The biennial Aero India Show 2017 will begin at Bengaluru on Tuesday. The Indian Air Force is one of the prime movers of the show along with other Ministry of Defence (MoD) organisations. We at BharatShakti.in intend to provide in-depth coverage of the event. And what better way to kick off the plan than with a free and frank interview of the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa.
Having taken over the reins of the IAF at the beginning of this year, the Air Chief elaborates on his priorities for the IAF in the coming years, speaks on the emerging geo-political situation in the sub-continent, the IAF’s search for a 5th Generation aircraft, its plans for force accretion, more drones and a host of other issues that are his and the Air Force’s challenge, everyday.
AIR CHIEF MARSHAL B S DHANOA SPEAKS TO NITIN A GOKHALE,
FOUNDER & EDITOR-IN-CHIEF, BHARATSHAKTI.IN
Nitin A Gokhale (NG): What are your top priorities, as Air Chief?
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa (Air Chief): The foremost priority of the IAF is to maintain combat readiness and military professionalism to fight and defeat any external threat. Our networked operations and progress in Network Centric Operations (NCO) will ensure that the Indian skies are under continuous surveillance and the challenges of the growing sub-conventional aerial threats are also effectively neutralised. Enhancing security of our air bases and installations to thwart a possible ‘Pathankot type Fidayeen attack’ and furthering our combat potential not only by operationalising our planned inductions but also through indigenisation and training will continue to remain our focus areas. The aim is to ensure that IAF is always prepared to undertake operations across the entire spectrum of war and also conduct Humanitarian and Disaster Relief Operations to aid civil authorities. It is also our endeavour to progressively increase our combat inventory with indigenous equipment to achieve complete self-reliance.
NG: The IAF’s fighter squadron strength is depleting faster than it can be replenished. What are the plans to expand the force to a size required for the threat perception that India has?
Air Chief: The IAF is undertaking its modernisation plan with an aim to build up the authorised squadron strength of combat aircraft at the earliest. Modernisation plans are being executed with a two pronged objective of induction of state-of-art fighter aircraft and upgradation of existing fighter fleet to ensure their operational relevance in the light of rapid technological advancement in field of Defence equipment. Induction of fighters include LCA, LCA
MK1A, Rafale and balance of contracted Su-30 MKI aircraft. Further, suitable fighter aircraft are also planned to be inducted through ‘Make in India’ route. Comprehensive upgrade of Mirage 2000, MiG-29 and Jaguar fleet is under progress and IAF is in discussion with HAL and OEM to define the contours of Su-30 MKI enhancement programme. Induction of new aircraft along with upgrade of existing fleet will give IAF an edge over its adversaries.
NG: China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is apparently a reality now. How does it affect the security calculus? Is the threat of a two front war a reality now? Is the IAF prepared to meet that challenge?
Air Chief: CPEC is an emerging contentious issue and has the potential of leveraging a collusive military threat. Geo-strategic alignment of nations would require to be factored in our plans. We have optimised own force application plans with existing resources to protect our national interests. With the implementation of our acquisition plans, this capability will systematically improve. Our operational plans are continuously reviewed to factor any emerging challenges in the changing threat scenario. Modernisation plans would bolster our capabilities to counter military challenges in the future.
NG: What is the schedule for the induction of Rafale, Tejas Mk1 and MK 1A?
Air Chief: Induction of Rafale aircraft will commence in September 2019 and is expected to be completed by April 2022. Induction of Tejas aircraft in Initial Operational Clearance configuration is under progress. This will be followed by induction of Tejas in Final Operational Clearance configuration and Tejas Mk-1A aircraft. It is expected that the induction of Tejas will be completed by 2025-26.
NG: What is the status of India’s partnership for a 5th Generation Fighter Aircraft?
Air Chief: The Indian version of FGFA called the Prospective Multirole Fighter (PMF) is being jointly designed and developed by India and Russia.
HAL from the Indian side and Rosoboronexport from Russia are designated as the lead agencies. At present, the Research and Development (R&D) contract is under finalisation. Govt has formed a committee for comprehensive review of PMF project. The case will be further processed after the committee submits its report to MoD.
NG: Americans have offered to manufacture F-16s and F/A -18s in India. Sweden’s Saab has offered Gripen. What does the Air force think is the best suitable option? Single or twin engine?
Air Chief: The future requirement of fighter aircraft projected by the IAF is to ensure that we maintain an optimum ratio of Light, Medium and Heavy class of combat aircraft. There is also a requirement to maintain an optimum mix of Single and Twin engine aircraft. Based on the inputs given by IAF, Government is preparing a roadmap for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF. All future inductions in IAF will be in accordance with this roadmap. SAAB, Lockheed Martin and Boeing have expressed their interest in setting up manufacturing facilities for Fighter aircraft under ‘Make in India’ initiative. Government is finalising the policy for selection of Strategic Partner. Suitable fighter aircraft to be manufactured in India through Make in India will be selected thereafter.
Nitin A Gokhale (NG): Please give us an update on the IAF helicopter fleet.
