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India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) is forging ahead with ambitious Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&CS) programs, Netra MkII aimed at upgrading India’s AEW&CS capabilities. DRDO’s Center for Airborne Systems (CABS) is spearheading this initiative, which involves the conversion of six pre-owned A321 aircraft from Air India into AEW&CS platforms.

These aircraft will be equipped with a dual-sided antenna array housed in a dorsal ‘plank’ fairing, similar to the Netra MkI. However, significant improvements in search and tracking capabilities will be achieved, thanks to the higher power output from the aircraft’s advanced engines.

Originally, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had planned to acquire the larger Airbus A330 platform for its AWACS project, specifically for the rotodome configuration. However, to ensure cost-effectiveness, the decision was made to opt for smaller Airbus A321 platforms. Despite this shift in platform size, the core objective of developing an AWACS system with a circular rotodome and advanced Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar remained unchanged.

While the Netra MkII program is set to commence developmental trials from 2025 onwards, the Netra MkIII program might be taken up at a later stage. The Netra MkIII platform might be selected for integration into future programs, such as the Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) or Regional Transport Aircraft (RTA).

Netra MkIII program aims to create an AWACS aircraft featuring a circular rotodome housing an advanced AESA radar system. This radar will provide a 360-degree angle of coverage, enabling the detection, tracking, and identification of low-flying aircraft at distances of up to 500 kilometers. Moreover, it will have the capability to engage high-level targets at even greater ranges.

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