India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has cleared a procurement of 10 Russian-made Kamov Ka-31 Helix airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) helicopters for the Indian Navy. The acquisition is intended to augment existing Navy situational awareness capabilities. The price tag for the project runs to INR 36 billion ($518 million).

The Indian Navy requirement was given the go-ahead by the DAC, chaired by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, on May 3. The twin-engine Ka-31s will supplement the 14 or so units operated by the Navy, which first brought the type into service in 2003.

The first batch, ordered in 1999 by India for the Navy, amounted to nine units, with deliveries running through 2004. These were deployed aboard the now-decommissioned carrier INS Viraat as well as the Navy’s guided-missile frigates. Five more units were purchased in August 2009.

Ten of the 14 existing Indian Navy Ka-31s are set to undergo a midlife upgrade contracted for in July 2016 at a cost of $294 million. The upgrades will involve fitting the helicopters with Western-standard weapons and sensors. Re-delivery of these units is to run from February 2020 to July 2021.

The necessary upgrade process will leave the helicopter-strapped Indian Navy requiring a gap-filler at a time when the service already remains short of shipborne helicopter capacity. The Navy has a stated deficiency of 61 helicopters to operate at sea.

Of the 10 new units, at least eight will be operated aboard the Indian Navy’s four Admiral Grigorovich class (Project 11356 design) frigates that were ordered in 2018. Two of these are under construction in Russia, with the second pair to be built in India at Goa Shipyard Ltd (GSL).

The Indian Navy’s Ka-31s are equipped with belly-mounted NIIRT E-801M Oko (Eye) radars that scan for targets on the sea surface and on land.