An IAF Jaguar fighter being upgraded to DARIN 3 in Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Bengaluru
By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 25th May 18
Jaguar strike aircraft number JM 255, parked in a Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) hangar in Bengaluru, is superficially similar to the other 600-odd fighters in the Indian Air Force (IAF) fleet. In fact, it is unique in IAF history as the first Indian fighter to be integrated with an AESA – or active electronically scanned array – radar.
Ten test flights have been conducted since JM 255 first flew with the Israeli Elta EL/AESA 2032 radar on August 10 and pilots are pleased with its performance. If, as expected, the IAF gives its go-ahead, the Jaguar fleet will be the first of the IAF’s seven fighters to field AESA radar.
AESA enjoys battle-winning advantages over legacy “mechanically steered array” (MSA) radar. In the latter, the radar array physically moves, beaming out a signal that reflects off enemy aircraft.
In AESA radar, the beam shifts direction electronically, switching rapidly between multiple targets. AESA radar thus multi-tasks, tracking numerous enemy aircraft and ground targets and guiding missiles to them. Meanwhile, some of the array can radiate electro-magnetic pulses to jam enemy radios and radars. AESA radar thus multiplies a fighter’s combat capability and survivability.
“Elta is supplying the AESA radar at the same cost as it had contracted to supply MSA radars, three years ago. HAL’s facility at Hyderabad, which we set up to build the MSA radar, will now be upgraded to manufacture the AESA radar for the Jaguar”, says HAL chief, T Suvarna Raju.
Elta’s offer of its new AESA radar at no additional cost was a win-win: because it would be flight-tested on IAF aircraft, at India’s expense.
Further, with an AESA radar on the Jaguar, Elta hopes to be in pole position to supply another AESA radar that HAL is procuring for the Tejas Mark 1A, which is under development. Elta is competing with Thales and Saab for that order.
Elta’s AESA radar will be part of the indigenous DARIN 3 upgrade that HAL is integrating on 61 Jaguar fighters. Through successive DARIN upgrades – which allow Jaguar pilots to navigate hundreds of kilometres and strike targets with pinpoint accuracy – HAL has incrementally upgraded the Jaguar from a relatively inaccurate 1970s-era bomber to a highly accurate, multi-role combat aircraft.
Aerospace analysts underline the cost effectiveness of the Jaguar and Mirage 2000 upgrade programmes, compared with buying new fighters like the Rafale.
The AESA radar and DARIN 3 will complement other important upgrades the Jaguar is undergoing. As this newspaper reported on Thursday, HAL has been chosen to replace the Jaguar’s old, underpowered Rolls-Royce Adour 811 engine with more powerful Honeywell F-125IN engines.
HAL also confirms that the Jaguar’s obsolescent Matra Magic 550 missiles are being replaced by the longer-range, far superior Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM), contracted with European missile firm, MBDA.
Of the IAF’s 121 Jaguar aircraft, 60 are already in DARIN 2 configuration and will be upgraded only later. The remaining 61, which are in DARIN 1 configuration, are being upgraded to DARIN 3.
Since the IAF cannot wait for Elta to begin supplying the EL/AESA 2032 radar, the first 20 Jaguars will undergo the DARIN 3 upgrade with Elta’s MSA radar. The remaining 41 will be fitted with AESA radars, when they start being supplied.
Touring HAL’s hangars, it is evident the DARIN 3 upgrade is on track. The base lines have already been established in three prototypes – one strike aircraft, one twin-seat trainer and one maritime variant Jaguar. The first “series production” Jaguar has begun its DARIN 3 upgrade. Nine more are in line.
DARIN upgrades began soon after the first Jaguars entered IAF service and began being built at HAL. DARIN 1 took some workload off the pilot by introducing a “head-up display” and “weapons aiming computation”, in which the pilot was prompted when to release his weapons.
DARIN 2 introduced a glass cockpit, with digital multi-function displays (MFDs) and a mission computer. Weapons release became a computer-generated function, with the aircraft guided by inertial navigation, with corrections provided in real time by the global positioning system (GPS).
Now DARIN 3 introduces a full-glass cockpit with “smart MFDs”. For the first time, the Jaguar will have radar and an electronic warfare suite – including jammers to divert hostile weapons and sensors. An advanced Radalt (radio altimeter) tells the pilot precisely how much above the ground he is flying – crucial for low-flying fighters like the Jaguar.