'At least 5-6 fighter squadrons must be inducted': Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari

Interview/ Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, Chief of the Air Staff

Q The IAF has recently changed its doctrine. What has necessitated this change and what are the basic features of this change?

A The three basic triggers that necessitated the doctrinal revisit are the changes in our threat environment, the changing character of warfare and rapid advancements in technology. The revised doctrine reflects our operational experiences from real-conflict situations as well as exercises within the country and with foreign air forces.

The doctrine aptly explains the role of air power in the overall national security matrix and focuses on the aspects that would provide guidance in peace, war and no-war-no-peace situations.

Q The Chinese threat has become strong on the LAC. What is the air surveillance strategy that the IAF pursues?

A We fully understand the importance of maintaining a close and continuous watch on areas of national interest. ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance), and specifically surveillance, is a field that requires a whole-of-nation approach rather than an individual-service approach. The IAF is pursuing the strategy of optimum-sensor utilisation in various domains including space-based military, civil and commercial assets as well as manned and unmanned aerial platforms. Inter-service and inter-agency co-operation has been enhanced for achieving faster and optimum dissemination of required surveillance inputs and avoiding duplication of efforts. Induction of new and more capable platforms has enhanced our surveillance capability in terms of range and accuracy. There is further impetus required in the field of multi-spectral, all-weather surveillance with faster revisit from space-based assets. The final aim is to fully integrate air and space capabilities to have a common picture of the aerospace medium, reduce the sensor-to-shooter time and enable optimum force application.

The IAF is cognisant of the undergoing expansion of the PLAAF (People’s Liberation Army Air Force). There is a requirement to invest in enhancing our capabilities to bridge the gap. Towards this, induction and procurement of fighter aircraft, force multipliers like AWACS/AEW&C (airborne early warning and control system) and tankers, and unmanned platforms need to be expedited. At least five to six fighter squadrons must be inducted in shorter time frames to mitigate the effects of shortfall in the overall strength of fighter squadrons.

The IAF is cognisant of the undergoing expansion of the PLAAF. There is a requirement to invest in enhancing our capabilities to bridge the gap.

Q There has been talk about the kind of ecosystem the manufacturing of the C-295 transport aircraft will generate.

A It is definitely a landmark event. It is for the first time that a foreign (Airbus) OEM (original equipment manufacturer) is setting up a final assembly line in India (Vadodara), with an Indian company fully involved in the assembly of a complete aircraft and not just restricted to manufacturing individual parts and dispatching it to assembly lines abroad. Other than the assembly, the project will involve around 125 MSMEs spread over seven states for manufacturing of 13,400 detailed parts, 4,600 sub-assemblies and all the seven major component assemblies.

The project will provide a major boost to the Indian defence industry and generate a sustainable ecosystem in India.

Q What implications does the C-295 have for remote parts of the country?

A The induction of C-295 will enhance the tactical load-lifting capability of the IAF. Its capability to carry out para drops and supply drops will enhance the IAF’s capability to maintain our forces in remote and unconnected parts of the country. In addition, its capability to land on semi-prepared surfaces as well as on short strips will boost the IAF’s ability to project its forces to forward areas. The platform is a replacement for the Avro aircraft, but is much more capable and can undertake additional roles and tasks.

Q What is the impact of the induction of the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited-developed Light Combat Helicopter Prachand?

A It adds a unique capability to the IAF’s combat potential as the versatility and offensive potential of [the Prachand] is at par with or better than most attack helicopters operating globally. The helicopter possesses modern stealth characteristics, robust armour protection and formidable night-attack capability. Being an indigenous platform, it specifically addresses issues pertaining to our terrain and geography.

Q The IAF has its own alternative ideas about integration. Already spoken of as an auxiliary force, where does the IAF go from here in the integration effort?

A It would be incorrect to say that the IAF has its own alternative ideas about integration and theaterisation. The Air Force understands the imperativeness of joint planning and execution in future wars and is keen on integrating the efforts of the three services. We believe that the model of integration that we adopt must be future-ready, it must reduce levels of decision making, and capitalise on the strength of all three services.

Q The ongoing conflicts have shown that drones have become a cheap and effective bulk tool of surveillance and air attack. Against this backdrop, what is the direction of the IAF’s modernisation?

A The IAF is aware of the role of unmanned systems in future warfare and has initiated programmes to develop and integrate niche technologies related to unmanned systems. In addition to the development of HALE/MALE (high-altitude long endurance, medium-altitude long endurance), the IAF is also developing unmanned systems in collaboration with the private industry. These programmes include Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T), Air Launched Flexible Asset-Swarm (ALFA-S) and Tactical Interdiction & Attack Air Vehicle (TIA-AV 50). The IAF has prepared a roadmap for induction of RPAs (remotely piloted aircraft) to meet both the short- and long-term operational requirements. The plan includes various types of systems ranging from small drones and counter drone systems to the MALE & HALE class of RPAs along with a weapon delivery capability.

Q What is the progress in the development of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft?

A The draft Preliminary Services Qualitative Requirements have been forwarded and the IAF has reviewed the detailed design prepared by DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation) after undertaking comprehensive design studies on the project. The IAF will be fully involved in design iteration, flight testing and programme management of the project. Induction of AMCA is likely to commence in the middle of the next decade.