In­ter­view with Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha

On the oc­ca­sion of the 83rd An­niver­sary of the In­dian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Mar­shal Arup Raha, PVSM, AVSM, VM, ADC, Chief of the Air Staff and Chair­man, Chiefs of the Staff Com­mit­tee, spoke to Jayant Baran­wal, Editor-in-Chief, SP’s M.A.I.

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SP’s M.A.I. (SP’s): With In­dia emerg­ing as a re­gional power, the na­tion will jus­ti­fi­ably as­pire for lead­er­ship in the re­gion. In this con­text, what in your view would be the role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties be­stowed upon the IAF? Chief of the Air Staff (CAS): The IAF has been given the role and re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to re­main a mod­ern, flex­i­ble and pro­fes­sional aerospace power with full spec­trum ca­pa­bil­ity to pro­tect and fur­ther na­tional in­ter­ests and ob­jec­tives. It is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of the IAF to of­fer sov­er­eign op­tions to the po­lit­i­cal lead­er­ship and the IAF en­deav­ours to be the first re­spon­der to con­tin­gen­cies. The IAF to­day is mov­ing ahead con­fi­dently on its growth path to­wards ac­quir­ing state-of-the-art cut­ting-edge tech­nolo­gies and we have made very good progress in this re­gard. The ac­qui­si­tion of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy weapons and plat­forms has greatly en­hanced our all-weather op­er­a­tional ca­pa­bil­ity, be­sides en­hanc­ing our strate­gic reach. The IAF’s strate­gic foot­print and ca­pa­bil­i­ties serve the ends of mil­i­tary diplo­macy and na­tion build­ing.

SP’s: In a unipo­lar world of to­day, in your view, what course must In­dia adopt to achieve a bal­ance of power in the re­gion vis-à-vis China? CAS: Threat and se­cu­rity as­sess­ment is a nat­u­ral and on­go­ing process for a coun­try to en­sure its na­tional se­cu­rity. We are en­hanc­ing our ca­pa­bil­ity to meet var­i­ous mul­ti­di­men­sional threats that we may have to ad­dress in the fu­ture. Our mod­erni­sa­tion plan and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment is in sync with our en­deav­our to re­tain a ‘Com­bat and Ca­pa­bil­ity Edge’. The IAF’s fo­cus is on its ca­pa­bil­ity en­hance­ment and is not coun­try-spe­cific.

SP’s: In view of the prob­lems af­flict­ing the Hin­dus­tan Aero­nau­tics Lim­ited’s (HAL) in­ter­me­di­ate jet trainer (IJT) pro­gramme and the un­cer­tainty of time frame in which the jet trainer could be made avail­able, what are the op­tions be­fore the IAF to re­place the age­ing Ki­ran fleet? CAS: We had in­ducted the Pi­la­tus PC-7 Mk II air­craft for Stage-I fly­ing train­ing of ab-ini­tio pilots. The feed­back in­di­cates that the PC-7 Mk II, with its state-of-the-art cock­pit dis­plays and avionics, is an ex­cel­lent ba­sic trainer air­craft which can also un­der­take sev­eral facets of Stage-II or in­ter­me­di­ate level train­ing. The Hawk ad­vanced jet trainer (AJT) is al­ready in­te­grated into the IAF’s train­ing pat­tern. Both these trainer air­craft are sup­ported by ef­fec­tive sim­u­la­tors. Hence, the IAF has ini­ti­ated the process for con­duct­ing a fly­ing train­ing pat­tern based on two air­craft types: viz PC-7 Mk II and Hawk AJT, to re­place the ‘three air­craft – three stages’ pro­gramme that had so far been in place.

SP’s: With Air­bus He­li­copters join­ing hands with the Mahin­dra Group and Rus­sia likely to part­ner with HAL, both to pro­duce light util­ity he­li­copters to re­place the Chee­tah/Chetak fleet, what would be the fate of HAL’s plan to de­velop an in­dige­nous plat­form? CAS: HAL’s light util­ity he­li­copter (LUH) is an in­dige­nous de­vel­op­ment and is presently at de­sign and de­vel­op­ment stage with ac­tive in­volve­ment of the IAF. In the in­terim, the IAF has re­cently signed a con­tract with HAL for the pro­cure­ment of 10 Chee­tal he­li­copters to make good its im­me­di­ate short­fall in op­er­a­tional re­quire­ment. Ar­rival of Mahin­dra Group will in­crease the com­pe­ti­tion and the coun­try will stand to ben­e­fit from it.

SP’s: Can you please pro­vide us with an up­date on some of the ma­jor ac­qui­si­tion pro­grammes which have been in the pipeline – for ex­am­ple, A330 MRTT aerial tanker, Apache and Chi­nook he­li­copters as well as Spe­cial Mis­sion Air­craft?

CAS: The In­dian Air Force is con­tin­u­ally en­hanc­ing its ca­pa­bil­i­ties across the en­tire spec­trum of cur­rent and en­vis­aged roles. To­wards this, con­tracts for pro­cure­ment of heavy-lift he­li­copters and at­tack he­li­copters have al­ready been signed with Boe­ing and the US Gov­ern­ment by the Min­istry of De­fence. Flight re­fu­elling air­craft, ad­di­tional C-130 air­craft and AWACS are at an ad­vanced stage of pro­cess­ing.

SP’s: Could you please give us your views on the re­cent re­ports in the media about the global ten­der that will be floated for 90 com­bat air­craft to be man­u­fac­tured in In­dia un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ scheme? CAS: As of now, we are pro­gress­ing the case for the pro­cure­ment of 36 Rafale air­craft from France un­der an In­ter-Gov­ern­men­tal Agree­ment. A de­ci­sion on in­duc­tion of ad­di­tional fighter air­craft would be taken by the gov­ern­ment.

