Ravi Sharma

It has initiated pre-proposal talks with some private and public sector companies

Airborne early warning and control system aircraft for IAF

Technical evaluation of Embraer EMB-145 aircraft completed

Bangalore: The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) is looking for a partner in the product maintenance of the three airborne early warning and control system (AEW&CS) aircraft that it is building for the Indian Air Force (IAF).

The DRDO had initiated pre-proposal talks with some private and public sector companies, including Larsen and Toubro, Tata Power and Bharat Electronics Limited for the “eye in the sky” project.

It would like to work out a transparent, internal process for evaluation that could be used to choose a partner.

A transparent shortlist, with the criteria required to benchmark the contenders, is to be put up shortly.

Thereafter, a request for proposal will be put out.

The Rs. 1,800-crore project involves using a flying platform (most likely the Embraer EMB 145) and mounting sensors (radars) that look deep and far, and provide C2BM (command and control, battle management) functions by datalink for both tactical and defence forces.

While in the AEW&CS the lofted sensors will transmit information to a command and control centre on the ground, in the case of the AWACS (airborne warning and control system) the sensors disseminate information to a command centre that is part of the flying platform itself.

Crucial

D. Banerjee, Chief Controller, Research and Development (Aeronautics and Material Science), DRDO, told The Hindu that with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) expressing its unwillingness to join in the project, it was crucial that a partner was chosen at the very beginning itself.

“HAL is basically an aircraft company, while this will involve maintenance of a complicated radar system, software maintenance and its periodic upgrading.

“The question before us is whether to choose an aircraft specialist or a systems (radar) specialist. Whoever it is, it ought to be done quickly,” he said. At present, a number of DRDO laboratories are involved in various aspects of the AEW&CS programme. The Defence Electronics Application Laboratory is involved with the primary sensors, communication systems and data link; the Defence Avionics Research Establishment with the self-protection systems, electronic warfare suites and communication support systems and the Defence Electronics Research Laboratory with counter-support measures.

While the radar is from the Defence Avionics Research Establishment, the responsibility for the overall integration of the systems, mission computer, display and data handling will be that of the Bangalore-based Centre for Airborne Systems.

Dr. Banerjee said the AEW&CS’s primary radar was well on its way: “The TR (transmit receive) module is ready. It will shortly be going for acceptance tests. We may also look around for some sort of consultancy for the systems integration.”

Unexpected boost

Running years behind schedule, the AEW&CS programme got an unexpected boost, when the Government, after over two years of bureaucratic delays, sent out a request for proposal to Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer, asking for details on the Embraer EMB-145 aircraft.

Dr. Banerjee disclosed that the technical evaluation of the EMB-145 was over and that it conformed to the IAF’s technical requirements.

“The aircraft has several hours of endurance and in-flight refuelling.

Stressing that it was the IAF and not the DRDO which chose the aircraft, Dr. Banerjee said that in a cost-performance trade-off, the 145 was the “cheapest possible option available.” Commercial negotiations would get under way in September.

Dr. Banerjee, however, contended that commercial negotiation was only the beginning of the long road ahead before the AEW&CS could be ready.

Technical specifications

“Once the radar is mounted on the flying platform, the aircraft’s technical specifications, such as its aero dynamism and handling, will change. Embraer will have to get it recertified in the changed configuration.”

There are also bound to be issues such as the mounting of the radar on the EMB 145’s fuselage, the aircraft’s overall endurance with payload (radar) and a modification of the mounts that will receive the radar.