Five years after the crash of India’s first indigenous airborne surveillance aircraft, the state’s Center for Airborne Systems (CABS) has announced plans to build three small Airborne Early Warning & Control Systems (AWACS) over five years for $435 million.
The planes will operate at up to 35,000 feet for up to seven hours, spotting 2-square-meter items up to 300 kilometers away. The planes also will carry a 300-kilometer Identification Friend or Foe transponder, GPS and inertial navigation systems, secure microwave datalinks, and data and voice radios.
CABS sources said the laboratory will develop the planes’ radar warning receivers, missile warning gear, countermeasures dispensers, and other active and passive sensors for air and surface tactical data and data identification and classification equipment.
The Cabinet Committee on Security is expected to approve the program next month, CABS officials said.
But they already have a prime candidate for the airframe: the EMB-145 made by Embraer, San Jose dos Campos, Brazil. CABS officials said Embraer has mounted AWACS radar from Sweden’s Ericsson, and the Indian Air Force has short-listed EMB-145 aircraft for its VIP aircraft fleet.
CABS scientists visited Embraer facilities in Brazil in July. India’s defense research agency, Defence Research and Development Organisation, is expected to offer Embraer a sole-source tender for three aircraft, a deal expected to be signed before December, a senior agency scientist said.
CABS also intends to invite defense electronics firms such as Ericsson, Thales, Paris, and Elta, Ashdod, Israel, to bid on advisory contracts.
The planes will help monitor low-intensity conflicts, such as the ones in the Kashmir valley bordering Pakistan and on the northeast border with China. They also will provide training for the Air Force pilots and specialists who will operate the Phalcon AWACS when they arrive from Israel, the CABS scientists said.
The proposed planes will be a more stable surveillance platform than the Phalcons, according to retired Indian Air Force wing commander Bhim Singh.
India’s Guardian AWACS program, later renamed AJRAWAT, began in the early 1980s. An Avro aircraft with 24-by-5-foot rotodome flew in 1990, and CABS was set up a year later to run the program.
Crash Forced Global Search
But the deadly January 1999 crash of a prototype Airborne Surveillance Platform dashed India’s hopes of getting a homegrown AWACS program and led to a global hunt for AWACS from the overseas market.
Early this year, India concluded a deal under which three Il-76 Russian aircraft would be mounted with Israeli Phalcon radar to be used as AWACS. The deal was signed early this year for $1.1 billion.