New Delhi: Given a spate of missile test firings by the military regime in Pakistan, all 'successful,' it is being given to understand that the Indian Air Force (IAF) may now have projected a need for more Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) aircraft to enhance its capability to counter this emerging threat.
Reports emanating from New Delhi would suggest that the IAF may now have asked the government to clear the induction of up to five more Phalcon AWACS aircraft from Israel, three of which are already contracted for and due for delivery from this year onwards, up to 2009.
The three Phalcon AWACS systems are part of a $1.1 billion dollar deal that India signed with Israel in 2003. The deal was struck with US concurrence, as the system accesses restricted US technologies.
The Israeli surveillance system is mounted on Russian Il-76 aircraft, sourced from Uzbekistan, and is manufactured by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI). Each of these aircraft is capable of mounting surveillance for up to 14 hours, with in-flight refueling, and extends the IAFs "strategic reach" far beyond Indian airspace.
The spate of missile tests by Pakistan now has the IAF worried about the transformation of Pakistan's offensive capabilities. The recent tests included an enhanced range 'Babur' cruise missile, that boasts of a 700 km range, which the Pakistani establishment claims is also capable of evading radar defences.
As part of the Phalcon deal, New Delhi has an option to acquire three to five more AWACs from Israel Aircraft Industries, which, if exercised, would be delivered in the time period 2009-12.
India is due to receive the first of the three Phalcon systems by September this year, and the remaining two in stages up to 2009. Reports suggest that the IAF has already trained about 250 personnel in Israel for operating the sophisticated radars and sensors that are part of the system. In addition, up to 450 personnel have also been trained to man ground facilities for the AWACs aircraft.