An Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft is a long overdue necessity for the Argentine Air Force. Policy trends towards an increasing interest both in air policing and indigenous developments.
As of now, the AAF only has one ELINT/SIGINT platform, the Learjet 35 VR-24 with a Thales Vigile 200 suite as the only Electronic Warfare or long-range information gathering platform, but completely unsuitable for control, surveillance or even search and rescue operations support.
Since 2006, an important effort has been in place to establish a national integrated surveillance system or SINVICA. As a product of that, Investigacion Aplicada or INVAP, one of the most capable state enterprises in Argentina has developed a set of primary and secondary AESA radars. The original plan contemplated the acquisition or development of three AEW&C aircraft to contribute in SINVICA, talks were in place to provide a set of SAAB-340’s with Erieye radars but never materialized and the project stalled or halted until now.
Regional use of AEW&C platforms is extending and currently only has three operators, Brazil, Chile and Mexico. Brazil and Mexico with the ERJ-145 AEW &C and Chile with its 707 Phalcon. Argentina acquired aircraft for the Air Force and the Naval Aviation in late 1980s with the same ELINT/SIGINT suite as the Chilean Phalcon, still with no actual AEW&C capabilities, but they were phased out decades ago. Only to be partially replaced with smaller and less capable equipment in a Learjet 35 aircraft.
AEW&C aircraft are not cheap neither to acquire or to operate, sources claim that the Brazilian Air Force has much higher operating costs that it had planned to and the CINDACTA (Brazil’s analogue of argentine SINVICA) has chosen to invest in more ground-based radars instead. None the less, newer platforms can provide a low cost of operation and if it can be done with local expertise, much better.
A formidable platform of low cost of acquisition and maintenance could be the new EMBRAER Praetor 600 jet. This development of a market niche which is one of EMBRAER’s strongholds has been identified by the Israeli company Elta and presented as a partnership with EMBRAER in Le Bourget 2019.
Such a potential platform should be partnered with an actual project and a product to integrate. INVAP holds a long-term experience in developing AESA radars although would be its first airborne solution. Several tests were done using a Naval Aviation King Air 200 to test systems for the SAOCOM satellite, but they do not qualify as actually a military grade development.
L-band AESA radars expertise could replicate a similar solution already approached, but in a smaller scale comparing both platforms, as Boeing and Northrop Grumman did for the 737 Wedgetail and its MESA radar. Already in service in Australia, South Korea and Turkey. India's DRDO experience on indigenous integration of ECM, ESM, radar and SATCOM ERJ-145 airframe should provide a framework on the actual requirements base on any modern air force.
Could this be done? How? Should it be?