DRDO during AERO INDIA 2017 handed IAF India's very own AEW&CS aircraft which was named DRDO NETRA (not to be confused with drdo netra drone).The airforce inducted the AEW&C aircraft after testing and operational trials and 2nd aircraft is undergoing trials and is slated to be inducted soon.
The Indian systems are mounted on the Brazilian EMBRAER ERJ 145 platform. The radar system, datalink and all the subsystems are fully indigenous and are developed by various DRDO laboratories.
The aim of the project was not just to get medium sized AEW&CS for the IAF but also to develop the capabilities to develop indigenous systems such as radars and other subsystems which in future will lead to bigger and more powerful INDIGENOUS AEW&C systems. The project will provide IAF with 3 AEW&C aircrafts which will complement the larger A-50 with Israeli PHALCON radars.
The indigenously developed AESA radars are mounted back to back on the top of the EMBRAER ERJ 145 platform, the active antenna array unit is made such that it incorporates maximum number of modules in minimum dimension. The modules are packed densely.
Even though its a medium size AEW&CS aircraft but it is very capable. It provides with 240 degree coverage and has other mission capabilities like Friend-Foe Identification, electronic support and communication, various datalink with capabilities to communicate with multiple friendly jets.
It can also analyze and intercept the enemy communications and when needed can provide with communication support.
Earlier during testing the IAF expressed requirement of inflight refuelling probe as they felt that the platform has limited range and was unable to support during long operations and so they asked for the capability of inflight refuelling after which DRDO added inflight refuelling capability to the platform and this way the endurance of aircraft was extended to about 9 hours with one time refuelling.
The detection range of the aircraft has been kept classified but I guess it will be capable of detecting and tracking targets at range of 250+ kms. The aircraft will also be able to classify the different types of threat.
CONTROVERSY & ALLEGATIONS-
While the DRDO AEW&C did not have any controversy or issue but an allegation of corruption did strike. The 300 million $ deal for Brazilian Embraer ERJ 145 platform was under radar this time with allegation of 5.5 million $ kickback.
This was proved to be true and then army decided not to order any more Embraer ERJ 145 to serve as the platform.
IAF will get 3 such aircraft and has also ordered 2 more A-50 with phalcon radars which will certainly boost IAF's capabilities. Also IAF has expressed requirement of more such aircraft with possible orders of upto 20 more AEW&CS aircraft in future. DRDO may deliver more NETRA AEW&C aircraft but the platform may be different.
Also after succeeding in developing indigenous medium AEW&C DRDO has now been given approval to develop larger next generation AEW&C aircraft which will have capability of 360 degree radar coverage which will be built on Airbus 330 platform. This new AEW&C will have detection range of over 300+ kms.
India is a large country with large airspace and IAF needs a large number of ground and aerial systems to guard Indian airspace. DRDO NETRA AEW&C aircraft is the first step towards the self reliance when it comes to eyes in the sky.
India is currently lagging behind not just China but also Pakistan when it comes to number of AEW&C aircrafts so India needs to ensure that we catch up to them. This can only be done with continuous indigenous development.
With this we hope that DRDO will soon give us with much larger AEW&CS as planned.
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