May 27, 2009: After more than a year of delays by Russia (which was supplying the modified Il-76 aircraft), India has received its first Phalcon AWACS aircraft. The Il-76s had to have part of the airframe reinforced (to accommodate the Israeli Phalcon radar) and install more powerful engines. This system is basically an Israeli radar mounted in a Russian Il-76 transport. AWACS have proved to be a crucial element in winning air superiority, and more efficient use of air power.
India ordered three of the IL-76 AWACS, for $367 million each (radar, aircraft and other electronics) in 2004. Now India is looking for three more Phalcon AWACS, to provide better warning of nuclear missile attack from Pakistan, or China. India is open to offers from other aircraft manufacturers, as it was not happy with Russia and the Il-76. Israel uses Boeing 707s, which are no longer manufactured. But Israel will install Phalcon in a Boeing 767, or an AirBus aircraft, both of which the U.S. Air Force considered for its new aerial tanker. Russia has irked India several times with late deliveries of military equipment, as well as warranty and pricing disputes. The IL-76 delay apparently had long term negative effects on trade relations.
Phalcon uses a phased array radar (thousands of small radar transmitters are fitted underneath the aircraft). The phased array radar, in combination with the latest, most powerful computers, and other antennas for picking up a variety of signals, enables Phalcon to be more aware of what electronic equipment (airborne or on the ground) is operating up to 400 kilometers away. The phased array radar allows positions of aircraft on operator screens to be updated every 2-4 seconds, rather than every 20-40 seconds as is the case on the United States AWACS (which uses a rotating radar in a radome atop the aircraft.) The major advantage of the Phalcon is that it is a more modern design. The latest improvements enable it to spot distant ballistic missiles rising up into the air, or cruise missiles coming in low and slow. The Phalcon Il-76 AWACS can stay in the air for about 14 hours per sortie, so three would not be able to provide anything like 24/7 coverage (given the need for maintenance). Eight Phalcons could provide constant coverage, during a crises situation.