Warplanes: Russia Sticks It To The Phalcon

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November 26, 2007: Russia has delayed, by at least a year, delivery of modified Il-76 aircraft for India. These aircraft have part of the airframe reinforced (to accommodate the Israeli Phalcon radar) and get more powerful engines. This delay could complicate Indian plans to buy five more Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems) aircraft. This system is basically an Israeli radar mounted in a Russian Il-76 transport. AWACS have proved to be a crucial element in winning air superiority, and more efficient use of air power.

India already has three on order, for $367 million each (radar, aircraft and other electronics.) More Phalcon AWACS are wanted to provide better warning of nuclear missile attack from Pakistan. The Russian delay may tempt India to use another aircraft. Israel uses Boeing 707s, which are no longer manufactured. But Israel will install the system in a Boeing 767, which the U.S. Air Force is considering as its new aerial tanker. Russia has irked India several times with late deliveries of military equipment, as well as warranty and pricing disputes. This latest delay could have long term negative effects on trade relations.

Phalcon uses a phased array radar (thousands of small radar transmitters are fitted underneath the aircraft). The phased array radar, in combination with the latest, most powerful computers, and other antennas for picking up a variety of signals, enables Phalcon to be more aware of what electronic equipment (airborne or on the ground) is operating up to 400 kilometers away. The phased array radar allows positions of aircraft on operator screens to be updated every 2-4 seconds, rather than every 20-40 seconds as is the case on the United States AWACS (which uses a rotating radar in a radome atop the aircraft.) The major advantage of the Phalcon is that it is a more modern design. The latest improvements enable it to spot distant ballistic missiles rising up into the air, or cruise missiles coming in low and slow. The Phalcon Il-76 AWACS can stay in the air for about 14 hours per sortie, so three would not be able to provide anything like 24/7 coverage (given the need for maintenance). Eight Phalcons could provide constant coverage, during a crises situation.

 


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