The next-generation airborne early warning and control system (AWACS), with a 360-degree scan being developed by the DRDO, would also double up as an air-to-air refueller following a request by the Indian Air Force (IAF), according to a top DRDO official.
The IAF, which is bearing around 80 per cent of the project’s cost, had asked Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) to equip Airbus A330 wide-bodied AWACS aircraft with refuelling capability.
“Negotiations with Airbus had been completed on the basis of the in-principal approval given by the government and an RFP (request for proposal) that was floated. We will be buying six aircraft, and may buy two more under the option clause later,” S. Christopher, DRDO chief, told IANS.
The Airbus A-330, a medium to long-range wide-body twin-engined jet, which emerged as the single bidder for the tender floated by India, is likely to be the platform for the next generation AWACS systems, which will double up as mid-air refuellers.
“Adding this refuelling capacity will give a multi-functional role to the platform. It will also be economic as the cost will be around 36 per cent lower,” Christopher said.
As the proposal was put to the air force, it asked DRDO if it was possible to include air-to-air refuelling. “The AWACS fly with buddy aircraft to protect it, which can also be fuelled by the same aircraft,” he said.
Since the Airbus A-330 had already an in-principal approval for the AWACS system, the DRDO did not want to go through the process again which may have resulted in cost escalation of the platform.
The DRDO official said a “tech scan” of the platform was carried out, and it was found that the Airbus A-330 could be used for both purposes. The committee undertaking the tech scan had a member from the DRDO, apart from the IAF and the defence ministry.
The IAF at present has two AWACS systems — the Israeli Phalcon AWACS on the Russian IL-76 and an indigenous system mounted on a Brazilian Embraer-145 that was handed over to IAF by DRDO at the Aero India 2017. Two more Embraer aircraft are being fitted with the system.
The IAF at present operates six IL-78 planes for air-to-air refuelling and has a requirement for more.
Incidentally, in 2016, India had scrapped a deal for acquisition of six Airbus A-330 mid-air refuelling aircraft.
The indigenous AWACS have a 240 degree scanning capability, which means it scans the area on both sides, but not in the front or back. The new system being developed by DRDO would have AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars with 360 degree capability, which can detect incoming aerial threats like hostile fighters, drones and cruise missiles from 400-km away. India will be only the second country in the world after Israel to develop such a system.
The new system is scheduled to be ready in seven years.