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Indian Air Force gears up for AWACs

The new acquisitions of IAF would help it shed the image of a MiG flying air force

AGRA (BNS): Around a month ago, Indian Air Force base at Agra received an unusual order to get all the available transport aircraft airborne for a night operation. It was a Herculean task as managing simultaneous take-offs of 29 An-32s in a single night meant testing nerves of all -- from aircrews, controllers to engineers and ground staff.

Such an effort is made only in extreme emergencies. But for officers here, the complexities of managing multiple platforms and simultaneous operations are set to get a sophisticated technological leap.

Agra is not your ordinary airbase. It is India’s biggest air force base, the nerve-centre of IAF's transport activities-- three squadrons of transport aircraft are based here. The Russian built An-32s and the bigger IL-76s are operated from here. The No 78 mid-air refuelling squadron, comprising of six IL-78 tankers, too is based here.

What the airbase in the land of Taj Mahal is now getting ready to welcome is something that would help the Indian air force leap ahead of its regional contemporaries in technological terms. The new addition would be the No 50 squadron for the airborne warning, control and command system, Phalcon, which has been bought from Israel. The first Phalcon, fitted on an upgraded IL-76, is expected to arrive at the base early next year, officials said.

Brahmand was given an exclusive tour of the base, and the activities underway to upgrade it for welcoming the three Phalcons on order.

Israel has delayed the delivery of the system, but IAF has started preparing for the force multiplier. It feels that induction of AWACs will give it an edge in the region. The IAF already has increased the reach of its fighter jets with the induction of mid-air refuellers.

The IAF demonstrated its capabilities when it took its Jaguars to Alaska for an exercise several months ago. It was followed up by IAF’s Sukhoi-30 MKIs travelling to take part in the Red Flag exercise in Nevada, US. Flying over continents as they tanked up mid-air.
The IAF feels that AWACs and air-to-air refueling capability will put it in the league of best air forces in the world. The IAF is already looking up to space for strengthening its network centricity. It would be a fully network centric force in the coming years.

The new acquisitions of IAF would help it shed the image of a MiG flying air force. The IAF is set to induct US aircraft, the Hercules transporters, in its inventory. It has ordered six of the C-130 J Super Hercules, which are expected to be delivered in a couple of years. The aircraft, to operate from Hindon airbase on the outskirts of New Delhi, would be used for special operations.

The modern systems, the AWACs, refuellers and special forces’ aircraft would all be integrated into a huge network centric force, attaining maximum punch. The Indian officials are confident that IAF would be a force to reckon with in the Indian Ocean region after the new acquisitions. “The skills of our pilots would be adequately backed by technology,” says a senior IAF pilot.

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