Quicker induction of combat aircraft essential
The Indian Air Force (IAF) retired its last squadron of 15 Sovietera MiG-21FL (Type 77) fighters on December 11, after nearly five decades of operational service, and the farewell was an emotional moment. The workhorse of the Air Force, the MiG-21s were introduced in service in 1963 and proved their mettle in the 1971 war.
However, the MiG-21 era for the Air Force is far from over. As many as 10 squadrons of more modern variants of the fighter are still in service. This fleet of over 200 fighters is still the biggest in the Air Force but will soon be dwarfed with the Su-30MKIs progressively getting into service.
India also should see faster induction of Rafale and the indigenously designed, developed and produced fourth-generation plus light combat aircraft (LCA) – Tejas. On December 20, the initial operational clearance-II of the aircraft will be done in Bengaluru after which it will be inducted into the Air Force. The aircraft will be the LCA Mark 1 and 40 of them will be inducted by the IAF. There is murmur within the Air Force that the aircraft needs further improvements. If we may recall what the former Air Chief, Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik had called the aircraft as a MiG-21++. Be that as may, the aircraft recently achieved a milestone by launching an infrared seeking air-to-air missile that hit the target in a direct hit with precision and destroyed the target.
However, what the IAF is seriously looking at is the induction of the Rafale which, for some reason or the other, has got delayed. The Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne has indicated that the French fighter aircraft may be inducted into the IAF by 2017. Whether it is the indigenous Tejas or the French Rafale, the IAF needs these aircraft on the double.
Moving from air to land, we have another example of protracted decision-making – the tactical communication system (TCS). In an in-depth article on TCS, Lt General (Retd) P.C. Katoch has underlined the need to quickly establish a reliable and robust information and communication technology (ICT) network which allows interoperability of the three services. The Army’s modernisation plan has been seriously affected by the void of TCS.
Not just interoperable ICT network, what the country needs is a permanent Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC) and there are indications that the government may take a decision in 2014. Lt General (Retd) Katoch opines that the time is now to appoint a COSC as the threats faced by India were increasing from across the borders.
The need to coordinate in the battlefield is gaining credence and technology is also moving in that direction. In the US, research agency DARPA is developing a programme called Mobile Ad hoc Interoperability Network Gateway (MAINGATE) which is expected to help multinational forces, US Government agencies and US troops operating in forward-deployed locations in timely command and control decision-making.
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Jayant Baranwal Publisher & Editor-in-Chief