Back in 2007, when the Indian Air Force (IAF) began work on commissioning its advanced landing grounds (ALG)—spread along the rolling valleys and hills in the mountainous and forested northwestern and northeastern regions of India, it soon realised that some of these ALGs, with modest upgradations, could also serve as peacetime locations housing dedicated intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) platforms on temporary deployments. The only item lacking at that time was the availability of high-wing STOL turboprop aircraft equipped with ISR sensors and mission management suites. Specifically, the IAF wanted a platform that could overcome the otherwise unmanageable clear air turbulence owing to mountain waves, low-level wind shear, and low clouds, and which could easily take off from and land on ALG located at altitudes of between 4,000 feet and 6,200 feet, and whose runways have a length of between 3,600 feet and 4,200 feet and a width of between 60 and 75 feet (which is half that of a normal runway), and which, unlike conventional airfields, are not equipped with stopways, overruns and undershoots.
It would now appear that the IAF’s prayers have finally been answered. For, on June 21 at the on-going Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, Airbus Military and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) decided to combine forces to jointly develop and market a new version of the Airbus Military-built C-295 platform fitted with a fourth-generation airborne early warning and control (AEW & C) system produced by ELTA Systems, a wholly owned IAI subsidiary. The primary sensor of this AEW & C platform will be a 360° rotating AESA-based multi-mode radar that will also be capable of conducting ground surveillance and real-time moving ground target indication from standoff distances. A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to this effect was signed at the Le Bourget Airshow by IAI Corp’s VP and ELTA President, Nissim Hadas, and Airbus Military CEO Domingo Ureña. The network-centric C-295 AEW & C is being designed to provide high-quality 360° surveillance for creating in real-time an integrated air, ground and maritime ‘Situation Picture’ and the electronic order of battle. A C-295 fitted with a rotodome demonstrator has been conducting flight-trials from Airbus Military’s Seville facility since June 8. Initial tests have shown that the aircraft is aerodynamically an excellent platform for this purpose. ELTA Systems and Airbus Military are now conducting engineering studies to integrate the mission suite, including the rotodome-mounted AESA radar and EADS/CASA’s seven-man FITS mission management suite, into the aircraft. In order to optimise the platform for operating in and out of ALG-type airfields, the C-295 AEW & C will come equipped with a chin-mounted FLIR. It will also house a belly-mounted radome housing a 360° rotating inverse synthetic aperture radar, which will perform ground-mapping and ground target profiling operations.
As per the IAF’s future force structure projections, at least six such platforms are required for supplementing the existing fleet of three A-50EI PHALCON AEW & C platforms. A follow-on order for two additional A-50EIs was placed by India’s Ministry of Defence with IAI last March.—Prasun K. Sengupta