Sunday, July 29, 2012

Joint Russia-India missile to be ready by 2017

The first prototype of the hypersonic BrahMos 2 cruise missile being jointly developed by Russia and India will be ready for flight testing in 2017, an official said.

Russia and India have recently agreed to develop hypersonic BrahMos 2 missile capable of flying at speeds of Mach 5 to Mach 7.

"I think we will need about five years to develop the first fully-functional prototype (of the hypersonic missile). We have already carried out a series of lab tests at the speed of 6.5 Mach," said Sivathanu Pillai, Chief Executive Officer of the Russian-Indian joint venture Brahmos Aerospace.

Pillai said the new missile will be made in three variants -- ground-launched, airborne, and sea-launched.

He said the new missiles will be supplied only to India and Russia, without exports to third countries.

Established in 1998, BrahMos Aerospace Ltd, a Russian-Indian joint venture, currently manufactures BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles based on the Russian-designed NPO Mashinostroyenie 3M55 Yakhont (SS-N-26).

The BrahMos missile has a range of 290 km and can carry a conventional warhead of up to 300 kg. It can effectively engage targets from an altitude as low as 10 metres and has a top speed of Mach 2.8, which is about three times faster than the US-made subsonic Tomahawk cruise missile.

Sea and ground-launched versions have been successfully tested and put into service with the Indian Army and Navy.

The flight tests of the airborne version will be completed by the end of 2012.

The Indian Air Force is planning to arm 40 Su-30MKI Flanker-H fighters with BrahMos missiles.

Supersonic missile BrahMos successfully test-fired

India today successfully test fired BrahMos supersonic cruise missile as part of a user trial by the Army from a test range at Chandipur off Odisha coast. The missile, which has a flight range of up to 290 km, is capable of carrying a conventional warhead of 300 kg.

"The cruise missile was test fired from a ground mobile launcher from the launch complex-3 at about 1030 hours and all data is being retrieved for analysis," defence sources said.

The cruise missile, a surface-to-surface Army version, was test fired as part of user trial by the Army, they said. The two-stage missile, the first one being solid and the second one ramjet liquid propellant, has already been inducted into the Army and Navy, and the Air-Force version is in final stage of trial, a defence official said.

While induction of the first version of Brahmos missile system in the Indian Navy commenced from 2005 with INS Rajput, it is now fully operational with two regiments of the Army.

The air launch version and the submarine launch version of the missile system are in progress, he said. The Army has so far placed orders for the Brahmos missile to be deployed by three regiments of the Army and two of them have already been inducted operationally.

The Defence Ministry has also given a go-ahead to Army to induct a third regiment equipped with the missile system to be deployed in Arunachal Pradesh along the China border.

Brahmos Aerospace, an Indo-Russian joint venture company headed by a distinguished Indian defence scientist, is also working to develop the air as well as the submarine launch version of the missile system and work on the project is in progress.

The last trial was conducted on March 28, 2012 from the same base and it was successful.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Welcome to your new house, Mr President

Now that Pranab Mukherjee, India's former finance minister, has been sworn in as India's 13th president, he will move into one of the largest government residences in the world.

The Presidential Palace, in New Delhi, was designed by the architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens for Britain's viceroy to India and as the permanent seat of British Empire in India. With construction starting in the early 1900s, it took 17 years to complete the residence. Eighteen years after it was finished, India became an independent nation.

This mansion has four floors, 340 rooms and a total floor space of 200,000 square feet. It was built with 700 million bricks and three million cubic feet of stone. Hardly any steel was used in construction. Its Durbar Hall has a two-ton chandelier hanging from a height of 33 meters, the Ashoka Hall features a Persian-style painted ceiling and the Banquet hall displays portraits of all the former presidents.
For Mr. Mukherjee, 76, it is a large leap from the village of Mirati in the Birbhum district of West Bengal, where he grew up in a family of freedom fighters. As a child, he used to study by the light of an oil lamp. He studied history, political science and law. In a political career spanning more than four decades, he was elected to Parliament seven times and held several ministerial positions, including defense and foreign.

In his acceptance speech Wednesday, Mr. Mukherjee took note of his progress. "I have seen vast, perhaps unbelievable changes during the journey that has brought me from the flicker of a lamp in a small Bengal village to the chandeliers of Delhi," he said. "There is no greater reward for a public servant than to be elected the first citizen of our republic."

The office of president is considered largely ceremonial, and Mr. Mukherjee's swearing-in ceremony didn't disappoint. It took place in the central hall of India's Parliament in the presence of the former president, the prime minister, cabinet ministers, parliamentarians and others, and was followed by 21-gun salute. India's independence was declared in the same hall on the night of Aug. 14, 1947, and India's constitution was also drafted there.

After the swearing-in ceremony, Mr. Mukherjee was taken to Presidential House in a horse-drawn carriage, escorted by mounted presidential guards.

For the next five years, Mr. Mukherjee will be living in the mansion. It's a good thing that one of his hobbies is gardening, as the presidential house has a huge garden behind it, known as the Mughal garden. It has two water channels, six lotus-shape fountains and more than 250 varieties of roses.
Besides the mansion, the job comes with two retreats: a wooden house in Mashobra, in the Himalayas, and a 70-acre spread in Hyderabad called Nilayam.

Apple shares retreat after rare earnings miss, global woes.

Apple's stock fell Wednesday after the company did something un-Apple-like: posting results below Wall Street expectations.

Late Tuesday, Apple Inc. reported that in the latest quarter, earnings rose a mere 21 percent from the year before, not the 33 percent that analysts were expecting.

Apple is the world's most valuable company, and the earnings miss was only the second one in ten years.

In afternoon trading Wednesday, the shares were down $23.04, or 3.8 percent, to $577.91. The shares are down 10 percent from their all-time high of $644, hit in April.

The share reaction was somewhat milder than the one that greeted the stock in October, the previous time Apple reported earnings that missed expectations. Then, the stock fell 5.6 percent the next day.

Apple executives said Tuesday that consumers appear to be holding off on buying iPhones before a new model comes out, even though it isn't expected until October. They also shifted their buying toward cheaper models of iPhones and iPads.

The company was also hurt by the strengthening dollar, which reduced the value of overseas sales, and by economic turmoil in Europe.

In a rare move for an analyst, Tavis McCourt at Raymond James downgraded Apple's stock from "Strong Buy" to "Outperform" on Wednesday, saying that while most of the miss was due to buyers delaying their purchases of iPhones, there are signs that the phone's gains in market share "might become more muted going forward."

He pointed to flat sales in Europe, where consumers are likely not waiting for the next iPhone, because they won't be able to take advantage of what's believed to be its signature feature: access to the latest U.S. high-speed data networks.

Apple is the third-largest maker of cellphones, according to research firm Gartner. It had a 7.9 percent share of the worldwide market in the first quarter, up from 3.9 percent a year earlier. Among smartphones, Apple had a 23 percent share, up from 17 percent.

A global steel giant scales back

Steel is a notoriously volatile industry. But four years ago, Lakshmi Mittal, the Indian-born tycoon, appeared to have mastered the business.

He was still aglow from his 2006 victory in an epic takeover battle for his nearest rival, Arcelor of Luxembourg, which made the merged company, ArcelorMittal, the world's largest steel maker by far. With a fast-growing world economy hungry for steel, ArcelorMittal reported operating income of nearly $12 billion for 2008.

Things are different now, with Europe in a deep economic funk and once-roaring construction markets like India and China also slowing. Last year, the company had operating income of $4.9 billion. And on Wednesday, it reported second-quarter operating income of $1.1 billion, on sales of $22.48 billion. While the sales were down 10 percent from a year earlier, income was down more than 50 percent as the cost of the industry's raw material, iron ore, rose even as steel prices slumped.

"Clearly, this performance is not acceptable at all," Mr. Mittal said by telephone on Wednesday, while noting that the severity of the various downturns had been unexpected.

The company has already started curtailing production in Europe to match reduced demand. And it is bracing for resistance from unions and governments to other planned cost cuts.

Those include the major wage and benefit concessions it is seeking from workers in the United States, where it employs thousands of workers at 12 major facilities in states including Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Back in the boom times, Mr. Mittal's strategy was to consolidate a fragmenting industry. Putting production into fewer hands would make it easier to adjust output to cushion the cyclical downturns that have always played havoc with steel makers. Among the American companies he bought were Inland Steel and the International Steel Group, which owned plants once operated by companies like LTV and Weirton Steel.

Beginning with the global recession in 2009, though, ArcelorMittal has faced one setback after another.

