Beware India’s enemies! ‘IAF is expanding at a rapid pace’

Modernisation will bolster our capabilities to counter military challenges in the future; says Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa

The biennial Aero India Show 2017 will begin at Bengaluru on Tuesday, February 14. The Indian Air Force is one of the prime movers of the show along with other ministry of defence organisations.

Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa explained about his priorities for the IAF in coming years. The Chief of the Air Staff, in his first interview since taking over on December 31, discusses the emerging geopolitical situation in the sub-continent, the IAF’s search for a 5th Generation aircraft, its plans for force accretion, more drones and many other issues that are his and the air force’s challenge, everyday.

What are your top priorities, as air chief?

The foremost priority of the IAF is to maintain combat readiness and military professionalism to fight and defeat any external threat.

Our networked operations and progress in network centric operations will ensure that the Indian skies are under continuous surveillance and the challenges of the growing sub-conventional aerial threats are also effectively neutralised.

Enhancing security of our air bases and installations to thwart a possible ‘Pathankot type fidayeen attack’ and furthering our combat potential not only by operationalising our planned inductions but also through indigenisation and training will continue to remain our focus areas.

The aim is to ensure that the IAF is always prepared to undertake operations across the entire spectrum of war and also conduct humanitarian and disaster relief operations to aid the civil authorities.

It is also our endeavour to progressively increase our combat inventory with indigenous equipment to achieve complete self-reliance.

The IAF’s fighter squadron strength is depleting faster than it can be replenished. What are the plans to expand the force to a size required for the threat perception that India has?

The IAF is undertaking its modernisation plan with an aim to build up the authorised squadron strength of combat aircraft at the earliest.

Modernisation plans are being executed with a two pronged objective of induction of state-of-art fighter aircraft and upgradation of existing fighter fleet to ensure their operational relevance in the light of rapid technological advancement in the field of defence equipment.

Induction of fighters include the LCA, MK1A, Rafale and the balance of contracted Su-30 MKI aircraft.

Further, suitable fighter aircraft are also planned to be inducted through the ‘Make in India’ route.

Comprehensive upgrade of the Mirage 2000, MiG-29 and Jaguar fleet is under progress and the IAF is in discussion with HAL and OEM to define the contours of the Su-30 MKI enhancement programme.

Induction of new aircraft along with an upgrade of the existing fleet will give the IAF an edge over its adversaries.

The China Pakistan Economic Corridor is apparently a reality now. How does it affect the security calculus?
Is the threat of a two front war a reality now?
Is the IAF prepared to meet that challenge?

The CPEC is an emerging contentious issue and has the potential of leveraging a collusive military threat.

Geo-strategic alignment of nations would require to be factored in our plans.

We have optimised own force application plans with existing resources to protect our national interests.

With the implementation of our acquisition plans, this capability will systematically improve.

Our operational plans are continuously reviewed to factor any emerging challenges in the changing threat scenario.

Modernisation plans would bolster our capabilities to counter the military challenges in the future.

What is the schedule for the induction of the Rafale, the Tejas Mk1 and the MK 1A?

Induction of the Rafale aircraft will commence in September 2019 and is expected to be completed by April 2022.

Induction of Tejas aircraft in the Initial Operational Clearance configuration is under progress.

This will be followed by induction of the Tejas in Final Operational Clearance configuration and Tejas Mk-1A aircraft.

It is expected that the induction of the Tejas will be completed by 2025-2026.

What is the status of India’s partnership for a 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft?

The Indian version of the FGFA called the Prospective Multirole Fighter is being jointly designed and developed by India and Russia.

HAL from the Indian side and Rosoboronexport from Russia are designated as the lead agencies.

At present, the research and development contract is under finalisation.

The government has formed a committee for comprehensive review of the PMF project.

The case will be further processed after the committee submits its report to the MoD.

The Americans have offered to manufacture the F-16s and F/A-18s in India. Sweden’s Saab has offered the Gripen.
What does the air force think is the best suitable option? Single or twin engine?

The future requirement of fighter aircraft projected by the IAF is to ensure that we maintain an optimum ratio of Light, Medium and Heavy class of combat aircraft.

There is also a requirement to maintain an optimum mix of single and twin engine aircraft.

Based on the inputs given by the IAF, the government is preparing a roadmap for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF.

All future inductions in IAF will be in accordance with this roadmap.

SAAB, Lockheed Martin and Boeing have expressed their interest in setting up manufacturing facilities for fighter aircraft under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

The government is finalising the policy for selection of a strategic partner.

Suitable fighter aircraft to be manufactured in India through ‘Make in India’ will be selected thereafter.

Please give us an update on the IAF helicopter fleet.
The requirements are both diverse and large in numbers.
Which are the models being considered for induction and how many?

