The Indian Air Force wants to buy foreign AWACS aircraft while the country's Defence Research and Development Organisation is promoting indigenous development. (Agence France-Presse)
NEW DELHI — The Indian Air Force and the state-owned Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) are at odds over development of an airborne warning and control system capability, with DRDO promoting indigenous development of the radar system and the service wanting an overseas acquisition.
DRDO has floated a global tender to buy aircraft for mounting the homegrown radar so it is not put on hold by the next government, an Air Force source said. But since the AWACS radar only exists on the drawing board, completion of the program by the target date of 2020 is unlikely to be achieved, given DRDO’s history with high-technology projects, the source said.
The Air Force has an urgent requirement for 10 additional aircraft equipped with AWACS and does not want to wait for indigenous development. India’s Defence Ministry will be asked to cancel the program, the source added.
“The 10 AWACS are required for specific areas and will be part of network-centric operations, and are expected to be able to provide adequate coverage of specified areas,” an Air Force official said.
Currently, the service operates three AWACS, composed of the Phalcon AWACS radar purchased from Israel and mounted on Russian Il-76 transport aircraft.
Defence Minister A.K. Antony, who has always favored state-owned defense companies and DRDO, approved the AWACS program last year.
“With chances of the ruling Congress-led coalition government unlikely to win the [upcoming] general elections, the new government is unlikely to award defense projects to state-owned companies, including DRDO, ... as liberally as Antony.” said defense analyst Nitin Mehta.
The Bangalore-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CAB), a DRDO laboratory that proposes to develop the AWACS radar, last week floated the tender for the purchase of six aircraft with necessary modifications for installing the AWACS payload.
CAB officials say they need an aircraft able to carry an antenna that is 10 meters in diameter. However, the status of the antenna is still not clear.
A DRDO official said the proposed AWACS program is a spinoff of a homegrown airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system that CAB is developing for a modified Embraer ERJ-145 passenger jet. The proposed AWACS program will offer a system with 360 degrees of coverage, compared with 270 degrees for the ERJ-145 system, and it will have better detection range.
A DRDO official said the ERJ-145 AEW&C program is in progress. Integration of the radar, communications and control equipment is proceeding and will be followed by trials; all three AEW&C planes are scheduled to be operational this year.
The Air Force source, however, said integration of the radar and other gear will be the key to the success of the AEW&C project.
The AEW&C program also is behind scheduled by more than three years. The Indian government in 2004 approved a $450 million proposal for the program, but the purchase of aircraft was delayed by three years because the Air Force wanted modifications to carry an increased payload, the DRDO official said. ■