The latest and perhaps the most serious hazard is the protracted euro zone financial turmoil that has all but killed demand for steel in Western Europe. ArcelorMittal, with headquarters in Luxembourg, produced more than a third of its worldwide crude steel in Europe last year. Nearly 100,000 of the company's 260,000 employees work in Europe.

ArcelorMittal's share price has fallen steeply since 2008, reducing the value of the Mittal family's controlling stake of 40 percent to $9 billion from an estimated $55 billion in 2008.

The benchmark price of European steel in 2008 was about 850 euros ($1,030 at today's exchange rates) a metric ton. By last month, that price was 573 euros, according to Meps, a consulting firm in Sheffield, England.

And the lower the price drops, the more reluctant buyers are to commit, "because the material they have in stock is worth less as each week passes," said Peter Fish, the chairman of Meps.

Inexpensive Chinese steel, heavily subsidized by its government, has also been a big drag on global prices. Even as steel production in Western Europe and the United States has declined over the last five years, China's output has grown about 60 percent, and China now makes 46 percent of the world's steel.

Mr. Mittal said almost all Chinese companies lost money in the first half of the year. "That is good news in the sense that they will have to work on restructuring the steel industry," eventually putting profit ahead of volume, he said.

But largely because of China's ravenous appetite for iron ore, the industry's main raw material, its price has quadrupled since 2006, to about $134 a metric ton.

"The steel makers like ArcelorMittal are caught in the middle," said Jeff Largey, an analyst at Macquarie in London. "On the one hand, the end markets are weak and they don't have any pricing power. On the other hand, they can't do anything about high raw materials prices driven by demand from China."

Mr. Mittal started out in the 1970s building and operating a minimill in Indonesia. He built his fortune in the next three decades by buying and fixing a network of gigantic but poorly performing plants in places like Kazakhstan, Romania and Mexico.

But now Mr. Mittal finds himself in a tough fight just to control costs and reduce the company's $22 billion in debt. In Europe, he has idled nine of his 25 blast furnaces, the huge machines that turn iron ore into liquid metal.

And in contrast to his earlier acquisition spree, he is now selling properties. ArcelorMittal recently sold two North American steel foundation businesses called Skyline Steel and Astralloy to a rival, Nucor, for $605 million - part of $2.7 billion in divestitures since September.

Because of its mergers, ArcelorMittal has "a lot of low-hanging fruit," said Wen Li, an analyst at Credit Sights in New York.

The company also benefits from its global reach. The mills in the United States are doing better than those in Europe, thanks to demand from heavy-equipment makers like Caterpillar and for steel pipe to feed the North American shale gas boom. And unlike its rivals, ArcelorMittal has its own major iron ore operations, helping buffer high prices.

In Europe, where the company faces its deepest problems, it says it wants to keep its best plants - like those in Ghent, Belgium and Dunkirk, France - running at high rates while sidelining the poor performers. But ArcelorMittal probably needs to close some plants permanently, analysts say. And as the automakers know too well, closing plants in Europe requires months, if not years, of talks.

Labor problems are also looming in the United States. The company and the United Steelworkers union are now in intensive talks in Pittsburgh, trying to reach a new agreement before the current contract covering 12,500 workers expires at the end of August.

ArcelorMittal is pushing for lower costs and more flexible work rules that the union says would add up to wage and benefit reductions of $28 an hour.

The company says the workers make an average of $170,855 a year in pay and benefits, of which $82,471 is gross pay. A union spokesman, Anthony Montana, said the company's figure was "an inflated noncash cost calculation," but he would not provide a union estimate.

The union says that in addition to upfront compensation cuts, the company also wants the right to cut wages during periods of reduced operation. The company is proposing cuts in retirement benefits, too, seeking to eliminate retiree health care for employees hired after Sept. 1, 2012, and switch those employees to a 401(k) from a pension plan.

Mr. Largey, the Macquarie analyst, said the company might think it was worth enduring a strike if needed to reduce costs.

But an ArcelorMittal spokesman, William C. Steers, said on Wednesday, "We are optimistic we will reach a fair agreement because ultimately the union and the company want the same thing - a successful business throughout the cycle that provides good job security and industry-leading pay for industry-leading performance."

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Nalanda – World’s oldest university recreated

It is the world’s oldest university and after centuries, is now set to be recreated. Nalanda in Bihar, a renowned seat of learning and excellence 800 years ago, will soon stand tall again – this time as a truly international university.

The Nalanda International University, a pet project of Chief Minister Nitish Kumar, hopes to revive the lost glory of the 4th century university that drew students and scholars from across Asia. The new avatar is also being designed to serve as India’s very own centre for conflict resolution, on the lines of the one at Geneva.

A first of its kind in Asia, the university is being funded by India, China, Japan, Singapore and Thailand. The university will have seven schools comprising faculty from India and abroad who will impart teaching in courses like science, philosophy, spiritualism and international relations.

Nobel laureate Prof. Amartya Sen, who was appointed as the Chancellor of the university last week, has already announced that the first two of the seven proposed post-graduate schools will start functioning from next year. Each of the two schools – School of Historical Studies and School of Ecology and Environmental Studies – will have 100 students enrolled for the programme.

The Rs. 2000-crore international project, though, has been plagued by a string of controversies. A tussle between Prof. Sen and former president APJ Abdul Kalam – two of the country’s most celebrated brains – saw the project hitting a major roadblock. Dr Kalam walked out of the project last year, apparently over differences with Prof. Sen, who is also the chairman of the Nalanda governing board. He was reportedly upset over the appointment of Gopa Sabharwal – a close aide of Prof. Sen – as the Vice Chancellor of the university.

The proposed university was also mired in financial troubles with funds trickling in slowly from the Centre. The ambitious project, though, finally has a roadmap in place drawn by the Planning Commission as part of the 12th five year plan.

Recreating Nalanda: An Indian renaissance

The Bihar government has launched an ambitious project - to resurrect the Nalanda University which was once considered one of the finest academic institutions in the world.

And that dream seems to be one step closer to reality, with Parliament passing the Nalanda University Bill 2010.

The world-famous university in Bihar, built in 4th century AD, stood till about 800 years ago and used to draw students and scholars from across Asia.

Bihar government has acquired about 500 acres of land for the project. The estimated cost to build the university is over Rs. 1,000 crore but the Planning Commission has allocated Rs. 50 crore for the project.

The state government hopes to raise the rest from other state governments and private donors in other Asian countries.

Also, a Nalanda Mentor Group has been constituted to which is headed by Nobel laureate Professor Amartya Sen. It will act as its Interim Governing Board.

The Nalanda University project is one of Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar's pet projects. He has in fact linked the resurrection of the ancient university to the building of 'Brand Bihar' and 'Revival of Bihari Pride'.

"There are so many places in Bihar. The Nalanda University was the earliest university in the world. The story of Bihar is not only about today, it is about the history of mankind, a story of the evolution of culture. And in this kind of a Bihar, why can we all not get together," Nitish said.

Others associated with the project say it will be a symbol of Asian intellect.

"It's the Pan Asian character of Nalanda which makes this new initiative a symbol or an icon of the surge towards this quest for an Asian renaissance. As Asia regains its economic power, it also seeks some ways to be able to revive Pan Asian intellectual traditions which Nalanda represented in more ways than one," said N K Singh, a member of the Nalanda mentor Group.

Construction is expected to begin in a year. With the revival of this university, perhaps Bihar and India will now find a prominent place on the global education map.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Global economy in worst shape since 2009

The global economy is in the worst shape since the dark days of 2009.

Six of the 17 countries that use the euro currency are in recession. The U.S. economy is struggling again. And the economic superstars of the developing world — China, India and Brazil — are in no position to come to the rescue. They're slowing, too.

The lengthening shadow over the world's economy illustrates one of the consequences of globalization: There's nowhere to hide.

Economies around the world have never been so tightly linked — which means that as one region weakens, others do, too. That's why Europe's slowdown is hurting factories in China. And why those Chinese factories are buying less iron ore from Brazil.

As a result of this global economic slowdown, the International Monetary Fund has reduced its forecast for world growth this year to 3.5 percent, the slowest since a 0.6 percent drop in 2009. Some economists predict the global economy will grow a full percentage point less.

For now, few foresee another global recession. Central banks in China, Britain, Brazil, South Korea and Europe have cut interest rates in the past month to try to jolt growth. European leaders have begun to focus more on promoting growth, not just shrinking debt and cutting budgets.

The Chinese government, in particular, is expected to do what it takes to protect its economy from deteriorating too quickly. And despite their slowdowns, China and India are still growing at rates America and Europe can only imagine.

But many economists say European policymakers aren't moving fast enough to strengthen European banks and ease borrowing costs for Italy and Spain. They fear the global impact if Europe's economy deteriorates further.

