The Indian Air Force has an officially projected requirement for 15 AWACS aircraft. The current three Israeli PHALCON AWACS will be augmented with six indigenous A330-based AWACS with two additional jets as options, plus plans for two more PHALCON jets, making a total of 13 aircraft. The two Netra, when upgraded with the IAF’s stated improvements, will provide greater cover, though not the 360-degree cover the IAF wants from all fifteen jets in the class.
Initially, three Embraer EMB 145 AWACS aircraft were developed, with four-six more to follow at a later stage. The base aircraft for the remaining AWACS was undecided. In March 2013, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said the indigenous development of Awacs was envisioned to be completed in 84 months. The program started in late 2013 and was expected to be completed by around 2020, assuming there are no delays.
In March 2014 a tender was floated to global vendors for the supply of six airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system aircraft with necessary structural modifications, power and endurance adaptations and equipment installation or installation provisions for the Awacs. Though the type of aircraft wasn’t specified, India is looking at acquiring a platform that can support an Awacs antenna dome, which is about 10 meters in diameter.
The RFP stipulated OEM responsibility for design and manufacture of the 10-meter-diameter antenna dome pylon structure and installation, provision for installing external and internal elements of mission systems, power source and distribution circuits, structures for mounting the mission system, and installation of customer-furnished equipment, amounting to an additional 20 tons of weight. “Vendors willing to support the buyer in the installation of the mission systems on the aircraft alone will be considered” said the RFP.
The Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO), which is developing the radars and sensors, was looking at either the Boeing-767 or Airbus A330 as the new platform. However, vendors such as Ilyushin, Antonov, Sukhoi, Bombardier and Saab could also be in the running. The Boeing 767 had already been converted for Awacs in the form of Japan’s E-767. But production lines of the KC-46A tanker (based on the 767) were busy with the order for replacement of the US Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotankers, and it was not clear if aircraft could be made available from the production line.
The bids were opened on 15 July 2015. European consortium Airbus Defence & Space emerged as the sole bidder for the global tender for DRDO’s AWACS India program. The European player was the only company to have responded to the request for proposals linked to the project. Three years earlier the A330 was first chosen to meet the Indian air force's tanker requirements, with a planned acquisition of six of the type.
On display on the DRDO stand at the Aero India show in Bengaluru on 18 February 2015 was a model of an Airbus A330 fitted with a radome. Officials at the display did not provide any further information about the program. The requirement was for an initial batch of two aircraft, followed by four more. Options to increase this fleet size to 10 could be exercised at a later stage.
In March 2015 the defence ministry gave its approval for two of these aircraft from Airbus. If the contract was inked for the A330 as a platform for the Indian AWACS effort, it would be the first instance of the type being used in the AEW&C role. Airbus Defence & Space had been involved in jointly reviewing New Delhi’s indigenously developed AEW&C system with India’s Centre for Airborne Systems.
The MoD's defence acquisition council (DAC) chaired by defence minister Manohar Parrikar accorded ‘acceptance of necessity’ for the AWACS project which is the first step in the procurement process. The Manohar Parrikar-led defence acquisitions council (DAC) approved the building of two Awacs, which will involve mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on Airbus A330 wide-body jets, at a cost of Rs 5,113 crore. It would take at least 5-7 years to build the first two AWACS. The eventual plan is to induct eight such aircraft under the "Awacs -India" project. with an option of going up to 10.
India is planning to develop its own long-range airborne early warning and control system (AEW&C) in six years in order to fill the gaps in its aerial surveillance not covered by the recently developed Indian Netra system, Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar said 27 February 2017. The long-range AEW&C with a 360-degree coverage, similar to Israeli Phalcon system, will be developed by 2023 in order for the system to be "totally functional," Parrikar told the Hindu newspaper.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), a military research and development agency of India, is currently implementing several programs aimed at initial development of two airborne warning and control systems (AWACS), and then that of another four, the minister added. "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," Parrikar said.
The Indian Air Force (IAF) had 14 Russian Il-76 transport planes, with three Israeli Phalcon AEW&C mounted on them. India was in negotiation process with Israel to obtain two more Phalcon systems for the Il-76s.
On 26 February 2019, India deployed an indigenously-made AEW&C system mounted on an Embraer aircraft in the aerial strike against terror group based in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir making it the first time such a system has been used in combat by the Indian Air Force (IAF). The aircraft guided IAF’s 12 Mirage 2000 fighter jets used to bomb multiple camps operated by the terror group.
The C-295 tactical airlifter woul soon be manufactured by Airbus-Tata in India. Airbus C295 Netra on offer to IAF would have same Two radiating planar arrays assembled back-to-back and mounted on top of the fuselage in an active antenna array unit (AAAU) will provide 240° coverage but with improved capabilities, idrw.org reported. Airbus also has an Airborne Early Warning version of C-295 which has a static radar dome to provide a 360 Degrees coverage which DRDO is also ready to offer as a by-product of AWACS INDIA if IAF wants it aircraft in this package. DRDO had started testing static radar dome mounted on top of a building to test new radar developed for the AWACS INDIA program.
Starting with the Aero India air show in 2015 and at successive events in 2017 and 2019, a scale model of an Airbus A330 with a rotodome was displayed by the DRDO, indicating its preference for the European airframer.
The first ‘Netra’ AEW&C platform – based on Embraer’s EMB-145 – was only delivered to the air force in an initial operational clearance configuration in February 2017, followed by a second in September 2019. Due to “non-achievement of certain operational requirements specified by IAF [the Indian air force], there was time overrun of 70%”, a 2018 audit agency report stated, adding that the “selection of Embraer as [its] platform created design constraints and caused delay”.
In late 2019 New Delhi revived its moribund Airborne Warning and Control System India (AWACS India) programme, which seeks to deliver an indigenous replacement for the Ilyushin Il-76-based A-50Is now in use. Indian Air Force restarted its program to indigenously build six next-generation long-endurance Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS). The program based on the Airbus A330 platform was expected to induct two A330s fitted with indigenous radar in the first phase followed by four more additions in the future.
Ajit K Dubey reported 16 December 2020 for ANI that Government sources said that as per the discussions on the AEW&C Block 2 aircraft to be developed by the DRDO under a Rs 10,500 crore project, six aircraft would be acquired from the Air India fleet and modified to fly with a radar that will give 360-degree surveillance capability to the defence forces. "The six AEW&C block two planes would be highly capable than their predecessor NETRA plane and provide 360-degree coverage deep inside the enemy territory during missions.
Livefist learns that the A320 based AEW&C platform will sport a derivative of the dorsal antenna system fitted on the Netra jets, and not likely a radome solution as has been speculated since the news broke. This, however, is still unclear. In the words of a scientist familiar with the program, it will involve “trying past experience with additional features”.
State-owned Air India had been facing difficulties for several years amid fierce competition in the country's aviation industry. The burden of the debt-laden airline to the treasury prompted the government to decide to sell off the airline, but an earlier attempt to sell a majority stake in 2018 failed to attract a single bidder. The IAF in 2018 had asked the DRDO to ensure the AWACS platform delivered could also double as a mid-air refueling tanker, in which case the the larger A330 might make sense.
Air India had 127 aircraft as of December 2019, so the IAF faced no shortage of potential airframes. The bids for Air India officially closed 17 December 2020, with several companies hoping to take over the flag carrier, with bidders ranging from the original founders, the Tata Group, to a group of employees. The Tata Group stood out as the favorite to win any bid for the airline. Aside from having the most capital, Tata also has years of experience in the aviation industry as well as a historical link to Air India. With the refueling requirement deleted, the smaller A320 is probably a more sensible selection.
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