Tribune News Service
Chandigarh, February 2
The Indian Air Force has drawn up plans to procure up to eight aerostat radar platforms to bolster low-level air and sea surveillance. The procurement process, which has been hanging fire for the past few years, comes in the backdrop of loopholes in land and maritime border management as have been revealed in terrorist strikes in Mumbai and Punjab.
An aerostat is an unpowered helium-filled balloon tethered at a certain height above the ground. It is equipped with surveillance and communication equipment. It can remain deployed for a number of days at a stretch, scan a wide swath of area and is particularly effective for detecting low-flying or surface objects, making it a cost effective alternative to aircraft in peace time.
A request for information issued by the Ministry of Defence a few days ago seeks a batch of four, six or eight aerostat systems, which can be deployed at an altitude of 15,000 feet and above, have network-centric compatibility so that they can be integrated into the IAF’s Air Command and Control System along with other assets and possess electronic warfare capabilities.
Procurement of Aerostats was part of a series of recommendations to streamline border management and enhance surveillance capabilities in the aftermath of the 1999 Kargil conflict. However, little has been achieved in this direction.
The IAF procured two Aerostats from Israeli firm Rafael at a cost of Rs 338 crore and inducted them into service in 2007 and 2008. A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) revealed that one of the aerostats was damaged in 2009 as standard operating procedures were not followed while bringing it down, rendering it non-operational.
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