National Geographic Photo of the Day

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Updates - or the lack thereof

I know I haven't updated the blog for quite some time now. New posts will come.... eventually... hopefully sometime soon.  There's much to write and rant about. My trip to Shanghai and Hong Kong, my final semester of undergraduate engineering education, the frenetic pace of shopping, packing and finally getting shipped off to Georgia Tech, Atlanta leaving my folks, friends and Cactus behind.... and the awesomeness that is Tech itself!

Just getting settled down and getting past the first week or two of class, so yeah blog updates will come someday.


A Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech and a Helluva Engineer ;)

Saturday, May 21, 2011

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 10 (25th May 2010) and General Impressions

This was our last day in Egypt with plenty of travelling to be done. There’d be no more calls of Salaam Maleikkum, Y’allah, India India, Insha Allah, Shukran, Amitabh Bachchan etc. after today.

We left the resort at 6am and took the flight to Cairo. Business class was empty except for us and some Sheik who looked to be Saudi, decked in the traditional robe and headdress. Just before we took off, 2 armed forces fighter jets did a flyby and then landed. The flight was good enough and the aerial view of sights like the Pyramids was amazing. We had quite some time to waste at the Cairo Airport. The shuttle bus was a pain-in-the-rear, but we soon reached our terminal and checked in and started our tour of the duty-free sections. There was some guy on a Haj trip being very generous, handing out cash to pretty much every airport worker he met. From Cairo, we took the flight to Abu Dhabi. Some Tamil guy who’d been stopped from boarding for having way too much hand baggage and he was charged for it. Bugger must have been trying to ship way too much booze from the looks of it, from the duty free shopping in Cairo. Abu Dhabi as such seems to be a small airport terminal with never enough seating compared to a lot of other international airports that we've seen. Here, there was some Bangla guy at one of the check-in counters trying his darnedest to make the counter staff understand what he was trying to say (he really didn’t know even a modicum of English).

Anyway, we took a walk to the nearby Terminal 3 where the shopping was slightly better and we loaded up on chocolates as usual. This is one of the few international airports I’ve seen where the Indian rupee was usable. The flight to Chennai was boarding soon enough, and as always there was a big rush to get on. It’s terrible why Indians can’t ever learn to respect the queue and keep their voices down too. There were also plenty of people removing their glittering gold bangles and putting them into their bags – don’t quite know why. The flight was pretty bad though with the air-conditioning system having some problem and we finally reached Chennai at 4am local time on the 26th of May.

The queues at the customs check-in counters were horribly mismanaged. People were jumping queues, and some queues were moving at a brisk pace while others were dead slow. Instead of giving preference to people who’d been standing for a while already, they’d just open a new counter when they felt like it and move people coming from the latest flight onto it. Then they’d close a counter and ask the people to go stand at the back of the queue at the new counter again. Just a whole load of bullcrap. One old man standing in front of his pointed out how this was rather unfair and poorly managed and the customs official standing there had the gall to say “We know how to manage, you don’t need to teach us” with no regard to the poor state of things there as well as any respect he should have accorded the man atleast looking at his age. Such is the hubris of some pompous government servants here. I wonder if they’ll ever be cut down to size and whether things will ever change. Probably not. And so it was back to Chennai and traffic.

General Impressions.

