Expanding Force Multipliers - IAF Set to Acquire 15 AWACS, Spy Planes, and Tankers

According to a report in The Times of India, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) cleared the proposals for the procurement of 15 crucial force multipliers for the Indian air force, including the Netra MK1A AWACS, SCA, and tankers worth Rs 24,300 crore.

The DAC cleared the IAF proposals to buy 6 Netra MK1A AWACS for an estimated cost of over Rs 9,000 crore, 6 aerial refuelers for Rs 9,000 crore, and 3 signal intelligence and communication jamming aircraft worth Rs 6,300 crore.

The DAC’s decision highlights the government’s commitment to enhance national defence capabilities. The approved acquisitions are expected to play a vital role in strengthening the Indian air force’s operational readiness and effectiveness in safeguarding the nation’s airspace.

6 Netra MK1A for IAF

DRDO unveiled the new version of Netra AWACS called Netra MK1A a few months ago. While Netra MK1A will also be based on the same Embraer ERJ145 platform, there will be some advancements in the new version. These include Gallium Nitride-based TR modules for Radar, which increase the range and effectiveness to detect stealthy targets, and some improvements in software.

Currently, the Indian air force is operating 3 Israeli Phalcon AWACS along with 3 indigenously developed Netra Mk1 AWACS, which played a crucial role during the Balakot strikes and post-Balakot skirmishes in 2019.

DRDO is also engaged in the development of 6 Netra Mk2 AWACS based on the larger A321 platform, with deliveries likely to begin in 2026-27. With these platforms, the Indian air force is planning to expand its AWACS inventory from 6 to 18 by the end of the decade.

The Pakistan air force is currently operating 11 AWACS, including 7 Swedish Saab 2000 and 4 Chinese ZDK 03 aircraft. Meanwhile, there are reports indicating the early retirement of Chinese AWACS from this year due to various reasons.

The PLA air force is operating around 30 AWACS, while Russia has 8-10 A50 systems, the US operates 33 E3 systems, and NATO has 18 E3 systems.

These AWACS feature large radars mounted on top of the aircraft, which can detect and track aerial and ground targets from hundreds of kilometres away. While ground-based radars struggle to detect low-flying targets due to the earth’s curvature, these aerial platforms are capable of detecting such targets at significantly longer ranges, providing early warning support to fighter jets and air defence systems.

The Indian air force is gearing up to expand its AWACS fleet to 18 to boost its surveillance capabilities along both the Pakistani and Chinese fronts.

SIGNT and Comjam Aircraft (SCA)

DRDO is developing sensors and equipment for the SCA project, which is likely to be based on the Airbus A319 platform. The approval of three SCA systems by the DAC is expected to significantly strengthen the Indian air force’s intelligence gathering and electronic warfare capabilities.

These SCA systems are capable of locating enemy radars through their electronic emissions from hundreds of kilometres away. They can intercept and jam enemy communications over a large area and are also capable of locating enemy command and control centres.

These SCA systems, also referred to as spy planes, will significantly enhance the SIGNT and EW capabilities of the IAF.

6 Aerial Refuelers for IAF

Despite the Indian air force’s possession of 6 ageing IL78 tanker aircraft, only 3 are operational at any given time due to the high maintenance demands of older aircraft.

Also Read: Amid tensions with China, Indian navy is expanding its aerial assets

To address this shortfall, the Indian air force finds it necessary to procure 6 aerial refuelers at an estimated cost of Rs 9,000 crore. In 2022, HAL and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) entered into an MOU to convert Boeing 767 passenger planes into multi-mission transport and tanker aircraft, as this option is more cost-effective.

Tanker aircraft play a crucial role in long-range strike missions as they can significantly extend the range of combat aircraft.


The clearance by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) for the procurement of these force multipliers for the Indian air force (IAF) not only underscores the government’s commitment to bolstering national defence but also signifies a strategic investment in enhancing the country’s military capabilities.

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About Vinay Sadham


The writer is a defence enthusiast and content creator with over 8 years of experience. He runs a YouTube channel called Telugu Defence News. He can be contacted at [email protected]