By Prasun K. Sengupta
The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) ambitious and well-crafted force modernisation programmes, which will all reach fruition through to 2040, calls for the creation of a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional network-centric force capable of not only ensuring homeland air defence, but also projecting expeditionary airpower well beyond the country’s periphery.
In terms of acquisition of new manned combat aircraft assets, heading the list is the forthcoming selection of a fourth-generation medium multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA), for which the shortlisted candidates are Dassault Aviation’s Rafale and the Eurofighter GmbH consortium’s EF-2000. The winner of this tightly contested contract will be required to supply no less than 160 M-MRCAs worth more than USD 12 billion between 2016 and 2036 and thereafter, undertake their two successive mid-life upgrades in course of their total technical service lives. Proceeding concurrently are joint R&D efforts between the aerospace industries of India and Russia to co-develop a fifth-generation M-MRCA (also known as of prospective multi-role fighter aircraft, or PMFA), which will be a twin-engined, 17.2-tonne aircraft and will be available from 2018 onwards. Present plans call for procuring 166 single-seat and 48 tandem-seat PGMAs.
At the same time, India’s home-grown MRCA, the Tejas Mk1, will be inducted into service by 2014. Induction of these 40 MRCAs will be followed by the procurement of 83 Tejas Mk2 variants (while the Indian Navy has expressed its firm requirement for 46 carrier-based Mk2s). Just like the Tejas Mk1, the airframe of the Tejas Mk2 will incorporate 13 major composites-built structures fabricated by TATA Advanced Materials Ltd (TAML), which include a rudder assembly, fin assembly, 60 carbon-fibre reinforced (CFC) wing spars, 38 wing fuselage fairing skins, 20 wing fuselage fairing blocks, 41 CFC centre fuselage components, two forward undercarriage doors and two aft undercarriage doors. The first ‘Tejas’ Mk2 prototype is due for rollout by September 2013 and make its maiden flight by December 2014, following which the MoD-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) would begin series-producing the M-MRCA by 2016. IAF intends to position the ‘Tejas’ Mk2, to be powered by a 98kN thrust F414-GE-INS6 turbofan built by GE Aero Engines, as an MRCA capable of undertaking all-weather defensive counter-air operations, as well as all-weather effects-based tactical air-to-ground precision strikes in support of friendly ground forces out to a depth of 80nm beyond the jointly-defined Army/IAF fire support coordination line. To date, 99 F414-GE-INS6 turbofans have been ordered, while retaining the option to acquire 49 more.
Proceeding in parallel to such procurement plans are efforts aimed at upgrading the performance parameters of the IAF’s existing fleet of MRCAs. Come 2012, the first batch of 50 Sukhoi Su-30MKIs, which were delivered between 2001 and 2003, will be shipped back to Russia’s IRKUT Corp in Irkutsk where they will be refurbished and upgraded from into formidable air supremacy MRCAs (to be called Super Su-30MKI), and delivered back to the IAF starting 2014. The upgrades, costing Rs 109.2 billion, will include the strengthening and service life-extension of the Su-30MKI airframes; and installation of uprated turbofans, new glass cockpit avionics, mission management avionics, and integrated defensive aids suites. This will be followed by another batch of 42 new-build Su-30MKIs to be subjected to identical upgrades, with deliveries of these aircraft beginning in 2015 and ending in 2018. Also to be upgraded are the IAF’s 51 Dassault Aviation-built Mirage 2000H/TH MRCAs, for which a contract worth Rs 96.4 billion (USD 2.1 billion) was recently inked between the MoD and prime contractor Thales. The first two upgraded aircraft will be delivered by Thales and Dassault Aviation within 40 months of contract signature, while HAL will upgrade two more aircraft in India to gain familiarity. Thereafter, HAL would upgrade one aircraft every month, for 47 months. At about the same time as the mid-life upgrade of the Su-30MKIs commences, a parallel service life-extension programme (SLEP) involving the IAF’s 120 existing SEPECAT/HAL-built Jaguar IS/IM interdictor/maritime strike aircraft will get underway at HAL’s Bangalore-based facilities.
