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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Full-Spectrum Hawk-Eyes

Ideally, the Indian Air Force (IAF) would like to procure a total of eight A-50EI PHALCON airborne early warning & control (AEW & C) systems using the Ilyushin IL-76MF airframe, the longstanding spat between Uzbekistan’s Tashkent Aircraft Production Organisation (TAPO) and Russia’s Rosoboronexport State Corp over the intended re-location of the IL-76’s final assembly line at Aviastar-SP’s facility in Ulyanovsk inside Russia has now virtually eliminated all chances of additional IL-76TD airframes being ordered for the IAF in the near future. Consequently, although the IAF had negotiated and finalised a follow-on US$1.7 billion contract to acquire another three A-50EI PHALCONs by November 2008, contract signature could not take place due to the TAPO-Rosoboronexport spat. Recently, however, officials from both Rosoboronexport State Corp and Ilyushin Finance Corp gave firm assurance to the IAF that a new-generation successor to the IL-76MF, called IL-476, featuring a fully-digital fly-by-wire flight control system, glass cockpit avionics and PS-90A-76 turbofans, will be available from 2012. Consequently, the follow-on order for three A-50EI PHALCONs is now expected to be re-negotiated with both Rosoboronexport and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).

Presently based at the IAF’s Agra Air Force Station as part of a newly raised No50 Squadron, alongside No78 Squadron, which presently operates six IL-78MKI aerial refuelling tankers, the IAF’s two A-50EI PHALCONs arrived in India on May 25, 2009 and March 25, 2010, respectively. The third platform is due to arrive in Agra later this month. For the past 23 months, the two A-50E/PHALCONs have been utilised by the IAF for perfecting the concepts of airborne battlespace management involving far larger airborne aircraft packages—up to 36 at a time and involving air dominance combat aircraft like the Su-30MKIs as well as dedicated air interdiction assets like the Jaguar IS and MiG-27M. It was in November 2003 that India inked a $1.5 billion contract with Rosoboronexport and IAI for the first three AEW & C platforms. While TAPO built the IL-76MF airframes, Russia’s Beriev Taganrog Aviation Scientific and Engineering Complex (TANTK) was responsible for customising the airframe structurally, while IAI is supplying and installing the mission sensor and mission management suites.

The A-50E/PHALCON’s 400km-range EL/M-2075 active electronically-scanned array (AESA) radar (comprising three antenna arrays mounted in a triangular manner) is contained within a radome above the fuselage. The electronically-steered beam provides 360-degree coverage around the aircraft and it carries up to 10 mission management personnel for airspace surveillance and airborne battlespace management. BARCO of Belgium has supplied the 20-inch AMLCDs for the mission management suit, with Tadiran SpectraLINK supplying the secure digital data links. In a future network-centric warfare scenario, the IAF envisages the deployment of its A-50E/PHALCONs as theatre-based airborne command-and-control posts undertaking strategic airspace surveillance-cum airspace management tasks, and directing the smaller ISTAR platforms (manned and unmanned) to coordinate and direct the IAF’s sector-based offensive/defensive operations that will include the 24-hour surveillance of friendly airspace as well as that above the friendly ground forces’ forward and deep battle areas; denial of both the strategic and tactical airspace to hostile combat aircraft and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), thus ensuring total knowledge-based air dominance; dramatically improving the situational awareness of friendly airpower assets, and coordinating the conduct of offensive, effects-based deep strike and battlefield air interdiction sorties by IAF combat aircraft.

In addition to the A-50EI PHALCONs, the IAF is also going for smaller and indigenous AEW & C solutions. Financial sanction worth Rs18 billion for this R & D venture was given in October 2004. In a path-breaking development, Brazil’s Embraer and India’s Defence Research & development Organisation (DRDO) along with the DRDO’s DRDO’s Bangalore-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS), had on July 3, 2008 inked a $210 million agreement to jointly develop an AEW & CS platform for the IAF. Under this deal, Embraer has modified the first of three its EMB-145 regional jet aircraft to carry dual S-band AESA-based antenna units--developed by the CABS--on the aircraft’s fuselage. On February 21 Embraer rolled out the first AEW & CS platform in green condition. The aircraft has since started undergoing intensive ground- and flight-tests. The ferry flight to India is scheduled for the second quarter of this year, following which installation of the DRDO-developed on-board mission management suite will commence. The full-fledged AEW & CS will be flight-tested in India by the IAF from 2012, with Cassidian of Germany providing systems integration consultancy. Service entry is expected by 2016. The IAF has projected a requirement for 14 such AEW & C platforms.

