IAF gets its first ‘fully ops by day’ woman combat pilot

Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth can now go to battle in her MiG-21 ‘Bison’ supersonic jet. She is IAF’s first woman fighter pilot to become “fully ops (operational) by day”. Though Bhawana, who hails from Bihar’s Darbhanga, can be deployed for day-time missions, her gruelling training regime in handling the highly demanding and ageing MiG-21s, which have virtually the highest landing and takeoff speed in the world at 340 kmph, is not yet over.

She will have to now learn night flying during the “moon” and “dark phases” to become a fully operational fighter pilot.

“She is the first woman fighter pilot to qualify to undertake missions by day on a fighter aircraft. Bhawana joined her fighter squadron in November 2017 after initial flying on Pilatus turbo-props and Kiran trainers as well as Hawk advanced jet trainers. She flew her first solo on a MiG-21 Bison in March 2018,” said IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

Bhawana had earlier said it was her “dream to fly like a free bird” when she was growing up in the refinery township of Begusarai, where her father was an engineer in IOCL. Before being commissioned into fighter stream after basic training in June 2016, Bhawana completed her BE (Medical Electronics) from BMS College of Engineering at Bengaluru and is into adventure sports like trekking, rappelling and rafting.

The IAF has so far inducted six women into its fighter flying stream on “an experimental basis” for five years. With it taking around Rs 15 crore to train a single fighter pilot, IAF had for long resisted inducting women because it felt it would disrupt “tight fighter-flying schedules” if they got married and had children.

But women like Bhawana, who learnt tactical flying and manoeuvres after consolidating her general handling of MiG-21s in multiple solo sorties, and the others have shattered the glass ceiling. The IAF didn’t show favouritism to Avani and Bhawana, who were posted to MiG-21squadrons rather than the easier-to-handle modern fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs or Mirage-2000s. This will ensure they undertake “air defence missions” over Indian territory in the event of war (MiG-21s are meant to intercept incoming enemy aircraft), and not go strike deep into enemy territory.

SC reaches full strength of 31

For the first time since 2008 when Parliament increased the Supreme Court’s strength to 31 judges, the apex court will function at its full strength as President Ram Nath Kovind appointed four new judges — Justices Aniruddha Bose, A S Bopanna, B R Gavai and Surya Kant.

Parliament had increased SC’s sanctioned strength from 26 to 31 in 2008. The collegium headed by CJI Ranjan Gogoi on May 8 reiterated its April 12 recommendation for appointment of Jharkhand HC Chief Justice Bose and Gauhati HC CJ Bopanna as SC judges, brushing aside the Centre’s objections on the ground of seniority and equal representation to states.

On May 8, the collegium of CJI Gogoi and Justices S A Bobde, N V Ramana, Arun Mishra and R F Nariman had also recommended the names of Bombay HC’s Justice Gavai and Himachal Pradesh CJ Kant for appointment as SC judges. With this, the CJI Gogoi-headed collegium has succeeded in appointing 10 SC judges in seven months. The other six are Justices Hemant Gupta, R Subhash Reddy, M R Shah and Ajay Rastogi on November 2 and Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Sanjiv Khanna on January 18.

In the recent past, no collegium headed by CJIs R M Lodha, H L Dattu, T S Thakur, J S Khehar and Dipak Misra succeeded in getting so many SC judges appointed. The collegium’s recommendations also have been cleared expeditiously by the Centre, exemplified by 48 hours taken by the Centre to clear the appointment of Justices Gupta, Reddy, Shah and Rastogi.

Among the four new SC judges likely to take oath in the next two days, Justice Gavai will become CJI for a little over six months in 2025.In him, the SC will get a judge from the Scheduled Caste community after nearly a decade. Justice Kant will succeed Justice Gavai as CJI on November 23, 2025, and remain in office till February 9, 2027.

Since Justice Gogoi took oath as CJI on October 3 last year, appointments to the three-tier justice delivery system have picked up pace.

Domestic air traffic falls

Domestic air travel contracted for the first time in nearly five years after the collapse of Jet Airways and drop in capacity, which have led to a sharp hike in air fares. This April saw 1.09 crore domestic flyers — down 4.5% from 1.15 crore in the same month last year. Before suspending operations on April 17, Jet had been barely operating a few flights during the month, which had also seen 13 of SpiceJet Boeing 737 Max planes being grounded due to regulatory orders.

