Israel has overcome a critical hurdle in its bid to satisfy the Chinese air force's requirement for an airborne-early-warning (AEW) aircraft, with a deal finally being cleared by the Russian Government for the Beriev design bureau to supply and modify an Iluyshin Il-76 for Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI).

IAI is proposing using a Beriev A-50 Mainstay airframe (a modified Ilyushin Il-76), housing an Israeli AEWradar, to fulfil the air force requirement. Russia had blocked the release of an A-50 airframe to Israel, perhaps in a bid to sell its own AEW aircraft.

Beriev calls the aircraft the A-50I (I for Israelsky). The company will carry out airframe modifications before it is delivered to IAI for the installation of a radome-housed Elta phased-array antennas.

The agreement is understood to have been struck during Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent discussions in Moscow with Russian president Boris Yeltsin.

IAI is competing with GEC-Marconi, which is offering the Argus AEW system, also based on an Il-76.

It is unclear whether GEC has managed to strike a similar deal to secure access to the Il-76 airframe.

China has a requirement for up to four AEW aircraft. IAI would first convert one A-50 to the A-50I standard, worth some $250 million to the company, with a further follow-on contract covering additional AEW aircraft.

The Il-76/ Israeli radar combination may also prove attractive to other markets, including those of India and Turkey.

Source: Flight International