Full Spectrum Surveillance
 DRDO AEW&C aircraft arrival in India marks a major milestone for the programme

India’s effort to develop an indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) achieved a significant milestone last month, when the first aircraft landed at Bangalore. The Embraer EMB-145 jet fitted with Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) and other mission systems will now begin crucial developmental trials from next year. The programme is being managed by Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) Bangalore. Former chief of army staff (COAS), air chief marshal F.H. Major (retd) told FORCE that CABS has done very good work on the AEW&C programme as there were a number of constraints in terms of available technology, space for mounting of required antennae and weight. The second aircraft is expected to arrive in India, later this year in December.

Prior to the ferry flight to India, factory acceptance tests were successfully completed by Embraer in Brazil with CABS officials also present. Brazilian certification agency, ANAC certified the AESA structure along with dummy electronics for airworthiness. Installation of various mission systems will take place later this month. Following this it will undergo ground evaluation of the mission systems by Directorate General of Aeronautical Quality Assurance (DGAQA) and Center for Military Airworthiness and Certification (CEMILAC). These tests will be crucial and need to be completed on time to see the commencement of the all-important developmental flight trials early next year.

CABS has made commendable progress in the development of the AEW&C programme, however, such programmes world over experience significant difficulties in a number of areas. The first is the performance of the sensors and mission systems during actual developmental flight trials as this is when the true capability of the systems are realised as opposed to ground-based tests. Another key issue is ground clutter, as typically an AEW&C platform would be looking down at a specified area and discrimination of ground clutter as against actual targets flying above it is vitally important. The true performance of the primary sensor, in this case the AESA radar, will also be determined only when flight trials begin. The aircraft structure is also vital as the area where the radar is mounted would need to be monitored to ensure that fatigue and other structural issues would not be a factor in operating the platform for at least three decades. It is in these areas that the Indian Air Force (IAF) will be able to provide vital inputs to ensure that the programme stays on course. The IAF’s involvement in adapting the Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) to its own requirements and operational experience on the type over the last few years will prove crucial.
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