Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force, Arup Raha exclusively replied to a questionnaire sent by The Sunday Guardian on the occasion of Saturday’s Air Force Day.
Q: Indian Air Force is entering its 85th year. What’s your vision for the IAF’s capabilities and fleet for the future, say by 2030 and 2050? What are the current and future challenges and threats that IAF has to prepare itself to tackle?
A: Threat and security assessment is a natural and ongoing 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. The Indian Air Force today stands at the threshold of acquiring multi-spectrum strategic capabilities, synonymous with India’s growing regional stature and expanding national interests and is progressively nearing its goal of transforming into a true Network Centric Aerospace Force.
Our modernisation plan and infrastructure development is in sync with our endeavour to retain a “Combat and Capability Edge”. IAF’s focus has never been country specific. Our current force levels are being used optimally and we have optimised our force application plans with existing resources and are fully capable of conducting all envisaged air campaigns, both in peace and in war.
The modernisation of the IAF is being undertaken as per the planned road-map in the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan. To maintain combat capability and operational relevance, MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar aircraft are being upgraded. The planned inductions include the contracted Su-30 MKI, Tejas and Rafale aircraft. In addition, C-130 Special Operations aircraft, Apache Attack Helicopters, Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopters, Basic and Advanced Trainer aircraft and Short, Medium and Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile systems are also under induction. 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 to provide adequate multi-layered air defence cover to the country are also being inducted. IAF is 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.
Q: IAF’s fighter squadron strength is low compared to its sanctioned strength. How will the process of force level depletion be cured and when do you see IAF achieving its sanctioned strength? Considering the wide spectrum of fleet that the IAF possesses, how many, how long and what roles are envisaged for each of these aircraft in the present combat fleet: MiG-21, MiG-27, MiG-29, SU-30MkI and Tejas?
A: 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 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 to provide adequate multi-layered air defence cover to the country are also being inducted. IAF is progressing towards Network Centric Operations through the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), which is being expanded to cover the entire nation including island territories.
As regards combat roles, aircraft in the IAF are utilised for the roles best suited for them, depending on the operational requirement.
Q: Does the Rafale deal take some pressure off from dwindling strengths? What are the lessons from the whole exercise? We needed some 150 aircraft in the MMRCA category. We are getting only 36. How do we propose to make up the shortfall?
A: Procurement of Rafale aircraft is a critical component of our capability enhancement process. The deal for procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft has been signed and its induction will greatly enhance the operational capability of the IAF. We should receive the first aircraft in 36 months’ time and delivery of all aircraft would be completed in 66 months. Since we are procuring only 36 aircraft, we do need to procure additional aircraft. Manufacturing of an additional type of fighter aircraft under the Make in India initiative is being considered by the government. To enhance combat capabilities and operational relevance, the upgrade of Mirage-2000, MiG-29 and Jaguar fleets has commenced. The LCA has been inducted and the IAF has ordered a total of 120 Tejas fighters to replace the MiG-21s.
Q: You have three offers from Lockheed-Martin, Boeing and Saab for building either F-16/A-18 or Gripen E combat aircraft respectively to be made in India for the IAF and for the export market. IAF has already evaluated these aircraft during the MMRCA tender. How open is the IAF to go for these three aircraft and what advice would IAF give the government of these aircraft on the strengths and weaknesses of each of these platforms?
A: The Ministry of Defence is preparing a road-map for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF with an aim to build up to the sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons at the earliest. Various options are being considered and manufacturing of an additional type of fighter aircraft under the Make in India initiative is also under consideration by the government.
Q: What are your expectations of the LCA Mk-1A and how satisfied is the IAF with the induction of the first lot of LCA Tejas fighters?
A: We have started inducting Tejas in the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration. This is a good beginning and focused developmental efforts are being made to ensure that the Tejas expeditiously meets its envisaged full performance and combat capability. Enhanced performance of Tejas aircraft will be validated during its Final Operational Clearance (FOC), which is planned to be completed shortly. Apart from the initial contracted IOC and FOC aircraft, a fresh case is under process for procurement of additional Tejas Mk-1A aircraft, with upgraded avionics suite, operational and maintenance capabilities.
Q: With the air-launched BrahMos variant being integrated on the IAF’s Su-30MkI fighter and fighter tests being undertaken now, when do we have the BrahMos Air-Launch separation trials and by when do you foresee the first line firing trials of the BrahMos-A missile?
A: Induction of the air launched BrahMos missile will provide a tremendous strategic capability to the Su-30 MKI fleet. The carriage and separation trials have been successfully completed. The flight trials that include firing of the live missile from the Su-30 MKI are progressing smoothly.
Q: 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 COSC, what are your views and what is the expected timeline for creation of the two strategic commands?
