The opportunities for the Indian Defence Industry to manufacture specialist ammunition for the armed forces are gradually opening up. It’s an area that promises high profitability as also continuity in terms of recurrent purchase orders. However, user end issues and apprehensions need to be fully understood by the manufacturers, early in the day, to provide ammunition to correct specifications in the Indian context. The author elaborates on the user needs that the Navy would in all probability impose, and manufacturers would require to abide by.
USER NEEDS AND CONCERNS FOR SHIP AND SURFACE LAUNCHED WEAPONS
This year’s DEFEXPO (the 9th edition) and the simultaneous release of the DPP-2016 expectedly received massive media coverage. This news deluge, however, subsumed a policy decision of matching criticality that had been addressed a couple of months earlier when in February, 2016, the MoD accorded approval-in-principle (AIP) for Indian private sector to manufacture specialist ammunition for the army. While there is still much distance to be covered before the actual grant of licenses and while the AIP is currently restricted to the army, this is, nevertheless a seminal precedence-setting measure and can lead to transformational changes in the defence sector.
As the weapons-manufacturing industry — Indian and foreign — moves to implement the call to ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make for India’, it is vital to incorporate end-user needs and concerns at the conceptualisation stage itself. Insofar as naval surface-launched weapons are concerned, here is an illustrative listing:
- Stability: The ability of an explosive to be stored without deterioration. Given the confined spaces endemic to warships, a naval end-user will always choose a solid-fuel weapon over a liquid-fuel one. Even within solid-fuel options, the first preference is for a weapon whose explosive content (the missiles’ propulsive-fuel tanks and warhead) is able to withstand large and sudden variations of temperature. Aboard warships, ‘stability’ is not limited to temperature alone. Efforts to maintain a controlled atmospheric environment within ammunition magazines notwithstanding, optimal conditions of humidity can seldom be sustained. Consequent problems become very evident when a ship that is designed for operations in cold or temperate climates is redeployed to a hot or tropical theatre, or, having been built by/for a navy that routinely operates in temperate or cold climes, is subsequently transferred-to or inducted-by a navy that routinely operates in tropical or hot climes.
- Weapon-stability in the face of ship-damage — especially that suffered as a result of enemy action — is particularly sought after by end-users. Weapons- that demand stringent and artificially-maintained environmental conditions of stowage, transportation or operation are inherently failure-prone aboard warships. Similarly, industry frequently fails to factor the severely degraded environmental conditions that prevail aboard ships during refits. All other things being equal, the weapon should be capable of being stored for its entire stowage life without air conditioning (implying humidity-control as well as temperature-control). Stability is also a function of Electro-Magnetic Compatibility (EMC) — which should be high — and Electro-Magnetic Interference (EMI) — which should be as low as possible.
- Robustness: The physical robustness of a weapon is a major determinant of its selection by the end-user. Delicate systems have little chance of surviving the rough-and-tumble of heavy seas, leave alone conditions of combat, particularly when enemy-inflicted damage has to be absorbed. Robustness implies resistance to physical damage, flooding, corrosion, etc., and is applicable to the weapon as a whole, including sensing-devices and flight-control-surfaces (wings, nose-fins, tail-fins, ailerons, pitometers, altimeters, etc.). Users prefer composite missile-cum-canisters for the mitigation they offer against inadvertent damage during loading and stowage, as also against water ingress and consequent corrosion. Indeed, waterproofing is a requirement that transcends the bounds of simple humidity.
- Ammunition-stowage magazines aboard a ship will invariably be fitted with some sort of sprinkling or flooding arrangement as a safety measure to prevent the magazine from blowing-up as a result of fire, whether caused inadvertently or resulting from enemy-action. The risk of salt-water ingress into an ammunition magazine is, consequently, ubiquitous.
- Similarly, Ready-Use (RU) Lockers fitted on decks that are exposed to weather can rarely be kept free of salt-water, particularly when ships are operating in heavy seas and most especially if heavy seas are being experienced while the ship is operating in the face of the enemy. Ammunition that is being physically and manually handled — either in being transported from a main magazine to an RU Locker, or, from an RU Locker to the weapon-delivery device (e.g., a gun, a launcher, an aircraft, etc.) — is similarly prone to getting either partially or fully wet. Splash- and water-proofing of all types of ammunition are, therefore, important features for a user. Similarly, corrosion as a result of the prevailing salt-laden atmosphere is an enemy well known to all seafarers. Users invariably opt for weapons designed to withstand corrosion over protracted periods of time without the imposition of unrealistic demands of maintenance.
