IAF jets crash
File image of a bird-hit incident involving an IAF aircraft at Ambala air base | ANI Photo
Text Size:

New Delhi: Amid a recent spate of bird-hit incidents, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to start — for the fourth time in 10 years — the process of procuring bird-detection radars or avian radars by floating a Request for Information (RFI), highly placed sources in the IAF told ThePrint.

“We will have to restart the process of procuring the avian radars, but they will definitely be procured. Initially, we had few choices among the vendors. But now, there will be more choices with many indigenous players in the market,” a senior IAF officer, who did not wish to be named, told ThePrint.

The earlier tenders for bird-detection radars had drawn the interest of only three or four vendors.

The IAF has not released official figures for bird-hits, but the seriousness of the problem was acknowledged when Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Bhadauria said at a press conference Friday that the force was taking several steps to reduce such incidents.

It is estimated that bird-hits contribute to 10 per cent of all fighter jet accidents. Ambala, one of the most sensitive IAF bases, has seen five to six bird-hit incidents annually over a period of 10 years. Most of these incidents lead to irreversible damage to the engines of a fighter aircraft, which are worth crores of rupees.

The IAF currently relies on zone guns and firecrackers to scare away birds from the flight path.


Also read: Bird-hits — the new enemy IAF is struggling to defeat

We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.

Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.

SUBSCRIBE NOW


Past tenders led to nothing

The initial RFI stage of the process is followed later by a Request for Proposal (RFP). The first RFI for avian radars was floated in 2010, but the RFP had been withdrawn by 2011.

A second RFI followed, and the RFP process, which began in 2012, went on until 2015, with four companies in the fray — M/s OIS-AT, M/s Robin Radar Systems, M/s Data Patterns (India) Pvt Ltd, and M/s Axiscades Aerospace And Technologies Pvt Ltd. The plan at this stage was to procure 45 avian radar systems for Rs 250 crore — 39 for the IAF and six for the Navy.

However, this RFP was withdrawn too, and a fresh RFI was floated in 2016 with a new requirement for 3D coverage being introduced. There had been no progress since then.

IAF sources said the process got stuck at the scaling stage — where a service assesses why it needs a particular kind of equipment, how much of it, and at what cost. The scaling process is omitted if an urgent procurement has to be made.

“It (scaling process) depends on how badly the service needs that equipment,” an IAF officer explained, indicating that avian radars were low on the service’s priority list, and adding that they are yet to be made compulsory even at civilian airports.

However, Axiscades, which claimed to be the lowest bidder in the second RFP, had gone to the Delhi High Court, alleging that this requirement for 3D coverage was introduced only to benefit OIS-AT, owned by arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari. Bhandari, now a fugitive, stands charged for money laundering and for violating the Official Secrets Act (OSA), and his firm has been banned by the defence ministry.

Axiscades, which is said to be linked to BJP MP Rajeev Chandrasekhar, told the court that the defence ministry withdrew the RFP in 2015 in a non-transparent manner, and introduced the new clause to disadvantage it and favour OIS. However, the petition was dismissed by the high court, and later by the Supreme Court as well.

During the hearings on the matter in the Delhi High Court, the defence ministry had said the first RFP had been withdrawn.

In the Delhi High Court, the defence ministry had justified its decision to withdraw both the RFPs, citing instances of non-compliance on the part of various vendors.

Meanwhile, IAF sources said the 3D coverage requirement was only added after adequate study.

“The specification was included based on study. Any service would always like to go with the latest technology. It was a coincidence that another bidder had said it had the technology,” a senior officer said.


Also read: New IAF chief bets on indigenous fighter, trainer aircraft, rules out new foreign purchase


Why avian radars are needed

Former IAF officers elaborated on the necessity of avian radars for the service.

Air Vice Marshal Shankar Mani (retd) told ThePrint that bird-detection radars could play a critical role in creating a situational awareness about presence of birds, and act as a decision-support system for undertaking base operations and training requirements.

“The IAF undertakes several low-level tactical training missions above its bases, and armament training over air-to-ground ranges. A good bird-detection radar will be of immense help and a good aid in terms of taking a decision over launching or recovering an aircraft and determining possible window by providing real-time feedback to the team on hot spots and seasonal patterns, particularly in bird-infested areas,” Mani said.

“However, educating the local masses about environment cleanliness and limiting rapid habitation and industrial grow around operational airfields is an important task at hand for the district and municipal administration to obviate bird strike accidents.”

Meanwhile, Wing Commander Pankaj Gupta (retd) added that while it is not possible to get rid of birds, any information about them is vital to a pilot while in the cockpit of an aircraft.

“It is important because out of the several thousands of hours of flying by the IAF per day, pilots might be evading several bird hits. Nobody keeps a record of that. It could be an important device to warn a pilot in advance so that he or she exercises caution through alternate ways, so that a resource to fight a war is not lost,” Gupta said.

Wg Cdr A.R. Giri (retd) concurred. “Bird detection radars are the need of the hour for any air force. These radars would significantly reduce bird strikes and save the exchequer a considerable amount of revenue in the form of saved equipment and life.”

He added: “But air forces around the world  have a challenging task to deal with avian encroachment in flying airspace. The need is to identify the conflict areas and chalk out a coexistence plan.”


Also read: SAAB wants to offer Gripen at half of Rafale cost, with full tech transfer, local production


 

Subscribe to our channels on YouTube & Telegram

News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it

You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.

You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.

We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.

At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.

This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.

If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.

Support Our Journalism

3 Comments Share Your Views

3 COMMENTS

  1. I was at Air Force Station Ambala from 1962 to 1965 Baldev Nagar on the west of the airfield always created bird problem for flying At times flying was suspended due heavy bird activity Decades have passed situation has not improved around Ambala

  2. My father was the Station Technical Officer of Ambala Airbase from 1969- 1973. Even at that time bird hits were a problem. The IAF tried their best to educate the local population how to discard food waste. Our people have never bothered. They still throw the food waste in the open. God help this country.

  3. What about drone detection radars? Did not see that so far in news. After Saudi oil refinery and recent arms drop in Punjab with drones, IAF needs to atleast open eyes and procure systems that can shoot down drones.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here