Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, PVSM, AVSM, VM, ADC, Chief of the Air Staff
Monday, October 3, 2016
Defstrat: There have been a number of speculative writings and debates related to IAFs strength and operational capability particularly in view of dwindling number of Sqns. Where does the IAF stand today in terms of combat readiness?
CAS: IAF fighter squadron strength is currently less than the Government authorised 42 squadrons. This shortfall is planned to be made good through induction of remaining contracted Su-30 MKI, LCA and Rafale aircraft.
While these inductions will assist in replacing the legacy fighter fleets, other suitable options are being considered to build up to the authorised strength at the earliest. Government is preparing the road map for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF through the ‘Make in India’ initiative. To maintain combat capability and operational relevance, MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar aircraft are already being upgraded. IAF is also in the process of acquiring additional Force Enablers and advanced weapon systems which include
Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground weapons. Short, Medium and Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile systems as well as various Radars are being inducted to provide adequate multi-layered Air Defence cover to the country.
IAF is rapidly progressing towards Network Centric Operations capability through Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), which is being expanded to cover the entire nation including Island territories. The IAF remains fully geared to respond to any challenge and safeguard Indian skies.
Defstrat: With the induction of cutting edge technologies and force multipliers, factors such as lethality, range and precision gain a definite edge. In such a scenario, is the number of combat Sqns still a relevant gauge to estimate the overall combat potential of the IAF? Will the IAF be capable of dealing with a two front war by the end of 14th Plan (2027) when the current LTIPP is completed?
CAS: While it is true that with the induction of cutting edge technologies and force multipliers the combat power increases, but the numbers do matter, more so for a Nation like ours, which has a large area to defend.
If all procurements fructify as planned, the IAF is likely to achieve the Government authorised strength of 42 Sqns within the stated Plan period. The overall operational capability also depends on availability of Force Enhancers like AWACS, AEW&C, Flight Refuelling Aircraft, EW systems, Network centricity as well as good serviceability of weapon platforms. The IAF has taken necessary steps to bolster our op capability to defend the aerospace frontiers of the Nation.
Defstrat: The IAF has been a strong proponent of the view that aerospace industry in India must not remain a public sector endeavour along, but must be integrated with the private sector to achieve the overall aim of self-reliance. What endeavours has the IAF made to realize this objective and promote indigenisation?
CAS: In an effort to strengthen the indigenous defence production base, the Government has put in place a Defence Production Policy which endeavours to enhance the defence R&D base of the country.
The DPP-2016 includes several initiatives to encourage local R & D and increase in indigenous content in defence procurement. The ‘Make’ procedure of DPP-2016 seeks to address the multiple objectives of self-reliance, wider participation of Indian Industry, impetus to MSME sector, sound implementation, transparent execution and timely induction of equipment into the Indian Armed Forces.
The IAF has always encouraged development of indigenous defence production capability and capacities. IAF firmly believes that indigenisation provides flexibility by reducing dependence on external agencies and leads to economic growth of the nation and it is the only way to have true strategic autonomy. The IAF has been at the forefront in inducting indigenously manufactured weapon platforms and systems. The formation of the first LCA squadron in Bangalore and the orders for 120 LCA aircraft are testimony to the importance that the IAF places on self-reliance. A number of indigenously developed and manufactured aircraft, helicopters, radars, missiles and electronic equipment have been inducted or are in the process of being inducted. Projects like AEW&C, AWACS (India), IACCS, Akash SAGW & Astra Missile are being fully supported by the IAF.
The IAF has recently conducted a number of seminars to foster enhanced interaction with the defence industry. To have greater clarity in the industry so that it can map its capabilities and potential with the requirements of the IAF, the ‘Indigenisation Roadmap Indian Air Force (2015-2025)’ was released by the IAF in April this year. Another seminar was conducted in Lucknow in September 2016 to encourage participation by MSMEs.
Defstrat: Strategic and tactical lift capability have received a definite boost with the acquisition of C-17 Globe Master III and C-130J transporter aircraft. The current workhorse, the AN-32, however, is aging the nears obsolescence. Will the AVRO replacement programme be able to take care of this deficiency as well, or does the IAF have different plans?
CAS : All the An-32 aircraft flying in IAF are well within prescribed life of the aircraft and replacement of An-32 aircraft will be taken up in time.
To meet the IAF transport aircraft requirement, the Government has approved the proposal from M/s Airbus Defence and Space S.A. for supply of C-295 MW aircraft to replace the ageing Avro fleet. A few aircraft will be supplied by the OEM in flyaway condition and the balance aircraft will be manufactured in India by a private sector company.
Defstrat: While the IAF deserves credit for induction of modern platforms and armaments, there is also a delay in many a key programmes like Dassault Rafale, FGFA, AMCA, Jaguar upgrade and replacement of MiG-21. Can you please give us an update?