A: 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.
Q: Has there been any progress within the government for setting up the aerospace or Air and Space Command?
A: MoD has communicated that formation of an Aerospace Command will be considered in due course and in the interim; a case is being processed for expanding the Integrated Space Cell at HQ IDS to the Defence Space Agency (DSA). DSA is proposed to be headed by a two-star officer under Chairman, COSC directly. It will perform a role of Tri-Service Nodal Agency and will form as nucleus for future Space Command.
Q: 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 realise this objective and promote indigenisation?
A: 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 and 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.
Q: While you have encouraged women to join the fighter stream, is it true that most women want to join the transport or helicopter fleets? Does it have to do with post-retirement job prospects?
A: Criteria for selection of women pilots for the fighter stream in the IAF are same as that for male pilots. Selection is based on merit, recommendations of instructors and the trainee’s willingness to opt for fighters. In 197 Pilot Course, three women trainees had opted for the fighter stream, having met the laid down criteria. Currently, they are undergoing training on Hawk Mk-132 Advance Jet Aircraft. In the next Pilot Course, of the four women trainees, one woman trainee had opted for the fighter stream. However, she did not meet all the criteria and hence was not selected for the fighter stream. Since the IAF has gone through only two selection processes for women in the fighter stream, it would be premature as of now to make any inferences.
Q: Some major anomalies have been pointed out in the 7th Pay Commission award by the services? What steps have been taken to address these?
A: The 7th Pay Commission anomalies in respect of the armed forces were discussed with the Hon’ble Raksha Mantri in detail by the Services Chiefs and the members of the Armed Forces Pay Commission Cell. The Hon’ble Raksha Mantri is seized of all the issues and has assured to resolve them at the earliest. The Services are satisfied with the response. The core concerns of Defence Forces on 7th CPC award in the Defence Pay Matrix, requested by Service HQs to be addressed on priority to Hon’ble RM are: Increase in number of stages in defence pay matrix for JCOs/OR to prevent stagnation in yearly increase in salary; correct entry pay for NCO and officer ranks; higher rate of military service pay (MSP) for JCOs/OR; MSP to Major General & above/equivalents; non-functional financial upgradation (NFU).
Q: How do you look back at the last two years of your tenure in terms of the objectives you set yourself and what you have been able to achieve?
A: At the outset, let me state that I am grateful to the IAF, the government and the nation for placing me at the helm of the IAF, one of the most professional, potent and reputed Air Forces in the world. My vision has been to sustain the achievements of my illustrious predecessors and enhance the transformation trajectory of the IAF. My KRAs have been to: Enhance operational capability and relevance of the IAF to the nation; improve flight safety records; build infrastructure ensuring quality without time and cost overruns; maintain high morale of human resource through sustained professional growth, better quality of life and standard of living; improve security infrastructure and orientation of air-warriors towards security through relevant training.
I am satisfied that we have made substantial progress in all the areas mentioned above. In 2015-16, the IAF achieved the highest flying effort in decades, flying almost 40,000 hours more than the last 10 years’ average, while achieving one of the best flight safety records ever. Successful conduct of an extensive pan Air Force exercise, Live Wire-2015, and Exercise Iron Fist-2016, the Fire-Power Demonstration at Pokhran, showcased the operational capability and readiness of the IAF.
We have also been able to enhance our synergy with the Army and the Navy through regular conduct of joint exercises. The recent brigade level paradrop by night was the largest such exercise conducted by the Indian armed forces. Deployment of a large contingent to Alaska for Exercise Red Flag and to UAE for Exercise Desert Eagle demonstrated our growing strategic reach and power projection capabilities.
As regards development of infrastructure, greater involvement of users has resulted in better quality control and timely completion of several operational and maintenance infrastructure projects. Upgrade of a number of ALGs has been carried out in the Northeast. Runway resurfacing works at numerous airfields along with construction of hangars, avionic labs, weapon storage facilities etc., have also taken place or are nearing completion. Enhanced security training and infrastructure have helped orientate our air-warriors in countering sub-conventional threats. Rapid progress has also been made in creation of better accommodation, sports infrastructure, schools, medical services and recreation facilities in all our bases. This has had a positive impact on the morale of the air-warriors.
The IAF is being increasingly called upon as the first responder in most HADR contingencies and aid to civil authorities. IAF’s pro-active response in meeting these challenges, both within the country and abroad has projected a positive image of India as a regional power. A total of 3,200 sorties and 2,500 hours have been flown during the last two years towards such contingencies.
The IAF has also been actively engaging with the Ministry of Civil Aviation and has had a number of discussions and interactions with the relevant stakeholders to work out the modalities related to flexible use of airspace and operations of joint user airfields.