More than Special

Special Mission Aircraft are cheaper to operate than older intelligence gathering assets

Atul Chandra

Special mission aircraft provide a unique and unmatched intelligence collection capability, though their operations are often conducted under a tight veil of secrecy. The aircraft used for such missions range from turboprop aircraft to high-end business jets, packed with the latest intelligence gear. The aircraft are used for missions ranging from special electronics / signals intelligence, airborne early warning, Open Ocean / coastal surveillance, Search and Rescue (SAR), etc.

Special Mission Aircraft

Special mission aircraft have gained increasing importance in India, though less than a handful of aircraft have been acquired for this purpose since the Kargil War. Special mission aircraft are operated by the Aviation Research Centre (ARC) which is the technical arm of the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The two Bombardier Global 5,000 long-range business jets modified by Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) for special missions have now been delivered to India. They operate alongside the ARC’s ageing Gulfstream special mission aircraft. The deal to acquire the two aircraft was signed in 2011, with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) subsidiary Elta, overcoming competition from Raytheon.

The aircraft are fitted with rooftop satellite communication (SATCOM) antennas, a forward pod with sensors containing the data-link and synthetic aperture radar (SAR). The aircraft interior is said to have six operator stations for both COMINT and ELINT tasks. Indian aircraft have been modified with the Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) EL/I-3001 Airborne Integrated SIGINT System (AISIS). The system is also in use with the Israeli defence forces. A Bombardier Global 5000 configured with the ASIS has also been offered for a German SIGINT requirement. The aircraft are said to be based at Palam air force base (AFB). Pictures of the Indian Air Force (IAF) operated Global 5000’s remain scarce, with only a few publically available pictures of the special mission aircraft.

The EL/I-3001 is a multi-platform, multi-mission Airborne Integrated Signals Intelligence System (AISIS). Based on decades of experience in the field of airborne SIGINT systems, IAI’s EL/I-3001 is a field proven state-of-the-art system. The system is in use with the Israeli Air Force and IAF, the platforms being the Gulfstream 500 and Bombardier Global Express 5000 respectively. The EL/I-3001 performs long-range, high endurance SIGINT missions on aircraft. This allows for collection of vital tactical and strategic intelligence.

The system can search, intercept, measure, locate, analyse, classify and monitor communication and radar transmissions, create a real time Electronic Order of Battle (EOB) picture and provide real time reports and alerts. The system comprises an airborne segment featuring ELINT and COMINT sensors and airborne operator posts. The ELINT sensors have a frequency range of 0.5–18 GHz and the COMINT sensors have a frequency range of 20–1200 MHz. The ground segment consists of a ground communication centre, ELINT and COMINT operator’s centres. Air to ground systems consist of Line-of-Sight (LOS) datalink, SATCOM data link and standard HF/VHF/UHF radio sets.

The Bombardier Global series business jets offer a spacious cabin, coupled with long range and high speed that make them ideal for special mission conversions. The Global 5000 offers excellent loiter capability at low speeds and high altitudes. The Global 5000 is powered by two Rolls-Royce Deutschland BR710A2-20 turbofan engines, producing 14,750 pounds of thrust each on takeoff. It can climb to 43,000 feet in 23 minutes. The business jet has a maximum range of 8,832 km (5520 miles) and can attain a high speed cruise of 0.89 Mach. A number of Bombardier aircraft are in use for special missions; Global Express for the Royal Air Force (RAF) ASTOR programme, Challenger 604 for the Royal Danish Air Force and Korean National Maritime Police Agency and Global 6000 for the United States Air Force (USAF) E-11A (Battlefield Airborne Communications Node BACN programme).

When it comes to business jets, India remains a steady market for Gulfstream, with more than 20 Gulfstream aircraft operating in the country. The majority of these, estimated at approximately 15 aircraft, are in the large-cabin category. This includes Gulfstream types such as the G450, G550, G650 and G650ER. Commenting on Gulfstream’s India plans, the spokesperson said, “Gulfstream continues to see India as an important market in the coming year. For more than a quarter century, Gulfstream has earned a reputation in India as the preferred provider of private jets to many of the country’s business leaders. The company continues to expand its commitment to the region by increasing marketing and product support activities to serve customers. We have a dedicated team committed to India and the region with a great understanding of the market and the culture. Gulfstream also continues to focus on people, parts and facilities necessary to support a growing fleet.”

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