When equipped with a roof-mounted in-flight refuelling probe, the AEW & CS will have an eight-hour endurance that will include three hours for transit and six hours of on-station operational deployment. Thus, two such platforms will be able to conduct operational sorties over a given sector in four duty-cycles of six hours each, which will give each platform an individual time-on-ground of 3.5 hours between each deployment, while keeping one additional AEW & CS platform on standby at all times. Assuming 75% serviceability, a minimum of four such platforms will be required for round-the-clock operations in one sector/theatre. The AEW & CS’ roof-mounted S-band AESA-based radar will operate within the 2GHz to 4GHz bandwidth. The AESA radar will provide 270-degree airspace surveillance coverage and have an instrumental range of 450km and detection range of 350km in a dense hostile electronic warfare environment. The mission sensor suite will also include an L-band IFF transponder. Inside the AEW & CS will be five tandem-mounted multifunction display/processor consoles that will make up the Central Tactical System (CTS) for providing tactical data management solutions via tactical aids, cues, alerts and bookkeeping functions. The platform will also have a communications suite comprising dual HF and five sets of V/UHF radios (developed by the DRDO’s Bangalore-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment, or DARE) for enabling the exchange of tactical data with friendly land, sea and air forces as well as communicating with civilian ATC networks. A roof-mounted Ku-band SATCOM-based data link and twin fuselage-mounted data-links will provide automatic clear or secure communications channels. The data link will be used for relaying information such as tracking cues, contact range, bearing, velocity, altitude and intercept vectors to friendly airborne combat aircraft, while the IAF’s ground-based regional Air Defence Control Centres (ADCC) will be networked with the AEW & C platform via the Ground Interface Segment (EGIS) that will provide two-way exchange of data between the airborne AEW & CS platform and ground-based sector operations centres (SOC). For self-protection, the AEW & CS will have on board a fully integrated defensive aids suite (housed within two outward protruding fuselage sections) that is now being co-developed by DARE and Cassidian, and which will include multi-spectral optronic sensors and an ESM suite, designed for the protection of aircraft against infra-red/laser-guided MANPADS). This will in turn be fully integrated with wingtip-mounted lightweight chaff/flare countermeasures dispensing systems.

The Indian Navy, meanwhile, has zeroed in on two possible contenders—Boeing’s B.737-based AEW & CS and IAI’s G-550 CAEW & CS—for fulfilling its requirement for four shore-based AEW & C platforms. The B.737-based AEW & CS is based on Boeing’s B.737-700IGW airframe and was originally developed to meet the Royal Australian Air Force's requirement for such platforms under Project Wedgetail. The aircraft uses the Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems' multi-role electronically-scanned array (MESA) radar, which is located on a dorsal fin on top of the fuselage. To date, this AEW & CS has been ordered by Australia (six units), South Korea (four units) and Turkey (six units). IAI’s Gulfstream G-550-based conformal airborne early warning and control system (CAEW & CS), on the other hand, is currently in service with the air forces of Israel and Singapore, and comes equipped with the ELTA-built EL/W-2085 system, and uses dual-band (L and S) AESA antennae at the nose and tail, with large slab-sided arrays on the fuselage sides. Together, these give 360° airspace coverage without the complication and drag of a rotodome above the fuselage. Each CAEW & CS carries six operators, and also has ESM antennae under the tail and wingtips, and above the nose, with a SATCOM array atop the vertical tail. Radar, ESM and COMINT data is collected and fused to give a fully correlated and synthetic air situation picture. The aircraft’s structural, aerodynamic and power modifications, including two additional generators and a low-drag liquid cooling system, are all installed on the aircraft by Gulfstream Aerospace prior to delivery to ELTA, and the mission sensors/management suite is then installed in country by IAI’s Bedek Aviation Group. The CAEW & CS offers an unrefuelled mission endurance of nine hours when operating at an altitude of 41,000 feet (12,500 metres) and 185km (100nm) away from its parent air base.—Prasun K. Sengupta


Anonymous said...

8 Phalcon, but we have a privilege of only 3 phalcon as a follow-on order, so are we going to go for 2 more or IAF is just going for 6 ??

You said IAF has a requirement of 14 smaller DRDO version of AWACS,but i have heard that IAF might be going for 20 more such aircrafts in-addition to the 4 on order, so is it possible that IAF might increase this figure of 14 ?

As you said IN is looking for 4 shore-based AWACS platform, isn't it too less considering these platform can help in surveilling the whole coastline and also Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal region...? When are they placing order ?

