NEW DELHI: The first Russian-made A-50 Mainstay AWACS aircraft developed on the basis of Il-76MD military transport plane officially entered service on Thursday with the Indian Air Force (IAF).
India ordered three A-50EI variants fitted with Israeli-made Phalcon radar systems in 2001. The first aircraft was scheduled to arrive in 2007-08 but has been subject to delays.
“Today we became one of the few chosen countries to possess this kind of plane [AWACS],” IAF commander, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said at the commissioning ceremony.
According to some sources, the second of the A-50EI planes is expected to be in India by early 2010, with the third by the end of next year.
The aircraft will be deployed in Agra with the IAF’s 50 Squadron under the Allahabad-based Central Air Command but will be assigned tasks directly by Air Headquarters.
In many aspects, the A-50 is comparable to the U.S. Air Force’s E-3 Sentry. It is fitted with an aerial refueling system and electronic warfare equipment, and can detect targets up to 400 km (250 miles) away.
The existing Russian-Indian military-technical cooperation program until 2010 includes up to 200 projects worth about $18 billion.
However, bilateral military-technical ties have been overshadowed by recent spats over problems with delivery delays, supplies of spare parts, poor sales support, steep maintenance costs and technology transfer issues.
For instance, India dropped Russia from a $1-bln tender to supply six aerial tankers for the Indian Air Force due to poor after-sales maintenance services and is most likely to look for another manufacturer for future AWACS orders to satisfy its needs for early warning aircraft.
India has recently purchased eight Boeing P-81 long-range maritime reconnaissance (LRMR) aircraft from the United States, and signed a deal with Brazil to jointly integrate domestically developed AWACS systems into three Brazilian-made Embraer-145 aircraft to be later commissioned with the Indian Air Force.