is expected to be ready for testing by 2017.

Like the BrahMos, the range of BrahMos II has also been limited to 290 km to comply with the MTCR. With a speed of Mach 7, it will have double the speed of the current BrahMos missile, and it will be the fastest hypersonic missile in the world.

Project Status: Under Production for all the three services

7. NIRBHAY - Medium Range Subsonic Cruise Missile

Nirbhay is a long range, subsonic cruise missile developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation’s premier laboratory Aeronautical Development Establishment in Bangalore. Nirbhay is an all-weather low-cost long-range cruise missile with stealth and high accuracy. The missile has a range of more than 1000 km and It can be launched from a mobile launcher. It starts flying off as a rocket and then turns into an aircraft. For that it has foldable wings.

It is capable of being launched from multiple platforms on land, sea and air and shall be inducted into Indian Navy, Army, and Air Force. In particular, Nirbhay is being adapted for the Su-30MKI. The missile is capable of carrying nuclear warheads. The missile supplements Brahmos by delivering warheads farther than the 290 km range of Brahmos. This missile can fly at the height of a tree so its difficult to catch it by enemy radar.

The development of this missile is a breakthrugh for India as this missile is comparable to Pakistan’s Babur and USAs Tomhawk. It will be mounted on Su-30 MKI which will make the fighter planes more lethal.

Project Status: Under Trials

8. DHRUV - Advanced Light Helicopter

The Dhruv Helicopters have evolved from The Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) program for an indigenous 5-ton multirole helicopter was initiated in May 1979 by the Indian Air Force and Indian Naval Air Arm. HAL were given a contract by the Indian government in 1984 to develop the helicopter.

The Dhruv has become the first major Indian weapons system to have secured large foreign sales. In 2004 HAL stated that it hoped to sell 120 Dhruvs over the next eight years, and has been displaying the Dhruv at airshows.

With a unit price at least 15 percent less than its rivals, the Dhruv has elicited interest in many countries, mostly from Latin America, Africa, West Asia, South East Asia and the Pacific Rim nations. Air forces from around 35 countries have made inquiries, along with requests for demonstrations. Flight certification for Europe and North America is also been planned in order to tap the large civilian market there.

Project Status: Under Trials

9. Ballistic Missile Defence System

Prithvi Advanced Air Defence System is for engaging the targets in the exo-atmosphere region

The Indian Ballistic Missile Defence Programme is an initiative to develop and deploy a multi-layered ballistic missile defence system to protect from ballistic missile attacks. It is a very ambitious and technology intensive project as this kind of capabilities are with only 2-3 countries in the world.

Introduced in light of the ballistic missile threat from Pakistan and China, it is a double-tiered system consisting of two interceptor missiles, namely the Prithvi Air Defence (PAD) missile for high altitude interception, and the Advanced Air Defence (AAD) Missile for lower altitude interception. The two-tiered shield should be able to intercept any incoming missile launched 5,000 kilometres away.

Advanced Air Defence System is for engaging the targets in the endo-atmosphere region

The two-tiered BMD System consists of the PAD, which will intercept missiles at exo-atmospheric altitudes of 50–80 km and the AAD missile for interception at endo-atmospheric altitudes of up to 30 km. The deployed system would consist of many launch vehicles, radars, Launch Control Centres and the Mission Control Centre. All these are geographically distributed and connected by a secure communication network.

Project Status: Under Trials

10. INSAS - Indian Small Arms System

INSAS (Indian Small Arms System) is a family of infantry arms consisting of an assault rifle and a light machine gun. It is designed by Armament Research and Development Establishment (ARDE), Pune. It is manufactured by the Ordnance Factories Board at Ordnance Factory Tiruchirappalli, Small Arms Factory Kanpur and Ichapore Arsenal.

Development of this rifle was a big achievement for the country as it replaced all the outdated rifles and their export was also stopped. INSAS has been included in the top 10 weapon systems developed by DRDO because of its mass induction in the services and export to various countries.