This follows a fatigue analysis done by the IAF, which has estimated that the Jaguars could remain operational for another 25 years — till 2030. As part of the SLEP, the Jaguars will be re-engined and re-equipped with a fourth-generation combined cockpit/mission avionics suite along with a related defensive aids suite, all of which will result in the twin-engined Jaguar IS being reborn as a formidable all-weather platform with enhanced technical service life, enhanced weapons carriage capability (especially precision-guided munitions, or PGM), and also a platform capable of undertaking dedicated suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) missions. Bidding for supplying up to 280 turbofans (including 40 spare engines) are UK-based Rolls-Royce and US-based Honeywell Aerospace. Honeywell is offering its F125IN, a 43.8kN thrust (with afterburning) turbofan, while Rolls-Royce, whose Adour Mk811 (rated at 32.5kN thrust with afterburning) presently powers the Jaguars, has proposed its Adour Mk821 turbofan.
Given the vast sub-continental footprint of the country and its diverse tactical airlift requirements for not only the armed forces, but also the central armed police forces, the IAF has drawn up ambitious plans for both the horizontal and vertical expansion of its tactical airlift capabilities, to be realised over a 10-year period. Involving both fixed-wing and rotary-winged aviation, the enhanced tactical airlift capabilities will enable the Indian Army’s projected air-assault formations to undertake all-weather expeditionary campaigns via vertical envelopment (as part of joint services power projection operations) in the event of a future round of hostilities along India’s high-altitude northern frontiers. More significantly, by 2016, the IAF will have at its disposal the kind of assets required for air-transporting heavy armoured vehicles and field artillery howitzers to potential hotspots at extremely short notice. To this end, the MoD inked a USD 4.1 billion contract with its US counterpart on June 7 under which an initial 10 Boeing-built C-17A Globemaster III strategic airlifters will be acquired. This will be followed in future by ordering a follow-on six C-17As. Yet another US-origin air transportation asset being procured is the fleet of Lockheed Martin-built C-130J-30 Super Hercules, comprising 12 aircraft.
The first six aircraft, worth USD 0.9 billion, have already been delivered, while a follow-on batch of 12 units worth USD 1.2 billion is expected to be ordered early next year. As for other future procurements, HAL and Russia’s United Aircraft Corp (UAC) have decided to create a Bangalore-based joint venture company — called MTA Ltd — and contribute USD 300.35 million each in R&D funds to co-develop a twin-engined tactical airlifter. Present plans call for five MTA prototypes to be built, with three of them being earmarked for flight tests. First flight of the MTA is expected to take place in 2013, with series deliveries starting in 2016 at the earliest. The aircraft will be used to transport troops (up to 82 men) and materials, airdrop paratroopers (up to 74), medical evacuation (up to 60 stretchers). Civilian versions are also planned. The Ilyushin Design Bureau plans to develop a version capable of carrying 94 to 104 passengers, or palletised freight. Meanwhile, long-overdue plans for upgrading the IAF’s existing tactical airlift assets were realised when the MoD on June 13, 2008 inked a USD 397 contract with Ukraine’s Foreign Trade Enterprise to begin the long-overdue service life extension programme for 105 An-32B twin-engined STOL tactical transports. Under this contract, six An-32Bs have since been flown to AVIANT Kyiv Aviation Plant in Kiev in successive batches and both their airframes and engines have been subjected to overhauls and extensions to their total technical service lives to enable them to be flightworthy for the next 15 years. The remaining 99 An-32Bs will be similarly upgraded and refurbished by the IAF’s Kanpur-based Nos1 and 4 Base Repair Depots.
The IAF is also in the process of upgrading and expanding its inventories of rotary-winged aircraft by gearing up to induct 197 light-utility and observation, 54 light medium-lift, 139 heavy medium-lift, 65 light combat, 22 attack, 15 heavy-lift, and 12 VVIP transportation helicopters. While Eurocopter’s AS.550C3 Fennec and Kamov’s Ka-226T have been evaluated for the light utility and observation role, 54 HAL-built Dhruv Mk4s have been ordered, and a follow-on USD 1 billion contract for procuring an additional 59 Mi-17-V5s is under negotiation to add to the first 80 worth USD 1.34 billion that began arriving in India last September. For VVIP transportation, 12 AgustaWestland AW-101s are on order. In another development, the MoD has contracted Honeywell Aerospace for upgrading the avionics suites of the IAF’s existing fleet of 80-odd Mi-171 tactical airlift helicopters at a cost of USD 100 million. Future procurement contracts due to be inked include that for 22 Boeing-built AH-64D LongBow Apaches worth USD 550 million, 15 heavylift transport helicopters (with Boeing’s CH-47F Chinook being the preferred choice), and 65 HAL-built Light Combat helicopters.
