2019 a Landmark Year for Inductions

From a game changing missile-firing drone to an Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), key new weapons this year will give India more military muscle, and generate fresh options for the politico-military leadership to address threats. SP’s Aviation takes a sneak peek.

Issue: 1 / 2019By Vishal ThaparPhoto(s): By Dassault Aviation, IAI, PIB, Boeing, GA-ASI, UTC Aero, HAL
Omnirole Fighter: the first batch of Rafale aircraft will join the IAF fleet by September 2019

Heron TP

Widely regarded as a game-changer, this will be India’s first missile-armed drone. It will give India stand-off cross-border strike capability against adversaries, home in on targets like terrorist camps and bombard these remotely, minimising physical risk otherwise undertaken by soldiers. The Heron TP weaponised drones can detect, track and destroy targets, including mobiles ones, with air-to-ground missiles. These drones will give a new dimension to India’s counter-terrorism capability.

Heron TP

India is believed to have ordered 10 of these hell-wreaking drones for an estimated $400 million. This acquisition will significantly scale up not just India’s UAV collaboration with Israel but also significantly push up the stakes in the New Delhi-Tel Aviv strategic partnership. Reported to be in-the-works since 2015, the deal is said to have been finally clinched in 2018.

Agni-5

The operationalisation of India’s first Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), Agni-5, will demonstrate the increasing maturity of India’s nuclear arsenal.

Agni V

This will make the arsenal of India’s Strategic Forces Command so much more potent with an Inter-Continental reach for its weapons. The three-stage Agni-5 is reported to have a range above 5,000 km. It incorporates key improvements in propulsion, navigation, guidance and re-entry technologies achieved during the course of India’s Integrated Guided Missile Programme which started in 1983. The Agni-5 is reported to carry a 1.5 ton nuclear warhead.

Rafale

The Indian Air Force will get its first batch of Rafale fighter aircraft by September 2019. All 36 ordered are contractually required to be delivered by 2022. The Rafale induction will come 18 years after the initiation of process to get a medium multi-role combat aircraft for the IAF. This will be the IAF’s first new western fighter type after the Mirage-2000 in 1985.

The Indian Rafale will be armed with state-of-the-art weaponry including the Scalp - a precision, long-range ground attack missile, which will be the most lethal in the IAF’s armoury. It will also come with the Meteor, a beyond visual range air-to-air missile with an interception range of over 100 km, and reported to be the best in its class.

As many as 13 India-specific enhancements include helmet-mounted sights and targeting systems, cold start at high-altitude bases, radar warning receiver to identify hostile tracking systems, towed decoy system to divert incoming missiles. The French suppliers will provide industrial support this aircraft for 50 years.

Apache AH-64 E

Another game changer, the first lot of the 22 Apache attack helicopter ordered by India will be delivered by March. This is one of the most iconic symbols of American military might, and used to deadly effect in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. Widely regarded as the most lethal helicopter gunship in the world, 2,200 Apaches have been sold worldwide by the manufacturer, Boeing.

The Tank Killer: AH-64E Apache attack helicopter from Boeing

The Apaches for India will be armed with the Hellfire Longbow and Stinger Block I-92H missiles, night vision sensors and inertial navigation systems. In its notification to the US Congress, the Pentagon stated that “this will strengthen India’s ability to defend its homeland and deter regional threats”. It’s 30-mm cannon can fire 1,200 rounds in less than two minutes. It can also carry as many as eighty 70 mm rockets.

Apache, a “tank killer” is being inducted to play a decisive role in providing cover to advancing strike formations on the ground, and also an armoured gunship against heavilyarmed terrorists.

This “tank killer” is being inducted to play a decisive role in providing cover to advancing strike formations on the ground, and also an armoured gunship against heavily-armed terrorists.

The Indian contract provides for the option of a follow-on contract for 11 more Apaches.

Chinook CH-47F (I)

Chinook is the other iconic American helicopter which will be inducted by the IAF this year in July. Its signature twin rotors make this versatile troop and weapon carrier stand apart.

India seeks assets like the Chinook to airlift weapons such as the recently-acquired M777 Ultra Light Howitzer into distant mountainous battle zones. This artillery gun can be slung under this helicopter, and quickly transported to provide firepower support to troop formations.

Heavy Lift Rotorcraft: CH-47F Chinook, also from Boeing, will be inducted into the IAF by July 2019

India has ordered 15 Chinooks, and has the option for a follow-on order for another seven. This chopper has also been widely used in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations worldwide.

Big deals in the offing in 2019

Guardian armed drones

The US has offered at least 22 weaponised Guardian drones to India. The earlier approval was for the sale of 22 unarmed MQ-9B version of General Atomic’s Guardian surveillance drone for the Indian Navy for an estimated $2 Billion. Subsequently, the armed version is on the plate. The Indian Navy has reportedly taken the position that the cost does not justify buying an unarmed drone. Revised numbers are said to be under discussion.

MQ-9B SeaGuardian

This is being pursued along the Government-to-Government Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route. Its co-option of India under the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) has enabled the sale of long endurance and armed drones to India.

MH-60 R Naval Helicopters

As a consequence of an urgent operational requirement for the Indian Navy, a $2 billion government-to-government deal for 24 MH-60 R Seahawk multi-role helicopters is expected to be signed with the US before March 31, 2019.

MH-60 R Seahawk multi-role helicopters

The MH-60 ‘Romeo’ Seahawk, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and its Sikorsky unit, is a proven platform for anti-submarine warfare. A quick deal is reported to be in the works, as the Indian Navy wants the first lot of these helicopters to be delivered this year. The Navy is also pushing, under a separate ‘Make in India’ process, the acquisition of 123 multi-role helicopters.

Light Combat Helicopter

With Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) declaring the indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) ready for induction, the decks have been cleared for an early deal for 15 of these gunships. It is expected that two separate contracts to supply 10 LCH to the IAF and five to the Army could be signed at the forthcoming edition of India’s biggest biennial airshow, Aero India at Bengaluru in February. The contracts are expected to be worth 3,000 crore.

Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) in action

HAL recently disclosed a successful test-firing of the Mistral 2 air-to-air missile from the LCH, and declared all weapons trials concluded.