CHIEF OF THE AIR STAFF (IAF) INTERVIEW
On the occasion of the 84th anniversary of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, PVSM, AVSM, VM, ADC, Chief of the Air Staff and Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, spoke to Jayant Baranwal, Editor-in-Chief of SP’s Aviation
SP’s Aviation (SP’s): In the context of India emerging as a regional power, what would be the role and responsibility of the IAF in the next 25 years to meet with the challenges of the new status?
Chief of the Air Staff (CAS): The IAF has been given the role and responsibility to remain a modern and flexible aerospace power with full-spectrum capability to safeguard our national interests and project itself within India’s strategic area of influence. By virtue of its reach and short response time, the IAF is invariably the first responder in most contingencies and it is the responsibility of the IAF to offer sovereign options to the political leadership to promptly deal with emergent situations during war and in peace. The strategic footprint and capabilities of the IAF also serve ends of military diplomacy and nation-building.
As is evident from the current geopolitical developments and the prevailing security environment, the threats are no longer confined to the conventional regime. We are witnessing increase in incidents of subconventional or terrorist attacks. Therefore, the IAF is transforming itself continuously and enhancing its capabilities through acquisition of state-of-the-art technologies to counter threats across the entire spectrum of conflicts. In addition, the IAF is increasingly involved in operations, almost round the year in aid of civil authorities especially in humanitarian assistance and disaster response (HADR) missions.
The acquisition of modern weapons, platforms, equipment, infrastructure as well as terrestrial, airborne and space-based networks, have greatly enhanced our all-weather operational capability, strategic reach and network-centric warfare (NCW) capability. The IAF is already playing a leadership role in HADR operations across the region with its strategic airlift and heli-lift capabilities. The IAF is working on enhanced engagement of regional air forces and other established air forces of the world in flying and table top exercises, training courses, exchange visits, seminars, etc, for better understanding and cooperation in regional security issues as well as professional growth. It projects the image of India as a partner in maintaining regional peace and stability.
SP’s: Now that you have yourself formally validated the LCA Tejas, what are the plans to build up a fleet of this platform with credible operational capability and in a respectable time frame? Is the HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) capable of fulfilling the aspirations of the IAF in respect of this aircraft?
CAS: At the outset, let me state that the formation of first Tejas squadron on July 1, 2016, was indeed a proud moment for the IAF, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), HAL and the nation. At present, we have started inducting Tejas in the initial operational clearance (IOC) configuration. While it is a good beginning, focused developmental efforts are required to ensure that the Tejas expeditiously meets its envisaged full performance and combat capability.
THE STRATEGIC FOOTPRINT AND CAPABILITIES OF THE IAF ALSO SERVE ENDS OF MILITARY DIPLOMACY AND NATION-BUILDING
Full performance of Tejas aircraft will be validated during its final operational clearance (FOC), which is planned to be completed shortly. Apart from 20 aircraft each, contracted in IOC and FOC configuration, we are planning to procure additional Tejas Mk-1A aircraft with improved capabilities to equip four more squadrons. HAL has chalked out plans to enhance its production lines to ensure their induction in the expected time frame. We are certain that with renewed confidence and vigour towards the ‘Make in India’ initiative, production of Tejas aircraft would be enhanced to meet the requirements of both the IAF and of friendly foreign countries.
SP’s: The Minister of Defence has stated publicly that apart from the Rafale and the Tejas, India is exploring the possibility of manufacturing one or two other fighter jets in the country. What is the current status of this vision especially in view of the already depleted strength of the combat fleet?
CAS: The Ministry of Defence (MoD) is preparing a road map for induction of fighter aircraft into the IAF with the 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 being actively explored by the government.
SP’s: The indigenous HTT-40 basic trainer aircraft having taken to the skies in June 2016, in what time frame and numbers would this aircraft be inducted into the IAF? Is the performance of this platform adequate for it to be a part of the ‘Two-Aircraft Three-Stage’ training pattern?
CAS: The IAF has a requirement of 183 basic trainer aircraft (BTA). 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II BTAs have already been inducted and procurement of additional 38 Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II through ‘Option Clause’ is progressing well. The balance of 70 BTAs are planned to be made good by indigenous HTT-40 manufactured by HAL. The first test flight of HTT-40 has recently been carried out. As per the timelines projected by HAL, developmental flight trials are likely to be completed by June 2018. Timelines for its induction into the IAF will be formulated based on the progress of developmental flight trials. Adequacy of HTT-40 aircraft performance for ‘Two-Aircraft Three-Stage’ training will be assessed in due course. The IAF is working very closely with HAL to ensure that the project is a success, which will not only meet IAF’s basic training needs, but also that of friendly foreign air forces. Our objective is to make the HTT-40 as good as the Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II, if not better, so that it meets our ‘Two-Aircraft Three-Stage’ training pattern requirements.
SP’s: Has the project to develop the intermediate jet trainer (IJT) for the IAF been cancelled or is there a possibility of this platform becoming a reality in the future?
CAS: The IJT has encountered design problems with respect to certain flying characteristics. After undergoing structural modifications, the aircraft would need to be flight tested again for handling characteristics and performance in its entire flight envelope. Since the timeline for induction of the IJT cannot be predicted at this stage, the IAF has initiated a process for conducting ‘Two-Aircraft Three-Stage’ flying training pattern on the PC-7 Mk-II and the Hawk AJT. Limited numbers of flight cadets have already started training on this pattern and the numbers will gradually grow with increase in the number of PC-7 Mk-II aircraft. The outcome of the new training pattern so far has been encouraging and we hope to formalise the pattern soon.
SP’s: The nine-tonne payload capacity Airbus C295 to be manufactured in India to replace the Avro could be a good replacement of the An-32 as well. In this context, does the project to develop the multi-role transport aircraft jointly by HAL and UAC of Russia continue to be relevant, especially as there appear to be serious impediments in its progress?
