India & Pakistan AEW Options

Unfortunately, since the partition of the old Imperial India into India and Pakistan, the two countries have been either at war, recovering from war or at peace but with both sides preparing for the next war and sadly there seems little likelihood that this cycle will be broken in the near future.

Beriev A-50 Mainstay

In Apr 00 Russia caused consternation in Pakistan when they detached two Russian Beriev A-50 Mainstay AEW aircraft to operate from an Indian Air Force base, during a lengthy demonstration of AEW capabilities to Indian Air Force personnel. Although both India and Pakistan have long recognised the benefits of operating an AWACS aircraft, cost and more importantly, actual availability always mitigated against either country being the first to actually operate these ‘force-multipliers’. America, aware of how easily an ‘AEW Race’ could be started, always rebuffed any attempt by the countries to purchase either the E-2C Hawkeye or the E-3A Sentry. Russia initially appeared more willing to allow India to upset the military balance in the area by offering them the Beriev A-50 Mainstay. However, the deal fell through, either because Russia was unwilling to agree to the ‘technology transfer’ necessary to allow the IAF to operate and maintain the aircraft or because Russia wanted too high a price for what India perceived as essentially a first generation AEW system and one that was markedly inferior to either American aircraft.

IAI Phalcon

Consequently, on 11 Aug 03 it was something of a surprise when the US State Department announced that it had no objections to the sale of the Phalcon system to India. Following detailed negotiations, on 5 Mar 04 the Indian Ministry of Defence and Israeli Aircraft Industries (IAI) finally signed a deal worth up to $1.1 billion for the supply of three Phalcon AEW systems installed on Il-76MD Candid aircraft. The US agreeing to the sale of the Phalcon system was a surprise because in the past, other than the sale of one Phalcon equipped 707 to Chile, America has blocked Israeli ambitions to sell the Phalcon system elsewhere – most notably China. As production of the Il-76MD Candid aircraft ceased some time ago, the 3 Indian aircraft are expected to be sourced from the Tashkent factory in Uzbekistan, where a number of surplus incomplete airframes are available for disposal. The airframes will be flown from Tashkent to the Irkut Corporation facility at Irkutsk, where, along with some structural modifications, they will be completed and more powerful Aviadvigatel PS-90A will replace the standard D-30KP-2 turbofans. Then the completed aircraft will be flown to the IAI factory in Israel for the installation of the Phalcon radar system.

IAI Stratus Aerostat

The exact specification of the Indian Phalcon system is unknown, but it has certainly been developed considerably from the version sold to Chile in 1994. Whether the Indian Air Force will be supplied with the ‘full-strength’ Phalcon, equipped with a phased-array radar, phased-array IFF, ESM/ELINT and CSM/COMINT, which functions as a sophisticated intelligence gathering, as well as AEW aircraft, remains to be seen. The Phalcon system is believed to be capable of tracking up to 60 targets at ranges between 435-500 miles, giving the Indian Air Force the ability to survey large areas of Pakistan from within Indian airspace. Currently, the first aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in Dec 07, followed by the second nine months later and the last aircraft around Apr 09. Israel has also agreed to supply India with high-resolution pictures from its Ofeq-5 photo-reconnaissance satellite of the Kashmir region and the line of control area between India and Pakistan. Finally, in 2003, Israel sold India a number of Aerostat balloons, equipped with phased array radars that are permanently deployed along the border with Pakistan.

India has also decided to spend $400 million reviving its indigenous AEW system. This project was cancelled in 1999 when their HS-748 test platform crashed after the rotordome collapsed into the fuselage and then fell off – the crash killed the three crew and five of the key project scientist’s who were also on board. Rather than attempt another rotordome mounted radar, this time the Indian Electronics and Radar Development Establishment (LRDE) will try and develop a smaller electronic phased-array radar, that can be mounted on the top of the fuselage of a small business jet, similar to the Ericsson PS-890 Erieye radar that currently equips the SAAB Argus AEW&C and Embraer EMB-145SA. Other unconfirmed reports indicate that India has already ordered five Embraer EMB-145 aircraft from Brazil for $200 million on which to mount the radar.

