Ravi Sharma

India to sign deal for three $300-million, advanced surveillance aircraft

AEW&CS programme may be operationalised

in five years

DRDO laboratories involved in it

Bangalore: With the question whether the Air Force is still serious about the Rs 1,800-crore indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS) programme settled, India is to sign a deal with the Brazilian aerospace firm Embraer for three EMB 145 intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance aircraft.

The three aircraft together are expected to cost around $300 million.

Based on Embraer’s regional ERJ 145, the jets, which are one of the world’s most advanced and powerful remote sensing aircraft, will be used by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for its AEW&CS programme, serving as the ‘eye in the sky’ for the Air Force, detecting and intercepting enemy planes and missiles which are in flight, and far away.

The AEW&CS, working along with the three Phalcon Airborne Early Warning, Command and Control (AEWC&C) systems that the Air Force is acquiring from Israel, will become a force multiplier, filling gaps in the coverage provided by ground radars.

Defence Ministry sources told The Hindu that the contract would be signed later this month and aircraft delivery would begin in three years.

The DRDO expects that the AEW&CS programme will be operationalised in around five years

The AEW&CS programme involves using a flying platform and mounting sensors (radars) that look far and deep, providing C2BM (command and control, battle management) functions with data link for both tactical and defence forces.

While in the AEWC&C the lofted sensors transmit information to a ground-based command and control centre, in the larger and more expensive Airborne Warning and Control System like the AEWC&C, the sensors disseminate information to a command centre that is part of the flying platform.

Under the agreement, Embraer will not only supply the jets, which have several hours of endurance and in-flight refuelling, but also mount the radar on the EMB-145 fuselage, ensuring that changes in the aircraft’s technical specifications such as its aero dynamism and handling after mounting get recertified in the altered configuration. The Brazilians will also be responsible for the aircraft’s overall endurance with payload (radar) and a modification of the mounts that will receive the radar.

A number of DRDO laboratories are involved in the AEW&CS programme. The Defence Electronics Application Laboratory is involved with the primary sensors, communication systems and data link; the Defence Avionics Research Establishment with the self-protection systems, electronic warfare suites and communication support systems; and the Defence Electronics Research Laboratory with counter-support measures.

While the heart of the radar is from the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment, the responsibility for the overall integration of the systems, mission computer, display and data handling is that of the Bangalore-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS).

The CABS has tied up with the Hyderabad-based private firm Astra Microwave Products for development of trans-receiver multimodules.

The DRDO, which initiated talks with companies including Larsen and Toubro, Tata Power and Bharat Electronics with the idea of signing on a partner from the development stage itself for maintenance, upgrading and for taking care of obsolescence of the complicated radar system, has abandoned the idea. The hurdles: not being able to take manpower from outside the DRDO to work on the project, and the levels of commitment and materials.

Follow-up to ‘Airawat’

The AEW&CS programme is a follow-up to the Rs 60.80-crore ‘Project Guardian’ (later called ‘Airawat’), which ended in disaster in January 1999 after the HS-748 aircraft, on which the radar was mounted, crashed near Arakkonam in Tamil Nadu. All eight personnel on board, including four scientists who were critical to the project, were killed.