. New Delhi.The Indian Air Force (IAF) will build combat capabilities in the coming years through both new inductions and upgrades but “with a special focus on indigenisation and self-reliance.” Stating this, the new Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, told India Strategic in an interview on the eve of Aero India 2017 that IAF had plans to increase its present strength of 33 combat squadrons to the sanctioned level of 42, and there was a roadmap in place. “Our key result areas in future will be to continue building up combat capabilities through new inductions and upgrades that will give us an edge over our adversaries with a special focus on indigenisation and self-reliance.”
Team India Strategic congratulated him on his assumption of office as CAS and soughthis comments on various aspects of the transformational phase the IAF is going through. Here are his answers, in excerpts, being published in our Show Dailies during the Air Show. Today’s focus is on IAF’s perspective for modernisation and technology induction for fighter aircraft, in response to our first question.
Chief: I extend my heartfelt gratitude to you for your kind words on my taking over as CAS. I take this opportunity to congratulate you and your team for the stellar standards of journalism displayed in your publications. In the last decade we have witnessed substantial advancement of technology in areas of defence equipment. The major challenge of the present era is to ensure that the equipment being operated by us remains contemporary and we are able to maintain technological asymmetry with respect of our adversaries. Therefore, our modernisation plans are based not only on induction of state-of-art equipment but to continuously upgrade existing platforms to maintain their operational relevance.
In the present global economic environment, pursuing desired modernisation plans while maintaining within the contours of defence outlay is a challenge even to the most advanced countries. Our key result areas in future will be to continue building up combat capabilities through new inductions and upgrades that will give us an edge over our adversaries with a special focus on indigenisation and self-reliance.
India Strategic: Your comments please on the Fighters strength.
Chief: At present IAF has 33 fighter squadrons against a requirement of 42 squadrons. Proactive steps are been taken to arrest the drawdown of fighter aircraft strength and build up to the authorised strength in the earliest time frame. Towards this, the planned induction includes six squadrons of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and two each of Rafale and Su-30 MKI. Further, the Government is preparing a roadmap for manufacturing of fighter aircraft with a strategic partner through the Make in India process. All these initiatives will give an impetus to indigenisation. Apart from the new inductions, IAF is also undertaking comprehensive modernisation of its Fighter Fleets. Mirage 2000, Jaguar and MiG-29 aircraft to ensure that aircraft maintain their contemporary edge over those of our adversaries.
India Strategic: Any plans to advance the induction of Rafale, already committed with France?
Chief: At present there are no plans to advance the delivery schedule or lease Rafale aircraft from the French Air Force.
India Strategic: Your predecessor had mentioned in his farewell press conference that IAF needs at least 200 to 250 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCAs).
Chief: The future requirement of fighter aircraft projected by the IAF is to ensure that we maintain an optimum ratio of Light, Medium and Heavy class of combat aircraft. The Government is preparing a roadmap for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF. All future inductions in IAF will be in accordance with this roadmap. If all proposed inductions fructify as planned, than we would attain the desired strength. The roadmap will also ensure there is a steady enhancement of fighter fleet, both in terms of strength and capability.
India Strategic: Your comments on contemporary technologies, and possible col laborative ventures with global manufacturers.
Chief: Talking purely in terms of technology, it is obvious that the operational capabilities of platforms planned to be inducted in future will be contemporary. The selection of platform to be manufactured through the Make in India route is to include range and depth of transfer of technology on offer by the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs). By way of Make in India fighter programme, we are planning to infuse technology in our Aerospace sector and develop as well as sustain an ecosystem of SMEs & MSMEs involved in manufacturing of defence equipment in India. The programme, through a strategic partner, will also assist in ensuring development of next generation indigenous Fighter aircraft. Our Government is finalising the policy on ‘strategic partnership’ and process for selecting a suitable platform will commence thereafter.
India Strategic: Update on the LCA Mk I/IA and Mk II programme?
