Electronic intel capabilities would help Air Force ’get her act together’

NEW DELHI — Aimed at countering a perceived threat from China, India is seeking to acquire seven aircraft with signals intelligence and communication-jamming capabilities with a budget of about $570 million.

“The requirement is for aircraft to carry out a unique list of missions centered around a two-front threat from China and Pakistan,” said Daljit Sigh, a defense analyst and retired Indian Air Force air marshal.

India’s global hunt is for twin-engine jets, and preference will be given to overseas companies able to provide custom, Indian-built electronic warfare equipment, a senior Indian Air Force official said.

”We need more airborne electronic intelligence (ELINT) assets, particularly to meet the Chinese threat as they are likely to extensively use electronic warfare and spoofing during any hostilities, and the IAF needs to get her act together,” said Vijainder K. Thakur, a defense analyst and retired Air force squadron leader.

The seven sigint aircraft will be operated by the Indian Air Force.

A request for information was sent to various foreign original equipment manufacturers seeking details of the aircraft and the signals-intelligence and commutations-jamming systems available, according to an official at India’s Ministry of Defence.

After responses to the RFI, a formal request for proposal will likely follow in mid-2018, with the expectation for a tentative product delivery in 24 months from the date a contract is signed, the MoD official explained.

The main competitors for the program are likely to be Israel Aerospace Industries; Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon, Gulfstream, Textron of the United States; Dornier of Germany; Bombardier of Canada; Dassault Aviation of France; and Embraer of Brazil.

“The main mission of these aircraft would be to map and update the electronic order of battle of the adversary at regular intervals during peacetime and in addition, degrade or disrupt the communication network of the adversary during hostilities. These aircraft are required to be networked with ground stations and other airborne platform for secure exchange of information,” Singh said.

The electronic warfare database fed from a ground station with the help of airborne an ELINT system is considered a key capability for the Air Force.

“Airborne ELINT has the advantage of being able to pick up radio frequency emissions from deep within adversary territory. Also, airborne ELINT can eavesdrop over mountain ranges such as along the Line of Actual Control on the Chinese border,” Thakur noted.

“Typically, if your database is good, the EW equipment on a fighter aircraft like Su-30MKI multirole aircraft used by IAF would be able to not only passively detect an adversary fighter but also identify the fighter type and thereby more effectively counter the threat. It’s even possible to identify the missile that has been fired at you,” he added.

The latest RFI would be the third of its kind. The first was issued in 2006; and the second in 2012 for nine aircraft. The latest RFI, however, involves additional requirements, according to the MoD official.