- Storage-Capacity: A major user-concern is the limited quantity of ammunition available on board. Minimising volume-intensity via Vertical Launch Cells (VLCs) — especially Peripheral Vertical Launch Systems (PVLS) — is an attractive solution.
A PVLS comprises clusters of missile-magazines (four missiles/ launchers per cluster) located between layers of steel along the periphery of the hull.
- Weight: Lightweight weapons or ammunition permit the carriage of larger quantities, while the lower penalties on ship-stability allow ammunition-storage relatively close to the firing system, minimising the otherwise significant time-penalties and damage-control penalties inherent in a lengthy passage from the magazine to the firing platform.
- Replenishment at Sea: Since there will never by adequate stowage capacity and the ability of ships to remain ‘poised-in-theatre’ in conditions of combat must not be compromised by the need to return to harbour for replenishment, weapons should be capable of being replenished underway. This is closely related to robustness and is a user-need to which Indian industry needs to pay very great attention.
- On-board Life: Missiles need to be periodically ‘powered-up’ and tested, but lose some portion of their residual life on every such occasion. This is a major user-concern that demands industry’s focussed attention. Built-in Test Equipment (BITE) enhances longevity and needs to become integral to armament-design.
- Ease and Speed of Loading/Delivery: When applied to embarkation, this affects the time lost before a ship can undertake combat-worthy deployments. When applied to the loading and reloading of weapons or ammunition while being expended, it affects the rate-of-fire. In both cases, the ease and the speed of loading should be as high as possible. Likewise, to minimise the reaction-time for initial weapon-delivery and maximise the subsequent rate of fire, preparation-time of the weapon must be minimal.
- Time and Speed of Flight: To minimise the reaction time available to the enemy, end-users seek weapons with high transit-speeds. This is as true of underwater weapons as it is of those that travel through the air or through space. The integration of biology and technology by the Indian weapons-industry is long overdue, as studies into how animals such as sea lions and seals achieve such high speeds through the water are producing startling results. Some contemporary torpedoes are designed to secrete incremental quantities of surface-lubricants to minimise water-resistance and generate high speeds, while speeds achieved by supercavitating torpedoes traveling within a continuously generated air bubble are amazing.
- Similarly, Extended Range (ER) projectiles have been designed to have very low air resistance and very low coefficients of drag, providing for greatly extended ranges. High transit speeds also provide for the maximisation of kinetic energy and consequently, minimisation or elimination of explosive content in the warhead.
- Reliance upon kinetic energy is increasingly commonplace in weapons designed for anti-ballistic missile defence, as also in those used for anti-satellite warfare. Moreover, the absence of an explosive-warhead reduces weapon-weight and permits range enhancement by adding fuel for the warhead-weight saved. Increased time-of-flight obviously increases maximum achievable range. Advances in armament technology have spawned Extended Range (ER) ammunition, allowing ships to address ranges of 200 km and more. Time-of-flight is not limited to linear travel. ‘Loiter Bombs’ such as the Israeli ‘Harop’ and ‘Harpy’ are in full-fledged production and utilise very large time-of-flight values to ‘loiter’ or ‘poise’ in theatre.
- Accuracy: Accuracy, which used to be a feature of the weapon-delivery device rather than of the weapon itself, has been pulled by technology into the realm of ammunition. Thus, individual rounds of ammunition are capable of being ‘guided’ right up to the final stages of delivery, thereby producing extremely low Circular Errors of Probability (CEP). End-users look for weapons smart enough to accept targeting data before launch as well as during flight — not just from the launching-platform, but from other platforms as well, thus being able to support Cooperative Engagement procedures.
- Standardisation: Standardisation of weapons across the different arms of the military has long been regarded as a chimera. Germany’s MONARC programme of 2002, in which an army 155 mm howitzer was fitted and stabilised as the main gun on board a Type 124 Sachsen Class frigate was abandoned due to anti-corrosion problems. However, technology has advanced greatly in the ensuing decade-and-a-half and BAE’s progress with the AS90 Braveheart howitzer is most encouraging. In fact, the UAE’s Masdar Institute of Science and Technology just might have the most usable anti-corrosion answer — in which case, the potential in the Indian context is staggering!
The foregoing list clearly illustrates both the opportunities and the challenges. The criticality of ensuring close and dynamic linkages and interaction between designers of weapons and weapon-systems, the agencies that produce them and the eventual users, can hardly be overemphasised.
Vice Admiral Pradeep Chauhan (Retired)
(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of BharatShakti.in)