Monday, 2 July 2012

Updates On T-90S MBT Upgrade and India’s Small Turbofan R & D Efforts

Since 2007, there’s been intense speculation by several India-based bloggers/journalists about the kind of turbofan-based powerplants being developed for both strategic and multi-role tactical weapon systems, when all it takes to get to the truth is to have an honest chat with the Ministry of Defence-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd’s (HAL) Bengaluru-based Engine Test Bed Research & Development Centre (ETBRDC), and with the DRDO’s Bengaluru-based Gas Turbine Research Establishment (GTRE), which is exactly what I did. And here are the results:

1) HAL has developed a turbofan (see HAL's officially released data below) for powering both a strategic missile (supposed to be air-launched and submarine-launched) as well as a tactical cruise missile that will have performance parameters similar to the Taurus KEPD-350 CALCM. This turbofan, which will also be powering a cruise missile simulating drone, is presently undergoing its flight certification tests under the guidance and supervision of CEMILAC. Therefore, it is high time all speculation ends on the Nirbhay missile being powered by ducted-fans, prop-fans or turboprops!!! And by the way, the ETBRDC is also close to commissioning an engine testbed centre in Sulur for the first squadron of the IAF’s Tejas Mk1 MRCAs. This testbed is capable of measuring engine thrusts up to 150kN. The ETBRDC will also be developing both the starter-engine for the FGFA and Tejas Mk2, as well as the APU for the FGFA and Tejas Mk2

2) GTRE, with the help of Russia’s NPO Saturn, is developing the ‘Laghu Shakthi’ turbofan (below) for a MALE-UAV now being developed by the DRDO. This is in response to an IAF requirement for a single turbofan-powered MALE-UAV capable of operating over mountainous areas—a task which cannot be optimally performed by piston-engined UAVs like the Nishant, Searcher Mk1/2 and Heron-1. The Indian Navy too has evinced deep interest in this R & D programme, especially since its piston-engined MALE-UAVs like the Searcher Mk2 and Heron-1 cannot operate from India’s island-based territories due to adverse wind conditions. A turbofan-powered MALE-UAV, on the other hand, will face no such limitations.

Lastly, I’m glad to report that user-trials of a T-90S MBT equipped with IRDE-developed and BEL-built (see below) commander’s panoramic sight and driver’s uncooled thermal imager (derived from that developed for the Arjun Mk1A MBT) have just gotten underway. If all goes well, then these two items will be retrofitted on to both the first 310 T-90S MBTs acquired for the Indian Army just about a decade ago, as well as on 1,000 T-72M1 MBTs that are due to undergo a deep upgrade. For both MBT-types, VRDE has already developed the APU, which too is now undergoing user-trials.

The Russia-supplied T-90S MBTs originally came with the 1A43 fire-control computer, 1G46 gunner’s laser rangefinder, IV528-2 digital ballistics computer (comprising BV-1 and BV-2 modules), 1V216-M1 correction input device, 1PM-96MT ESSA gunner’s thermal imaging sight (now being produced by the Dehru Dun-based Opto-Electronics Factory of the MoD-owned OFB), and the commander’s T01-K04 sighting/night vision system using the PK-5 stabilised sight-mounting

The CVRDE-upgraded prototype of the T-90S has done away with the T01-K04 and substitutes it with the IRDE-developed and BEL-built commander’s panoramic sight (which houses a SAGEM-built MATIS-STD thermal imager operating in the 3-5 micron bandwidth), which has resulted in enhanced static visibility levels for both the gunner and commander.

In addition, the IV528-2 digital ballistics computer has given way to an indigenous solution developed by TATA Power Strategic Electronics Division, while the IRDE-developed driver’s uncooled thermal imaging night sight has replaced the TVN-5 night-vision device.

Furthermore, a DEAL-developed MMW-based IFF system has been installed for enhancing the MBT crew’s situational awareness.

Lastly, the T-90S’ track-wraps have been indigenised by AMW-MGM Forgings Pvt Ltd, which has also developed tracks with metal/rubber-brushed parallel pin-jointed gearings, stamped track-links adapted to accept rubber pads, with steel needles on the track-pins providing conductivity and picking up static electricity from rubber-brushed pin-jointed gearings during movement.


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