The Indian Air Force is also working alongside the Defense, Home Affairs and Civil Aviation ministries to work out a regulatory mechanism for unregulated flying objects that pose a threat to the safety and security of vital installations in India, a full 15 years after the 9/11 attacks in New York, says Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha in an exclusive interview to Arming India.
Here goes the part-1 of the two-part interview given ahead of the Air Force Day on Oct.8:
Q. We’ve recently witnessed the 50th anniversary of the 1965 Indo-Pak War. It’s also provided a moment of introspection. What are the priorities which need immediate attention of the decision-makers in the context of current challenges? What are the challenges and shortfalls which need immediate attention?
A. IAF is a technology intensive organization and skill development is a long drawn process. Our major challenge has always been to synchronize these two for optimum results. As a result of our critical self-analysis, we, as an organization are focusing on processes rather than events. Our operational capability is dependent on five verticals, namely equipment, training, procedures, infrastructure and force application, based on knowledge and in-depth analysis. Our capability at any instance is governed by the vertical least developed. Therefore, our endeavor is to keep all the verticals moving up in sync. We are aggressively pursuing our acquisitions and simultaneously changing our training philosophy and operational procedures to exploit our equipment profile fully. While infrastructure is being developed on ground to assist aerospace operations, minds are being trained for holistic capability development.
Q. Similarly, what are the emerging future security challenges, say 20-30 years from now, for the IAF that your crystal gazing is throwing up, and what are your thoughts on how to counter these future threats? After the 9/11 attacks in New York, the possibility of an aerial asymmetric warfare by either state or non-state actors became a reality? What’s the next big threat today, in your assessment?
A. Security challenges are extremely dynamic in nature and so are the responses to them. Instead of crystal gazing to assess ‘likely threats’ over a period of 20-30 years, we undertake a process based enhancement of our capability. IAF is focusing on ‘Men, Machine and Methods’. It has constantly believed that by making wise investments in these three areas, we will not only be ready for the existing threats but will also be well prepared to anticipate and respond to future challenges including those from non-state actors. The threat from un-regulated flying objects and machines has emerged very clearly. The MoD/IAF is coordinating with MoCA and MHA to establish proper regulations and control to counter the threat.
Q. How would you compare IAF’s combat, air defense, military transport, ISR capabilities with that of Pakistan Air Force and Chinese PLAAF? What would you suggest should be the Indian strategy to match capability or to counter the threats arising out of India’s traditional rival’s capabilities?
A. Threat and security assessment is a natural and on-going process for a country to ensure its national security. We are enhancing our capability to meet various multi-dimensional threats that we may have to address in the future. Our modernization plan and infrastructure development is in sync with our endeavor to retain a ‘Combat and Capability Edge’. IAF’s focus is on its Capability Enhancement and is not country-specific
Q. The Air Force’s fighter squadron strength, which is one of the parameters to measure the air power that India wields in the region, is at a low. It may not, at present, be at an all-time low vis-à-vis the sanctioned fleet strength. But in the due course of the next five to seven years, it could actually touch an all-time low. Is this a fair assessment? Could you please explain how this process of force level depletion is happening? What would be its effects on the Air Force’s ability to perform its role in the overall security architecture of India? Also, how do you plan to mitigate the situation? What are the likely impediments to the mitigation process?
A. Presently, IAF has 35 active fighter Squadrons against Government authorized strength of 42 Squadrons. The reduction in the strength of fighter Squadrons is due to obsolescence over a period of time. The shortfall in fighter aircraft strength is planned to be made good through induction of the remaining contracted Su-30 MKI, LCA, Rafale and other suitable fighter aircraft. We are also ensuring higher availability of aircraft through better maintenance and logistics management. The Government is aware of the need and the right decisions will be taken to meet our defence requirements. The IAF expects to achieve the sanctioned strength of 42 Fighter Squadrons by the end of the 14th Plan period.
Q. What are your force accretion plans? When and how would you achieve a stage when force accretions will begin to happen? How would you sustain that pace of growth of the combat fleet for the long term, say 2030, 2040 and 2050? What’s your desired end-state in terms of your combat fleet strength? How would you maintain those force levels after you have achieved it?
