On 17 December 2020, the Indian Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) cleared armament procurement proposals worth 28,000 Crore. The most important amongst these proposals is the order for six Airborne Early Warning & Control Systems (AEW&CS). These AEW&CS aircraft will be developed by DRDO and will be mounted on the A-320 of Air India.
Reportedly, the Defence Ministry found this proposal more economic than the earlier offers. You may read a previously published Guarding India exclusive that predicted the need for these AEW&CS aircraft.
Airborne Early Warning & Control Systems is essentially an airborne radar system that is mounted on suitable transport or passenger aircraft. AEW&CS aircraft can be easily identified by the large round rotodome or a bar like design that house radar panels.
AEW&CS is considered as force multipliers and indeed are most prized possessions of any air force as they can track enemy fighter hundred of kilometers away and directs own fighters to intercept any aerial threats. It is due to these capabilities AEW&CS aircraft are at the center of modern aerial warfare.
Presently, the Indian Air Force has two kinds of AEW&CS aircraft. First is the Israeli EL/W-2090 Phalcon AEW&CS which is mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft. Phalcon uses an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) with a range of more than 500 kilometers. Phalcon AEW&CS is considered amongst the most advanced AEW&CS aircraft in the world not only due to its cutting-edge AESA radar but also other integrated sensors. Phalcon has state of the art electronic intelligence (ELINT) system and communication intelligence (COMINT) sensors.
Presently IAF has three Phalcon AEW&CS which were ordered in 2004. Besides this India has placed a repeat order for two more Phalcon AEW&CS aircraft. Thus, in the future, India will have a total of five Phalcon AEW&CS aircraft.
The second AEW&CS aircraft of the Indian Air Force is the DRDO Netra AEW&C that is an indigenous design. Netra AEW&CS aircraft uses an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar with a range of 300-kilometers. Netra AEW&CS has been developed by mounting DRDO’s AESA radar on Brazilian Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft.