Monday, 10 December 2018

Israeli radar means Tejas won’t have Meteor missile

MBDA, which builds Meteor, has ruled out integrating the BVR missile on Israeli radar (being fitted on Jaguar in pic)

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 10th Dec 18

On October 26, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) watched from the sidelines as Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) signed two contracts with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), which will condemn the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) to a marginal presence in the IAF’s future fleet. 

The contracts signed were for two major avionics systems that will determine the combat capability of an improved Tejas fighter, called the Tejas Mark 1A.  One was for the ELM-2052 “active electronically scanned array” (AESA) radar, developed by IAI subsidiary, Elta. The other was for Elta’s “electronic warfare” (EW) system.

Equipping the Tejas Mark 1A with Elta’s ELM-2052 radar will ensure the fighter never carries the world-beating Meteor “beyond visual range” (BVR) air-to-air missile. MBDA, the European consortium that builds the Meteor, has repeatedly told the IAF that it would only fit that missile onto a fighter with a European airborne radar. Choosing an Elta AESA radar for the Tejas Mark 1A, therefore, rules out the Meteor and, with it, any hope that the IAF will buy the Mark 1A in significant numbers.

Why the Meteor?

The IAF has ordered 40 Tejas fighters of the current Mark 1 version, but it believes their Israeli radar and missiles do not provide a decisive combat edge. In September 2015, the IAF, HAL and the MoD agreed on specifications for a new improved version called the Tejas Mark 1A, with five specific improvements – including AESA radar and the Meteor missile. Last December, the MoD sanctioned the purchase of 83 new Tejas Mark 1A fighters for Rs 33,000 crore (Rs 330 billion).

MBDA’s Meteor BVR missile has the matchless ability to engage enemy fighters 200-250 kilometres away, before the adversaries can fire their own missiles. For shooting down aircraft at closer ranges, the IAF wants the Tejas Mark 1A to also carry MBDA’s eponymous Advanced Short Range Air-to-Air Missile (ASRAAM). 

In 2017, the IAF issued a formal tender to HAL – termed request for proposal (RFP) – stipulating that the Tejas Mark 1A must have the Meteor and ASRAAM.

Why a European radar?

All through this year, the IAF has known that MBDA would allow the Meteor missile to be integrated only with European (or, conditionally Indian) AESA radars. Yet, the IAF remained silent while HAL’s tendering processes resulted in the selection of the Israeli ELM 2052 AESA radar – and the rejection of two European AESA radars offered by French firm Thales, and Swedish firm Saab.

The Thales radar and the Meteor missile have already been integrated into Dassault’s Rafale fighter, which the IAF rates highly. Likewise, the Meteor is already integrated with the Saab radar in the Gripen E fighter.

In making it clear to the IAF that selecting an Israeli radar would mean ruling out the Meteor, MBDA has written five letters to the IAF this year, explaining why it would only integrate the Meteor with European radar. 

A BVR missile like the Meteor must be tightly integrated with the fighter’s radar. At the time the missile is fired, its on-board seeker cannot lock onto the target, which is too far away. During the initial period of the missile’s flight, the aircraft’s radar tracks the adversary fighter and transmits directions to the missile through two-way data links. Only when the Meteor reaches a few tens of kilometres from the enemy fighter does its on-board seeker get activated and homes onto the target. Given the missile’s tight relationship with the radar, there is a need for deep integration and sharing of source codes.

In its letters to the IAF, MBDA has cited technology security concerns that integrating the Meteor with Israeli radar would endanger secret source codes and technologies. MBDA, a consortium of firms from six European countries, also believes getting clearances from six capitals would be complicated. 

In a February 19, 2018 letter to the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, MBDA pointed out that the Meteor “has already been successfully integrated with 3 major European platforms and sensors … The risks inherent to such a demanding Tejas integration programme will be significantly minimised by the selection of a European radar, similar to those with which we have already qualified Meteor.”

On May 17, 2018, MBDA wrote again to the IAF chief that, with six nations involved in MBDA, clearing the Meteor’s integration with a non-European radar would be complicated. “Therefore, from a purely technical point of view, and considering the required clearances, Meteor on LCA may only be considered with a European radar”, stated MBDA.

