India Considering Indigenous Alternative To Ka-31 AEW Helicopters

India is probing indigenous alternatives to Kamov Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters. Earlier in 2022, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) had put multiple proposals for imported equipment under review, including one for additional Ka-31 helicopters.

The ‘Buy Global’ projects placed under review had included various surface to air missiles, helicopters, towed artillery, additional fighter aircraft and a proposal for six additional P-8I aircraft among others. In May 2022, Defense News reported that India had also halted negotiations with Russia regarding acquisition of 10 additional Ka-31 airborne early warning helicopters for the Indian Navy. 

A MiG-29KUB fighter, P-8I ASW aircraft and Ka-31 AEW helicopter at INS Hansa (Indian Navy)

The suspension of negotiations was primarily attributed to geopolitical conditions since the February 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russia. However, Russian state media outlet Tass was quick to refute the report by Defense News, stating that Russia continues working with India on the delivery of the helicopters. 

Overt Defense has learned that earlier this year, the MoD reached out to the Indian industry regarding their potential to develop an airborne early warning radar similar to that used by the Ka-31. This was conducted as part of the MoD review of imported equipment. It is unclear which helicopter would be preferred by the Indian Navy for installing such a radar, if pursued.

Maiden flight of the first Crowsnest Merlin (Royal Navy)

Helicopter mounted airborne warning radar solutions such as Ka-31, AW101 Merlin Crowsnest and the Z-18J are all in the 10-14 ton weight category. India currently lacks an indigenous equivalent to such helicopters, with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) developed Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH)/ Deck Based Multi-Role Helicopter (DBMRH) expected to enter service at the end of this decade.

The additional Ka-31 helicopters sought in 2019 would have cost India $520 million. These were primarily meant to be operated from India’s indigenous aircraft carrier INS Vikrant, which was commissioned in September. The Indian Navy currently operates 14 Ka-31 helicopters acquired in batches between 2003 and 2015.