How many carrier based AWACS IN is getting and when ??

Also can our DRDO AWACS fulfill IN requirement because we know they cover 270 degree ?? If not, is there any program to develop surveillance aircraft for IN to cover our huge coastline and ocean regions because our requirement is huge and it will be cheaper to go for a indigenous product ?

Anonymous said...

I remember the reports of MOD issuing tender for HALE UAVs all three services, what happened to that ?? I mean RFI was issued in 2009...

Again recently during Aero India there reports that IN was looking for RQ-4B Global Hawk, is there any progress ?//

Is that rotorcraft UAV JV with Israel going on with Israel ? When is it getting ready and how many of them will be inducted ?/

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

The follow-on three A-50EIs will likely be acquired once the IL-476's production facility is commissioned in Ulyanovsk, Russia. As for the smaller AEW & CS, the projected IAF reqmt is for 14 units. If the DRDO/CABS can deliver the indigenous solution on time (by 2016), then the EMB-145 AEW & CS can be acquired in large numbers. For the moment the IAF has projected its reqmt for such platforms at 14 units. As for the Navy, it was originally offered 11 shore-based E-2D Hawkeye 2000s, but it now wants higher-performance platforms like the G-550 CAEW & CS. The reqmt is not for coastal surveillance, but for providing AEW & C capabilities for a carrier battle group during power projection operations lasting no more than six to eight hours per day for at least a week.
There are no plans as yet for acquiring any carrier-based fixed-wing AEW & C platforms, as the IN will have up to 14 Ka-31 AEW helicopters in service by the time INS Vikramaditya enters service. Lastly, as to whether the DRDO will or will not be able to deliver a functional EMB-145 AEW & CS on time (by 2016), your guess is as good as mine. Let's hope it can.

To Anon@7.02PM: Only the RFIs were issued for HALE UAVs, not the RFP. Acquiring HALE UAVs from abroad will be almost impossible due to the prevailing MTCR regime. It is better to develop such UAVs indigenously. The IN is indeed interested in obtaining solutions like the RQ-4B Global Hawk for broad-area maritime surveillance. But here again, MTCR regulations will play a role. UNLESS India can engage the US with a grand bargain or a grand strategic partnership under which such solutions (along with the M-MRCA package) can be obtained from the US. The US is definitely open to such far-reaching ideas but it is India that chooses to compartmentalise its reqmts. As a result, when it comes to the M-MRCA, the Navy had no say and was not even invited to give any inputs (especially with regard to the M-MRCAs that will go on board the IAC-2 and IAC-3 aircraft carriers). This is exactly the point that most commentators on the M-MRCA down-selection process have missed,.i.e. missing the woods for the trees.
AS for the rotorcraft-based NRUAV, HAL has now apparently ditched the Alouette III option in favour of the Dhruv ALH as being the definitive NRUAV platform.

Anonymous said...

Isn't Dhruv platform too big for this project ?

Also Naval Dhruv has many problems even in landing, so why are we chosing this platform ?/I mean IN has already rejected this platform...

Any estimation of the date of completion of this project?


Anonymous said...

Nice and detailed................let's just all this happens.........but, it's so slow and painstaking..........

Also, Cassidian seems all over the place !!! so..........Eurofighter ???????????????

Anonymous said...

What is the thrust level of F414-GE-INS6 engine that is to be fitted to LCA ? Will Tejas be able to fight in a network-centric environment ? How does it compares to current aircraft of IAF like Mirage-2000 , MiG-29 , Jaguar , Su-30s ? Compare them if each one of them(specially LCA MK1 and LCA mk2) have to perform a task like Kargil scenario strike missions , Air raids against PLAAF in North east and a conventional war against PAF.

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Anon@9.30PM: Yes, it is. The SA.316B Alouette III/Chetak, if upgraded with a new gearbox and re-engined with a single Shakti/Ardiden-1H engine would have been the optimum NRUAV platform when equipped with a nose-mounted FLIR turret and a belly-mounted EL/M-2022H multi-mode search radar. Such a NRUAV can also be armed with twin Nag anti-armour guided-missiles, if reqd. The Chetak-based NRUAV is a really well-thought out project conceived by the former CNS Admiral Sureesh Mehta and was both technologically feasible and cost-effective. I personally don't think a twin-engined unmanned Dhruv ALH will become a success given its heavier weight characteristics, and this option too will eventually be killed by the MoD.