On May 29, 2018, MBDA wrote yet again to the IAF chief, stating: “As design authority and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) of the Meteor missile, we wish to confirm to you that integration of this missile can only be possible with a European radar and our proprietary data link.”

Ruling out any possibility of the Israeli firm carrying out the integration, MBDA categorically stated: “No other mode of integration is possible and any other suggestion from third parties is misinformed.”

In yet another letter to the IAF deputy chief on June 21, 2018, MBDA wrote: “MBDA will not be able to offer Meteor for [Tejas] LCA, if a non-European radar is chosen for that platform – we will not be able to gain 6 Partner Nation clearance. Furthermore, the integration of Meteor is only possible using MBDA’s proprietary datalink technology. No other 3rd party is capable of carrying out Meteor integration.”

Then, in response to an IAF query whether the Meteor could be integrated onto the Uttam AESA radar the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) was developing, MBDA gave conditional acceptance on July 13, 2018. Writing to the deputy chief, MBDA wrote: “integration would be perfectly feasible [provided] this DRDO ‘UTTAM’ radar would need to be shown to be completely indigenous.”

Making its security concerns clear, MBDA wrote: “Security concerns (for all parties) over the implementation, architecture and day to day operation would need to be addressed [and] the 6 partner nations would need to obtain access to full working prototypes (of the Uttam radar) before progressing to the next stage.”

Despite these repeated cautions from MBDA, the IAF and MoD allowed HAL to choose the lowest-priced AESA radar that could be integrated onto the Tejas. Asked how it had chosen the Elta ELM 2052 AESA radar for the Tejas Mark 1A and ruled out the Thales and Saab radars, HAL chief R Madhavan stated: “The contract has been finalised as per HAL's techno-commercial (procurement) procedures and the lowest bidder was chosen.”

The IAF and MoD did not respond to a request for comments.

In most fighter aircraft programmes, the airborne radar – which is key to the fighter’s combat capability – is chosen by the air force concerned, not left to the OEM. Yet, HAL was allowed to choose – a selection that could unknowingly leave the Tejas Mark 1A without a Meteor missile.

“It is almost as if there is a death wish for the Tejas. Now the IAF will fault the Tejas Mark 1A for not being integrated with the Meteor,” says a retired air marshal who closely oversaw the Tejas programme.

From HAL’s perspective, Elta’s ELM 2052 AESA is the logical choice of radar. The Israeli firm developed this radar specifically for the IAF’s on-going upgrade of 61 Jaguars. For that upgrade – which involves fitting AESA radar to enhance the Jaguar’s capability – Elta developed the ELM 2052 AESA radar at its own cost, apparently in the expectation that it would also find place in future Tejas upgrades. With the IAF poised to clear the Jaguar upgrade, the ELM 2052 radar could quickly go into production in India in an IAI-HAL joint venture.

A Jaguar fighter being upgraded to DARIN-3 standard at HAL. This includes integration of Elta ELM 2052 AESA radar

With the ELM 2052 AESA radar being built for two fighter programmes – the Jaguar upgrade and the Tejas Mark 1A – it would work out significantly cheaper than the Thales and Saab radars, making Elta’s price bid the most attractive. However, given MBDA’s concerns, that would leave the Tejas without the Meteor missile, and therefore without the IAF’s buy-in.

The choice of radar would not impact the integration of ASRAAM. Being a short-range missile, ASRAAM is guided by its own seeker from launch onwards, and so does not require integration with the on-board radar.


Unknown said...

This is an overly narrow view of things. IAF has 232 SU 20 MKI's that will also undoubtedly not be integrated with the meteor. Does that condemn them to a pripheral role in the Air Force's plans? If not its a strange argument to extend to the LCA. The LCA has many reasons why it might fail, and the top on the list won't be Meteor's integration.

Anonymous said...

Tejas Mk1 is integrated with 2032. It Must be much easier to upgrade to 2052.
All decisions have pros and cons. Need not be explained .
Let us be clear, MoD, HAL & IAF are now working together to quickly get improved Tejas Mk1 off the ground.
They are professionals and know what/why of the decisions.
Another bad political write up.

