Thursday, June 17, 2010

Indian Navy Pursues Fixed-Wing Carrier AEW

The Indian navy is trying to move ahead with an effort to buy four carrier-based fixed airborne early warning and control aircraft, and a request for information is now on the streets.
The request for information (RFI) calls for aircraft capable of providing “airborne surveillance, detection and tracking of airborne and surface contacts and control.”
The navy presently operates a fleet of nine Kamov Ka-31 airborne early warning (AEW) helicopters. The comparatively limited range and time-on-station of an AEW helicopter, however, continues to drive the navy’s interest in a fixed-wing early warning platform. The navy has had aspirations to acquire a more capable AEW platform for the better part of a decade, but so far has been unable to secure a procurement program for most of the last 10 years. Some navy officials suggest that the acquisition is still not an immediate priority.
It is now six years since the navy first approached Northrop Grumman about the E-2C Hawkeye. At the time, the navy was working hard to identify a fixed-wing AEW platform for the Admiral Gorshkov (INS Vikramaditya) aircraft carrier.
In 2005, the company’s then-director of AEW programs, David Murray, suggested to the Indian navy that E-2C, with appropriate modifications, could be operated from the Gorshkov’s angled deck without a steam catapult, though the navy was not persuaded. Northrop Grumman has since been trying to push the E-2 platform as a shore-based asset, and, in 2009, obtained U.S. government clearance to pitch the E-2D Advanced Hawkeye.
With one indigenous aircraft carrier in the pipeline—and a second to follow—the navy is convinced it needs a fixed-wing AEW platform, if not for the first, then definitely for the second aircraft carrier.
Earlier this year, Northrop Grumman officials revealed the company was awaiting guidance from the navy following technical briefings. Company executives have also reportedly been in discussion with the navy about the feasibility of installing a catapult launch system on India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier, a suggestion already under active consideration by naval designers here.
While the navy has variously weighed the option of considering other longer-range rotary-wing airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) platforms, it has persisted with its view that its fleet of Ka-31s simply will not fulfill its early-warning requirements if it has two aircraft carrier battle groups in the coming decade. Doctrine published three years ago emphasized the need for AEW platforms with meaningful time on station.
The new RFI states that the aircraft should be capable of providing an integrated air and surface picture of the area under surveillance in adverse weather and in dense electronic environments. Additionally, it should be capable of being used as a command-and-control platform. The navy is stipulating the aircraft also have a limited maritime patrol and search-and-rescue capabilities.
In a mid-2009 meeting, the navy’s Directorate of Aircraft Acquisition internally discussed the feasibility of the Bell-Boeing V-22 Osprey platform as a potential AEW&C aircraft, but this did not evolve into anything concrete, and any plans to call for information were dropped. At the time, Boeing officials confirmed that they had heard nothing of the Indian navy’s interest in the V-22 platform, and that the company had not initiated any discussions.
The Indian AEWC aircraft project, currently under development by the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in Bangalore, will receive its first modified Embraer ERJ 145 later this year. The program has previously been pitched to the navy as a platform for a shore-based early warning aircraft.
With the first of eight Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft to be delivered in 2013, the navy is also in the market for six medium-range maritime reconnaissance jets. An evaluation program for the latter requirement is expected to begin this year.


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