New Delhi: Israel has dispatched the first of the three Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to India ahead of a reworked delivery schedule. Reports suggest the aircraft arrived at New Delhi's Palam airport on 11 January 2009 from where it has now moved to the Indian Air Force's base at Agra.
The surprise development takes place even as relations between India and Pakistan continue to deteriorate post-Mumbai terror attacks. According to the re-worked delivery schedule the first Phalcon was to arrive only in February 2009.
Under a $1.1 billion deal signed in March 2004, Israel was contracted to supply three Phalcon airborne warning and control systems. These systems were to be mated with Ilyushin-76 heavy military transport aircraft. The deliveries were originally intended to commence in November 2007, but were subsequently postponed to the end of 2008 and further to February 2009.
According to the revised delivery schedule, the first aircraft was to be delivered in February 2009 with the second and third ones now expected in September 2009 and April 2010.
Reports emerging in early November 2008 suggested that India may have contracted for a fourth Il-76 mounted Phalcon AWACS system from Israel. It is said to be keen on building up its Phalcon AWACS fleet to a strength of six.
The Israeli Phalcon AWACS will enable the IAF to carry out tactical surveillance over a radius of 400 kilometers and collect surface target information deep inside Pakistan even as the aircraft operates within Indian airspace.
An electronically steered beam emitting from a solid-state phased array Elta EL/M-2075 radar, mounted on a radome above the fuselage, provides a 360 degree coverage around the aircraft.
It is also being suggested that the AWACS will eventually be networked with other air force assets through a dedicated satellite.
India has an indigenous AWACS programme being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), which signed a deal last year with Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer for the purchase of three EMB-145 aircraft for use as an AWACS platform.
These aircraft will be modified to carry an Active Array Antenna Unit, developed by the DRDO, on their fuselage.
Last month Pakistan announced a $278 million deal with the People's Republic of China for the purchase of a modern Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS).
The Chinese AWACS system has been under development since 2004, sometime after the Americans stopped the Israeli government from selling the Phalcon system to Beijing.
According to details provided to Pakistani legislators China will provide the system to Pakistan over the next four years. The PRC has also made a critical concession to cash-strapped Pakistan agreeing to make deliveries on a deferred payment basis.
For India, its tactical surveillance responsibilities are currently being shouldered by a fleet of Israeli-made Searcher and Heron UAVs.