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IAF Partnering Embraer Defense

With their versatility, operational efficiency, and technological advancements, Embraer aircraft have become a trusted component of the IAF’s aerial arsenal

Issue: 04-2024By Ayushee ChaudharyPhoto(s): By PIB, IAF_MCC / X

The Indian Air Force stands as a formidable guardian of the nation’s airspace, equipped with a diverse array of aircraft crucial for ensuring national security. Among these aircraft, the Embraer fleet has emerged as a key component, fulfilling specialised roles with exceptional efficiency. The IAF boasts a diverse and powerful fleet of aircraft, crucial for safeguarding India’s vast airspace. Among these, Embraer aircraft have carved a niche for themselves, fulfilling specific roles and missions with remarkable efficiency.

Currently, the Indian Air Force (IAF) possesses a collection of five airborne surveillance platforms. These include two domestically developed Netra MK-1 AEW&CS systems installed on Brazilian Embraer ERJ-145 platforms, as well as three Airborne Warning and Control System units featuring Israeli-Phalcon systems, installed on Russian IL-76 cargo aircraft. This varied and sophisticated fleet guarantees extensive coverage and adaptability in diverse operational situations.

The Brazilian aerospace manufacturer Embraer’s well-known portfolio encompasses commercial jets, executive jets, military aircraft, and agricultural aircraft placing it among the top largest commercial aircraft manufacturers, highlighting its prowess in the aviation industry. In the defence sector, Embraer has supplied eight jets to India for VVIP travel and use as airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft.

Embraer aircraft have become a trusted component of the IAF’s aerial arsenal. Their versatility, operational efficiency, and technological advancements make them valuable assets for the Indian defence establishment. As India continues to modernise its air force, Embraer is likely to continue playing a significant role in the future, providing the IAF with the necessary tools to safeguard the nation’s skies.

As India continues its journey of air force modernisation, Embraer has been crucial in helping it achieve the same and is further poised to maintain a significant role, providing the IAF with the cutting-edge tools necessary to safeguard the nation’s skies. Here’s a closer look at the journey and advancements of these modernisation instruments:


India had embarked on a significant technological endeavor with the acquisition of its first Embraer 145 Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft (AEW&C), better known as “Netra” (Networking TRaffic Analysis). This milestone marked a substantial advancement in the nation’s quest to establish a robust airborne surveillance and detection system, amplifying its defence capabilities.

The journey of India’s AEW&C evolution traces back to 1985 with the establishment of the Airborne Surveillance, Warning, and Control (ASWAC) Centre, which later evolved into the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in 1991. Despite facing challenges, the AEW&C Programme, sanctioned in 2004, witnessed collaborative efforts between CABS, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and various research establishments. This collaboration led to the development of three AEW&C systems installed on the Embraer-145 executive jet platform, providing net-centric capability with multiple communication data links and onboard mission control. Over time, the Netra AEW&CS initiative, led by DRDO, has developed into a vital element of the IAF’s surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities.

The Indian Air Force relies on a diverse fleet of aircraft, with Embraer planes playing a crucial role in fulfilling specialised roles efficiently

In 2012, Embraer Defense and Security handed over the inaugural EMB 145 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) aircraft to the Government of India during a ceremony hosted at Embraer’s headquarters in São José dos Campos, Brazil. This milestone came after the aircraft successfully passed rigorous ground and flight tests, meeting the operational benchmarks set by both Embraer and CABS of DRDO. The EMB 145 AEW&C boasts significant enhancements, including an in-flight refueling system, a notable boost in electric and cooling capacity, and a comprehensive array of structural modifications.

The inaugural indigenous AEW&C system was formally handed over to the IAF in 2017, marking a significant milestone at the Aero India Exhibition. The Netra, with its memorable debut during the 2017 Republic Day Fly Past, symbolised India’s progress in AEW&C capabilities, earning its place in the skies as a guardian of national security.

Prior to the introduction of the Netra, the IAF utilised the Embraer EMB-135BJ Legacy, a smaller model tailored for electronic warfare and intelligence-gathering assignments. These aircraft were instrumental in conducting reconnaissance and surveillance tasks, furnishing invaluable intelligence to the IAF. Although the EMB-135BJ has been retired from service, the EMB-145 Netra continues the tradition of these Embraer platforms within the IAF, ensuring the continuity of their legacy.

The IAF’s need for additional AEW&C aircraft is critical, especially amidst ongoing conflicts. The success of Netra Mark-I emphasises the importance of timely maintenance and support, while the pursuit of Netra Mark-1A and Mark-2 variants demonstrates India’s commitment to enhancing airborne surveillance capabilities. Netra has proven its effectiveness during operations like Balakot and has become a cornerstone of the IAF’s Airborne Surveillance Systems.

In 2023, the IAF welcomed the third Netra AEW&CS MK1, showcasing its dedication to bolstering airborne surveillance capabilities. This underscores the importance of ongoing success, continued R&D, and strategic collaborations in advancing indigenous defence technology.

