Triumph in the End http://forceindia.net/TriumphintheEnd.aspx The story of India’s Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) programme is akin to any movie. Spanning three decades, the plot involves several emotions, setbacks, and a tragedy in the form of an air crash that significantly altered the course of the narration. And yet, all this leads to a triumphant end. In the case of AEW&C programme, the moment of triumph came recently when the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) began the process of delivering the indigenously developed AEW&C to the Indian Air Force (IAF). On a cold and gloomy winter afternoon this early January, chairman, DRDO, Dr S. Christopher, the protagonist of this story, spoke about the project in an exclusive interaction with FORCE. “We have succeeded in almost all aspects,” he says. “The final trials started in December 2016. We flew against a large force of 14 aircraft as targets engaged in an actual combat mode. Sometime this year, perhaps during the first quarter the aircraft should get inducted,” he adds. The platforms will be based at Air Force Station, Bhisiana near Bhatinda. With this accomplishment, India has become the fourth country in the world, after Sweden, Israel and United States to develop an AEW&C system with a fixed Active Electronically Scanner Array (AESA) radar antenna on top instead of the conventional rotating one, claims the DRDO chief. “China is supposed to have done this too, but there is no information about it in the public domain,” says Dr Christopher. The US was the first country to develop the conventional AWACS system followed by Russia. Following this success, the DRDO is moving on to the next version, AWACS (I), having better capabilities on an Airbus 330 platform. The IAF has given the initial requirement for six aircraft to be followed by two more. “The negotiations for six systems are complete, though we need to go back to the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for the final sanction after which we will proceed with the programme,” he says. Airbus will make the basic modifications to fit the radar on top of the aircraft. “A normal Airbus 330 aircraft comes with 60 kilowatts of power whereas for the radar we need higher power. Hence, we are going to fit additional engine in the fuselage which will work only to produce power for the radar. The AWACS (I) would also need a cooling system,” he says, adding that these are the major modifications which call for both time and cost. Giving the details of the programme, Dr Christopher says, “The top dome is going to be about 14 tonnes and it will not rotate.” Conventionally, the active antenna with electronic scanning has a capability of maximum 120 degrees coverage. Hence, it takes three antennas to cover the 360 degree space which is the same configuration that IAF’s IL-76 based Elta System provides. “However, we will go for four antennas instead of three, with each antenna being able to operate 90 degrees. It will be costlier, but in the long term it is the best.” According to him, despite the initial high price due to the non-recurring engineering costs and certification costs, the overall cost of the indigenous system will be much less.