Road map for Fu­ture IAF Fight­ers

VAYU Ex­clu­sive In­ter­view with Air Chief Mar­shal BS Dhanoa, Chief of the Air Staff

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - News -

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.

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)

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)

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)

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

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