India Wants Long-endurance Awacs

AIN Defense Perspective » April 11, 2014
The IAF currently operates three A-50EI aircraft, which are Ilyushin Il-76s outfitted with IAI Phalcon radar and mission control systems. (Photo: Indian Air Force)
April 10, 2014, 8:00 AM

Although India already operates two types of airborne early warning aircraft, the country’s air force is pressing ahead with a program to procure a third platform with extended range, longer endurance and higher operational altitude performance. A request for proposal (RFP) has been released to original equipment manufacturers by the Ministry of Defence’s Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) for the supply of six “aircraft with necessary structural modifications, power and endurance adaptations and equipment installation/installation provisions for the Awacs (airborne warning and control system)(India) role, and certified as per FAR 25 or equivalent.” The bids will be opened on July 15.

With CABS leaning toward civilian platforms that will give a maintenance advantage, the two likely contenders are the Airbus A330, which India has selected for a tanker role, and the Boeing 767, which has already been converted for Awacs in the form of Japan’s E-767. However, with production lines of the KC-46A aerial refueling tanker (modeled on Boeing’s 767 jetliner) busy with an order for replacement of the U.S. Air Force’s KC-135 Stratotankers, it is not clear if aircraft can be made available from the production line, said an aerospace engineer.

According to an official associated with the CABS project, field trials will start by year-end. “This project will move fast, as $1.2 billion has already been released,” an MoD official told AIN on condition of anonymity. Non-recurring costs for the project will be paid by India.

The RFP stipulates OEM responsibility for design and manufacture of the 10-meter-diameter antenna dome attachment (pylon) structure and installation, provision for installing external and internal elements of mission systems, power source and distribution circuits, structures for mounting the mission system, and installation of customer-furnished equipment, amounting to an additional 20 tons of weight. “Vendors willing to support the buyer in the installation of the mission systems on the aircraft alone will be considered,” said the RFP.

Interestingly, though wind tunnel tests can be performed in India, AIN has learned from sources close to the program that the air force is concerned about safety and is likely to assign the task to the OEM. Early attempts by CABS to enter the Awacs field ended in the crash of its HS.748 twin-turboprop testbed in 1999, killing scientists involved in the project.

Bangalore-based CABS, a wing of the MoD’s Defence Research Development Organisation (DRDO), is mandated to develop technologies and infrastructure for indigenous airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) systems. A contract signed in 2008 with Embraer for three EMB-145s—two for the Indian Air Force and one for CABS—included platform improvements by Embraer for in-flight refueling and increased power generation and cooling. CABS mission systems that include primary and secondary radars, satcom/Comint/Elint and countermeasures systems were to be integrated in the aircraft. The second aircraft is expected to be inducted by year-end.

The Indian Air Force also operates three Ilyushin Il-76s upgraded with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Phalcon radar and mission control systems with a platform designation of A-50EI.

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