The Indian Air Force inducted the first indigenously developed all-weather airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system — ‘Eye in the Sky’ — at the Aero India 2017 in Bengaluru, augmenting its ability to detect incoming cruise missiles, fighter jets and even drones from both Pakistan and China.
The Netra AEW&C system has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and has a range of around 200 km.
The aircraft was handed over to the IAF on the opening day of Asia’s largest air show Aero India-2017, more than six years behind schedule.
Over 550 defence and aerospace firms, including 279 foreign companies, are taking part in the biennial event being held at the Yelahanka air force base.
“The induction of the AEW&C aircraft is the highlight of the airshow for the air force. We need to swiftly scale up our airborne surveillance capabilities,” a senior IAF officer said.
India inked a $208-million contract for three Brazil-built Embraer-145 planes in 2008 as part of a DRDO programme to scale up the IAF’s AEW&C capabilities. The deal was in the news last year due to kickback allegations.
The IAF currently operates three Israeli Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS) mounted on Russian IL-76 heavy-lift planes and there are plans to buy two more. The system has a range of 400km. The numbers are not enough to cover the eastern and western sectors during offensive operations.
In 2015, the defence ministry accorded its acceptance of necessity, the first step towards making an acquisition, for a $760-million project involving mounting two such indigenously developed surveillance systems on the European Airbus A330 platform.
India is considering a proposal to buy a total of six A330 aircraft on which the AWACS may be mounted, taking the value of the deal to around $2.5 billion. The first such aircraft could be inducted by 2025.