The IAF aims to expand its surveillance capabilities by acquiring additional Netra aircraft. Equipped with an indigenously developed AESA radar system mounted on Embraer ERJ 145 jets, these aircraft have demonstrated effectiveness in operations like Balakot in 2019. The IAF currently operates two Netra systems and is considering adding six more as part of a $1 billion initiative to enhance surveillance and tracking capabilities. The AESA radar system provides detection and tracking capabilities for various targets, allowing effective command and control of friendly forces. Moreover, the Netra can receive in-flight refueling, doubling its endurance to nine hours, while its radar system provides coverage of 240 degrees up to a range of 500 km, enabling targeting deep into enemy territory without crossing international borders.

The IAF plans to advocate for the addition of six new Netra Mk1A AEW&CS aircraft next year, complementing the existing fleet of three Netra Mk1s. These upgraded planes will feature an enhanced AESA radar system developed by DRDO and will be based on the Embraer ERJ 145 platform like the current fleet. The proven operational capabilities of the existing Netra Mk1 aircraft underscore the significance of this initiative. Additionally, India is planning to develop and deploy 12 more indigenous AEW&C aircraft, a joint effort between DRDO and IAF aimed at enhancing situational awareness and defending Indian airspace.


The IAF commands a diverse fleet of aircraft, encompassing both fixed-wing and rotary-wing platforms, primarily dedicated to facilitating air transportation for a wide spectrum of esteemed dignitaries during official visits to India, both domestically and internationally. Catering to the needs of VVIPs and VIPs, which include the President, Vice President, Prime Minister, and foreign Heads of Government, among others, the IAF ensures seamless access to high-profile individuals through its Air Headquarters Communication Squadron.

Established on November 1, 1947, the Air Headquarters Communication Squadron, strategically based at Air Force Station, Palam, New Delhi, has undergone significant evolution since its inception. Initially equipped with nine Airspeed AS 10 Oxford twin-engine trainer aircraft, the squadron now boasts a modernised inventory tailored to VIP transport, including Boeing Business Jets (BBJ), Embraer Legacy Business Jets, and Mi-17 V5 helicopters, meticulously customised to meet VIP travel requirements.

The induction of Embraer Legacy Business Jets into the squadron also marked a pivotal moment in the modernisation of the IAF’s transport capabilities. Beginning on September 21, 2005, with the delivery of three aircraft, the process continued with the arrival of the fourth aircraft and an additional aircraft designated for the Border Security Force (BSF). Unlike the IAF’s fleet, the BSF’s aircraft operates under civilian registration and is piloted by civilian-licensed aviators.


Replacing the aging fleet of Hawker Siddeley HS 748 Avro twin-turboprop engine aircraft, the Embraer Legacy Business Jets were selected after a rigorous evaluation process, owing to their exceptional value proposition. Manufactured by Embraer, these jets, derivatives of the renowned Embraer Regional Jet 135, boast a sophisticated interior configuration and modern cockpit features, including Flight Management System and Global Positioning System capabilities.

Going further, given India’s diplomatic needs and increased commitments, acquiring additional Embraer VVIP aircraft is also quite imperative. The current fleet of four aircraft falls short of meeting the nation’s requirements, particularly as diplomatic engagements expand. Therefore, it is strongly recommended to consider procuring the newer long-range Embraer Legacy 650 with extended fuel tanks. Opting for aircraft from the same family will provide the necessary flexibility while ensuring consistency in pilot training and maintenance infrastructure. This strategic approach will bolster India’s aviation capabilities and support its evolving diplomatic endeavors on the global stage.


The partnership between the IAF and Embraer reflects a commitment to modernise the fleet with efficient and adaptable platforms. Looking forward, there are various avenues for further collaboration:

  • Development of Indigenously Produced Embraer Aircraft: With a focus on indigenous defence capabilities, there is potential for joint ventures between Embraer and Indian manufacturers to produce Embraer aircraft within India. This collaboration would enhance India’s aerospace manufacturing self-reliance, fostering job creation and technological advancements.
  • Integration of Advanced Weapon Systems: As technology advances, the IAF may explore integrating new weapon systems onto Embraer platforms. This could involve equipping the Netra with advanced electronic warfare capabilities or incorporating air-to-air or air-to-ground weapons on specific variants. Embraer’s adaptable design allows for potential modifications to meet the evolving defence needs of the IAF.

Additionally, in response to the Indian Air Force’s requirement for new medium transport aircraft (MTA), Brazilian defence firm Embraer Defense and Security and the Mahindra group have recently signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) to collaborate on the C-390 Millennium aircraft. The IAF’s potential order for 40 to 80 MTA is anticipated to include technology transfer and the establishment of a manufacturing line in India, further promoting indigenisation efforts.

The partnership between Embraer Defense and Security and the Indian Air Force marks a significant stride towards enhancing India’s airborne surveillance capabilities. With the successful induction of the Netra AEW&CS aircraft and plans for further expansion, the IAF is poised to bolster its defence capabilities and maintain a decisive edge in aerial warfare. The collaboration between Embraer and the IAF underscores India’s commitment to modernising its fleet with efficient and versatile platforms, while also promoting indigenous defence technology. As the IAF continues to pursue advancements in airborne surveillance, strategic collaborations and ongoing research and development efforts will play a crucial role in shaping the future of India’s defence landscape.