The assault rifle and LMG variants have been adopted by the Indian Armed Forces, Central Armed Police Forces, Indian Paramilitary Forces and police forces. On the international level India has exported a certain number of these rifles to Nepal, Bhutan and Oman. About, 300,000 units are in currently use by the Indian armed forces.

Project Status: Services are Using the rifle

11 March 2015



There has been several hostile press on India's multi-billion dollar Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) acquisition program. Dassault Rafale after intensive testing and evaluations won the fiercely contested competition to supply 126 multi-role combat aircraft (could go upto 200) to the Indian Air Force (IAF). Initially the Defence Ministry had allocated  82,000 Crore (US $13 billion) for the purchase of these aircraft, making it then the world's single largest military aircraft deal. The MMRCA tender was floated with the idea of filling the gap between the LCA Tejas and the much feared & revered Sukhoi Su-30MKI air superiority fighter.

Clearly the RAFALE is one of the worlds most advanced new generation omni-role combat aircraft available on the market (this is what Dassault Aviation says), it is a balanced multi-role aircraft that would be able to replace/phase out several types of combat aircraft in use by the IAF. The contract has a 50 percent offset clause built into it. Which means the deal will bring considerable amount of money in French high-tech into India’s defence production sector. Complete transfer of technology is mandatory so cutting-edge knowhow can be transferred to India’s own advanced fighter program.

The Rafale, which means "gust" in French, seems like the perfect choice. The Rafale was shortlisted by the IAF because of its superior technology which fulfilled its requirement to acquire a true Multi-Role capable aircraft which include air to air missions, air to ground and air to sea interdiction Further, India's unique and dynamic geographics entails a platform to be able to perform in the most adverse of conditions which includes searing heat and dust, humidity and bitter cold of the Himalayan region. IAF favored the French as it is already well-equipped with French Mirage-2000, the Rafale is operationally and logistically very similar to its predecessor. Moreover, the Mirage’s played a decisive role during the Kargil war and the Rafale itself has seen its share of action in Afghanistan and Libya. Lest we forget, France has been India's true friend and has supported it on several international issues.

More significantly, the IAF Mirage 2000s boasts an impeccable safety record over the past 30 years.


  • Firstly, the cost of a fighter is a vital piece of information, the bill for the Rafale deal has doubled from $10.40 billion in 2009 to around $22 billion today, and this will exceed $30 billion over the years, in other words each Rafale will effectively cost approximately $238 million. That is an enormous amount of loot for a developing economy like India. Conversely, an advanced country like the UK procured the Lockheed Martin's F-35B (V/STOL) version of the stealth fighter (Vertical and/or Short Take-off and Landing) for $190 million a piece, which is clearly a full generation ahead of the Rafale. South Korea also signed a deal with Lockheed Martin to buy 40 F-35 fighter jets for about $7.06 billion which works out to roughly $177 million per unit. Japan and Israel have also inked similar deals with LM for the purchase of these stealth jets.
  • Additionally, cost of several secondary requirements has also to be factored along with the primary deal, these include maintenance cost, transfer of technology pricing (ToT), software source codes, flight control laws, weapons store, helmet-mounted heads-up-display and the exclusive AESA (active electronically scanned array) radar. Moreover, ToT provision in foreign defence contracts are fallacious since core technologies in reality are never transferred. HAL on the other hand is also incapable of absorbing advanced technologies as historical evidence proves that it only assembles aircraft from imported kits. This lacunae on HAL's part incidentally is the main bone of contention between the negotiating parties.
  • Dassault Aviation is under pressure since they haven’t been able to make a single aircraft sale outside their own country excepting Egyp. Several countries in the past have junked the deal with France which include Brazil, Canada, the Netherlands, Singapore, Norway, South Korea, Saudi Arabia and even Morocco! Certainly the MMRCA deal will bring immense cheer to the program!
  • France is desperate to sell the fighter as absence of a substantial deal such as India's MMRCA procurement will cushion Dassault production lines from a hard landing or else it will have severe ramifications on the French aerospace industry, and as a direct result of a possible cancellation it will propel the already high price to unaffordable levels even for the French Air Force.
  • Rafale acquisition will further exacerbate the existing force structure and logistics nightmare routinely faced by the squadrons in operations owing to the complexity of maintaining a diversified combination of combat aircraft.
  • It is also alleged that France choreograph the air war strikes on Libya & Afghanistan to showcase Rafale's capabilities in a bid to influence India’s decision making process on the fighter aircraft's finalization. 

