Aviation Research Centre

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The Aviation Research Centre (ARC) is a part of the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW) of the Cabinet Secretariat, India. The first head of the ARC was R. N. Kao, the legendary founding chief of R&AW. Over the years the ARC has grown into a large operation and flies a large and varied fleet that till recently included the high-flying Mach 3 capable MIG-25.

Inventory[edit]

From its humble origin consisting of Helio Twin Courier Courier loaned from the USAF, ARC today boasts of having fixed-wing transport aircraft like Russian IL-76s and AN-32s. It also has General Dynamics Gulfstream III and upgraded Gulfstream IV jets. The helicopter inventory comprises Russian Mi-8s and a mix of locally built Cheetahs (modified French Alouette IIs) and Chetaks (Alouette IIIs). The weapon of choice for ARC was the MIG-25 (also christened as Foxbat by NATO) which was used for high altitude reconnaissance (the plane was decommissioned in 2006 and is no longer in service). Rumors abound that the second strike capability of India vests on the ARC. ARC is also believed to be the first wing of Indian intelligence agencies to induct the indigenously built 'Pilotless Target Aircraft' (PTA) Lakshya. Lakshya is equipped with advanced support system to help it perform tactful aerial exploration in the battlefield, including target acquisition. The 6-foot-long (1.8 m) Lakshya is fitted with a digitally controlled engine that can be operated from the ground using a remote. Lakshya had been designed by Aeronautical Development Establishment, Bangalore. Lakshya is a surface/ship launched high subsonic reusable aerial target system, remotely piloted from ground. It provides training to the gun and missile crew and to air defence pilots for weapon engagement.

Bases[edit]

Although highly secretive in its operation it is believed that there are five R&AW Aviation Research Centre operating bases:[1] at Charbatia Air Base in Cuttack being the largest; at Sarsawa Air Base near Saharanpur on the Uttar Pradesh-Haryana border; Dum Duma Air Base near Tinsukia in Assam; at the Palam Air Base in Delhi; and at the Farkhor Air Base, the only Indian military base situated in a foreign country, at Farkhor/Ayni in Tajikistan.[2]

Function[edit]

Cameras of MiG-25RB for aerial surveillance

Aerial surveillance, SIGINT operations, photo reconnaissance flights (PHOTINT),[3] monitoring of borders, imagery intelligence (IMINT)[4] are the main functions of the Aviation Research Centre (ARC). The aircraft are fitted with state-of-the-art electronic surveillance equipment and long range cameras capable of taking pictures of targets from very high altitudes. ARC also takes the responsibility along with the IAF to transport Special Frontier Force (SFF) commandos from their trans-location at Sarsawa, 250 km north of New Delhi, though the SFF's own base is in Chakrata in Uttarakhand (UK) state.

Kargil War[edit]

In 1999 during the Kargil War, after the Pakistani intrusion was detected, ARC was tasked to check if the Pakistanis had indeed crossed the Line of Control to the Indian side and violated the border agreement.[5] A number of missions were flown by the ARC on request from the Indian Army and the PMO. Senior officials of the Indian armed forces including the Chief of Air Staff and Chief of Army staff highly commended the work done by ARC, quoting "The electronic and optical information provided by the ARC before and during the actual operations was of immense value to the conduct of air strikes." [6] Also the K. Subrahmanyam committee report into the Kargil war observed that "No intelligence failures had been attributed on account of functioning of RAW and ARC. However, certain equipment inadequacies were highlighted such as satellite imagery and UAVs".[7]

Controversies[edit]

An armoured personnel carrier (BMP) being loaded on an IL-76 at Ladakh

ARC is blamed by many for its failure to monitor and detect the intrusion by Pakistan in Kargil. There has been even rumors about possible split of ARC from R&AW.[8] Moreover, turf battles between the civilian and military intelligence agencies, which had intensified following feeble attempts to revamp the country's information gathering capabilities five years ago, led to difficulties in close cooperation or information sharing between R&AW and the Intelligence Bureau.[9] There have also been reports [10] of turf wars with the newly set up National Technical Research Organisation over airborne intelligence and satellite imagery.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

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