India to fill gaps in aerial vigilance

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the gaps in Airborne Warning And Control System were being corrected.

Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the gaps in Airborne Warning And Control System were being corrected.  

With Pakistan and China rapidly modernising their air forces, India has intensified efforts to fill the gaps in its aerial surveillance.

After handing over the first indigenously developed airborne early warning and control system, Netra, to the Indian Air Force at Aero India last week, the Defence Research and Development Organisation has set its sights on a much larger and more capable system.

India is also in negotiations with Israel to buy two more Phalcon Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) mounted on Russian IL-76 aircraft to add to the three systems in service. Officials are hopeful of concluding the deal before Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits Tel Aviv possibly in June.

Addressing journalists after handing over the first system, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the gaps in AWACS were being corrected. Various programmes were being pursued simultaneously. “We have improved the serviceability of our AWACS by purchasing the shortfalls through emergency powers, so their availability is better,” he said referring to the recent emergency purchases of spares by the IAF for its platforms. The DRDO has The DRDO has planned to develop a long-range AWACS with a 360-degree coverage akin to the Phalcon. He said it would take six years to get the system “totally functional”.

The DRDO plans to develop two AWACS at first and then another four. “As the AWACS is much heavier, it needs a bigger aircraft. They would be based on an Airbus A-330. It has already been short-listed through a global process...,” Mr. Parrikar had said. The proposal is awaiting approval from the Cabinet Committee on Security headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

G. Sateesh Reddy, Scientific Adviser to the Defence Minister, said this created the technological base for electronic warfare in the country. “From now on, we are going to make more advanced systems with a longer range of 400 km and better coverage. The step after that is miniaturisation,” he told The Hindu .

The Netra AEW&C system would join the three Phalcon A-50 long-range AWACS mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft. These aerial radars, called eye-in-the-sky, are game-changers in warfare. The Netra AEW&C system has an indigenous radar mounted on the Embraer Emb-145 aircraft and three systems are being developed. The system handed over is in the initial operational configuration (IOC).

Carry out tests

The DRDO will carry out an advanced testing of the systems and avionics on the Netra and the final operational configuration is expected to be achieved by June. By then, the second system will also be ready.

The present system gives a 240-degree coverage of airspace. The three aircraft would be based at Bhatinda facing the western border. The Emb-145 also has air-to-air refuelling capability for longer surveillance time. This capacity will be tested and certified in the next few months. India had made similar attempts in the past, which ended tragically. The DRDO began a project in the 1980s to build an AWACS, later renamed Project Airawat, but it was cancelled after a prototype crashed in 1999, killing all eight persons on board.

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