When it comes to force-multipliers, the IAF has drawn up an elaborate roadmap aimed at acquiring both home-grown and imported solutions. Under negotiation is a contract for acquiring a follow-on two A-50I PHALCON airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) platforms from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to add to the three already delivered. At the same time, the DRDO’s Bengaluru-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) is developing three prototypes of an indigenous AEW&C platform, known as the EMB-145I. Eventually, a total of 14 such platforms are to be acquired, with Embraer of Brazil supplying all the modified airframes.
The IAF, which is also entrusted with the task of conducting persistent, all-weather year-round surveillance of the 4,057km-long Line of Actual Control (LAC) since 2004 along the undemarcated Sino-Indian border, is in future, expected to acquire up to four airborne reconnaissance, intelligence, surveillance, and target acquisition (RISTA) platforms, which will either be a customised version of the SEMA, which has been developed by IAI, or solutions developed by Raytheon, Northrop Grumman and Lockheed Martin. The preferred airframe is Bombardier Aerospace’s Global Express, while the airborne mission payload will include an X-band synthetic aperture radar for real-time ground moving target indication, Ku-band and X-band data links for transmitting battlespace reconnaissance data to ground-based theatre command-/Corps-level HQs in real-time, and a belly-mounted SIGINT suite that will search, intercept, measure, localise, analyse, classify and monitor short-duration ground and airborne transmissions and their signals parameters — all aimed at building up, in real-time, a full-spectrum picture of the electronic order of battle.
Simply put, the IAF-owned-and-operated airborne RISTA systems will provide theatre commanders and troops on the ground with an unprecedented situational view of the battlespace from the instant it arrives overhead. By detecting hostile troop movements and intercepting communications and radar transmissions, the airborne RISTA platforms, by processing wide varieties of data from multiple sensors (radar-, SIGINT- and optronic-based) will process and disseminate in real-time fused tactical pictures and bring deadly massed fire assaults down swiftly on adversaries in a non-linear battlefield with devastating effect.
Meanwhile, IAF’s layered, hardened and in-depth air defence command, control and communications network, called integrated air command, control and communications system (IACCCS), is all set to achieve full operational capability by 2012 once the IAF-owned, operated and managed fully secure and reliable network and gigabyte digital information grid — known as AFNet, is fully operationalised. The IACCCS has been designed as a robust, survivable network-centric C4I3 infrastructure that will receive direct real-time feeds from existing space-based overhead reconnaissance satellites, ground-based and aerostat-mounted ballistic missile early warning radars and high-altitude-long-endurance unmanned aerial vehicles, and manned airborne early warning & control (AEW&C) platforms. The IACCCS will also coordinate the early warning and response aspects of a layered two-tier ballistic missile defence (BMD) network that is now in an advanced stage of development. The fibre-optic network-based AfNet has been developed at a cost of Rs 10.77 billion in collaboration with US-based Cisco Systems Inc, HCL Infosystems Ltd and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.
For ensuring all-weather low- and medium-level airspace surveillance, the IAF by 2016 will be receiving 67 new low-level air transportable radars (LLTR) like the DRDO-developed and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL)-built the S-band Aslesha three-dimensional micro-radar, the L-band Bharani manportable radar, and nineteen 180km-range, three-dimensional Thales-built Ground Smarter GS-100 radars (ordered in November 2009), each of which will be accompanied by operational and communication shelters, an energy subsystem, a mobility sub-system and personnel living quarters. The IAF has to date ordered 21 Asleshas. The IAF is now gearing up to induct new-generation S-band long-range surveillance radars (LRSR), an additional nine ELTA Systems-built L-band EL/M-2083 ‘Airstar’ aerostat-mounted high-power radars (HPR) to add to the two already in service, up to 28 S-band EL/M-2084 Arudhra 3-D active phased-array medium-power radars (MPR) and 30 indigenous medium-range S-band Rohini 3-D central acquisition radars. For the long-range airspace surveillance radar requirement, a competition is presently between the ELTA Systems-built EL/-22818 AD-STAR, Thales-built Ground Master 400, and SELEX Sistemi Integrati’s RAT-31SL. These new radars will be deployed with the IAF’s existing 32 new mobile control and reporting centres (MCRC), 12 air defence control centres (ADCC), 24 air defence direction centres (ADDC) and some 40 terminal weapons control centres (TWCC) along India’s western and north-eastern borders.
