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I am confident that SP Guide Publications would continue to inform, inspire and influence.

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My compliments to SP Guide Publications for informative and credible reportage on contemporary aerospace issues over the past six decades.

— Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Indian Air Force Chief


“MRFA would be selected for its capabilities”

On the occasion of the 90th Indian Air Force Day, Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Chief of the Air Staff, spoke extensively on a range of related subjects to Jayant Baranwal, Editor-in-Chief, SP’s Aviation

Issue: 09-2022Photo(s): By Indian Air Force, IAF_MCC / Twitter

SP’s Aviation (SP’s): IAF is leaning on developing its ‘soft power’ capabilities. Can you elaborate on specifically which capabilities you are focusing on and how you plan to enhance them?

Chief of the Air Staff (CAS): Role of Soft Power is significant in multi domain and Grey Zone Operations. IAF has a focussed plan to leverage the digital media towards enhancing soft power capabilities. IAF is engaging regularly with Friendly Foreign Countries (FFC) in terms of air exercises and HADR exercises. This is enabling projection of capabilities on a global front and ensuring interoperability with FFCs. IAF is looking to take these engagements to the next level with multinational settings and extending a world class exercise environment.

IAF is also engaging with all elements of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) in shaping the cognitive environment and projecting National objectives.

SP’s: China is going all out to dominate the Space front. How is IAF planning to counter that? What is IAF’s plan for the development of Space based capabilities?

CAS: A consolidated IAF Space Plan catering for the long term needs of the nation has already been formulated. In addition, IAF specific inputs with respect to Joint Space Doctrine have been shared with the Defence Space Agency. Similarly, inputs with regard to the National Space Security Policy have been shared with NSCS. As was also stated by the Defence Minister while delivering the keynote address at the 37th ACM P.C. Lal memorial lecture, the IAF needs to evolve into an Aerospace Force. This role derives naturally from air and space being one continuum with “air-related” functions transforming seamlessly into “space-related” ones. This logic extends as well to situational awareness, as it does to defence against any inbound threats. Therefore, in keeping with the Minister’s directive, the IAF is equipping & training itself in a manner that it can adapt to space-related functions in a seamless manner. The areas where the IAF is developing its capabilities in space include communications, navigation, ISR & Space Surveillance Network.

SP’s: What is the status on the MRFA programme? By when do you think the winner can be declared?

CAS: IAF plans to induct six squadrons of MRFA in a phased manner. The IAF is studying the responses to the RFI which was issued in April 2018. The Air Staff Qualitative Requirements for the proposal are being finalised prior to seeking Government approval. Certain key areas which need more elaboration are being queried, following which, necessary details would be included in ASQRs and the process of issuing RFP would be initiated. We hope to initiate the case soon.

“Modern infrastructure is also being planned to meet future challenges at most of the forward bases to support Air operations”

The aircraft would be selected for its performance and capabilities on several counts, based on our Operational Requirements and would be progressed under the ‘Make in India’ initiative of DAP-2020 focusing on a substantial transfer of key technologies to an Indian Production Partner.

SP’s: What role do you see for unmanned systems like UCAVs, RPAs and Drone Swarms in the IAF? What is the IAF’s road map for enhancing this capability within?

CAS: The IAF is aware of the role of unmanned systems in future warfare and has initiated various programmes to develop and integrate the concerned niche technologies. In addition to the development of HALE/MALE, the IAF is also developing unmanned systems in collaboration with private industry. These programmes include Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T), Air Launched Flexible Assets – Swarm (ALFA-S) and Tactical Interdiction & Attack Air Vehicle (TIA-AV 50).

The IAF has prepared a roadmap for induction of RPAs to meet both the short term and long term operational requirements by addressing the limitations of the existing RPAs. The plan includes various types of RPA systems ranging from Small Drones and Counter Drone systems to the MALE & HALE class of RPAs, including those having an offensive capability.

Since Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) development is being undertaken by very few countries, the underlying technology is very restricted. As far as enhancing our own offensive capability is concerned, the IAF is participating in lead activities towards the Design and Development of an indigenous UCAV. An advanced technology development project has been sanctioned to ADE to develop critical technologies for a UCAV. Various Core Teams have been formed from all the DRDO labs, IAF and other agencies involved in the Project. In addition, upgrade of the existing fleet of RPAs to integrate combat capability is also being progressed.

