Indian Air Force – Elta offering EL/M-2052 AESA radar for Tejas and Jaguar
The Indian Air Force (IAF), after years of opposing the
indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), now accepts it is on track
to be a world-class light fighter.
The specifications of the new Tejas – termed Standard of
Preparation-2018 (SoP-18) – were agreed in New Delhi on September 23,
between the air force and the Tejas’ designers and manufacturers. One
hundred SoP-18 Tejas fighters will join the IAF, starting 2018-19.
The key battle-winning capability in the SoP-18 Tejas is “active
electronically scanned array” (AESA) radar that Israel will develop
jointly with India. This was the clincher that made the IAF agree to buy
100 SoP-18 fighters from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), in addition
to the 20 Tejas Mark I already on order.
HAL also undertook to equip the SoP-18 Tejas with air-to-air
refuelling, a “self-protection jammer” (SPJ) under the fighter’s wing,
and to refashion the layout of internal systems to make the fighter
easier to maintain. Yet, it was the AESA radar that conclusively grabbed
the IAF’s attention. No Indian fighter has this capability yet nor does
any fighter with Pakistan or China.
AESA radar enjoys key advantages over conventional “manually steered”
radar. In the latter, the antenna is moved manually to let the radar
beam scan the sky for enemy targets. In AESA radar, the beam moves
electronically, switching between multiple targets so rapidly that it
effectively scans them simultaneously, even when they are located far
apart – in the air, on sea, and the ground. By switching its beam
rapidly, the “multi-tasking” AESA radar can simultaneously track enemy
aircraft, guide missiles to those targets, and jam enemy communications
and radar. In modern-day aerial combat, AESA radar would be a key
difference between defeat and victory.
Since India’s Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) cannot yet
miniaturise airborne radar for a fighter’s nose (it has built a larger
radar for airborne early warning and control aircraft), the Tejas
fighter was equipped with the EL/M-2032 radar, bought from Israeli
The impending replacement of this manual radar with Elta’s ELM-2052
AESA radar illustrates the symbiosis between Israel’s high-tech defence
industry and India’s equipment-hungry military, and how each sustains
Business Standard first reported the IAF’s decision to order 100
improved Tejas Mark 1A fighters (August 13, With Tejas Mark II years
away, HAL asks air force to buy Tejas Mark 1A, and October 2, Parrikar
cuts Gordian knot to boost Tejas line). Now, from HAL Bengaluru, comes
this account of how Elta’s ELM-2052 AESA radar was chosen.
The decision stems from the IAF’s ongoing plan to refurbish its
123-aircraft Jaguar fleet, upgrading those six squadrons of deep
penetration strike aircraft to continue in service for another 15-20
years. This involves spending $2 billion (Rs 13,000 crore) on new, more
powerful engines (the Honeywell F-125N has been chosen); upgrading 61
Jaguars with HAL’s vaunted DARIN-3 navigation-attack system, and arming
the fleet with lethal, smart munitions like the Textron CBU-105
“sensor-fuzed bombs” that India bought from the United States in 2010.
Then, in 2012, Elta sensed an opportunity and offered to equip the
Jaguar with its new ELM-2052 AESA radar. This would provide the Jaguar
real ability to beat off enemy fighters, even while on its primary
mission of ground strike. Says HAL Chairman T Suvarna Raju: “I was
delighted when Elta offered the AESA radar for the Jaguar. Elta wanted
neither development costs nor more time.”
Elta’s offer, however, came with the condition that at least one more
fighter in the IAF’s inventory should field the ELM-2052 AESA radar. To
sweeten the deal, Elta offered to work jointly with HAL on an improved
version of the ELM-2052.
This was a win-win for both Elta and HAL. “Look at the market HAL
provides Elta. The 61 Jaguars being upgraded to DARIN-3 would all be
fitted with the ELM-2052. At least 100 Tejas would get the improved
version, possibly with more to follow. Meanwhile, 50 IAF Mirage-2000
fighters are being upgraded, but with a manual radar that could become
obsolescent quickly. So the improved AESA could eventually equip the
Mirage fleet too, adding up to 200-plus radars,” says Raju.
Aerospace industry experts highlight other benefits for Elta. While
bearing the design and development cost of the new AESA radar, the
Israeli company would save a great deal of money by having
flight-testing done on IAF Jaguars. “Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI is
Elta’s parent company) and HAL have signed an agreement that says we
would partner IAI in developing the improved AESA radar for the Tejas,”
Defence ministry sources say the agreement specifies that 60 per cent
of the new radar, by value, would be manufactured in India.
The Elta proposal is typical of how Israeli defence companies do
business, explains a senior HAL manager. The Israeli Air Force operates
US-built F-15 and F-16 fighters, which come fitted with US-designed AESA
radar. All this comes to Israel free, as US military aid to a crucial
ally. That leaves little space in Israel’s military inventory for
equipment built by domestic companies like Elta. Yet, the Israeli
government insists on nurturing its defence industry, in case the
pipeline from Washington ever shuts. “To stay in business and to fund
high-tech R&D, Israeli defence companies like Elta rely heavily on
sales to India, particularly the IAF”, says aerospace expert Pushpinder
Illustrating Israeli capabilities, the Tejas Mark I was already armed
with an all-Israeli combination of the Elta EL/M-2032 radar, the Derby
and Python air-to-air missiles, and a data link that digitally
interconnected these. Indian test pilots say this was a “world-class”
air-to-air combat configuration. But now, the Elta-HAL AESA radar could
make Tejas a more capable air-defence fighter.