IAF – con­cerns and con­fi­dence

SP's MAI - - FRONT PAGE - [ By Ran­jeet Kumar ]

The de­plet­ing com­bat fleet of the In­dian Air Force (IAF) and de­lay in planned ac­qui­si­tion of fight­ers and other fly­ing ma­chines have emerged as prin­ci­pal con­cerns but the IAF bosses do not seem to be overly wor­ried as the Chief of Air Force ex­pressed con­fi­dence in the se­ri­ous­ness and the sense of ur­gency be­ing dis­played by the new gov­ern­ment

Dur­ing his an­nual cus­tom­ary me­dia con­fer­ence on the oc­ca­sion of the 82nd an­niver­sary of the In­dian Air Force Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha was very cat­e­gor­i­cal in his as­sess­ments on the com­bat strength and fu­ture of the IAF, which he de­scribed as a main tac­ti­cal force. “It has to be a main player in any con­flict sit­u­a­tion. It will play the role of a full-fledged strate­gic force. The ca­pa­bil­ity we have in terms of reach and flex­i­bil­ity of strate­gic foot­print is tremen­dous with C-17 or C-130 air­crafts, the in­te­grated air com­mand sys­tems, large num­ber of radars, UAVs, and of course var­i­ous types of fourth­gen­er­a­tion air­crafts, which makes IAF as a force to reckon with. If there is any con­flict IAF will play a lead role. Its ca­pa­bil­i­ties in fact have de­terred its ad­ver­saries to play any mis­chief with the coun­try.”

In re­sponse to ques­tions, the Chief said, “All the ac­qui­si­tion are based on the long-term per­spec­tive plan which is ap­proved by the gov­ern­ment it­self—a plan cov­er­ing three plan pe­riod from 2012 to 2027. Var­i­ous projects are in process of im­ple­men­ta­tion.

The is­sues raised by the me­dia were the fol­low­ing and the Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha re­sponded to them with a lot of con­fi­dence.

On fifth-gen­er­a­tion fighter air­craft (FGFA)

FGFA is also a part of the long-term-per­spec­tive plan. Things have pro­gressed rea­son­ably well. An in­ter-gov­ern­men­tal agree­ment was signed be­tween Rus­sia and In­dia, which out­lined how the project will fruc­tify. We are equal part­ners in fund­ing. In terms of work-share we are almost there, but there are some is­sues which are be­ing ad­dressed. Tech­nolo­gies are be­ing har­nessed for our FGFA. Those is­sues are be­ing re­solved now. I am sure the en­tire FGFA project will fruc­tify, may not be in the time line that we had de­ter­mined ear­lier.

On up­grades

As far as Jaguar is con­cerned it is part of the up­grade plan. We have a large num­ber of fleet which are old, but their life can be ex­tended, for use­ful op­er­a­tional ex­ploita­tion. Mirage 2000, MiG-29 up­grade are all run­ning con­cur­rently, some of them are stick­ing to the time line. some of them have lagged be­hind, is­sues we are try­ing to re­solve.

On medium multi-role com­bat air­craft (MMRCA)

This project is part of the long-term in­te­grated per­spec­tive plan to pre­vent the draw­down of the legacy air­craft of the com­bat fleet like

the MiG-21. Pro­cure­ment or ac­qui­si­tion of the MMRCA was planned to make up for the draw­down be­cause of the ob­so­les­cence which is nat­u­ral in the ev­ery air force. Two years ago after the due process this project was cleared and the L-1 was de­ter­mined and then the CNC had been set up. There are four sub­com­mit­tees, three of them have al­ready com­pleted their tasks and they have sub­mit­ted their re­ports to the main con­tract ne­go­ti­at­ing com­mit­tee and the last bit in terms of con­tract ne­go­ti­a­tion is in fi­nal stage. There are two agen­cies in­volved be­sides the Gov­ern­ment of In­dia-Dassault, which is the L-1, and HAL which is the lead pro­duc­tion agency in In­dia. The first few air­craft will be sup­plied by the orig­i­nal equip­ment man­u­fac­turer. Bal­ance of the air­craft out of 126 would be man­u­fac­tured un­der li­cence un­der trans­fer of tech­nol­ogy (ToT) to HAL. HAL is a very big player in this. Com­plex­ity of such projects is very large like off­sets. so many is­sues like ToT and pric­ing it­self and the work-share and all th­ese is­sues are be­ing sorted out. Though it has been de­layed by two years, we feel that we are in the fi­nal stage and sooner than later this con­tract would be fi­nalised and ob­vi­ously with the ap­proval of CCEA, the fi­nal con­tract will be signed. But it will take almost three to four years to get the first squadron of the MMRCA, and sub­se­quently over the next seven to eight years the air­craft would join the fleet.

