Which PAF aircraft is the biggest threat for the Indian Air Force?
In the 1990s, the Indian economy started performing very well, India was suddenly doing much better than Pakistan, this meant that the IAF’s budget increased, India, for the first time, bought heavy fighters which could carry very big payloads and had very good Radars.
So, to counter this threat, the Pakistani government had to somehow, counter the Indian SU-30MKIs and other aircraft. Their F-16s and F-7s were no match for it. To counter the threat, they planned on using EW (Electronic Warfare) and aircraft which would support their fighters by giving them a better idea of what was going on in the battlefield as their aircraft just couldn’t match the Indian aircraft. This meant that they planned on introducing many AEW&C aircraft for better situational awareness and introducing EW aircraft for jamming the Indian Air Force’s communications, Radars, IR (Infrared) sensors, air to air missiles and GPS. So, this way, they could inflict very heavy damage on the Indian Air Force using the least amount of money possible. Basically, one Pakistani F-16 at 120kms from its target would have a very low probability of getting a lock on and launching its missiles but an F-16, which is being supported by their Erieye aircraft, using its link 16 and link 17 could get a lock and launch its missiles, those missiles would be guided by the Radar which is mounted on their Erieye aircraft with their EW aircraft jamming the IAF’s Ground Based Radars. So, the biggest threats for the IAF are NOT their fighter aircraft. The Pakistani support assets are the real problem here, so the biggest threats for the Indian Air Force are three of their support assets, they are:
The Swedish Erieye AEW&C
The Erieye AEW&C was developed by Sweden’s SAAB company in the mid 90s. The Radar operates in the ‘S’ band and has a very long range of 450 kilometers. It gives the countries which operates this aircraft a huge advantage as they get to know the enemy aircraft’s position and heading. The aircraft carrying the radar can also be equipped with datalinks, this gives it the ability to guide missiles launched by other aircraft to the target.
The Pakistani AEW&C aircraft gave them a huge advantage on 27th of February as they could see our MiG-21s coming towards them, this meant that they could calculate the time it would take the MiGs to reach them, with this information, they knew when to turn back and avoid the MiGs.
In addition to the Erieye, the Pakistan Air Force also uses a Chinese-built airborne early warning system.
The Dassault Falcon- DA-20
The Dassault Falcon 20 is a French Business jet developed by Dassault Aviation in the 60s. In 1987, Pakistan bought some of these aircraft from Dassault and fitted them with EW equipment. This helped them a lot when they came in the Indian airspace with their F-16s to bomb some targets. They jammed a lot of the communications equipment that the IAF had.
Our SU-30 pilots couldn’t talk with the ATC, Abhinandan, in his MiG-21 couldn’t hear a thing. The AEW&C aircraft tried to contact him to tell him disengage and return to his base, he couldn’t hear anything. The jammers, were just too powerful, they could have jammed our ground based radars too, and there would be no burn-through, their jammers are too powerful, they’d have to come very close to our radars so that the jamming becomes ineffective, the MiGs and Sukhoi’s were flying without any ability to communicate with each other, they had to rely on their jamming resistant radars so that they could get an idea of what was happening. It was utter chaos, this gave the Pakistani Air Force a lot of time to bomb the targets and get away.
The Indian Air Force does not have any dedicated jamming aircraft, India relies on its fighters for jamming. Our aircraft, when going for a sortie have to carry missiles, bombs and fuel, this means that their payload after putting all of the things is limited, that means, India can not put very heavy and powerful jammers on the aircraft, giving them a short range and limited capabilities. The Pakistanis, on the other hand, use civilian business jets which do not need to carry missiles or bombs or anything else, they only have to carry fuel and their EW equipment, this means that they can carry very powerful jammers giving them a very long range and a lot of capabilities. Pakistan is about 5 or so years ahead of India in Electronic Warfare and what I call ‘asymmetric methods’.
The IAF never had and does not have an operational SDR (Software Defined Radio) system which are jamming resistant and a universal datalink, that means only a few types of aircraft have a datalink and they can only ‘talk’ to the same type of the aircraft because they don’t have the same waveform . This is a critical vulnerability of the IAF that Pakistan knew about, therefore, over the years, they have invested a lot in ground based jammers, AEW&C aircraft and aircraft to support their fighters. Though now, things are changing and India is buying SDR and datalinks and is thinking about buying dedicated Electronic Warfare aircraft too, in a few years, India would have better Electronic Warfare capabilities
But one thing is seriously concerning, PAF was aware about problems in IAF. We all know how communication plays an important role in defence. They had information that IAF doesn’t use secure comms. And hence, they managed to strike this critical element. And successfully excecuted their plan of Hit And Run.
It was the luck of IAF when Wg Cdr Abhinandan managed to splash the F-16 within its range. But we lost our aircraft over enemy territory. This was happened due to lack of communication between airspace controller and pilot. He was not aware about his location and caught in the bait. All this was a result of jamming by Falcon 20. Therefore, this EW aircraft in service with Pakistan is surely a threat for IAF
But the lesson from Balakot Skirmish is clear. This is why IAF is purchasing SDRs for secure comms and once Rafale enters the operational role, EW capability of IAF will be enhanced. Right now, IAF operates Russian (SAP-518 and SAP-14 on Su-30), Israeli (Elta-8222 on Su-30), French (Remora on Mirage 2000) and Italian (Elt-568 on MiG-29) jammers.