On the occasion of Air Force Day, 8th October, Rohit Srivastava, editor IDI and Geostrategy, interviewed Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, PVSM, AVSM, VM, ADC to discuss the IAF’s long term plans, emerging challenges and strategy to counter them.
IDI – How relevant it is to invest in the 4th++ Gen fighter aircraft for IAF given the rapidly changing air warfare?
Chief of Air Staff – Development of future technologies is an ongoing process. R&D followed by production of modern fighter is a very long process taking many years. We have successfully developed LCA Mk I in-house and the LCA Mk IA is already flying. Development of LCA MkII and AMCA will herald us into the fifth generation technology regime. These programmes will serve as stepping stones towards development of sixth gen fighter aircraft. In the interim, to maintain our combat edge and effectiveness, It is essential to induct MRFA (4.5 gen) into the IAF’s inventory.
IDI – What are the main lessons for IAF from the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war?
CAS – The most important lesson is the resilience of air power demonstrated in this extended war. The Russia-Ukraine conflict has also shown that sustained operations to achieve the required degree of control of air are crucial for furtherance of all other operations. This requires full spectrum AD capability which includes weapons from shoulder launched missiles, to long ranged surface-to-air-missiles. The war has also highlighted the need for a multi layered air defence system with both hard and soft kill options for dealing with Radio Piloted Aerial systems, drones etc.
Wars in the future could be short and swift or long and protracted. While short and swift conflicts would require an agile and rapid offensive force; the outcome of a protracted conflict would be determined by force preservation and sustenance. Use of Hypersonic weapons has been seen in this conflict and what was emerged is that there are no effective counters to this technology.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict has resulted in challenges in obtaining services and spares for major aggregates like the aeroengines, critical avionics and specialist weapons abroad for Repairs and Overhaul (ROH). The current geopolitical scenario emphasises the importance of self-reliance more than ever before.
IDI – Over the last three years, Fighter vs Armed UAV debate seems to have come to a situation where nations are drawing different conclusion. What is IAF’s take on it?
CAS – The choice between fighter aircraft and armed UAVs depends on the specific mission and operational requirements. Fighter aircraft are still essential for air superiority and complex combat scenarios, while armed UAVs excel in conventional fighter roles with limited payload in a low threat environment. A combination of both will be utilized to leverage their respective strengths and offset inherent limitations.
IDI – Continuing on the same line, there is a raging debate on the Fighter vs Air defence. IAF is operating S-400, one of the best long-range air-defence systems. What is IAF’s take on it? Should India invest more in ADS taking from the fighter budget?
CAS – There is a need to adopt a balanced approach towards force structure development in any Air Force. The IAF is responsible for safeguarding the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country and ensure that the skies and borders of our nation remain safe. To cover the entire spectrum of conflict, it is also important to invest in offensive capability, where fighter aircraft become a crucial source of combat power that can be applied dynamically. At the operational level, the IAF would seek to employ both, its offensive as well as defensive resources in conjunction with each other. The induction of the S-400 boosts our Air Defence capability and gives us offensive AD capability. Investment has also been made in protective infrastructure like aircraft shelters and hardened installations.
IDI – Could you please update on the ongoing induction programme like LCA, LCH, S-400 etc?
CAS – Amongst the 40 LCA MK-1 ac contracted, while all the fighters have been delivered and two squadrons of LCA Mk1 have already been inducted, delivery of trainer aircraft is likely to be completedby the end of FY 2023-24. For the 83 LCA Mk1A aircraft (73 fighters and 10 twin-seaters), the contract was signed on 25 Jan 21. Delivery of the aircraft is scheduled to start from Feb 2024 onwards. A case for additional LCA Mk1A is under process. Of the 10 LCH Limited Serial Production for the IAF, nine have been inducted and are flying. A case for acquisition of LCH Serial Production helicopters is under process.
The contract for supply of five Firing Units of S-400 LRSAM system with associated equipment and setting up of a training establishment for IAF was signed as an IGA in 2018. The deliveries commenced from Dec 2021 and three Firing Unitss and one TETTRA School equipment have already been delivered.
IDI – With falling fighter squadron numbers and slow pace of induction of fighter jets, how is IAF maintaining its strike capability?
CAS – IAF currently has 31 fighter squadrons and will be inducting 83 LCA Mk1A from 2024 onwards. We are also processing a case for additional LCA Mk1A. Going by the envisaged timelines for induction of the LCA Mk2 and AMCA, the IAF is also pursuing the case for induction of 114 MRFA to bridge the gap of depleting squadron strength.
IDI – It is appearing that the future battles would be fought under absolute battle field transparency. One of the major responsibility of IAF is conducting reconnaissance operations, do you envision a recalibration of IAF assets given the new requirements.
CAS – IAF being responsible for long range targeting and conducting combat missions over large and dispersed geographical areas, has developed a wealth of expertise both in ISR as well as in network based battlefield transparency. Aerial assets, both manned and unmanned are committed to this role, along with space based sensors. To build situational awareness, various areas of interest are kept under constant watch by all three services. A joint approach allows for sensor optimization and data sharing for a comprehensive and updated picture. Likewise, for dynamic and near real-time situational awareness in a crisis or combat situation, all available resources are optimised and concentrated in the area of interest. To enable a seamless picture of the combat area, inputs are stitched together over a common network architecture for effective sharing of information.
IDI – In IAF’s assessment, how theaterisation would impact its role in national defence and would it also lead to recalibration of IAF’s procurement plans?
CAS – The exact contours of final model are still being discussed, hence,
I would not like to comment on this. The process of military reforms is driven by logic, reason and accepted military principles. All these will work in unison to create a model that is best suited for Indian conditions.