In conclusion, the above failings renders the aircraft utterly unfit for the IAF and it will be prudent for the current dispensation to cancel this overblown deal as it would send a clear message to vested interests in the military bureaucracy, HAL & foreign firms that India cannot be taken for a ride anymore.

Finally, it is hardly outrageous to say that the Rafale in the end seems a Demon masquerading as a Lemon.

Source IDN

14 February 2015

India's Space Shuttle


Sriharikota Range, popularly known as SHAR is situated on an island off Sullurupeta - a small town in Nellore district, of the state Andhra Pradesh. This launch centre located at Sriharikota island, was named as Satish Dhawan Space Centre, SHAR (SDSC, SHAR) in September 2002, in memory of Prof Satish Dhawan, who was Chairman of ISRO from 1972 to 1984. The activities at SDSC, SHAR are grouped under vehicle assembly and static test operations, range operations, liquid storage and service facilities and, solid propellant space booster plant. However, the most fascinating events that take place in this quaint location are the launches of giant rocket boosters. Unknown to many, ISRO is getting ready to launch a  high tech Reusable rocket, a capability which has no players but has aspirants aplenty.


The Space Capsule Recovery Experiment (SRE-1) is an experimental spacecraft launched by ISRO in 2007, it is designed to demonstrate the capability to recover an orbiting space capsule, and the technology of an orbiting platform for performing experiments in micro gravity conditions. It was also intended to test reusable Thermal Protection System, navigation, guidance and control, hypersonic aero-thermodynamics, management of communication blackout, deceleration and flotation system and recovery operations.

The SRE-1 comprised of an aero-thermo structure, mission management unit, altitude sensors, inertial measurement unit, S-band transponder with unique belt array antenna embedded to ATS, power and electronics packages to support deceleration and flotation system. It also housed two microgravity payloads. The parachute, pyro devices, avionics packages of triggering unit and sequencer, telemetry and tracking system and sensors for measurement of system performance parameters were placed inside the SRE-1 capsule which performed flawlessly. All the above technologies will be applied in the Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) experimental vehicle.

Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD):

A winged Reusable Launch Vehicle Technology Demonstrator (RLV-TD) has been configured to act as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies, viz., hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air breathing propulsion towards realising a Two Stage to Orbit (TSTO) fully Reusable Launch Vehicle.

Major milestones reach for the RLV-TD include:

  • Completion of major actions identified by the National Review Committee during the Integrated Technical Review (ITR) of hypersonic experimental flight (RLV-TD HEX-01).
  • Mission analyses on the design of trajectory, autopilot and guidance have been completed.
  • The Avionics Bay powering for the Avionics packages in the Technology Demonstrator Vehicle (TDV) was carried out through Checkout System and On-Board Checkout Computer (OBCC).
  • The second phase of the full scale Flush Air Data System (FADS) model was successfully tested and validated at the Wind Tunnel Facility, IIT, Kanpur with modified algorithms and recalibrated sensors.
  • Radar Altimeter along with antenna was also validated through a Balloon test at TATA Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), Hyderabad and the capability of the system has been demonstrated.
  • Trial assembly of Thermal Protection System for qualifying the bonding procedure and trial assembly of Booster with Interstage and TDV have been completed.
  • The realisation of the flight hardware and its assembly and integration is in progress. The launch of RLV-TD HEX-01 mission is planned in 2014.

The first test flight of the RLV-TD called as RLV-TD HEX-01 (Hypersonic Flight Experiment) is expected to occur in the month of March 2015. RLV-TD alone without the Solid Booster weighs about 3 tonnes, with a diameter of about 0.56 m and a length of about 10 m. The RLV-TD will be mounted on top of a S-9 Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) which weighs about 9 tonnes.

