DRDO To Go Into Phase 2 of Netra Project For 6 AEW&C Aircrafts
Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems are much needed platform by the IAF as they act like Force Multipliers. Ideally each Command of the IAF needs a Squadron of AEW& C comprising at least 10 aircrafts for 24 x 7 surveillance. Thus the total requirement comes to 5 x squadrons or around 50 aircrafts. Presently we have just two such AEW& C systems mounted on Embraer 145 Brazilian manufactured jets.
The IAF inducted its first indigenously developed AEW&C system, mounted on a Brazilian Embraer-145 jet, in February 2017, thus enhancing its capability to detect enemy aircraft and missiles. The Netra AEW&C system was developed by the DRDO and has a range of around 200 km.
Now finally, the India’s Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) has cleared a the development and induction of 6x new systems by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). The aircraft for these AEW&C for the Indian Air Force will be the Airbus 321 jets bought from Air India.
The project is estimated to be worth around ₹11,000 crore and will be more advanced than the Netra system.
The approval for the new AEW&C jets is in line with much sharpened focus on promoting self-reliance in the defence manufacturing sector. In the last one year, the government has imposed a ban on the import of 209 defence items that will be implemented progressively from 2021 to 2025. AEW&C systems are covered under that ban.
While the DRDO gets cracking to induct the above six AEW& C aircrafts at the earliest, Air HQ must finalize the aircraft, Airbus 330 should be ideal, for the massed production of next 42 such systems spread over a period of 8 to 12 years ie upper limit of 2035.
In addition to the above, IAF also needs a minimum of 18 Airborne Warning and Control Systems with full 360° coverage mounted on much bigger jets. The smaller AEW&C not only has just half the range but also covers only 240°. The IAF Presently operates three Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS) mounted on Russian IL-76 heavy-lift airc4afts. The system has a range of 400 km. The IAF needs such systems to cover the eastern, western and northern theatres during offensive operations. It also has to keep an eye on the Central Sector.
So IAF must finalize the aircraft for the 15 AWACS. Also it will be more prudent to have around 30 aerial refuelers based on the same aircrafts. In addition we need to have at least four Squadrons of the same aircraft for heavy lift duties. All these aircrafts can then be license produced in India with full technology transfer.
India has set aside ₹70,221 crore this year for domestic defence procurement, accounting for 63% of the military’s capital budget. Last year, the ministry spent over ₹51,000 crore, or 58% of the capital budget, on domestic purchases.