The Indian Air Force will finally induct the first indigenously developed all-weather airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system - 'Eye in the Sky' - at the Aero India 2017 expo in Bengaluru, augmenting its ability to detect incoming cruise missiles, fighter jets and even drones from Pakistan or China.
Defence Research & Development Organisation chairman S Christopher on Saturday told reporters that the induction will happen at Aero India.
The Rs2,400-crore project will see the first aircraft inducted on 14 February, while the second one will be delivered in a few months.
Experts have been pointing out that India is lagging behind in this aspect of defence capability in comparison with both China and Pakistan. At present, India has only three Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS), which uses the Israeli early-warning radars mounted in domes atop IL-76 aircraft.
Developed by the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in Bengaluru and integrated on Brazilian-made Embraer-145 aircraft, the indigenous AEW&C system will add to the capabilities along with the three Phalcon systems.
The system is equipped with 240-degree coverage radars, in contrast to the existing Phalcons which provide 360-degree coverage over a 400-km range. The AEW&C system will detect, identify and classify threats in the surveillance area and act as a Command and Control Centre to support Air Defence operations.
"It is equipped with multiple communication and data links that can alert and direct fighters against threats while providing Recognizable Air Surveillance Picture to commanders at the strategically located Ground Exploitation Stations," DRDO said.
Besides, the system will support the IAF in offensive strike missions and assist forces in the tactical battle area.
However, this addition and even the other two in the pipeline will not put India on a par with China or even Pakistan. China has over 20 AWACS including the new KJ-500s that can track over 60 aircraft at ranges up to 470km, while Pakistan has four Swedish Saab-2000 AEW&C aircraft and four Chinese-origin ZDK-03 (KJ-200) AWACS.
Keeping this in mind, the Defence Acquisition Council in March 2016 cleared building of two AWACS, which will involve mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on Airbus A-330 wide-body jets (See: India to build six more next-gen AWACS in tie-up with Airbus).
The estimated cost of this project is Rs9,000 to Rs10,000 crore and the eventual plan is to induct eight such aircraft under the "Awacs -India" programme.
Christopher added that with negotiations complete the file will be moved to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS). "We are expecting the clearance soon and we have a timeline of 84 months for the project," Christopher said.