Last Word

Re­vamp Op­er­a­tional Ca­pa­bil­ity

SP's Aviation - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - —By Air Mar­shal B.K. Pandey (Retd)

ON JAN­UARY 2, 2016, Air Force Sta­tion Pathankot, an im­por­tant for­ward air­base of the In­dian Air Force (IAF) op­er­at­ing com­bat air­craft and lo­cated around 12 km from the Indo-Pak bor­der, was a tar­get of at­tack by a ter­ror­ist group. Al­to­gether a trau­matic ex­pe­ri­ence for the IAF, the at­tack in which eight In­dian lives were lost, is be­lieved to have been spon­sored by Pak­istan and was a part of the on­go­ing proxy war im­posed by the hos­tile neigh­bour on the na­tion, a prob­lem that the In­dian se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment has been strug­gling to cope with rather un­suc­cess­fully, for years. As the episode re­vealed a num­ber of weak­nesses and de­fi­cien­cies in the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus, the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) set up a com­mit­tee un­der the chair­man­ship of the former Vice Chief of the Army Staff, to ex­am­ine the se­cu­rity of mil­i­tary es­tab­lish­ments with spe­cial em­pha­sis on for­ward air bases that are valu­able as­sets for the ex­er­cise of air power. Even while the study by the ex­pert com­mit­tee was in progress, a num­ber of mil­i­tary bases namely Uri, Na­grota and Kup­wara were vic­tims of ter­ror at­tacks.

How­ever, de­spite the crit­i­cal need for en­sur­ing se­cu­rity of air bases of the IAF, it took over 18 months for the gov­ern­ment to adopt mea­sures to rem­edy the ills af­flict­ing the se­cu­rity sys­tem. In the last week of July this year the MoD took a small but sig­nif­i­cant step for­ward in this direc­tion and en­hanced the fi­nan­cial pow­ers of the Vice Chief of the Air Staff of the IAF to Rs 800 crore for strength­en­ing se­cu­rity of air bases. The manda­tory re­quire­ment of ob­tain­ing prior sanc­tion from the MoD and the Min­istry of Fi­nance has also been done away with. As per the MoD, “This step has been taken to ex­pe­dite the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process in­volved in the mod­erni­sa­tion of the se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus of air bases and de­fence in­stal­la­tions”. The IAF has been in­structed by the MoD to lay down in­flex­i­ble time­lines to en­sure that the works are un­der­taken on pri­or­ity and in a time-bound man­ner to se­cure the crit­i­cal de­fence as­sets.

Apart from the chinks in the ar­mour ev­i­dent in the at­tack on the IAF base at Pathankot, the Comptroller and Au­di­tor Gen­eral (CAG) has re­cently tabled a re­port in the Lok Sabha that has ex­posed a num­ber of other weak­nesses in the IAF.

The CAG has ob­served that around 33 per cent of the in­dige­nously pro­duced Akash sur­face-to-air mis­siles are un­re­li­able, un­us­able and untested, pos­ing an op­er­a­tional risk dur­ing hos­til­i­ties. Given the ris­ing ten­sion on the Si­noIn­dian bor­der, the re­port by the CAG is in­deed dis­con­cert­ing as it raises doubts about our ca­pa­bil­ity to thwart at­tack by the PLAAF of China. The CAG goes on to state “The mis­sile sys­tem to counter ae­rial threats is vi­tal for the coun­try’s air de­fence and de­ter­rence ca­pa­bil­ity. Au­dit found that the sys­tem de­liv­ered by Bharat Elec­tri­cals Limited was de­fi­cient in qual­ity. Out of 80 mis­siles re­ceived up to Novem­ber 2014, 20 were test fired dur­ing April-Novem­ber 2014. Six of these mis­siles failed the test. Pre­lim­i­nary anal­y­sis re­port re­vealed that the mis­siles fell short of the tar­get, had lower than the re­quired ve­loc­ity and crit­i­cal units like Servo Con­trol Unit and Con­nec­tor mal­func­tioned. Two mis­siles had failed to take­off be­cause the booster noz­zle had failed. These de­fi­cien­cies posed an op­er­a­tional risk dur­ing hos­til­i­ties”.

Com­ment­ing on the ser­vice­abil­ity of the fleet of IL-76 strate­gic air­lift air­craft and the IL-78 ae­rial tankers, the CAG stated that apart from the ser­vice­abil­ity be­ing low, the avion­ics of the IL fleet had not been up­graded and as a re­sult, the fleet con­tin­ued to op­er­ate with avion­ics of 1985 vin­tage. The CAG also ob­served “There was de­lay in car­ry­ing out first and second over­haul of IL-76 air­craft which meant that air­craft were flown with­out over­haul, well past the due date for over­haul. This was an un­due risk taken by IAF. Air-to-air re­fu­elling is a cru­cial ca­pa­bil­ity both dur­ing com­bat and peace time op­er­a­tions. IL-78 air­craft are ded­i­cated for this pur­pose. How­ever, due to in­ad­e­quate in­fra­struc­ture and sup­port fa­cil­i­ties, the air-to-air re­fu­elling ca­pa­bil­ity was ad­versely af­fected”.

Apart from the de­bil­i­tat­ing de­fi­cien­cies in the com­bat fleet of the IAF which is pub­lic knowl­edge, the re­cent re­ports by the CAG with re­gard to other as­sets raise se­ri­ous doubts about the op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness of the ser­vice. Un­less the MoD, the IAF and the In­dian aerospace in­dus­try un­der­take a com­bined ef­fort to ad­dress the prob­lem soon enough, the IAF may face se­ri­ous dif­fi­cul­ties in the next war, should there be one.

Apart from the de­fi­cien­cies in the com­bat fleet of the IAF, re­ports by the CAG on other as­sets raise se­ri­ous doubts about the op­er­a­tional pre­pared­ness of the ser­vice

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