Road map for Future IAF Fighters
VAYU Exclusive Interview with Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff
In an exclusive interview with the Vayu, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff IAF articulates on major thrust areas for the IAF over the next few years and comments on the road map for induction of fighter aircraft to ensure the IAF reaches its authorised strength at the earliest.
VAYU : Congratulations on having taken over as Chief of the Air Staff of one of the world’s largest and most committed Air Forces. Could you kindly articulate on your major thrust areas for the IAF over the next few years?
CAS: Strengthening the air defence of our Vital Areas and Vital Points (VAs and VPs) and maintaining a deterrent offensive capability are the IAF’s key thrust areas. While the aim is to maintain a combat ready professional Air Force to meet any external threat, enhancing the security of Air Bases, VAs and VPs is also at the apex of our thrust area. Having assessed our vulnerabilities and shortcomings, post the terrorist attack on AF Station Pathankot, we have embarked on a two- pronged approach to further our security against a possible Fidayeen attack on our VAs and VPs. On the one hand we are upgrading Air Field security at all bases by installing high technology Integrated Perimeter Security Systems, while simultaneously commencing specialised training of IAF personnel to counter terrorist attacks. Our aim is to embrace technology and both equip and train existing Air Warriors to effectively detect and thwart any kind of sub-conventional attack on our assets.
VAYU : The IAF has a proliferation in inventory of its fighters, transport aircraft and helicopter types, which surely creates massive maintenance difficulties. What are the broad plans for reduction of such diversity so as to make their management more effective and cost effective?
CAS: Though IAF operates diverse aerial and ground assets we have an organised maintenance cadre, from field units to Air HQs, which is responsible for ensuring the serviceability of all combat and technical support equipment. Our maintenance organisation is robust, time tested, battle hardened, technologically advanced and professionally competent to deal with the diverse platforms operated by IAF. Apart from the maintenance and logistic personnel that directly support combat operations of our five operational commands, the Maintenance Command of IAF plays a significant role in indigenously upgrading and co-producing war fighting equipment. IAF plans to bring more than 95% of our mandatory spares under ‘Make in India’ by 2027. The Maintenance Directorate at Air HQ ensures the best industry standards and operational logistics philosophies are followed by the IAF.
VAYU : With the combat aircraft strength of the IAF steadily decreasing owing to obsolescence and attrition, while induction of new aircraft is still some time away, does the IAF plan to keep its MiG21 variants and MiG-27s in squadron service for much longer?
CAS: MiG- 21 variants of Type 75 (MiG-21bis) and Type 96 (MiG-21M) are slated to be phased out by 2019 and the MiG-27 fleet by 2020. The MiG-21 Bison
and Type 69 (MiG-21UM trainer) would continue in service up to 2025. All aircraft in IAF remain in service until completion of their Total Calendar Life ( TCL) or Total Technical Life (TTL). The MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft currently in service with IAF still have residual TTL/ TCL. These aircraft play a supporting role in our operational capability and will continue to be of relevance until completion of their Technical or Calendar life. As per the current plan some of the upgraded MiG-21 aircraft will remain in service till 2024-25.
VAYU : The Dassault Rafale was selected as MMRCA of choice but the numbers originally required have been pared down drastically and the equivalent of only two squadrons worth are on order. Recent reports have it that even these limited numbers of aircraft will be based at two geographically distant air bases. Would this not impact on infrastructural costs and pose logistic challenges?
CAS: The Rafale is a latest generation maintenance friendly aircraft. The support and maintenance philosophy caters for the necessary infrastructure and support required to sustain operations of the squadrons at distant geographical locations. Necessary planning has been done at various levels, with the dispersed location in view, to ensure that all logistic challenges are addressed. Rafale, once inducted in the IAF will be the most advanced fighter aircraft with capabilities to dominate any air battle, thus the plan to utilise the aircraft optimally. Operational considerations are the key factors that dictate basing of fighter aircraft in IAF. Hence, the basing plan of the aircraft has been narrowed down post deliberations on all operational, maintenance, and logistics aspects. The requirement of operating the Rafale from dispersed locations was factored in its procurement. Infrastructure and logistics issues based on two-base operations have been included in all negotiations from the very beginning and addressed in the contract.
VAYU : The Government is moving to select yet another single-engine fighter, to be produced in India in parallel with the Tejas LCA. What are the key capabilities the IAF is looking for in such an aircraft and how would this impact on future orders for more LCAs?
CAS: The Government has made a roadmap for induction of fighter aircraft to ensure that IAF reaches its authorised strength at the earliest. This has been done with emphasis on ‘Make in India.’ The number of LCAs to be inducted into the IAF has been proposed considering production capabilities and other operational factors. A suitable fourth- generation- plus fighter aircraft is being shortlisted by IAF, which will not affect the induction of LCA. Further, the technological advancements and ‘spin-offs’ from the ‘Make in India’ aircraft will also assist in future fighter development programmes.
VAYU : The IAF’s requirement for Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) has been projected for some years and one is aware of the on-going Indo-Russian collaboration in this regard. However, with this programme facing several hurdles in terms of technology, costs and evolution of new systems, could there be other options that the IAF could consider?
