Adversely Tilting The Balance

India and Israel appear to have reached a new dimension in their defence partnership during Ariel Sharon’s recent trip to New Delhi, three Phalcon Airborne Radar Systems, estimated to be worth one billion dollars, will certainly trigger a new arms race in South Asia. The deal is more Pakistan-specific than being “China-Pakistan” in general. The United States, which had a few years earlier blocked the sale of the same Phalcons to China, has now given Tel Aviv go-ahead to sign the AWACS deal with New Delhi. Israel has become India’s second largest defence supplier after Russia with armament sales touching 60 billion rupees (1.25 billion dollars) in 2001 alone. Setting aside US$ 65 million for formation of “lethal platoons” with the help of the Israelis to counter militancy, especially in the insurgency-wracked Kashmir, India is also looking at Israel for joint production of unarmed aerial vehicles (UAVs), night-vision devices for its main battle tanks and battlefield surveillance equipment, besides Barak missiles for the navy and Arrow anti-missile system for the Indian Aerospace Force (IAF). Interestingly India labels Kashmir as an insurgency as a raison d’etre for acquiring state-of-the-art weaponry, otherwise it portrays the Kashmiri freedom fighters as “terrorists”.

Moeed Wasim Yusuf recently wrote from Washington, “India already exercises strong military disparity against Pakistan with an army twice the size of its adversary, an air force, which is three times Pakistan’s and a navy, which is four times as large. This disparity is critical given the region’s nuclear framework. Both countries, having declared their nuclear status, are striving to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent. Aircraft are more vulnerable to air strikes since aircraft can be destroyed while still parked in aircraft shelters, as can the runways they use. Pakistan possesses (a depleted force of) F-16s as the most likely medium for delivery of a nuclear weapon, the Mirage III and Mirage V, could also be used for this purpose. To maintain a credible deterrent Pakistan has to ensure that its aircraft cannot be rendered ineffective by an Indian pre-emptive strike that is capable of destroying important runways or aircraft shelters housing Pakistani delivery aircraft before giving Pakistan a chance to retaliate, the nuclear deterrent will no longer remain credible”, unquote. When conventional forces of one country are numerically far more in numbers than the other, the Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) theory is the only credible deterrent to a possible nuclear war.

The Phalcon Airborne Early Warning Command and Control (AEWC&C) state-of-the-art radar system developed by Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) for India will be installed in the nose of a Russian-built Ilyushin-76 cargo aircraft, the Indians preferring this airborne platform to the superior US Boeing aircraft. The aircraft is the hub of a communications system that spots enemy planes and missiles, and then co-ordinates defence against them. The Phalcon system can play a decisive role on the modern battlefield by providing real-time intelligence and command and control needed to achieve and maintain air superiority over the combat area and to enable surveillance of borders in peacetime. The Phalcon can detect enemy aircraft and missiles within a range of hundreds of miles, at high or low altitudes, by day and night and in all weather conditions, it also carries equipment that monitors, analyses and decodes enemy radio transmissions. The system uses Active Phased Array Electronic Scanning Technology rather than a mechanically rotating antenna (rotodome) used by current US AWACS systems, giving greater operational maneuverability and flexibility, improving performance by several orders of magnitude. Based on four sensors: phased-array radar, phased-array IFF, ESM/ELINT and CSM/COMINT, the unique fusion technology continuously cross-relates the data gathered by all sensors, when detected, the system automatically initiates an active search of the complementary sensors, viz (1) the AEWC&C phased array electronically steered beam radar replaces the conventional mechanically-rotated antenna of the rotodome radar and tracks high maneuvering targets. Track initiation is achieved in 2 to 4 seconds as compared to 20 to 40 seconds with the present US Awacs-type rotodome radar (2) the IFF system employs solid state phased array technology perform interrogation, decoding, target detection and tracking, the IFF data being automatically correlated with the phased array radar (3) the ESM/ELINT system receives, analyses and locates radar signals, covering 360 degrees. It combines high sensitivity with high probability of intercept, and achieves excellent accuracy in bearing measurement. Very high bearing accuracy is achieved through Differential Time of Arrival (DTOA) measurements, the system also collects and analyzes ELINT data (4) the PHALCON’s CSM/COMINT receives signals in UHF, VHF and HF, rapidly searching for airborne, shipborne or ground communications signals of interest, a DF capability locates targets. Selected radio nets can be monitored for signal activity, extensive use being made of computers to reduce the load on operators. While the aircraft communicates, via its data link, with Air Defense HQ, data from additional air defense sensors are fused to create a complete spatial picture.

The PHALCON system acts as a major force-multiplier, drastically altering the military balance in South Asia, allowing India to execute its counter-air campaign against Pakistan more effectively, while providing for an enhanced capability of preventing a Pakistani aerial counter-attack. With the technology required to assess radar systems nonexistent in Pakistan, Pakistani strategists will inevitably take an even more pessimistic view of the chance of survival of their aircraft in a sustained conflict, a more conservative view of Indian strategic defenses will increase focus on greater missile-capability development. “When the United States cut off aid to Pakistan in 1991, the inability to acquire the F-16s intensified Pakistan’s efforts to develop mobile delivery systems”, Moeed Wasim Yusuf wrote, “Ballistic missiles, launched from mobile delivery systems are less vulnerable to pre-emptive strikes. The mobile systems allow wide dispersal of the missiles, making it more difficult for the adversary to target all functioning systems. In case of India and Pakistan, it is also difficult to determine the actual number of missiles possessed by either side, the initiator can never be sure if all systems in the enemy’s arsenal have actually been destroyed in a pre-emptive strike. What is conveniently ignored is that the West must take part of the blame for the recent Pakistani missile development. If the West, especially the Untied States, wants to continue providing military assistance to India, directly or indirectly, but then no one has a right to condemn Pakistani ballistic missile tests, which make perfect strategic sense,” unquote.

While the Israel-India-Russia deal is called a three-country arrangement, the basic state-of-the-art Raytheon technology is US. Russia’s involvement is an Indian psy-war initiative directed to make Pakistan feel the geo-political heat of the 4-country association. Thus seemingly isolated, Pakistan will be hard pressed to produce a credible deterrent, China’s geo-political interests being inadvertently caught in the line of fire by this blatant discrimination may be our salvation. Labeled a “strategic competitor” in the National Security Strategy annunciated by the Bush Administration on coming to power in Jan 2001, China’s apprehension that India is being used by the US as a proxy for it’s containment will be reinforced.

Necessity may be the mother of invention as well as innovation, to survive there is no alternative to pragmatism. What is of dire, indeed strategic, importance, is the necessity of having an immediate face-to-face dialogue with Israel so that they understand that Pakistan is being forced into a corner by Israel’s force-multiplier support to an implacable enemy whose leaders regularly promise Pakistan that they will blow us into oblivion. That should sound familiar to the Israelis who have lived in a “Masada complex” corner themselves for over 50 years and in 1973, faced with disaster, had almost activated Dimona. Why not be an optimist and turn the situation on its head? If the deal is not Pakistan-specific what would Israel say if Pakistan were to show an interest in purchasing two PHALCON systems?