The Air Force is upgrading the older variants of its Mi-17 helicopters by equipping them with electronic warfare (EW) suite to increase their capability to operate effectively in a hostile environment.

According to IAF sources, 90 of these medium-lift helicopters — 56 Mi-17 and 34 Mi-17 1V variants — will be upgraded by No.3 Base Repair Deport in Chandigarh in collaboration with state-owned Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL). The IAF approached BEL in this regard last month.

The move to upgrade the older series comes in the backdrop of a project to retrofit the latest version, the Mi-17 V5 that entered services a few years ago, with similar EW equipment. Last year, BEL was also approached to equip some Mi-17s with advanced navigational aids.

The EW suite comprises of a radar warning receiver (RWR), a missile approach warning system (MAWS) and a counter measure dispensing system (CMDS). The RWR detects radio waves emitted by radars and electronic surveillance equipment whereas the CMDS enables the crew to imitate counter measures or evasive action against enemy radars and missiles by firing chaff or flares.

The MAWS is meant to alert the crew about any incoming ground or air-launched missile and also cue the CMDS to trigger. Mi-17 helicopters are used for special operations as well as close air support, logistic supplies and troop movement, requiring them at times to operate at low altitudes and slow speeds, thereby making them vulnerable to missile attacks.

The Air Force expects the program to upgrade the 90 helicopters to be completed in 48 months. This includes training an initial batch of pilots, flight engineers and flight gunners to operate the new systems.