|By Gulshan Luthra||Published: August 2017|
Bangalore/ Paris. India’s state-run aerospace company HAL has successfully installed the powerful AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar on the IAF’s Jaguar aircraft for the first time.
The first test flight of the Jaguar with an Israeli AESA onboard was conducted August 9 from Bangalore’s HAL airport, in line with the company’s mandate to increase the aircraft’s operational life to 2028. Initial results were successful but there would be some more tests in accordance with the established procedures before the system is integrated into the aircraft’s avionics architecture.
The aircraft is now flown only in India by IAF, and to keep it operational, 30 old, disused Jaguars are being procured from France to be cannibalized for spares. The French have offered it free and an agreement between the Indian and French ministries of defence has already been signed. HAL will ship all of them on as is where is condition to India and then source spares from them, modifying some in the process as required.
HAL Chairman and Managing Director T Suvarna Raju had told India Strategic in an interview that HAL is the only company that is servicing or overhauling the Jaguars, and for the IAF fleet, acquired from 1978 onwards, it has been fitting newer electronics onboard to keep the aircraft mission ready for many years, and the process continues
The most potent upgrade is the installation of AESA.
A Combat Radar, it has been provided by Israeli Aerospace Industries or IAI’s ELTA division, which has also supplied several electronics systems to HAL for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)Tejas also.
To fit the AESA, the Jaguar’s earlier Fire Control Radar has been removed, and now, the aircraft would be delivered to IAF with both the AESA and what is called DARIN III standard.
DARIN, coined by Air Chief Marshal Dilbagh Singh in the 1980s, stands for Display, Attack, Ranging and Inertial Navigation. DARIN-I and II are already done and over with as part of periodic upgrades.
Incidentally, it was this writer who had first reported the selection of British Harrier for the Indian Navy and that of the Anglo-French Jaguar for the Indian Air Force (IAF) as a correspondent for the UNI news agency some 40 years back. IAF inducted the nuclear capable Sepecat Jaguars as Deep Strike Penetration Aircraft (DPSA) from 1978 onwards. Sepecat was a joint venture between the then British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) and French Breguet, both of which, in their new avatars, have long discontinued manufacturing or servicing the aircraft.
Notably, IAF had opted for the British variant, so that limits the use of the French Jaguars as flying machines even though three or four of them can possibly still fly. Nonetheless, they would be a lifeline to keep the existing fleet operational.
IAF has more than 100 Jaguars in its operational inventory, about 20 of them specifically deployed for Maritime Strike role on coastal bases. Their original French radars were replaced by multi-role ELTA EL/M-2032 radars (not AESA) some 10 years back.
Details of the AESA’s range and capabilities are not available but whatever model it is, it would greatly enhance the aircraft’s surveillance and precision strike capability.
Mr Raju only said that it is the state of the art, capable of tracking and engaging multiple targets, and that the imagery is high resolution and accurate, thanks to higher bandwidth of such systems and interleaved modes of operation.
It is also the first time that a Jaguar is being flown anywhere with AESA capability. An AESA radar has no moving parts, and transmits and receives signals real time.
So far, only the IL-76 AWACS aircraft of IAF fitted with Israeli Phalcon system have the AESA capability. Jaguars will be second, and Rafales, when they are inducted in 2019 – or maybe earlier – the third.
AESA Imperative on All New Aircraft
It may be recalled that IAF had specified the AESA requirement as a necessity for the first time in its tender for Medium Multi Role Aircraft (MMRCA) in 2007.
As a policy decision, highly placed sources told India Strategic, all new aircraft to be acquired from now on, including the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, will have to have the AESA capability.
HAL is already upgrading the Jaguars to the DARIN-III standard, for which it was granted Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) last year.
The programme includes an Open System Architecture Mission Computer (OSMAC), Engine and Flight Instrument System (EFIS), Fire Control Radar, Inertial Navigation System with GPS and Geodetic Height Correction.
Installation of AESA is apparently part of this programme now.
New Honeywell Engines
An IAF proposal is also pending before the Government for fitting new Honeywell engines on Jaguars to make them more powerful and enable them to fly over the mountains.
Right now, the twin-engine aircraft can fly only over the plains. If the Honeywell proposal, costing about $2 billion, is approved then the aircraft would get some very modern systems and be able to cross the Himalayan terrain and also exceed its range of 400 km.
Mr Raju however pointed out that as HAL has the ownership and design rights to modify and upgrade the Jaguars, “We have proposed that let Honeywell be a consultant to HAL, give us the engines, and we will integrate them.” HAL has the experience, and this way, IAF would also be spending less.
Notably though, Rolls-Royce, which had provided the Adour engines for the Jaguars, has also offered to tweak the engines a bit. There is still no decision though on whether to retain or replace the old engines.
The aircraft has a slow takeoff rate with the old twin engines, making it vulnerable to attacks from ground fire. That’s why the IAF has asked for more power and speed.
In line with the saying Necessity is the Mother of Invention, it may be recalled that within a few years of Jaguars’ induction, HAL and IAF were able to modify the aircraft with over-wing pylons to accommodate the French Matra 550 Magic 2 air-to-air missiles. And over the years, some more, particularly to the avionics. The British took the Over-wing Pylon innovation to some other Jaguars, including those for the Omani Air Force with.
It may be recalled that Indian had also modified the propeller driven US-supplied Fairchild Packet transport aircraft with a third engine, the Orpheus jet engine from the Gnat aircraft. The thrust of this engine enabled the aircraft, used during the 1960s, to fly over the Himalayas and drop supplies to the Indian soldiers deployed in tough terrain there.
Britain’s Best Customer in 1990s was India
Significantly, thanks to the selection of Jaguars and some naval systems and missiles, India became the largest customer for the British by the early 1990s.
The new avatar for the British now is the multi-dimensional BAE Systems which manufactures platforms and onboard systems for Army, Navy, Air Force, Space and Cyber. It has sold the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainers (AJTs) to the Indian Air Force and Navy missiles, onboard systems for various platforms, and recently M777 light howitzers from its US facility.
Hawks are now being made by HAL both for IAF and Navy.
(With inputs from Shweta Sehgal).