India had seen double-digit growth in domestic air travel for 52 straight months — from September 2014 (over the same month in 2013) to December 2018 (from the same month in 2017). This ranged from a peak of 29.3% growth in July 2015 to 11% in November 2018 (over the year-ago periods).

Grounding of Jet, B737 Max, an overall economic slowdown and sharp rise in fares even as capacity fell saw this dream run waking up to a rude reality. The growth in January and February 2019 fell to single digits and, by March, this was down to 0.14%.

Industry captains, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the negative trend would not last too long as Jet’s slots are being given to other Indian carriers. However, they added that the next government must focus on the aviation sector.

BrahMos successfully test-fired from Sukhoi

The supersonic BrahMos cruise missile, with a strike range of 290-km, was tested from a front-line Sukhoi-30MKI fighter jet in the Andaman and Nicobar archipelago, in yet another step towards the country acquiring formidable precision strike capability from long or “standoff ” distances.

This was the second test firing of the air-launched version of the BrahMos missile, which flies almost three times the speed of sound at Mach 2.8, after the first was conducted over the Bay of Bengal in November 2017.

The BrahMos missile, whose range is now being extended, in conjunction with the Sukhoi-30MKI fighter, which has a cruising range of 3,200-km or a combat radius of about 1,500-km without mid-air refuelling, constitutes a deadly weapons package. It can be used to take out terror camps, underground nuclear bunkers, aircraft carriers on the high seas and other military targets from “stand-off” distances by day or night in all weather conditions.

“The launch of the missile, which weighs 2.5 tonne, from the aircraft was smooth. The missile followed the desired trajectory before directly hitting the land target,” said IAF spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

“The integration of BrahMos on the Sukhoi-30MKI was a complex process involving multiple modifications on the aircraft. The capability of the missile coupled with the superlative performance of the Sukhoi-30MKI aircraft gives the IAF the desired strategic reach,” he added.

The Army is now inducting the 4th BrahMos Regiment, which will be the missile’s Block-III version that has steep dive, trajectory manoeuver and top-attack capabilities, while the Navy has deployed the BrahMos missiles on over 10 frontline warships. The IAF, in turn, has inducted two squadrons of the land-launch missiles, even as the force waits for the air launched version.


Mi-17 crash: Friendly Fire

At least one senior IAF officer and three others are likely to face stringent disciplinary action for the grave operational lapses that led to “friendly fire” bringing down the Mi-17 helicopter at Budgam on February 27, around the same time Indian and Pakistani fighter jets were engaged in a dogfight in the Nowshera sector along the Line of Control about 100-km away.

The IAF on Tuesday said the court of inquiry into the Mi-17 crash, which killed six IAF personnel and a civilian on that fateful day at 10.10 am, is still in progress. “We cannot say anything till the CoI reaches a conclusion…it is premature,” said spokesperson Group Captain Anupam Banerjee.

But sources said it has been established that an Israeli SpyDer quick-reaction anti-aircraft missile fired by the air defence unit of the Srinagar airbase brought down the Mi-17 in a matter of just 12 seconds from the launch. “It was a tragic ‘blue on blue’ incident, which are not unusual in the fog of war,” said a source.

“The entire chain of events and the lapses must, however, be conclusively established before any personnel is charged with ‘culpable homicide not amounting to murder’ or something else. With the helicopter’s flight data recorder (black box) missing, the CoI is still minutely examining the available forensic and other evidence,” he added.

The air officer commanding of the Srinagar base, an Air Commodore (equivalent to a Brigadier in Army), has already been transferred out, while the role of the second-in-command, the chief operations officer, is being examined closely. “The COO, a Group Captain, was the terminal weapons director in charge of air defence at that time,” said another source.

The entire air defence network in J&K was on a hair-trigger alert, with guns and missiles on a “weaponsfree status” to fire at “any unauthorized aircraft” in the region, during the retaliatory intrusion across the LoC by Pakistani fighters, a day after IAF conducted the predawn strikes on the JeM training camp at Balakot on February 26.

After the CoI reaches a definitive conclusion, it will be followed by a “summary of evidence” (akin to framing of charges) and finally a court martial or the actual trial, as per the military legal system.

Rural Growth to Push India's GDP to 7.5% by 2020: OECD

India’s economic growth will regain strength and approach 7.5% by 2020, buoyed by rural consumption and subdued inflation, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development said in its Economic Outlook even as a United Nations report showed India remaining the fastest-growing major economy.

