Electronic Weapons: The Triumph Of Hope Over Experience

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November 24, 2011:  Despite serious problems with Russian suppliers, the Indian Air Force is seeking $800 million from the government for two more Phalcon AWACS aircraft. While India already has three Phalcons, Pakistan has received four AWACS from Sweden (with the radar mounted on a twin-engine business jet) and are receiving four more AWACS from China (radar mounted on a C-130 type aircraft). India is also building AWACS based on a business jet, but these have been delayed, at least until 2014. Actually, it's not Pakistan that India is most worried about, but China.

The government may not be willing to come up with the cash, as doing business with Russia has become less popular of late. Consider the sad tale of Russian delays and broken promises during the effort to get the first three Indian Phalcon systems working.

Two years ago, after more than a year of delays by Russia (which was supplying the modified Il-76 aircraft), India received its first Phalcon. The Il-76s had to have part of the airframe reinforced (to accommodate the Israeli Phalcon radar) and more powerful engines installed. 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.

It was seven years ago that India ordered three of the IL-76 AWACS aircraft, for $367 million each (radar, aircraft and other electronics). Two years ago, the Indian Air Force began urging the government to authorize money for three more Phalcon AWACS, to provide better warning of nuclear missile attack from Pakistan, or China. India made it clear that it was 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.

 

 


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