India, which experts say is lagging behind in this aspect of defence capability in comparison with both China and Pakistan, presently has only three Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS), which uses the Israeli early-warning radars mounted in domes on top of IL-76 aircraft. The indigenous AeW&CS, developed by the Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) in Bengaluru and integrated on Brazilian-made Embraer-145 aircraft at a cost of over Rs 2,200 crore, has completed all tests and certification, sources in DRDO told TOI.
It will add to the capabilities along with the three Phalcon systems. "The first AeW&Cs is ready for induction while the second one is in the final stages of tests and certification," the source said. Work on the third and final one is yet to reach the final stages.
Pegged as a "force multiplier", the system is equipped with a 240-degree coverage radars in contrast to the existing Phalcons, which provide a 360-degree coverage over a 400-km range. The AEW&C system will detect, identify and classify threats present in the surveillance area and act as a Command and Control Centre to support Air Defence operations.
"It is equipped with multiple communication and data links that can alert and direct fighters against threats while providing Recognizable Air Surveillance Picture (RASP) to commanders at the Ground Exploitation Stations (GES) that are strategically located," DRDO has said. Besides, the system will support IAF in offensive strike missions and assist forces in the tactical battle area. "The Electronic and Communication Support Measures of the system can also intercept and gather electronic and communication intelligence from radar transmissions and communication signals. It is a multi-sensor surveillance system that can perform the following operational roles as defined by the IAF," a senior official said. However, this addition and even the other two in the pipeline will not put India on a par with China or even Pakistan.
China is equipped with better capabilities. As TOI reported earlier, China 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.Keeping this in mind, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), in March 2016 cleared building of two Awacs, which will involve mounting indigenous 360-degree coverage AESA (active electronically scanned array) radars on Airbus A-330 wide-body jets.
The estimated cost of this project is Rs 5,113 crore and the eventual plan is to induct eight such aircraft under the "Awacs -India". But this is going to take at least seven years to be implemented, if the DRDO sticks to deadlines.