Sin­gle-en­gine fighter RFI “soon,” but IAF at full strength only by 2032

Vayu Aerospace and Defence - - Aviation Defence & In India -

De­scrib­ing the IAF’s re­quire­ment for a new sin­gle- en­gine fighter air­craft as “pri­or­ity,” Air Chief Mar­shal BS Dhanoa noted that the case was be­ing pro­cessed un­der the Strate­gic Part­ner­ship model ( Chap­ter VII of the De­fence Pro­cure­ment Pro­ce­dure 2016). “The case is with MoD, RFI for sin­gleengine fighters is likely to be is­sued very soon,” he said on eve of Air Force Day.

The Air Chief also pointed out that twinengine fighters typ­i­cally cost sig­nif­i­cantly more than sin­gle-en­gine air­craft, say­ing, “Right now we are con­cen­trat­ing on the sin­gle-en­gine [fighters] so as to make up the num­bers with lower cost.” He did, how­ever, stress that the IAF would con­tinue to re­quire twin-en­gine fighters in the fu­ture. “Is there a re­quire­ment for twin-en­gine [fighters] in the fu­ture? The an­swer to that is yes,” he con­cluded.

Car­ry­ing for­ward the twin- en­gine theme, the Air Chief also made a few cryp­tic state­ments on the IAF’s plans for fifth-gen­er­a­tion com­bat air­craft. On the pro­posed Indo-Rus­sian Fifth Gen­er­a­tion Fighter Air­craft ( FGFA) pro­gramme, the CAS ac­knowl­edged the slow pace of progress, say­ing “it has been on for the last ten years” be­fore com­ment­ing that the is­sue is now with the MoD, which has clas­si­fied in­puts di­rectly from the IAF as well as from the Air Mar­shal S Varth­man com­mit­tee set up to look specif­i­cally into the FGFA project. He did not specif­i­cally say whether the pro­gramme would pro­ceed be­yond the present pre­lim­i­nary de­sign stage or not, im­ply­ing that the de­ci­sion would now be taken by the MoD.

Ad­dress­ing grow­ing con­cerns about the IAF’s dwin­dling air com­bat strength, the Air Chief out­lined plans for force ac­cre­tion even as he ad­mit­ted the IAF would not reach its sanc­tioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons be­fore 2032 (the end of the 15th five-year plan). The IAF is set to take de­liv­ery of the last 36 Su-30MKIs of a to­tal or­der of 272, 36 Rafales have been con­tracted for, and a to­tal of 123 Te­jas LCAs (20 Mk.I IOC-spec, 20 Mk.I FOC-spec and 83 Mk.IA) will be in ser­vice within the next 5-8 years. This, said Air Chief Dhanoa, would en­sure that “the num­bers will not go down be­low what we are right now,” as these in­duc­tions would more or less off­set the planned re­tire­ment of some 10- 12 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s. “But they [the squadron num­bers] will start go­ing up only when the sin­gle- en­gine fighter comes in un­der the strate­gic part­ner­ship pro­gramme, and we will reach the num­ber [of sanc­tioned squadrons] by the end of the 15th Plan pe­riod : 2032.” While the Air Chief did state that the IAF needs 42 fighter squadrons “for full-spec­trum op­er­a­tions in a two-front sce­nario,” he also pointed out that mit­i­gat­ing strate­gies are in place for the cur­rent force struc­ture.

On train­ing and sim­u­la­tion, the Air Chief noted that the IAF to­day makes much greater use of sim­u­la­tors for tech­ni­cal and fly­ing train­ing than ever be­fore. De­pend­ing on the fleet type, the kinds of mis­sions be­ing trained for and so on, the sim­u­la­tion to fly­ing ra­tio can go as high as “about twenty per cent” said the Air Chief, which means that some IAF pi­lots could spend up to one hour in sim­u­la­tors for ev­ery 5 hours of ac­tual fly­ing. He noted that the Su-30MKI fleet still did not have sim­u­la­tors, in­di­cat­ing that force- wide ex­po­sure to sim­u­la­tion would in­crease as new tech­nol­ogy was in­ducted.

The Air Chief also re­vealed that the first batch of three women fighter pi­lots com­mis­sioned in June last year ( see Vayu IV/2016) have been as­sessed “at par” with their male coun­ter­parts, and that a sec­ond batch of fe­male fighter pi­lots is cur­rently un­der­go­ing Stage 2 train­ing and will be com­mis­sioned in De­cem­ber this year. At a later press in­ter­ac­tion on Air Force Day at Hin­don AFS, ACM Dhanoa stated that the IAF planned to place these pi­o­neer­ing fe­male fighter pi­lots in MiG-21 Bi­son units, sub­ject to va­can­cies at those squadrons. The Air Chief em­pha­sised that there was no bar to the in­duc­tion of fe­male fighter pi­lots, and that the IAF would “ac­cept who­ever vol­un­teers” but with­out a di­lu­tion in stan­dards. Fe­male pi­lots would “have to make the cut,” ob­served ACM Dhanoa.

The Air Chief summed up the fu­ture tra­jec­tory of the IAF, say­ing, “The In­dian Air Force to­day stands at the thresh­old of ac­quir­ing multi- spec­trum strate­gic ca­pa­bil­i­ties, syn­ony­mous with In­dia’s grow­ing re­gional stature and ex­pand­ing na­tional in­ter­ests and is pro­gres­sively near­ing its goal of trans­form­ing into a true Net­work Cen­tric Aero­space Force. The IAF is also fo­cussing on in­dige­nous ac­qui­si­tion of air­craft, radars, mis­siles and other avi­a­tion equip­ment in con­so­nance with the ‘Make in In­dia’ ini­tia­tive.”

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