In a path breaking achievement, the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has indigenously developed an “electronic warfare” (EW) system for the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) fleet of 60 MiG-29 fighters. Yet, when buying EW systems for the Tejas Mark 1A fighter that Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) is developing, the aerospace firm signed a contract on October 26 with Israeli firm, Elta – a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI).
The indigenous EW system was developed under “Project D-29” by the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE), a DRDO laboratory, in partnership with Israeli firm, Elisra and Italian firm Elettronica.
The IAF, delighted with the outcome of Project D-29, is about to accord it final acceptance. Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) will manufacture the indigenous EW systems for upgrading the MiG-29 fleet.
Under the Defence Procurement Procedure of 2016 (DPP-2016), the D-29 EW system falls squarely in the category of “Indian designed, developed and manufactured” (IDDM) equipment, the highest priority for procurement. DPP-2016 mandates that, if equipment is available under the IDDM category, it cannot be procured under other categories – such as “Buy Global” or “Buy and Make (India)”. This is to sponsor Indian design and development of equipment.
Yet, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the IAF, disregarding the success of Project 29 and its IDDM status, permitted HAL to buy the Israeli Elta EW system.
The Israeli government scuttled the Project D-29 EW system, say highly placed industry sources. The Israeli MoD did not allow Elisra – a key player in the D-29 system – to participate in HAL’s tender for an EW system for Tejas Mark 1A. Instead, the Israeli MoD nominated state owned firm, Elta.
The Israeli government has not responded to Business Standard queries.
Given the volume of business the IAF provides Israeli firms, it is unclear why the IAF could not persuade the Israeli MoD to allow Elisra to participate, so as to standardise the indigenous D-29 EW system across the upgraded Tejas fleet, as well as the MiG-29UPG. The indigenous system could also have been retrofitted on the 120-aircraft Jaguar fleet, which is currently being upgraded.
On January 10, 2017, Elisra wrote to the IAF boss, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, pointing out that the D-29 system is “an indigenous system jointly developed with DRDO… [and] shall be produced in India by BEL and qualifies for IDDM categorization.” Stating that the equipment commonality with the MiG-29 would allow “considerable savings in maintenance and operational support”, Elisra requested that the D-29 EW system be nominated for the Tejas Mark 1A. Business Standard has reviewed the letter, which the IAF did not respond to.
Contacted for comments, the MoD and IAF have not responded.
The Elta EW system is now going to be fitted in 83 Tejas Mark 1 fighters, which the MoD sanctioned for Rs 33,000 crore (Rs 330 billion) last December. The Tejas Mark 1A is being developed because the IAF is dissatisfied with the current Mark 1 version, of which 40 are being built. To overcome their operational shortcomings, the IAF, HAL and the MoD agreed in September 2015 on specifications for a new improved version (Tejas Mark 1A), which would have five specific improvements – including an upgraded EW system, AESA radar and the Meteor long-range air-to-air missile.
An EW system, which uses the electromagnetic spectrum to obtain combat advantage, will be crucial for the Tejas Mark 1A’s combat edge. In the Rafale fighter, many of the expensive “India specific enhancements” consisted of EW systems.
An integrated EW system includes several elements: First, a “radar warning receiver” (RWR), which detects when an enemy aircraft’s radar picks up one’s own aircraft. A “radar lock” would indicate the enemy is firing an air-to-air missile, warning the pilot to start evasive measures. A second EW system component is the “missile approach and warning system” (MAWS), which picks up electromagnetic radiations from an incoming missile, cueing the pilot to initiate defensive manoeuvres, or to deploy countermeasures to confuse the incoming missile.
A third EW measure is “radar warning and jamming” (RWJ). This involves detecting enemy radar and then confusing and blinding it with concentrated electromagnetic pulses.
Fighter aircraft can carry a jammer in an external pod under its wing. Alternatively, the function could be carried out by “escort jammers” (EJ), mounted on a single aircraft within a group of fighters on a strike mission.
Finally, EW systems include “countermeasure dispensing systems” (CMDS), to defeat incoming missiles detected by the RWR or MAWS, or even infrared seeking missiles that home in on heat sources rather than rely on radar. The CMDS releases a cloud of metal strips, called chaff, which create a false signature of a fighter aircraft, towards which the incoming missile gets diverted. Alternatively, the CMDS fires flares in rapid succession, their heat signatures confusing IR-seeking air-to-air missiles.
DRDO sources point out that the D-29 based system integrates all these functions, while legacy systems operate the functions individually.
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By – Ajai Shukla / Business Standard
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