Ka-31 helicopter is intended for long-range detection of air targets of a fixed-wing/helicopter type, including detection at low altitudes, and over-waters ships, their tracking and automatic transmission of their data to the command posts. The helicopter can considerably increase combat mission efficiency of Navy ships, Army aviation and tank detachments by providing them with timely information about the actions of the ships, fixed-wing aircraft and combat helicopters of the enemy.
Ka-31 helicopter is developed on the basis of Ka-27 ship-borne coaxial helicopter. Under the transport cabin floor there is a compartment housing the support-rotating mechanism of a 6-m span antenna. To prevent the interference in the antenna all-round rotation plane the nose landing gear legs are retracted rearward into the cowlings flight-wise and the main legs are retracted upward. In stowed position the antenna is kept against the fuselage bottom. The search and attack equipment of Ka-27 helicopter intended for fighting against sub-marines is dismounted. Instead, a radio-electronic suite is installed for radar target detection, targets identification and transmission of the over-water and air situation data to the ship-based and ground-based command posts. Ka-31 is based on the ships and on the ground.
The KA-31 radar picket helicopter is intended to be used to detect targets flying at the altitudes lower than the flight altitude, and to transmit information from them to the ground and ship-based points of information reception, and also to light the above-water surface. The KA-31 helicopter being fitted with the complex of radio electronic equipment, provides for:
- detection and state identification of the targets carrying out a flight in the zone of sea and land;
- detection and state identification of the above-water targets;
- automatic determination of the coordinates and parameters of the movement of targets;
- automatic tracking and transmission to the points of information reception about several (up to 20) targets.
Installation of the complexes of radar, flight-navigation and communication equipment on board the helicopter allows to perform the main functions in the automatically controlled mode, while having on board the crew consisted of two persons.
The core of the on-board avionics suite is powerful solid-state radar. The radio-electronic package automatically controls the helicopter flight over the specified route in any weather and climatic conditions. When the radio-electronic package is on, the antenna is extended and the navigator has elected the operational mode, all further operations are performed automatically without operator interference. The navigator role is simply to control the systems operation and to duplicate target observation on the display screen.
The KA-31 helicopter has been created on the basis of the ship-based helicopter and may be used, due to its technical and operative performances, from the land as well as from the ship bases, at mis unprepared areas are used. To increase the flight safety in the conditions of icing, the helicopter is equipped with the rotor blade thermoelectric anti-icing system, engine air intake anti-icing system and crew cabin glazing anti-icing system. The blade folding mechanism allows to considerably reduce the overall dimensions of the helicopter at its storage in the hangars of ships and aerodromes.
The AEW helicopters are not very common in the navies of the world. They have relevance particularly where carrier born fighter support is available to counter the detected threat. The AEW radar necessarily have to be bulky and their bulk is normally accommodated in large fixed wing AEW (or AWACS) type of aircraft. AEW radar for helicopter, which is a much smaller platform, invoves considerable design optimization and tradeoffs as compared to normal maritime patrol radars. Taking these two factors i.e. small potential customer base and demanding design efforts it is appreciated that the AEW radar that has been acquired will not be outdated in the same time frame as other avionic equipment.
The Indian Navy has been trying to acquire organic Air Early Warning (AEW) capability for over a decade. The earlier attempts for procurement of Sea King 42-D helicopters could not fructify leaving a major gap in surveillance capability at sea. It was the experience of the Indian Navy that no aircraft manufacturer has the complete aircraft, which meets all the specific required systems fully integrated at the time of evaluation. The practice therefore is to evaluate the most critical areas and apply professional judgment in extrapolating the capabilities of the platform, systems, designers and manufacturers.
The Ka-31 helicopter purchased by India in 2001 was first flown in 1988 and had completed 600 flights by February 1996 when the evaluation team visited Russia. The team evaluated the helicopter with its radar installed and fully operational. Air targets were also detected and seen by the evaluation team. The Naval Staff Qualitative Requirements (NSQR) were formulated in Dec 1995. The performance evaluation was carried out in February 1996. The trial directive was issued to the evaluation team and the team was briefed by the concerned Directorates of the Naval Headquarters to check the helicopter as per these NSQRs during their evaluation.
An AEW helicopter is not expected to be significantly affected in its performance by change in environmental conditions from Russia to India.The Aviation industry world over follows the 85 per cent learning curve. The number of KA-28 helicopters manufactured will give a production cost of helicopter, which is vastly different and incomparable to the cost of production of four KA-31 helicopters. This fact was taken into consideration while negotiating the price.
The comparison between KA-31 and KA-28 helicopters based on their mere similarity in their airframe is not appropriate. It may be clarified that a clear perspective has been maintained by comparing the price of four KA-31 AEW helicopters ($ 92.40 million) with 3 Sea King 42 B helicopters ( UK pound 86.6 million).
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