By Anantha Krishnan M
Express News Service
Bangalore: Even as the flight-test and system integration trials of India's prying plane, the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) system gets underway ahead of its expected induction into the Indian Air Force (IAF) next year, a bold export initiative has taken wing. Sources confirm to Express that the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer has approached the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS), a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) lab, for the joint development of AEW&C system for exporting it to South American countries.
The AEW&C system is being built on a modified Embraer EMB-145I aircraft with two planes currently undergoing flight trials in India with the third and final one expected to arrive from Brazil in December. The Indian Air Force (IAF) is expected to induct the first eye-in-the-sky platform next year, making it a force multiplier during reconnaissance missions. Sources confirm that both Embraer and DRDO have already signed a non-disclosure agreement to initiate interactions for taking the idea of exporting the prying plane forward.
With an eye on export, DRDO had exhibited the plane during an air show in Bahrain early this year. "In Bahrain, a couple of Middle East countries had shown interest in having the AEW&C system from India. We can confirm that special interest have been shown by UAE, Oman and Russia. Embraer is keen that we join hands with them for the joint development of the system for South American countries," said an official. He said internationally, similar systems will cost between $100-$110 million and put the cost ratio between Embraer and DRDO to the order of 40:60.
He said the DRDO headquarters had prepared a detailed note, incorporating the export potential of the system. He couldn't confirm whether the prying plane's export plans figure in Prime Minister Narendra Modi's agenda during his ongoing visit to Brazil for the BRCS Summit.
Security concerns: When asked about the possible security concerns that could arise while exporting such a highly complex prying plane, the official said despite India being the highest importer of defence equipment, the country was never accused of a 'security threat' to those who sold the systems. "All measures including tailoring the system for import will be done as per the importers' requirements. This is exactly the manner in which all major defence companies operate. Hence we do not envisage any security issues," the official said.
To a related query, whether it is mandatory to take the IAF's nod before exploring the export potential of the plane, the official said the programme has been funded mainly by DRDO and the IPR is with DRDO. "However, as the IAF being the user now, the matter will be discussed with them as well," he said.
Game changer: Often accused of importing items for various projects, the DRDO sees the export potential as a game changer. "We have built the entire mission system on the aircraft of user's (IAF) choice. We do not produce such aircraft in India today. Only Sweden, Israel and US have developed such state-of-the-art AEW&C system. The benefits of the effort in terms of return on investment can be achieved only if deliver more systems to various agencies," the official said.
The export of the prying plane will help India emerge as a visible player for critical systems. "We have our successful space mission as an inspiring model. The export of AEW&C system will be a game changer for DRDO," the official said.
Copyright@The New Indian Express