SP’s: China is speedily developing infrastructure along the LAC in Eastern Ladakh that can help tactical military operations when required. What is the IAF doing about it? Are we also augmenting our capabilities along the border?

CAS: IAF is closely monitoring the developments along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in Eastern Ladakh area. To meet the IAF’s requirements, we have already developed infrastructure in terms of ALGs/Runways, enhanced storage capacity, besides other airfield infrastructure in the region. To counter the threat from the adversary, we are fully capable to augment resources at short notice. Modern infrastructure is also being planned to meet future challenges at most of the forward bases to support Air operations.

SP’s: What is IAF’s stand on critical newage weapons technology like Hypersonic and Lasers? Are we developing or partnering in the development of such technologies?

CAS: DRDO is working on a project related to Hypersonic Glide Vehicles.

SP’s: Any lessons for the IAF from the Russia-Ukraine War? Especially the use of Air Defence and of UAVs by Ukraine to counter Russia?

CAS: The Russian-Ukraine war has thrown up plenty of lessons which can be gleaned from operations of both sides. The resilience of air power has been demonstrated in this extended war, where we have seen the Ukrainian Air Force managing to protect its limited assets, thus retaining its capability to conduct offensive operations – even if in a limited manner. The importance of air power for the progress of the ground campaign has been an important lesson. It has also shown that a sustained DEAD campaign is important to achieve the requisite air situation. Similarly, a full spectrum AD capability is needed which includes weapons like shoulder launched missiles to long ranged surface-to-air-missiles (SAMs). Inputs about the effectiveness of the Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) have been mixed. Initial reports about the performance of such platforms were largely positive. However, as the major action shifted to the East, where a structured Russian AD system was available, most inputs indicate high vulnerability and limited impact. This highlighted the need for a multi layered and ranged air defence system with both hard and soft kill options for dealing with RPAs. However, definitive conclusions can only be reached once the entire context and conditions become clear.

SP’s: Our Air Force is considered to be one of the best in the world, because of the quality of its (wo)men in uniform? How does the IAF ensure the highest level of training and morale is maintained?

CAS: IAF has always placed a high premium on its human resource. This value system is manifested in the IAF vision statement of “People First Mission Always”. We have well-established procedures and policies in place for activities pertaining to human resources and we are quite flexible in bringing about changes to further improve on the policies and practices.

In fine tradition of the IAF, CAS Chaudhari flew with his son Squadron Leader Mihir V. Chaudhari in command as part of a three aircraft combat training mission

Our online entrance examination on all India basis followed by detailed phase-II selection and thorough medical has been successful in selecting the right candidate for the IAF. Our outreach to the youth of Nation and our transparent selection procedure has instilled confidence in the aspiring youth to join the IAF.

The initial training is focused on building a strong physical and moral fibre with an enduring sense of camaraderie and pride in uniform. Once this has been established, the process of skilling begins. Our training is an amalgamation of classroom, outdoor and on the job learning. We are regularly introducing new technologies and methodologies in enhancing the learning experience. Recently we have introduced a disruptive pattern of training so as to prepare our young air warriors for facing uncertainties and enhanced levels of physical and mental endurance.

Training in IAF continues periodically until the very end of one’s career. We use a variety of training courses suited to organisational requirements. We are constantly on the look out to plug any gap that emerges. Recently, to plug one such gap in adequacy of strategic thinkers and articulators on matters related to Aerospace domain, we have started the Warfare and Aerospace Strategy Programme (WASP).

The Agnipath scheme has given us another opportunity to revamp our training pattern. We are excited about the way the new training pattern is shaping up that will bring in greater efficiency in the IAF.

IAF has a very robust redressal mechanism. There are multiple forums where personnel can voice their suggestions or complaints and every input is given due cognisance. Measures are in place to ensure equitable distribution of both difficult and easy that comes with military life to ensure high level of trust between the individual and the organisation.