The main objectives of this test flight are:

1 - Validating the aerodynamic design characteristics during Hypersonic flight.
2 - Characterize induced loads during the Hypersonic re-entry into the atmosphere.
3 - Recovery of the HEX vehicle from the sea.
4 - Assess the performance of the carbon fibre used in construction of the nose of the vehicle.
5 - Demonstrating First Stage separation sequencing.

RLV-TD HEX-01 is the first out of four in the series of test flights. HEX-01 stands for Hypersonic Flight Experiment.The other four tests are:

1 - LEX (Landing Experiment)
2 - REX (Return Flight Experiment)
3 - SPEX (Scramjet Propulsion Experiment)

The conventional satellite launch vehicles PSLV and GSLV are not cost effective. Hence, currently efforts are being made to develop Reusable Launch Vehicle (RLV). The proposed vehicle is a two stage to orbit configuration with a semi-cryogenic winged booster and a cryogenic ballistic orbiter in which the first stage will fly back to the landing site near the launch pad like a conventional aircraft. It will serve as a flying test bed to evaluate various technologies such as hypersonic flight, autonomous landing, powered cruise flight and hypersonic flight using air breathing propulsion.

The S-9 Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) undergoing tests at Liquid Propulsion Systems Center

The RLV-TD will possess wings and tail fins, and will be launched atop a 9 ton solid booster called S-9, similar to the ones on the PSLV.  RLV-TD is reported to be 9m long, with its wing span also measuring 9m. The RLV-TD plus the S9 Solid Rocket Booster stack will together weigh 12-ton. Following liftoff, the S-9 booster will climb to 100-km and accelerate several times the speed of sound with the RLV-TD. RLV-TD will then separate and glide down using its fin and wing controls and will land in  the Bay of Bengal, close to the shore.  The water landing is planned because India doesn't have a long enough runway which is more than 5 Km in length.

The next experiment would be to land the vehicle on a 2km runway after releasing it from an aircraft from a height of about 5km. The third step would be to take it to a higher altitude and try the ground landing.


Indian Space Research Organisation has developed a hydrogen based scramjet engine. All the ground based tests have been completed using the moderate size hypersonic wind tunnel and the conventional shock tunnel available within ISRO. The flight tests using the sounding rockets will commence shortly.


This program is to demonstrate a scramjet engine integrated vehicle performance in autonomous mode. In addition to proving the design and performance of the scramjet engine the HSTDV will also be able to prove the associated technologies including aerodynamic design, aero-thermal design, materials and hot structures at hypersonic flight Mach numbers. The HSTDV mission involves launching the hypersonic air-breathing vehicle called Cruise Vehicle (CV) to a Mach number of 6.5 at an altitude of 30-35 km using a rocket launch vehicle. A single scramjet engine burning kerosene fuel powers the cruise vehicle for a sustained operation of 20 second duration.

13 February 2015

Thorium as an Alternative Source of Cheap & Plentiful Energy

India's Prototype Fast Thorium Breeder Reactor (PFTBR) - the 200-tonne safety vessel being lowered into the reactor vault at the Madras Atomic Power Station (MAPS) located at Kalpakkam about 80 kilometres (50 mi) south of Chennai, India 


“Safe enough for our back yard”

Electricity is a predominant input for the economic development of any country. In spite of the impressive strides in increasing overall installed capacity in the India, the country is still facing power shortages. Options available for commercial electricity generation are hydro, thermal, nuclear and renewable sources. In the energy planning of the country, a judicious mix of hydro, thermal, nuclear and renewable is an important aspect. Diversified energy resource-base is essential to meet electricity requirements and to ensure long-term energy security. With the limited resources of coal and oil available in India and the growing global concerns of greenhouse gases generated by fossil fuel fired stations, in the medium and long-term perspective nuclear power is designated to play a vital role. For a trillion dollar plus economy, like India, increase in the nuclear generation capacity is rational and an inevitable approach as it is environmentally benign, commercially viable and ensures the energy security of the country.

