India has successfully completed modernization of 30 airfields used by the Indian Air Force, widening its operational footprint for all weather conditions all helped by secure communications, navigation aids, landing aids, direction finding instruments and automated air traffic management systems.
The massive US $ 8.6 billion dollar project better known by its acronym MAFI, or the Modernisation of Airfields Infrastructure, project was completed at the end of December 2019.
Tata Power Strategic Engineering Division (TPSED), was the lead Indian consortium which had foreign technology partners supporting as sub-contractors for the multi-disciplinary requirements of the project. The foreign suppliers include Raytheon of US; Northrop Grumman’s Europe Arm called the Park Air Systems, UK based Moog Fernau, Australian MTech Systems and Denmark –based Terma, among others.The TPSED has since then been merged with other companies of the TATA group to form the Tata Advanced Systems Limited (TASL).
What is MAFI and what does it do: The Indian Air Force and Navy have seen induction of modern aviation platforms and up-gradation of their existing aircraft fleets at regular intervals in the past. Need was also felt to upgrade the navigational aids and associated airfield infrastructure commensurately. This all weather operations as all navigational aids are of international standards and allow military and civil aircraft besides unmanned systems to operate.
The new equipment includes installation and integration of CAT II Instrument Landing System (ILS), coupled with a CAT II Air Field Lighting System. An Automated Air Traffic Management System and Distance Measuring Equipments (High and Low Power) to help pilots. A Doppler VHF Omni-Directional Radio Range (DVOR) and Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN) prove the secure communication.
How it started: It was in 2009 that India floated a global tender, The TPSED won the bid and a initial contract was signed on March 16, 2011 for modernisation of 30 airfields in five batches of six airfields each.
The first such pilot project was undertaken at IAF base, at Bathinda in Punjab, it got completed in March 2014 and the remaining 29 airfields spread across the geographical vastness of India have been completed in 69 months since then.
37 more airfields in future: The IAF now plans the second phase of the project to take up 37 airfields under the same project, widening its 24X7 operational foot print. These airfields include the ones operated by IAF, Navy, The Coast Guard and Ministry of Home Affairs. “A Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) has already submitted its recommendations. The case is at stage of getting a financial approval,” the Ministry of Defence told the Standing Committee of Parliament about doing the project at 37 additional airfields.
Post completion, all IAF airfields except Leh, Thoise, Kargil and Barrackpore would have night operations capability. However, limited night operations can be conducted at these airfields as well, using Mobile Airfield Lighting System (MAFLS).
Why Raytheon for this: U.S major Raytheon supplied a variant of its globally deployed AutoTrac family of air traffic management systems. The AutoTrac system also extends interoperability benefits with India’s civil air traffic system and will support use of common standards across IAF and Airport authority of India (AAI) operations.
Raytheon had upgraded AAI’s (Civilian) Air Traffic Control (ATC) system more than 15 years ago. All the long range ATC Radar systems in India are from Raytheon. Hence, the latest Autotrac system will integrate more easily due to commonality of equipment and systems.
India modifies Dornier to calibrate infra of MAFI : Chief of the IAF, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria formally inducted the Flight Information system (FIS) Dornier aircraft on December 31. The modified Dornier 228 aircraft have been acquired to undertake in-house calibration of Navigational aids available after implementation of Modernised Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) at IAF bases.
While the first aircraft was delivered in November , the second is expected to be delivered in early 2020. The planes are part of IAF’s 41 Squadron called the ‘Otters’.