Stock prices in the United States and elsewhere are fluctuating almost daily depending on the outlook for a resolution of Europe's debt crisis.

Around the world, sales at companies ranging from automakers to technology companies are falling. Advanced Micro Devices, a California-based maker of computer chips used in everything from slot machines to smart cameras, says revenue likely dropped 11 percent in the second quarter because of weaker-than-expected sales in China and Europe.

At Jagemann Stamping Co. in Manitowoc, Wis., sales to Europe have dropped more than 10 percent from a year ago. The company makes metal parts for auto companies and other customers. It's still enjoying strong sales in the United States, so it hasn't had to cut workers because of falling business in Germany and the Czech Republic.

"What it does is slow our new hiring," says company president Ralph Hardt.

One growing concern about the global economy is there's little margin for error: Unemployment is already at recession levels in Europe and the United States.

The United States, by far the world's biggest economy, has long pulled the global economy out of slumps. Now it needs help. Three years after the Great Recession officially ended, the American economy can't maintain momentum. For the third straight year, growth has stalled at mid-year after getting off to a promising start.

Unemployment stood at 8.2 percent in June — the 41st straight month it's been above 8 percent.

Americans spent less at retail businesses for a third straight month in June, the longest losing streak since the recession. Economists are downgrading their estimates of economic growth in the April-June quarter. When the government releases its first estimate on Friday, many think it won't even match the first quarter's sluggish 1.9 percent annual pace.

The global slowdown is squeezing U.S. exports, which have accounted for an unusually large 43 percent share of U.S. growth since the recession officially ended in June 2009.

Consumer confidence has fallen four straight months in the face of scant hiring and weak economic growth. U.S. companies are nervous about the threat of tax increases and spending cuts that are scheduled to kick in at year's end unless Congress breaks a deadlock. The IMF has warned of a spillover to the rest of the world if the U.S. economy falls off the so-called fiscal cliff.

Europe's obstacles are even more severe. It's faced with crushing government debts, struggling banks and scant economic growth. Unemployment in the 17 countries that use the euro is 11 percent, the highest since the euro was adopted in 1999.

Greece, Portugal, Italy and Spain are in recessions. Germany and France are faring better, but both are likely to grow more slowly this year than America.

French retail giant Carrefour SA — the Wal-Mart of Europe — says its sales fell in the second quarter amid a slowdown in its core markets in Europe.

Italy's Fiat lost nearly $260 million in Europe the first three months of the year. French carmaker PSA Peugeot-Citroen plans to slash 8,000 jobs in France and close a major factory. Europe's banks are stuck with bad real estate loans and shaky European government bonds.

The European Central Bank has made massive amounts of money available to Europe's banks at cheap rates to try to revive lending. But borrowing by many businesses and consumers remains weak because they are uncertain about future income.

Many fear that Greece and perhaps other countries will default on their debts and have to abandon the euro currency, which could ignite financial chaos across Europe.

A summit of European leaders last month produced some agreements that helped calm markets for a few days. But optimism faded as investors recognized that governments are still saddled with big debts and banks with bad loans. And that Europe itself still faces the threat that growth will stall and the euro currency alliance will collapse.

The European Commission predicts the 17-country eurozone economy will shrink 0.3 percent this year. Many economists fear it could be worse. Capital Economics says a recent drop in eurozone business confidence is consistent with a 1 percent decline in economic output.

In the latest wallop to the global economy, China said last week that its economic growth fell to a three-year low. The world's second-largest economy grew 7.6 percent in the April-June quarter compared with the same quarter last year. That was the slowest growth since early 2009.

Countries like China need fast growth to serve growing populations and millions of people leaving farms to seek work in cities.

Chinese growth has decelerated for eight straight quarters. That's the longest slowdown in records dating to 1992, according to Yu Bin, a government researcher.

The slowdown is partly deliberate. In 2010 and 2011, Chinese officials raised interest rates and took other steps to tame inflation and cool an overheated real estate market.

"Mission accomplished," says Cameron Peacock, a market analyst at Australia's IG Markets. "China now has the room to re-stimulate its economy."

But China is also feeling Europe's economic squeeze. Chinese exports to Italy dropped 24 percent in June from a year earlier. Exports to France fell 5 percent, those to Germany nearly 4 percent. Europe buys about 17 percent of China's exports.

The impact of weak European demand for Chinese-made furniture, shoes, toys and other goods has fallen hardest on export-oriented manufacturers along China's southeastern coast. Some companies have closed. Others are cutting staff.

China is the biggest trading partner of Brazil, which has the world's eighth-biggest economy. Brazil is likely to grow only 1.8 percent in 2012, according to Sao Paulo Federation of Industries. China's slowdown has reduced demand for Brazilian soy and iron ore. Brazilian manufacturers, such as aircraft maker Embraer, are hurting as Europe reduces its demand for manufactured goods.

A relatively strong currency isn't helping. It makes Brazilian products more expensive to foreign buyers.

Brazil also has a U.S.-style problem with consumer debt: Since 2003, about 40 million Brazilians have entered the middle class and brought a strong appetite for consumption. Brazilian leaders credited those consumers with invigorating the economy in recent years and helping protect it from external shocks.

But most of the buying has been on credit. And those bills are adding up. In a report last week, London-based Capital Economics estimated that debt payments now eat up 20 percent of household income in Brazil.

"The current pace of credit growth in Brazil remains unsustainable — and the longer it continues, the bigger the risk of a messy ending further down the line," Capital Economics warned.

Similarly, the outlook has dimmed for India, the world's fourth-biggest economy. Its growth slowed to a 5.3 percent annual rate in the first three months of 2012, the slowest rate in nine years.

Over the past two decades, India has emerged as a powerhouse in services — writing software, running call centers, making movies, drafting engineering plans.
In a report last month, Andrew Kenningham, senior global economist at Capital Economics, said India's troubles are mostly self-inflicted.

"Weak governance, although not new, is the most plausible explanation for the slowdown," he wrote.

The government has reneged on promises to make it easier for foreigners to invest in India. It has taxed Indian firms that acquire companies overseas. Indian factories have cut production. And the pay of many Indians has been diminished by inflation, which has averaged more than 9 percent a year for the past two years.

The slowdown in the developing world could make it harder for the economies of Europe and the United States to climb out of their ruts. And the weaker the rich countries get, the harder it will be for developing economies to regain their old fast pace.

"In today's interconnected world, we can no longer afford to look only at what goes on within our national borders," IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde said earlier this month. "This crisis does not recognize borders. This crisis is knocking at all our doors."

Super rich hold $32 trillion in offshore havens

Rich individuals and their families have as much as $32 trillion of hidden financial assets in offshore tax havens, representing up to $280 billion in lost income tax revenues, according to research published on Sunday.

The study estimating the extent of global private financial wealth held in offshore accounts - excluding non-financial assets such as real estate, gold, yachts and racehorses - puts the sum at between $21 and $32 trillion.

The research was carried out for pressure group Tax Justice Network, which campaigns against tax havens, by James Henry, former chief economist at consultants McKinsey & Co.

He used data from the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, United Nations and central banks.

The report also highlights the impact on the balance sheets of 139 developing countries of money held in tax havens by private elites, putting wealth beyond the reach of local tax authorities.

The research estimates that since the 1970s, the richest citizens of these 139 countries had amassed $7.3 to $9.3 trillion of "unrecorded offshore wealth" by 2010.

Private wealth held offshore represents "a huge black hole in the world economy," Henry said in a statement.

Pranab Mukherjee to be 13th President of India.

Pranab Mukherjee's occupancy rights to Rashtrapati Bhavan have been legitimised today. He will be the 13th President of India and will take oath on Wednesday, July 25.

While his party has not in the past checked his promotion, this time it threw its weight behind its man after some initial dithering over whether he would be its nominee.

Mr Mukherjee, however, has been the engineer of his own ascent through skills and commitment that have earned him lavish praise from the Opposition, and a reprimand from his family. In 2009, in an interview to NDTV, Mr Mukherjee admitted that a journey bereft of roads less travelled has meant he was a lesser husband and father.

"I have no personal life even though I am a family man ... days together it may happen living under the same roof hardly I see my wife though she is sick. Because sometimes in the morning or late night I normally leave my table, working table, after one in the morning. And before I go to my bedroom I just see, touch her forehead she is in deep sleep."

He began his political career in 1969; and has served in every Congress cabinet since Indira Gandhi became Prime Minister. He has served as Home, Finance, External Affairs Minister. In 1969, he became a Rajya Sabha member. As a then rookie MP, he impressed Indira Gandhi with his speech in Parliament on the nationalisation of banks.
By 1973, he was a minister in her cabinet. He has described her as his mentor.
"She built me up. She gave me the opportunities. I became Finance Minister at the age of 46-47. She allowed me to preside over the Cabinet in her absence, when there were many senior to me," Mr Mukherjee told NDTV.