SAAB 2000

However, given events in India, Pakistan has quickly responded to its own lack of an effective AEW&C aircraft. Currently Pakistan is negotiating with SAAB to acquire six Erieye equipped SAAB 2000 AEW&C aircraft. Talks on the financial and technical aspects of the contract are continuing, but agreement in principle has already been established, although the exact timescales have yet to be announced. The Swedish Argus AEW&C was based on the SAAB 340 which went out of production in 1999. Consequently, for Pakistan the Erieye radar will be mounted on the larger, but very similar SAAB 2000 airframe – integrating the Erieye radar system should be fairly straightforward in this larger airframe. Pakistan considered ordering the Embraer EMB-145SA, but decided that, as well as being more expensive, the aircraft lacked the necessary altitude performance to cope with the hot & high conditions in Pakistan.

Powered by two Allison/Rolls-Royce AE2100 engines, the SAAB 2000 can remain airborne for nine hours at 30,000ft, a significant improvement on the GE-CT7-98 powered SAAB 340 Argus. Although the SAAB 2000 also went out of production in 1999, SAAB has sufficient aircraft in its inventory to complete this order. Sweden is also considering replacing the SAAB 340 Argus with the SAAB 2000 Erieye system, as the larger internal volume of this airframe allows for the installation of additional control consoles and communications equipment – allowing the aircraft to be employed as a much more effective airborne command & control post.

Progress in India’s programme to acquire an indigenous AWACS capability appear to have hit a major stumbling block in 2006, with the Indian Air Force (IAF) stating publicly that the Indian Defence Research and Development Organisation’s (DRDO) $500 million 2004 project to design and develop an AWACS system, currently fails to meet the requirements for a system that can be deployed to support all three military services as necessary.

The Indian Air Force is the lead service for this project and appears to be taking a hard line with the DRDO - in their view there appear to be two main problems with the programme. The first seems to centre around the performance of the Embraer EMB-145 platform that was chosen to carry the DRDO developed phased array radar. It now appears that with the radar mounted above the fuselage, the aircraft cannot fly for 10 plus hours above 40,000ft, which are the minimum requirement for the defence forces. The second objection focussed on the DRDO developed phased array radar which apparently only has a range of 300km and an area coverage of 240 degrees – both less than required.

The IAF now wants the DRDO to work closer with them to ensure that the revised technical parameters set for the programme meet the customer’s requirements. The technical parameters should be completed by mid-2007, but the likely in-service date will slip from 2012 to 2016 – a considerable delay. This delay is a considerable blow to the Indian plan to be able to deploy up to three aircraft in support of their armed forces. Perhaps initially there was a degree of over-confidence on the part of the DRDO who clearly believed they could develop a phased-array radar, with similar performance to the Ericsson’s PS-890 Erieye radar that is mounted on the SAAB100B Argus, in a very challenging timescale. This is the second time that the DRDO has suffered a setback in their attempts to develop an indigenous AWACS capability, following the crash of an ill-judged experimental AEW HS-748 and it now appears they have again decided to use an unsuitable aircraft for the task. Despite these setbacks, never mind the cost involved, India is determined to develop their own AWACS capability, however, whether it will actually ever be as capable and cost-effective as an off-the-shelf SAAB 2000 with an Erieye radar, that Pakistan is purchasing, remains to be seen.

Over the last 30 years, many countries have attempted to develop indigenous AEW radar and their associated systems – until the arrival of the Erieye and Phalcon systems, only the USA and USSR really succeeded. Given the financial and technical difficulties involved in developing an indigenous AEW&C capability, Pakistan's decision appears well founded and in the long term may well result in a much more cost-effective and capable system than the recent decision in India may eventually deliver - only time will tell.