The Indian Air Force (IAF) has inducted it’s first AWACS aircraft. The Russian IL-76 platform based, Israeli Phalcon AWACS was commissioned into the IAF by Defense Minister AK Antony, who handed over to Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major, a symbolic key to the aircraft. “This induction will provide the much needed thrust to the modernization program of our air force. Today the security scenario around us necessitates the maintenance of eternal vigilance on our part. With the induction of AWACS, India now joins an elite group of nations that possesses such a sophisticated surveillance system,” said Antony, referring to the aircraft that was described by one IAF spokesman as carrying ‘the largest and heaviest dome mounted on any aircraft in the world’ and ‘the first 360 degree phased array antenna based AWACS’.
The air chief too lauded the achievement of the IAF and said, “On behalf of the Indian Air Force I would like to place on record our appreciation for the governments of Russia, Israel and India for the success of this venture.”
Elaborating on the integration of the AWACS into the existing network systems of the IAF, he said, “We in the air force have already had a very robust network which we call the AF Net – the air force net – on which will ride the AICCS and the operational data links. And all assets that are presently being acquired by us will also have the capability and provisions to plug into this network. The AWACS will form an extremely important component of this command and control structure and will create the necessary transparency in the battle-space. We aim to fully exploit this amazing machine and consequently refine our doctrine and procedures over the coming years. The way we do business in the air force in as far as air defense is concerned will undergo a very, very major change.”
Major also hinted at the acquisition of more such a aircraft besides the three ordered, of which the first was inducted today. “This is the first of the three AWACS, which we are to get and given the huge expanse of our country and our responsibilities there is a likelihood that in the future we may need some more of these assets. It will provide us a very enhanced situational awareness and the capability to truly project aerospace power, wherever and whenever required. We look forward to integrating this component into our operational plan. And I can proudly say, that once we’ve done this we’ll dominate the skies – our own sovereign skies and the skies around us.”
He said however that the ultimate number of AWACS aircraft ordered remained to be seen. “As you know we’ve already contracted for three and we should have all three by the middle or end of next year. We need to exploit this aircraft because you must understand that we’re using this asset for the first time in the country. It’ll take us a while before deciding as to how many more we will require. But given the huge expanse of our country, there definitely will be a need for a few more. Exactly how many – we’ll have to do a complete analysis and then come to the figure.”
The aircraft has been inducted into a newly-raised squadron, the 50th Squadron, that will be based at Agra. The commander of the aircraft, Group Captain Sajju explained the resulting force-multiplication the IAF would experience because of the acquisition of the AWACS. “Normally the AWACS aircraft picks up enemy aircraft at a range of 400- 450. So this one will certainly be able to that. The higher we fly, the more range we can pick up. I don’t want to discuss operational capabilities. As soon as the enemy gets airborne from their airfield we can pick them up and track them, and engage them much before they enter our territory. This is the biggest advantage of this system. Ground based radars are called line-of-sight radars. It’ll pick up a target very late. Say the enemy aircraft is flying low, it’ll be difficult to pick it up. There is no such problem in this system. Because you’re already up. You’re looking down, just like when you look down from a height, it’s easy to survey lower ground.”
One of the Fighter Controller on the AWACS, Wing Commander Dhir, explained how the system worked. “It has got a wide range of both radar as well as other systems on board. We’ll be able to look deep into enemy territory and be able to see what he’s doing. That will in turn help us in saving resources. When the enemy gets airborne, you can position your fighters accordingly. And the main task that will be done by this aircraft is fighter controlling. There is a radar, which enables the fighter controllers to ‘control their fighters’ (grinning), not only inside the Indian territory but also within enemy territory,” he said, adding, “We can customize the detection systems of the aircraft. We can create filters or parameters for detection of tracks and targets. Whether in the air or at sea. Multiple parameters can be set at the same time and we can look well inside enemy territory. As far as protection of the aircraft itself is concerned, the systems are meshed into each other. If the system detects the aircraft being tracked, it dispenses its counter-measures.
Dhir also dismissed any difficulty in training on the new systems. “A fighter controller is normally able to adapt to most of the systems. So even you pick up a very junior chap from one system and put him on another, he wouldn’t take more than half an hour to one hour to familiarize himself with the system. This system is actually an add-on to what we’ve been learning all these years. Anyone who can operate a radar on the ground can operate this system.”
Dhir remembers the first time he flew on the aircraft. “We have the best system in the world. The radar and the communication is the best in the world. The first time we were on board, we felt total excitement. This was the first time we were getting such a system. I first heard about the IAF getting the AWACS when I was first commissioned 20 years ago. As youngsters, we used to look forward to operating such a sophisticated system.”