Netra - Embraer 145 AEW&C India
Indigenous development of strategic defence systems and equipment is a long drawn process, beset with technological challenges and potential failures. This many a times attracts criticism of defence research in India. But some technologies are so critical that long delays and even accidents don’t deter scientists from pursuing them because such technologies are not available off-the-shelf. Air-borne early warning and control system or AWACS is one such strategic technology.
The ‘AEW&C India’ is the latest and state of the art Airborne Early Warning and Control system that can detect, identify and classify threats present in the surveillance area and act as a command and control centre to support variety of air operations. The system with its multiple Communication and data links can alert and direct fighters against such threats while providing “Recognizable Air Surface Picture” to the Commanders at the Ground Exploitation Stations. It also comprises of electronic and communication support measures that intercept and classify unfriendly radar transmissions and communication signals.
"AEW&C India" with Mission Systems developed by DRDO with modular design and seamlessly integrated on an Embraer 145 aircraft provides a very cost effective solution for C4ISR capabilities. It is based on modern state of art technologies and can be adapted to the needs of any country.
The indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) is an effort to evolve a compact state-of-the-art airborne surveillance system for the Indian Airforce to mark a significant contribution to Defence preparedness by the DRDO with CABS (Bangalore) spearheading the programme as a nodal agency. The indigenous AEW&C is a multi-sensor system on a executive jet aircraft providing for all aspects of airborne surveillance.
The Indian AEW&C system can detect, identify and classify threats present in the surveillance area and act as a Command and Control Centre to support Air Defence operations, like AWACS. The system with its multiple Communication and Data Links can alert and direct fighters against threats while providing Recognizable Air Surveillance Picture (RASP) to commanders at the Ground Exploitation Stations (GES) that are strategically located. The AEW&C system can thus support Air Force in offensive strike missions and assist Forces in the tactical battle area. Besides, the Electronic and Communication Support Measures of the system can intercept and gather ELINT/COMINT from radar transmissions and communication signals.
It began as Airborne Surveillance Programme with a modest budget and a new outfit called Aerospace Surveillance Warning and Control organisation (later named CABS) was formed in 1985, with Dr Ramchand as its chief executive officer. The project was initially named ‘Guardian’ but later changed to Airawat.
A number of DRDO labs were involved in the project. Two new Avro HS 748 aircraft from IAF were given to be fitted with rotodome, antenna, communications etc. Developing an appropriate rotodome was a major task as it involved detailed studies on load distribution, aerodynamics, performance etc. Initially only pylons were fitted and test flights were conducted. The first flight after fitting the rotodome was conducted in November 1989. Following development of antenna and other systems and their integration, the platform was ready in 1991.
After 220 sorties over land and along seacoast as well as demonstration flights during Aero India shows, the ASP suffered a setback in January 1999 when one of the two rotodomed aircraft crashed during its approach to INS Rajali near Chennai coast. The rotodome got separated in air and the aircraft crashed a short distance from the runway, killing four personnel each from IAF and DRDO.
The program was revived in 2002 with the IAF and DRDO interacting constantly to roll out a more advanced system. EMB-145 regional transport jet capable of carrying 3000 kg payload was chosen for AEW&C system and orders were placed in 2008. The first Embrier with India-developed rotodome flew in June 2011, following which integration of mission systems was taken up. Tests flights and air-to-air refuelling tests followed soon.
The Brazilian Emb-145 was chosen as the platform aircraft for the AEW&C system. The aircraft modified for the role will have an additional Auxiliary Power Unit to power the radar systems. The cabin of the aircraft is being reconfigured to house five Operator Work Stations, four Racks to hold the mission system electronics, additional Fuselage Fuel Tanks and five rest crew seats. The platform aircraft is also installed with an In-flight Refuelling system to facilitate extended surveillance operations. The Emb-145 AEW&C I, as the indigenous system would be called, is capable of climbing to flight altitudes from where the radar can cover from ground level to maximum required altitude to detect airborne targets at a long range.
The AEW&C system is a multi sensor airborne surveillance system. It comprises of Primary Radar (PR) and Secondary Surveillance Radar(SSR / IFF) as the active sensors onboard. The Electronic Support Measure (ESM) and the Communication Support Measure (CSM) systems will aid in identification / classification, based on the various emissions from the targets. The Self Protection Suite (SPS) will comprise of Radar Warning Receiver(RWR), which may be incorporated in the ESM system, Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS) and Counter Measures Dispensing system (CMDS).
The Primary Radar (PR), a major sensor of the AEW&C system, is a long range multimode radar. The major role of PR is to provide surveillance for air defence and early warning together with capability of aiding in tactical missions or in offensive strikes. It is a solid state fully active electronically steered active array (ESA) radar mounted on the dorsal unit of EMB-145 executive jet aircraft. The radar has monopulse processing capability in azimuth and elevation.
