IAF Throws Mid-Course Spanner At DRDO’s AWACS

The IAF has formalised its earlier view that the Embraer platform was inadequate for the payload requirements it was looking at for the indigenous AWACS being developed by CABS, LRDE, DARE and a few other laboratories. This is domain-B’s article, based on the report by DefenseNews. I’ve added some notes in red:

Unsubstantiated reports, now emerging in the media, would suggest that the Indian Air Force (IAF) might have modified the specifications for the indigenous airborne early warning and control system (AWACS), including the radar and related equipment, in an effort to increase the payload. The mid-course change would appear to have left the country’s premier defence laboratory set up, the defence research and development organization (DRDO) scrambling to organize finances for the acquisition of a larger aerial platform. [Actually not unsubstantiated. It’s a fact that the IAF has formally approached the MoD and presented a new payload QR, with an observation that the platform would have to be reconsidered with the new payload].

According to reports, the IAF has recommended the use of a larger Boeing or Airbus-based platform, rather than the Embraer and Gulfstream planes that had earlier been short-listed for the programme by the DRDO. The shift to a larger platform, from a mid-sized one of the Embraer variety, pushes costs up by an additional 40-45%, and this apparently has forced DRDO to seek additional funds. [The IAF has, in fact, recommended either the Airbus-319/320 or the Boeing-737, and said that the Embraer has altitude and endurance limitations].

Domestic companies and laboratories currently working with the DRDO on the AWACS project include Bharat Electronics Ltd, the Defence Avionics Research Establishment, and the Electronics and Radar Development Establishment.

As part of a $1.1 billion deal, signed in 2004, Israel is to supply three Phalcon AWACS systems to India with its radar and other systems mounted on three Russian-built Il-76 aircraft. The first of these aircraft are due for delivery from mid-2007. [No, there are delays in the Phalcon integration. The first is likely to be delivered only by Feb-March 2008].

Reports would also suggest that the current AWACS project would, very likely, take another decade to complete, provided the design, specifications, as well as the platform are now frozen by the IAF. [The new project finishline has been extended from 2012 to 2016. I don’t think changing the platform should require shifting goalposts once again, though you never know. In April this year, it was reported that the indigenous AWACS had not passed muster with the IAF because the aircraft platform the suite was being built for was a business jet platform, with neither the ceiling altitude nor endurance requirement that the IAF wanted. The IAF had gone on to recommend that the programme (re-sanctioned in September 2004 with Rs 1,800 crore) shorten its proverbial horizons and deliver, instead, a “airborne battlefield surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance system”].

While some sources point fingers at the defence services for changing specifications mid-way too often, others point to the massive technology churn which the global arms industry is currently experiencing and argue that such mid-course changes cannot be helped. [The IAF wants the government to exercise its option of buying three-five more Phalcons. The IAF is resolute that its AWACS needs will only be fulfilled by a fleet of six-to-eight IAI Phalcons operating out of Agra (a sister squadron to 78 Sqn will be raised later this year) and has said as much to the Defence Ministry].

June 13: Correction: I found out today (13 June) that the information that the IAF has recommended a new platform may actually not be formal yet. It has been discussed but not presented to the MoD. The only thing that has been presented to the MoD officially is an increased QR for the radar.

5 thoughts on “IAF Throws Mid-Course Spanner At DRDO’s AWACS”

  1. Mr. Aroor, this has almost become a ritual with the IAF. In my view there is a dedicated, surreptitious and a well concerted effort to “nip in the bud”, ANY and I repeat ANY indigenous development made by the DRDO.

    In the light of this emerging pattern, the MoD must issue a directive to the IAF that if major specifications of any product requested of the DRDO or any other DPSU is changed significantly mid-way, then the IAF should not issue tenders, RFIs, etc. to foreign entitities for the same systems. The reason citied should be that this behaviour hinders the long-term goal of 70% indigenization.

    Anyway, by this episode it may be abundantly clear that the top brass of the IAF may be “hand-in-glove” with completely unscrupulous elements (read: arms-dealers and foreign arms cartels).

    This latest action by the IAF smacks of corruption of the highest order, and must be deplored at all sections, be it the media, the public; it would be preferable that the media spearheads the opposition to all this nonsense.

    Sir, I would request you to do a story on your channel on this emerging pattern by the armed forces, to “throw a spanner in the works” in any developing indigenous project.

    Thank you.

  2. What I fail to understand about IAF is this: They ordered the Phalcon system, but they gave a go ahead to the Embraer with indeginous system when it did not suit their ceiling altitude and endurance? Why did they give the go ahead in the first place? Don’t they have a vision of where they wanted to be in the next 5-10 years? Did Pakistan’s Eeriye procurement hasten IAF to change the requirement? What did IAF think PAF will do, sit on their asses when India was buying Phalcon sytem?

    This why its called a Vision, plan ahead…. I don’t blame IAF for reacting to changing threat scenario. But even I can understand this should have been taken into consideration and become a part of a professional organization’s vision. And people blame DRDO…. Sigh…

  3. teews you are totally right. but can we have some info on the specz of the phased array radar that LRDE is developing for the AWACS? dont remember seeing too much in the news about it.

  4. 1280 (160*8) Tx/Rx modules covering 120deg on each side with max range of 300km.

    Tx/Rx modules made of GaAs chips operating in S-band

    8.3KW peak power with a 7% dutycycle.

    IFF (L-band) with 500km range on sides, 250km front & back

    data transfer @64kbps to 40a/c simulatanoeusly in VHF/UHF with a 300km LOS range. Comm to ground station via satcom.

  5. In an actual war it is so damn likely to shoot down large aircrafts like Boeing/Airbus/IL76 as compared to small and swift Embraer. How wise then was this action?

Leave a Reply to Anonymous Cancel Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top