India’s bold attempt for an indigenous Triangular Antenna Array AWACS on Airbus 330

After Pulawama attack, IAF carried out pre-dawn air strikes on terror camps in Balakot, Muzaffarabad and Chakoti, across the Line of Control (the unofficial border between India and Pakistan in Kashmir region) using 12 Dassault Mirage 2000 single-engine multirole fighter jets guided by Heron UAVs and an Embraer EMB-145 AWACS aircraft, various media reported.

The Embraer AWACS were deployed to help the IAF carry out surveillance on enemy Air Defence systems and warn the attacking jets to track any Pakistani fighter jets which could have been deployed to fend off the IAF Mirage planes.

Indigenously developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), the Airborne Early Warning and Control System Aircraft (AEW&C) Netra and Israeli Heron drone are believed to have played key role during the pre-dawn air strike carried out by the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets on Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist camps in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The Netra AEW&C system would join the three Phalcon A-50 long-range AWACS mounted on Russian IL-76 transport aircraft. These aerial radars, called eye-in-the-sky, are game-changers in warfare. The Netra AEW&C system has an indigenous radar mounted on the Embraer Emb-145 aircraft and three systems are being developed. The system handed over is in the initial operational configuration (IOC).

The present system gives a 240-degree coverage of airspace. The three aircraft would be based at Bhatinda facing the western border. The Emb-145 also has air-to-air refuelling capability for longer surveillance time. This capacity will be tested and certified in the next few months. India had made similar attempts in the past, which ended tragically. The DRDO began a project in the 1980s to build an AWACS, later renamed Project Airawat, but it was cancelled after a prototype crashed in 1999, killing all eight persons on board.

The Airbus 330 won a global tender to be the aircraft on which DRDO’s AWACS systems would be fitted. A total of six A330 aircraft will be secured for the AWACS.

The present one developed on Embraer-145 aircraft has 240 degree surveillance and a coverage area of 240 km but when mounted on Airbus it will have 360 degree surveillance with a coverage area of 300 km.”

Challenges could arise in adapting the current radar system and moving from a 24-tonne to a 200-tonne platform, with the radar expected to require more power and endurance. The Embraer Netra system employs a two-sided “sword” antenna array, whereas the larger aircraft would have a triangular antenna array.

Airbus has agreed to provide a platform with a fixed radome which will house a triangular AESA antenna array developed by DRDO that will offer a superior range and detection capabilities than the Israeli A-50EI Phalcon systems. DRDO also has offered Indian air force an interim solution and has proposed  Airbus C295-based AEW&C concept which will be based on Netra AEW&CS radar system but will be much cheaper to operate.

Grossly under-equipped in AWACS capability, the IAF presently operates three Israeli A-50EI Phalcon systems mounted on Russian Ilyushin Il-76 heavy-lift aircraft. While the requirement is for at least two more, the Il-76 platform’s reliability and spares are posing a problem. DRDO’s Airbus C295-based AEW&C concept remains in the initial planning stages and has not been formally proposed to the government.

China is equipped with better capabilities. As TOI reported earlier, China has over 20 AWACS, including the new KJ-500 ones that can track over 60 aircraft at ranges up to 470km, while Pakistan, on the other hand has four Swedish Saab-2000 AeW&C aircraft and four Chinese-origin ZDK-03 (KJ-200) AWACS.

Keeping this in mind, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), in March 2016 cleared building of two Awacs, which will involve mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on Airbus A-330 wide-body jets.

The estimated cost of this project is Rs 5,113 crore and the eventual plan is to induct eight such aircraft under the “Awacs -India”.

But this is going to take at least seven years to be implemented, if the DRDO sticks to deadlines.





Source:- Defence News

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