The AEW&C has a 'C' Band data link and a 'Ku' band SATCOM link for air to ground communication. The C band Data Link and the 'Ku' Band SATCOM link function as dual redundant system. The AEW&C will also have a Mission Communication System (MCS) consisting of a set of five V/UHF sets for air to air voice and data communication. The Mission System Controller (MSC) of AEW&C system will integrate all the sensor dat a and form system tracks and carry out other system control functions. The intercept control segment of the Mission System Controller (MSC) will carry out the battle management function and will guide the interceptors and vector strike aircraft in addition to carrying out the recovery operations. The Data Handling and Display System (DHDS) will display the Air Situation Picture (ASP) on Operator Work Station(OWS) and will provide all facilities for the operators to interact with the AEW&C system.
The Active Antenna Array Unit (AAAU) is a combined antenna system for Radar and IFF systems of AEW&C. The antenna unit provides fully Active Electronic Scanning Array (AESA) for radar and passive electronic scanning antenna for IFF. The array has in built controller unit with multiple units to provide beam steering of the radar and IFF antennas. It supports multiple interfaces.
The Identification of Friend & Foe (IFF) Mk XII(S) system comprises of three elements namely interrogator, Transponder and Combined Interrogator Transponder (CIT), The operation of IFF system is as per standards laid down in ICAO/STANAG 4193. Each of the elements of IFF Mk XII(S) system is designed with suitable antenna that includes different configuration of E-scan as well as M-scan with Mode S level 2 capabilities. Sufficient resources are kept as spare for futuristic up-gradation.
The Mission System Controller (MSC) is the nerve centre of the AEW&C system offering the command and control facility, sensor data fusion, identification and classification, and threat evaluation to arrive at the air situation picture, advanced threat assessment, interception control and guidance along with data storage by using compression techniques. MSC interfaces with the DHDS system for all operator control and display features.
The Mission Communication System (MCS) provides integrated communication management of multiple communication systems along with intercom facility to operator. A communication controller enables control of radios to setup their operations as per operator requirement.
In July 2008 India announced it would buy three Embraer 145 jets from Brazil - two for the Indian Air Force and one forCABS - for integrating the DRDO-designed and built AEW radar for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions for the Indian Air Force (IAF). The Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) System will be developed and supplied by the Bangalore based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) for the Indian Air Force (IAF) while the manufacturer will modify its EMB 145 to integrate the Indian design.
The Embraer 145 is a medium sized aircraft with an incredible amount of power. It is capable of reaching a long range due to having Rolls Royce engines inside. These provide 15% more power, enabling it to reach higher speeds and have greater cruise capabilities. Based on the proven Embraer ERJ 145 regional jet, the aircraft features an in-flight refueling system, SATCOM capability, a significant increase in electrical and cooling capacities, and a comprehensive set of aerodynamic and structural changes. These improvements will allow the installation of the advanced electronic systems currently being developed by India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO) with CABS (Centre for Airborne Systems) as the nodal agency.
The Original Probable Date of Completion (PDC) for the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) System was October 2011, later revised to March 2014.
The Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) is mandated to develop the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) System for use by IAF and other Defence services, along with all related systems, sub-systems & technologies which amongst others includes the design and development of the Primary Radar (PR) including the Active Antenna Array Unit (AAAU) for Airborne Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) Radar, Secondary Surveillance Radar (SSR)/Identification Friend & Foe (IFF) Systems, Electronics Support Measure (ESM), Communication Support Measures (CSM), Self Protection Suite (SPS), Data Handling & Display System (DHDS) , Mission System Controller (MSC), Mission Communication System (MCS) etc. and also look into all aspects of integration on board a suitably modified Platform.
In July 1985, a lead project office ‘ASWAC’ (Airborne Surveillance Warning And Control) was formed to (i) initiate work on 43 lead-in-schemes identified to generate necessary & sufficient database for taking up the development of the indigenous Airborne Early Warning (AEW) System (ii) Prepare a Project Definition Report (PDR) and (iii) Prepare a Statement of Case for sanction of the programme by CCPA (Cabinet Committee for Parliament Affairs). After successful completion of these objectives of ASWAC Project Office, CABS (Centre for Airborne Systems) was formed on 01 Feb 91 to act as a System House and an Integration Agency, utilising all available infrastructure and expertise in the country for the development of Electronic Force Multipliers initially focusing it’s attention on AEW/AWACS related technologies.
The Centre, as a nodal agency took up the development of the ASP (Airborne Surveillance Platform), as a ‘Technology Demonstrator’ Program on a modified HS-748 aircraft. Though the Program suffered a setback and was short-closed due to a fatal crash in 1999, the Centre achieved many technological gains during development and demonstration of the ASP. The IAF and DRDO jointly agreed on the necessity to move ahead by gainfully utilising the competence, expertise and infrastructure built during the development of the ASP. Subsequently the charter of duties of CABS were revised and re-oriented with the AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning & Control) programme sanctioned on 06 Oct 04 to use state-of-the-art technologies configured on a regional jet class of aircraft complementing the IAF’s fleet of AWACS.