  1. People here generally start off a conversation with some sort of greeting - Salaam maleikkum, peace be upon you, how are you - before popping any sort of question, even if you’re just asking a stranger for directions.
  2. Around May 2010, 8 Indian rupees equalled 1 egyptian pound. Damn rupee is always low no matter where we go. Some people called the Egyptian pound’s sub-unit Piastres.
  3. The tout problem here isn’t really significant. Just say 'No thank you, la shukran' a few times and they’ll go about their business without bothering you.
  4. The Police are ALWAYS around. Plainclothes policemen carry sidearms. Uniformed ones in white sport Kalashnikovs. However I've read that it isn't safe for single women to backpack alone even with police around.
  5. Friday is a holiday here so plan accordingly.
  6. The drivers here proudly proclaim that Cairo is the worst place to drive. They obviously haven’t driven in an Indian metro like Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai or Kolkatta.
  7. Taxi drivers in Cairo are pretty insistent. They may keep lining up, offering you a ride and turning it down again and again is made slightly difficult because of the language barrier.
  8. There are plenty of cats around –far more so than any other pet animal.
  9. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has plenty of makeup on and a ton of hair gel for guys. Even little kids seem to sport perfect haircuts and several layers of makeup.
  10. Amitabh Bachchan fans are everywhere, very few seem to know Shahrukh Khan or Aishwarya Rai. There was just that 1 guard at the museum in the Coptic Area in Cairo who took a look at us and said “India – Amir Khan I like!” and flashed us a thumbsup.
  11. There are no Swensen's outlets here. No big ice cream retail chains I came across. And ice-creams don’t make an appearance at most buffets either. Only smaller shops and big bakeries have ice-cream counters.
  12. 10am to 4/5pm each day – that’s the only time attractions are open, so plan accordingly.
  13. If you’re a college student, bring your university ID Card. They’re actually supposed to give discounts only for Egyptian students or those with an international student ID (a specific kind of ID) but even I was able to save a lot despite my major being engineering and not history.
  14. Quote Amitabh (not Govindha), especially if you see a television set playing a Hindi movie in a shop. Once again everyone likes him, so you’ll get a healthy discount at some smaller shops if you do.
  15. If you’re vegetarian, things are going to be a bit difficult. I think they use animal fat while cooking even rice, because the rice does have a slight flavour of the same to it.
  16. People here drive on the Right side of the road like they do in the US.
  17. At most times throughout the year, it’s very dry, humidity is low and the temperature is high. So take enough moisturiser, sunscreen and protective wear.
  18. Remember this - my trip was half a year or more before the Arab Spring revolts that began in Egypt unseating the government of President Hosni Mubarak. Things have changed plenty in that country since then, the military is in charge, and it might not be quite the dream fantasy vacation it seems from these posts. A pity really considering all the magnificent sights Egypt has, not to mention the only surviving one of the true Seven Wonders of the World. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 9

Today, we were up by 7am. Had a pretty heavy breakfast and the nervous waiter nearly spilled his entire tray of coffee on Mum. He did apologize profusely though. The driver and guide were already waiting for us. In Aswan, the drivers don’t stop all the time and give pedestrians priority when they’re crossing, quite unlike Cairo. Here you have to be a bit more careful when you’re crossing the road.

Our first stop was the old dam in Aswan. Built by the British around 1902, later seized in the revolution of 1952 and all the power dam produced was henceforth used for Aswan alone. Then we drove to the Aswan High Dam. This one was newer and supposedly built with money seized from the Suez Canal during the war. This was the dam that submerged the land of Nubia (hence the migration of the Nubian population to Sudan, and regions like the Nubian village in Egypt which we saw earlier) and several temples of Ancient Egypt. This massive dam powers pretty much the whole of Egypt. Neither of the dams have any locks (not the kind you put on your door), so boats can’t pass through either one.

We headed to the boat dock for a ride to Philae Island. This was one of the numerous Islands that the dam had submerged. However, a coordinated effort was organized to disassemble the underwater temple and reassemble it on a nearby island that still remained above water. An amazing feat by any measure, considering how deep the water is. The Philae Temple, built in Ptolemaic times (time to dust off that old history book) is dedicated to the Goddess Isis – wife and sister of Osiris (yeah, the Egyptian Gods and Pharaohs were pretty messed up that way). The courtyards, pylons, statues and pillars were all covered with ornate designs and carefully preserved with not a hint of any mess left behind by tourists – which is, sadly, hardly the case in monuments back in India. We took our time walking through the temple and caught a boat back to the docks where the map seller followed us around saying “India India, Sholay very good, Shahrukh, Amitabh, Salaam Namaste, Kareena Kapoor, Salman Khan, Rajesh Khanna, Amir Khan” and went on and on even when it was apparent we weren’t interested/didn’t need a map (all the regions were stored offline on my N79). He could probably named more Bollywood actors and actresses than I ever could. Then there was the souvenir seller who tried to sell us something for 12, then 11, then 10 egyptian pounds, then for the heck of it, dad said 9, then he said 8, 7…and counted down to 1 laughing all the way while waving us goodbye.