His introduction to politics was made by his father, a freedom fighter and a member of the Bengal Legislative Council. As a young student, Mr Mukherjee got a law degree from Calcutta University and began teaching, but soon switched to politics

When Indira Gandhi was assassinated in 1984, he made a legendary mis-step. When her son, Rajiv, asked him who would become the new Prime Minister, Mr Mukherjee reportedly replied, "The senior-most minister." That comment was seen within the party as a rare expression of fierce ambition, and many believe it has underpinned his relationship ever since with the Congress' first family.

It was the political novice Rajiv Gandhi who filled his mother's shoes to head party and government; he did not accommodate Mr Mukherjee in his Cabinet. In 1986, the forever Congressman left the Congress and floated his own party - the Rashtriya Samajwadi Congress. The stint away was not Mr Mukherjee's best moment and he was back in the Congress three years later. In 1991, when PV Narasimha Rao became Prime Minister, he appointed Mr Mukherjee as Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission. Pranab Mukherjee's career was back on track.

In 2004, when the Congress-led coalition first came to power, Mr Mukherjee was seen as a contender for Prime Minister. But his boss, Sonia Gandhi, chose Dr Manmohan Singh instead, and even his close supporters began to believe that their leader would be the eternal bridesmaid.

In 2007, he allegedly hoped for an entry to Rashtrapati Bhawan. But his party refused to release him. On record, it said that Mr Mukherjee was indispensable to the daily management and agenda of the Congress and the government. There was plenty of evidence that this was not an exaggerated claim.
Of 183 Groups of Ministers formed by the UPA, at least 80 were chaired by Mr Mukherjee.

He led the committees that dealt with the most volatile political issues - including those that handled the anti-graft Lokpal Bill and statehood for Telangana. When Parliament was stalled by the opposition, or on legislation where its support was necessary, it was Mr Mukherjee who was assigned to cross the party line and strike a deal. Despite his famous outbursts and short temper, seen occasionally in parliament, leaders like LK Advani and Arun Jaitley have praised him time and time again.

His all-access pass to Rashtrapati Bhawan may be the result of a rather one-sided fight - opposition candidate PA Sangma is expected to poll barely 30% of the vote- but Mr Mukherjee could have done without the controversies that unfolded in his election.

His party kept him waiting while it chose between Vice-President Hamid Ansari and him as their nominee. When its key ally, Mamata Banerjee, made it clear that she would not endorse him, Mr Mukherjee's chances of being the UPA candidate appeared bleak. Support from Mulayam Singh Yadav, who provides external support to the coalition, may have helped clinch the deal. And on June 15, Mr Mukheree's nomination was officially announced at a meeting of the UPA where Ms Banerjee was conspicuous by her absence. She eventually came around just two days before the vote on July 19, and even at that late stage, she made it clear that Mr Mukherjee was not the best man for the job in her estimate. "We wanted (former President) APJ Kalam to be President...we would have done everything to make him win...but it is our misfortune that he refused to run," Ms Banerjee said, adding that she wishes she "could have voted for Mr Mukherjee with a smile on her face, but that is not the case."

Mr Sangma and parties like the BJP which backed him challenged Mr Mukherjee's nomination on the ground that he held an office of profit at the Indian Statistical Institute. But the Election Commission ruled in his favour. Then Mr Sangma said that "Rashtrapati Bhawan had become a dumping ground for failures" a caustic reference to Mr Mukherjee's tenure as Finance Minister. The criticism wasn't mitigated by the fact that after taking over the Finance portfolio, the Prime Minister appeared to be reversing controversial announcements by Mr Mukherjee in the union budget that had sent investor sentiment into a spin.

Mr Mukherjee had made it clear that he would not fight another election and that he would not be a part of the next cabinet, if the Congress returned to power in 2014. He has said that his party must find and promote new and younger leaders. Last month, he said he does not agree with those who say his party has been late in giving him his due. "I have been an MP for almost 4 decades ... I was a Minister for 22 years. Therefore, I don't regret. I am rather quite happy and satisfied that the party has given me enough. Rather I have not done that much as what the party has given me," he said.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Record breaking expanse of drought across US

46.84 percent of the US land area is in various stages of drought, up from 42.8 percent a week ago. Previous records were 45.87 percent in drought on Aug. 26, 2003, and 45.64 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.

Looking only at the 48 contiguous states, 55.96 percent of the country’s land area is in moderate drought or worse – also the highest percentage on record in that regard, officials said. The previous highs had been 54.79 percent on Aug. 26, 2003, and 54.63 percent on Sept. 10, 2002.

“The recent heat and dryness is catching up with us on a national scale,” said Michael J. Hayes, director of the National Drought Mitigation Center at UNL. “Now, we have a larger section of the country in these lesser categories of drought than we’ve previously experienced in the history of the Drought Monitor.”

The monitor uses a ranking system that begins at D0 (abnormal dryness) and moves through D1 (moderate drought), D2 (severe drought), D3 (extreme drought) and D4 (exceptional drought).

Moderate drought’s telltale signs are some damage to crops and pastures, with streams, reservoirs or wells getting low. At the other end of the scale, exceptional drought includes widespread crop and pasture losses, as well as shortages of water in reservoirs, streams and wells, creating water emergencies. So far, just 8.64 percent of the country is in either extreme or exceptional drought.

“During 2002 and 2003, there were several very significant droughts taking place that had a much greater areal coverage of the more severe and extreme drought categories,” Hayes said. “Right now we are seeing pockets of more severe drought, but it is spread out over different parts of the country.

“It’s early in the season, though. The potential development is something we will be watching.”

Extreme drought reported for Alabama and Arkansas

The abnormally dry conditions gripping Alabama now cover more than 90 percent of the state. An analysis released Thursday, July 5, 2012 by the U.S. Drought Monitor shows southwest Alabama is the only section of the state that’s not experiencing a large rainfall deficit.

The situation is worst in eastern Alabama, where all but a few counties are in a severe or extreme drought. Arid conditions are classified as exceptionally bad in parts of Barbour and Henry counties in the state’s southeastern corner. In all, about 91 percent of the state is either abnormally dry or in a full-blown drought.

Forestry officials say there’s an increased threat of wildfires because of the dry conditions, and farmers are having on irrigation to sustain crops in many areas.

The latest drought report says more than a third of Arkansas is in extreme drought conditions. The U.S. Drought Monitor report says all of Arkansas is undergoing drought conditions.

A handful of counties are experiencing moderate drought conditions, but most of Arkansas is either in severe or extreme drought. Northern counties from Carroll to Clay and extending south to Jackson are in extreme drought, as is southwest Arkansas.

A pocket of north central Arkansas counties from Franklin to Conway and Van Buren counties is also classified as extreme. The National Weather Service says rain is possible this weekend and early next week, but it will likely have little impact on the drought conditions.

Next several days in US

In general, July 4 – 8, 2012 doesn’t look promising in terms of relief, though the intense heat should subside somewhat. One area that could see relief would be from the central and southern Rockies into the northern Plains, much of which is forecast to receive over an inch of rain. Totals near or above 2 inches are expected in the central Dakotas. One to perhaps 3 inches are also anticipated along and near the central Gulf Coast.

Elsewhere, light rain at best is expected, with little or none forecast for the lower Northeast, the mid-Atlantic region, the upper Southeast, the Ohio Valley, much of the Mississippi Valley, and the central and southern Plains. Seasonably dry weather is expected in the West.

Modest improvement is forecast for most areas that have endured the recent heat wave, but most locations from the Plains eastward are still expected to be warmer than normal. Temperatures could average over 6 degrees above normal from the mid-Atlantic region westward through the Tennessee and Ohio Valleys to near the Mississippi River.

The ensuing 5 days (July 9 – 13, 2012) bring enhanced chances for below-normal rainfall from the Tennessee and middle Mississippi Valleys northward through the Appalachians, Great Lakes, and northern Great Plains. In contrast, the odds favor above-normal rainfall along and near the southern half of the Atlantic Coast and in the southern halves of the High Plains and Rockies. Below-normal temperatures are expected to settle into the Northeast, but continued above-normal temperatures are anticipated in the southern halves of the Mississippi Valley and eastern Plains, and from the northern Plains, the central Rockies, and the desert Southwest westward to near the Pacific Coast.

Drought sends 'mighty Mississippi' river levels near record lows

The "mighty Mississippi" has lost some of its might with the season's epic drought taking its toll on river levels, which are falling to near historic lows.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will spend nearly $7 million dredging in an attempt to keep ports operational and keep the river open for barge traffic in the coming weeks. River levels in Memphis have dropped to within three feet of their historic lows from the 1988 drought.

