India is set to initiate a major international competition to acquire new age radars for its indigenous combat planes in the coming weeks, the winner of which is likely to gain a strong foothold for future domestic projects.
Sources have told ET that an expression of interest for a new set of AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) for the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk 1A is set to be floated shortly, with top global aviation firms expected to participate. The government had recently cleared an order for 83 of the LCA Mk 1A jets.
The competition would be the largest international contract for AESA radars that are the heart of modern combat jets. These new radars give much more range and engagement potential to fighters, enabling them to engage targets from a distance without getting detected. AESA radars can track and direct weapons to multiple air and ground targets simultaneously.
With India working on an indigenous next generation plane under the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), it is likely that the winning company will have a much larger order book, with the potential number going upwards of 200.
The first Indian Air Force aircraft with AESA radars will be the Jaguar fighter that is being upgraded to the DARIN 3 version. The first Jaguar with the new radar is expected to fly in January. The contract to equip 58 Jaguars with AESA radars had gone to Israel’s ELTA, making it the frontrunner for the LCA Mk 1A project as well.
There could, however, also be surprise entries into the Indian competition from the US, with Raytheon, which manufactures the AESA radar for the F/A 18 Super Hornet and the F 16 also showing interest.
While in the past, US firms had limited options to offer to New Delhi, with India now gaining Major Defence Partner status, transfer of sensitive technology and licences have been made easier.
The integration of an AESA radar was a key parameter for the Air Force to clear the order for 83 LCA Mk 1A fighters, after years of blocking the indigenous fighter on concerns that it would not be combat worthy.
The AESA will give the LCA an edge over similar fighter operating in the region that are equipped with conventional radars.
The LCA project took a minor hit earlier this month when Navy Chief Admiral Sunil Lanba announced that the naval version of the fighter is not suitable for aircraft carrier operations, necessitating an international competition for a new range of combat aircraft.