In order to enhance its airspace management-cum-surveillance capabilities in both peacetime and wartime, the IAF has initiated a multi-phase USD1.3 billion programme under which a state-of-the-art joint civil/military continental airspace control system is being developed using the following fundamentals: unity of effort, common procedures, and simplicity. Also being upgraded are the IAF’s terminal area air traffic services and airfield management expertise, and en route airspace/air corridor management. The net result of all this will be the creation of a vastly expanded air defence identification zone (ADIZ) and provision of a real-time recognised air picture (RAP). The upgraded ADIZ will extend the IAF’s airspace management and surveillance coverage (using ground-based sensors) up to 500 nautical miles away from India’s territorial boundaries. When fully implemented, new-generation primary/secondary surveillance radars and their related joint air traffic control and reporting centres (JATCRC) will be operational at IAF air bases in Adampur, Agra, Ambala, Bagdogra, Bareilly, Bhatinda, Bhuj, Bidar, Chabua, Chandigarh, Gorakhpur, Gwalior, Halwara, Hasimara, Hindon, Jaisalmer, Jamnagar, Jodhpur, Jorhat, Kalaikunda, Nal, Naliya, Pathankot, Pune, Sirsa, Suratgarh, Tezpur, Uttarlai, Yelahanka and Zopuitlang in Lunglei district in southern Mizoram. In addition, each of these air bases will receive new air base and runway lighting systems, an automated air traffic control management system, Cat 2A instrument landing system, distance measuring equipment and a Doppler very-high-frequency omni-range navigation system.
Also being acquired are six standby mobile airfield lighting systems, one mobile air traffic control tower, and one JATCRC simulator. Under Phase 1 of this ambitious programme, the IAF has already ordered — under Rs 2,937 billion contract — 13 S-band ATCR-33S primary surveillance radars and another 13 S-band Sir-S secondary surveillance radars and 52 related CDS-2000 display consoles from Selex Sistemi Integrati, a subsidiary of Italy’s Finmeccania SPA, all of which will be delivered by this year. The MoD, following a global competitive bidding process, on March 16 this year inked a Rs 10.94 billion contract with TATA Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (TATA Power SED) under which the navigational aids of an initial 30 IAF air bases and one naval air base will be replaced within a 42-month period as part of Phase-1 of the IAF’s and Indian Navy’s joint Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) programme. Work will involve the installation of runway lighting systems, Cat 2A instrument landing systems, distance measuring equipment, and Doppler very-high-frequency omni-range navigation systems. Also being acquired are six standby mobile airfield lighting systems, one mobile air traffic control tower, and one joint air traffic control and reporting centre (JATCRC) simulator. Under Phase-2 of this programme, yet to be tendered out, an additional 28 IAF air bases and four naval air bases will be subjected to a similar upgradation exercise. TATA Power SED’s industrial partners for this project are Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.
In another development, following a 25-year R&D effort costing Rs 10 billion (USD 200 million), series-production of the 25km-range Akash Mk1 extended short range air defence missile system (E-SHORADS) is now being ramped up to meet the increasing demands of both the IAF — its launch customer, and the Indian Army. Now being inducted into service, the Akash Mk1’s air force variant will first be employed for base air defence (thereby replacing the existing S-125M Pechoras), and will later on be deployed for providing ground-based air defence of some 500 vulnerable areas and vulnerable points dotting the country. The first IAF order for two squadrons, valued at Rs 12.21 billion, was placed in May 2009 and comprised 250 missile rounds, 36 wheeled launchers (built by TATA Power’s Strategic Electronics Division), nine battery command centres, nine Rajendra L-band passive phased-array target engagement radars, and nine S-band Rohini 3-D central acquisition radars. The second order from the IAF, valued at Rs 42.79 billion (USD 925 million) came in November 2009 for an additional two squadrons of the E-SHORADS, which included 750 missile rounds. This was followed in January 2010 by the third order, this time for six squadrons. Prime contractor for the IAF-specific Akash Mk1 E-SHORADS is BEL, with Hyderabad-based Bharat Dynamics Ltd being the principal sub-contractor. Running in parallel are efforts by both the IAF and the army to replace their existing inventories of OSA-AKM and ZRK-BD Strela-10M SHORADS with the RAFAEL of Israel’s Spyder-SR system. The IAF refers to the Spyder-SR as a low-level quick reaction missile (LLQRM), while the army calls it quick-reaction surface-to-air missile (QR-SAM).