CAS: The Airbus C295 aircraft to be manufactured in India is for replacement of IAF’s transport aircraft in the five- to tentonne payload capacity. The multi-role transport aircraft (MTA) project with Russia is to address the requirement of a transport aircraft in the 15- to 20-tonne payload capacity. The issues related to the development of MTA are under discussion with the Russian side.
SP’s: What have been the major takeaways for the IAF in the two recent joint air exercises, i.e. Red Flag in the US and Desert Eagle-II in the UAE?
CAS: The IAF contingent performed exceedingly well in the two international exercises and was able to meet all the laid down objectives. In Ex-Red Flag 16-1, for the first time, the IAF not only deployed the highest number of aircraft in an international exercise, but it was also for the first time that two types of fighter aircraft were deployed simultaneously. Deployment and de-induction from Alaska, which is more than 20,000 km away, flying across three continents and through the airspace of more than 15 countries has showcased IAF’s strategic reach. It was also unique in terms of the environment in Alaska, which was a new operational and maintenance experience for the IAF. Post Ex-Red Flag, on the way back to India, an element of the contingent comprising Su-30MKI aircraft carried out Ex-Desert Eagle-II with the UAE Air Force. The execution of the ‘Hop Exercise’ concept of coupling two exercises as part of an overseas deployment, allowed us to maximise training value while accruing significant cost savings.
Exercises like these are of immense learning value to all the participating forces. While we gained professionally by imbibing operational and maintenance practices relevant to our scenario, I am sure our partners also learned a lot from us. Apart from the professional gains, such exercises and interactions also allow us to build bridges of friendship with other air forces. These two exercises have enhanced the professional image of the IAF and the nation.
SP’s: What steps are being taken to enhance the state of readiness of the IAF to counter the threat to national security emanating from China singly or in collusion with Pakistan?
CAS: India is a peace-loving country. We have always wanted peace, stability and tranquillity in the region as this will ensure that economic development takes place and the quality of life of the people improve in the region. However, unfortunately we have been drawn into conflicts in the past due to the historical baggage. Today, we have to be prepared for conventional, subconventional and non-conventional threats.
STRENGTH IS VERY IMPORTANT AND TO MY MIND IT IS NOT SPECIFIC TO ANY COUNTRY. TOWARDS THIS, WE HAVE THE LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE PLAN OF THE IAF WHICH AIMS TO DEVELOP THE IAF INTO A POTENT AIR AND SPACE FORCE.
India needs to prepare itself to deter a conflict and the best way to do so is to have capability. It is the comprehensive national power, which includes military power, that will prevent a conflict in the region. Strength is very important and to my mind it is not specific to any country. Towards this, we have the long-term perspective plan of the IAF which aims to develop the IAF into a potent air and space force.
SP’s: What is the status of the proposal to set up an Aerospace Command? Where is it likely to be located and what broadly will be its responsibility?
CAS: 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 (ISC) at HQ IDS to Defence Space Agency (DSA). DSA is proposed to be headed by a two-star officer placed directly under the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). It will perform the role of a Tri-Service Nodal Agency and will form the nucleus for future Space Command.
SP’s: The issue of the appointment of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) has been under consideration for several years. What is the current status of the proposal?
CAS: The creation of CDS is an incremental process and has been supported by the three Services and other agencies. As per the Naresh Chandra Task Force’s recommendations, the Permanent Chairman COSC would be one of the three Service Chiefs appointed by the government and will be the singlepoint contact between the government and the three Services. He would thus be the fourth four-star officer who would also be responsible for the various Tri-Service Operational Commands. The Service Chiefs will continue to exercise operational control and staff functions over their respective Services. The proposed set up will allow HQ IDS under Chairman COSC to function as an effective advisory system to the government on matters of policy, joint acquisitions, joint capability building and training. The proposal is under consideration by the government.
SP’s: Have any new steps been taken to improve jointness among the three Services which is relatively a weak area?
CAS: There has been continuous interaction and harmonisation among the three Services. Adequate progress has been made to integrate combat platforms and assets to enhance the potential not only of the three Services, but also among the other stakeholders entrusted with the defence of our nation. It cannot be denied that a lot more needs to be done. The focus is on enhancing jointness and the three Services are increasingly taking part in large-scale joint military exercises, like Ex-Live Wire in October-November 2015, Ex-Jal Prahar and various Command level Exercise With Troops (EWT) of the Army to validate concepts of joint operations.
The three Services are also striving to strengthen the joint structure which is continuously evolving with the advancement in technology and communications. Apart from the three proposed Tri-Service Commands on Special Operations, Cyber and Space, there are a lot of measures, which are being undertaken for enhancing the synergy amongst the three Services. The procurement process of platforms, weapons and assets amongst the three Services has been streamlined to ensure commonality of equipment and operating procedure. The Defence Communication Network, a dedicated joint communication network, has recently been operationalised. Substantial progress has been made on collective utilisation of spare assets and towards a synergised spectrum of operations exploiting the strength of individual Services and ability to appreciate each other’s limitations.
SP’s: The light helicopter fleet of all three Services needs immediate replacement. While there have been a number of initiatives to address this problem, has there been any real progress on the ground to mitigate this problem?
CAS: To address the light utility helicopter fleet requirements of the Indian Army and the IAF, 200 Kamov 226T helicopters are planned for induction under an umbrella of Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between India and Russia. Out of the 200 helicopters, 60 would be acquired in flyaway condition and the balance 140 would be co-produced through a joint venture (JV) between the Russian companies and HAL. Discussions are in progress between HAL and the Russian companies to work out the various modalities to finalise the JV agreement for coproduction of Ka-226T helicopters.