The two sides had been in discussion for some time. At the Aero India 2007 air show in Bangalore, CABS had displayed a model of its Electronically Scanned Array radar in the Advanced Early Warning (AEW) role fitted on an Embraer jet. CABS is a unit of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which had shown some remarkable successes [and failures] in the recent past.
The deal, reportedly for US$ 210 million, included a comprehensive logistics package that includes training, technical support, spare parts, and ground support equipment. Embraer will modify its regional jet aircraft, EMB-145 to carry the Active Array Antenna Unit (AAAU), developed by the DRDO, on the aircraft's fuselage.
The IAF already had three AWACs fitted with highly potent Israeli Phalcon radars on board the Russian IL 76 aircraft. The Embarer AEWs would supplement them for shorter range missions. Both the Phalcon and DRDO units are capable of detecting aircraft and cruise or ballistic missiles, and give timely information to the ground and airborne units for counter-offensive. Both the aircraft would do surveillance over land, air and sea for oncoming threats, and direct appropriate action from warfighters to counter them.
On December 6, 2011 Embraer performed the maiden flight of the first of three EMB 145 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft ordered by the Indian government. The flight was well performed and all planned tests were successfully achieved. It tooked place at Embraer’s headquarters, in São José do Campos. “This flight concludes another important phase in this program and starts the flight test campaign,” said Eduardo Bonini Santos Pinto, Senior Vice President Operations & COO – Embraer Defense and Security. “We are moving toward delivery of the first aircraft during the first half 2012.”
On August 16, 2012 Embraer Defense and Security delivered the first EMB 145 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) class of aircraft to the Government of India, in a ceremony held at Embraer’s headquarters in São José dos Campos, Brazil. The delivery follows successful completion of ground and flight tests of the aircraft which met operational targets established by both Embraer and Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) of Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). Later on the aircraft will be delivered to the Indian Air Force after integration of missions systems of DRDO by CABS in India. The various sub-systems of the AEW&C Mission system were integrated into the 'modified green' aircraft by DRDO in Brazil. The AEW&C system comprises many sub-systems like Radar and communication links that are being designed and developed by DRDO.
DRDO had been experimenting with AEW capability for some time. Its one experimental system, based on an Avro HS 748 propeller-driven aircraft, crashed a few years earlier, apparently due to the mismatch between a relatively weak platform and the ISR radar equipment. One advantage today is that electronics are lighter in weight, and more capable as their radar domes or receivers do not have to move from side to side or rotate, but just scan a given area with beams at high speed. DRDO scientists have built sufficient knowledge in electronically scanned array radars, and this helped in developing the indigenous systems.
AEW&C in Initial Operational Capability (IOC) configuration was accepted by IAF and inducted at the IAF in February, 2017 and has been deployed at IAF base Bhatinda for operational exploitation. During the period (January, 2018 – March, 2019), Acceptance Test of AEW&C Phase-I induction of AEW&C Aircraft #1135 was completed. A total of 153 sorties for a total duration of 338 hours 45 minutes were completed including 69 mission sorties for a duration of 174 hours. The system has been formally inducted into IAF under IOC configuration in September, 2018.
During February, 2018, testing and performance optimization in the presence of multiple radars was carried out on ground for indigenous ESM system for EMB aircraft. System installation, integration and ground testing on aircraft were carried out and flight clearance was obtained. Two sorties were conducted and analysis of the test results is in progress. AEW&C aircraft participated in Republic Day fly-past & also participated in Aero India 2019. Apex Board has accepted that programme mandate was met and recommended for technical closure. The system called Netra which was inducted into the armed forces played a ‘behind the scene’ role in the much talked about Balkot surgical strikes in February 2019. While it was reported that the mission was carried out by strike aircraft Mirage 2000 with a couple of Su-30MkI providing cover during the pre-dawn aerial attack and the retaliatory operation next day when F-16 combat jets of Pakistan Air Force attempted to violate the Indian airspace, it was the indigenous AEW&C which alerted MiG-21s and other fighters on air patrol about F-16s, resulting in a dog fight between the MiG-21 and F-16.
By 2019 the IAF had two indigenous AEW&C aircraft in its fleet, and has placed an order for three more with DRDO. Another system tailor-made for the Indian Navy and Coast Guard for maritime operations in being designed by the Bangalore-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS).
India is only the fourth country in the world to have developed this advanced system, popularly known as the ‘Eye-in-the-sky’, for its ability to detect enemy aircraft soon after they are air borne with the help of a radar on-board the aircraft although it is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. While patrolling the sky at a distance of 300 kilo meters from the border, it can alert air force bases to launch interception missions, and guide the IAF jets in the event of a dog fight
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