India plans to expedite the purchase of nine new special-mission aircraft for communications jamming, signals intelligence and surveillance for its air force.

The proposal, worth around $200 million, was approved over the weekend at a meeting of the Defense Acquisition Council, the top decision-making body of India’s defense ministry, an India defense ministry official says. The defense ministry will soon issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to buy the aircraft, the official says.

The acquisition would fill airborne special-mission requirements currently serviced by a small fleet of Gulfstream III SRA electronic-intelligence (elint) jets operated by the country’s external intelligence agency, the Research & Analysis Wing (RAW).

The Indian air force (IAF) requires seven aircraft to be hardwired for communications jamming, surveillance and target-towing missions (three with jamming equipment installed), and the other two specifically for signals-intelligence (sigint) duties.

Those expected to show interest in the IAF requirement include Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), Northrop Grumman, Boeing, Raytheon and L-3 Communications.

The IAF’s request for information, which was issued last year, had specified that the system needed to be based on aircraft powered by twin turbofan engines with low noise and vibration levels, with a hot-and-high capability in all roles, certified for deployments at air bases up to 3,300 meters (10,000 ft.) above mean sea level.

The RFI stated that all nine aircraft be based on the same platform, with the airframer responsible for integrating and certifying mission equipment.

The air force, according to the official, may be looking for a business jet platform with an optimum cruise speed of Mach 0.75-0.80 and a minimum range of 2,500 nm. “The [sigint] system must be a futuristic, state-of-the-art system using cutting edge technologies, algorithms and software,” according to the RFI. “The system must be capable of rapid system acquisitions and data processing with a high degree of automation. The system should be capable of transmitting data to [the] ground through data links.”

The new aircraft also needs to sport microprocessor-based high-performance aerial survey camera systems with camera magazines, gyro-stabilized mounts, cockpit displays and automatic GPS-controlled photo flight systems. For the jamming role, the IAF requires aircraft to have space to accommodate up to five operators with workstations and other related equipment.

Apart from standard profiles, the jamming/electronic countermeasure (ECM) systems on board need to be able to deceive adversaries by introducing false information into the enemy’s communications network and degrading enemy communications. The bidding sigint systems are required to consist of electronic support measures to intercept, identify, fingerprint and locate the source of electromagnetic emissions from radars, electronic countermeasures systems, IFF/SIFF (Identification Friend or Foe/Successor IFF) interrogators (1030 mhz), transponders (1090 mhz), Tactical air navigation/Distance Measuring Equipment interrogators signals (1025-1150 mhz) and communication signals.

These special-mission aircraft will complement AWACS and India’s indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control System.

The nine aircraft are intended to come as substitutes to the modified Avros and now phased-out Canberra fleet — a first-generation bomber aircraft used by the IAF in the early 1950s for bombing missions and information-collection before being grounded in 2007.

As border skirmishes with arch-rival Pakistan and China are on the rise, India feels the need to urgently ramping up its surveillance and interception systems, despite a cut in its defense allocation.

The defense ministry was forced to trim its budget in the last fiscal year to 1.78 trillion rupees ($32.8 billion) from the original allocation of 1.93 trillion rupees due to sluggish growth in its economy in recent years.

Still, Defense Minister A.K. Antony last week made clear that a cut in the country’s defense budget will not halt IAF acquisition programs. India has announced several large IAF acquisition projects, including the more than $20 billion effort to buy 126 Dassault Rafales under the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft project, and a program to buy Apache and Chinook helicopters from Boeing.

“The government is committed to the modernization of the IAF and funds are not a problem to ensure that it remains at the forefront of technology,” Antony says.

The government has allocated 2.03 trillion rupees for defense in the current fiscal year, a modest hike of just more than 5% over the last year.