Driving back from the docks, our first stop was the EgyptAir office (to check on the status of our flight back to Cairo) and then the quarry of the unfinished obelisk. Soon we were back at the resort. For these 3 hours of sightseeing inside Aswan, the cost was around Rs. 4400 (exchange rates around May 2010), by no means cheap. The previous 2 days’ trips came to about Rs. 20,000 each (no, not a joke). So be prepared to shell out a lot when touring Egypt, especially in the tourist towns of Luxor, Aswan and Edfu. If you have plenty of time, you can even take one of the cruise ships that ply the Nile and stop at the major attractions.

This was our last day in Aswan, so we took our riverside walk yet again, and stopped at the same Aswan Moon Restaurant from yesterday for lunch. The friendly old waiter was there and we had fresh mango juice and strawberry juice to go with our meal – no water, no essence, just pure and awesome juice. Once again, the food was simply marvelous. There was a bit of packing to be done back at the resort and we did that while I watched some cheesy Punisher flick from the 80s. I checked my mail after what seemed an eternity and found an IEEE Project idea of mine had been shortlisted for funding. Looking out my room’s window, I found a mother cat walking about the Nile’s banks followed by her 6 kittens and threw some cheese, butter and any other edible stuff I had in my room. The kittens were happy enough with this. Had to shave today, what with the face fungus growing rather unruly.

Around 8.15pm we took a walk down to McDonalds, had a big combo and a KitKat McFlurry (McFlurry Ice Cream blended with bits of KitKat chocolate). There are always so many more women out at restaurants here than men. Plenty of kids too in their early teens. Everyone seems to eat so much, yet they get to maintain perfect skin and a pimple-less face. Today however McDonalds was a bit too crowded – I suppose it was some kind of holiday. Mum had an ice-cream from a nearby shop on the way back. It was apparent that he’d overpriced it at the last minute when he saw we were foreigners.

And so began our last walk back to the resort along the famous Nile. Finished packing and ended the day with End Game on television (starring Cuba Gooding Jr.).

Monday, May 16, 2011

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 8

Got up at 4.30 am. The minivan and the guide were ready and it was already light outside by 5.30am. There was the usual name-taking by the police on the way out of town. The road out had plenty of greenery on either side – one side was decidedly rocky and on the other the Nile flowed. Passed Kom Ombo and Edfu (all these places I’ve only heard of till then in Egyptian legends I’ve read as a child). Stopped at Edfu briefly for a cigarette – no, not us silly, just the driver and everyone else around. Plenty of people smoke here. The route to Luxor abounds with military and police checkpoints. We made it to the ancient Pharonic town of Luxor by 9.10am, despite the traffic being heavier than the road to Abu Simbel. Then again, Abu Simbel lies near the ancient region of Nubia (and towards the border with Sudan), hence being a tourist spot in a desolate location away from other cities – so the lack of traffic was understandable.

The first stop was at the Colossi of Memnon (meaning Ruler of Dawn) – two large statues of the Pharaoh Amenhotep III. Both statues were affected by a large earthquake around 25-30BC. These colossi stood guard to the once-massive Mortuary temple of Amenhotep III – of which little remains today. After a brief jaunt through the Ramesseum, we headed to the Valley of the Kings – large complex of burial chambers (obviously of the Pharaohs) cut into the mountains and spread over a wide area. Several of them were pretty deep and well preserved with even the paintings retaining their color. The tomb of Thutmose III was pretty high up – a steep climb followed by a steep descent, and hence my parents opted out while I took a shot at it. Few people come here, thanks to the daunting climb and subsequent drop, but it was well worth the effort. We visited a few more tombs, with paintings and wooden sarcophagi surrounding the inner metal/stone sarcophagus containing the mummies. Photography inside isn’t allowed.

Our next stop was the Temple of Hatshepsut – erstwhile Queen of Egypt – which had 3 distinct ‘steps’ in its construction. The courts were adorned with images, statues and reliefs of Hathor and Anubis and scenes of Somalia (not quite the war-torn, impoverished country it is today). It was obvious Hatshepsut fancied herself a God and apparently, her son-in-law and stepson got fed up with her behavior, and after her death several of her cartouches and paintings had the faces chiseled off. No doubt she must have been like a certain chief minister in India whose name begins with M, has a Y in the middle and ends with an I – the one that keeps building monuments in her name ;) .

If you ever visit Egypt, be sure to take along plenty of sunscreen, a pair of sunglasses and a cap or hat. Else you’ll be hit with a terrible headache – like the Pharaohs would have had when they had holes drilled in their skills through which their brains were extracted before embalming. Of course they were already dead at that point.