Ca­pa­bil­i­ties in North East

There has been a short­age in ca­pa­bil­ity in air power, in­fra­struc­ture, fighter air­craft, sur­face to air guided mis­siles. This sec­tor for many years re­mained un­der­de­vel­oped. In re­cent times the gov­ern­ment and the IAF have made ef­forts to en­hance the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the air power. So in North East, we are set­ting up many radars, air de­fence sen­sors, sur­face-to-air mis­siles. We are strength­en­ing the air-field in­fra­struc­ture. Gov­ern­ment is sanc­tion­ing suf­fi­cient funds, and we are de­ploy­ing ca­pa­ble fighter air­crafts, like Su-30MKI. I feel in the next five years the Air Force will have suf­fi­cient ca­pa­bil­ity in the North East.

In the Western Sec­tor we have Su-30MKI de­ployed and we are de­ploy­ing few more squadrons in that sec­tor.

IAF and HAL re­la­tion­ship

We are work­ing to­gether. We all un­der­stand that the health and ef­fi­ciency of the IAF is almost to­tally de­pen­dent on the per­for­mance of the HAL. More than 85 per cent of our com­bat fleet and other fleet are be­ing looked after by HAL. So their pro­duc­tiv­ity, their qual­ity con­trol and their per­for­mance di­rectly af­fects the op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity and the health of the IAF. They are the pro­duc­tion agency so we have to in­ter­act with them and bring out the flaws in the process in­volved and we are work­ing as a team, we are like con­joined twins. The stakes are very high and due to this fric­tions are nat­u­ral. We have to work to­gether and that is how we are pro­gress­ing. Our aim is to get the best re­sults. I know from time to time we get the best out of the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the HAL so that the op­er­a­tional re­quire­ment of the IAF is not af­fected. We are not ad­ver­saries, as we work with DRDO and other PSUs.

On trainer air­craft

We have al­ready in­ducted the planned 75 PC-7 ba­sic trainer air­craft and more than two-thirds of the air­craft have al­ready come in. We have got the most im­por­tant part of our ab-ini­tio train­ing almost back on track. You all know that we had to ground the HPT32 for flight safety and other rea­sons. The IAF was left with­out a so­lu­tion, The gov­ern­ment was prompt in sanc­tion­ing the ac­qui­si­tion of PC-7 ba­sic trainer air­craft. Gov­ern­ment had al­lowed HAL to pro­duce the sim­i­lar trainer air­craft for the IAF but within the time line the HAL had not been able to pro­duce the air­craft. Now there is a plan to pro­cure ad­di­tional air­craft, which has been planned right in the be­gin­ning. HTT-40 will take many years to come. Ba­sic train­ing of a pro­fes­sional air force must not be com­pro­mised. You can­not have two ba­sic train­ers. It will not meet our re­quire­ments and IAF will suf­fer, our train­ing will suf­fer so the IAF has con­vinced the gov­ern­ment to buy more trainer air­craft. This has proved to be ex­cep­tion­ally good. There­fore we are not ready to de­lay the in­duc­tion of ad­di­tional trainer air­craft.

He­li­copters

The De­fence Ac­qui­si­tion Coun­cil (DAC) has de­cided to ac­quire large num­ber of he­li­copters for the Army and the IAF. Be­cause of ob­so­les­cence, large num­ber of light com­bat he­li­copters are go­ing to be phased out. For that RFI has been brought in and this is go­ing to be the test case for the Min­istry of De­fence (MoD) and the armed forces with em­pha­sis on in­dige­nous ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This will be run in time-bound fash­ion, so that the Army and Air Force do not suf­fer.

I said that there is an ur­gent need for re­place­ment of the vin­tage light he­li­copters for Army and Air Force, I do not think that this decision of DAC to go for in­dige­nous ef­fort to pro­duce very large num­ber of he­li­copters—close to 400—will take too long. This is go­ing to be a test case how quickly the gov­ern­ment can de­liver through in­dige­nous ca­pa­bil­ity and joint ven­tures to pro­duce this air­craft in short­est pos­si­ble time. Lot of ac­tiv­ity are on and I am sure that this will fruc­tify much ear­lier than we have imag­ined. I can­not give you the time line but I am very hope­ful.

On VVIP he­li­copters

You all know that what hap­pened with AW101. We have got only three air­craft de­liv­ered and after the con­tract was can­celled it was not pos­si­ble to fly the air­craft any more. They have been put into stor­age which we are look­ing after, and gov­ern­ment will de­cide.As a re­place­ment as an in­terim mea­sure we have pro­posed to the gov­ern­ment, which has been ap­proved, some of our Mi-17 and Mi-V he­li­copters which are the lat­est in­duc­tions and will re­place the ex­ist­ing Mi-8 he­li­copters. Since the project has been ap­proved by the gov­ern­ment, in the next six months or so, some of th­ese air­crafts will be con­verted into the VVIP ver­sion and it will not com­pro­mise the safety.

