Palam AFS, New Delhi: The first Russian-made A-50EI AWACS (NATO: Mainstay) aircraft, derived from the Il-76MD transport plane, armed with the Israeli Phalcon radar and electronic warfare system was inducted into service on Thursday with the Indian Air Force (IAF).
"Today we became one of the few chosen countries to possess this kind of plane [AWACS]," IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said at the commissioning ceremony.
The aircraft inducted into service today is the first of three A-50EI variants ordered in 2001. They are all to be equipped with Israeli-made Phalcon radar and electronic warfare systems.
The induction is taking place 18 months behind schedule, in line with all defence projects where there is Russian involvement. Though in this case the Israeli's may have been at fault as well, for they have struggled with the integration of the aircraft with their electronic systems.
The first aircraft was scheduled to arrive in 2007-08 period.
The second Phalcon AWACS is expected to be delivered by early 2010 and the last by that year's end.
The aircraft will be deployed with the IAF's 50 Squadron based at Agra under the Allahabad-based Central Air Command. Its operations, however, will be conducted by Air Headquarters directly.
Air force sources clarified that there were still a couple of months to go before the whole system became fully operational. ''All the equipment for the system to work will take another two to three months to arrive. So, it will be another three months before they commence operational flying," sources said.
Meanwhile, speaking at the induction ceremony defence minister AK Antony urged foreign vendors, including those from Russia and Israel, to stick to deadlines. "I convey my anguish to foreign vendors, including Russia and Israel, on the delays in delivery of defence equipment. They have to try and deliver the defence equipment on time."
Deviating from his written speech, Antony said: "Thorough the Ambassadors of the two countries, who are present here, I request the foreign countries for cooperation in meeting delivery schedules of AWACS and other equipment so that the Indian armed forces get the latest, modern weapons systems in time."
He pointed out that India had signed the tripartite contract with Israel and Russia for the AWACS in 2004 and yet it took about five years for delivery of the first of these 'eye in the sky' platforms.
However, he said the problem of delayed delivery was a cause for concern with not just the two major suppliers, but with other countries as well which handle defence contracts in India.
Indian defence procurement is expected to touch about $100 billion in the next 10 years, and global companies from the Americas, Europe and Asia are lining up for a slice of this pie.
The Phalcon AWACS is fitted with an aerial refuelling system and electronic warfare equipment which is capable of detecting targets up to 400 km (250 miles) away. It is a command and control platform that can direct aerial combat, track up to 60 targets and conduct electronic intelligence gathering operations as well.