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Thursday, December 31, 2009

AEW&C systems

The technology is inferior to the American Awacs long denied to Pakistan.— Photo from AP/File 

THE induction of the first ‘high-tech’ aerial surveillance system into the Pakistan Air Force has been hailed as a great leap forward for the country’s defences. But we are circumspect. Here’s why. First, the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) system purchased from Sweden is actually a mid-range technology, better than the rival French technology currently in use by the Pakistan Navy but inferior to the much-sought-after-but-denied American Awacs. Second, it is not clear yet to what purpose the new Swedish systems will be put. Handing the first over to the air force suggests that the war planners have an eye on India’s ‘cold start’ doctrine, which would theoretically make possible quick, surgical strikes inside Pakistan. But the fact is, the Swedish technology acquired can be equally useful over water, where the Pakistan Navy could use it to keep an eye on India’s submarines, particularly now that India is testing its first indigenously built nuclear submarine (though it is not yet clear if the Indian craft is merely a nuclear-powered submarine or a nuclear-missile-armed submarine).

Either way, the Swedish radars are a defensive capability that seems to have been acquired in response to assessments of what India can or cannot pull off militarily. Which raises the question: is military hardware the only, let alone the best, route for Pakistan to respond to changing threat perceptions? War planners here in Pakistan are always keen to highlight that they have ‘realistic’ assumptions and are ‘aware’ of the economic constraints of the country and therefore understand the impossibility and undesirability of matching India weapon for weapon in the military department. And yet Pakistan has just accepted the first of four reconnaissance systems that will cost $866m after virtually zero debate outside select military circles. Value for money? The people can only be certain when the defence-procurement system becomes more transparent. (Original News)