In April 2000 Indian Air Force acquired two Russian Bariev A-50 AWAC aircraft for radar, electronic surveillance, photo-reconnaissance and spying inside Pakistani territory and airspace. With this enhanced air surveillance and interception capability the IAF will have foreknowledge of the aerial and ground activity at PAF air bases and air defence installations. These AWACs can detect the number of aircraft flying in the air, parked or taxing on the ground. They will know the location and deployment of Pakistani radars, missiles i.e. SAM’s, surface to surface missiles, IRBM’s, nuclear installations, military concentrations, armour and artillery deployments, POL depots, power houses, and vital infrastructure. The IAF AWACs could even monitor air and rail movements and the traffic on Pakistani highways. The daily flying of IAF’s Russian built AWACs to obtain a photo and video view of all activity in the air or on the ground to a depth of 300 KM is a very dangerous development and in fact a provocation in the prevailing volatile Pak-India relations.
With powerful radars and electronic sensors mounted on the AWAC’s the Indian Air Force now has an enhanced detection, interception, and accurate attack and ground strike capability. Aircraft fitted with surveillance radars, sensing and data collecting electronics, jamming black boxes and command and control capability are variously known as AEW, AWE&C or AWAC and AEW and are designed for radar early warning and detection of aircraft, ships and submarines. But when augmented by early warning and command and control i.e. intercept capability these are called AWACs. When supplemented by control capabilities only in addition to early warning such aircraft are called AWE&C’s systems. The AWE&Cs receive orders from ground based command centres or from AWAC’s to intercept incoming air raids by allocated fighter interceptors. AWACs are a leap forward in air defence technology and techniques.
Pakistan has a developed air defence infrastructure. There are two air defence commands. The PAF Air Defence Command and the Army Air Defence Command. The mission of The PAF Air Defence Command is to protect and defend Pakistan’s air space. The mission of the Army Air Defence Command is defence of selected Army formations during the war. Pakistan Air Force has an advanced air defence system. Its main components are high and low looking mobile radars, integrated radar detection systems designed for high and low level interceptions using fighter aircraft, surface to air missiles, radar operated automatic firing ack ack i.e. anti-aircraft guns, and shoulder fired infra-red SAM’s. At the Command and Control Centres air defence controllers and their commanders maintain round the clock vigil scanning the air space for possible air intruders. The high alert status of the air defence system and fighter squadrons, ensures guaranteed defence of Pakistan’s air space. After detection and identification of intruder fighters are scrambled within minutes and directed to intercept or destroy it as necessary. Pakistan’s advanced air defence system is fully integrated. It is manual plus automated and digitized to use high speed supersonic aircraft, high velocity radar controlled anti-aircraft guns and surface to air missiles to intercept and destroy hostile air intruders. The nation’s VP’s i.e. vital points and VA’s i.e. vital areas cities, industrial complexes, communication infrastructure civil and military installations, airports, harbours, air fields, cantonments, oil and ordnance depots, power houses, rail and road bridges, dams and barrages are adequately defended against hostile air attack’s. Missile attacks however, must be countered by missile attacks, and such a response is a part of the minimum nuclear deterrence policy.
But with the supply of Russian AWAC’s to the Indian Air Force the PAF Air Defence System could suffer degradation. The AWACs flying along the border will monitor the communications and detect the orders and response of the PAF Air Defence Systems. Hostile aircraft entering Pakistan’s air space will be forewarned. IAF commanders on board the AWAC’s will know as the PAF commanders ACTIVATE VARIOUS ELEMENTS OF AIR DEFENCE to destroy enemy fighter bombers before they could reach targeted VP/VA’s. So far the enemy did hot have knowledge of PAF fighter bases from where the PAF fighter interceptors took off for interceptions, and the number of interceptors climbing out to destroy the enemy air intruders.
With AWAC the enemy will have the foreknowledge of the air bases, numbers scrambled, the direction, speed, and distance from the hostile IAF aggressors. AWACs CAPs i.e. constant air patrolling will facilitate attack and evasive action of IAF strike, air combat and interceptor aircraft. With the AWACs patrolling along the Pakistani air space, this essential element of surprise so vital for the success of air defence action and air interceptions is gone. With the vital element of secrecy penetrated, the enemy will have a better picture of the disposition and movement of PAF aircraft on the ground or in the air. The IAF AWAC’s have presumably been tasked to identify the deployment and disposition of Pakistan’s strategic assets i.e. its nuclear force of missiles and weapons. Even with the mobility of Pakistani radars, SAM’s and nukes, the Indian AWAC’s will track them relentlessly. This implies serious loss of secrecy and confidentiality vital to the maintenance of minimum deterrence by Pakistan. In these circumstances dispersal, high mobility and secure deployment of strategic forces is vital.
