The Indian Air Force’s second airbase for operating airborne early warning and control systems (AEW&CS) aircraft that has come up at the Bhisiana Air Force Station near Bathinda in Punjab is ready for operations.
The infrastructural and support facilities built up at the airbase by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for the AEW&CS are complete and the new complex within the airbase is expected to be handed over to the Air Force next month, IAF sources said.
The base will house indigenous AEW&CS developed by the DRDO, which is christened Netra and was showcased at the Republic Day Parade as well as the Aero India show earlier this year. A fighter, unmanned aerial vehicle and a missile squadron are also based at Bhisiana. The other IAF base to operate AEW&CS is Agra, home to the A-50 AWACS, which are Israeli Phalcon systems integrated with a modified Russian IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft.
The DRDO’s Bengaluru-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) has developed three such systems that are mounted on the Brazilian Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft. Two of the aircraft would be based at Bhisiana while the third will remain positioned at the CABS for research and development, sources said.
Another six such systems are reported to have been ordered, with the IAF’s total requirement in this category projected at 20 platfroms.
AWACS are force multipliers and can cover a huge swath of airspace, look deep into the enemy territory and detect enemy aircraft and missiles right from the launch phase, besides intercepting communication signals. Their flying altitude gives them an advantage over ground-based radar and they can provide a real time battlefield picture to commanders for decision making and counter air operations.
At present, the IAF has three A-50s with another two in the pipeline. The DRDO has also launched a new project to build larger and more capable AWACS than the Netra. Initially, two such AWACS aircraft will be developed, with four more to follow subsequently. The IAF is also looking at western platforms like the Boring 767 and Airbus 330 for future planes. China and Pakistan also operate different types of AEW&CS.