India plans to launch a major Rs.10,500 crore project to indigenously develop six airborne warning and control system aircraft, which act as powerful “eyes in the sky” to look deep into enemy territory in modern-day warfare.
Defence sources said the project, which entails mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on six aircraft acquired from Air India, is set to get the initial approval or “acceptance of necessity” by the Rajnath Singh-led Defence Acquisitions Council.
The project, which will involve cost-sharing between the IAF and DRDO, is actually a recast of an earlier plan to mount the indigenous AESA radar on two new Airbus A-330 wide-body jets, which was hanging fire for the last five years. Under the project, DRDO will acquire six smaller A-320 variants from the existing AI fleet, get the airframes modified, and then mount the radars on them.
“This project for six AWACS or advanced AEW&C (airborne early-warning and control) aircraft will be more cost-effective than the earlier one of acquiring two new A-330s from the European MNC. DRDO has promised to deliver the six AWACS in a 4-7 year timeframe,” said a source. IAF currently has just three Israeli Phalcon AWACS, with a 400-km range and 360-degree radar coverage, and two indigenous “Netra” AEW&C aircraft. The latter have indigenous 240-degree coverage radars, with a 250-km range, fitted on Brazilian Embraer-145 jets.