Interview with Chief of Air the Staff
As the Indian Air Force celebrates the 83rd Air Force Day on 08 Oct 2015, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, PVSM, AVSM, 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. Replying to our questions, the CAS in a freewheeling manner, addressed issues related to force planning, combat readiness and HR management in the IAF amongst others. Excerpts from the interview:
Defstrat: As we commemorate the Golden Jubilee of 1965 Indo Pak war, it is time to reflect upon the journey that the IAF has taken since its first air war. Let us start with a brief recap and tell us where we stand today in terms of combat readiness. Also please tell us about the integration of the three services as we prepare to operate in a networked scenario.
CAS: The IAF has been given the role and responsibilities to remain a modern, flexible and professional aerospace power with full- spectrum capability to protect and further national interests and objectives. It is the responsibility of the IAF to offer sovereign options to the political leadership, and the IAF endeavours to be the first responder to contingencies. IAF today is confidently moving ahead on its growth path towards acquiring state-of-the-art cutting edge technologies, and we have made very good progress in this regard. The acquisition of modern technology weapons and platforms has greatly enhanced our all-weather operational capability, besides enhancing our strategic reach. IAF’s strategic footprint and capabilities serve ends of military diplomacy and nation building.
Towards Integration of the three Services several strides have been taken. The Tri-Services Operational Commands, namely Andaman-Nicobar command, Strategic Forces Command and HQ Integrated Defence Services are performing well with a lot of synergy, despite the constraints. The process of setting up of the Tri-Services Cyber, Space and Special Operations Commands has made substantial progress in recent times. Integration and scope of all joint exercises have been enhanced substantially. Network Centric joint operations capability has already taken a quantum jump with operationalisation of IACCS and improvement in communication network. All HADR missions are already being directed by HQ IDS for better synergy in the effort of the Defence Forces. With the planned integration of ‘Akash Teer’ and ‘Triguna’ of the Army and Naval AD networks with the IACCS; exploitation of the ‘Maritime Domain Awareness’ capability of the Navy, ODL of the Air Force and Space-based systems will provide formidable NCW capability to the Defence Forces.
The Nation in general and the Armed Forces in particular are commemorating ‘50 years of the 1965 Indo Pak War’ by organising several events to honour our veter CASand remember the sacrifices of our martyrs. We are grateful to our predecessors who have fought with valour and glory to make us what we are today.
Defstrat: With new technologies, weapon systems and force multipliers getting inducted, is the number of combat squadrons still the one and 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 capability build-up of the IAF is planned on the basis of threat perception. While the operational capability of the IAF depends on the quantity and quality of all its assets and the professional competence of its human resources; the number of combat aircraft Squadrons still remains an important determinant of the Air Force’s combat potential. Efforts are on to build up the fighter Squadron strength to the authorised level by the 14th Plan period (2027).
Defstrat: Self-reliance in defence and developing a robust industrial infrastructure within the country are imperative for the nation’s defence. The IAF has been a strong proponent of the view that aerospace industry in India must not remain just a public sector endeavour, but must be integrated with private sector to achieve the goal. What endeavours has the IAF made to realise this objective and promote indigenisation, without prejudice to operational readiness at all times?
CAS: A country of our size and aviation requirements needs a large number of big and small industries in the aviation sector for a robust defence industrial ecosystem. IAF has consistently encouraged and supported the growth of private sector in aerospace manufacturing. We are progressing the proposal to procure 56 transport aircraft as ‘Buy and Make’, where the OEM, for the first time, has chosen an Indian production agency from the private sector. Additionally, Requests For Information (RFIs) for the procurement of Air-to-Ground weapons and Air-to-Air weapons, Surface-to-Air Guided Weapons, Electronic Warfare Systems, Radars and Ground Support and Handling Equipment have been issued to CII, ASSOCHAM and FICCI so that they can identify Indian companies which have the capability and are interested in manufacturing these systems indigenously. The IAF continues to procure proven platforms and weapon systems from Indian manufacturers.
Defstrat: New doctrines to keep pace with the changing nature of warfare has also necessitated creation of Aerospace and Cyber Commands in India. There have been a number of debates/discussions and initiatives 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: Government is actively considering setting up of the Aerospace and Cyber Commands to look after the critical requirements of the Armed Forces. The proposals are being processed through HQ IDS and MoD. The formation of Defence Cyber Agency (DCA) and Defence Space Agency as an immediate measure is also being considered before setting up of full-fledged Cyber & Space Commands. These Commands will be established in due course of time.
Defstrat: The recent acquisitions of C-17 Globemaster III and C-130J transporters have given a definite edge to the IAF’s strategic and tactical lift capability. What will be the ultimate size of these fleets once IAF gets to meet all its planned acquisition targets?
