Friday, November 18, 2011
IAF will add two more Israeli AWACS to its fleet
NEW DELHI: India will order another two advanced Israeli Phalcon AWACS (airborne warning and control systems), or the "formidable eyes in the sky'' capable of detecting hostile aircraft, cruise missiles and other incoming aerial threat far before ground-based radars at a cost of over $800 million soon.
Top defence ministry sources say the "draft contract'' for the two new AWACS "is now finally in the final stages of being examined'' before it's inked as a follow-on order to the $1.1-billion tripartite agreement among India, Israel and Russia in 2004, under which IAF inducted three Phalcon AWACS in 2009-10. The purchase comes at a time when Pakistan is fast snapping at India's heels in this complex military arena, having first inducted four Swedish Saab-2000s and on the verge of getting four Chinese ZDK-03 AWACS.
India's tryst with AWACS has been beset with several problems. First, delivery of the first three AWACS , which have the Israeli 360-degree Phalcon early-warning radar and communication suite mounted on Russian IL-76 heavy-lift military aircraft, was delayed by over two years. Then, there were major teething problems in them getting fully operational, with the Phalcons even being grounded at Agra for some time.
But the IAF is all gung-ho about them, claiming they are "true game-changers'' in modern air warfare, which is more about BVR (beyond visual range) combat rather than face-to-face dogfights of yore. "The Phalcons significantly boost the effectiveness of both offensive and defensive operations. Their enhanced detection and interception capability, connected to fighters and surface-to-air missile systems, are tremendous force-multipliers," said an officer.
Apart from detection of incoming cruise missiles and aircraft from over 400-km away in all-weather conditions, and direction of air defence fighters during combat operations, the Phalcons while flying well within Indian airspace can also monitor troop build-ups or activity at airbases and missile silos deep inside Pakistan.
Indigenous efforts to develop mini-AWACS in a Rs 1,800-crore project approved in 2004, under which AEW&C (airborne early warning and control) systems developed by DRDO are being mounted on three Embraer-145 jets obtained from Brazil for $210 million, have, however, been hit by several delays.
As earlier reported by TOI, their project completion date has been pushed back to April, 2014. These indigenous airborne surveillance platforms will have a normal radar range of 250-km and a 375-km extended one, with a 240-degree coverage and five-hour endurance time.