SP’s: How do you per­ceive the fu­ture of ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme es­pe­cially as HAL has failed to meet with SQRs laid down by the IAF for the light com­bat air­craft (LCA) that has taken 32 years to get IOC?

CAS: The ‘Make in In­dia’ thrust is not or­gan­i­sa­tion-spe­cific. It en­vis­ages a com­pre­hen­sive and syn­er­gised na­tional ef­fort in­volv­ing the pri­vate as well as the public sec­tor, to­wards achiev­ing a high level of self-re­liance in all fields of air­craft man­u­fac­tur­ing. There is a need to build up our man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­i­ties and also to un­der­take in­ten­sive skill de­vel­op­ment of the work­force to en­able it to han­dle the latest tech­nolo­gies and best prac­tices.

SP’s: There is a gen­eral belief that UCAVs and UAVs will play a ma­jor role and will oc­cupy pre­dom­i­nant po­si­tion in mil­i­tary avi­a­tion in the fu­ture. What is the IAF’s per­spec­tive and plans if any in this re­gard?

CAS: The IAF has been closely mon­i­tor­ing the grow­ing role of re­motely-pi­loted air­craft (RPA) in the mil­i­tary do­main. We have plans for en­hanc­ing the RPA fleet of the IAF over the next few years. This will in­volve in­creas­ing their num­bers as well as ca­pa­bil­i­ties. The in­dige­nous medium al­ti­tude long en­durance (MALE) UAV ‘Rus­tom II’ is un­der de­vel­op­ment by the De­fence Re­search and De­vel­op­ment Or­gan­i­sa­tion (DRDO). The fu­ture sce­nar­ios will be a mix of manned and un­manned plat­forms ca­pa­ble of re­spond­ing to the en­tire spec­trum of threats.

SP’s: How has IAF ben­e­fited from Ex­er­cise In­drad­hanush that was con­ducted in July this year jointly with the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the UK?

CAS: IAF un­der­takes bi­lat­eral ex­er­cises with var­i­ous friendly for­eign coun­tries like the US, UK, France, Oman, UAE, Sin­ga­pore and Rus­sia. The over­all aim of these ex­er­cises is to en­hance mu­tual un­der­stand­ing of dif­fer­ent air forces. It ex­poses IAF air­crew to near real-time sce­nar­ios un­der safe and con­trolled con­di­tions and presents op­por­tu­nity for the air­crew to tackle new types of aerial and ground threats in large force en­gage­ments. Ex­er­cises with friendly for­eign coun­tries are car­ried out in a con­trolled and sim­u­lated en­vi­ron­ment with mu­tu­ally agreed Rules of En­gage­ment. Since the ac­tual ca­pa­bil­ity of the par­tic­i­pat­ing air­craft is not used fully, such in­ter­na­tional ex­er­cises do not re­veal the ac­tual wartime per­for­mance of var­i­ous air­craft. Clas­sic wins/ losses in such ex­er­cises with friendly for­eign air forces can­not be quan­ti­fied. Con­duct of such ex­er­cises with pro­fes­sional air forces of the world es­tab­lishes in­ter­op­er­abil­ity, ex­po­sure to best prac­tices in air oper­a­tions and mu­tual re­spect for pro­fes­sion­al­ism amongst air war­riors.

SP’s: Can you pro­vide an up­date on the case of ap­point­ment of a Chief of De­fence Staff (CDS)?

CAS: The cre­ation of CDS is an in­cre­men­tal process and has been sup­ported by the three Ser­vices and other agen­cies. As per rec­om­men­da­tions of the Naresh Chan­dra Task Force, the Chair­man COSC would be one of the three Ser­vice Chiefs ap­pointed by the gov­ern­ment and would be the sin­gle-point con­tact be­tween the gov­ern­ment and the three Ser­vices. He would thus be the fourth four-star of­fi­cer who would also be re­spon­si­ble for the var­i­ous Tri-Ser­vice Op­er­a­tional Com­mands. The Ser­vice Chiefs will con­tinue to ex­er­cise op­er­a­tional con­trol and staff func­tions over their re­spec­tive Ser­vices and have di­rect ac­cess to the Rak­sha Mantri.

SP’s: What are the mea­sures be­ing taken to­wards boost­ing of the morale of the ‘Man be­hind the Ma­chine’ in the IAF?

CAS: The IAF vi­sion states: ‘Peo­ple First, Mis­sion Al­ways’. Peo­ple are the most im­por­tant as­sets of the IAF and there­fore the pro­fes­sional growth of all air war­riors and their morale are vi­tal KRAs (key re­sult ar­eas) of all our Com­man­ders. To­wards that, we have en­sured trans­par­ent im­ple­men­ta­tion of pol­icy giv­ing ad­e­quate and equal op­por­tu­nity to all for pro­fes­sional growth. There is a merit-based sys­tem in place to se­lect per­son­nel for chal­leng­ing ap­point­ments and pro­mo­tions. We have reg­u­lar in­ter­ac­tion for per­sonal re­quire­ments of any in­di­vid­ual in need through choice post­ing, which meets both or­gan­i­sa­tional and in­di­vid­ual re­quire­ments, sub­ject to ser­vice ex­i­gen­cies.

Air­bus Mil­i­tary’s A330 MRTT multi-role tanker trans­port air­craft; Boe­ing AH-64D Apache Long­bow At­tack He­li­copter and Chi­nook heavy-lift he­li­copter

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