India will soon join the elite group of countries by flying its own airborne radar for surveillance to detect enemy fighters and cruise missiles, as also track troop build-up on the ground.
“We will start flying the indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS) soon after its integration with the Brazilian Embraer jet for trials and induction in our fleet by April 2014,” Chief of Air Staff NAK Browne told reporters here Thursday.
The IAF plans to locate the first surveillance radar aircraft somewhere on the western border after its operationalisation.
To strengthen its surveillance system for operational requirements, the IAF has tied up with the state-run Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) in 2007 to induct indigenously built airborne radars atop three modified Embraer regional jets at a cost of Rs 2,157 crore ($399 million).
Designed and developed by the city-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) of DRDO to detect enemy aircraft, battle ships and terrain vehicles at long ranges, the airborne radar has an active electronically scanned array (AESA) atop the customised EMG-145 fuselage and about 60 antennae and sensors over its 4.5-tonne airframe.
“For the first time, the aircraft has air-to-air refueling system to extend its flying hours (time-on-station). The cabin has been reconfigured to have five operator work stations, four equipment racks, additional fuselage fuel tanks and five rest crew seats,” CABS director and AEW&C programme director S Christopher said on the occasion of handing over the aircraft to the IAF.
Noting that the radar system was a complex project, Browne said the programme was part of IAF’s long-term vision to indigenise its operational requirements and a starting point for more complex surveillance platforms.
“We will use the AEW&C system along with the (Israeli-built) Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) platform with the AESA mounted atop the IL-76 (Russian built Illyushin) to enhance our air warfare,” Browne asserted.
The IAF has bought three Phalcon AWACS on IL-76 for $1.1 billion under a tripartite agreement with Israel and Russia in 2004.
Embraer will deliver the second aircraft to IAF in December and the third in 2013 after full certification and testing.
“In the long-term, we will have 15 aircraft with surveillance radars, including five on AWACS India platform to meet the security needs of our large country whose interests extend beyond borders to Car Nicobar islands,” Browne observed.
DRDO director-general (R&D) VK Saraswat said the AEW&C system would put India into the elite group, which can develop and deliver such a complex surveillance platform.
“The world is watching this radar with bated breath as its development will benefit Embraer and DRDO to collaborate for producing a cost-effective and formidable force multipliers in the global market,” Saraswat, who is also scientific adviser to defence minister (AK Antony) said on the occasion.