Then 1990 ‘s : Life Extension Tests For D5 Parachutes,Now 2018 : Life Extension Tests For BRAHMOS
Colonel Awadhesh Kumar, Special Forces, Veteran
The Indo Russian BRAHMOS missile with Mach3 speed, total precision and high destructive firepower has been formally inducted in Indian Army and Indian Navy quite sometime back and will soon be inducted into IAF. Over a period of time India has now been able to indigenise and develop over 80% of the missile systems which now includes even the vital target Seeker. Its range had always been over 400 km. However, so as not to embarrass the Russians against the other members of the MTCR, Indian DRDO always stated the range at 295 kms……a real precise measurement !!! Though the West probably knew that if fired in anger, then these missile would have travelled, its full range of 400km.
The MTCR was hastily formed in 1987 by vested interests (then seven countries….USA, UK, Canada, Italy,Germany France and Japan) to thwart India’s progress in the field of missile technology. The same countries had to finally request India to become the 35th member of this club. Now Indian Scientists have already reduced the weight of BRAHMOS to make an air to ground version and have even tested it from a Sukhoi MKI3. Just imagine a scenario where four to eight BRAHMOS slam into an Aircraft Carrier nuclear powered or non nuclear powered, simultaneously. Now DRDO is working on extending the range of this missile to 800 kms. This will enable our Sukhois, mounted with BRAHMOS together with mid air refuelling, to cover a swath of around 4500 km of IOR. Apart from the range, work is in progress to make the next version of this potent missile….BRAHMOS NEXT GENERATION…it will be smaller in size, lighter in weight but much more accurate and lethal. Then even Jaguars and Rafaels may be able to carry at least one BRAHMOS.
Next, how many of these missiles are required in our inventory ? After a careful assessment of the targets all along the boarders and catering for all kinds scenarios, we need to equip each Command with two Regiments of BRAHMOS that is 12 Regiments in total for the Army. With two missiles per launcher as first line, also to cater for second lines and War Reserves say a total of say 2500 for the Army itself and say another 500 for the Navy and the IAF……all this at conservative estimate and Chinese in mind.
In time we will have 3000 BRAHMOS missiles but they cost a hell of a lot and to increase the cost, like most of the other ammunition and equipment these missiles too have a shelf life. Hence need to replace these missiles periodically will be there apart from storage and transportation cost. Therefore the recent successful BRAHMOS supersonic cruise missile test with a life extended missile has shown that a life extension is feasible also for this type of missile. The successful test firing was done from the Integrated Test Range in Balasore in Odisha. The test conducted will now enable life extension of these missiles from 10 years to 15 years ie cost comes down by 30 to 50%. A life extended precision strike missile flew in its designated trajectory and was successfully tested for its key functionality. BRAHMOS has become the first Indian missile whose life has been extended from 10 years to 15 years.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman congratulated the team BRAHMOS Aerospace and DRDO team for its successful flight test. She tweeted her compliments saying that the test would result in the huge saving of replacement cost of missile systems in the Indian Defence Forces.
The above test has paved the way to save hundreds of crores every year. This reminds me of similar type of contribution made by a few Paratroopers with help of a few DRDO Scientists, back in the nineties, though total saving was only around Rs 500 crores at that time.
I had just been posted to Army Airborne Training School after a two years tenure in rarefied atmosphere which included around nine months in Siachen. The appointment was as Research & Trial Officer and Instructor Class A or in Short R&T Officer. However till then the only research done and knowledge garnered was that R comes before S and T comes after that. Simultaneously a new Commandant had also been just posted in. For the last two years he had been trying to ferret out the terrorists in the Kashmir Valley. He was a established name in the Parachute Regiment having, specialized in the role of opening doors marked as PULL by PUSHING and vice versa.
Even prior to settling down on the new job, came a ‘ bombshell ‘ news that all the D5 parachutes held in Army’s inventory were now Life Expired and AATS was ordered to rectify the situation…..which finally meant that R& T officer should somehow wave his magic wand. Flashing my QUALIFICATIONS of being just a B Sc of NDA variety, I simply refused to step in the quagmire as it was beyond the laid down charter of duties of even the AATS not to talk of the R& T Section. Then the order turned into a request as the situation was desperate. The Procurement process for purchase of new parachutes as replacement of D5 had got stuck with CAG and his Audit team and the issue had come up in the Parliament also.