Anonymous said...

The only solution to this conundrum is to build an indigenous Meteor-grade BVRAAM. Make in India!

prateikf said...

Derby ER with a range of 100km could be installed on the Tejas instead of Meteor. No issue at all.

Anupam Das said...

Frankly when was Meteor make or break for LCA? DRDO Astra 2 and SFDR when it comes along, should be perfectly fine.

Anonymous said...

your analysis has flaws and I think you are looking to criticise everything and anything that is happening in defence field.
LCA is not a MMRCA with stand off capabilities - it is supposed to be Mig-21++. now it seems we want a mini-Rafale fighter jet as LCA mk-1a.
India needs access to technology which you have been championing for in your previous articles but here you are taking an about turn because the european consortium has asked you to do so.
Imagine if HAL had selected the european offer at higher price then you would have gone to town alleging scandal like in Rafale! We need consistency Ajai in your analysis!

Kartik said...

Rubbish argument for the Saab radar..Meteor was integrated with the Selex Raven radar on the Gripen E, not the radar that Saab built in-house, which was being offered for the Tejas. Stop this shameless pimping on behalf of European defence companies!

Anonymous said...

Mr. Shukla, Uttam radar is still on cards, Astra missile is being developed, Israeli missiles are also there and who knows American AMRAAMs would be integrated in future(They are already integrated with Israeli radars).. This sensationalism is not needed at all.

Ajay Singh said...

Tejas 1A is only a stop-gap. It has many shortcomings such as limited range and being underpowered. Its main utility seems to be to keep the Tejas program alive, host the development of indigenous systems and maintain a minimum squadron strength in the IAF as the MiG21s retire, and until the (hopefully) much more capable Tejas Mk 2 is ready and can be produced in large numbers.

Maybe the IAF thought that spending vast sums on a European radar and Meteor missile may not be worth the expense on the Tejas 1A. Also, it is unlikely that the Europeans would divulge much information on their AESA radar .... whereas the Israeli radar, developed for the IAF, along with the ongoing cooperation in missiles between Israel and India would perhaps allow greater technology accretion to HAL.

I would be happier if the IAF (notwithstanding the political shenanigans) pushed strongly for at least 2 more Rafale squadrons. The main thing with Tejas is to accelerate the development of the Mk 2 and to induct it in large numbers as a lower-cost, lower-capability (but adequate) fighter that can more than match the Pakistan AF and the bulk of the PLAAF's fighter line up. For the higher end of the threat spectrum we have the Rafale.

sohamn said...

This is too simplistic and didn't expect this short-sighted piece from shuklaji. I don't see any reason why Tejas can't survive without Meteor, infact ELTA's radar could be integrated to many including R77, Derby, ASTRA and even AIM-120. There is no dearth of missiles and in fact I would argue that we should not even consider Meteor since we should be using ASTRA.

Rahul said...

In about a decade every frontline fighter in IAF will have an option to be equipped with derivatives of current UTTAM and Meteor like AAM presently named SDFR.

So how can anyone be condemed, let alone Tejas family? In fact flexibility that Tejas family brings is unprecedented in IAF.

Anonymous said...

IN WHICH alternate universe Meteor missile comes with 250 km range ? its little over 100 Km.

also many other alternative like : Derby ER or even the Stunner !!! ( with 300Km range) can be integrated with 2052 AESA.

Anonymous said...

NSR says ---

This project acquisition looks more like going with Russian Igla close range missile deal...

Naturally, the French and Swedish systems will be more expensive and will come with caveat that India will be unable to absorb the technology for TOT … i.e. screw drive jobs...

On the other hand, Israelis are not that generous either with the Barak missile system LRSAM MRSAM, etc

However, India will get them quickly for Jaguars and Tejas-IA quickly from Israel or from Indian produced... I hope that they do full TOT so India can produce and maintain...

May be India will get a spare fighter from IAF to test Utaam and accelerate the path forward... No choice...

Very tough choices for India in many areas...

Anonymous said...

This is how strawmen are created. Much ado over nothing.

Satish said...

Agree with you fully. Make in India Meteor class AAM is the need of the day.