Phalcon AWACS
IAF's Phalcon AWACS. India is acquiring two Airbus A330 wide-body aircraft to fit it with DRDO's 'Netra' system. (Representational image)Creative Commons

India is speeding up the acquisition of more aircraft to expand its fleet of airborne early warning and control aircraft (AEW&C) for peeping deep into the Pakistani territory during Balakot-like missions. The ministry under Defence Minister Rajnath Singh may soon sanction the acquisition of two Airbus A330 platforms for adding to India's fleet.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) will fit it with indigenously developed Netra system that includes an advanced active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar that will give a 360-degree view from the platform. Apparently, DRDO has chosen A330 because of its longer loiter period when compared to Russian-built Illushin IL-76 on which India has mounted the Phalcon system jointly developed by Russia and Israel.

Mirage-2000 jet: The fierce IAF fighter

The Indian Air Force (IAF) top brass was happy with the performance of the two Airbus A330-mounted Netra systems that tacked and guided the Mirage 2000-5 attack formation that bombed the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) training camp in Balakot, about 80km flying distance from the line of control (LoC) in Kashmir.

The strike of February 25 was to avenge the Pulwama terrorist bombing of a paramilitary convoy in Jammu and Kashmir killing dozens of paratroopers.

The inadequacy of the AEW&C fleet of the IAF was felt when the tensions after a foiled Pakistan Air Force (PAF) incursion bid led to skirmishes and the shooting down of an F-16 fighter jet by MiG-21 Bison flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who lost his own aircraft but safely bailed out.

Radar Images of skirmish between MiG-21 of Indian Air force and Pakistani F-16
Radar Images of the skirmish between MiG-21 of Indian Air force and Pakistani F-16Source: Indian Air force

Pakistan put to maximum use its six Saab 2000 early warning aircraft, according to a report on the website of the Economic Times. The superiority in numbers might have helped Pakistani direct more aircraft to Indian targets during the standoff, it is reported.

The government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi cleared the Rs 5,200 crore strategic programme to develop the next-generation airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) that will act as a major force multiplier for IAF in 2015. The DRDO is expected to induct its new early-warning platforms into the IAF by 2025 after making structural modifications and adaptations for fitting the 10m rotodome that will be mounted on the aircraft.

Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), meanwhile, is continuing to deploy its own constellation of low earth orbit satellites that will aid in the navigation of military aircraft. The idea is to avoid depending on navigation satellites of other countries during times of conflict to avoid data leak.