Lockheed Martin says that its Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDS) aerostats have been operationally proven over Afghanistan and Iraq. (Photo: Lockheed Martin)
The Indian Air Force is considering a new purchase of radar-carrying aerostats for air and sea surveillance, especially of low-flying targets. The Indian Ministry of Defense issued a request for information (RFI) late last year for a batch of four, six or eight static, mobile or portable aerostat systems, and may soon make a request for proposal, which will include a 30 percent offset clause. The aerostats are likely to be employed in the western and or northern sectors of the Indian sub-continent, an Indian defense official told AIN. Apart from the U.S., only a handful of countries operate such systems, mostly in the Middle East, although Singapore is joining their number.
The two major suppliers in the class, Lockheed Martin (LM) and Rafael, are both expected to bid. LM was the integrator and radar supplier for the Tethered Aerostat Radar System (TARS) that is deployed at eight sites along the U.S.southern border, and subsequently provided 65 smaller Persistent Threat Detection Systems (PTDS) for deployment by U.S. forces over Afghanistan and Iraq. Rafael supplied two large aerostats carrying IAI radars to India in 2002. In 2011, one of these “was damaged due to a sudden strong gust of wind and became non-operational,” the Indian defense minster reported. AIN understands that it broke loose and drifted toward another country. The troubled Raytheon JLENS program suffered a similar accident in the U.S. last October and is likely to be denied further funding.
“Tethered aerostats have to survive vagaries of the weather and hostile environments. High-tech materials and sealants are essential to prevent leakages and to provide better load distribution throughout the seam and better resistance to shear, heat and environmental degradation,” the chief executive officer of Lockheed Martin India, Phil Shaw, told AIN. The American company’s PTDS has been operationally proven over Afghanistan and Iraq, he added. ThePTDS is not as large as the TARS or the Israeli aerostats previously supplied to India, but it has carried small radars in addition to EO/IR sensors.
The Indian RFI states that the aerostat should be “able to withstand Indian standard atmospheric conditions.” It asks for a maximum operating altitude of 15,000 feet, an active-array radar subsystem and a mooring system of marine grade anti-corrosive steel. It asks potential vendors to state the “maximum duration on station without any lifting gas refill during this period.” For the previous systems supplied by Rafael, this period was 28 days.