The MoD’s DAC approved the IAF’s requirement in July 2008, and a USD 293 million contract for the supply of an initial 18 launchers (making up one squadron) was signed in December 2008. Deliveries will be concluded by August 2012. For gun-baded point air-defence, the IAF has zeroed in on the Rheinmetall Defence-built Skyranger 35mm gun, which will be mounted on a TATA Motors-built 8x8 high-mobility vehicle. This air-defence system is optimised to fire AHEAD (advanced hit efficiency and destruction) self-programming ammunition. For extended ground-based long-range air defence India’s Cabinet Committee on National Security on 12 July 2007 approved a USD 2.47 billion project to co-develop the LR-SAM variant of the Barak-2. Subsequently, on 27 February 2009, India signed a USD 1.4 billion procurement contract with IAI for the Barak-2 LR-SAM. In January 2009, TATA Advanced Systems and IAI entered into a military-industrial partnership for creating Nova Integrated Systems and pumped in an initial investment of USD 200 million. IAI held 26 per cent and TATA 76 per cent in the joint venture. NOVA Integrated Systems subsequently acquired an initial 30 acres of land at the Aerospace and Precision Engineering Special Economic Zone (being developed by the Andhra Pradesh Industrial Infrastructure Corp) in Adibatla, near Hyderabad, with work on infrastructure development taking off in August 2009. The vertical launch cell modules for the Barak-2 LR-SAM are now being developed by Mumbai-based Larsen & Toubro Ltd. Command-and-control plus fire-control will be provided by a containerised system weighing only 1,300kg. Target search and tracking will be performed by a ground-based version of the MF-STAR, known as the EL/M-2258. The IAF will be acquiring about 1,000 LR-SAMs.
The IAF-operated BMD system will have five essential components. Firstly, there’s the early warning system that is capable of signalling the launch of hostile ballistic missiles. This system will comprise both airborne early warning & control (AEW & C) aircraft as well as a satellite-based missile monitoring system (MSS), which will go into deployment mode by 2015. Secondly, there’s the 1,500km-range variant of the L-band active phased-array EL/M-2080 long-range tracking radar (LRTR) — to be supplied by IAI with long wavelength to spot the re-entry vehicles as they rise above the horizon (while they are still 5,000km or six minutes away) and provide range, velocity and angular discrimination of the targets. Thirdly, there is the multi-functional fire-control radar (MFCR) using the already-delivered THALESRaytheon-supplied S-band Master-A short-wavelength 350m-range radar to determine the position of each re-entry vehicle with precision and guide the interceptor. Fourthly, there are the two interceptor vehicles for exo-atmospheric and endo-atmospheric kills, both presently equipped with 9E49/DB-100N dual-plane monopulse two-channel X-band terminal guidance radars (which can lock on to a 0.05 square metre RCS target from a distance of 16.2nm) imported from Russia, but are due for replacement in future with an imaging infra-red seeker of Israeli origin.
Lastly, there’s the IAI-designed battle management, command, control, communications and intelligence (BMC3I) centre for commanding, controlling and coordinating the entire two-tier interception process. The definitive PDV exo-atmospheric interceptor will be cruising at Mach 5 but will attain a peak terminal speed of Mach 11 — made possible by the divert thruster placed on top of the second-stage. The divert thruster will generate high lateral acceleration for the ‘end-game’. Both the warhead and divert thruster will be fired simultaneously towards the target once they are within the acquisition range of the yet-to-be-made-available on-board imaging infra-red seeker (all PAD and AAD flight-tests have thus far used the 9E49/DB-100N X-band monopulse terminal guidance radar of Russian origin), following which the next three seconds will result in the targetted re-entry vehicle being intercepted in the ‘hit-to-kill’ mode at an altitude of over 200km — all this being done within 150 seconds.
Unlike the definitive Mach 8 AAD-2 endo-atmospheric interceptor, whose flight trajectory will be shaped through aerodynamic control out to an altitude of 35km, the exo-atmospheric interceptor uses a reaction-control system using auxiliary motors and flex nozzles, and has minimal manoeuvrability of 2 G. The endo-atmospheric interceptor will use a two-stage solid-propellant rocket motor for intercepting 5,000km-range ballistic missiles, and will have excellent manoeuvrability and will be able to sustain up to 30 G, thereby making the interceptor unstable. A new type of hypersonic endo-atmospheric interceptor — AD-2 — capable of intercepting re-entry vehicles at an altitude of 35km, is now being developed.
In order to upgrade the network-centric war-waging skills and expertise of its air warriors, the IAF is setting up a war-gaming centre capable of simulating various scenarios at the strategic and operational levels. The Delhi-based War Gaming Centre (WGC) is due to be commissioned by 2014 and will be modelled on the Indian Army’s Delhi-based WARDEC or War Gaming Development Centre. The WGC will carry out strategic and operational doctrinal selection, integrate aerospace elements in the planning, and allow for ‘real-time’ execution of war games with the help of seamless integration of existing tactical war-gaming tools and packages in the IAF.