India on Monday became the first country in South Asia to own an Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS), called 'an eye in the sky', with the Israeli-made 'Phalcon' reaching Jamnagar airbase on the country's western coast on Monday morning.
The Phalcons would now be formally inducted into the Indian Air Force (IAF) on May 28 by Defence Minister AK Antony at the Palam airbase in the capital, IAF sources said.
The AWACS, which arrived in New Delhi on Monday morning about 18 months behind schedule, would provide IAF the means to keep a tab on enemy aircraft and missiles taking off from across the border, thereby alerting response defensive systems here.
The Phalcon, mounted on Russian Ilyushin-76 heavylift transport aircraft's airframe, had left Israel on Sunday and IAF pilots flew the first of the three aircraft-mounted radar system to India.
Jamnagar would be its first stop, followed by Palam tomorrow, before it reaches Agra, which would be its homebase, sources said.
The delivery of the $1.1 billion AWACS was previously scheduled on May 18, but last minute technical check-ups delayed its departure from Israel, sources said.
The remaining two AWACS, under the tripartite deal between India, Israel and Russia, would be delivered by mid or late 2010, IAF sources said.
The AWACS would provide India means to track incoming missiles and look deep into the neighbouring countries under all weather conditions.
The system, primarily used for detection of incoming hostile cruise missiles and aircraft from hundreds of kms away, can also direct air defence fighters during combat operations against enemy jets. It also helps detect troop build up across the borders.
With the induction of the Phalcons, the frontline IAF fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs, Mirage-2000s and Jaguars will now be backed by the airborne radar system to provide data on incoming enemy aircraft or missile much beyond visual range through a direct link.
India and Israel are said to be in advanced negotiations for the purchase of three more Phalcon AWACS, which the IAF proposes to integrate with other air and ground assets.
All the six AWACS would be linked with the country's first military satellite proposed to be launched by the middle of next year.
Phalcons would provide the IAF with intelligence inputs, helping it to maintain air superiority, improve strike capabilities and conduct tactical surveillance deep into neighbouring countries.
An all weather system capable of locking on to 60 targets simultaneously at 400-km range, the swift mobility that the AWACS platform provided would help neutralise any threat, as it could be moved anywhere at a very short notice.
AWACS, a potent force-multiplier, would significantly enhance the effectiveness of both offensive and defensive operations.
The US had earlier reportedly pressurised Israel to cancel a similar deal with China in 2000, but gave green signal to the Indian deal in May 2003.
Israel has recently emerged as India's largest supplier of defence equipments with the country's weapon sales to New Delhi constituting about 50 per cent of its arms exports.