Navy blocks IMD plan for Chinese radar

Navy blocks IMD plan for Chinese radar

New Delhi: The India Meteorological Department (IMD) has been forced to look for indigenous alternatives after the navy, citing security, refused to allow the installation of a China-made radar on its land in Mumbai.

Commissioning the advanced-technology radar would have meant allowing Chinese personnel on the premises owned and operated by the Indian Navy.

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Because of the delay in installing the radar, which was to be set up at the Naval Colony in Colaba and primarily used to warn of cloudbursts of the kind that deluged Mumbai in 2005, IMD is in talks with government-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) to install its locally manufactured radars. IMD had rejected the BEL radars last year, saying they were at an experimental stage and not ready for operational forecasts.

IMD bought 12 Doppler weather radars on 30 May from Beijing Metstar Radar Co. Ltd, a 49:51 venture of China National Huayun Technology Development Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of China Meteorological Administration and US-based Lockheed Martin Corp. IMD is also buying 550 automatic weather stations and 1,350 automatic rain gauge stations as part of a Rs900 crore modernization plan to move into numerical weather prediction, globally used to give precise weather forecasts, as opposed to statistical techniques still being used in India for monsoon forecasts.

A navy spokesperson said the weather radar clearance was still being discussed, but didn’t indicate when a decision was likely. “There are government orders on such kind of installations and when certain companies are involved. It is an important security issue." Previously too, defence and intelligences agencies have raised objections to the presence of Chinese companies. According to The Indian Express report on 19 May 2003, the Chinese antecedents of Hutchison Port Holdings disqualified the firm from participating in key construction work at a terminal at Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust. Mumbai, being a port and a hub of international maritime traffic, is considered especially sensitive by the navy.

IMD chief Ajit Tyagi and ministry of earth sciences (MoES) secretary Shailesh Naik confirmed that the navy hadn’t cleared the radar’s installation and that talks were on with BEL to use their radar instead of the Chinese one. “Security concerns is one of the factors that has led to this delay. We are in talks with BEL to see if we can use their radars," Tyagi said.

Mint reported on 18 June last year that Beijing Metstar outbid BEL, which develops weather radars based on proprietary technology of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro), and Germany’s Selex Gematronik GmbH, for IMD contract to install the radars in 12 cities and key ports at Mumbai, Delhi, Agartala, Mohanbari, Paradip, Bhopal, Nagpur, Patna, Lucknow, Karaikal, Patiala and Goa. The radars, to be supplied, installed and commissioned by Metstar cost about $17.8 million (around Rs85 crore now).

The Isro radars, say experts, didn’t make the cut as there was a lot of room for improvement in their software. The plan, according to IMD, was to consider Isro radars for the second stage of modernization that would include installing 33 radars in other parts of the country.

“The Isro radars are very good," said P.S. Goel, former secretary, MoES, who was involved with the tendering process before he retired in 2008. “But the software wasn’t good enough for forecast purposes. So, we told them, then, that the radars would be tested for two years and then considered for evaluation in the second round of acquisition."

Tyagi said the Isro radars had “improved" and therefore were worthy of being used at Mumbai. He didn’t give a time frame for installing the instrument.

“If it’s a matter of security, the navy’s concerns are nonsense," said Goel. “There’s no way these radars can be used as bugs or any purpose other than forecasting."

Doppler weather radars have an edge over other radar systems. The radars the government uses provide information only on the range of a storm whereas a Doppler instrument provides data to accurately estimate an approaching storm’s centre and intensity, fixing its position and predicting its path.

“Now it’s DWRs everywhere. Nobody really uses ordinary weather radars," Tyagi said.