IAF caught napping, Pakistan now operates more AWACS Aircraft than India

SAAB has quietly delivered without much fanfare three more Saab 2000 Erieye Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C) in April to Pakistani Airforce, which comes after crucial dogfight episode with Indian Airforce in Pakistan occupied Kashmir and Indian Kashmir, where both sides were actively using AWACS Aircraft to monitor airspace intrusion and also guide fighter formations.

Pakistan Air force operated 4 Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C along with one Saab 2000 in VIP configuration, One Erieye AEW&C aircraft was lost In an attack on Kamra airbase and two more were damaged but were repaired and put back into service. Down to three aircraft, PAF decided to procure 3 more Saab 2000 aircraft from former airline operators, later upgraded with Erieye radar system, which now takes the total strength of Saab 2000 Erieye AEW&C to Six.

PAF also operates four Chinese made Shaanxi ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C) which makes total strength of its AWACS Aircraft fleet to 10, which is much bigger than AWACS fleet of aircraft operated by IAF which stands at only four.

India’s indigenous AWACS programme started in the 1980s, when an Avro transport aircraft was used as a technology demonstrator test bed for development of home-grown system. After many flight tests, spread agonisingly over a decade, the prototype crashed on 11 January 1999, tragically killing all eight on board; with this ended India’s brief tryst with an indigenous early warning system till the phased array balance beam Embraer145-mounted AEW&C programme started at the beginning of this century. In the interim, the Israeli-built Phalcon system on an Il-76 (known as the A-50) was procured with the three contracted aircraft arriving between 2009 and 2011.The Embraer AEW&C aircraft has also been inducted with an Initial Operational Clearance certificate only — implying that certain operational parameters are yet to be achieved.

The IAF, thus, still has only three Phalcon AWACS and one AEW&C system (with the second due to be delivered this year). This is inadequate considering the security threat from China,which has over 20 AWACS, including the new KJ-500 ones that can track over 60 aircraft at ranges up to 470km, while Pakistan, on the other hand has four Swedish Saab-2000 AeW&C aircraft and four Chinese-origin ZDK-03 (KJ-200) AWACS.

IAF will be adding one more NETRA AEW&CS to its fleet soon but it is unclear if the third NETRA AEW&CS which will be used as a Testbed for bigger AWACS India program will ever join the fleet, since DRDO has been indicating that the third aircraft will be kept by DRDO for further testing or will be sold to friendly country in near future. IAF plans to procure two more Beriev A-50EI Phalcon AWACS from Russia and Israel has been stuck at the price negotiation stage.

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Six next-generation longer-endurance AWACS aircraft based on the Airbus A330 platform were proposed years ago and received approval and clearance in principle. They are awaiting a final nod from the ministry of defense. Larger and offering a higher operating altitude than the EMB-145s, the first two A330 platforms are part of the first phase of the program and will be fitted with an indigenous radar. Based on negotiations related to the first two A330s, four additional A330s are in the pipeline. Easwaran said work on “critical technology for the A330 AWACS had started,” and he hopes “it will be cleared in a few months.”

Meanwhile, S. Christopher, the retired chairman of DRDO and director of the Centre for Airborne Systems, told AIN that the radome and the antenna for the Netra had been developed within the country. “We believe the rest of things can move fast provided sanction is given,” he added.


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