India is “actively pursuing” the acquisition of ISTAR, a high-tech ground surveillance aircraft and battlefield support system, Indian Air Force Chief VR Chaudhari said on 8 october.
Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari’s comments indicate that the estimated $3 billion purchase of five Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft under the Indo-US Initiative on Defense Technology and Commerce (DTTI) is on the right track. ISTAR is a key force multiplier.
A prolonged silence since the deal was proposed under the DTTI in 2019 had cast a shadow of uncertainty. The Air Chief’s remarks provide clarity.
“We are actively pursuing the acquisition of ISTAR, drones, Counter UAS technology and strengthening our networks,” he said during his speech at the Air Force Day Parade in Chandigarh.
ISTAR combines Raytheon sensors and systems on a Bombardier platform. It is in service with the United States and the Royal Air Force.
The proposal involves the sale of an ISTAR aircraft by the United States to India and collaboration on the development of sensors for the replication of a similar capability in India.
Open source literature on the platform describes its capabilities in terms of “MULTI INT solution capable of mining image, SIGINT and tracking sensor information and delivering actionable information for tactical and strategic advantage”, using artificial intelligence and data analysis to process useful information received from all sensors.
“The advent of drones, swarm drones, hypersonic weapons and space-based ISR systems have added a new dimension to warfare. To effectively manage the entire spectrum, artificial intelligence is used for decision making and analysis of big data. I’m pleased to report that several projects are underway to use the potential of automation, data analytics and artificial intelligence to transform our operating philosophy,” said Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari.
“Our combat potential must be maintained over the years through the induction of 4.5 generation fighters, AWACS, AEW&C and air-to-air refueling aircraft. We have taken the necessary steps to ensure that the strength of our fighter squad remains at the desired level. The local development of six AEW&C Mk-IIs has been sanctioned and we are actively pursuing the acquisition of ISTAR, drones, Counter UAS technology and strengthening our networks,” he said, laying out his plans for Capacity Building.
The Air Chief also took the opportunity to reiterate the IAF’s commitment to the government’s Aatmanirbharta (self-reliance) program in defense production, recognizing that modern armed forces must be self-sufficient enough to ensure minimal disruption.
“With this in mind, Atmanirbharta and Make in India are a step in the right direction. Our native AFNET operational network, the backbone of all flight operations IACCS, one of the largest maintenance management protocols 5 e-MMS and the fact that we are completely paperless in our offices thanks to the application e-Office is a testament to our commitment to becoming self-sufficient. The LCA, ALH, Akash surface-to-air missile, Astra BVR, LCH and Brahmos are some examples of indigenous hardware that has already been introduced and operationalized. We have signed a contract for 83 LCA Mk 1As and are fully committed to the development of the LCA Mk-II and AMCA,” the Air Chief Marshal said.