Defence Ministry approves changes in six A320 aircraft

Defence Ministry allows DRDO to convert six A320 family aircraft into advanced airborne radar

The most crucial of the seven projects is the indigenous AWACS programme

Representative image. Credit: iStock photo.

The Defence Ministry on Thursday allowed the Defence Research and Development Organisation to convert Air India’s six A320 family aircraft into advanced airborne radar that can peek deep inside China or Pakistan to alert the authorities.

The Rs 10,500 crore proposal to develop half-a-dozen advanced airborne early warning and control system (AWACS) using the six Airbus planes as the platform has been approved by the Defence Acquisition Council headed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as the Centre tweaks an earlier plan to boost India’s air surveillance capability.

This is one of the seven proposals worth Rs 28,000 crores that were approved by the DAC giving a boost to the Make-in-India programme. Six of the seven projects worth Rs 27,000 crore would be sourced from Indian industry, a defence ministry spokesperson said.

The most crucial of the seven projects is the indigenous AWACS programme, which would uplift India’s ability to keep a watch on the neighbourhood from the air.

Currently, the forces rely on three IL-76 based vintage Phalcon AWACS and two home-made Netra air-borne radar mounted on Embraer Emb-145 platforms with limited ability.

The Netra system – developed by the DRDO after nearly two decades - has limitations in terms of vision and capability. Unlike the 360 degrees vision of the Israeli Phalcon AWACS, the indigenous Netra can’t see all around as its radar has only 240 degrees coverage.

In contrast, China has nearly 20 airborne radars with 360 degrees view whereas Pakistan has eight such platforms.

To overcome the shortfall, the Centre in 2015 sanctioned two brand new AWACS based on the Airbus’s much bigger A330 platforms. The plan was to convert the aircraft and deliver them to the forces by 2024-25. That scheme has now been replaced with the new programme where smaller A320 family aircraft would be used.

The new AWACS would be equipped with advanced sensors and avionics, making them much superior surveillance platforms in the air.

The aircraft would be sent to the Airbus unit at France where the modifications would be carried out and the AWACS would be delivered to the forces 4-7 years after the commercial contract is signed.

Other projects that received DAC’s approval include indigenous manufacturing of six more Next Generation Offshore Patrol Vessels for the Indian Navy taking the total number of such vessels to 11 and modular bridges for the Indian Army.