Sunday, February 13, 2011

India Eyes Enhanced Surveillance Capabilities

Aviation Week & Space Technology Feb 14 , 2011 , p. 39
Neelam Mathews
Leithen Francis

India looks to expand capabilities beyond the scope of current projects
Printed headline: Seeking Surveillance

As India grows its military arsenal to gain strategic reach beyond its traditional sphere of interest, the country also is looking to boost its surveillance capabilities to support operations further afield.

Key decisions have already been taken to bolster airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) capabilities, as well as long-range maritime patrol, but more is in the offing. Carrier-based AEW&C is now in the cards, as well as further purchases of unmanned aircraft.

One program industry is keeping an eye on is for a maritime surveillance unmanned aircraft. When terrorists attacked Mumbai in 2009, they infiltrated the country via the sea. Boeing and Textron are hoping to secure an Indian program to provide unmanned surveillance systems to help plug that gap.

India has already held discussions with the U.S. about potential purchase of Northrop Grumman E-2Ds.Credit: U.S. NAVY
The air force also is looking to increase its aerostat fleet. The country suffered damage to its existing system, and is exploring whether it can be repaired. But Air Chief Marshal Pradeep Vasant Naik notes that four additional systems may be acquired.

One big program on the horizon is the potential purchase of Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeyes. The Indian government, late last year, issued a request for information (RFI) signaling interest in four, fixed-wing carrier-based airborne early warning and control systems. Maritime patrol is part of the mission set.

Discussions have been ongoing since the U.S. government’s export authorization to Northrop Grumman in August 2009 that covers the latest version of the E-2.

“The RFI is structured in a way that clearly seems it was meant for the E-2D,” says an industry official. This may lead to a sole-source contract, a navy official says. The RFI states the aircraft should be able to perform ship- and land-based operations. In addition, it should provide an integrated air and surface picture of the area under surveillance in adverse weather, in dense electronic environments and be a command-and-control platform.

Northrop Grumman officials note that if India purchased the E-2D concurrent with the U.S. Navy’s procurement, there could be cost benefits related to economies of scale. This is an important consideration because the E-2D is being built in small numbers, says Tom Trudell, the company’s E-2D manager for international business development. Eventually, the Indian program could grow to 12 aircraft.

Meanwhile, the navy is still awaiting a response from the U.S. on a request to add further capability to the export version. When the formal request for proposals will be released is not clear, but Gyanendra Sharma, managing director of Northrop Grumman India, says discussions with the Indian defense ministry are taking place.

The aircraft could be ready just before the Indian Aircraft Carrier-2—possibly with a catapult—enters service in 2018.

The E-2D would provide the long-range “eyes” to support the navy’s MiG‑29 fighters and a future carrier strike aircraft. That particular competition would likely pit many of the competitors in the air force fighter program against each other. The Boeing F/A-18E/F and Dassault Rafale are already carrier-capable, and a concept for a carrier-capable Eurofighter Typhoon is being revived (see p. 36).

The E-2D would also have to work closely with the Boeing 737-based P-8I maritime patrol aircraft. The first P-8I should fly by year-end, with delivery about a year later. India’s P-8 differs some from the U.S. Navy’s system, including the addition of a magnetic anomaly detector.

The E-2D will not be India’s only airborne early warning asset, though. The country is buying three Beriev A-50EIs carrying Israel Aerospace Industries Elta Phalcon AEW radar systems.

Also, a homegrown air surveillance system is being developed by Defense Research Development organization (DRDO) under a $210 million contract. The radar is to be mounted on three Embraer 145 regional jets. A deal between India and Brazil in 2008 required modification of the jet to enable it to carry an Indian Active Array Antenna Unit on the aircraft’s fuselage, the integration of which is a tedious process.

The air force sees a need for 20 more for full-time patrols. Aside from the two-crew cockpit, the aircraft will carry up to eight mission specialists.

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