The prototype Beriev A-100 airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft will make its first flight later this year and enter service in 2020, according to Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu. In the Russian Air and Space Force (Russian acronym VKS), the A-100 will supplement and eventually replace the Beriev A-50 AWACS that has been in service since 1985. Addressing servicemen earlier this month, Shoigu added that a flying laboratory is already flying to help mature key technologies for the new type.
The testbed, sometimes referred to as the A-100LL, is a modified Ilyushin Il-76MD heavy airlifter assembled at TAPO plant in Uzbekistan’s capital city Tashkent. The A-100 is based on the more advanced Il-476 (Il-76MD90) whose production has recently been started at the Aviastar-SP factory in Ulyanovsk. According to Shoigu, the A-100 will have extended capabilities in detection and tracking of “new types of targets” and also in managing combat actions of strike aircraft groupings.
The first Il-76MD90 in a “green” form for conversion to A-100 was ferried from Aviastar-SP to Beriev’s main base in Taganrog about three years ago for installation of the AWACS mission equipment. The latter includes a new radar set referred to as the Premier, and other key radio-electronic equipment, from Vega Radio Engineering, headquartered in Moscow. The new radar includes an active electronically scanned array (AESA) instead of the mechanically scanned antenna on the A-50.
The VKS operates fifteen A-50 and four upgraded A-50U aircraft, most of which are stationed at the Severnaya aerodrome near Ivanovo. One or two examples are temporarily resident at Khemimeem airbase in the Syrian province of Latakia. Both the A-50 and A-50U use the Schmel radar set weighing up to 20 tons and employing a 9-meter diameter over-fuselage rotodome, but the improved version comes with more modern digital data processors and displays. Following the induction of the first A-50U in 2011, VKS voiced plans to upgrade its entire A-50 fleet into this version.
Initial studies on the next-generation AWACS began late last century, after China and India considered, but rejected, the exportable A-50E, finding its technology to be outdated. Both chose to fund development of more capable aircraft on the same Ilyushin Il-76MD platform. Today, the PLAAF operates the KJ-2000 aircraft using a locally designed radar based on Israeli technologies, while the Indian air force procured three A-50EIs from Russia but outfitted them with the Elta EL/W-2090 Phalcon radar from Israel. Vega benefited from both programs through developing AESA and digital data processing technologies and software packages, which helped the company on the A-100 program.