With the growing might of its neighbors in terms of force-multipliers and futuristic warfare techniques, India has decided launch a comprehensive Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) programme for the armed forces. The state-run DRDO is initiating ‘AWACS-India’, a project which will entail development of two AWACS airplanes followed by four more later.
The ‘AWACS-India’ project will be carried out by DRDO and its Bangalore-based Centre for Air Borne Systems (CABS). Under this ambitious project, 360-degree active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars will be mounted on large aircraft like IL-76, Boeing or Airbus. In the age of futuristic and network-centric warfare, the AWACS can significantly boost India’s air warfare capabilities besides combating aerial threats.
At present, IAF has three Phalcon AWACS mounted on IL-76 aircraft which arrived following a $ 1.1 billion deal in 2004. Due to a hike in costs, a follow-on order for two more Phalcon AWACS, with a range of over 400-km and 360-degree coverage has still not been finalized. According to reports, Pakistan has four Swedish Saab-2000 AEW&C aircraft with another four AWACS planes from China in the pipeline. As for China, it has around 20 AWACS.
Besides the launch of this current project called ‘AWACS-India’, IAF is also looking forward to the mini-AWACS project by DRDO. The mini-AWACS project envisages mounting of indigenous AEW&C systems on three Embraer-145 jets from Brazil. DRDO lab CABS is slated to receive the first Embraer in July and it will have modifications with antenna units and other structures mounted on its fuselage. All electronic systems, with a normal radar range of 250-km and 240-degree coverage will then be integrated.
The homegrown Airborne Early Warning & Control System (AEW&C) which is being built on a modified Embraer EMB-145 aircraft in Brazil made its first flight in December last year with about 1,000 mission system components provided by DRDO. The most critical mission system component is the AESA radar developed by DRDO. The radar can look 240 degrees within a short time and has a range of 350 km. It can track more than 500 targets simultaneously.
The advantages of AWACS or AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) system are multifold primarily because of its airborne radar system designed to detect aircraft at long ranges. The radar also enables control and command of the battle space in an air engagement by directing fighter and attack plane strikes. AWACS as well as AEW&C units are also used for surveillance over ground targets and can perform C2BM (command and control, battle management) functions. The radar also helps the operators to discern friendly and hostile aircraft.