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— General Manoj Pande, Indian Army Chief

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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

Rejuvenate Combat Squadrons

Issue: 05-2009By SP's Team

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik spoke to SP’s Aviation a few days prior to taking over the reins of the Indian Air Force. Clearly enthused to shoulder his onerous responsibilities as the chief of the fourth largest air force in the world, Air Chief Marshal Naik was forthcoming in his views on the challenges facing the force and his vision on reinforcing its strengths.

SP’s Aviation (SP’s): Heartiest congratulations on being elevated to the highest office of the Indian Air Force (IAF). What was your reaction on hearing the news?

Chief of the Air Staff (CAS): I accept your felicitations with all humility. I am conscious of the fact that it is a great honour to lead the fourth largest air force in the world, especially during the time when our country is faced with numerous challenges. One cannot help thinking about the times when I started off as a young, wide-eyed pilot officer, and to reach this position gives both a sense of accomplishment and a feeling of immense responsibility.

SP’s: How do you see your tasks cut out in leading one of the most remarkable air forces in the world?

CAS: The IAF’s endeavour is to make good all deficiencies, upgrade the existing equipment and procure state-of-the-art weapon systems, like advanced combat aircraft, network centric warfare systems, enhanced airlift capability, and so on. The IAF’s aim is to arrest force depletion by suitable replacement and carry out mid-life upgrades to maintain operational relevance of existing fleets and gradually build up to requisite force levels in fighters, transport and helicopters fleets along with air defence (AD) systems, force multipliers and weapons.

SP’s: What would be your vision statement for the IAF at this stage?

CAS: The IAF has come a long way from its beginnings as a tactical force. We are on the threshold of transforming into a potent strategic force capable of effectively tackling the wide variety of threats which have emerged in the recent years.

SP’s: In the light of force depletion in recent years, does the IAF still merit the sobriquet of the fourth largest air force in the world? How do you propose to rectify the present shortcomings, especially in quantitative terms?

CAS: The IAF’s plan to rejuvenate depleted combat squadrons has been adversely affected due to delay in procurement programmes. The procurement process has, unfortunately, not been able to keep pace with phasing out of aircraft. The IAF has planned induction of additional Su-30 MKI, Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) to arrest the dwindling combat squadrons’ strength. The delay in the LCA induction has also contributed to the reduced strength. We are hopeful that LCA programme moves forward at the requisite pace and we get the required numbers to make good the existing deficiencies.

SP’s: The IAF is reportedly on the threshold of metamorphic changes in terms of modern war fighting capabilities especially in the field of combat air power, force-multipliers, space-based capabilities and network centric warfare. What has been your contribution to this process and how do you propose to carry it forward?

CAS: Modernisation is a continuous process due to rapid advances in aviation technology and must be catered for in our procurement plan. With the new procurement procedure in place, the IAF is progressing well as per its modernisation plan. We have been constantly reviewing our operational capability, equipment profile as well as our organisational and training policies to meet our tasks and objectives in a comprehensive fashion. Necessary budgetary support is available and, in the near future, I foresee the IAF as a potent and capable combat force.

SP’s: Could you reflect on your major achievements/experiences as the VCAS? What were your views on the IAF’s participation in the international arena, especially the US Red Flag exercise?

CAS: The IAF participated in Exercise Red Flag 08-4 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada in the US during August 2008 with its top of the line Su-30MKI fighter aircraft, IL-78 midair refuelling aircraft, IL-76 staging aircraft, a platoon of Garud Special Forces team, 91 officers and 157 Air Warriors. During the planning phase, it was ensured that the USAF also fields comparative equipment and fields a robust participation. The foreign forces for the exercise included the F-15C, F-15E and F-16C/D aircraft of the USAF, Rafales of France and F-15s of South Korea. This exercise offered training and learning value of a high order as latest warfighting concepts and equipment were employed. The participation showcased our ability to deploy at a distance of approximately 19,000 km from our shores and sustain successful operations for more than a month. It provided valuable exposure to our combat crew to operate in an extremely technology intensive war fighting scenario. While returning to India, the IAF also participated in exercise Desert Eagle at Al-Dhafra with UAE from September 7 to 12, 2008. UAE participated in the exercise with F-16s and Mirage 2000 aircraft. The fact that we not only integrated into modern operational concepts but also ensured the highest mission accomplishment rates, earned us respect and praise from all other participants.

SP’s: The recent successful launch of the RISAT-2 satellite must have come as a shot in the arm for the armed forces. What are your views on India’s military space programmes and on the role of the IAF in acquiring key space-based capabilities?

