India on Thursday joined an elite club of nations when it inducted the first of the three AWACS systems that will help the air force detect incoming missiles and enemy aircraft that may take off from across the border.
Expected to substantially enhance India's capability to keep an eye on enemy activities in air, land and the sea, the AWACS bought from Israel was formally handed over to the IAF's newly-formed Agra-based 50 Squadron at a brief ceremony here.
Symbolically, Defence Minister AK Antony handed over a key to Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major at the Palam air base here.
"This is a historic day for both the Air Force and the country that will enhance the national security apparatus. AWACS have been a long-standing operational requirement and much-needed for the IAF's modernisation process," Antony told a gathering of diplomats, bureaucrats and IAF officers at the induction ceremony here.
AWACS is described as "an eye in the sky" because of its capability to carry out surveillance at about 400-km range under all-weather situation and to lock on to 60 targets simultaneously.
AWACS has a 360-degree phased array radar mounted on to the heavylift IL-76 transport aircraft airframe and would provide the much-required battlespace situational awareness for the IAF for its tactical and strategic operations.
So far, only the US, Russia, Israel, China, United Kingdom, France and Australia have the system operational in their air forces, and its induction has propelled IAF into that major league.
"The AWACS induction has increased the IAF's response system and we had foreseen that future air operations will be conducted at a very high tempo and this requires real-time control of our combat assets.
"A potent force multiplier, it will enable robust decision-making cycle of the air force. It will be a vital component of IAF's combat potential," Major said at the ceremony.
Major said being the first of the three AWACS, India had bought from Israel in a USD 1.1 billion deal in 2004, its operations will help the IAF in assessing future requirements of the system to cover the vast expanse of the country.
"We are using this asset for the first time and it will take us a while before we know how many more we require. But seeing the expanse of our country we will need more of these," he said during a media interaction.
The AWACS would also be an important part of IAF's future communication network, providing direct data link to both airborne and static assets on the ground, he said.
The IAF has already initiated the Air Force Network (AFNET) project to be integrated with the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) and Operational Data Link (ODL).
With its induction, IAF's frontline fighter jets such as Su-30MKI, Mirage-2000s and Jaguars would now be backed by the AWACS to provide a data loop and intelligence much beyond visual range that would speed up India's response systems to conflict situations.
India and Israel are said to be in advanced negotiations for the purchase of three more AWACS and once the six are inducted into the IAF, these systems would be ultimately linked to the country's first military satellite proposed to be launched soon.
This would take the IAF into the next step in its efforts to become a network-centric force that could pack a power punch to its both offensive and defensive operations.