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The Indian Navy’s quest for enhancing its airborne early warning and control capabilities has taken a significant turn, with a shift towards exploring indigenous solutions in light of recent developments and strategic imperatives. The cancellation of plans to procure additional Ka-31 helicopters, coupled with the unfeasibility of procuring US-built E-2 Hawkeye aircraft, has prompted a reevaluation of the Navy’s approach to fulfilling its vital need for extended radar coverage.

In 2019, the Indian Navy opted to cancel plans to acquire an additional 10 Ka-31 helicopters, despite having procured nine of these helicopters earlier, with four acquired in 1999 and an additional five in 2001. Originally intended to support the country’s second aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant, the decision to halt procurement reflects shifting priorities and considerations within the naval establishment.

The recent escalation of the Ukraine War has further complicated matters, making it unlikely that negotiations for additional Ka-31 helicopters will resume shortly. Instead, the Navy is increasingly looking towards domestic alternatives to meet its airborne early warning and control requirements, driven by the imperative to enhance radar coverage in the face of evolving threats.

A senior Indian Defence Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity told, emphasized the importance of developing a local solution to address the Navy’s growing need for airborne early warning and control capabilities. With plans underway to procure more aircraft carriers, the imperative for extended radar coverage becomes paramount, particularly in detecting and tracking low-flying targets such as anti-ship missiles.

The limitations of ship-based radars, constrained by their horizon, underscore the necessity for airborne platforms capable of extending surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities beyond the confines of the naval fleet. As India seeks to assert its maritime interests in the Indo-Pacific region, the need for comprehensive situational awareness and early warning capabilities becomes increasingly evident.

While the procurement of US-built E-2 Hawkeye aircraft was initially considered, the complexities associated with operating heavy aircraft from the Indian Navy’s aircraft carriers have necessitated a reassessment of options. Instead, the focus has shifted towards leveraging indigenous expertise and capabilities to develop tailored solutions that meet the Navy’s unique operational requirements.

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