Loading up with quite a number of souvenirs (the sellers had a field day) we left the complex and drove to the Karnak temple complex (once the largest in the world) on the opposite bank. Here we found courts with HUGE (and I mean bloody freaking HUGE) columns supporting massive slabs of stone high up in the air. The temple had many sections expanded by different Pharaohs. The entrance itself has small sphinxes on either side. In ancient times, the temple was connected by canals (which have long since closed and disappeared) to the Nile River. The sacred/royal boat was kept in the temple and each flood season it would be able to make its way onto the river when these canals filled up. After a long walk through all the sections, we went over to the Luxor temple, similar to Karnak but smaller. We were pretty tired after all the time we’d spent in the heat and sun and left Luxor a while later.

The rule of the land here is that foreigners HAVE to be back inside Aswan (not outside the cities or on highway roads) before sunset and the police are pretty strict about enforcing this. On the drive back, we found from the guide that he had to take formal exams and such and a course of a few years before he could become one. While he was good with English (which was what we preferred), his wife was a Spanish guide. They must make a pretty penny with the tourist industry in Egypt booming even off season and the prices for tours what they are.

Back at the resort, we freshened up and took a walk by the riverside. We bought more bottled water from the resident Amitabh Bachchan fan (from the other day, remember?). Unlike London or Bangkok, there was no commission or tax here to change our dollars to Egyptian Pounds. We stepped into a nice restaurant by the river (literally ON the river actually) and had fresh Mango and Banana Juice. I must confess it was among the best fresh juices I’ve ever tried anywhere in the world. The resident kitty (very pregnant) was there (plenty of cats around Aswan) and we took a few pictures of her. Her man came along soon enough and sat by her. He chose to meow politely at us while she ate whatever we gave the both of them. Some damned foreigner (probably Spanish :P ) didn’t like kitty and co being around their table (where she headed next) and so the owner carefully picked them up and led them into the kitchen, all the while petting them gently. Kitty was back soon enough though :D . What I’ve noticed here is that, even the locals who are supposedly highly conservative go out and enjoy themselves much more than folks back home. The food was excellent and we headed back to the resort where I watched “The Ghost and the Darkness” (a Val Kilmer and Michael Douglas starrer about a hunt for man eating lions in Africa) and then “The Fast and the Furious” before calling it a day.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

An Egyptian Excursion - Day 7

We had to wake up pretty early today (leaving at 4am mind you) for the trip to Abu Simbel. We had a big minivan waiting to take us to the assembly point (on one of the main roads out of Aswan) where there was a police/military escort waiting along with several other minivans and buses carrying groups from other hotels. Pretty big crowd considering it was off-season. However, we had spent a good deal extra to get the minivan all to ourselves, with 2 drivers taking turns, and with breakfast packaged :) . The police noted the names of each and every driver and then began sending off the vehicles in groups with each convoy having an armed escort as well as an army man or two in each of the buses.

The security was quite tight because the road to Abu Simbel was supposed to have been dangerous once upon a time. We took off after a series of checks at a steady 120-130kph. There was a small section of bad road and then it was really smooth all the way. The road to Abu Simbel goes straight through the desolate dessert and in the darkness all you can see ahead of you is a series of red lights from the other vehicles in the convoy (spaced out pretty well) in the distance – a beautiful sight in itself, what with the plain desert on either side. To add to this wonderful scenery, the sunrise occurred by the time we reached Abu Simbel around 7.15am. Can’t say I wasn’t scared a bit on the drive though, with one driver sleeping and the other one (the one doing the driving :P ) drifting a bit too. Our guide had been dozing in the back seat all the while. 

He did wake up on arrival though and took us to the ruins of the temples of Abu Simbel. In our 2 hours there, we visited the temples (carved out of the mountainside) of Rameses the 2nd and his supposedly beautiful queen Nefertari. The temples rest on the banks of the largest artificial lake – Lake Nasser – which is also one of the water bodies frequented by the massive Nile crocodile. The temples weren’t always here though. A long time ago, the temples were 65 meters below the present location. Then, when the Aswan dam was built, Lake Nasser was formed, and a rapid effort was organized to save these monuments by relocating them piece by piece to where they are now. Quite an achievement considering how massive these temples are with their numerous inscriptions and paintings and statues. A peculiar solar phenomenon occurs here – 61 days before and 61 days after the Winter Solstice, the Sun’s rays reach the inner sanctum and illuminate the idols there, except the God of the Underworld – Ptah. Poor bugger got left in the dark hehe.

