India is progressively focusing on air dominance and effects-based operations as airpower has become the mainstay of its military.

The terrain in the north bordering rival Pakistan, and the northeast bordering China, favors the adversary as it does not permit sustained offensive ground action by India, pointing to the increasing role of Indian airpower.

India’s emphasis has been on acquiring unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAV), and an increased number of force-multiplier platforms such as airborne early warning (AEW) and tanker aircraft, to avoid transborder surprises.

“India’s force architecture has to undergo a substantive change by 2020,” says Air Marshal A.Y. Tipnis, former chief of air staff. “Given the sweeping impact of today’s technology, airpower has unquestionably taken a position of dominance in changing the very nature of warfare.”

India has plans to develop and maintain air- and space-based surveillance and reconnaissance assets to derive maximum benefit, besides aiming for a strategic deterrence. “Besides building conventional airpower capability, India has been shifting toward aircraft that would give it the ability to patrol and act at extended ranges,” a senior defense ministry official says.

After several delays, India in 2009-10 finally inducted the Ilyushin IL-76 Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS) from Israel as part of a $1.1 billion deal. India now plans to order another two advanced Phalcon systems at a cost of more than $800 million. The aircraft are expected to monitor huge swaths of Indian airspace, intercept communications, log radar frequencies, add ground surveillance and help command Indian air force (IAF) responses. The IL-76 Phalcons are part of an emerging architecture for the IAF, which includes Operational Data Link (ODL), Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), and Air Force Net (AFNET).

The IAF is also looking at the current and future requirements for its UAVs. “We are ready to induct more drones in view of their capability to perform specific tasks on the borders,” says the IAF training command chief, Air Marshal Dhiraj Kukreja. “We can have more of them if the government sanctions additional funds, as there is a cost factor to it.”

Drones are flown across borders for collecting information on adversaries that is relayed for further action. Israel manufactures a wide array of drones, including one of the largest and most advanced models in the world, the Heron TP Eitan.

The IAF flies the Israeli-made Searcher II and Heron for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. About 100 Searchers are in operation on Indian borders. The air force also operates the Defense Research and Development Organization-developed Lakshya UAV as a towed aerial subtarget for live-fire training.

While India continues to look to Israel as a provider of tactical UAVs, the state-owned DRDO is developing a combat UAV called Aura. Three DRDO laboratories — the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), Aeronautical Development Establishments (ADE), and Defense Avionics and Research Establishment (DARE) — have joined hands to design and develop Aura.

The combat drone will be able to detect and identify targets, and fire weapons at them. These units will be controlled from centers spread across the country, according to DRDO Chief V.K. Saraswat. Aura’s flight-control system and data-link packages will be jointly designed and developed by ADE and the Defense Electronic Application Laboratory, a DRDO official says.

The Indian air defense also plans to include electronic warfare assets, surface-to-air missile systems and interceptors in the IAF armory. The IAF has ordered 37 Rohini radars with a range of 180 km (113 mi.), being developed by DRDO; 19 GM-100 low-level radars, based on the GM-400 (180 km, AESA) from Thales; and 15 long-range, medium-power radars from Elta (200 km-plus).

In 2011, India deployed the Arudhra radar in most of the forward and strategic air force stations in the Rajasthan and Gujarat region near the Pakistan border. Arudhra, a medium-power radar developed by the DRDO with support from Israel, is a 4-D, medium-power radar that can act as a sophisticated multimode sensor for fast-changing modern battlefields.

“This radar has been developed by the Electronic & Radar Development Organization of DRDO. It has been inducted to replace the aging TRS-2215 and PSM-33 radars in the inventory of IAF. The radar is a state-of-the-art technology capable of detecting targets at ranges greater than 300 km and it is an important component in IAF plans to achieve netcentric operations. The radar would strengthen air defense in the Saurashtra-Kutch region in western India,” the defense official says.

IAF already has two Aerostat radars and has ordered four more, out of a total requirement of 11. The Indian navy is also planning to procure a few of these units.

