As India prepares to induct three Israel-made airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) into its air force, it has stepped up efforts to train military personnel in controlling the sophisticated aircraft that can look deep into enemy airspace.
Indian Air Force (IAF) personnel who participated in the Garuda-II aerial exercise in France last month gained valuable experience in AWACS operations and others will be sent abroad soon to be trained in controlling the aircraft popularly known as "eyes in the sky".
"Our AWACS controllers will be trained abroad before the Phalcon AWACS arrive," Air Vice Marshal S. Mukerji, the IAF's assistant chief of staff (operations), told reporters here Friday.
Under a $1.1 billion deal signed with Israel in March 2004, India will acquire three Phalcon AWACS fitted on Il-76 cargo aircraft. The deal followed complex negotiations between India, Israel and Russia that will supply engines and avionics for the aircraft.
Deliveries of the Phalcon AWACS are expected to begin in 2007, and the IAF has stepped up efforts to train and prepare its personnel for missions involving such force-multiplying aircraft.
During the Garuda-II exercise conducted June 15-30 in France, several IAF officers flew as observers in the French Air Force's AWACS and worked closely with their French counterparts in guiding missions from the aerial platforms that carry a mix of sophisticated sensors and radars.
The IAF is also looking forward to the US Air Force bringing in its AWACS for an exercise to be held in India in November.
"The modalities and level of the exercise are yet to be decided and we are not yet sure whether our controllers will be allowed on the US AWACS," said Mukerji, noting that the IAF was looking forward to gaining more experience in missions involving AWACS.
Group Captain Shreesh Mohan, who led the IAF team that participated in Garuda-II, said: "A ground based radar can look only a certain distance. But an AWACS in the air with its radars can look much further - the line of sight increases."
The AWACS can stay in the air for long periods and alert fighter jets about incoming enemy aircraft and also guide operations that involve going into enemy airspace.
Though IAF personnel worked closely with their French counterparts on the AWACS during Garuda-II, they were barred from actually controlling fighters during the exercise due to stringent French legal provisions that hold air traffic controllers responsible for all mid-air collisions.
Garuda-II marked several firsts for the IAF - its frontline Su-30 jets were deployed for the first time outside India for the exercise and the first time foreign aircraft were refuelled in the air by IAF's Il-78 flying tankers.
"The exercises exposed us to NATO operating philosophies and helped build inter-operability with the French Air Force. We worked together with the French as a good team. We were able to fight together in spite of language problems," said Wing Commander K.V.R. Raju, who led the complement of six Su-30s that joined the exercise.