New Delhi: In a major boost to the Indian Air Force (IAF), the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared a nearly Rs 11,000 crore project of the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO) to develop six new Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft.
This is in addition to the nearly $ 3 billion deal for procuring 56 C-295MW transport aircraft for the IAF, which was also cleared by the Committee, to replace the ageing fleet of Avro 748 transport aircraft that first flew in 1961.
While the CCS decision on the C-295 was the budgetary clearance for the actual signing of the contract, the Committee has cleared the “Acceptance of Necessity” (AoN) for the DRDO project, sources said. This means that the DRDO will now be able to issue a “Request for Proposal” (RFP) for further work on the aircraft.
According to the plan, the six aircraft will be taken from the Air India fleet, which means they will be A-319s and A-321 variants. The original plan, which had also got an AON clearance, was to procure two larger A-330 jets, which were then to be modified and fitted with the AEW&C systems. However, now the six Airbus aircraft will be modified and the indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar will be mounted on them.
The DRDO will now issue RFP seeking bids for modification for the six passenger aircraft. Since Airbus is the original equipment manufacturer (OEM), the firm is the frontrunner to bag the contract.
Sources said that the majority share of the Rs 11,000 crore will go in for modification and setting up of the systems.
The actual cost of the aircraft is less and would come to about Rs 1,100 crore for the six since this is a book transfer within the government itself.
Known as the “eyes in the sky”, the AEW&C can detect and track all flying objects in the sky, including incoming fighters, cruise missiles and drones, faster than ground-based radars. They can also act as an aerial control room for missions while also keeping track of ships out at sea.
The six AEW&C aircraft will add to the existing fleet of the IAF, which includes three Israeli Phalcon AWACS on Ilyushin-76 transport aircraft, and two indigenous ‘Netra’ AEW&C aircraft on the Embraer aircraft.
The criticality of the AEW&C was felt during the aerial duel between India and Pakistan on 27 February 2019 and the current stand-off between India and China has also meant that the existing assets are being put to use almost round-the-clock and the need for more has been felt. Pakistan, which has six Saab 2000 early warning aircraft besides four others, had taken advantage of IAF’s changeover of the ‘eye in the sky’, when launching the attack.