Tribune press service
Chandigarh, January 4
With the surveillance equipment used in its imported aerostats facing obsolescence and maintenance issues, the Indian Air Force is studying the possibility of developing replacements via the native route.
Air Headquarters reviews Indian industries, research and development establishments, and academic institutes that have the requisite technical expertise and financial capacity as well as experience in the development and testing of related military grade equipment. aviation, IAF sources said.
In the mid-2000s, the IAF had purchased aerostats from Israel for surveillance of border areas. An aerostat is a non-motorized helium-filled balloon attached to a certain height above the ground and equipped with surveillance and communication equipment. It can remain deployed for days at a time, sweep a large area, and is particularly effective at detecting low-flying or surface-flying objects, making it a cost-effective alternative to airplanes in peacetime.
The Air Force has had operational and maintenance issues with its balloons, with the Controller and Auditor General having in the past taken the IAF to the test of deployment and how to handle balloons.
As early as 1996, the IAF anticipated the need for six aerostat systems to provide flawless low-level surveillance coverage over large areas. The purchase of balloons was also part of a series of recommendations aimed at streamlining border management and strengthening surveillance capacities in the aftermath of the Kargil conflict in 1999.
In 2015, the IAF again drew up plans for the acquisition of eight balloons. There have also been attempts to design and develop balloons locally.
The equipment that the IAF seeks to indigenize includes both the airborne segment which detects, intercepts and monitors electronic and communication signals as well as the ground segment which is intended for the command and control of the airborne platform, data analysis and processing, recording and disseminating information.
According to senior officers, aerostats are viable means for low-level surveillance in air and sea areas and a number of these systems are needed. With the increasing use of drones for border surveillance as well as smuggling, the constant surveillance coverage provided by aerostats would be effective in countering such threats. The military is also working on the use of mini balloons to keep an eye on remote mountain passes and runways.
The development of local surveillance equipment would also be an added benefit to current and future aerostats system development projects locally, in addition to having spillover effects in other allied areas, officers said.