Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Indian navy Mulls Land-Based E-2D



The Indian navy is reevaluating the design of its future aircraft carriers and showing interest in the U.S. Navy's Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (Emals), which is in development by General Atomics.

Emals uses a linear motor drive instead of steam pistons to accelerate aircraft for takeoff. India uses short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing (Stovl) Sea Harriers from its current carrier, the INS Viraat, which is near retirement. The navy has been waiting some time for the refurbished Russian carrier Admiral Gorshkov, now due for delivery in 2012, and is working with Fincantieri of Italy on two carriers.


"When catapult technology improves, we are looking at building conventional carriers with electric rather than steam catapults," former Chief of Naval Staff Adm. Sureesh Mehta tells DTI. With more than 7,500 km. (4,660 mi.) of coastline to patrol, experts say India needs at least five carriers.

For near-term patrol and force-projection needs, India is evaluating the Northrop Grumman E-2D Advanced Hawkeye. Discussions are underway following export authorization in August by the U.S. government to Northrop Grumman covering the latest version of the E-2.

India has a requirement for six E2Ds, which it hopes to use in surveillance sorties and antiterrorism patrols.

John Beaulieu, E-2 new business manager for the U.S. Navy, made an 8-hr. presentation in August to Indian navy officials who requested technical clarifications following a request for information in 2008. Northrop Grumman has been asked to supply a shore-based version of the E-2D, since India's carrier-based naval aircraft are not catapult-launched.

Shore-based operations may be the only way to go for the E-2D, as the navy has no carrier besides the Viraat. Sixteen MiG-29K fighters on order will equip the Gorshkov, which, when it arrives, will accommodate ski-jump takeoffs and arrested landings.

During his term as chief of staff, Mehta said the navy needed a robust overhead surveillance capability. India seems to be following the U.S. Navy's approach by ordering the Boeing P-8I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft to replace aging Tupolev Tu-142M turboprops.

India has also been interested for years in an aircraft that provides airborne early warning and battle management command and control. The E-2D, fitted with Lockheed Martin's AN/APY-9 radar, would increase the territory India monitors by 300%.

Critics say the E-2 has low endurance, a cramped cabin, is expensive to operate and designed primarily for communication gear that is unique to the U.S. Navy. "We have addressed the extended fuel range to give 8 hr. of flight time," says Beaulieu. "The only similarity to the E-2C and the E-2D is the shadow it casts on the tarmac."

Northrop Grumman has, moreover, signed a memorandum of understanding with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. to develop a "wet wing" that holds additional fuel and permits the aircraft to fly for 8 hr.


"The E-2D is designed for maritime operations and [its radar] has a unique capability against air and surface targets," says Beaulieu. A detailed life-cycle analysis calculated on flight hours using an E-2C indicates a cost of less than $3,000 per flight, he adds.

The interoperability of the E-2D with the U.S. Navy and NATO through data links is another advantage. "Interoperability is a very important aspect. It's fine to have this airborne early warning system up in the air, but if you cannot communicate with not only our forces, but our allies around the world, it doesn't do us, or [India], much good," Beaulieu says. "If India desires to be interoperable with the U.S. Navy and NATO through data link systems, this is the platform of choice."

The U.S. Navy wants Emals to replace large and heavy steam catapults. The trend toward heavier, faster aircraft will result in launch-energy requirements that exceed the capability of steam catapults. While the U.S. design might be too big for India, the launch stroke can be reduced and power supplies are modular. Electrical power would need to be added to a carrier with Emals, but high-energy-density flywheels will replace the low energy density of a steam accumulator.

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