Augmenting our fighter squadron strength is our top priority. To achieve this, the IAF is looking at new inductions and mid-life upgrades. If all the inductions take place as planned, the IAF is expected to achieve its authorised strength of fighter squadrons – Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa
Indian Defence Review (IDR) had the unique privilege to interview the Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa, prior to the Air Force Day on 8th October 2017. Details of the candid response of the Chief of Air Staff to the IDR’s pointed questions are given below:-
Q. As reported in the media, the Army Chief stated that the Army is prepared for a “two and a half front” war. It also reported that Air Chief had separately stated that the IAF is not prepared for a “two front war”. Could this be amplified?
Ans. You can be rest assured that the IAF is fully capable of defending the nation in any contingency, now as well as in the future. Our air strategy is modified to suit the current state. The IAF is prepared 24 x 7 for any threat and is ready for a befitting response to any contingency. To carry out unhindered full spectrum air operations against a combined threat in a two-front situation, a specified number of fighter Sqns have been arrived at. Augmenting our fighter squadron strength is our top priority. To achieve this, the IAF is looking at new inductions and mid-life upgrades. Towards this, MiG-29, Jaguar and Mirage-2000 aircraft are being upgraded in a phased manner.
The induction of fighter aircraft contracted for, includes Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Rafale and the balance of Su-30 MKI aircraft. Acceptance of Necessity (AON) has also been granted for procurement of LCA Mk 1A. Further, the Government of India plans to procure fighter aircraft through the ‘Strategic Partnership’ model and other suitable options are also being considered to ensure that the IAF attains the authorised strength of fighter squadrons. If all the inductions take place as planned, the IAF is expected to achieve its authorised strength of fighter squadrons by the end of 15th Plan (2032).
Q. What do you visualise as an ideal combination of aircraft and SAM’s in the IAF as a 42 Squadron force?
Ans. There is no formula to calculate a mix of Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs) and fighter squadrons that works in tackling uncertainty. An asset that may work in one situation may not be suitable in another even if they are apparently the same. A weapon mix for each vulnerable area is worked out based on the probability of a successful attack by opponent. We have adequate numbers of this mix to use them for the roles against any adversary.
Ans. IAF has been operating Attack Helicopters (AHs) since 1988. As on date, the Attack Heptrs are inadequate to meet op requirements of both the Services. IAF, as well as the IA, are in the process of inducting attack helicopters. Roles of AHs are not restricted purely to Anti-tank warfare. These include other roles like Escort to Heli-borne operations, Assault Ops, Air Defence & Electronic Warfare roles, Counter Intelligence/ Infiltration Ops and Combat Search and Rescue (SAR). Most of these are undertaken exclusively by IAF. Considering this, IAF will continue operating and maintaining its Attack helicopter fleet and will provide all necessary support to IA as per their requirements.
Q. The IAF has a mix of aircraft from the West and Russia with their own brand of avionics and controls. Similarly, there is a mix of munitions and service requirements. Does this curb the ability of the IAF to respond contingencies along the Western and Northern borders?
Ans. IAF has a mix of ac and munitions from both Western and Russian origins. This is primarily because initially, majority of our weapon procurement was from Russia. However, IAF has been operating the Western military hardware since independence. In last decade or two, IAF has inducted Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and sensors from Israel, C-17 and C-130 from USA, upgrades for Mirage 2000 from France and lots of other weapons & ammunitions from the Western OEMs as a result the capability of IAF has increased many-folds. Training and innovative employment by our personnel has ensured that the mix of best equipment from both Western and Russian Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) give us an edge over our adversaries.
Q. From an initial requirement of 126 fighter aircraft, what is the basis for climbing down to only 36 RAFALE? The TEJAS cannot fill the gap with their capacity limited to only eight aircraft per year. Is the SUKHOI/ HAL Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) likely to be the new aircraft to make up these numbers?
Ans. The GoI had decided to procure Rafale aircraft to meet the critical operational necessity of the IAF. Apart from the contracted LCA, Acceptance of Necessity (AON) has also been granted for LCA Mk1A. We are now moving ahead with the process of induction of a single engine fighter aircraft through the Strategic Partnership route. Development of the LCA Mk II and Advance Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) is also being progressed.
Q. The exit of the Canberra and later the MiG-25 saw the end of aerial photography as a means to make battlefield assessments in a dynamic situation. Do you feel that satellite imagery is a better option?
Ans. With the phasing out of Canberra and MiG-25 aerial reconnaissance (recce) platforms, the reliance on satellite imageries has increased for obtaining battlefield visibility. However, it has also been supplemented by other aerial recce platforms inducted by the IAF. While satellites provide undeterred and worldwide reach, the issues of temporality, immediate availability and resolutions calls for the use of a prudent synergy between satellites and aerial recce systems in the imaging domain. For the IAF, the effective ISR plan that uses both platforms to meet its ISR requirement is the way ahead and is being implemented well with the available resources. We also look forward to getting more number of satellites with improved resolutions which will help achieve better revisit capability, thereby helping in more accurate and timely battlefield assessments.
Q. The super Heavy Lift Helicopters (Chinooks) with their enormous downwash are likely to be unsuited for landing in constrained spaces in the high-altitude areas of our northern and north-western borders. Are these then likely to be employed only in the plains and desert sectors?
Ans. The IAF is in the process of inducting the Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopter (HLH). The Chinook is a versatile platform being procured to augment the Mi-26 helicopters. The Mi-26 has a greater All Up Weight (AUW) and is being utilized in various sectors and terrains. The Chinook has less AUW and smaller rotor dimensions as compared to the Mi-26. It would also be utilised in all sectors and terrains for similar tasks as are being undertaken by the Mi-26 presently.
Aspects related to downwash of these heavy helicopters and the employment philosophy in constrained spaces is being dovetailed into the operational plans for Chinook helicopters.
Q. The tilt-rotor V-22 OSPREY has been a very successful design and suited to special operation forces. Is there any likelihood of this aircraft being inducted in the IAF?
Ans. The IAF is examining future requirements of vertical lift platforms and as a part of this process, the V-22 Osprey and other vertical lift variants viz Boeing Future Vertical Lift (FVL) and Bell FVL are being examined.