In just one year, the river has gone through extreme fluctuation. Last May, it was within a foot of its record-high crest because of massive flooding, and today it's 55 feet lower and experiencing historic lows due to drought.

Dramatic images taken from NASA’s Terra satellite show the swollen river in late April of last year compared with images from early July this year. The expanse of the water was over 3 miles wide in parts of Missouri and Arkansas as levees were blown up in order to help protect the town of Cairo, Illinois from flood waters. The image taken July 2012 this year shows a much different story with the river less than a half mile wide in spots.

New data from U.S. Drought Monitor issued Thursday shows the drought has worsened in the past week, and now ranks as the second worst drought in U.S. history over the lower 48 since records began in 1895.

Nearly 64% of the contiguous United States is now in moderate to exceptional drought, second only to the summer of 1934, the height of the dust bowl era. Nearly 40% of the corn crop is now considered in poor or very poor condition, and this went up a sharp 8% in only a week.

During the 2012 crop year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has designated 1,297 counties across 29 states as disaster areas, making all qualified farm operators in the areas eligible for low-interest emergency loans. And on Monday the USDA designated 39 additional counties in eight states as primary natural disaster areas due to damage and losses caused by drought and excessive heat.

A dozen states on Thursday were under some sort of heat advisory or warning, many of them over the worst-hit drought areas. The heat wave is expected to last through much of the weekend, which means conditions will likely continue to worsen over the coming weeks.

And the Army Corps said that the shrinking of the Mississippi means that saltwater is beginning to work its way upriver, which could threaten some water supplies.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Time dubs Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as 'underachiever'

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has long been lauded for his pivotal role in liberalising the Indian economy, has been dubbed as an "underachiever" by Time magazine. The magazine says he appears "unwilling to stick his neck out" on reforms that will put the country back on growth path.

Dr Singh, 79, is featured on the cover of Time magazine's Asia edition, which will be out this week. With his portrait in the background, the title on the cover reads The Underachiever - India needs a reboot.

'Is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh up to the job?' Time's report titled A Man in Shadow asks, adding that apart from facing the challenges of a slowdown in economic growth, huge fiscal deficit and a falling rupee, India's Congress party-led UPA coalition "has found itself fending off corruption scandals and accused of showing a lack of economic direction."

"....investors at home and abroad are beginning to get cold feet. Voters too are losing confidence, as rising inflation and a litany of scandals chip away at the government's credibility," the magazine said.

Pointing towards Dr Singh's fall "from grace," the magazine says, "In the past three years, the calm confidence he (Singh) once radiated has been absent. He seems unable to control his ministers and his new, temporary portfolio at the Finance Ministry notwithstanding unwilling to stick his neck out on reforms that will continue the process of liberalisation he helped start."

The magazine said at a time when India cannot afford a slowdown in economic growth, "laws that could help create growth and jobs are stuck in Parliament, sparking concerns that politicians have lost the plot in their focus on shorter-term, populist measures that will win votes."

Tit for tat: Barack Obama underachiever, dubs Outlook India.

It seems that Outlook India is all set to take a revenge on Time Magazine on behalf of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as the magazine dubbed US President Barack Obama "underachiever".

On the cover page of the upcoming issue of the magazine, which is expected to be released on Jul 30, shows US president's image with the caption - "THE UNDERACHIEVER".

"America needed a reboot-he promised hope and change. Four years on, President Barack Obama's sheen is gone. Can his lofty rhetoric carry him home again?" reads the magazine on the cover page.

Recently, US based Time Magazine called Indian Prime Minister an "underachiever" and a "man in shadow". Criticising Dr Singh and the government led by him, the magazine claimed, "India needs a reboot." The magazine issue dated Jul 7, also asked, "Is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh up to the job?"

UPA government was also being slapped. The magazine hurled strong criticism against it saying, "The laws that could help create growth and jobs are stuck in parliament, sparking concerns that politicians have lost the plot in their focus on short-term populist measures that will win votes."

Calling Dr Singh 'a man in shadow', Time Magazine, however, gives some advice to the Indian Prime Minister. "India is stalling. To turn it around, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh must emerge from his private and political gloom," said the magazine.

Now, with the latest move of Outlook India, it seems that Time's criticism acted as a boomerang for US and especially for Obama.

Recently, Commerce and Industry Minister Anand Sharma also criticised Obama saying, "he (Obama) has every right to convey what his perceptions are but the policy making is a sovereign decision and India's FDI policy regime is investor-friendly."

Obama in an interview to PTI noted that India prohibits foreign investment in too many sectors such as retail and endorsed another wave of economic reforms.

"It is still too hard to invest in India. In too many sectors, such as retail, India limits or prohibits the foreign investment...which is necessary for India to continue to grow," Obama has said.

Who's the under-achiever now? Outlook gives Obama the title.

After some serious bashing by international media over the slow pace of reform, the Prime Minister found two white knights today. First, Ratan Tata tweeted that "Attacks on the architect of 1991 reforms which brought us prosperity is sad and unfortunate. It's wrong to single out the PM for inflation, low investment confidence and slow growth."

Then came the news that Outlook magazine's next edition, which hits the stands soon, has a cover story that brands President Obama "The Underachiever." That was the title bestowed on Dr Manmohan Singh two weeks ago by Time Magazine in its Asia edition. (Outlook India's website)

The Outlook cover says, "America needed a reboot. He promised hope and change... can his lofty rhetoric carry him home again?" Time's cover on Dr Singh had asked, "India needs a reboot. Is Prime Minister Manmohan Singh upto the job?"

On Monday, the Independent, a UK newspaper, ran a piece on Dr Singh that started out with a headline that asked if he was "saviour or Sonia's poodle." After tweaking its headline on its website a few times, the piece finally settled on the considerably milder "India's Saviour Or Just the 'Under-Achiever'?"

Foreign media and commentators have often made the point that India does not take criticism well when it's offered from a foreign perspective. The Congress party had dismissed the Time story, arguing that the Prime Minister has many accomplishments, which must be noted.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

India's Ambani Grabs More U.S. Shale Gas

Mukesh Ambani led Reliance Industries announced that it will acquire 60 per cent stake in a shale-gas venture in the US for $ 392 million. On Thursday, India's largest industrial group Reliance Industries informed its investors that the company's subsidiary Reliance Marcellus II LLC has entered into a joint venture agreement with the US based Carrizo Oil & Gas, Inc. according to the industry sources, Reliance Industries Limited will pay 340 million in cash and the remaining $ 52 million in drilling cost to Carrizo Oil and Gas. After this transaction, Reliance will acquire 100 per cent of Avista's interest and 20 per cent of Carrizo's interests in this joint venture. The completion of transaction will lead to Reliance and Carrizo owning 60 percent and 40 per cent of the interest respectively. As per the media reports, Reliance Group will acquire 60 per cent interest in Marcellus Shale acreage in Central and Northeast Pennsylvania.

The latest move by Reliance Industries Limited will further expand the shale gas portfolio of the Indian giant in the US. While making an announcement about this joint venture, Reliance confirmed that the agreements to enter into a joint venture were signed by its subsidiary company in the US. Commenting on this joint venture, President, International E&P Business, Reliance Industries, Mr. Walter Van de Vijver said, "Reliance is excited about the opportunity to further expand presence in the Marcellus Shale in the United States. We are pleased to establish a long‐term partnership with Carrizo, which has demonstrated operating expertise in the shale plays. The proposed joint venture will supplement strengths achieved through our recent joint ventures and further expand our footprint in North American shale gas operations."

Talking about this joint venture between Reliance Group and Carrizo Oil and Gas Inc., Deepak Pareek, an analyst said, "This is a consolidation of its shale-gas positions in the U.S., where the market is huge and shale resources are plenty. The success depends on how quickly they can produce and ramp up and capture a share of the market." According to the sources, Reliance has been investing heavily in new areas such as shale gas as it wants to have a foothold overseas and seeks to expand the business beyond petrochemicals, refining oil, gas exploration and retail. Though shale formations are lucrative, however it is quite expensive to develop it and to make it environment sensitive. This acreage is expected to support the drilling of almost 1,000 wells over the next 10 years.
Billionaire Mukesh Ambani, chairman of India’s Reliance Industries made another acquisition in the Marcellus shale natural gas fields of Pennsylvania today. Reliance is pledging $392 million for nearly 63,000 acres controlled by Carrizo Oil & Gas.

