IAF – concerns and confidence
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.
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.
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.
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