The Indian Air Force is close to getting six airborne warning and control aircraft that are at the forefront of aviation technology after the Cabinet Committee on Security validated the nearly ₹11,000 crore deal on Wednesday.
The aircraft, likely to be the old A-321 jetliners from Air India, will be structurally revamped to carry a radar developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The DRDO radar will be a contemporary version of the existing active electronically steered array (AESA) radar installed on two Netra airborne warning aircraft, already utilised by the IAF.
Besides this, the IAF operates three larger A-50 EI Russian aircraft that are fitted with the Israeli EL/W-2090 ‘Phalcon’ radar system. An AESA is a computer-controlled radar that allows radio beams to point in various directions without manipulating the antenna. They provide more accuracy, reliability and better detection capability than the existing systems.
Radars installed on the A-321 aircraft will be transferred to the IAF and will ensure zero blind spots with its 360-degree coverage of hundreds of kilometres of airspace around the aircraft.
The significance of airborne warning aircraft came to light during the India-Pakistan aerial duel along the LOC and International Border on February 27, 2019. IAF Netra and A-50 jets had proved extremely useful when they successfully tracked PAF fighters and assisted IAF defenders to attempt an intercept.
The intel gathered from an IAF airborne warning and control aircraft had led to the IAF figuring out that Wing Commander Varthaman had intercepted and shot a PAF-F16 down before going down himself.
The project should take up to seven years to complete, and the prototype of the A-321 aircraft should be completed in four years.