Eyes In The Sky: How IAF Secured India’s Air Dominance

Source- The post is based on the article “Eyes In The Sky: How IAF Secured India’s Air Dominance” published in “The Times of India” on 25th May 2023.

Syllabus: GS3 – INternal Security

Relevance- Capabilities of defence forces

News– The article explains the history of evolution of use of early warning systems by the Indian Air Force.

What is the historical background of deployment of early warning systems by the Indian Air Force?

The British Royal Air Force deemed radars too advanced and “unnecessary” for IAF. It left behind damaged and sabotaged equipment.

After Independence, IAF decided to rebuild its radar capability. A mobile radar set recovered from sabotaged equipment was christened No 1 Radar Unit and moved to Palam. It became the first-ever Signal Unit in IAF. By 1949, six more sets were operational. These served predominantly as early warning radars.

In 1949, IAF ordered five static Sector Operations Centres (SOC) from Marconi UK. These were intended to replicate the British hub and spoke air defence setup.

The first SOC was established in Delhi in 1954. By 1962, IAF had set up five SOCs at Delhi, Ambala, Jodhpur, Barrackpore and Bombay.

IAF’s Air Defence Ground Environment System philosophy was to protect Delhi, Bombay and Calcutta and have protection along the western boundary via SOCs at Ambala and Jodhpur.

However, the insufficient number of radars did not provide any defence in depth. Vital areas, except Delhi, were covered with a maximum of 80-170 km of early warning. It gave fighter aircraft less time to react.

The 1962 war led to more significant changes. Immediately after the war, modern equipment was acquired from the US and USSR.

Western nations also conducted “Exercise – Shiksha” in India in November 1963, which included training as well as two mobile radar units. This led to IAF contracting six US-made Star Sapphire radars.

The USSR also agreed to provide SA-2 surface-to-air missiles and the P-30 radar. SA-2 units were deployed in Chandigarh, Ambala, Calcutta, Delhi and Baroda, while twelve P-30 radars were stationed nationwide.

However, IAF had only operationalised two P-30s and one Star Sapphire when the 1965 war broke out. 230 SU at Amritsar was one of the two P-30s operational. It played an important role in both wars with Pakistan.

How has the landscape of the early warning system drastically changed after 2010?

On September 14, 2010, IAF launched the Air Force Network (AFNET). It replaced its old communication network which used the tropo-scatter technology of the 1950s with a dedicated fibre-optic wide area network. It offers encrypted, and secure bandwidth.

Building on the AFNET backbone, IAF rolled out the Integrated Air Command and Control System or IACCS. It has provided for automated control and monitoring of air operations by linking real-time feeds from defence and civil sensors throughout the country.

To ensure all-weather surveillance, IAF has ordered indigenously built radars to augment the IACCS feed. These are now in advanced stages of deployment along critical regions.

The integration of IACCS with AWACS, UAVs and surface-to-air missiles has improved the ability to launch fighter aircraft against hostile targets promptly.

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