A. Force accretion is a process which is already in progress as part of the long term capability enhancement vision of the IAF. The capability building of the IAF has received a boost during the current Plan period and I am sure that we will be able to sustain the rate in future as well. We aim to achieve the authorized strength of fighter Squadrons by the end of the 14th Plan period. The sustenance of any fleet is undertaken by following the best maintenance practices and supply chain management. We also undertake mid-life upgrades on fleets in order to enhance their operational capability and relevance. The desired end-state is the capability to undertake full-spectrum operations in the most effective manner in a networked environment. The Government and IAF are committed to ensure that the capability build-up and its sustenance are met through indigenous sources to the maximum extent possible.
Q. Against the backdrop of the retraction of the 2007 MMRCA tender after a long-winding haggling process since Rafale was selected as the L-1 in 2012, what are your expectations from the 36-Rafale government-to-government contract that India is negotiating with France, in terms of how quickly the negotiations could be completed, the deal signed, and the deliveries begin? What are the specific issues that are currently under discussion between the two nation’s negotiation committees? Could you elaborate on the key issues under discussion?
A. The contract negotiations for the 126 MMRCA had reached a stalemate and the process was not making any headway for almost two years. Realizing the ‘Critical Operational Necessity’ of fighter aircraft in the IAF and likelihood of further delays in concluding the MMRCA contract negotiations, the Government decided to procure 36 Rafale aircraft from France through an Inter-Government route. The induction of these aircraft will assist the IAF in arresting the draw down in the number of combat squadrons. The negotiations for the procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft along with Weapons, Sensors and Counter-measures packages are in progress with the French.
Q. Air Force’s requirement under the now-terminated MMRCA tender was 126 aircraft with an option for 63-plane follow-on order. Are these the present requirement too for this class of an aircraft in the Air Force fleet? If yes, how do you plan to make up for the numbers? If no, then what is the number you are looking to procure? What are your alternative plans if you intend to stop the Rafale fleet at 36 planes?
A. The present case is for the procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft. The Government is aware of our requirements and would take a decision on induction of additional fighter aircraft in due course.
Q. There have been references to Su-30 MKI’s capability shortfall in an one-on-one dogfight during a close air combat vis-à-vis Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 C/D, primarily due to the latter’s EW strength? Is that assessment correct and if so, doesn’t this situation pose a limitation on Indian Su-30 MKI fleet countering the PAF’s F-16 fleet? What’s IAF’s counter within its fleet to that capability in the rival’s fleet?
A. Su-30 MKI is a potent platform and is capable of meeting all our operational requirements including those in a one-to-one combat scenario. Our forces have been participating in international exercises with friendly Air Forces against front line state-of the art fighter aircraft, which has provided insight into their capability and operational philosophy. The Su-30 has always performed well during such bi-lateral and multi-lateral Air Force level exercises.
Q. What’s going to be the final number of Su-30 MKI squadrons in the Air Force? How are inductions keeping pace with your plans? Have you overcome the issues of new Sukhoi bases not having shelters for the aircraft that are being deployed in the North East, such as in Tezpur or Chabua?
A. We intend to have a total of 13 squadrons equipped with the Su-30 MKI aircraft. There are certain slippages in delivery but they are not alarming and are being addressed through measures at the appropriate levels.
Q. Would the IAF consider procuring some of the other contenders in the now dead MMRCA tender, such as F-16, Eurofighter Typhoon, Saab or MiG-35 to meet the gap in the combat fleet requirement?
A. These aircraft are state-of-the-art fighters being operated by several Air Forces the world over. However, the IAF is not considering any such proposal at the moment. The Government will take a decision on induction of additional fighter aircraft in due course of time.
Q. Is a light, single-engine combat aircraft requirement of the IAF real? If so, could you confirm if the IAF is examining the offer from Saab for Gripen or Textron for the Scorpion or any other plane in the category to meet this requirement?
A. The IAF fighter fleet will be a mix of light, single-engine aircraft and multi-role twin-engine aircraft that will enable us to prosecute air operations across the entire spectrum of conflicts.