Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VM, ADC
As the Indian Air Force celebrates the 85th Air Force Day on 08 Oct 2017, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VM, ADC, Chief of the Air Staff, in a frank and forthright interview with South Asia Defence & Strategic Review (Defstrat) articulated his views on a number of contemporary issues facing the IAF. The CAS, in a freewheeling manner, addressed questions related to force planning, combat readiness and HR management in the IAF amongst others. Excerpts from the interview:
Defstrat: There have been a number of speculative writings and debates related to IAFs strength and operational capability in view of dwindling number of Combat Squadrons. In a recent interview, the CAS, too, stated that the present shortfall is akin to a team playing with seven players instead of eleven. Where does the IAF stand today in terms of combat readiness?
CAS: You can be rest assured that the IAF is fully capable of defending the nation in any contingency, now as well as in the future. Our air strategy is modified to suit the current state. The IAF is prepared 24 x 7 for any threat and is ready for a befitting response to any contingency. To carry out unhindered full spectrum air operations against a combined threat in a 2 front situation, a specified number of fighter Sqns have been arrived at. Augmenting our fighter squadron strength is our top priority. To achieve this, the IAF is looking at new inductions and mid-life upgrades. Towards this, MiG-29, Jaguar and Mirage-2000 aircraft are being upgraded in a phased manner. The induction of fighter aircraft contracted for, includes Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Rafale and the balance of Su-30 MKI aircraft. Acceptance of Necessity (AON) has also been granted for procurement of LCA Mk 1A. Further, the Government of India plans to procure fighter aircraft through the ‘Strategic Partnership’ model and other suitable options are also being considered to ensure that the IAF attains the authorised strength of fighter squadrons. If all the inductions take place as planned, the IAF is expected to achieve its authorised strength of fighter squadrons by the end of 15th Plan (2032).
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 Squadrons the only 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: The combat potential of any force can be judged by the overall assets available on its inventory. It is true that with the induction of cutting edge technologies and force multipliers the combat power increases, however, the same applies to the enemy as well. Numbers therefore do matter, especially for a nation like ours with a vast geographical area to be defended and being located in an unstable region with significant potential threat to our security. The IAF is undergoing a major modernisation drive which will enhance our capability significantly. We are working towards building up our fighter aircraft resources and combat support enablers like Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA) and Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) aircraft. Notwithstanding the above, IAF is capable of guarding the Nations skies and giving a befitting reply to any misadventures by adversaries.
Defstrat: The IAF has been a strong proponent of the view that aerospace industry in India must not remain a public sector endeavour alone, but must be integrated with the private sector to achieve the overall aim of self-reliance. What endeavours has the IAF made to promote indigenization?
CAS: Indigenisation has been a focus area of Indian Air Force for the last few decades with an aim to reduce dependence on foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and achieve self reliance. A number of measures have been taken by IAF in the recent past to boost indigenous development in the country. Four seminars on indigenisation were conducted by IAF in 2016 in collaboration with organisations like Confederation of Indian Industry and PHD Chamber of Commerce and Industry. In the current year too, two seminars have already been held, one at New Delhi and one at Hyderabad, and two more seminars are planned in Oct/ Nov 17 and Jan/ Feb 18. Ten Nodal Technology Centres (NTC) have been formed at Base Repair Depots of IAF and these centres have been tagged with R&D Organisations and reputed Academic Institutions like IITs for initiation and management of R&D projects for indigenisation, obsolescence management and enhancing operational capability of weapon platform/ equipment. Indigenisation requirements and future technologies required by IAF have been hosted on the IAF website www.indianairforce.nic.in for the benefit of the industry.
Defstrat: Strategic and tactical lift capability have received a definite boost with the acquisition of C-17 Globe Master and C-130J transport aircraft. However, a significant void that has come to be discussed in the context of recent developments is in our mid-air refueling capability. How serious is the shortfall and is there, in your view, a need to prioritise capacity enhancement in this regard?