We were ready to leave by 9.30am, when the sun was coming out and it was becoming scorching hot outside, but had to wait until the entire convoy was ready to leave. The drive of 280km back to Aswan (once again with the beautiful desert on either side) took under 3 hours. Back at the resort for lunch, we heard the terrible news of the plane crash in Mangalore.

A scale model showing where the temples lie now and where they would have been (under water) if they hadn't been moved .

Spending the rest of the day watching the beautiful view on the Nile, I noticed my lips had started cracking pretty bad with the dry heat. The view however was good enough to make me forget it all. The Dark Knight was on TV, and after that we took a walk along the riverside at about 7pm. The horse taxis here in Aswan sport a Blue Angels (the American F/A-18 Aerial Display Team) theme of Blue and Yellow. They also took the liberty of frequently calling out “India, India”, “Amitabh Bachchan” and “Good Price” – evidence enough that they knew of the Indian tendency to watch a lot of movies and bargain during every purchase.

Stopped by at the local riverside McDonalds and had a heavy dinner, topped it off with a McFlurry (goddamn why can’t I find these at any McDonalds in India), with a cat sitting on a nearby chair (yes, within the restaurant itself). Coming back to the resort, we were confronted with an assorted set of fruits (completely complimentary) in each of the rooms– an obvious conciliatory measure for yesterday’s horrendous Vindaloo at the attached restaurant. Found a frog running amok in my room (damn, I’d have loved it if it was my parents’ room he was in) and I had a tough time chasing him out before watching Blade Trinity and then Bayern playing against Inter before hitting the sack for an early day tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Could India have pulled it off? A Special Forces Analysis

The world woke up to the news of Osama Bin Laden being killed by American operatives deep within Pakistan, in the affluent suburb of Abbottabad, barely 2 days ago. Operation Neptune's Spear (some say it's Operation Geronimo) was executed clinically on President Obama's orders with no reported casualties on the attacking force's side. I was on a particular forum I frequent and people were bandying about the idea that India (especially India's Naval MARCOS commandos) could have pulled off a similar raid.

Well here's a little excerpt from the rather lengthy reply/analysis I wrote comparing the structure of the USA's special forces unit-organisation to India's. Note that I'm merely analyzing with whatever information is available publicly, not commenting on an individual soldier's ability. Feel free to point out mistakes or give your opinion (as long as it's kept civil) in the comments section below. Just putting it out here since plenty of readers thought it well-reasoned. If nothing else, here's hoping it provides you an interesting read. 

While I'm patriotic, calling the MARCOS the "best" out there would be fallacy. Especially against DEVGRU/SEAL Team Six which was sent in with CIA operatives to get Bin Laden. But they are certainly one of the best if not as good as the SEALs. They don't have access to the same training methods or level of secret facilities or weaponry. The MARCOS are good. But they don't have a specialized Spec Ops air insertion unit like the 160th SOAR (a.k.a the Night Stalkers who I'm pretty sure were involved in the raid a day or two ago) who get the best of the best equipment and practice in the worst weather possible flying at low level. It's not the Navy's fault that MARCOS doesn't have such support but just that they don't have the money or will to develop such an inter-services special ops support force.

Again, there's no reconnaissance unit always around with Indian forces unlike the US which has innumerable spy satellites and Predator drones. Lastly, not enough air support either with the state our Air Force is in. Certainly no AC-130 gunships or attack helicopters. The Indian Air Force doesn't have enough planes for normal sanctioned force strength (hence the current purchasing spree) let alone to spare for a special division.

Also see how our supposedly-elite forces like the NSG are mostly used for VIP protection (unlike the US which uses the Secret Service for protecting high value targets). Instead of using just the Special Rangers Group, often even the elite Special Action Group members are put to this task. Nice way to pull them off their vital training regimens and make them guard politicians instead. Further, they come under command of a police DG, even though their members may be drawn from the Army, unlike the Marcos which is under the Navy.

