India Dumps Russian IL-76A-50EI AEW&C And Opt-in European Options

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), a state-run defence company, will convert six unspecified aircraft operated by Air India (AI, Mumbai Int’l) into airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) units, for deployment specifically near India’s borders with China and Pakistan, Hindi-language broadcaster Aaj Tak has reported.

Based on recent experience with Russian-made AEW&C in Kashmir skirmish, Indian Air Force played catchup against its adversary Pakistan Air Force which operates F-16C armed with advanced AIM-120 AMRAAM and greater situational awareness offered by Saab 2000 Erieye AEWC.

Indian Air Force’s Soviet-era A50EI was no match against Saab 2000 Erieye which caused a major problem for Indian Air Force.

Airbus Defence & Space appears to have emerged as the sole bidder for a global tender put out by New Delhi’s Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for an “AWACS India” programme. The tender – for six airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system aircraft – was issued last year.

According to sources, the project will cost $1.4 billion. The six aircraft will be acquired from Air India and modified in Germany and Spain before being placed with the Indian Air Force.

“The six AEW&C block two planes would be [more] highly capable than their predecessor NETRA plane and provide 360-degree coverage deep inside the enemy territory during missions. The government is expected to clear the project soon,” government sources told ANI.

The new AEW&C will be fitted with new AESA radar from Israel Elta Systems, DRDO data link, refueling probes, Leonardo and Thales sensors suite for Indian Air Force.

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Currently, the Indian Air Force operates three EMB-145SMs as its AEW&C platforms. The three Embraer regional jets were acquired by the air force directly from the manufacturer and delivered in 2012 (two) and 2015 (one). The air force also has one Il-76A-50EI for electronic warfare. The 16-year-old quadjet was also delivered directly to India.

In 2015, India ordered two A330s from Airbus for conversion into AEW&C aircraft by DRDO. In 2017, the order was increased by an additional four units to a total of six. However, sources indicated that in light of converting six of Air India’s aircraft into airborne early warning and control units, the transaction with Airbus could be scrapped.

Earlier this week, France proposed selling India six A330 multi-role transport tankers, which are around five to seven years old and would come with a 30-year life guarantee, as part of a wide-ranging aerial defence package.

Air India does not operate any A330s. According to Air India fleets data, its fleet comprises twenty-one A319-100s, nine A320-200s, twenty-seven A320-200Ns, twenty A321-200s, four B747-400s, three B777-200(LR)s, thirteen B777-300(ER)s, and twenty-seven B787-8s.

Neither Air India nor the DRDO responded to GDC’s request for more information.

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