CAS : The deal for procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft has been signed and induction of Rafale aircraft will greatly enhance the operational capability of the IAF. We should receive the first aircraft in 36 months and delivery of all aircraft would be completed in 66 months. The FGFA R&D phase contract is under negotiation with the Russian side. The details of the work share, technologies and milestones have been worked out for the R&D phase. Regarding AMCA, the feasibility study of the aircraft has been carried out by ADA and a suitable engine for the AMCA is being finalized. The Preliminary Services Qualitative Requirements for AMCA are in the process of finalization. The D&D of DARIN III upgrade of Jaguar is nearing completion and first aircraft has been inducted for series production. Induction of 120 LCA is a good replacement of MiG-21 fighters.
Defstrat: The IAF has continuously worked towards modernisation of its ground based air defence equipment. The currently held inventory, however, points towards obsolescence, thus necessitating urgent acquisitions / upgrades. What plans do we have for new acquisitions and upgrades of AD systems?
CAS : Besides management of legacy systems, the new generation Air Defence Radars are being inducted at a brisk pace. Medium Power Radars and Low Level Light Weight Radars have already been inducted in the IAF. The Low Level Transportable Radars are in the process of induction. Request for Information has been sought for procurement of additional Aerostat systems. While several squadrons of indigenous Akash Missile System have already been inducted, a case for additional squadrons of Akash missile systems is also under process. Procurement of Very Short Range Air Defence Systems for IAF and IA, under the ‘Buy & Make’ category is being processed by the IA. The induction of SPYDER QRSAM and MRSAMs will commence soon. Also, acquisition of S-400 Air Defence System is under process at MoD. To meet the future requirements of SRSAM, IAF is working with DRDO to develop the Akash Next Generation or Akash NG as the next variant of Akash with superior performance and advanced technologies. The operationalisation of IACCS has bolstered our automated network centric AD capability substantially.
Defstrat: Ensuring equipment serviceability has proved to be a challenge for all the three Services. In the case of Air Force it is directly related to Flight Safety. May we seek your views on both the topics?
CAS : Presently, the IAF operates both legacy fleets like the MiG-21 & MiG-27 and state-of-the-art weapon platforms like the SU-30, C-130 and C-17. With the drying up of sources of supply in CIS countries, the IAF is sustaining the legacy fleets through indigenisation efforts and mid-life upgradation. This would ensure that besides operational enhancement, there is no compromise on flight safety aspects. The IAF’s Flight Safety record has been improving progressively in recent times.
A case for Long Term Supply Agreement (LTSA) with FSMTC Russia for procurement of spares for SU-30 MKI fleet is being progressed with MoD. The LTSA would be over a long period with provisions to extend it further. The conclusion of the LTSA would obviate the administrative lead time that is normally associated with placement of supply orders, thus resulting in faster receipt of spares leading to increased serviceability.
It would also go a long way in increasing the operational availability of the fleet.
Defstrat: Please tell us about the IAF’s initiative to maintain a motivated, well trained and happy cadre of officers and airmen at all times. Also please tell us about the performance of women officers so far and especially as you have taken the bold initiative to commission women pilots into combat aircraft stream.
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 of all our Commanders. Towards this, we have ensured transparent implementation of policies providing adequate and equal opportunity to all for professional growth. There are various open forums, online and otherwise, that have been instituted where air warriors can approach senior leadership to address various HR and administrative issues. Suitable grievance redressal mechanisms have also been put in place. Great emphasis is being laid on enhancing the Standard of Living and Quality of Life by providing better educational facilities, accommodation, medical services, sports infrastructure, secured clean and green environment, modern shopping complexes, entertainment facilities etc.
Women officers of the IAF have proven to be a force to reckon with and have stood shoulder to shoulder with their male counterparts. We are indeed very proud of them. We have made progress on the employment of women officers since their induction in 1992 in all branches including Flying branch. The policy on employment of women in combat roles would normally be based on Tri-Service recommendations taking into consideration unique Service conditions. The IAF operational environment is suited for induction of women in fighter flying. Such induction would be a progressive step to fulfill the aspirations of young women of India.
Defstrat: New doctrines to keep pace with the changing nature of warfare have necessitated creation of Aerospace and Cyber Commands in India. There have been a number of debates/ discussions and subsequent delays on these issues. As the Chairman of COSC what are your views and what is the expected timeline for creation of the two strategic commands?
CAS : Formation of a Tri-Services Space Command needs to be expedited to provide impetus for enhancing military capabilities through utilisation of space based assets. MoD has communicated that formation of Space Command will be considered in due course. In the interim; a case is being processed for expanding Integrated Space Cell at HQ IDS to a Defence Space Agency (DSA). DSA is proposed to be headed by a two star officer under Chairman, COSC directly. It will perform the role of a Tri-Service Nodal Agency and will form the nucleus for the future Space Command.
Similarly, establishment of Tri-Services Cyber Command is under active consideration by MoD for addressing all aspects of Cyber Security.
A Defence Cyber Agency is being established in Phase-I which will have almost all functionalities as envisaged in the Cyber Command in a truncated form. This will subsequently be converted to a full-fledged Cyber Command in Phase-II.