Saturday, December 1, 2012
Drones and Toilets
The new railway minister, Pawan Kumar Bansal has decided to use the aviation style engineering design. The Rail Coach Factory (RCF) at Kapurthala has already produced 1,200 bio-toilets based on the technology by the Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO).
B N Rajshekhar, the RCF Chairman explained to The Times of India: “The DRDO technology…is already the first-of-its kind in the world. With vacuum technology systems, our trains would be as sophisticated as those in Europe."
This is good, but it raises a crucial question: is it the job of the DRDO to spend its resources and energy designing toilets?
A.K. Antony, the Indian Defense minister was recently reported to have urged the Army to go on a 'fast-track' for the “China border projects”.
Does this directive apply to the DRDO?
“In view of the current security scenario”, the minister reviewed infrastructure development, including airfields and military preparedness along the China border in the northeast.
Attended by the Chiefs of the Army and IAF, the Defence Secretary, the Border Roads Organization and other senior officials, the meeting had been called to monitor the progress on the northeast border. The Defence Minister asked the Army to go beyond the ‘expected schedules for completion’ of all projects; in other words, ‘get ready for any eventuality’. That is good.
With Chinese scientists working hard on less down-to-earth projects than toilets, China has furthered its advance in military preparedness.
On November 23, 2012, China Military Online reported the launch of high-altitude drones and the undertaking of patrolling-and-inspection tests. The Chinese site affirms: “Three drones of different types conducted their final test on November 21, 2012 in Hoh Xil, a high-altitude and frigid area in west China's Qinghai province [Amdo province of Tibet] which marked the full completion of the one-month-long flight tests for the 'Applicability Study on Drone Patrolling-and-Inspection in High-Altitude Area'.”
The tests were conducted at altitudes ranging from 2,800 to 4,767 meters above sea level. The Chinese scientists tested 10 types of unmanned plane platforms with different power, different aerodynamic structure and different taking-off and landing mode in Qinghai province (northeastern Tibet).
China Military Online admits: “The drone patrolling-and-inspection flight in high-altitude area is a worldwide problem”. According to the Chinese, the tests, which were performed under high-altitude weather conditions, low temperature and sandy wind, were successful.
It is not that DRDO is not also making Unmanned Air Vehicles (UAVs).
The Organization acknowledges that it “plays a predominant role in the modern day warfare where emphasis is on surveillance, intelligence-gathering and dissemination of information.” DRDO knows: “UAVs serve as unique tools, which broaden battlefield situational awareness and the ability to see, target, and destroy the enemy by providing actionable intelligence to the lowest tactical levels.”
But once again, India is facing a situation of comparative slow-pace development compared to China; it is the result of a lack of political will power and motivation. As a consequence, India remains far behind China in terms of project realization.
Already in April, Xinhua had mentioned that drones had undertaken military mapping missions in NW China (Tibet and Xinjiang). The Communist regime mouthpiece said: "An unmanned Chinese military drone recently completed its first digital mapping mission near north China's Helan mountain [Inner Mongolia], capturing high-definition imaging data during more than five consecutive hours of aerial photography.”
The PLA’s Lanzhou Military Area Command was responsible for the mission; it was a first for an unmanned drone in China.
Let us not forget that the Lanzhou Military Region controls Western Tibet (Ngari Prefecture) north of the Indian border in Himachal and Ladakh.
In 2011, The Times of India (TOI) had reported that India had ‘quietly’ undertaken a combat drone project: “Talking about the secretive AURA (Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft) programme for the first time, DRDO told TOI that the aim is to develop the UCAVs for IAF in seven to eight years.”
Dr Prahlada, DRDO's Chief Controller R&D (Aeronautics) had told the newspaper: “With Rs 50 crore as seed money, a full-fledged project team with 15-18 scientists has already begun work on the UCAV's preliminary design and technology. With on-board mission computers, data links, fire control radars, identification of friend or foe, and traffic collision avoidance systems, they will be highly intelligent drones”.
The Government has evidently started realizing that UCAVs are ‘game-changers in modern-day warfare’, especially after the US 'Predator' and 'Reaper' drones using Hellfire missiles managed to ‘neutralize’ several senior Taliban leaders at minimum human cost.
A DRDO brochure explains: “A distinct advantage of UAVs is their cost-effectiveness. They can be developed, produced, and operated at lower costs compared to the cost of manned aircraft. The relative savings in engines, airframes, fuel consumption, pilot training, logistics, and maintenance are enormous. The biggest advantage of UAVs, however, is that there is no risk to human lives.”
But while China works aggressively to achieve its target, India does it ‘quietly’, at its own slow pace.
Last month, an article in Bloomberg affirmed: “China Aerospace Science & Industry Corp (CASIC), China’s largest maker of non-military drones, expects to double UAV’s sales next year due to the new sovereignty disputes.”
At the Zhuhai air-show in China, Huang Xingdong, deputy head of CASIC’s drone department declared: “The government is attaching greater importance to ocean intelligence gathering as the islands disputes heat up.”
CASIC presented six civilian and military drones at the Zhuhai show, and unveiled a new one, Hiwing, (‘Sea Hawker’ in Chinese). This UAV can fly at 700 kms/hour and is able to carry 130 kgs.
These technological advances come at a time when Xinhua announced that China has successfully conducted landings on its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. A new prototype of its J-15 fighter jet was used for the landing exercise. A spokesperson of the PLA Navy (PLAN) affirmed: “Capabilities of the carrier platform and the J-15 have been tested, meeting all requirements and achieving good compatibility”. It was the first trials for the J-15 as China's first generation multi-purpose carrier-borne fighter jet. Entirely designed by China, the J-15 is able to carry multi-type anti-ship, air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles, as well as precision-guided bombs.
In India, the delivery of the INS Vikramaditya (Admiral Gorshkov), the aircraft carrier from Russia had been further delayed till the end of 2013; it was earlier announced for 2012. The Defence Minister stated in Parliament: “The total project cost of Vikramaditya, as approved by the government in 2004, was $ 974.28 million with the delivery scheduled in August 2008. In March 2010, the cost was renegotiated and increased to $ 2.3 billion with the revised delivery date as December 2012.” Mercifully, the total cost will remain the same. Of course, in this particular case, India is not fully responsible for the delay.
On November 27, a state-owned Chinese firm launched Sri Lanka’s first satellite. Many believe that it is not only a reflection of the deepening strategic and economic ties between the two countries, but also a sign of China’s rapid advancement in the field of satellite launching.
Not to antagonize India, the Sri Lankan government had distanced itself from the launch insisting that ‘there is no state [Chinese] involvement’, however the Sri Lankan company, SupremeSAT had an agreement with the Chinese Great Wall Industry Corporation to launch this satellite at the Xichang Satellite Launch Centre in Sichuan province.
It is time for India to wake up.
Good intentions and ‘quietly’ doing things are not enough.