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IAF aiming for Diverse Capabilities, says Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal P V Naik in his Keynote Address on Fighter Technology and Advance Systems, Sep 26, 2008

 Published : October 2008

Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Technological superiority is the cornerstone of Aerospace dominance. From the early days of biplanes, aircraft that could fly higher or faster always had the edge. As technology developed, aerodynamics in terms of swept wings, area ruling, wing-body blending, along with reliability became the hallmark. So you had aircraft like the Spitfire and P-51 Mustangs ruling the skies in World War II.

Next was the era of jet engines, although they were introduced in the II World War, but did not make a decisive impact because the war was already in the closing stages at the time of induction.

The Jet era of roughly six decades can best be described in generations.

  1. The first generation was marked by the development of reliable jet engines and innovations like swept wings, ejection seats and all moving tail planes. We saw Toofani, Mysteres, Hunters and Gnats in this eneration (in the IAF).
  2. The second generation brought in the guided missiles and development of delta wings and area ruling fuselage. With the aid of swept wings, it was the first time that the aircraft could break the sound barrier. MiG-21, Lightening and early Phantoms were the aircraft of this generation. During this period the fighters were specialised for a single role like the night fighter, interceptor or a ground attack aircraft.
  3. The third generation was marked by improved radars, avionics and longer range missiles. A lot of emphasis was put on improving the manoeuvrability of aircraft and increasing the quantum of armament carried. These innovations, while greatly improving the capabilities of fighters, also came at a considerable increase in cost. (Examples are aircraft like the Jaguar, Mirage III/V etc).
  4. Thereafter, Multi Role fighters became popular in the fourth generation, and even aircraft designed for a specific role acquired multi-role capability. Technologies like Relaxed Stability, Fly-by-wire controls and Fully Automated Digital Engine Control (FADEC) became popular in the fourth generation fighter jets like the Mirage 2000, F-15 and F-16.
  5. Then came the four and half generation, that marked a technological jump in avionics technology and flight electronics, largely due to advances made in microchip and semiconductor technology in the 1980s and 1990s. Data linking to improve situational awareness, Glass cockpits and Helmet mounted displays were developed in this period. (Improvement of F-16 A/B – F-16 C/D, Mirage 2000-05 to Mirage 2000-09 are examples).
  6. The current or fifth generation cutting edge of fighter design combines previous emphasis on versatility with new developments such as thrust vectoring, short takeoff/ landing (STOL), composite materials, super cruise, stealth technology, advanced radar s and integrated avionics designed to reduce the pilot’s workload while vastly improving situational awareness. With this as the background, let us see the requirements of a fighter aircraft of the future.

Requirements of a modern fighter aircraft

Air Superiority Role. The foremost task of a modern fighter would be to establish Air Superiority. I would define Air Superiority as ‘controlling the airspace within a limited area for a limited length of time’. The desirable features of an air superiority fighter are excellent manoeuvrability, good visibility from the cockpit, high thrustto-weight ratio, carefree engine handling, high performance radar with the ability to track multiple targets simultaneously, digital glass cockpits, fire-and-forget armament including beyond visual range (BVR) weapons and Stealth or Low Observable technology. I will briefly elaborate on each of these.

Air Frame. Manoeuvrability is an essential requirement for combat survivability. Modern day fighters are agile enough to pitch against each other in different engagement scenarios. However, when pitted against missiles, the
survivability factor diminishes. To maintain a high survivability rate when pitted against missile engagements, it is essential that the fighters are capable of carrying out instantaneous manoeuvres beyond the critical flight -envelope. Such technologyis available and has been incorporated in some of the modern day fighters. The manmachine interface in such cases needs to be tuned to enhance the human tolerance level to withstand rigours of high ‘G’ for short durations of time.

Engine. Jet engines have improved vastly over the past several decades, becoming more efficient, powerful, and reliable. For example, in the period of roughly two decades between the development of the F-15 and the F-22 Raptor aircraft, engine technology improved so much that the F-22 fighter has almost twice the power of F-15. The reason for this improved performance is engine materials that allow much higher temperatures within the turbines around 3,400 degrees Fahrenheit, in contrast to temperatures 1,000 degrees lower in previous–generation aircraft.