This comes on the heels of Reliance’s April deal with Atlas Energy; taking some 140,000 acres for $1.7 billion. The deals show a dedication by Ambani to build a position in the Marcellus, the biggest natural gas field in the U.S., and one close to the East Coast population centers. A fascinating move considering that Ambani has massive gas reserves still under development in India’s offshore KG basin.
As discussed in our recent article on the Marcellus the play is in the midst of a consolidation trend. Shell has been the biggest buyer this year, paying $4.7 billion for East Resources. More deals will come. Yet there’s a good reason why the biggest Marcellus acreage holders, like Range Resource, Chesapeake Energy, and Chief Oil & Gas (owned by billionaire Trevor Rees-Jones) won’t be happy about Ambani’s new deal. The price Reliance is paying Carrizo comes out to just $6,300 an acre; that’s well less than the $14,000 paid in the Atlas deal.

Why the disparity? Could be Ambani is getting smarter. But a lot of it has to do with the terms of the deal. With Atlas, Reliance paid $340 million cash up front, with the balance of $1.36 billion going to cover future drilling costs. With Carrizo, it’s $340 million upfront and just $52 million to cover drilling. Cash now is always worth more than cash later.

Rajasthan's farmers strike gas-drilling gold with tiny bean

Sohan Singh's shoeless children have spent most of their lives hungry, dirty and hot. A farmer in a desert land, Mr. Singh could not afford anything better than a mud hut and a barely adequate diet for his family.

But it just so happens that when the hard little bean that Mr. Singh grows is ground up, it becomes an essential ingredient for mining oil and natural gas in a process called hydraulic fracturing.

Halfway around the world, earnings are down for an oil services giant, Halliburton, because prices have risen for guar, the bean that Mr. Singh and his fellow farmers raise.

Halliburton's loss was, in a rather significant way, Mr. Singh's gain - a rare victory for the littlest of the little guys in global trade. The increase in guar prices is helping to transform this part of the state of Rajasthan in northwestern India, one of the world's poorest places. Tractor sales are soaring, land prices are increasing and weddings have grown even more colorful.

"Now we have enough food, and we have a house made of stone," Mr. Singh said proudly while his rail-thin children stared in awe.

Guar, a modest bean so hard that it can crack teeth, has become an unlikely global player, and dirt-poor farmers like Mr. Singh have suddenly become a crucial link in the energy production of the United States.

For centuries, farmers here used guar to feed their families and their cattle. There are better sources of nutrition, but few that grow in the Rajasthani desert, a land rich in culture but poor in rain. Broader commercial interest in guar first developed when food companies found that it absorbs water like a souped-up cornstarch, and a powdered form of the bean is now widely used to thicken ice cream and keep pastries crisp.

But much more important to farmers here was the recent discovery that guar could stiffen water so much that a mixture is able to carry sand sideways into wells drilled by horizontal fracturing, also known as fracking.

The fracking boom in the United States has led to a surge in natural gas production, a decline in oil imports and a gradual transition away from coal-fired power plants. Fracking may also have spoiled some rural water supplies and caused environmental damage in parts of the United States, but it is hard to find anyone in Rajasthan who sees fracking as anything but a blessing.

"Without guar, you cannot have fracturing fluids," said Michael J. Economides, a professor of engineering at the University of Houston who is a fracking expert. "And what everybody is worried about is that there is virtually no guar out there now."

India produces about 85 percent of the world's guar. As worries rose about the prospects for this year's monsoon, which is vital for an adequate crop, speculation over guar production built to a frenzy. Trading in guar futures was even suspended, and with the monsoon still behind schedule, it remains postponed. Ramesh Abhishek, India's chief commodities market regulator, said guar trading would resume when supplies proved adequate.

"If the physical market doesn't provide enough supplies, then the futures market causes more harm than good," Mr. Abhishek said.

Now, an international effort is under way to ensure that guar supplies come closer to meeting the soaring demand, and hundreds of thousands of small farmers here have been recruited in the effort. Leading the way is Vikas WSP, an Indian company that specializes in the production of guar powders.

Many farmers sold their seed stock last year when prices shot up, so Vikas has held rallies in small towns to pass out free seeds, including new high-production hybrids. The company persuaded farmers with irrigated land in the state of Punjab, north of Rajasthan, to plant guar in the spring instead of cotton. That crop is now coming to market.

And Vikas signed contracts with farmers guaranteeing a return of nearly $800 per acre if they planted guar, no matter what this year's monsoon brought.

"Whatever they produce, we will buy," said Sanjay Pareek, a Vikas vice president.

Anticipating a heavy crop, Vikas is more than doubling its processing capacity by building two new plants in Jodhpur, the second-largest city in Rajasthan. By next year, the company will be able to produce 86,400 tons of guar powder each day, it said. Smaller producers are taking similar steps.

"Last year was an extraordinary year," said S. K. Sharma, managing director of Lotus Gums and Chemicals in Jodhpur. "In 35 years in this business, I've never seen that."

Mr. Sharma said his company would soon open a second plant dedicated entirely to serving gas companies, adding that he was cautiously optimistic that guar prices would remain robust. "But we know there are efforts to grow guar in China, Australia, California and elsewhere, and it has us worried," he said.

Despite the expanding supply, many analysts believe that guar prices will remain high for the foreseeable future. Neil Beveridge, an oil analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, said demand for fracking services should continue to grow rapidly as the industry expanded outside North America. "We're already starting to see a big increase in Eastern Europe, Argentina, Australia, China and India itself," he said.

Susan L. Sakmar, an energy analyst in San Francisco, cautioned that the fracking boom could slow and that guar alternatives could be developed. But Mr. Economides, the Houston fracking expert, dismissed such talk. "There are no easy or cheap alternatives to guar," he said.

That is good news for guar producers. Farmers, traders and processors around Jodhpur admitted fulfilling some long-held dreams with the profits they made last year. Some took trips to Europe; some bought gold; others got married.

At a Massey Ferguson tractor dealership in Jodhpur, where sales have doubled in recent years, Nathu Parjapat of Haripura was buying a tractor for his father-in-law, whose own profits from farming guar allowed him to provide a dowry of 12 grams of gold and half a kilogram of silver when Mr. Parjapat married his daughter.

"So now I'm buying a tractor for him," Mr. Parjapat said as his father-in-law stood next to him, nodding with grave approval.

Mr. Singh, the farmer with the new house, said he would plant his entire field with guar this year instead of spreading his risk among other crops. His family is able to sleep on the stone roof, where a constant breeze keeps them cool. His old mud house, now occupied by goats, has a roof made of sticks that did not allow such a luxury.

Mr. Singh's sister, Issa Rathore, showed off a silver ankle bracelet and a toe ring, both bought with guar profits. But her smile quickly vanished when she was asked whether she expected a similar windfall in the coming months. She glanced at the sky, and the children around her grew hushed. "Will the monsoon be enough this year?" she asked. "Who knows?"

Military Airplanes

The militaries of the United States and its allies are in need of a new fighter aircraft. Although the American F-22 is considered the most advanced fighter aircraft in the sky today, it is expensive to build and maintain and slow to deploy. The Joint Strike Fighter program was begun to develop an affordable, lethal aircraft that could fight anywhere in the world in any weather with less than one day's notice.

Five years ago, Lockheed Martin and Boeing began developing competing protoypes for the JSF program. In October, Lockheed Martin's was selected for future development.

The X35 (to be designated the F-35 once it reaches regular production) incorporates a number of unique design innovations that set it aside from everything else in the sky today.


The US and British militaries specified that the JSF must have available models with "short take-off vertical landing" (STOVL) capabilities. The Royal Air Force and US Marines require carrier-based fighters that can launch from short runways and land on flight decks and landing strips not much larger than the planes themselves.

Currently, this need is filled by the British Harrier. Harriers direct their jet engines though nozzels that can be angled downward, allowing them to launch and land vertically or hover in mid-air. The Harrier is limited, however, both in speed and payload: it is roughly half the size of the X35, and unlike most modern fighters it flies only at subsonic speeds.

The STOVL X35 uses the engine's turbine shaft to power two counter-rotating fans located behind the cockpit, producing nearly 20,000 lbs. of lift. This reduces noise, wind, and heat, while doubling the force available from a Harrier-type design.

An X35 was the first STOVL aircraft ever to fly supersonic and land vertically in the same flight.


The F-35 will have half as many parts and mechanical fasteners as an F-16, with each component manufactured and placed by laser-guided machinery. Assembly steps that could take days, or even weeks, on older fighters can be accomplished in minutes.

More reliable components and a greatly reduced internal support structure mean that the F-35 will require less maintenance and will allow easier access to workers.

Three variants of the prototype have been produced: the X35A (standard configuration for the US Air Force), the X35B (STOVL), and X35C (for the US Navy, with wider wings and a heavier support structure for carrier landings and takeoffs). The production processes and tooling have been designed so that the same equipment can be used to manufacture any of the three variants.

