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Phalcon provides air and surface surveillance within a given airspace. It provides early warning on attacks by enemy aircraft within its surveillance volume. The Phalcon is capable of operating as an Airborne Autonomous Command & Control Centre for conducting offensive and defensive air operations. Current generation of aerostat radars have range of about 250 km. Phalcon AWACS range is close to 450 km.

Ministry of Defence (the Ministry) procured (March 2004) three Phalcon and its sub-systems at a cost of 1,108 MUSD1 (`5,042 crore). Phalcon is divided into two segments i.e. Airborne Segment and Ground Segment. Airborne Segment, called Phalcon aircraft, is a Mission System Avionics (MSA3 ) mounted on modified A aircraft (platform). The MSA helps in gathering signal intelligence of adversaries and in determining location of the emitters. Collected data is analyzed on board and transmitted to ground stations. The system on ground called Ground Exploitation Station (GES) receives and processes data collected by MSA.

In October 2003 India signed a deal to buy sophisticated airborne radar systems from Israel. The agreement to supply New Delhi with the advanced PHALCON early warning radar systems was signed by representatives of India, Israel and Russia. Reportedly four Israeli radar systems would be fitted onto IL-76 transport planes provided by Russia as per Indian specifications. The deal is estimated to be worth more than one billion dollars when it is acquired, and the systems were to be delivered from 2007.

Defense analysts said the Israeli radar system would put large parts of Pakistan under Indian surveillance, including the disputed areas of Kashmir. The PHALCON radar system would give India a strategic advantage over archrival Pakistan. It does give India a certain edge, particularly in air defense operations, because what the PHALCON would do is to provide an over-the-horizon surveillance capability that allows directing air defense operations in a more efficient manner in terms of providing command and control.

Defense ties between India and Israel have grown rapidly in recent years, and Israel is now the second largest supplier of defense equipment to India after Russia. Friday's deal is the biggest so far between the two countries. India has been negotiating the PHALCON deal for several years. But the United States persuaded Israel to delay the agreement last year because of tensions between India and Pakistan were high. However, Washington lifted its objections recently, and Septmber's visit by Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to New Delhi paved the way for finalizing the deal.

India also wanted to buy anti-ballistic Arrow missiles from Israel, but this had yet to be cleared by the United States, which funded the system's research and development. Pakistan had repeatedly expressed concern about the growing India-Israeli defense links, saying India's acquisition of sophisticated defense equipment could destabilize South Asia and upset the conventional military balance in the region. The Israeli defence ministry announced in 2008 that New Delhi was its single largest importer of defence equipment, constituting about 50 per cent of Israel's defence exports and about 30 per cent of India's imports.

The PHALCONs were be commissioned into service by 2010. The first PHALCON arriveed in India on 13 January 2009. All the three Phalcon aircraft were inducted in Indian Air Force (IAF) between May 2009 and March 2011 and six GES were installed between September 2009 and February 2012 at six units of IAF. The Ministry established (June 2007) 50 Squadron (operating unit) at AF Station, Agra to operate Phalcon. 50 Squadron at Agra, under functional control of Air Headquarters (HQ) and administrative control of Wing, through HQ Central Air Command (CAC) is responsible for execution of operational task as assigned, maintenance of the Phalcon aircraft, operational training and management of all associated activities.

As per Policy Page of 50 Squadron issued by the Ministry (June 2007), the operating unit was to operate 1500 flying hours per annum with all three Phalcon aircraft. Air HQ informed (May 2015) that monthly flying task for Phalcon operating unit is assigned based on training and other special requirements projected monthly by various Commands HQ, which is then deliberated and prioritised at Directorate of Airborne Sensors and Networking (ASAN).

On an average there was 43 percent shortfall against the established task of 1500 flying hours per annum. Even the reduced task planned was not achieved in any of the years. Regarding fixing of lower flying task plan against the established task fixed for the Squadron, Air HQ stated (January 2015) that task planned for Phalcon aircraft was based on its 75 per cent availability whereas its actual availability had only been approximately 66 per cent, which had resulted in lower task planned. Further, Air HQ attributed (January 2015) the shortfall in flying task to low availability of aircraft due to un-serviceability of any one or more sub-systems of Phalcon just prior to mission launch, non-availability of participant force and the environmental factors such as bad weather, bird activity, etc.

This aircraft, if capable of taking-off with full fuel, which is 90 about tonnes of fuel (it depends on the empty weight of the aircraft and the payload it needs to carry to perform its duties, which I ignore), should be able to stay in the air un-refuelled for about 10 hours. With Air-to-Air refuelling capability, if relief crew members are on board and adequate rest areas are provided to them, the A-50 could theoretically stay on station several days, once an IL-78 goes up to refuel it every 6 or 8 hours.

As per Tripartite Agreement (October 2003) between the Governments of India, Israel and Russian Federation, newly manufactured A aircraft was to be structurally modified with PS-90A engines by Russian agencies and equipped with Israel made Mission System Avionics (MSA). As per the scope of work, M/s V-1, the prime vendor had the responsibility of training of the Indian Aircrew, MSA operators and maintenance personnel as required. The contract (March 2004) for Phalcon provided structural modifications for Phalcon aircraft which included modifications relating to Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) viz. wing air refuelling installations, air refuelling boom and in-flight refuelling probe capability. Total cost of all structural modifications for three Phalcon aircraft (including AAR capability) and integrated logistic support (ILS) was 143.75 MUSD (`654.06 crore).

