Made in India monitoring device helped IAF keep tap on Pakistan jets’ movement during airstrike in Balakot

The Indian Air Force (IAF) in the early hours of Tuesday (February 26) crossed the Line of Control (LoC) and carried out airstrikes at multiple terror camps, including that of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) in Balakot, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan. During the airstrike, an indigenously built force multiplier capability played a key role by tracking the possible retaliation by the Pakistan Air Force jets.

Mounted on an Embraer jet, two of the IAF’s Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft Netra guided a dozen Mirage 2000s on the strike mission across the LoC. They were deployed to monitor the movement of the Pakistan Air Force aircraft during the airstrike.

The details on what exactly happened during the 20-minute strike are yet to emerge but officials familiar with the AEW&C’s operation said that the Netras shepherded’ the airstrikes on the terror camps in Pakistan.

The 12 Mirage 2000 flew with their radars turned off to avoid alerting the enemy of their presence. They were guided to and from their target by the Netra’s eye’, which is a 1.4 ton AESA radar mounted on the aircraft’s dorsal spine which can pick up airborne targets upto 200 km away.

The five flight controllers on the EJ-145 Embraer directed the Mirage 2000s to their target, right up to the point of the weapon release, and guided them back.

The Netra is the best surveillance system in its class, S Christopher, former DRDO Chairman who was project director on the AEW&C project since its inception in 2004, said.

Its closest competitor is the Swedish Erieye mounted on a Saab 2000 executive jet, four units of which are in the Pakistan Air Force.

For starters, the Netra has an in-flight refuelling which can double its airborne endurance to nine hours. It can electronically scan airborne targets for 240 degrees and also have the ability to scan without lifting the radar beam.

The Netra is developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) Bengaluru-based Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS). The first phase, which began in the 1980s, was abandoned after a brief study.

The second, an Airborne Surveillance Platform (ASP), was closed when the Avro aircraft, it was mounted on, crashed in January 1999, killing the project team.

After a five-year lull, the project was restarted in the mid-2000s. The first Netra AEW&C was handed over by the DRDO to the IAF during Aero India 2017 in Bengaluru.

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