The Indian MoD today sanctioned $818 million (Rs 5113 crore) for the country's indigenous AWACS programme, with a go-ahead to order two modified Airbus A330 widebody jets as the platform. Funds for four additional jets for a total of six will come through later.
The decision ends suspense on a single bidder situation, as first reported by Livefist last month, and gets things rolling on what will be, in effect, the Indian Air Force's third separate platform for a comparable mission. The IAF currently operates three Il-76 based Phalcon AWACS jets (and is processing paperwork for two more) and will take delivery of the first of two Embraer-DRDO EMB-145i AEW&C jets this year.
This is good news for Airbus, but there are, of course, nuances and implications:
- First, the A330 platform will now be yoked to progress on the indigenous AWACS radar and systems. As the Airbus platform hasn't supported (or been tested as) an AWACS before, the programme will present several deep challenges on both sides. Of course, the fact that Airbus even sent in a bid meant that they're presumably on board for whatever it takes. Interestingly, Boeing, which has AWACS experience with the E-3, says it didn't bid because, "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."
- Second, and on the other hand, the programme could perhaps offer Airbus a low-risk opportunity to push its A330 platform into real special mission aircraft territory. It has wanted to do that for a while to stretch the A330 out on the lines of the 767. The Indian programme is small enough not to shackle things down.
- Third, while Airbus will welcome the all clear to the A330, it still has no clarity on the far more pressing and delayed deal for eight A330 MRTTs for the IAF, that's been stalled for two years in 'final negotiations'. While Airbus officials say they have indications that the deal will go through this year, there's no official clarity yet.
- The MoD's decision to provide rare sanction for single bid program may gladden Airbus -- it's currently a sole bidder for the IAF's HS748 Avro transport replacement programme, offering its C295 with Indian partner Tata. A decision on that bid is currently with the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) too, the same body that approved the A330 for AWACS buy today.