The requirements are both diverse and large in numbers. Which are the models being considered for induction and how many?
Air Chief: Medium Lift Helicopter Fleet of IAF has undergone major transformation with induction of Mi-17 V5 helicopters. Additional Mi-17 V5 helicopters are planned to be inducted in the near future. A contract has been signed for the procurement of Apache Attack Helicopters and Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopters. Induction of these will boost offensive and heavy Heli-lift capabilities of IAF. Induction of ALH Mk-III & ALH Mk IV and Weapon System Integrate (WSI) of helicopters is under progress. Ten LSP Light Combat Helicopters are also being procured from HAL.
In order to address the Light Utility Helicopter fleet requirements, a case is under progress for procurement of Kamov 226T helicopters from Russia under an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) through a joint venture. Subsequently, based on the progress of indigenous Light Utility Helicopter, being designed and developed by HAL, balance requirement of helicopters in Light Utility category will be progressed. Both these helicopters are planned to replace Cheetah and Chetak fleets.
NG: What about the UAVs and armed UAVs? Any new inductions being planned by the IAF?
Air Chief: IAF modernisation plans factor in sustained growth of Remotely Piloted Aircraft fleet. IAF has a requirement of High Altitude Long Endurance (HALE) & Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) class of RPAs along with requirement of Combat UAVs/ armed RPAs. IAF is processing a case for procurement of MALE UAVs from Indian companies through ‘Make in India’ route. The UAVs are proposed to be developed and manufactured by the Indian industry under an appropriate category of the DPP like ‘Buy & Make (Indian)’. Besides, IAF is in the process of upgrading its existing UAV fleet by procuring a number of modern systems. Also, Rustom-2 an indigenous MALE RPA being developed by DRDO has recently carried out its maiden flight. Rustom-2 is also planned to be inducted in the IAF. We are participating in activities towards design and development of ‘Ghatak’, an indigenous Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle.
NG: What is the IAF doing to replenish/ augment Air Defence Systems?
Air Chief: IAF is in the process of a comprehensive makeover of its Air Defence system. The new generation Air Defence radars are being inducted at a brisk pace. Medium Power Radars (MPR), Rohini radars and Low Level Light Weight Radars (LLLWR) have already been inducted in the IAF. The Low level Transportable radars (LLTR) are in the process of induction. Apart from the two Aerostat systems already inducted, Request for Information (RFI) has been sought for procurement of additional systems. Indigenous Akash Missile System has already been inducted and a case for some more such sqns is under process.
Procurement of Very Short Range Air Defence Systems (VSHORADS) for IAF and IA, under ‘Buy & Make’ category is being processed by IA.
The induction of SPYDER QRSAM has commenced and the MRSAMs will commence shortly. Also, RFP for S-400 Triumph Air Defence System is under process. Close in Weapon Systems are also planned to be inducted through ‘Make in India’ route. Apart from procurement of radars and weapon systems, IAF is networking all its Air Defence assets on a common grid through Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS). IACCS is the backbone of IAFs Network Centric Warfare capability, which provides a fused Air Situation Picture based on the inputs from a network of ground based sensors. The integration of AWACS and IACCS strengthens both detection and control capabilities and reduces sensor to shooter time.
NG: The man behind the machine is the most important imperative in a battlefield. What measures need to be undertaken to attract the best talent to the IAF?
Air Chief: The IAF is expanding at a fast pace with the induction of sophisticated and state of the art systems planned in the next 5-10 years. To exploit these systems, there is a requirement for qualified human resource. IAF has a specialised cell which looks after induction of officers and a similar one established for recruitment of airmen. The personnel in the cell are tasked to create awareness through publicity and motivational lecture tours to various establishments, to highlight the requirements of IAF and make efforts to attract the youth to join our elite force. They are doing a good job and we are getting more qualified and talented youth volunteering to join. This process is continuous and done all year round. The selection processes at our recruitment boards are continuously updated and made contemporary. The officer cadets who are being selected to undergo training at NDA will graduate with a B-Tech degree from this year onward. This firm education base should help them in meeting the challenges of handling the machines/ combat assets driven by the very latest technologies.
NG: There is a lot of debate on creating a post of permanent Chairman – Chiefs of Staff Committee and even a CDS? How does the IAF view the issue?
Air Chief: The creation of Permanent Chairman COSC/CDS is an ongoing process and has been supported by the three Services. The issue is under consideration by the political leadership.
Nitin A Gokhale (NG): Social media and its use/ misuse by service personnel is creating a new challenge to the forces. How is the IAF dealing with it?
Air Chief: IAF has necessary guidelines regarding interaction of service personnel on social media. Moreover, all personnel are sensitized from time to time for strict compliance of the guidelines. The CAS online forum has been established over our intranet architecture in which grievances of any personnel are directly routed. I explain the organisational stand point and redress their grievances immediately. This system is working well. This system also helps me in understanding the environment and any problem that arises is flagged for preventive action by the IAF at the earliest.
NG: Thank you for speaking to BharatShakti.in.