Chief: Induction of aircraft for first squadron of LCA is under progress. These aircraft are being inducted with Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) standards. It will take some time for us to fully exploit this aircraft operationally; however, initial feedback about the aircraft is encouraging and LCA will add to the combat potential of IAF. Further, in order to meet the urgent operational requirements, IAF has expressed that LCA Mk-1A aircraft be equipped with additional capabilities such as Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, Air to Air Refuelling (AAR) and Electronic Warfare (EW) suite. The Government has granted Acceptance of Necessity (AON) for procurement of 83 LCA Mk1A aircraft.
The focus this time is on Transport Aircraft. The Chief said that IAF is paying as much attention towards strengthening the Transport fleet as much to the Combat jets. Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa observed that the acquisition of C 17 Globemaster III and C130J SuperHercules had added to IAF’s strategic capability. Ten C-17 heavy lift transport aircraft and six other C-130 J30 special operations aircraft have already been inducted in IAF. Six more C-130 J30 aircraft will be inducted in the first half of 2017 and a case has been initiated for procurement of one more C-17 aircraft. About replacement of the long-pending replacement of IAF’s Avro fleet, the Chief sounded a hopeful note. Contract negotiations for 56 x C-295 aircraft to replace the ageing Avro fleet are likely to commence shortly.
On An-32 aircraft he said,
Their upgrade programme is currently under progress but indicated IAF will also work for their replacement in due course, adding that the Medium Transport Aircraft (MTA) programme for joint production with Russia “could not mature.” “The first lot of An-32 aircraft is due for phase out in 2023-24 and a suitable replacement will be considered at appropriate time. The agreement with Russia for MTA could not mature as their proposal did not meet some of the Air Staff Qualitative Requirements (ASQRs).”
Anout Helicopters, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said: IAF plans to induct additional Mi-17 V5 helicopters. Induction of Light Combat Helicopters(LCH) will commence after it attains Initial Operational Capability (IOC) and that Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) has been granted for induction of 10 Limited Series Production LCH (to HAL).
It may be noted that AoN is the first step towards Government approval for acquisition of a defence system. He also pointed out that an Inter-Governmental Agreement has been signed for the procurement of Ka-226 T helicopters for Indian Army and IAF (with Russia). These would be co-produced in a Joint Venture (JV) between the Russian companies and HAL under the Make-in-India programme. The delivery of Ka-226 helicopters produced in India will start four years post signing of the contract.
On Mig21 and Mig27 he said,
That after the phase out of the Mig 21 and Mig 27 aircraft, the entire combat fleet of the Indian Air Force will have midair refuelling capability. It is part of IAF’s Perspective Plan. But asked to comment on the withdrawal of RfP after it seemed certain that Airbus A330 MRTT had been selected, he told our Managing Editor Air Marshal VK Jimmy Bhatia that IAF “is exploring available options.” The Air Chief observed: “IAF was earlier pursuing the case for Flight Refueller Aircraft (FRA). However, after the withdrawal of RFP, we are exploring available options in order to ensure that this critical capability is available to us in least possible timeframe. Post phasing out of the MiG-21 and MiG-27 fleet, all fighter aircraft in IAF will have inflight refuelling capability.
“And our perspective plans caters for induction of sufficient Flight Refuelling Aircraft to support them.” In the comprehensive interview, the Chief replied to questions on air defence, unmanned systems, Offsets and Tot and Training Systems. Besides indigenous systems like Akash, the Services were working to acquire capability from Israel (Rafael) and Russia (Triumph 400). On Air Defence, the Air Chief said: IAF is carrying out a comprehensive modernisation of its Air Defence system. The new generation Air Defence radars such as Medium Power Radars (MPR), Rohini radars and Low Level Light Weight Radars (LLLWR) have been inducted.“The Low level Transportable Radars (LLTR) are in the process of induction. Two Aerostat systems were procured from M/s Rafael of Israel and inducted in IAF. Request for Information (RFI) has been sought for procurement of four additional Aerostat systems. While eight sqns of indigenous Akash missile system have already been inducted, a case for more sqns is also under process. “Procurement of Very Short Range Air defence Systems (VSHORADS) for IAF and India Army, under Buy & Make category, is being processed by the Army. The induction of SPYDER QRSAM and MRSAMs will commence shortly. “Also, The RFP for S-400 Triumph Air Defence System is under process.” Then, he added, Close In Weapon Systems (CIWS) are also planned to be inducted through the Make in India route.