On Sukhoi-30MKI can­ni­bal­is­ing

We must have suf­fi­cient spares. Th­ese are all planned but some times it hap­pens, most of the equip­ments are im­ported so we are very de­pen­dent on the OEMs for sup­ply of spares. Th­ese are ob­tained through agree­ments. Many of the fleet are very old so if we do not have spares, we had to take it from an air­craft and make them ser­vice­able.

On Chief of De­fence Staff

The Naresh Chan­dra Task Force re­port has been taken very se­ri­ously by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment as well as the cur­rent gov­ern­ment to my mind. Things are mov­ing much faster than you will ex­pect. Feed­back has been given by all the agen­cies in­volved. Rec­om­men­da­tions in the Naresh Chan­dra Task force re­port has been given by all the forces as far as per­ma­nent Chair­man Chief of Staff Com­mit­tee (COSC) is con­cerned de­spite. Some dif­fer­ences ex­isted some time back but all the three ser­vices have ap­proved the pro­posal so there is con­gru­ence in our ap­proach and think­ing to ap­point a per­ma­nent Chair­man of the COSC. I am sure the gov­ern­ment will take quick decision be­cause there are no con­tra­dic­tory views as far as armed forces are con­cerned so we are very hope­ful that some thing will ma­te­ri­alise soon whether it is per­ma­nent Chair­man or Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS), that will re­quire some dis­cus­sion.

The COSC will be one of the three serv­ing chiefs and the se­nior

most per­son will be con­sid­ered for the ap­point­ment. He will be one more four-star gen­eral. We will have a to­tal of four four- star gen­er­als and the per­ma­nent Chair­man COSC will have his task cut out in terms of in­te­gra­tion of the three ser­vices in re­quire­ment of train­ing, in terms of ex­er­cise plan­ning, in terms of pro­cure­ment, like man­ag­ing the af­fairs of the Strate­gic Forces Com­mand, An­daman Ni­co­bar Com­mand and the In­dian Na­tional De­fence Univer­sity and also look after the three new Joint Tri-Ser­vices Com­mand that is be­ing worked is the Cy­ber Com­mand, Spe­cial Forces Com­mand and the Space Com­mand. Chair­man of COSC or the CDS will have his hands full.

De­lays

We have lost the time line that is def­i­nitely a con­cern. I am sure un­der the new gov­ern­ment all the pro­cesses will be has­tened and all the pro­cesses will be re­newed. We will work much faster with greater ac­count­abil­ity and bet­ter res­o­lu­tion of the is­sues. Main con­cern is the draw­down that is tak­ing place. Com­bat fleet is los­ing its use­ful op­er­a­tional life. They have to be re­placed in time, we can­not con­tinue to ex­tend their lives beyond nor­mal.

On buy­ing fighter jets off the shelf

The LCA and MMRCA are in the pipe­line and will come soon. So we are not con­sid­er­ing any other op­tion. This gov­ern­ment means business and they are re­view­ing each and ev­ery project and we are meet­ing the De­fence Min­is­ter on all the is­sues. The MoD it­self reviews ev­ery project and ac­count­abil­ity is be­ing sought and we are ex­pe­dit­ing and we also have op­por­tu­nity to meet the Prime Min­is­ter as Ser­vice Chiefs once a month, over and above other meet­ings on one to one ba­sis. There is great ur­gency in this gov­ern­ment to pro­duce re­sults and we are very hope­ful that ev­ery process will get ex­pe­dited.

On Chi­nese sol­diers in Ladakh

It has al­ways been a mys­tery the way in­cur­sion takes place, the way th­ese get timed with var­i­ous vis­its. Noth­ing new, you know that in diplo­macy a lot of sig­nal­ing is done es­pe­cially by our north­ern neigh­bour. But I am not go­ing to guess what it means. Lot of de­bates are go­ing on as most im­por­tant per­son in the Chi­nese hi­er­ar­chy was here. We are try­ing to find out why it hap­pened.

Kargil and Ny­oma

Leh and Thoise air­bases are op­er­a­tional and funds for more op­er­a­tional in­fra­struc­ture have been ap­proved. Ny­oma and Kargil and other ALG s are to be de­vel­oped for which funds have been re­leased as th­ese are very im­por­tant air­fields. But work­ing sea­son is very limited, trans­porta­tion is prob­lem and labour avail­abil­ity also ham­pers the work. Ny­oma will take four to five years, and we are work­ing on Kargil right now. Th­ese are not only im­por­tant strate­gi­cally but also for eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the area. In the North East the im­prove­ment of ALGs are un­der­way and will be com­pleted by 2015 and Ny­oma will be a full-fledged air­base by then.

ACM Arup Raha ad­dress­ing the me­dia

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