It is worth mentioning that the Russian A-50 AWAC is based on the IL-78 transport aircraft powered by 4D-30 KP turbofan engines. It is a sub-sonic heavy jet aircraft whose own survivability depends on fast exit and fighter protection when violating Pakistani air space or the neutral zone. With enhanced vigilance by CAPs whenever the IAF AWACs are snooping near sensitive areas or are in violation of air space, it is possible to force them to land. The Bariev A-50 AWAC weighs 101000 kg (exceedingly heavy). It has a top speed of 800 KPH, range of 7000 KM and endurance of four hours without refuelling. With aerial refueling its endurance could exceed ten hours.
Its vital electronics comprise a rotating VEGA SHMEL 3D Doppler AEW&C radar with passive mode to detect ECM (electronic counter measure) sources. This radar can detect fighters within a radius of 230 KM and transport aircraft up to 300 Km. On its ten radar consoles, ten air defence controllers can track fifty (50) air borne targets, and carry out ten air consoles interceptions simultaneously. This enhanced air interception capability is a very serious threat for Pakistan Air Force. Other electronic facilities on board are IFF i.e. identification of friend and foe a weather radar in the nose, and satellite communication/navigation data link system. The A-50 AWAC is fitted with flares and chaff dispensers to destroy and elude incoming infrared or radar guided SAM’s and radar detection. It also has an undisclosed self-defence capability. The PAF fighters are now vulnerable to surprise attack even within own air space. IAF emboldened by the cowardly destruction of the PN Atlantic near Badin, could resort to further mischief of the same kind.
The communication range of the A-50 AWAC is unlimited because of space relay satellites. Communications with ships and submarines at sea are also possible. These AWAC’s can carry out maritime recce, and could warn Indian Navy ships and submarines about the presence of foreign ships nearby. They could track PN ships and in collaboration with in maritime recce aircraft direct Indian Navy Harriers and IAF SU30-K bombers to attack Pakistani ships in coastal waters or at high seas. The presence of Russian A-50 AWAC’s in the region greatly upgrades India’s capacity to dominate South Asian air space and the Indian Ocean. Flying along the Chinese borders they could violate Chinese air space and create similar threat for Peoples Republic of China.
The A 50 Bariev code named Mainstay by NATO is a force multiplier. It will greatly enhance force utilization of IAF Mirage 2000, Mig-29 and SU 30 combat and attack fighters during war. With the provision of airborne early warning, tracking, command and control these high-tech IAF fighters will become a potent menace for the PAF interceptors. With the enhanced capability for tactical and strategic operations provided by the A-50 AWACs to the IAF, Indian Army and Indian Navy, Indian military posture and defence policy will become more aggressive and violent against its neighbours, especially against Pakistan, which has been labelled as the eternal enemy by Shev Sena hawks.
The US is ahead in AWAC technology. The PAF had opted for the Boeing E3A Sentry AWAC system in 1987. Studies and system evaluation was conducted to upgrade the air defence capability to meet the challenge of Soviet air threat and air space violations on the western borders. System studies and evaluation had clearly established the superiority of the American E3A Sentry AWAC over the Russian A-50 Bariev Mainstay. The Boeing E3A Sentry is superior to the Bariev A-50 in performance, detection, discrimination, interception range, control and command capabilities and in ECM and ECCM performance. The E3A Sentry can jam i.e. electronically blind ALL THE SYSTEMS of the Russian A-50 Bariev and make it inoperative and defenceless. In 1987 US was the only source for the acquisition of the Boeing E3A AWAC’s, but inspite of the Soviet aggression into Afghanistan, Pakistan’s request was turned down by US authorities, who instead offered two AEW compatible E2A’s of degraded performance. PAF rightly rejected the US offer. Washington is unlikely to give Pakistan anything to counter the new threat to Pakistan’s security created by the supply of two Russian Bariev A-50 AWAC’s to India. In fact Washington may have collaborated with Moscow and proded it to lease the AWAC’s to India in pursuit of its own ulterior designs towards Pakistan. The lease and supply of the two Mainstay AWAC’s by Russia to India could be with US approval. Islamabad would be wise to consult Beijing before developing a strategy of response to the grave threat created by the induction of the Bariev A-50 in the region. At the same time Pakistan must lodge protests both to Moscow, Washington and New Delhi, informing them that Pakistan reserves the right to respond to this threat appropriately. Islamabad must urge Russia, US and India to remove the two Bariev A-50 from South Asia, failing which be prepared to face the consequences of the collaborative collusion and conspiracy to endanger Pakistan’s security.
Report by : Air Marshal (Retd) AYAZ AHMAD KHAN