The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), a state-run defence company, will convert six unspecified aircraft operated by Air India (AI, Delhi International) into airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) units, for deployment specifically near India's borders with China and Pakistan, Hindi-language broadcaster Aaj Tak has reported.

According to sources, the project will cost INR105 billion rupees (USD1.4 billion). The six aircraft will be acquired from Air India and modified in Europe before being placed with the Indian Air Force (IFC, Delhi International).

“The six AEW&C block two planes would be [more] highly capable than their predecessor NETRA plane and provide 360-degree coverage deep inside the enemy territory during missions. The government is expected to clear the project soon,” government sources told ANI.

Currently, the Indian Air Force operates three EMB-145SMs as its AEW&C platforms. The three Embraer regional jets were acquired by the air force directly from the manufacturer and delivered in 2012 (two) and 2015 (one), the ch-aviation fleets module shows. The air force also has one Il-76A-50EI for electronic warfare. The 16-year-old quadjet was also delivered directly to India.

In 2015, India ordered two A330s from Airbus for conversion into AEW&C aircraft by DRDO. In 2017, the order was increased by an additional four units to a total of six. However, sources indicated that in light of converting six of Air India's aircraft into airborne early warning and control units, the transaction with Airbus could be scrapped.

Earlier this week, France proposed selling India six A330 multi-role transport tankers, which are around five to seven years old and would come with a 30-year life guarantee, as part of a wide-ranging aerial defence package.

Air India does not operate any A330s. According to the ch-aviation fleets module, its fleet comprises twenty-one A319-100s, nine A320-200s, twenty-seven A320-200Ns, twenty A321-200s, four B747-400s, three B777-200(LR)s, thirteen B777-300(ER)s, and twenty-seven B787-8s.

Neither Air India nor the DRDO responded to ch-aviation's request for more information.