DRDO also is enhancing the capability of the Sudarshan advanced laser guidance bomb kit, which has been designed to improve the accuracy of air-to-ground bombing by the IAF. The IAF has significantly improved its air defense capabilities by acquiring the Integrated Air Command and Control Systems and connecting all of its modern and legacy radars under one single grid.

Late in 2011, Defense Minister A.K. Antony said the IAF soon would be procuring surveillance radar elements, precision-approach radars, UHF ground-to-air radio sets and commutated automatic direction finder systems to upgrade airfield equipment.

“Modernization of airfield infrastructure [MAFI] is planned in two phases, under which 30 airfields are planned for modernization in Phase 1 and the balance will be modernized in Phase 2, which will also include airfields of the army, navy, coast guard, as well as any other agency,” Antony said.

The contract for the MAFI Phase 1 was signed by the government with Tata Power at a cost of 12.20 billion rupees (around $250 million) on March 16, 2011.

Antony also said the government had signed a third contract with Israel Aerospace Industries for reconnaissance equipment. The first contract was signed for procurement of aerial reconnaissance pods along with ground exploitation systems with Israel’s Elta on Dec. 31, 2004, and a second contract with Israel’s Rafael was signed on Feb. 6, 2009.

“IAF is in the process of procuring aerial reconnaissance aircraft, additional Aerostat radar systems as well as various types of radars that are expected to provide a gap-free air defense coverage along the eastern and western borders of India,” Antony said.

India is also planning to develop sophisticated state-of-the-art electronic warfare (EW) systems that would be mounted on UAVs, manned aircraft and satellites to see deep into enemy territories. R. Srihari Rao, chief controller of research and development in electronics and computer sciences at DRDO, says, the “EW systems fitted on higher platforms like UAVs, aircraft and satellites would give a very long range of about 400-500 kilometers.”

India is currently using a ground-based EW system fitted on a naval platform with a range of 10-20-km that cannot penetrate beyond line of sight.

I.V. Sarma, research and development director of Bharat Electronics Ltd., says the company expects India’s armed forces to buy EW systems worth 250 billion rupees in the next 8-10 years. The army and air force each are expected to induct 100 billion rupees worth of such equipment, including upgrade programs for MiG-29s and Sukhoi aircraft and new EW suites for the Light Combat Aircraft and Light Attack Helicopter.

Meanwhile, Pakistan has modified its plans to effectively counter India’s purported Cold Start war doctrine. Air Chief Marshal Rao Qamar Suleman recently said the Pakistan air force’s (PAF) plans were modified in view of India’s new doctrine. The PAF is fielding two operational types of off-the-shelf, advanced AWACS of its own: four Saab 2000-based Erieyes and four Chinese ZDK-03 Y-8 turboprop derivatives.

Although Pakistan has the Erieye, the ZDK-03, which Islamabad bought in 2010, is more sophisticated and can remain airborne longer. India’s acquisition of the A-50I was a strong incentive for Pakistan to acquire the KJ-2000 to match capability.

PAF’s F-16C/D Block 52+ aircraft are equipped with Raytheon AIM-120 C-5 Raytheon Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missiles to deal with threats beyond short-range missiles, and thus are the first aircraft in Pakistani service with such capability.

Pakistan also has acquired Chinese SD-10 beyond-visual-range, air-to-air missiles for its JF-17 and J-10 fighter jets. To enable low aerial radar surveillance and detect low flying jets, cruise missiles and UAVs, Pakistan is acquiring six Aerostat L-88 radar systems from the U.S. for an estimated $155 million.

Also, much to the dismay of Indian authorities, Brazil provided 100 anti-radiation missiles to Pakistan in 2010. They are air-to-surface weapons used for destroying air defense ground radars.

The missiles have a range of 25 km and 200-lb. warheads. Fired from fighter jets, they seek and destroy air defense radars even when those radars are deactivated.

IAF has its own Russian Kh-31 anti-radiation missiles that are capable of meeting the threat, equipped with passive homing radar.