The AWACS have the potential to warn about incoming cruise missiles and fighters much before radars or fighters in combat operations. Also, it can give enough early warning to oncoming threats (within a range of 400 km) and also act as autonomous command and control centres.
While this was so, the Rs 5,113 crore AWACS-India project has not yet taken off, while the Rs 2,520 crore airborne early-warning and control system project is ages away from completion. Since its approval, the latter has been regularly missing deadlines.
Termed ‘eyes in the sky’ the Indian Air Force presently has three Phalcon AWACS, with Israeli early-warning radars mounted in domes on top of IL-76 aircraft, purchased under Rs 5,042 crore tripartite deal among India, Israel and Russia in 2004.
In contrast, China has more than 20 AWACS, including the new KJ-500 ones that can track more than 60 aircraft at ranges up to 470km, while Pakistan has four Chinese-origin ZDK-03 (KJ-200) AWACS and four Swedish Saab-2000 AEW&C aircraft.
While indigenous efforts to fill operational gaps have been dogged by delays, Defense Research and Development Organisation officials said the three AEW&C aircraft are now going through final trials. The AWACS-India project, involving mounting 360-degree coverage radars on two Airbus A-330 wide-body jets, will take five to seven years to come to completion, said an official.