Current Scenario

Post Obama’s visit to India and the clearing of the nuclear deal between India and the US, a great amount of buzz has been generated on this issue. However, the focus has thus far been on using Uranium as a source of nuclear fuel and India getting access to this source of fuel besides the nuclear reactors.

         A Sample of Thorium

A couple of years back when the nuclear deal was first proposed during the UPA government’s stint in power, scientists in India vehemently opposed placing its fast breeder reactor technology under the preview of international nuclear watch dogs and pressed for focusing on Thorium based Fast Breeder Reactor technology for the future.

However, the previous UPA government followed an unwritten policy of severely downsizing both the Fast Breeder Reactor (FBT) as well as the thorium-based technology program, thereby making India dependent on foreign countries for advanced nuclear technology, this is claimed by many key scientists on condition of anonymity. 

Until 2005, Indian was at the forefront of thorium based research. It is also by far the most committed nation as far as the use of thorium fuel is concerned, and no other country has done as much neutron physics work on thorium as India. The country published about twice the number of papers on thorium as its nearest competitors during each of the years from 2002 to 2006.

Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) had the highest number of publications in the thorium area, across all research institutions in the world during the period 1982-2004. During this same period, India ranks an overall second behind the United States in the research output on Thorium. Analysis shows that majority of the authors involved in thorium research publications appear to be from India.

       Illustration of a Molten salt Reactor

Research and development of thorium-based nuclear reactors, primarily the Liquid fluoride thorium reactor, (LFTR), MSR design, has been or is now being done in the U.S., U.K.,Germany, Brazil, India, China, France, the Czech Republic, Japan, Russia, Canada, Israel and the Netherlands.

According to Siegfried Hecker, a former director (1986–1997) of the Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S., "India has the most technically ambitious and innovative nuclear energy program in the world. The extent and functionality of its nuclear experimental facilities is matched only by Russia and is far ahead of the United States".

Back to circa 2015, India is back to counting on foreign suppliers for expensive Uranium fuel and reactors. And this is certainly the wrong direction taken by the policy makers on account of these following vital facts:

Thorium offers a form of energy that is stable, abundant, inexpensive, powerful, safe, continuous, domestically-sourced, non-polluting during both extraction and consumption, transportable, and for which India has at least a thousand-year reserve.

India's Research on Prototype Fast Thorium Breeder Reactor (PFTBR)

At present, there are no internal fertile blankets or fissile breeding zones in power reactors operating in the world. Thorium-based fuels and fuel cycles have been used in the past and are being developed in a few countries but are yet to be commercialized. However, BARC's Prototype Fast Thorium Breeder Reactor (PFTBR) is claimed to be the first design that truly exploits the concept of "breeding" in a reactor that uses thorium. The handful of Fast Breeder Reactors (FBRs) in the world today - including the one India is building in Kalpakkam near Chennai, use plutonium as fuel. These breeders have to wait until enough plutonium to be accumulated through reprocessing of spent fuel discharged by thermal power reactors that run on Uranium. In February 2014, BARC presented its latest design for a "next-generation nuclear reactor" that will burn thorium as its fuel. The target date to commission the system is envisioned for 2016 and it would be a completely automated design which means it would not require any operator to run the reactor for more than two months. The commissioning of PFTBR would make India the most advanced country in thorium research. The concept has won praise from nuclear experts elsewhere. According to former BARC Director P.K. Iyengar, this new design is one way of utilizing thorium and circumventing the delays in building plutonium for India's FBRs. (Text based on reports from Times of India, Circa 2007)

Switching from Uranium to Thorium

India has chalked out a three-stage program to reduce its reliance on imported uranium seeks to make more substantial use of thorium, of which India holds 25% of the world’s total reserves. Although Th-232 is not fissile, it will absorb slow neutrons to produce fissile U-233 when placed in a reactor. (See the sidebar "Now you’re cooking with Thorium" in "Developing the next generation of reactors," POWER, April 2008.) A thorium-powered reactor would be based on a closed fuel cycle.