The function of any efficient engine control system is to allow the engine to perform at maximum efficiency for a given condition.

FADECs are employed by almost all current generation jet engines to provide carefree handling. It provides better fuel efficiency, is more reliable, provides better systems integration with engine and aircraft systems and reduces the number of parameters to be monitored by flight crews.

Radar. The radar is the primary sensor of the aircraft. A modern fighter should be equipped with a high performance radar with ability to track multiple targets simultaneously, both in Air to Air and Air to Ground modes (e.g., AESA Radar). It should have high probability of detection at long ranges, should have low cross section and be capable of surviving through intense ECM activities. Phased array radar with IR search and tracking combination provides a good solution.

Avionics. Modern “digital glass cockpits” represent a revolution in the way cockpits are designed and built today. A glass cockpit utilises several computer displays that can be adjusted to display flight information as needed. This simplifies aircraft operation and navigation and allows pilots to focus only on the most pertinent information.

Having all switches on the stick and throttle allows the pilot to keep his “hands on throttle-andstick” (HOTAS), thus eliminating the need to take his eyes off the horizon and HUD. It improves the pilot’s situational awareness, his ability to manipulate switches and button controls under stress and during high ‘G’ manoeuvres.

Networking. Other requirements that are essential to improve the battlefield transparency are Inter/Intra-flight data link (IFDL) and Secure voice and data communication systems. Inter/Intra-Flight Data Link allows an aircraft in flight to share target and system data automatically without radio calls. With the IFDL, each pilot is free to operate more autonomously because of vastly improved Situational Awareness. For example, the leader can tell at a glance what his wing man’s fuel state is, his weapons remaining, and even the enemy aircraft being targeted by other members of his formation. During the recent Red Flag Exercise, IAF pilots have seen the tremendous advantages of Networks. We are already working towards a similar capability.

Armament. New fire-and-forget BVR, medium and short range missiles have been developed. Modern missiles using an Inertial Navigation System (INS) have the advantage wherein the launching aircraft does not have to illuminate the target with radar energy for the entire flight of the missile, and in fact does not require a radar lock to launch at all. This gives less warning to the target that a missile has been launched and also allows the launching aircraft to turn away once the missile is in its terminal homing phase, using active guidance.

The latest generation of shortrange missiles with electro-optical imaging infrared seekers allow the missiles to “see” images rather than single “points” of infrared radiation (heat). The sensors, combined with powerful digital signal processing, provide greater infrared counter countermeasures (IRCCM) ability, thereby being able to distinguish aircraft from infrared countermeasures (IRCM) such as flares. It also provides greater sensitivity i.e. greater range and ability to identify smaller low flying targets such as UAVs.

The devastating capability of PGMs has been adequately displayed during the Gulf War and more recently in the Afghan war. It would be essential to use Precision Guided Munitions from airborne platforms, to enhance strike success by several degree of magnitude and exponentially reduce own attrition through standoff capability.

Antiradar missiles like the highspeed anti-radiation missile (HARM) have been very effective in conflicts like Desert Storm. The latest version of the HARM includes a GPS-based guidance system that allows a missile to maintain its trajectory towards a target even if the target’s outgoing radar signal is interrupted. Unlike a laser guided weapon, a GPS weapon does not require the launch aircraft to remain in the vicinity of the target to illuminate it for guidance. These are true fire and-forget weapons which, once released, are wholly autonomous and all weather capable with no degradation in accuracy.

The Joint Direct Attack Munitions (JDAM) are cost effective, all weather “smart” munitions.JDAM-equipped bombs are guided to their target by an integrated inertial guidance system coupled with a Global Positioning System (GPS) receiver for enhanced accuracy. This has overcome the limitations of laser-guided bomb and imaging infrared technology, both of which can be hindered by adverse weather conditions.


The modern fighter has to be Stealthy. Stealth technology, also known as Low Observable Technology is a sub -discipline of military electronic countermeasures which covers a range of techniques used with aircraft in order to make them less visible to radar, infrared and other detection methods. Stealth technology is not a single technology but is a combination of technologies that attempt to greatly reduce the distances at which a vehicle can be detected; in particular radar cross section reductions, as also acoustic, thermal and other aspects.