 Indian navy sailor B.K. Gurung holds his position on the flight deck of USS Mustin (DDG 89) during a visit, board, search and seizure drill April 7, 2007, while under way in the Philippine Sea. The drill is part of exercise Malabar 07-01, a U.S. and Indian naval exercise held off the coast of Okinawa, Japan.

The US however organizes their forces differently. The Spec Ops portion is handled by the SEALs and Delta Force out of Fort Bragg abroad. They probably used Delta Force (SFOD-Delta now ACE) too but they'll never say it because officially the name "Delta Force" doesn't exist even if Chuck Norris plays them :P . On domestic soil, though these operators may be involved, the primary task of such ops goes to the FBI's HRT. Apart from this, to handle emergencies such as terrorist attacks within each city, there's a SWAT Team on hand too. All well equipped.

The CIA in addition to its own Special Operations Group has its "contractors", and I don't mean Blackwater, I mean the kind that are officially not working for the CIA but are usually former operatives of some of the above mentioned units unofficially sanctioned to "do what must be done". So you see, there just isn't anything to match this kinda structure. It's not the Navy MARCOS commandos' fault, it's just that, despite cross-training with the SEALs and the British SAS on several occasions, there is no single JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) here to take care of the requirements of all these guys or political will-power to give them free rein and an increased budget.

Sad part is they keep increasing the salaries of politicians and giving tax breaks to the BCCI instead of using the money to pay these soldiers who actually sacrifice plenty so that we can stay safe or augment the defense institutions. But no, we forget each terrorist attack after a small candle lighting ceremony. Nothing much is done. The reduction in usage of Black Cats for mere VIP security was marginal, made just in reaction to the public uproar following the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. The NSG (National Security Guards) received equipment upgrades like Non-Skid Shoes and training from Germany's elite GSG-9 only after these attacks, and still doesn't have enough planes and helicopters to achieve the anywhere-in-the-country-within-4-hours mobility that the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team boasts.

Coming to the question of whether a country like Pakistan would take kindly to a strategic commando strike by India, it would probably end up escalating things to an almost war-like state. They'll use that "intrusion" as an excuse if India tries it. The Americans are kinda expected to take shots within the country so unless the Pakistanis got tipped off about them going after OsamaCO's head. Plus they're throwing billions of dollars worth of aid at Pakistan which no one else is doing.

There was some reporter on TV quizzing the Air Chief Marshal PV Naik whether India has the capability to carry out such surgical strikes against terrorists. From the way the Marshal thought about it and paused while saying "India.... has the capability" it seemed like he was himself doubtful. The Russian Spetnaz, the Americans, Israel (with its Sayeret Matkal Unit 269 and Mossad) have shown time and again that they can take out who they want - whether legally or not - if said individual is a thorn in their rear ends. Examples include the terrorists who carried out the inhuman slaughter of Jewish athletes at the Munich Olympics. Sadly, India doesn't have too many cases of such proven counter-terrorist action. Here, commandos put their lives on the line to capture a single terrorist and kill the rest and instead of interrogating him brutally, then shooting him and dumping his body in the sea, the government keeps each terrorist safe and sound, gives them books to read, lets them spit at magistrates and "respect their human rights". Sad, but true.
By no means are the Indian Special Forces less formidable or less motivated, it's just that there is much that needs to be done to modernize them and support them, the way a soldier, who puts his life at risk so that we can sleep peacefully in our homes, should be aided. 


Sunday, March 6, 2011

An Article on Yours Truly :)

Well, I found an article in the IEEE India Newsletter about my paper presentation in Shanghai, China. Here's a snap:


Click through if you want to see the full picture.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Fifth-Gen Fighter Jets: Crouching Tigers and Hidden Dragons

No, this isn't about that Chinese martial arts flick where everyone and their uncle soared through the air effortlessly, this is about a different kind of flyer. A man made one.

The means to control any theater of war lies in first securing air superiority over the battlefield. With stealth and weapons technology advancing by the day, air forces the world over are putting vast resources into either procuring or developing the best of fighter aircraft. Fifth-gen fighter aircraft are characterized by the ability to use information from a wide range of sources to correlate events in realtime, provide an enhanced situational awareness, air frames that can withstand insane high-G maneuvers, and LPIR (Low Probability of Intercept Radar) which can use radar to scan for enemies in the sky without giving away the aircraft's position.