The first stage consists of setting up pressurized heavy water reactors (PHWRs). Already 17 PHWRs with an installed capacity of 4,000 MW are in operation, and five reactors with an installed capacity of 2,660 MW are under construction. "The choice of PHWRs in the first stage is driven by the fact that in PHWRs, on account of the use of heavy water as moderator and on-power refueling, more neutrons are available to convert U-238 to Pu than in the case of Light Water Reactors (LWRs)," Anil Kakodkar, chair of India’s Atomic Energy Commission, said at a public lecture in Bangalore last year.

The second phase will start with the deployment of domestically designed fast breeder reactors (FBRs) fueled with mixed oxide, and then — when all "necessary technologies" have been developed and demonstrated — metallic fuel – based FBRs, Kakodkar said. These are expected to convert uranium – 238 into plutonium, increasing power generation to 300 GW for about 70 years.

The third stage will involve the gradual transition to thorium-based systems, likely through an advanced heavy water reactor (AHWR) being developed at the Mumbai-based Bhabha Atomic Research Center (BARC). The uranium-233 required for third-stage breeder reactors will be obtained by the irradiation of thorium in PHWRs and FBRs. "Studies indicate that once the FBR capacity reaches about 200 GW, thorium-based fuel can be introduced progressively in the FBRs to initiate the third stage, where U-233 bred in these reactors is to be used in the thorium-based reactors," Kakodkar said.

Construction of a 500-MWe prototype FBR — the first in India — is already in full swing at Kalpakkam, Tamil Nadu (Figure 10). All research and developmental work by the Indira Gandhi Centre for Atomic Research (IGCAR) has been completed on the R35 billion ($680 million) reactor. The project, a joint venture between Bharatiya Nabhikiya Vidyut Nigam, the Nuclear Power Corp. of India, and the IGCAR (which are all federal enterprises) — is expected to begin generating power sometime in 2010.

Types of thorium-based reactors

There are seven types of reactors that can be designed to use thorium as a nuclear fuel. The first five of these have all entered into operational service at some point. The last two are still conceptual, although currently in development by many countries:

  • Heavy water reactors (PHWRs) 
  • High-temperature gas-cooled reactors (HTRs) 
  • Boiling (light) water reactors (BWRs) 
  • Pressurized (Light) water reactors (PWRs) 
  • Fast neutron reactors (FNRs) 
  • Molten salt reactors (MSRs, LFTRs) 
Salient Features of Thorium Fuel and its Reactors

Thorium is Stable (fertile, not fissile)

  • Half life of 1.39x1010 years 
  • Stable in natural state 
  • Can be handled with care in solid form. Shavings or powder can self-combust in air. 
  • For energy purposes, we will be dealing with thorium as a liquid fluoride. 

Thorium is Powerful

Thorium, by itself, is virtually non-radioactive. It must be bombarded by neutrons to jump-start it. The fissionable result is 233U, which gives off 198 MeV or 82.0 TJ/kg. 
Per nucleus fission, the thorium fuel cycle is virtually as powerful as that of uranium. 

Thorium is Abundant

  • More common in the earth's crust than gold, mercury, tungsten, and tin.
  • More plentiful than uranium by 3.73 times.
  • Can be found in uranium mine tailings and coal power plant ash piles
  • India has 319,000 tons of Thorium
Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor (LFTR)

  • Allow for continuous feed for higher fuel utilization 
  • Simplify chemical separation 
  • Provides self-regulation, i.e. higher temperature expands liquid which dilutes concentration, which lowers neutron absorption and fission, which lowers temperature 
  • Make xenon gas removal easy, thereby maintaining high efficiency 
  • Can process today's nuclear waste materials 

  • Chemically stable 
  • Combine with fission products and transuranics 
  • High temperature operation brings high efficiency 
  • No water cooling, control rods, or elaboratecontainment facility needed 
  • Salt plug safety mechanism 

  • Very high percentage of a single isotope leads to single isotope fission, thereby a smaller set of fission products/waste. 
  • Thorium's high thermal neutron cross section (~90%) implies fewer higher mass actinides. 
  • Thorium fission products have less neutron absorption leading to significantly greater efficiency. 
  • Chemically separable on the fly from its fissile material (233U). 
  • Thorium fluoride has low water solubility. 
Current Reactor Safety