The latest development going on in the stealth technology is “Plasma Stealth” in which a Stealth plasma device creates a plasma field around an aircraft. This field partially consumes electromagnetic energy of a hostile radar or causes it to bend around the aircraft, reducing the aircraft RCS by up to 100 times.

The modern eject ion seat has undergone a series of refinements since its inception in l946 and today it is a highly automated system that requires the occupant to only initiate the firing mechanism to effect escape. The development of rocket propulsion has produced the higher trajectory necessary to clear aircraft structures during high speed escape as well as escape during low speed and zero-zero (zero velocity and zero altitude) ejections. Seat stabilisation mechanisms incorporated in the system cancel asymmetric forces which produce rotation and tumbling.

IFF is another important area that increases the chances of survivability in the battlefield. The major benefits of IFF are positive identification of friendly forces and reduction in fratricide. An important issue when there are a large number of formations operating in the TBA. (In the recent Exercise Red Flag for instance, there were 80 aircraft
from various countries in the air at any given time).

Indian Air Force

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Indian Air Force is the fourth largest Air Force in the world, and has a large strength of combat aircraft. The Sukhoi-30MKI is the IAF’s prime air superiority fighter. The Su-30MKI, with one mid-air refuelling, can travel as far as 8000 km, making it an effective platform to deliver strategic weapons. The Mirage 2000s serve in both the ground attack and air defence squadrons.

The MiG-29 is a dedicated air superiority fighter. The Jaguars and MiG-27 aircraft serve as IAF’s primary ground strike force. Besides these, the IAF has a large fleet of multi-role MiG-21 combat aircraft that have been serving the IAF for the past three decades. The Air Force plans to eventually replace the MiG-21s with the indigenous, HAL built LCA ‘Tejas’ starting 2010.

The IAF has a comprehensive modernisation plan and we are working towards achieving the desired capabilities through a ‘perspective plan’ for 10-15 years. This plan is synchronised with our operational requirements and our national aspirations. The endeavour is to make good all deficiencies, upgrade the existing equipment and procure state of the art weapon systems. These include advanced combat aircraft and Network Centric Warfare systems.

IAF has started upgrading its combat aircraft fleet since the last few years in order to enhance its operational capability and maintain its aircraft as modern weapon platforms, capable of meeting the present challenges posed by the security scenario in our region. Of the available fleet, MiG-21, MiG-27 and Jaguar aircraft have already been upgraded. The upgrades for Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 are already underway.

The planned induction of Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft, Light Combat Aircraft and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft would cater to the planned phasing out of ageing aircraft in the future.

Future Requirements of the combat fleet

India has seen rapid technological growth in the recent past; however we are aware of some areas that require infusion of technology. We have identified niche technologies that will be in tune with our requirements of the future and are commencing the process of acquiring these. Some of the technologies that we are considering, include :

  1. Platforms that combine stealth, and situational awareness as a result of interacting with, a broad array of networked systems.
  2. All weather strike capability.
  3. Standoff attack capability with very high degree of accuracy.
  4. Passive radar technology.
  5. Fire and forget BVRAAMs.
  6. Sensor technologies for long range BVRAAMs and sensor fused weapons.
  7. Enhancing EW capability by extension of electromagnetic spectrum to millimetric and optical wavelengths and warning of illumination by IR, Laser and Radar.

Technological advancements in the recent years have had a profound impact on the battlefield and the milieu is going to be more and more sophisticated in the years ahead. As seen in recent conflicts, network centric warfare capability, along with cutting edge technologies in the fields of surveillance, targeting, avionics, weapon lethality are going to be the areas of focus.

We are continuing our efforts to meet such diverse requirements in a cost effective manner. All the players in the field of developing technology have a role to play.

In the end, I would like to thank the organisers for conducting this seminar on a very relevant subject , particularly for a highly technologically intensive service like the IAF. I am sure the various sessions and the subsequent brain- stormingwould be of immense value to the participants.

  © India Strategic 
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