CAS: At present, the Research and Development (R&D) contract is under negotiation and the proposal is being reviewed by a Joint Committee.
VAYU : Preliminary aspects of the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project are in the public domain but it is essentially the IAF that must decide on its key performance parameters before the final configuration is frozen. What is the timeline for this programme to receive a format set of Air Staff Requirements, and when should this next generation fighter assume service status?
CAS: Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), DRDO has been working
on the development of Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). The project feasibility study has been completed by ADA and the PSQRs for AMCA are in the process of finalisation. Though it is premature to comment on timelines for induction of AMCA in IAF, we expect the aircraft to be operationalised by 2031-32.
VAYU : The IAF’s current AWACS/AEW capability is limited to only three Phalcon AWACS (plus two more in the pipeline) while there are delays in the indigenous Embraer 145-based AEW&C programme. This key capability gap must be addressed on priority and could you please give an overview of the options?
CAS: In order to establish the required degree of air dominance, IAF has a strategic requirement of a large number of AWACS. As rightly brought out, three AWACS are already in service. Two indigenous AEW&C are under evaluation and would be inducted shortly. We are planning to acquire additional AWACS under the AWACS (India) Project. Requirement of AWACS has been projected in its Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan 2012-27. AWACS (India) are being acquired through indigenous route from DRDO.
( Editorial Note: The first indigenous EMB-145 AEW & C aircraft was inducted in IOC configuration during Aero India 2017, with a second to follow shortly. See item in this issue)
VAYU : The IAF has achieved considerable success in networking its ground stations with the inductions of IACCS. However, the networking of airborne of airborne assets is still lagging. What are the major reasons for delays in this project and what is the timeframe to achieve such capability? Also, what are the IAF’s plans for space based networking particularly beyond GSAT-7A?
CAS: The networking of airborne assets is related to the Software Defined Radio ( SDR)/ Operational Data Link ( ODL) Project. The procurement case for SDR is at a very advanced stage. Simultaneously, the specifications of Network Centric Operation Applications ( NCO Applications) are being worked out based on IAF requirements. The delay in procurement of SDRs was due to issues of interoperability between stakeholders/ operators. Meetings have
been held under the chairmanship of DG Acquisition with various organisations under DRDO and DPSUs to discuss the issues of interoperability and security of communication through SDRs. The contract would be signed once cleared by the Acquisition Wing of MoD.
VAYU : Flying Training: Are the present pilot numbers adequate to sustain the planned aircraft- to- pilot ratio? The present inventory of PC-7 Mk.II BTAs is to be augmented by the HTT-40 which is still under development and could take some years before its clearance for service. Meanwhile, the HJT-36 intermediate jet trainer programme is reportedly stalled and the Kirans will be phased out in the near future. All this will clearly impact on the IAF’s flying training scheme. Are there any plans to augment the number of Hawk AJTs to go in for a two-stage training sequence, as a possible option?
CAS: IAF conducts a three stage ab-initio pilot training on PC-7 Mk.II, Kiran Mk.I/IA and Hawk Mk.132 aircraft for induction in the fighter stream. With the phasing out of Kiran Mk. I/ IA, the second stage of pilot training would also be conducted on PC-7 Mk.II as an interim measure until the induction of an intermediate jet trainer. Additional Pilatus and Hawk aircraft are being procured under option clauses, and the IAF plans to induct the indigenous HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft after completion of its design and development.
VAYU : What are the IAF’s views on the pace of indigenisation as concerns weapons systems such as MR-SAM, airto- air missiles and radars. With an emphasis on ‘Make in India,’ could the IAF well consider having its own design and development directorate, similar to that of the Navy? Could the IAF consider assuming ownership of an existing organisation such as the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), which was set up as a ‘Society’ in the mid-1980s, essentially for the Light Combat Aircraft programme, but now tasked for futuristic programmes?
CAS: Indigenisation is one of the main priorities of the IAF. The Air Force has been fully supportive of indigenisation efforts and has contributed towards design, development and induction of various weapon systems. The IAF actively undertakes trials on all aerial platforms, weapons and systems developed by DPSUs and other Indian agencies, and also contributes to the funding of projects undertaken by DRDO. In order to harness and direct indigenisation and R&D efforts, the IAF is in the process of forming a Directorate of Research & Development, which will be the nodal agency for directing R&D activities of breakthrough technologies and state- of- the- art equipment. This is essential for transforming the capabilities of the IAF and to achieve a technological edge over its adversaries.
HAL Tejas LSP-3 (KH2013) seen shortly after take off (photo: Angad Singh)
The MoD has indicated that at least 70 HAL (photo: Angad Singh)
Aero India 2017 (photo: Angad Singh)
The Air Chief in a two-seat LCA trainer at Yelahanka AFS (photo: IAF)
Dassault Rafale B displaying at Aero India 2017 (photo: Angad Singh)
By 2019, all MiG-21 variants but the upgraded Bison (seen leading this formation) and the MiG-21UM trainer (bottom left) will be phased out (photo: Angad Singh)
a number of upgrade and new-build programmes are proposed
Indigenous Akash SAM systems have been inducted into the IAF, but additional surface-to-air weapon types, such as the MR-SAM and S-400 are still required
developed by ADA