CAS : The Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA) is undeniably an important combat support aircraft and we are working towards achieving 100% mid-air refuelling capability. We are exploring options to procure additional FRAs to augment the fleet of aerial tankers.
Defstrat: The IAF has continuously worked towards modernization 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 : The IAF has a focussed modernisation plan to build up a robust layered Air Defence (AD) network, based on modern Radars and Surface to Air Guided Weapon (SAGW) systems. Besides obsolescence management, new generation AD radars are being inducted at brisk pace. Rohini radars, Low Level Light Weight Radars (LLLWR) and Medium Power Radars (MPR) have been inducted in the IAF. Low Level Transportable Radars (LLTR) have commenced induction. The IAF is also progressing the case for procurement of High Power Radars (HPR) and additional Aerostat systems. Several indigenous projects are also in the pipeline including Arudhra Medium Power Radar (MPR), Ashwini Low Level Transportable Radar (LLTR) and Mountain Radar.
As far as SAGW systems are concerned, the induction of S-400 Long Range Surface to Air Missile (LRSAM) and Medium Range Surface to Air Missile (MRSAM) will enhance the AD range and lethality by a great extent. The Pechora system is planned to be upgraded and digitised so as to keep it contemporary. In the Short Range Surface to Air Missile (SRSAM) category, the indigenous Akash system is already operational in the IAF and more numbers are planned to be added. To meet our future requirements, an Akash New Generation (Akash NG) system is being developed by DRDO. The Procurement of Very Short Range Air Defence System (VSHORADS) and Close In Weapon System (CIWS) are also being progressed. The induction of SPYDER Quick Reaction SAM has given a boost to our terminal defences.
Defstrat: There is much concern expressed regarding the maintenance of the Russian sourced fighters, more particularly the Su-30 fleet. Some decisions to resolve the issues have featured in media reports. Could you elaborate on whether the maintenance arrangements are adequate to support a ‘Fighting Fit’ force?
CAS: Su-30 MKI fleet is evolving with a number of role related modifications to enhance potency. These advancements take time to mature. The fleet serviceability has shown an increasing trend in the past due to sustained effort on all fronts backed by rigorous provisioning procedures employed for supporting the fleet.
Defstrat: In discussions within the strategic community, the Air Force is seen as the largest impediment to appointing a CDS. Has the Air Force ‘softened’ its resistance since and views the CDS to be a harbinger to substantive ‘jointness’ with its accompanying functional effectiveness and efficiencies?
CAS: The IAF has always been of the firm view that there is a need to work together to achieve synergy. The creation of Permanent Chairman Chief of Staff Committee (COSC) is an ongoing process and has been supported by the three Services. He would thus be the fourth four-star officer who would also be responsible for the various Tri-Service Commands. The Service Chiefs however, will continue to exercise operational control and training over their respective Services and have direct access to RM. The proposed set up will allow HQ IDS under Permanent Chairman COSC to function as an effective advisory system to the Government on matters of policy, joint acquisitions, joint capability building and joint training matters. The issue is still under consideration by the political leadership.
Defstrat: While it is a matter of pride that some of our women officers have qualified to fly fighter aircraft, the chapter that recently closed with the re-instatement of Wg Cdr Puja Thakur indicates extant voids in the career management of women officers in the Air Force. Could you elaborate on how the Air Force looks to resolve outstanding issues to ensure a shining career option?
CAS: The women fighter pilots will follow the same career profile as their male counterparts. They will be judged on their performance and aptitude, based on which they will be sent to fly the fighter aircraft most suited to their prowess. Towards this, they will also undergo the relevant courses and training required at different levels of seniority, just as other fighter pilots undertake, without any distinction whatsoever. Concept paper is being prepared by Personnel Branch. This concept paper proposes a tri-services committee to examine afresh the question of induction and employment of Short Service Commissioned Officers (SSCOs) in the three services including Women Officers.