The UN World Economic Situation and Prospects, in its mid-year update, projected that India will grow 7.1% in fiscal year 2020 on the back of strong domestic consumption and investment, slower than the 7.4% estimated in January. It expects the Indian economy to expand 7% in 2019 compared with its previous estimate of 7.6%. Even after the downward revisions, India remains the fastest-growing major economy in the world, ahead of China.

“Gross domestic product (GDP) growth in India is projected to strengthen to close to 7.25% in FY19 and close to 7.5% in FY20,” the OECD said.

This growth will come from higher domestic demand due to improved financial conditions, new income support measures for farmers and recent structural reforms. Lower oil prices and the recent appreciation of the rupee will reduce pressure on inflation and the current account.

Highlighting that India has the fastest growth among G20 economies with export growth holding up well, it said: “Investment growth will accelerate as capacity utilisation rises, interest rates decline, and geopolitical tensions and political uncertainty are assumed to wane.”

India’s economy grew at a six-quarter low of 6.6% in the October-December period. The statistics office will release the quarterly GDP estimate for January-March and provisional annual estimate for 2018-19 on May 31.

GDP growth for FY19 is seen at 7%.

India’s healthy growth forecast came amidst the OECD cutting the projection for global GDP growth to a sub-par rate of 3.2% this year, before edging up to 3.4% in 2020. Growth was 3.5% in 2018.

“Global growth has slowed abruptly over the past year, with the weakness seen in the latter half of 2018 continuing in the early part of 2019 amidst persisting trade tensions,” the organisation said, urging governments to resolve their trade disputes.

The OECD expects India’s monetary policy to be loosened somewhat as headline inflation remains well below target and inflation expectations are adjusting down.

India’s retail inflation was 2.92% in April. The Reserve Bank of India, which had last month cut interest rates by 0.25%, estimates retail inflation of 2.9-3% during April to September because of lower food and fuel prices and expectations of a normal monsoon.

“Rising public sector borrowing requirements reflect the implementation of new welfare schemes, sluggish tax revenue, and growing financial needs of public enterprises and banks,” the OECD said.

The report suggested that an improved collection of the Goods and Services Tax and a wider base of personal income tax will help reduce the high public debt-to-GDP ratio.

Besides, ensuring a swift resolution of bankruptcy processes would help contain non-performing loans and boost productivity by promoting the reallocation of resources to more productive firms and sectors.

Investment has continued to grow robustly, supported by hefty public sector projects. In contrast, private investment, especially in manufacturing, had been affected by uncertainty ahead of the parliamentary elections, combined with persistent difficulties in financing projects, acquiring land and getting all clearances. Rural consumption and twowheeler and tractor sales have slowed on account of subdued agricultural prices and wages.

RISAT-2B launched

In a pre-dawn launch, Indian space agency ISRO scripted history by successfully launching earth observation satellite RISAT-2B that would enhance the country’s surveillance capabilities among others.

As the 25-hour countdown which began Tuesday concluded, the agency’s trusted workhorse Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV-C46) blasted off at 5.30 am from the first launch pad of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre here on its 48th mission, carrying the 615 kg satellite.

The RISAT-2B (Radar Imaging Satellite-2B), meant for application in fields such as surveillance, agriculture, forestry and disaster management support, was released into the orbit around 15 minutes after the lift-off.

It would replace the RISAT-2, which was successfully launched in 2009.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Chairman K Sivan had earlier described the mission as a “very, very important” one for the country.  This is a very, very important mission for India. It is an excellent satellite with hi-fi earth observation (capabilities),” he had said.

The RISAT-2B is equipped with a synthetic aperture radar that can take pictures of the earth during day and night, and also under cloudy conditions.

With a mission life of five years, the satellite would also be used for military surveillance, ISRO sources said.

The RISAT-2 has been actively used by India to monitor activities in camps across the border in Pakistan to thwart infiltration bids by terrorists.

The PSLV-C46 was the 14th flight of the PSLV in its core-alone configuration sans the use of the solid strap-on motors.

It was the 72nd launch vehicle mission from Sriharikota and also marked the 36th launch from the first launch pad.

Wednesday’s launch of the PSLV also marked the third launch in 2019.

The other two were the PSLV-C45/EMISAT mission, which successfully injected the EMISAT and 29 international customer satellites into their orbits on April 1, and the PSLV-C44, which successfully placed the Microsat-R and the Kalamsat-V2 satellites in designated orbits on January 24.

ISRO had launched RISAT-1, a microwave remote sensing satellite, on April 26, 2012 from Sriharikota.