India is now finally going to seal the long-pending around $1 billion deal to acquire two more “Phalcon” airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft from Israel, which has been derailed at least a couple of times in the past due to the high costs involved.
Sources on Wednesday said the acquisition of the two AWACS, with the Israeli Phalcon early-warning radar system mounted on Russian Ilyushin-76 heavy-lift aircraft, is all set to get the final nod from the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) after extensive inter-ministerial consultations.
The two new Phalcon AWACS, which will add to the three such aircraft inducted by the IAF in 2009-2011 under a $1.1 billion contract, will be delivered in three to four years. “They will be more advanced than the first three Phalcon AWACS with the latest upgrades,” said a source.
The need for additional AWACS, which are powerful “eyes in the sky”, was acutely felt during the pre-dawn strikes at Balakot and the subsequent aerial skirmish with Pakistani fighters in February last year. The ongoing military confrontation with China in eastern Ladakh has further reinforced the operational requirement.
AWACS or AEW&C (airborne early-warning and control) aircraft are critical in modern warfare because they can detect and track incoming fighters, cruise missiles and drones much before ground-based radars, direct friendly fighters during air combat with enemy jets, and keep tabs on enemy troop build-ups and movement of warships.
But Pakistan is ahead of India in this crucial arena, which struck home much to IAF’s disquiet during the aerial skirmish last year. Pakistan has 8-10 Chinese Karakoram Eagle ZDK-03 AWACS and Swedish Saab-2000 AEW&C. China, in turn, has well over 30, including Kong Jing-2000 “Mainring”, KJ-200 “Moth” and KJ-500 aircraft.
India currently has just three Phalcon AWACS, with a 400-km range and 360-degree coverage,and two indigenous “Netra” AEW&C aircraft, with indigenous 240-degree coverage radars with a 250-km range fitted on smaller Brazilian Embraer-145 jets.
A much more ambitious indigenous AWACS-India project worth Rs 5,113 crore was approved by the defence ministry in March 2015 for 360-degree coverage with indigenous AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars to be mounted on two Airbus A-330 wide-body jets. But this project will only now head to the CCS for clearance.
The impending contract for the two new AWACS comes after the defence ministry decided earlier this month to also fast-track the Rs 3,500 crore “Project Cheetah” to upgrade its Israeli Heron drones with laser-guided bombs, air-to-ground anti-tank missiles and other precision-guided munitions as well as advanced reconnaissance capabilities, as was reported by TOI.
Israel is one of the top arms suppliers to the Indian armed forces. Indian acquisitions over the years range from Barak surface-to-air missile systems, Spyder quick-reaction anti-aircraft missiles and a wide array of drones and radars to Python and Derby air-to-air missiles, Crystal Maze and Spice-2000 precision-guided munitions.