All this time neither Military Training Directorate nor Military Operations had realized that the 10 year shelf life of these parachutes was coming to an end. Till then they had been working with only the Jump life figures of these parachutes, which even then was available in plenty. In lay man terms all this translated into a situation where these parachutes were now unfit for either training jumps or any operational jump. This meant that now India was simply incapable of mounting any airborne operations of Maldives 1987 variety, using the heavy IL76 Aircraft. Though someone was required to do it, who was going to present these facts to the DGMT, DGMO and the VCOAS. Up the chain even COAS, the Raksha Mantri and the PM had to know.
All the wise people carefully side stepped and the FOOLS occupied the front seats. The Commandant promptly started pushing all the doors marked as pull. Then we realized that even Aerial Delivery Research and Development Establishment, the DRDO Establishment dealing with parachutes had no experience in this field of life extension. It was a very delicate subject, after all it involved actual human lives. Failure of even one parachute meant loss of one extremely valuable life……even lives of mad people who like to step out of a perfectly flying aircraft, instead of waiting for it to land. So wisely,no one was ready to declare a shelf life expired parachute, as fit for jumps, under any pretext whatsoever. It would amount to manslaughter.
ACM Naik and Dr Balraj Gupta
Then luckily one of the DRDO Scientist agreed to at least discuss the matter in detail. We decided to try some tests, collect some data and while doing all this try and look very very technical and scientific about the whole process. Luckily the Scientist was also head of the wing which dealt with designing an indigenous free-fall combat parachute.
So first, the Commandant got the necessary orders issued by Army HQ, authorising both R&T, AATS and ADR&DE to work on the Project. Then an official Committee was formed with reps from every one in New Delhi downwards,who could possibly have a role in this. Reps were in plenty from Air HQ, Army HQ, DRDO HQ, MoD departments like DGQA etc,Parachute Ordinance Factory, Parachute Training School IAF etc etc. However the Member Secretary of this Committee was the R& T Officer, AATS.
The first meeting was held where as anticipated the NO SAYERS prevailed but in the process all of them got identified. However the core issue of carrying out certain well defined tests was agreed to. Then these tests revealed a very startling but positive results. The Russians had used such a strong material for the parachutes that even after 10 years and with just 30 % jump life used,it was as good as new with 99% of the original values intact……for safe parachuting a value of say 50 % was good enough. Then various other factors like permeability etc were all, way above the safe limit. As the tests progressed, I too learned up and memorized so many Scientific jargons in textile technology and aerodynamics that together with my specs, I could easily win over a majority of the Committee to our side. The NAY SAYERS by now in minority were then outmanoeuvred thru other methods.
Finally a dummy drop with thrice the permissible load was carried out on five randomly selected parachutes. Luckily, an instrument for testing re entry stress load on retarder parachutes for missiles projects made available to ADR& DE was also made available to test the D5 dummy drops. After the dummy drops again the five parachutes were tested for strength etc. Regional CEMILAC was consulted. With all the results way above the safety margins, the Committee gave the permission to extend the life of all the D5 parachutes by one year.Similar method was then used to extend the life twice more. By that time new parachutes were procured for IL76 operations and training.
All the above was achieved in less than three months with just three meetings of the Committee. All the Naysayers were deliberately kept out of the day to day tests and trials. The ADR& DE Scientist was later the Scientific Advisor to the Chief of Army Staff for more than three years. Dr Balraj Gupta then came back to Agra to head the ADR&DE as Director for next several years. The Commandant too was able to push the promotion door open and become a brigadier.
In 1998 Dr Balraj Gupta also helped our R& T Wing at AATS to get on road the life expired Combat Free Fall Oxygen Cylinders (but still packed and in brand new condition otherwise) and thus enabling the Special Forces to not only commence High Altitude High Opening Combat Free Fall training in earnest but also saving several hundreds of Crores of rupees. How we did it will again be a separate Story.
We hear that it will be the ADR& DE at Agra whose designed parachutes will be ensuring that our first lot of would be GAGAGAN YATRIS from the IAF come down from Space and later from a Chandrama journey.
In fact the first Human Capable Space Capsule was successfully recovered in 2007 itself. By that time Dr Balraj Gupta was back as Director at ADR&DE to continue with further major work on the subject.
This flight was used to test orbital injection, separation and re-entry procedures and systems of the Crew Capsule. Also tested were the capsule separation, heat shields and aerobraking systems, deployment of parachute, retro-firing, splashdown, flotation systems and procedures to recover the Crew Capsule from the Bay of Bengal.