The IAF’s medium lift helicopter fleet has undergone a major transformation with induction of Mi-17 V5 helicopters.

Additional Mi-17 V5 helicopters are planned to be inducted in the near future.

A contract has been signed for the procurement of Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters.

Induction of these will boost the IAF’s offensive and heavy heli-lift capabilities.

Induction of the ALH Mk-III and ALH Mk IV and Weapon System Integrate of helicopters is under progress.

Ten LSP light combat helicopters are also being procured from HAL.

In order to address the light utility helicopter fleet requirements, a case is under progress for the procurement of Kamov 226T helicopters from Russia under an inter-governmental agreement through a joint venture.

Subsequently, based on the progress of the indigenous light utility helicopter, being designed and developed by HAL, the balance requirement of helicopters in the light utility category will be progressed.

Both these helicopters are planned to replace the Cheetah and Chetak fleets.

What about the UAVs and armed UAVs? Any new inductions being planned by the IAF?

The IAF modernisation plans factor in the sustained growth of remotely piloted aircraft fleet.

The IAF has a requirement of high altitude long endurance (HALE) and medium altitude long endurance (MALE) class of RPAs along with requirement of combat UAVs/armed RPAs.

The IAF is processing a case for procurement of MALE UAVs from Indian companies through the ‘Make in India’ route.

The UAVs are proposed to be developed and manufactured by Indian industry under an appropriate category of the DPP like ‘Buy & Make (Indian).’

Besides, the IAF is in the process of upgrading its existing UAV fleet by procuring a number of modern systems.

Also, Rustom-2 — an indigenous MALE RPA being developed by DRDO — has recently carried out its maiden flight.

Rustom-2 is also planned to be inducted in the IAF.

We are participating in activities towards the design and development of Ghatak, an indigenous unmanned combat aerial vehicle.

What is the IAF doing to replenish/augment air defence systems?

The IAF is in the process of a comprehensive makeover of its air defence system.

The new generation air fefence radars are being inducted at a brisk pace.

Medium power radars, Rohini radars and low level light weight radars have already been inducted in the IAF.

The low level transportable radars are in the process of induction.

Apart from the two aerostat systems already inducted, request for information has been sought for procurement of additional systems.

The indigenous Akash missile system has already been inducted and a case for some more such squadrons is under process.

Procurement of very short range air defence systems for the IAF and Indian Army, under the ‘Buy & Make’ category is being processed by the army.

The induction of SPYDER QRSAM has commenced and the MRSAMs will commence shortly.

Also, RFP for the S-400 triumph air defence system is under process.

Close in weapon systems are also planned to be inducted through the ‘Make in India’ route.

Apart from procurement of radars and weapon systems, the IAF is networking all its air defence assets on a common grid through the integrated air command and control system.

The IACCS is the backbone of the IAF’s network centric warfare capability which provides a fused air situation picture based on the inputs from a network of ground based sensors.

The integration of AWACS and IACCS strengthens both detection and control capabilities and reduces sensor to shooter time.

The man behind the machine is the most important imperative in a battlefield.
What measures need to be undertaken to attract the best talent to the IAF?

The IAF is expanding at a fast pace with the induction of sophisticated and state of the art systems planned in the next 5 to 10 years.

To exploit these systems, there is a requirement for qualified human resources.

The IAF has a specialised cell which looks after induction of officers and a similar one established for recruitment of airmen.

The personnel in the cell are tasked to create awareness through publicity and motivational lecture tours to various establishments, to highlight the requirements of the IAF and make efforts to attract the youth to join our elite force.

They are doing a good job and we are getting more qualified and talented youth volunteering to join.

This process is continuous and done all year round.

The selection processes at our recruitment boards are continuously updated and made contemporary.

The officer cadets who are being selected to undergo training at the NDA will graduate with a BTech degree from this year onward.

This firm education base should help them in meeting the challenges of handling the machines/ combat assets driven by the very latest technologies.

There is a lot of debate on creating a post of permanent Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee and even a CDS. How does the IAF view the issue?

The creation of a Permanent Chairman COSC/CDS is an ongoing process and has been supported by the three services.

The issue is under consideration by the political leadership.

Social media and its use/misuse by service personnel is creating a new challenge to the forces. How is the IAF dealing with it?

The IAF has necessary guidelines regarding interaction of service personnel on social media.

Moreover, all personnel are sensitised from time to time for strict compliance of the guidelines.

The CAS online forum has been established over our intranet architecture in which grievances of any personnel are directly routed.

I explain the organisational stand point and redress their grievances immediately.

This system is working well.

This system also helps me in understanding the environment and any problem that arises is flagged for preventive action by the IAF at the earliest.

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