Shortage of Airborne Warning And Control System Crucial

Drawing lessons from the Balakot air strike, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has identified a shortage of Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft to provide round-the-clock surveillance as a major deficiency, IAF officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity. The air strike and the aerial engagement that followed in February were discussed in detail at the recent Air Force Commanders’ conference.

“The biggest lesson of February 27 was the need to have a core of high-end fighters for short skirmishes,” a senior IAF official said. “If we had the technological advantage, we could have imposed costs on the adversary,” the official asserted, adding, “We need to undertake resource optimisation.”

For that, the IAF is banking on the soon-to-be-inducted Rafale fighters, the tender currently under way for a new fighter aircraft and the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) MK-2 that is being developed, even as upgrades to the existing platforms make up for the shortages in the interim. “We also need to get better propaganda weapons,” the official said, without elaborating.

Remedial Measures

While aircraft induction is a long-term measure, in the short term, the IAF has identified AWACS, Software Defined Radios (SDR) and close-in weapons systems as immediate requirements. The process for their procurement is already in advanced stages. “We did not feel that we need anything new,” the official said, adding that everything had been thought of. “The process is on, that has to be hastened.”

Advantage Pakistan

Pakistan currently has an advantage as they have more AWACS. “They have seven AWACS and could keep one on our side at all times,” the official said.

In contrast, the IAF operates three Israeli Phalcon AWACS and two indigenous Netra Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) system developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Also, the platforms are not available all the time.

The IAF was now set to take the third Netra system (mounted on Embraer aircraft) from the DRDO, the official said.

The source said IAF is now taking the third Netra from DRDO for their use. Separately, a proposal for two more Phalcon AWACS has been in the works for a long time. There was progress on it recently and the proposal is now “pending final approval of the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).”

A deal for SDRs has been signed with Elbit Systems of Israel and the process for close-in weapons is at the technical evaluating stage.