CAS: (a) India’s space programme is primarily civilian in nature. However, space capabilities are today vital for successful military operations. It increases our strategic perspective by providing a winning combination of information dominance and real time command & control. Space assets are force multipliers and tremendously enhance the operational capabilities of a fighting force.
(b) RISAT-2 is the first Radar Imaging Satellite launched by the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) for use by India. Its primary mission is to support agriculture and disaster management applications. However, it could also be utilised for some defence applications due to it’s night and day imaging capability as well as imaging in cloudy weather conditions. It is definitely a significant addition to our space-based capability.
(c) The main thrust of the IAF is to leverage the space assets of the country in strengthening the existing terrestrial communication infrastructure, fulfill its navigational and imaging needs, as well as employ them for meteorological and Synthetic Aperture Radar applications. The required Satellite Communication Group (SATCOM) bandwidth and necessary space assets are at present being hired commercially. Plans are afoot to have a dedicated SATCOM capability in consultation with ISRO.

SP’s: How do you view the events unfolding in Pakistan and the likely impact on India especially in view of the fact that it possesses nuclear weapons? In what way can the IAF contribute to the growing problem of homeland security?

CAS: These are two separate issues. The current events indicate increasing instability in Pakistan. Call it by whatever name—fundamentalism, militancy, Talibanisation—essentially it precipitates instability, unrest and alienation of the public, which is undesirable. As neighbours, we need to ensure that there are no spill overs to the Indian side. Should there be any role or requirement for the IAF in this context, we will meet the challenge resolutely. Internal security (what you call homeland security), is the mandate of civil administration. The paramilitary forces in the country are getting modernised and specialised in tackling conflict regimes that fall under this category. In all such situations, the IAF has always provided timely and all possible assistance to the civil administration.

SP’s: In the context of the boom in civil aviation in India in the last five years, the civil-military rivalry over control of airspace has been escalating and has often entered public domain. What are your views?

CAS: I wonder why the media chooses civil-military rivalry as the phrase to describe differences in organisational perceptions. With increase in density or air traffic, the exclusive space available to operators has shrunk. Both the civil and the military have their concerns, and these need to be addressed. The exponential increase in traffic has come about since there is an increasing demand. And that it is in the interest of the country is well understood. We have to remember that guarding the Indian air space is the IAF’s responsibility. Considering the size of our country, length of our borders and the geo-political situation in the neighbourhood, the IAF’s operational and training requirements are immense. Air space is a vital requirement for this. Therefore, it is a question of understanding each other’s requirements. Innovative concepts, like flexi air space and Reduced Vertical Separation Minima, have been introduced to overcome the air space shortage. Most importantly, we are constantly talking to each other to iron out the problem areas. Far from civil-military rivalry, we are, in fact, in a state of civil-military synergy.

SP’s: There is a concerted drive to enlarge civil aviation infrastructure in the country. Considering that a large part of civil aviation activity is dependent on aviation infrastructure under the control of the IAF, what is the level of investment in monetary terms visualised by the force for the upgrade of airfields and Air Traffic Management system under its operational control?

CAS: The air force has already initiated the Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) project. It includes installation of state-of-the-art Automated Air Traffic Management System, ILS Cat-II, DVOR and DME, TACAN and RVR, Cat-II Air Field Lighting System, and so on. All the airfields of the IAF and other government agencies would be taken up for modernisation in two phases. Thirty airfields have been earmarked for upgradation in the first phase at an approximate cost of Rs 1,200 crore ($240 million). The MAFI project is envisaged to be executed on a turnkey basis. Modernisation of airfields will make these compatible to the requirement of the civil aviation. For the IAF, it will enhance our operational capabilities and flight safety. The project is at an advanced stage. Once the contract is finalised, the modernisation of first 30 airfields in Phase-I would be completed in three-and-half years.

SP’s: What has been the most memorable experience of your illustrious service in the IAF spanning four decades?

CAS: My most memorable experience is definitely the period when we were in our formative stage. Those gruelling long hours of training, that feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment after flying a good sortie with our mentors, enjoying hardships, friendships and camaraderie are all so memorable for me.

SP’s: As you take over the reins of the IAF what message would you like to convey to the Air Warriors and their families?

CAS: During the last few years our service has evolved from a tactical air force to one with strategic capability in consonance with our national aspirations. Our task is to protect the nation from threats arising from the medium of air and space. It is a monumental task and we have to be prepared 24X7 to handle all type of scenarios. Each and every one of us in the IAF, whether in uniform or civil dress, must remember that we are Air Warriors first and always. Our conduct and demeanour, whether in or out of uniform, must be impeccable and serve as an example to our countrymen. We have a collective commitment to look after our cost intensive equipment and preserve it in the best manner possible, so that the combat potential of the IAF remains at the highest level. Safety, honour and welfare of our Air Warriors in air or on ground would be given the highest consideration. My best wishes to all Air Warriors and their families for their wholehearted contribution towards making the IAF a glorious force.