CAS: Modernisation of the IAF is being undertaken as per the roadmap in the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) which specifies the capabilities that the IAF needs to acquire during the 12th to 14th Plan period. The size of a fleet ultimately depends on the current and envisaged threat perception. IAF has inducted ten C-17 Globemaster aircraft and has initiated a case to procure another three such aircraft. We have inducted six C-130 J aircraft and are in the process of procuring additional six.
Defstrat: Many of the ongoing cases for acquisition and upgrades have witnessed inordinate delays. Can you please provide an update especially for the Dassault Rafale, FGFA, AMCA and Jaguar Upgrade projects?
CAS: Capital Procurement of the IAF is undertaken in accordance with the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), which lays down timelines for various stages of the procurement process. While all efforts are made to adhere to these laid down timelines, there have been delays in a few cases. Negotiations are in progress with the French Government for the procurement of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft. There are certain technical, cost and delivery timeline issues with respect to the Indo-Russian FGFA project which are being addressed at the highest level. We have also initiated development of our own Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) to enhance our indigenous capability. The Jaguar DARIN-III Final Operational Capability is expected to be achieved by August 2016 and the entire fleet modification to DARIN-III standards is likely to be completed over the next few years. Re-engining of the fleet and integration of new weapons is also planned on Jaguar aircraft.
Defstrat: For optimal utilization of assets it is essential that they attain the highest possible standards of serviceability. Obtaining spare parts to ensure that the equipment remains serviceable has proved to be a challenge for all the three services. Your views on the same.
CAS: The modernization and upkeep of IAF assets is an on-going process based on capability building. We have made considerable progress with our planned inductions and upgrades of platforms and systems. Our safety record for the majority of our equipment has been excellent. All efforts are being made to improve the serviceability of various aircraft and equipment through better spares support and faster repair and overhauls. HAL and IAF have already initiated numerous steps to mitigate issues emerging from obsolescence and non-availability of certain equipment/ spares.
Defstrat: The IAF has continuously worked towards the modernisation of its ground based air defence equipment. The currently held inventory, however, points towards obsolescence, thus necessitating urgent acquisitions/ upgrades. What is the plan of IAF for replacement of its ageing ground to air weapon systems?
CAS: Replacement and induction of new Ground based Air Defence Systems is a priority area for the IAF. We have inducted the indigenous Akash missile system and are processing the procurement of additional Squadrons of the same. The MRSAM and SPYDER missile systems are expected to be inducted in the next few years. Procurement of Air Defence Systems ranging from close-in to long ranges is being pursued vigorously. We are also undertaking obsolescence management for some of the existing air defence equipment.
Defstrat: UCAVs are increasingly becoming the weapons of choice in the conduct of conventional/sub-conventional wars. Does the IAF have any plans to acquire UCAVs in the near future? What is the IAF’s long-term vision of acquiring a capability combining remotely controlled and manned combat systems to fight the future wars?
CAS: IAF has been closely monitoring the growing role of Remotely Piloted Aircraft in the military domain. We have plans for enhancing the RPA fleet of the IAF over the next few years. This will involve increasing their numbers as well as capabilities. The indigenous Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV ‘Rustom II’ is under development by DRDO. The future scenarios will be a mix of manned and unmanned platforms capable of responding to the entire spectrum of threats.
Defstrat: Man behind the machine has always been more important; thus the significance of human resource development and management. 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 if there is a likelihood of them flying in combat role in the near future.
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 that, we have ensured transparent implementation of policy giving adequate and equal opportunity to all for professional growth. There is a merit-based system in place to select personnel for challenging appointments and promotions. We have regular interaction for personal requirements of any individual in need through choice posting, which meets both organisational and individual requirements, subject to service exigencies. Also, co-location posting requests are viewed favourably as far as possible and within the constraints of administrative and operational feasibility. There are various open forums, online and otherwise, that have been instituted where air warriors can approach senior leadership to address various HR and admin 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, 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. The policy on employment of women in combat roles would normally be based on Tri-Service recommendations taking into consideration unique service conditions. We have made progress on the employment of women officers since their induction in 1992 in all branches including Flying branch. The IAF operational environment is suited for induction of women in fighter flying. Such induction would be a progressive step to fulfil the aspirations of young women of India.
Defstrat: Lastly, a standard question: with an ever changing face of the enemy, a networked warfare scenario and not-stop evolution in technologies, how does the IAF keep pace with such dynamic scenarios to stay ahead of the curve and maintain preparedness for future conflicts?
CAS: Dynamism and flexibility are tenets of Air Power. Indian Air Force is continually enhancing its capabilities across the entire spectrum of operational requirements. To put it simply, the IAF is focussing on ‘Men, Machine and Methods’. IAF has constantly believed that by making wise and timely investments in these three facets, we will not only be ready for the existing threats, but also for all future challenges.