Once full production on the plane begins, it is expected to cost $30 million per unit--$70 million less than an F-22.


The United States military and its contractors have spent billions developing technology to render aircraft practically invisible. Smooth, aerodynamic shapes reduce the reflection of radar waves and, along with the planes' coloration, make it difficult for other aircraft to visually detect them. Engines are shielded within the bodies of the aircraft and vents are shaped to spread their exhaust, eliminating their infrared signature. Advanced materials used in stealth aircraft absorb radar waves and prevent electromagnetic detection.

All of these features enhance the "survivability" of an aircraft (that's the military's way of saying that it is less likely to be shot down), but are costly. The extreme case is the B-2 Stealth Bomber. This is a long-range heavy bomber (it can carry twenty tons of bombs six thousand miles without being refueled and flies from three bases to virtually anywhere in the world with a single in-air refueling) with a radar cross-section (the solid area apparent to radar detection) roughly the size of a large bird. B-2 bombers cost more than $2 billion each, with F-22's running at $100 million.

For the Joint Strike Fighter program, focus has shifted from providing the most perfect stealth possible to using stealth technology in an affordable design, finding a balance between survivability and cost.

In flight, the X35 creates roughly the same radar reflection as a piece of metal the size of a golfball. This means that it is easier to detect than the F-22 (which have less radar visibility than a marble), but should be able to evade detection by any potential enemy.

The JSF will be produced with fewer expensive radar-invisible composites than the F-22, but designers have reduced the total number of surfaces, seams, steps, and external imperfections to reflect radar. Long-lastings surface coatings and more precise manufacturing techniques will make this the first stealth aircraft that can be deployed without climate-controlled hangars and special putties and paints for minor surface repairs.

The Future

Lockheed's protoypes have now been allowed to progress to the "System Design and Development" phase with a $19 billion contract to further develop the design over the next ten years. If all goes well, Lockheed will have an opportunity at a much larger contract: $200 billion to deliver three thousand F-35's to the British and United States governments.

Lockheed’s New STOL Airlifter Design

Well done to Secret Projects forum for spotting this nugget that everyone else missed. This stealthy looking model plane is Lockheed Martin’s concept for what anext-generation super shot take-off and landing tactical airlifter would look like.

The four-engine plane (though I only see two in these pictures), called the Speed Agile Concept Demonstrator, is Lockheed’s part of an Air Force Research Lab effort to develop designs for a STOL tactical transport jet capable of operating from short and unprepared landing strips around the world. Boeing is apparently also in on the effort.

The 23-percent scale model, equipped with Williams FJ-44 turbofan engines, is being tested in the world’s largest wind tunnel at the Air Force’s Arnold Engineering and Development Center to see how well the craft’s hybrid powered lift design performs. Hybrid powered lift means the plane combines a low drag airframe with very simple mechanical assembly leading to reduced weight and better aerodynamics, according to the AFRL.

Steve Trimble at The DEW Line points out that the last time the Air Force moved to develop a STOL cargo jet it eventually ended up with the C-17 Globemaster — a strategic airlifter that can land in some pretty tight spots.

US Military close to developing Hypersonic bombers

US is close to developing a hypersonic bomber able to reach any target on the globe in under an hour.

The US military hopes to fly such hypersonic planes capable of moving at 20 times the speed of sound by 2016, the NBC News reported quoting American officials working on the project.

The vehicle would be "recoverable", US government officials working on developing the full-scale rocket plane said.

The hypersonic bomber codenamed the X-Plane will travel at Mach 20 (roughly 20,900 kilometers per hour) and the project is being carried out by the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has developed stealth aircrafts for US government for 30 years.

DARPA has conducted two test flights of prototype hypersonic aircraft in the past two years. In August last year, the Falcon Hypersonic Technology Vehicle 2 (HTV-2) reached Mach 20, but only remained airborne for nine minutes.

The HTV-2 was developed in conjunction with the advanced Conventional Prompt Global Strike weapons programme with the goal of creating a bomber able to reach any target on the globe in under an hour.

The US government has started a new programme called Integrated Hypersonics with an aim to develop ultra-fast fighters and the project is in response to the US military advantage being threatened by other nations' increasing abilities in stealth and counter-stealth warfare.

"We do not yet have a complete hypersonic system solution," said Gregory Hulcher, director of strategic warfare at the Office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said in a statement.

"Programme like Integrated Hypersonics will leverage previous investments in this field and continue to reduce risk, inform development and advance capabilities."

The programme's research will focus on five key areas: thermal protection system and hot structures; aerodynamics; guidance, navigation and control (GNC); range/instrumentation; and propulsion. Thermal protection is a crucial issue for hypersonic flight, which is defined as anything over Mach 5. A vehicle flying inside the atmosphere at Mach 20 would experience temperatures in excess of 1920 degrees Celsius - hot enough to melt steel. The project will also aim to improve design and manufacturing processes, in order to able faster production.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

NASA praises ISRO, offers training for Indian astronauts.

The world's largest space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) now seeks to partner with the Indian Space Research Organisation for future space endeavours and has offered that India could use its top class facilities of the astronaut training program of the Indian astronauts. The offer has come at a time when Indian origin Astronaut Sunita Williams gears up to head for her latest rendezvous with the International Space Station.

This bold, forward looking and friendly announcement was made by the top man at NASA, Charles F Bolden, when speaking at Europe's largest science meeting the Euro Science Open Forum being held in Dublin, Ireland where over 4000 scientists are participating.

On being asked by NDTV, Bolden replied, 'We are encouraged by India's space program, which is oriented towards meeting India's needs of Earth observation, adding that 'India also hopes to have a human space program soon.'

Taking it further he said, the American's have the best training facilities for an astronaut program at the Kennedy Space Centre and emphasized that he was keen to make these available to Indians for training its astronauts.

This is important as India is already in the throes of planning to launch its astronauts largely in an effort to catch up with China which has had an astronaut program for more than a decade.

The Indian Space Research Organization has already submitted a proposal to the government for launching human space program that would cost Rs. 12,500 crores. Its chairman Dr K Radhakrishnan told NDTV, ISRO can undertake putting first ever Indians into space from Indian soil using Indian rockets in less than 7 years after the government gives them a go ahead to launch the program. Already the government has allocated about Rs. 200 crores for the making of the detailed plan and understanding the technologies that might be needed to undertake this mammoth exercise.

ISRO has already planned to have a third launch complex at its space port Sriharikota that will cater mainly to the human space flights. India's larger rocket the Geo-synchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle Mark III (GSLV Mk III) is the preferred rocket for this mission and it is already under advanced stages of development with a first flight planned within a year.

If it happens, India will become the fourth nation in the world to have indigenous capabilities to put humans in space, after Russia, US and China.

Experts say now that the technology denial regime has been lifted from ISRO and the sanctions are a thing of the past it may well be in the interest of both India and US to launch joint space program as international collaboration is the best forward as Bolden says 'a win-win for everybody'.

India successfully tests nuclear-capable Agni-I missile

India on Friday successfully test-fired indigenously-developed nuclear-capable surface-to-surface Agni-I missile from a military base in Odisha, a defence official said.

The missile, which can strike a target 700 km away and can carry a one tonne nuclear warhead, was tested by the armed forces from a facility on Wheeler Island near Dhamra in Bhadrak district, 170 km from Bhubaneswar.

"It hit the target with hundred per cent accuracy. It was a perfect test," director of the Integrated Test Range, MVKV Prasad, told IANS. "This was another user trial with a short range."

Amongst those who witnessed the test were Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) chief VK Saraswat.

Agni is an intermediate range ballistic missile. It uses solid propulsion booster and a liquid propulsion upper stage, derived from India's first indigenously developed ballistic missile Prithvi.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Countering China: India's Baaz to spy the Malacca Strait.

In about a fortnight from now, Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Nirmal Verma will kick start the process of turning a small and sparingly used Indian military outpost at the very southern-most tip of the Andaman Nicobar Islands into a full-fledged "forward operating base." The Naval Air Station (NAS) Campbell Bay overlooking the six degree Channel, one of the most crucial shipping lanes of the world, will soon become India's eye over the Malacca strait and the Bay of Bengal. The new air station will be rechristened the Naval Air Station (NAS) Baaz.

The six degree channel flows into the Malacca Strait which is one of the most crucial maritime choke points. The 900-kilometre long (550 miles) Malacca Strait connects Asia with the Middle East and Europe. About 40 per cent of the world's trade and more than 50,000 merchant ships sail through it every year. It has assumed even greater importance with the stupendous rise of China in the last decade. Nearly 80 per cent of China's crude oil imports from the Middle East and Africa pass through the Malacca strait. And, an estimated 15 million barrels per day of oil flow through the Malacca Strait from the Middle East Gulf and West.

