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Why Phalcon AWACS matter to India

By Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru
May 25, 2009 14:01 IST
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India took a major step towards establishing strategic dominance in the South Asian region on May 25 when the first of the three Israeli Phalcon Airborne Early Warning and Control Systems aircraft touched down in Jamnagar, Gujarat.

The AWACS, mounted on a Russian Ilyushin-76 airframe, will look deep into our neighbouring countries and detect incoming missiles and aircraft from hundreds of kilometres away in all-weather conditions. It will also help detect troop build-up in territories around us.

To find out more about how the Phalcon AWACS, spoke to two retired Air Marshals.

Air Marshal (Retd) K C Kariappa: Forearmed is forewarned. The Phalcon AWACS will help India monitor the movement of aircraft and troop build-up both during war and hostile situations. The AWACS will be able to look at least 200 miles into enemy territory and give advance warning on potential enemy threat. The air defence of our country will be made much more responsive.

The AWACS is a force multiplier, which can help pick up movement of aircraft that are on the ground and also air-borne. This will mean that India would have immediate information on any kind of aircraft movement across the border, which would in turn give both the air force and the army more response time.

The extremely sophisticated AWACS will make a huge difference to our armed forces and there will not be any time wasted in monitoring the situation across the borders. I personally feel that India could have had this technology at least 15 to 20 years back.

The AWACS has been around for at least 15 to 20 years and it has always been on our wishlist or shopping list. Hence I feel that we could have got them much earlier.

We face a terror threat from Pakistan and I will have to say that the AWACS will not be able to monitor this threat too effectively. The reason: Terrorists use the mountain route more often to infiltrate or build up their forces. Due to the cover provided by mountains, the AWACS will not have the capability to penetrate and track the movement of terrorists if they are using the mountain route. However, if there is a troop build-up on the plains then the system will come in handy.
Air Marshal (Retd) B K Pandey: The Phalcon AWACS will definitely boost the capabilities of our armed forces. The AWACS is an air-borne radar with a command control system through which we can control the air defence sector. We already have an elaborate ground radar system but these radars will find it difficult to penetrate through regions which have a lot of trees. The AWACS will basically close these gaps.

The AWACS will help us keep a watch on our neighbours, especially Pakistan. It will keep an eye on all air fields across the border and also keep a watch on air-borne aircraft. Once an aircraft is spotted, it would give it an ID and help track its movement.

The same thing, when done through radar, takes a lot of time.

However, I would like to add here that just three aircraft are not sufficient for round-the-clock cover. Although I will say it is a great start, offhand I think that we need at least 18 to 20 more such aircraft in order to keep round-the-clock cover.

To tackle issues like terrorism, especially from a country like Pakistan, we would need a multi-pronged solution. There needs to be infinite endurance and we need to combine new technology with round-the-clock surveillance.

There is a lot of input that has to come from human means, which in turn has to be combined with the latest technology in order to tackle terrorism.

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Vicky Nanjappa in Bengaluru