AAR could significantly enhance the time on task and is essential due to limitation on maximum permissible take-off weight during summer months leading to reduced fuel capacity of the aircraft at higher ambient temperatures. Further, whenever extended stay of Phalcon aircraft is required in an Area of Responsibility (AOR) far away from a base or deployment of Phalcon aircraft is demanded in a different AOR, the AAR allows effective operation of Phalcon aircraft by eliminating delay associated with landing for refuelling. In addition, aerial refuelling conserves airframe hours and engine life cycles (consumed at each take-off) and reduces ratio of sorties to flying hours thereby reduces exposure to hazards associated with take-off and landing phases. AAR therefore enhances operational efficiency of Phalcon aircraft.

Comptroller and Auditor General of India audit of 2015 , however, observed (June 2014) that AAR capability, provided through modifications in A aircraft, could not be exploited operationally so far as no AAR training was provided to aircrew of Phalcon aircraft by the OEM for this purpose. Air HQ stated (October 2014) that AAR training was not part of Phalcon contract. However, on persuasion by IAF, M/s V-1 agreed to impart training after prolonged discussions and the training was likely to be conducted in November 2014. As regards the status of AAR training, Air HQ intimated (May 2015) that the approval of Ministry had been obtained for training of two pilots and two flight engineers in Russia and the training was being conducted by the OEM in May/June 2015.

The contract for acquisition of Phalcon was concluded in March 2004 with the scheduled induction of first Phalcon at 50 Squadron (Operating unit) in November 2007. The Operating unit initiated a Statement of Case SoC (July 2005) for extension of runway at Air Force Station (AFS) Agra as the All-Up Weight (AUW) of Phalcon aircraft was 195 tonnes, which required a runway length of over 15000 feet vis--vis the existing 9000 feet, for its unhindered operation.

The SoC (July 2005) incorporated a requirement for acquisition of 253.67 acres of private land, also indicating that the action for the same had been initiated in May 2004 to enable extension of runway over 15000 feet. The SoC (July 2005) also proposed to start extension, with available Defence land first, for extension of runway to a length of 10500 feet as a viable option and as an immediate interim measure for operation of Phalcon at AF Station, Agra.

Comptroller and Auditor General of India audit of 2015 noticed (July 2014) from the SoC (July 2005) that AF Station Agra was also a base for the Il-78 fleet, which provides air to air refuelling (AAR) to fighter fleets and has maximum AUW of 210 tonnes. For the AUW of 210 tonnes, the SoC (July 2005) stated that the minimum length of runway required at various temperatures as 11480 feet (15C), 11874 feet (20C), 12464 feet (25C), 13120 feet (30C), 13940 feet (35C), and 15022 feet (40C), Further, as per the SoC (July 2005), the AUW of B/AA aircraft on a runway length of 10500 feet was assessed at 199 tonnes, 194 tonnes and 183 tonnes at 20C, 30C and 40C respectively, as the payload capacity of the aircraft reduces with the increase in temperature given the length of runway and that the mean airfield temperature at Agra airfield is 36C during April-September and 22C from October-March.

Comptroller and Auditor General of India audit of 2015 observed that temperature at Air Force Station Agra was more than 30C for 236 days and more than 40C for 48 days, in a year. Therefore, the maximum AUW of Phalcon aircraft was getting adversely affected for major part of year because of restricted runway length.

Comptroller and Auditor General of India audit of 2015 further noticed (July 2014) that the work services for extension of runway to 10500 feet, was sanctioned in September 2006 under Para 1112 of Defence Works Procedure (DWP) -1986 and completed in March 2009 at a cost of `20.38 crore just before induction (May 2009) of first Phalcon aircraft. Comptroller and Auditor General of India audit of 2015 also noticed (October 2014) that the length of runway remained at 10500 feet and it was not extended to the desired runway of over 15000 feet. The case for acquisition of land initiated in May 2004, was closed following direction (September 2006) of the Chief of Air Staff (CAS) for a review and since the proposal for acquisition of land was a time consuming process and not very cost effective, the same was dropped. The fact remains that non-extension of the runway length to over 15000 feet, has limited the operations of Phalcon to an individual mission of seven and a half hours without landing. This operation/ air time is further constrained due to higher temperature at the 50 Squadron /Air Force Station, Agra, for major part of the year.

The MoU for acquiring another 3 PHALCONs was inked November 2008. The IAF was keen on acquiring three more Phalcons and with negotiations said to be in an advanced stage, the deal seemed likely to be signed sometime in 2009, but nothing came of this scheme. Simultaneously, India was also working on developing an indigenous airborne early warning (AEW) system. According to the Defence Minister, Pranab Mukherjee, completion of development activities and commencement of user trials should occur in 2012 [didn't happen]. By that time, the case for two additional "follow-on" Phalcon AWACS, with a range of over 400-km and 360-degree coverage like the first three, had run into some rough weather due to sharp cost escalation.

The aircraft being looked as a replacement for the IL-76 include Embraer and Gulfstream 550, which can carry out flying missions of over nine hours at a stretch. In July 2008 India announced it would buy three Embraer 145 jets from Brazil for integrating the DRDO-designed and built AEW radar

In March 2016 the Indian government approved the budget for the purchase of two additional airborne early warning (AEW) platforms from Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). The approval, made by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), provided a special budget of approximately $1.2 billion for the purchase of two Ilyushin Il-76 to carry the Israeli-made Phalcon sensor.

New Delhi intended to purchase the additional Il-76s from Uzbekistan. They will be modified in the facilities of the Tashkent Mechanical Plant in Uzbekistan in co-operation with Beriev in Taganrog, Russia. IAIs Elta division would install the radar in the IL-76 dome in Israel. By September 2015 the aircraft had already being purchased from Uzbekistan by Israel Aerospace Industries, and were being prepared for the surveillance role at the facilities of the Tashkent Mechanical Plant in Taganrog in co-operation with Beriev.

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 14:50:41 ZULU