A competition lies ahead for the supply of six widebody jets for India's reloaded AWACS programme, an effort that looks provide the Indian Air Force with six platforms
initially. Except, not really. The model above of the DRDO AWACS, appearing in public for the first time, depicts the proposed system as being based on an Airbus A330 platform with the integrated 10-metre antenna radome. And DRDO hasn't missed the irony.
There's a reason: when the programme was revived some years ago, the DRDO had conducted an internal study and decided that the Airbus jet was what they wanted (based in part on the IAF's selection of the Airbus A330 MRTT as its next tanker), though it was rapidly made clear that the field for widebodies was unrestricted, and that the DRDO needed to tender for those six jets. And that's what it began doing in March last year.
The DRDO then issued an RFP in October 2014. And as with the Avro replacement programme, a sole bid has dropped in. Again, from Airbus for the A330. The competition originally looked like it could potentially have been a face-off between the Airbus A330 (Airbus has responded to the RFI) and the Boeing 767, though the latter chose not to respond.
When contacted, a Boeing spokesperson told Livefist, "After a comprehensive review of the Request for Proposal, Boeing decided not to bid on India's AWACS program. With 30 years of leadership and experience in AWACS system architecture, Boeing recognizes the complexity of the system requires an incremental development program to successfully manage the program risks and ensure an affordable program. As currently structured, the RFP does not support this approach. Boeing is working with India on a number of other programs and remains committed to helping enhance the country's defense and security now and into the future." On the other hand, a large order backlog and KC-X production commitments that run till 2027 (excluding option) too may have had a bearing on Boeing's overall decision.
Word is Russia's United Aircraft Corp. could also send out feelers on the Il-76MD-90A as a potential platform for the AWACS, though it remains unclear if it still has a chance. Either way, the situation now is single source, very much like the Airbus/Tata bid for the Avro replacement.
Senior scientists at the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) I spoke to here at Aero India 2015 said fabrication of the 10 metre antenna was progressing well, and that there could be movement on data link and communication systems and electronics this year.
The IAF is looking to operate at least 15 AWACS aircraft. It currently has three Il-76 based PHALCON platforms and will soon sign up for two more.
[This post was last updated on Feb 27]
Labels: Aero India, DRDO, Indigenous Equipment, LiveFist Exclusive