India’s plan to acquire AWACS planes from Israel and Russia on hold due to price hike

Indian Air Force’s (IAF) plans to acquire two new Airborne Early Warning Systems (AWACS) ‘eyes in the sky’ from Israel and Russia have witnessed a steep hike in price of the surveillance platforms, forcing the government to put the project on hold.

India had acquired three AWACS systems in 2003 in which the Russian Ilyushin-76 aircraft were equipped with two Israel-made sophisticated radars at the cost of $1.1 billion (over Rs 7,035 crore) to carry out surveillance of enemy aircraft, drones and cruise missiles at ranges up to 400-500 km inside their territory.

“The price of the two new AWACS has been quoted very high. Vendors have asked for much more as compared to the cost of the three planes bought earlier. It cannot be agreed to and that is why the programme has been stalled,” senior government sources told Mail Today.

“The main reason behind the steep jump in the price is the almost three-fold increase in the price of the IL-76 planes, on which the radars have to be mounted,” sources said. It was earlier expected that the deal would be clinched at the time of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Israel earlier this year, but it could not be completed.

The issue over the high price has been holding the deal for a long time. On several past occasions the issue of acquiring the AWACs has been coming up at meeting of Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), which is the apex body of the Defence ministry to acquire weapon systems for the armed forces. India has also decided to develop an indigenous AWACS as the DAC has given clearance to a proposal to acquire two Airbus-330 planes and build an AWACS, which can provide 360-degree surveillance like the Israeli radar.

The project would start with two planes, which are likely to take five to six years to be completed and once they are successful, the DRDO would take sanction for six more aircraft under the programme.

The process of completing trials of DRDO-developed Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEWC) aircraft is on. These are smaller in size and have 240-degree coverage. AEWC planes have been deployed at Bathinda and undergoing trials, after which they would be used for operational flying by the service.

Both Pakistan and China have an edge over India in terms of the surveillance equipment, as China has more than 20 of such AWACS planes, both new and old. Pakistan acquired four AEW&C surveillance aircraft four to five years ago from Sweden and has also started taking the Chinese AWACS planes in its force.

A number of other projects of the IAF are also stuck with different vendors due to price hike issue. This includes the Hawk advanced jet trainer aircraft planes for the Surya Kiran Aerobatics Team and the Indo-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft programme.




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