Pakistan acquires airborne early warning aircraft

ISLAMABAD Wed Dec 9, 2009 2:05am EST

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Pakistan has acquired the first of four airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft from Sweden, an air force spokesman said on Wednesday, in a move to match the capabilities of its main rival, India.

The Saab-2000 AWACS aircraft was handed over to the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on Tuesday.

"The aircraft landed at one of the PAF's main operating bases, marking the achievement of a major milestone in the overall modernisation plan of PAF," the spokesman said in a statement.

The air force gave no details of the cost of the deal nor did it say when the three remaining aircraft would be delivered.

The AWACS aircraft can detect high- and medium-altitude aircraft, low-level flying objects over land and sea and can pick up surface targets over the sea, the force said.

India acquired the first of three AWACS aircraft from Israel in May.

The nuclear-armed South Asian rivals have fought three wars since their independence from British rule in 1947 and strive to match each other's military capabilities.

India is also wary of its northeastern neighbour, China, which is the main supplier of defence hardware to Pakistan.

Relations between Pakistan and India improved after they launched a peace process in early 2004 but India suspended a broad peace process after last year's militant attacks on the Indian city of Mumbai by Pakistan-based Islamist militants.

India increased its defence spending by nearly a quarter in 2009/10 to $28.9 billion (17.9 billion pounds) as the government focussed on security following the Mumbai attacks in which 166 people were killed.

Pakistan raised its defence spending by 15.3 percent in the 2009/10 fiscal year to $4.2 billion, though defence analysts say much of the increase would be spend on the fight against al Qaeda and Taliban militants on its western border with Afghanistan.

(Reporting by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Robert Birsel)