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At least half of the 123 Tejas fighters ordered by the IAF to have India-made fire control radar

The Light Combat Aircraft Tejas. Photo: Kamal Kishore/PTI

For long India’s indigenous light combat aircraft (LCA), Tejas, programme has been criticised, even mocked, because of its over-reliance and dependency on imported equipment, most notably an American engine and an Israeli radar. While the Tejas will still have to be powered by versions of the American GE F404 engine, there is good news as far as the airborne fire control radar is concerned. ‘Uttam’, the Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) multi-mode, solid state phased array radar, now under development by the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE), a laboratory of the Defence Research and Development Organisation, is all set to replace the Israeli Elta radar on at least half of the 123 Tejas fighters the Indian Air Force (IAF) has ordered.

The Uttam radar system will not only be a big boost to India’s indigenous defence technology capabilities but will also catapult India into the list of nations that possess the crucial airborne fire control radar technology. Uttam will also be a tad less expensive than the Israeli radars that are currently fitted on the Tejas and, according to sources, cost around Rs.20 crore a piece. Uttam has several advanced features, including the capability of tracking 100 targets simultaneously, while the Elta is capable of tracking 64 targets at a time. Uttam is also capable of taking high resolution photographs aiding in reconnaissance missions. It is designed specifically to provide information to a fire-control system so that incoming targets can be tracked and weapons can be directed towards a target. The major players in the market for airborne fire control radars include Lockheed Martin Corporation, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Saab AB, Israel Aerospace Industries Ltd., Raytheon Company, General Dynamics Corporation, Leonardo, BAE Systems PLC and Airbus Group.

Development of Uttam started in 2008, with the LRDE for long periods unable to keep pace with the exacting air staff qualitative requirements of the IAF. However, the LRDE has confirmed that Uttam has completed more than 200 hours of flying tests on a hired executive jet (where air-to-air, air-to-sea and air-to-ground modes were tested) and nearly 30 hours on Tejas test platforms. Officials from the LRDE told Frontline during the recently held Aero India show that Uttam was capable of helping launch weapon systems that were commensurate with a BVR (beyond visual range) weapon system and also beyond that range. Sub-mode functionalities of the radar had also been tested. What was awaited was joint evaluation and, thereafter, user evaluation and the navigation terrain avoidance, weather mode testing.

In recent months, the LRDE, in tandem with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), which manufactures Tejas, had begun integrating Uttam on two Tejas fighters, LSP2 and LSP3. Following the success of the flight trails, DRDO signed a memorandum of understanding with HAL for the manufacture and deployment of the Uttam on the Tejas fighters. According to sources, at least half of the 123 LCA Tejas fighters.