To Anon@8.51AM: Cassidian presently is acting as systems integrator consultant for the AEW & CS project as well as for the Dhruv ALH Mk4 (for the defensive aids suite) and will likely bag similar contracts in future for both the LCH and LUH as well. Cassidian is also working on a project for NATO in which a common AESA-based radar will be employed for both airspace surveillance/airborne battle management as well as real-time ground surveillance/moving target indication. It remains to be seen if Cassidian could propose co-development of such a system with the DRDO/CABS.
As for the EF-2000, it would seem that it has been down-selected just for the sake of ensuring a competitive bidding process right up to the contract negotiations stage. It seems highly likely now that the Rafale is the preferred choice, especially since the French have reportedly offered a highly attractive financial package, provided the IAF cancels its earlier plans for upgrading its Mirage 2000s. That's precisely why no IAF official now seems to be talking about the Mirage 2000 upgrade contract signature anymore. Remember what the IAF Chief had said during Aero India 2011 about this upgrade contract (which at that time was likely to be inked by last March)?

To Anon@11.50AM: Engine thrust levels will be the same as what is now available with the Block 2 F/A-18E/F. The Tejas Mk1 and Mk2 will both be able to work in a network-centric environment as they both will be equipped with two-way data-links to communicate with the A-50EI PHALCON AEW & C platforms. In terms of its mission avionics suite it will be superior to the Mirage 2000 and Jaguar IS, but not to the upgraded MiG-29UPG and Su-30MKI in terms of endurance and carried weapons payload. The Tejas will be able to conduct all-weather high-altitude strike sorties using the Litening-2 LDP. If the Tejas Mk2 were to be equipped with overwing conformal fuel tanks then that would make available two more underwing weapon stations meant for carrying precision-guided munitions.
As for conducting air campaigns against the PLAAF or PAF in a conventional warfare scenario, I'm afraid that is an entirely different subject. Suffice to say that such campaigns in future will be very much unlike the kind of air campaigns conducted in 1999 or 2002 or 2008.

Austin said...

Model of IL-476 and IL-476 AWACS configuration ( credits Said Aminov/ International Aviation Transport Forum )

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Austin: Great stuff! Will try to obtain further updates on the IL-476 during MAKS 2011 at Zhukovsky. The IAF could definitely do with a few more A-50EI PHALCONs and could also relife its existing IL-76MDs and have them upgraded and re-engined to IL-76MF or IL-76TD standards.

Austin said...

Prasun , if you are visiting MAKS then you will get an up close personal view of PAK-FA which will be displayed and perhaps a prototype will even fly.

Indranil said...

How is the cancellation of the mirage upgrade related to the fin package of the Rafale?

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Austin: Will try my best to get as much as I can about the PAK-FA.

To Indranil: The best person to answer your question is the IAF's Chief of the Air Staff, or his Vice Chief. Of course things can change as quickly as the wind conditions over the Se La Pass if someone in the Govt of India takes notice of the massive weapons procurement package now being finalised between France and Pakistan.

Anonymous said...

Hi Prasun,
Would like your complete analysis(sTRATEGIC, POLOTICAL considerations)in MMRCA shortlisting.SU-30 procurement was a better idea.Whycant our guyz just get different entities from israel to form a joint venture to supply avionics for a much older but cheaper platform.Such a sol would be enough would it not than buying complete aircraft from france or US.Since BVR missiles are going to be employed extensively,why could they ot go for such sols especially when they had done it earlier with SU-30?

2)I remember LOOKING at an aircaft with a dome on top(AWACS)in civil airport in udaipur in 92.Could it be explaine?

Prasun K. Sengupta said...

To Anon Above: I've already given my personal views on the M-MRCA issue at:
Procurement of additional Su-30MKIs is an on-going process and ultimately, no less than 290 Su-30MKis could be acquired.
As for JVs for MIL-SPEC avionics, there are already quite a few, for instance with ELBIT Systems, with Cassidian, with SaabTech, and with THALES. All the programmes concerned with the Dhruv ALH, LCH, LUH, Tejas Mk1/Mk2 MRCA, and Jaguar IS upgrade have benefitted from such JVs. The Mirage 2000s too could have been upgraded using a similar approach. Ever since the MoD decided to import M-MRCAs for the IAF, the only two realistic candidates were the Super Hornet IN and Rafale F3. Between the two I would have preferred the former as part of a grand partnership alliance between the US and India, which would have led to further spinoffs in the areas of long-range precision-guided munitions and high-endurance UAVs.
Regarding the rotodom-equipped aircraft in Udaipur in 1992, I really wouldn;t know what it was unless one knows whether it was jet-powered or turboprop-powered.