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AEW&C - For Strategic Independence

Issue: 07-2012By Sucheta Das MohapatraPhoto(s): By Embraer

From what emerged at the seminar on Airborne Early Warning & Control in New Delhi; AEW&C systems will remain classic for many years to come

Airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) systems are expensive and yet a price defence forces have to put up with to get strategic independence. What emerged from the seminar on Airborne Early Warning & Control organised by Tangent Link in collaboration with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in New Delhi, was that AEW&C will not die in next to no time and will remain classic for many years to come.

The day-long seminar held on June 26 began with the opening address by Air Commodore (Retd) Jasjit Singh, Director, Centre for Air Power Studies, followed by an address by Rear Admiral (Retd) Terry Loughran CB FRAeS, Chairman, Tangent Link, who highlighted on the increasing role of AEW&C in humanitarian assistance, disaster relief, homeland security, besides securing the borders. Sharing his experience with the Royal Navy, he stated instances wherein there were fatalities because of the lack of technological developments like AEW&C. Delivering the inaugural address, Air Marshal (Retd) Vinod Patney, Former Vice Chief of Air Staff reiterated the necessity of the Services to “See Better, See Further, See First” and the need for a detailed contingency plan if there is an attrition of AEW&C system. “The AEW&Cs capability is great but capability is always finite and there are drawbacks.” The inaugural session ended with vote of thanks by Gurpal Singh, Principal Advisor and Head Defemce/Aerospace/Security, CII.

Session I: Indian Air Force (IAF) & AEW&C

The session on “Indian Air Force (IAF) & AEW&C” was chaired by Air Marshal (Retd) T.M. Asthana, former Commander-in-Chief, Strategic Forces Command. “The ability to look down is an advantage and one who controls electromagnetic power controls the airpower. Despite having both high level and low level radars, because of India’s extensive borders it becomes difficult to cover all.”

Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Arvind Agrawal, former SMSO, South Western Air Command, IAF, spoke on “AEW&C: A New Technological Paradigm in IAF.” He said, AEW&C accelerates “observation, orientation, decision, action” (OODA) loop. Swift tactical decisions can be taken the faster we gather the information, distribute, analyse and understand it. Stating that the Gulf Wars were a demo of the new technologies involved, he said that China has already announced a more technological force and India should also think on those lines.

Speaking on “IAF Operations Under AEW&C Environment”, Air Marshal (Retd) P.K. Mehra, former AOC-in-C, South Western Air Command, IAF, said that there are two aspects; technology and tactics. AEW&Cs development was started to fill the gap as it is difficult to provide radars for comprehensive low level coverage in a country like India with vast borders and especially mountainous terrain. AEW&Cs extends the eyes and ears of the commander. Stating examples of Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War, etc, he said that it has been proved that in a war the side which has AEW&Cs has been successful. “IAF has to develop tactics to fight in a symmetric AEW&C environment which will be challenging for both men and machines. AEW&C should be able to call up swing role fighters to take advantage of a fleeting opportunity to open up a new front. He emphasised on the need for a seamless radar cover with adequate overlap along the border and coastal areas so that redundancy is taken care of. “The rest of the country can be covered with both primary and secondary radars.” On the vulnerabilities and limitation of AEW&Cs, he said that these need protection from saboteurs; must be equipped with an array of passive and active countermeasures; and be able to operate with a robust data link with the ground-based sensors and aircraft of all the three Services. “Despite the evolution of a fifth-generation aircraft like F-35 having the capability of distributed aperture systems, AEW&C will still have a major role to play.” He concluded by saying that IAF must acquire AEW&Cs in adequate numbers and must have plans to induct them, as required.

Issues like the need to standardise doctrines and principles required for integration and the importance of conventional systems like U-2 which will exist, were taken up during the panel discussion that followed.

Session II: Naval Aspects of AEW&C

“If knowledge is power, the knowledge of enemies on the seas is significant sea power,” said Vice Admiral (Retd) Pradeep Kaushiva, Director, National Maritime Foundation, chairing the session on “Naval Aspects of AEW&C”. “AEW&C can control and contribute battle space management by state-of-the-art and cutting edge technologies. AEW&C aircraft are the best force-multipliers. The induction of P8I will take the AEW&C a full generation forward.”

Representing the industry were Captain (Retd) Tom Trudell, Manager, International Business Development, Northrop Grumman, and Bruce Wais, Business Development, Airborne Early Warning Surveillance Radar Programs, Lockheed Martin, who gave details of the E-2D Hawkeye system and the radar system on it, the APY-9 radars. He began his presentation with evolution from AEW to BMC 2 and spoke about the new Chinese J-20 stealth fighters. “Interoperability is the key to effective AEW&C. Emerging threats require revolutionary capabilities; a new air defence strategy, advanced cruise missile.” On the E-2D he said that it was designed for 21st century threats, having 360 degree situational awareness. It has capability for long-range detection, sea target tracking, precision tracking, expands surveillance, etc. E-2D is a state-of-the-art capability for ‘today and tomorrow’ and is designed for future growth. Bruce Wais spoke about the APY-9 radar and said that it provides maximum detection flexibility, enhanced sector scan, enhanced tracking sector, etc.

Yoram Savir, Director, Maritime Patrol Aircraft, Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) ELTA Systems, gave out details of ELTAs AEW&C solutions for maritime domain awareness. On the G550 conformal AEW, he said that the development on this business class platform started in 2001. ELTA’s third-generation of conformal airborne early warning and control (CAEW) systems, the EL/W-2085, is mounted on a modified long-range, high-performance and low operating cost Gulfstream 550 business jet. Likewise, he spoke about Airbus Military and ELTA C295 multi-mode AEW&C. He said it provides 360 degree coverage, has fully integrated tactical system (FITS) signal intelligence (SIGNIT), electronic scan and fast rotation, separate optimised radar and IFF arrays and is low in weight and high in efficiency. Savir informed that ELTA is proposing ELM 2022 multi-mode belly radar for maritime and air surveillance. It complements AEW radars and is mounted under fuselage. He said that while IAI is a platform house and ELTA a sensor house, both together are providing system of system 2022 AEW&C.