Sunday, July 11, 2010

India Likely To Need More Aerostats


Aviation Week & Space Technology Jul 12 , 2010 , p. 33
Neelam Mathews
New Delhi

Printed headline: Airships Ahoy

The Indian navy sent out its own RFI last year for five aircraft following the Mumbai terrorist attacks. Its interest is in keeping an eye on the nation’s 7,516-km.-long (4,670-mi.) coastline.

Analysts say the Indian air force will need at least 11 more with an initial emphasis on monitoring the nation’s western and southwestern sectors.

The army wants the largest ships, with envelope volumes ranging from 420K to 660K (420,000 to 660,000 cu. ft.), and is expected to release a request for proposals for 12 aerostats. (“K” is a measure of buoyancy.) Its goal is for them to carry payloads of 2,400 kg. (5,300 lb.) to 15,000-ft. heights maintained for 28 days and with a lookout range of 300 km.

Lockheed Martin has begun talks with Indian authorities about deployment of aerostats rated from 8K to 660K and believes their use by U.S. forces in Afghanistan should give it an advantage in the competition. They have been deployed in an environment similar to what India wants to watch in Jammu and Kashmir on the Pakistan border.

The company’s Tethered Aerostat System (TARS) is a 420K design equipped with the L-88 radar. It has been widely deployed in anti-drug campaign and is typically tethered at 15,000 ft.

“We’re looking at the right fit of aerostat” for what India needs, says Roger Rose, CEO of Lockheed Martin India. “We are in discussions for tethered aerostats and are looking at licensing” their development.

The procurement RFI calls for aerostats, payloads and ground control stations. Long-range observation systems with long-range battle-field surveillance radars (Loros) are being sought with imagery over a 60-km. range.

India bought two 71-meter (232-ft.) TCOM Aerostats in 2005 capable of supporting 5,000-lb. payloads (see photo). They were equipped with an Elta Aerostat Programmable Radar, but maintenance proved to be a major problem. Helium leakage brought one ship down, according to a defense official.

Whether aerostats will achieve all India wants is being questioned. “They are limited when operating in high wind conditions, says defense analyst Rahul Gangal, senior vice president of Religare Strategic Advisory. He says India’s plans will not bring enough aerostats into play to address the country’s border-patrol or homeland-security needs.

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