It all begins with the Russian SAP51A jammer pod that Moscow supplied with the Su-30MKI. After grappling for years with the pod, the Indian Air Force finally in 2015 realised it simply couldn’t use them for two reasons. One, they were heavy — and when slung onto wingtip hardpoints, they cut into flying envelope like a butcher’s knife.
‘With the Russian pods, the Sukhoi is basically a transport aircraft,’ one of the scientists says.
The second issue is even worse. The IAF realised the SAP51A pod hadn’t been properly interfacing with the indigenous on-board radar warning receiver (RWR), therefore killing pilots’ chances to exploit both systems fully. While the reasons why the IAF took their time remains unclear (but at one level understandable), DRDO’s Defence Avionics Research Establishment stepped in immediately, offering to help. The result is the pod you see those three scientists standing next to in the photograph above.
DARE’s High Band Jammer (HBJ) pod begins dummy carriage trials in six months on an IAF Su-30MKI, with full integration within the year. By 2019, DARE has committed to seeing the pod become fully operational with the IAF’s Flanker fleet.
Significantly, the HBJ pod will be a fully indigenous one. A DARE scientist explains that the HBJ pod currently has three major systems: the integrated EW suite, the active array phased transmit-receive unit and the cooling system. While the first two have been rapidly developed in-house, the complex cooling system is in process, with DARE sourcing an Israeli system for the moment. The team says they’ll have a fully functional Indian cooling system on the HBJ pod before full integration trials by the end of the year.
Better still, the HBJ pod, the scientists tell Livefist, will spawn a family of EW sensors and systems for platforms like the LCA Tejas, MiG-29 and any other fighter the IAF chooses to operate.
The Indian Air Force, which has embraced the wares from DARE more than kit from most other DRDO labs is expectedly thrilled. An IAF Su-30MKI pilot at the show confirmed that the HBJ pod was a ‘very promising system’ and that ‘more than anything, it is our own in-house development, so I don’t have to run to the Russians if something doesn’t work’.
A DARE scientist associated with the project tells a familiar story: Russia’s unwillingness to share codes (or its insistence on an additional commercial understanding) that could have helped manage the interfacing issues between the SAP51A pod and Indian RWR better and faster.
Incidentally, the indigenous DARE RWR on the IAF’s Su-30MKIs will also be replaced soon. The lab is in final testing of an all digital RWR (the existing system is analog) christened ‘Dhruti’ that will begin ground testing in May this year, followed by a phased installation across the fleet.