After PAF takes AWACS lead, IAF to induct 3rd NETRA AEW&CS which was with DRDO as Testbed

Drawing lessons from the Balakot air strike, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has identified a shortage of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to provide round-the-clock surveillance as a major deficiency, IAF officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The air strike and the aerial engagement that followed in February were discussed in detail at the recent Air Force Commanders’ conference.

“The biggest lesson of February 27 was the need to have a core of high-end fighters for short skirmishes,” a senior IAF official said. “If we had the technological advantage, we could have imposed costs on the adversary,” the official asserted, adding, “We need to undertake resource optimisation.”

For that, the IAF is banking on the soon-to-be-inducted Rafale fighters, the tender currently under way for a new fighter aircraft and the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) MK-2 that is being developed, even as upgrades to the existing platforms make up for the shortages in the interim. “We also need to get better propaganda weapons,” the official said, without elaborating.

Remedial measures

While aircraft induction is a long-term measure, in the short term, the IAF has identified AWACS, Software Defined Radios (SDR) and close-in weapons systems as immediate requirements. The process for their procurement is already in advanced stages. “We did not feel that we need anything new,” the official said, adding that everything had been thought of. “The process is on, that has to be hastened.”

Advantage Pakistan

Pakistan Air force operated 4 Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C along with one Saab 2000 in VIP configuration, One Erieye AEW&C aircraft was lost In an attack on Kamra airbase and two more were damaged but were repaired and put back into service. Down to three aircraft, PAF decided to procure 3 more Saab 2000 aircraft from former airline operators, later upgraded with Erieye radar system, which now takes the total strength of Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C to Six.

PAF also operates four Chinese made Shaanxi ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C) which makes total strength of its AWACS Aircraft fleet to 10, which is much bigger than AWACS fleet of aircraft operated by IAF which stands at only four.

In contrast, the IAF operates three Israeli Phalcon AWACS and two indigenous Netra Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Also, the platforms are not available all the time.

The IAF was now set to take the third Netra system (mounted on Embraer aircraft) from the DRDO, the official said.

The source said IAF is now taking the third Netra from DRDO for their use. Separately, a proposal for two more Phalcon AWACS has been in the works for a long time. There was progress on it recently and the proposal is now “pending final approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).”

A deal for SDRs has been signed with Elbit Systems of Israel and the process for close-in weapons is at the technical evaluating stage.

Six next-generation longer-endurance AWACS aircraft based on the Airbus A330 platform were proposed years ago and received approval and clearance in principle. They are awaiting a final nod from the ministry of defense. Larger and offering a higher operating altitude than the EMB-145s, the first two A330 platforms are part of the first phase of the program and will be fitted with an indigenous radar. Based on negotiations related to the first two A330s, four additional A330s are in the pipeline. Easwaran said work on “critical technology for the A330 AWACS had started,” and he hopes “it will be cleared in a few months.”

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