The F-22 was the first of this kind and, as of 2011, the only actively operating Fifth-Gen Fighter Jet. Lockheed Martin's F-22A Raptor while providing the US Air Force with the best there is in air superiority fighters, can also attack ground targets. Designed to replace fourth-gen fighters like the F-15, every single F-22 costs a cool $150 million dollars to make. The technology used is so bleeding edge and secret that any export or sale of the F-22 outside the US is banned, not even to close allies like the Israelis.

PAK-FA Prototype

While the F-22 held sway for quite a while, there are challengers in the design/prototype phase being developed by a few other nations. India and Russia have jointly been developing the PAK-FA (Perspektivny aviatsionny kompleks frontovoy aviatsii, that is "Prospective Airborne Complex - Frontline Aviation") . Otherwise known as the T-50, what initially began as a project headed by Sukhoi later roped in India's Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to create a supersonic-cruise capable fifth gen fighter jet that is apparently a bit less stealthy than an F-22 but much cheaper at an estimated $100 million each. 250 machines are expected to be built each for the Russian and Indian air forces. The Indian variant - christened the FGFA - adds another pilot, calling for slightly different wing surfaces, capability to carry a different array of weapons (including nuclear armament) and avionics that might be sourced from multiple nations, as opposed to only Russian technology.

LCA - HAL Tejas

The Indians meanwhile are busy with their own plans, following the successful completion of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) project with the production of the HAL Tejas, which of course wasn't a fifth-generation aircraft but a single seater multirole jet fighter. The Indian Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) is now designing the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA),  a proposed fifth generation aircraft in the 25 ton category. The ADA was even ready to develop a whole new prototype Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA)radar to complement the aircraft. Only a scale wind-tunnel model of the plane has yet been seen in public though. The AMCA is expected to use 2 GTRE GTX-35VS Kaveri engines designed and built by the DRDO's Gas Turbine Research Establishment Labs, with thrust vectoring and supercruise capabilities. The Indian Navy has also thrown in a significant amount of funding, so it's obvious that there'll be a naval variant of the AMCA too.

AMCA Model

The FGFA will only be ready by around 2018 and the AMCA by 2025. This will cause the force strength of the Indian air force to deplete massively till then (despite the addition of a few Su-30 planes) and is also the reason you've been seeing the "126 aircraft bid offer" left open by the Indian Air Force in the news infrequently. That bid is currently being led by the Eurofighter Typhoon.

Eurofighter Typhoon

The Americans meanwhile have been collaborating with a few other nations to develop another stealth fighter project - Lockheed Martin's F35 Lightning II. This was in the news too, albeit because funding for an alternate engine for this aircraft was cut recently by the House. The F35 will be significantly cheaper per unit than the F-22 while also having a VTOL (Vertical Take-Off and Landing) variant. The aircraft has been in the "testing" phase for the last 4 years or so.

F35 Lightning II

The Japanese have the Mitsubishi ATD-X Shinshin in the works, and the South Koreans are tinkering with the Korea Aerospace Industries KF-X, both expected to take quite a while to achieve "production" status.

While these tigers of the aviation world have at it, the dragon hasn't quite been asleep. The Chinese have their jack-in-the-box in the form of the Chengdu J-20. It's a less-agile, but much larger design (in comparison with F22s and PAK-FAs) that will supposedly have greater range too. This jet, being built by the Chengdu Aircraft Industry Group for China's People's Liberation Army Air Force, has been the centre of much controversy. Initially, it was reported that the J-20 used elements copied from a Russian stealth jet, followed by an accusation that reverse engineering had been done from an American F-117 Nighthawk that had been shot down in Serbia. Later, it was also alleged that cyber-espionage of the F-22 and F-35 project files had significantly aided the Chinese in putting together the J-20. Indeed, the front does look like an F-22 and the tail fins slightly resemble those of the PAK

Chengdu J-20

The timing aside, the US is still confident it will way more stealth fifth-gen fighters several years on than any competing air force in the world and that the J-20 hence poses no real threat to it. Still, the rising Asian power deserves credit for the way in which they've pulled their socks up and gone about putting together a stealth jet real quick.

With all this military tech being churned out, one thing is clear - the skies will be a very different place 10 years on, with both what we can "see" and what we can't.

Photo Source: Wikimedia