After a range of top fighter aircraft and other weapon systems, the US has now offered another sophisticated system to India, the Airborne Stand-Off Radar (ASTOR), whose capability has been described as "unmatched" by a former US navy official.
According to Admiral Walter F Doran, president Asia for Raytheon, Indian officials had already been briefed on "this latest radar, for highly effective 24-hour surveillance and target acquisition capability", India Strategic magazine reported in its latest issue. The system is being operated now by the British Army and Royal Air Force (RAF) in Afghanistan with five ASTOR aircraft and eight ground stations.
Admiral Doran is quoted in the magazine as saying that Raytheon, a military technology giant, had also submitted a formal proposal to the Indian government. He declined to give details.
First deployed in 2008, ASTOR can even detect minor variations in surface levels, like digging and filling of earth at the same place, and draw conclusions about activity. The system consists of an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar on board the Bombardier Global Express 'Sentinel' business jet. Indian officials first visited the aircraft displayed at the Paris Air Show in June 2009 and have followed up with discussions.
Admiral Doran, a former US Navy 7th Fleet commander, said that "the capability on board the ASTOR was unmatched", pointing out that although Raytheon did not make platforms, its combat systems were on board most of the US aircraft, ships, spacecraft and land vehicles. For instance, the AESA radar on board the Boeing F 18 Super Hornet, F 15 Eagle and P8 Multi-mission Maritime Aircraft (for the US and Indian Navies) is built by Raytheon.
The company has also built an AESA radar for F 16s, should a country buying it make the choice in its favour.
So was the Mini-SAR, or the Miniaturized Synthetic Aperture Radar, on board India's lunar mission Chandrayaan-1 which located ice on the polar surface of moon through high resolution imagery.
Raytheon provided the Mini-SAR to NASA, which gave it to the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for its lunar mission as part of their cooperative venture. NASA later sent another mission with a higher resolution SAR camera.
Admiral Doran said that ASTOR flies high enough - 40,000 to 45,000 feet - to cover a large ground area, and to be beyond the range of most surface-to-air missiles (SAMs). It is also equipped with a self protection suite to put out flares and chaff to confuse and deflect any threatening missiles.
ASTOR's main equipment includes a dual-mode SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar) and Moving Target Indicator (SAR/MTI), part of the AESA system. The aircraft can fly for nine hours at a stretch.
There are three consoles for monitoring the ground, two for image analysts and one for the Airborne Mission Commander, besides the pilot and co-pilot. Data from the aircraft is fed to the ground stations from where action against hostile targets is initiated if required.
The US has already offered to India F 35 JSF, F 16 Super Viper, F 18 Super Hornet and P8I aircraft and weapon systems.