Sources tell NDTV that in the next few years the Campbell air strip will be increased substantially from the present 3000 odd feet to over 6000 feet. Heavy transport aircraft like the C130J have already landed at Campbell Bay air strip early this year. "Our ability to monitor the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca Strait, will go up exponentially," a senior Naval officer told NDTV. The Campbell Bay air field as of now is very thinly used and doesn't have facility to either maintain or refuel aircrafts. But expansion will mean that INS Baaz will soon have full-fledged hangers that will enable India to maintain and repair aircraft. The manpower deployment too will increase manifold.

As of the now India has fully operational air bases at Diglipur, Port Blair and Carnic. However, the distance between Carnic Island and Campbell Bay is over 300 nautical miles - roughly the same between Delhi and Bhopal. The Carnic base is operated by the Indian Air Force. Now, instead of operating out of Carnic Island, Indian assets will be able to operate out of Campbell Bay which will substantially add to its reach in the region.

Naval Air Station Baaz becomes operational at a time when India anticipates an increase in military maritime traffic in the region. This follows United States enunciating its new strategy i.e., "Rebalancing of Military Strategy with focus on Asia-Pacific." It envisages major changes in deployment and proposes that at least 60 per cent of US Naval assets would be deployed in Asia-Pacific. India, however, refused, to accept the American line.

In the last few years, China has been become increasingly assertive in the Indian Ocean Region. Piracy along the horn of Africa and Arabian Sea has also, in a way, proved to be a bonanza for China - it has given China a valid reason to position its warships in the region. The development of the Campbell air base into a fully equipped forward operating base appears to be India's means of keep a hold over the area.

Boeing receives engines for Indian Air Force planes

US aircraft engine maker Pratt and Whitney today said it has delivered the first four F117 engines to Boeing to power strategic heavylift C-17 Globemaster III transport planes being manufactured for the Indian Air Force.

India has signed a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) deal worth over USD 4.1 billion with the US government for procuring 10 C-17s. The delivery of the planes will start from next year.

"Pratt and Whitney is pleased to deliver the first four F117 engines for the Indian Air Force's C-17 programmme," it's Vice President (Military Programs and Customer Support) Bev Deachin said in a statement.

"We look forward to a continued partnership with India as we complete the remaining F117 engines to fulfill this contract," he added.

The aircraft will be used by the IAF for strategic lift requirements and carrying heavy equipment to far flung areas.

The IAF intends to deploy these aircraft at the Hindon air base near New Delhi where it has also based its C-130J Hercules transport aircraft.

The IAF has already inducted six C-130Js and is in the process of acquiring six more which will be deployed at Panargarh in West Bengal.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Team Anna gets permission for protest rally at Jantar Mantar from July 25

Two days after refusing the nod for its protest in the capital, Delhi Police today granted permission to Team Anna to hold its indefinite fast from July 25 at Jantar Mantar. They have been allowed to hold protest rally till August 8.

Earlier, police had refused permission to hold an indefinite fast at Jantar Mantar, saying the protest timing coincides with the Monsoon Session of Parliament when other outfits will also have to be accommodated at the spot.

Team Anna had announced the indefinite protest against the UPA government on the issue of corruption and its alleged failure to enact a strong Lokpal as well as not setting up a Special Investigation Team to probe charges against Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his 14 Cabinet colleagues.

Delhi Police said they have given permission after Neeraj Pandey, a member of Team Anna, signed the required undertaking. Team Anna had to give undertaking that the gathering should not have more than a thousand volunteers and five thousand people per day.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Why world economy is still at risk?

Three years into recovery, Americans have dug themselves out from under mountains of debt and the steep decline in house prices is over. These were supposed to be two secret ingredients needed to spice up a lackluster pace of economic growth.

It's not quite working out that way.

American consumers, who account for the bulk of U.S. economic activity, might be in stronger shape today and are getting an extra boost from gasoline prices, which have tumbled 13 percent over the past three months. That's enough to pump about $120 billion of extra spending power into their pockets over a year.

But uncertainty still looms large and is weighing on growth.

Europe lessened the risks of a euro-zone break-up by striking a deal o n Friday to cut borrowing costs for Italy and Spain and strengthen its banking system. The deal probably clears the path for the European Central Bank at its Thursday meeting to lower interest rates to a record low of 0.75 percent from 1 percent, which analysts widely forecast.

But after 20 crisis summits and endless bickering in Europe, skepticism runs high that the euro-zone crisis is on the way to resolution. And an ECB rate cut would be too little too late to avert a recession in the world's second-largest economic region.

In the United States, action on budget cuts and taxes has stalled until after the November election. This casts a long shadow over business planning and contributes to corporate America slowing its hiring and shelving investment plans.

Against this backdrop, the deleveraging of the overstretched U.S. consumer is not yet providing the hoped-for economic lift. Personal consumption was nearly flat from March through May.

"In a vacuum it would be good news. But we cannot say 'Mission Accomplished' until we know whether the consumer is ready to spend again. And given the uncertain jobs outlook, that is unlikely," said Dana Saporta, U.S. economist at Credit Suisse.


Monthly U.S. household debt payments, which include mortgages, credit cards and car loans, have dipped to 16.06 percent of after-tax personal income, back to the average level seen during the 1990s and down from a peak of 19 percent in late 2007 when the financial crisis began.

The total household debt burden also has fallen, to 106 percent of income from a peak of 125 percent five years ago. It now has reached its lowest level since late 2003 at the start of the housing boom.

But total debt remains above its peak in prior recessions, and economic studies have reached no consensus over what would constitute a "healthy" level for personal debt since it depends on the outlook for growth in asset values and personal income gains.

In other words, borrowing can be a good investment as long as the household can keep up with the debt payments. With a weak jobs market and flat to falling incomes, that's more difficult.

The data are even harder to interpret, said Jacob Oubinas, a U.S. economist at RBC Capital Markets, because they give no insight into whether the debt ratios are improving because people have defaulted, as opposed to refinanced, and whether their incomes have fallen, which limits their spending capacity.

So household deleveraging may be happening, but not in a way that supports much economic growth in the short term.

Even signs that the housing market is stabilizing could be misleading. S&P/Case Shiller reported that single-family home prices rose for the third month in a row in April. But prices are down 1.9 percent year over year, and a bottoming may encourage banks to put more foreclosed properties onto the market, which could further depress prices.

"There are some positives out there, but much of it will depend on the labor market. That is the most important driver of all," said Jim O'Sullivan, who takes over as chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics later this month.


The news on the labor front is not very encouraging either.

The Conference Board's survey of consumers found that jobs grew harder to get in June and its gauge of the jobs outlook six months hence was at its weakest level since the turn of the year.

A separate survey of small businesses in May by the National Federation of Independent Businesses provided a more mixed picture. Employers reported that they planned to increase hiring slightly in coming months and that job vacancies were up, but their overall business confidence was flat and most business owners expected conditions to worsen over the next six months.

RBC Capital said that when business expectations are deteriorating, it usually means that hiring stalls.

Big corporations also face weakened conditions. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters have trimmed their forecasts for second-quarter profits among Standard & Poor's 500 companies to a 6.3 percent rise from the 9.2 percent forecast in April.

"The risk is that the U.S. corporate sector is turning more cautious in the face of domestic uncertainty and global weakness. The recent slowdown in hiring points in this direction," JPMorgan said in a note to clients.

Accordingly, the U.S. employment June jobs report on Friday is expected to show sluggish growth, with 90,000 new positions added outside the farm sector, according to a Reuters survey. While this would be a slight improvement from the 69,000 added in May, it is roughly half the number required to make a significant dent in the 8.2 percent unemployment rate.

"Given Europe and the U.S. fiscal fight, it is not an environment that is ripe for hiring," said Oubinas.

Eurozone crisis: Once Europe exits crisis, will UK exit Europe?

Senior lawmakers say Prime Minister David Cameron must offer Britain a vote on quitting the European Union as the bloc is transformed by efforts to solve the continent's debt crisis.

Ex-Defense Secretary Liam Fox on Monday joined growing calls for a national vote - a policy once advocated on Britain's political fringes, but rapidly gathering mainstream appeal.

Fox, a member of Cameron's Conservative Party, says that with the 17 eurozone members developing closer fiscal and political ties, others in the 27-nation EU should carefully consider their future.

Cameron has acknowledged Britain will likely need a new national vote on ties to Europe, but insists that shouldn't happen while the debt crisis unfolds.

Britain last held a vote on its membership of the EU, then the European Economic Community, in 1975.