  • No spent fuel rods. instead molten fuel continuously consumed 
  • No melt down Instead passive cooling 
  • No water Instead molten salt for heat transfer and gas turbines for electricity generation 
  • No high pressure. Instead the reactor runs at high temperature, making the turbines more efficient 
  • No containment facility 
  • In the unlikely event of a fuel spill, the fuel turns solid. 
  • Low water soluble compounds, i.e. no ground water contamination if promptly addressed 
  • Overheated salt self-corrects itself to lower temperature 
  • Freeze plug for automatic and/or quick shutdown 
  • No water for steam explosion 
  • No O2 or other gases in the system to assist explosions 
  • Low pressure environment can't explode & spread fuel 
  • Must add fuel to keep reactor running 
  • No spent fuel stockpile to maintain/protect 
  • Radioactivity confined to reactor. chemical separators, 1st heat exchanger, & drain tank 
Can Thorium be used directly for a bomb?

Thorium is naturally stable. It is no good for a bomb in its elemental state. It is also stable in fluorides and other compounds.

Could a LFTR reactor be used as a bomb?

If you could somehow overload the reactor, the temperature would rise, the freeze plug would melt, and the fluoride would flow to an external reservoir where it would solidify because the geometry would not support fission. You would need a LFTR like environment to unfreeze it and re-stimulate fission to an extreme

Can one take radioactive material out of a LFTR and use it for a dirty bomb?

Yes, but these materials are extremely hot and giving off gamma rays that, nearby, could disable all electronics and kill a person within 72 hours. To then use this material, you would have to build a special reactor/bomb, a task about half the size of the Manhatten Project.

Will LFTR sites need security?

Yes. Even if only for the waste that must be controlled.

Waste Management comparison – Uranium Vs Thorium

  • Mine waste generation - Thorium solid waste advantage for this set of steps: 3667 to 1. 
  • Operation waste generation - Thorium solid waste advantage: 363 to 1
Reactor Waste Products per GigaWyr

Uranium Fuel Cycle

  • 250 tons inc. 1.75 t 235U 
  • 215 tons of depleted 238U inc. 0.6t 235U waste + 35t enrich U inc. 1.15t 235U 
  • Yields 33.4t 238U & 0.3t 235U & 1t fission products & 0.3t plutonium 
  • Products include Pu-238, 239 (50%), 240, 241, 242 and 0.1% Americium, neptunium, curium 

Thorium Fuel Cycle

  • 1 ton Thorium at start 
  • 83% of fission products are stable in 10 years 
  • 17% of fission products are stored for 300-350 years 
  • Zero thorium at end 
  • 0.0001 ton of plutonium 
  • Thorium products need sequestering on the order of 350 years versus 350,000 years for the plutonium products. 
LFTR Design Advantages

Built-in passive safety, proven, scaleable, site agile, manufacturable, carbonless, domestically sourced, potential export product, small footprint, transportable, manageable waste, abundant electrical power source, enrichment free, available fuel already, no mineral exploration needed, 1000+ year fuel reserve, can consume existing nuclear waste stockpiles, proliferation resistant, resilient to natural diasters, performance tunable/load following, on/off capable, low-cost fuel, waterless, higher electricity conversion efficiency, centralized quality control. 

Resilient to natural disasters could use further explanation. LFTRs are scalable in size. For general utility, the optimal size maybe modules about the size of cargo containers. These are relatively small and coud be built to shake as a unit during an earthquake. The relatively small size reduces the torque along any given axis. 
If the LFTR ends up under water, the control electronics will probably burn out. But if all fails, the fuel will solidify as it cools. 

LFTR development and production

  • Cost of 400MWe LFTR equal to Airbus A380 passenger jet 
  • LFTR modules can be built in factories 
  • Both have 400MW gas turbines 
  • Both are low pressure vessels ~10psi 
  • Production quantities may be similar. They do one a week 
  • Purchase price ~$320 million 

As you can see from the above statistics, Thorium is the Internet of Energy and can fulfill most of our energy requirement of the future.