On Networking, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said: “Apart from procurement of radars and weapon system, IAF is also networking all its Air Defence assets on a common grid through the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS). IACCS is the backbone of IAFs Network Centric Warfare capability, which provides fused Air Situation Picture based on the inputs from a network of ground based sensors.
“Also, integration of AWACS and IACCS has mutually strengthened both detection and control capabilities and reduced sensor to shooter time.”
On Unmanned Systems, the Air Chief observed that IAF needs both High Altitude and Medium Altitude Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs).
He said: IAF has a requirement of High AltitudeLong Endurance (HALE) and Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) class of RPAs along with requirement of Combat UAVs/ armed RPAs. “We are processing a case for procurement of MALE UAVs from Indian companies through the Make in India route. The RPAs, or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAVs), are proposed to be developed and manufactured by the Indian industry under an appropriate category of the DPP like Buy & Make (Indian). “Besides, IAF is in the process of upgrading its existing UAV fleet by procuring a number of modern systems like Satellite Communication, IFF, TCAS, Remote Video Terminal (RVT), Radio Relay, Automatic Take-off and Landing (ATOL) and Wide Eye Image Mosaic king system etc.
“Rustom-2, an indigenous MALE RPA being developed by DRDO, has recently carried out its maiden flight and is planned to be inducted in the IAF. We are also actively participating in design and development of Ghatak, an indigenous Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV). “Other options will be considered only if we are not able to acquire these capabilities from indigenous sources in an expected timeframe.”
As for Make in India, now a mandated policy of the Government, and implied ToT, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said:
Indigenisation is one of the main focus areas of IAF. “We have always encouraged development of indigenous defence production capability and capacities. It is our endeavour that we attain self sufficiency in Aerospace sector through a focused, sustained and evolved Indigenisation programme. IAF firmly believes that indigenisation provides flexibility by reducing dependence on external agencies. IAF has been a catalyst in ensuring that critical technologies are developed in the country and has been on the forefront for encouraging large scale production of defence equipment in our country. “However, there are some areas wherein the indigenous technology has not yet fully matured.
In such cases, we have been trying to obtain key technologies through private industries. Cases like Avro Replacement, Ka-226T Helicopters, Proposed Make in India Fighter aircraft, Close in Weapon System etc. have been initiated by IAF with these objectives in mind.
“These initiatives will also enhance the defence research and development base of the country.” “We are committed to ensure that our reliance on foreign manufactured defence equipment is continuously reduced and our country soon becomes an exporter of High Technology military systems. Global tenders are sought only for equipment that cannot be manufactured in India in the required time frame. In such cases offset is sought to ensure that certain technology could either be transferred or a part of equipment can be manufactured in country. Further, the DPP-2016 includes several initiatives to encourage local research and development 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, provide an impetus to MSME sector, and timely induction of equipment
into the Indian Armed Forces.
On Training Aircraft:
Chief: “The IJT has encountered design problems with respect to safe execution of manoeuvres
such as ‘Stall’ and ‘Spin’. Since the timeline for induction of IJT has been delayed inordinately we recommended the foreclosure of the case and the same has been accepted by DDP. IAF conducts a three stage ab-initio pilot training on PC-7 Mk-II, Kiran MkI/ IA and Hawk 132 aircraft for induction in Fighter stream. With the phasing out of Kiran Mk I/ IA the second state of pilot training would also be conducted on PC-7 Mk-II as an interim measure until the induction of an intermediate jet trainer. “Additional Pilatus and Hawk aircraft are being procured under options clause. “IAF plans to induct the indigenous HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft after completion of its design and development.
Our last question was: Your message for the IAF officers!
Chief: As Air Warriors of IAF, we take immense pride in our impeccable professional capabilities.
We will deliver our duties and responsibilities to the nation everywhere, anytime and on time.