India's EMB-145i AEW&C aircraft (photo : Defense Industry Daily, Chosun)
Up Close With India's EMB-145i AEW&C
"We wanted our user to get the best. We had to be customer-driven from the word go," says Dr. K. Rajalakshmi, project director of the DRDO's AEW&C project, which, as Livefist reported last week, gets operational this year.
Categorised as a sensitive project given the classified nature of the sensors, electronics and systems on board, Livefist was given rare up-close access to the EMB-145i after it flew a test sortie at Aero India today, and a chance to interview the highly motivated team driving the project to delivery.
The good news is there's a lot of it. Right after Livefist was given an official tour of the aircraft, the team met with an Indonesian military delegation that has already expressed deep interest in acquiring the comparatively cost-effective Indo-Brazilian platform. Fresh interest has also been shown by Israel and Brazil.
To the global market, DRDO and the MoD offer the EMB-145i in three possible categories: (a) A total solution, available as is (with modified tactical systems according to user needs), (b) As a sensor package adaptable on user-identified platforms, and (c) as a modified version of the EMB-145i that involves a co-development/component model.
"The government is very keen to see this platform exported. They have assured us full backing to get customers," says Dr Rajalakshmi.
The Indian Air Force will take delivery of two EMB-145i jets this year, completing its order. The third Embraer airframe, expected to arrive from Brazil this year, will be retained by the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) for research on upgrades and as a first unit for export. Indications are that Indonesia could be first in line for the jet.
"The big advantage is cost-effectiveness," says Dr Rajalakshmi. "No comparable system has all of the features that the EMB-145i has, and it's the only aircraft in its class with an in-flight refuelling capability."
Associate Director Suma Varghese, who spearheads the Active Electronically Scanned radar says the IAF's involvement in the programme from the start allowed the team to course correct in real time, and being able to deliver a platform that the IAF is fully satisfied with. That satisfaction, gauged for now by the eight member embedded team headed by Air Commodore PL Vithalkar, will be put to the test during user trials commencing soon. The IAF team at CABS is 60-70 strong, and includes designers.
"The sensors and systems are fully Indian, and this is a big advantage for the end user. We want the IAF to get the best," says Dr M. Easwaran, Associate Director at CABS, and designated project director on the proposed AWACS programme.