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India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has recently cleared a procurement of 10 Kamov Ka-31 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) helicopters (NATO reporting name HELIX) for the Indian Navy for INR36 billion (U$518 million). The twin-engine Ka-31s will supplement the 14 known units operated by the navy, which first brought the type into service in 2003. 

The first batch, ordered in 1999 by India for the navy, amounted to nine units, with deliveries running through 2004. These were deployed aboard the now-decommissioned carrier INS VIRAAT as well as the navy’s guided-missile frigates. Five more units were purchased in August 2009.

Ten of the 14 existing Indian Navy Ka-31s were set to undergo a midlife upgrade contracted for in July 2016 at a cost of $294 million. The upgrades involved fitting the helicopters with Western-standard weapons and sensors. Re-delivery of these units is to run from February 2020 to July 2021.

The necessary upgrade process will leave the helicopter-strapped Indian Navy requiring a gap-filler at a time when the service already remains short of shipborne helicopter capacity. The navy has a stated deficiency of 61 helicopters to operate at sea.

Of the 10 new units, at least eight will be operated aboard the Indian Navy’s four ADMIRAL GRIGOROVICH-class (Project 11356 design) frigates that were ordered in 2018. Two of these are under construction in Russia, with the second pair to be built in India at Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL).

The Indian Navy’s Ka-31s are equipped with belly-mounted NIIRT E-801M Oko (Eye) radars that tracks 30-40 targets over a much larger horizon than ships’ radars – about 200km for ships, and 100-200km for fighter aircraft sized targets. It features a 6x1m planar array mounted beneath the fuselage. The radar is folded and stowed beneath the aircraft's fuselage before being lowered into a vertical position, to allow 360º mechanical scanning of the radar once every ten seconds. The radar can simultaneously track up to 40 airborne or surface threats.

 

The Indian Navy will receive ten Kamov KA-31 airborne early warning helicopter, joining the UK and Russia in operating helicopters instead of fixed-wing aircraft to provide overwatch for its fleet. (Photo: Russian MoD)

The Indian Navy will receive ten Kamov KA-31 airborne early warning helicopters, joining the UK and Russia in operating helicopters instead of fixed-wing aircraft to provide overwatch for its fleet. (Photo: Russian MoD)

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