Boost for Self-Reliance: India’s air force seeks more Tejas planes

NEW DELHI: India‘s air force plans to place a fresh order for more Tejas Light Combat Aircraft soon, boosting the current plans for induction of the indigenous fighter plane produced by the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha said in an exclusive email interview that the additional procurement will be of the Tejas Mk-1A configuration with an upgraded avionics suite, and operational and maintenance capabilities.

arupraha
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha

Raha also favoured the expeditious formation of the tri-services Space Command to provide impetus for enhancing military capabilities through utilisation of space-based assets.

In the interim, the IAF has taken up a case for expanding the Integrated Space Cell at the Integrated Defence Staff Headquarters to become a Defence Space Agency under a two-star officer directly under the Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee to perform the role of a tri-service nodal agency and to be the nucleas of a future Space Command. Raha is the current Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Here below are the excerpts from the interview:

As IAF enters 85th year of operations, what are the current future challenges, threats and conflicts that the IAF has to prepare itself to tackle, now and for the next 15 to 30 years?

Threat and security assessment is an ongoing process for a country to ensure its national security. We are enhancing our capability to meet our national goals and security requirements. Our modernisation plan and infrastructure development is in sync with our endeavour to retain a ‘Combat and Capability Edge’. IAF’s focus has never been country specific. Capability enhancement is our core area of interest. We aim to achieve this by meticulously executing our Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan.

What is your vision for the IAF’s capabilities and fleet for the future, say by 2050? What are the capabilities and equipment IAF needs to acquire?

The modernisation of the IAF, which is based on its immediate and long term capability development requirement is being undertaken as per the planned road-map in the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan. To maintain combat capability and operational relevance, MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar aircraft are being upgraded. The planned inductions include the contracted Su-30 MKI, Tejas, and Rafale aircraft.

In addition, C-130 Special Operations aircraft, Apache Attack Helicopters, Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopters, Basic and Advanced Trainer aircraft and Short, Medium and Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile systems are also under induction. IAF is in the process of acquiring additional Force Enablers and advanced weapon systems which include Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground weapons. Short, Medium and Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile systems as well as various Radars to provide adequate multi-layered Air Defence cover to the country are also being inducted.

IAF is progressing towards Network Centric Operations through Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) which is being expanded to cover the entire nation including Island territories.

The focus of IAF is to be fully prepared to undertake full-spectrum operations in the most effective manner. Modernisation efforts have progressed well with respect to Transport aircraft, Helicopters and Radars, IAF is focusing on induction of Fighter aircraft, Air Defence systems and Force Enhancers in the near future. Emphasis is being given to enhance the quality of training by inducting Basic, Intermediate and Advanced Trainers and Simulators. Modernisation of the Operational, Technical and Security infrastructure are other key focus areas, as they provide the required combat support for operations.

As the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee, what are the areas of war-preparedness you think India’s military as a whole needs to focus on at the moment, to be well-equipped and capable of fighting future wars/battles/operations?

With proliferation of state-of the-art technology in all spheres of activity, conflict dynamics are changing rapidly. Our threat analysis includes all facets that are likely to adversely impact the achievement of our national goals and aspirations. Scenarios that could play out in the near future affecting our national security are regularly assessed.

Our capability development plan is continuously reviewed to factor in these realities. Our current force levels are being used optimally and our force application plans have been optimised with existing resources and are fully capable of conducting all envisaged air campaigns both in peace and war. With implementation of our acquisition plans, this capability will systematically improve.

The focus is on expeditious induction of weapon platforms and equipment, especially Force Enhancers, and their early operationalisation. The Indian Armed Forces recognise that any future conflict would require a synergised application of combat power of the three Services. Joint exercises, planning and training capsules are regularly being conducted to enhance capability to conduct Joint operations. Efforts are on to enhance capabilities in the Space and Cyber domains, as well as NCW.

As of today, IAF’s immediate area of operation and interest lies within the Indian air space in the northern regions of India, in peninsular India, and around the island territories of India. Do you envisage a time when India’s interests may go beyond the country’s own airspace and there would be a need to operate in areas outside the Indian Ocean region to protect India’s interest? What preparations has IAF made to meet such needs and exigencies?

India is being increasingly looked upon as a Net Security Provider in the Indian Ocean Region. Over the years, IAF has acquired capabilities, equipment and refined processes to undertake aerospace operations in our area of interest to meet the defined objectives. Acquisition of C-17 Strategic Airlift aircraft, C-130 Special Ops aircraft, AWACS, FRA and SU-30 MKI fighters have enhanced our strategic reach and capability to fulfil the envisaged role.

Earlier this year, IAF participated in the Red Flag exercise. With greater defence cooperation happening with the U.S., particularly with LEMOA being signed, do you plan to have more frequent joint exercises between IAF and USAF? Are joint operations possible when strategic interest coincide?

The IAF has a well laid out annual plan for conducting International Exercises with Air Forces of friendly foreign countries so as to learn from each other’s best practices and build bridges of friendship. Over the last decade, we have carried out more than 30 International Exercises and our extensive engagement is likely to continue in the future also. As regards joint operations with other countries, the Indian Armed Forces operate only under the aegis of UN.

The Air Force’s fighter squadron strength is at a low compared to its sanctioned strength. Could you please explain how will the process of force level depletion be curbed and when do you see IAF achieving its sanctioned strength? Considering the wide spectrum of fleet that the IAF possesses, how many, how long and what roles are envisaged for each of these aircraft in the present combat fleet: MiG-21, MiG-27, MiG-29, SU-30MkI and Tejas?

IAF fighter squadron strength is currently less than the Government authorised 42 squadrons. This shortfall is planned to be made good through induction of remaining contracted Su-30 MKI, LCA and Rafale aircraft. While these inductions will assist in replacing the legacy fighter fleets, other suitable options are being considered to build up to the authorised strength at the earliest.

Government is preparing the road map for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF through the ‘Make in India’ initiative. To maintain combat capability and operational relevance, MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Jaguar aircraft are being upgraded.

IAF is also in the process of acquiring additional Force Enablers and advanced weapon systems which include Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground weapons. Short, Medium and Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile systems as well as various Radars to provide adequate multi-layered Air Defence cover to the country are also being inducted. IAF is progressing towards Network Centric Operations through the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) which is being expanded to cover the entire nation including Island territories.

As regards combat roles, aircraft in the IAF are utilised for the roles best suited for them, depending on the operational requirement.

With Tejas having been included in a fighter squadron of the IAF, do you intend to have more than the previously envisaged seven squadrons of the indigenous aircraft? What sort of capabilities would get enhanced in Tejas as its development progresses from its IOC configuration to the FOC configuration?

We have started inducting Tejas in the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) configuration. This is a good beginning and focused developmental efforts are being made to ensure that the Tejas expeditiously meets its envisaged full performance and combat capability. Full performance of Tejas aircraft will be validated during its Final Operational Clearance (FOC), which is planned to be completed shortly.

Apart from aircraft, contracted in the IOC and FOC configurations, a fresh case is under process for procurement of additional Tejas Mk-1A aircraft with an upgraded avionics suite and operational and maintenance capabilities.

The IAF has been fully involved with ADA and HAL in the development and operationalisation of LCA. Apart from the core team of IAF test pilots and flight test engineers at the National Flight Test Centre, a Project Monitoring Team has been based at Bangalore to bridge the gap between designers, manufacturers and the operators. Infrastructure project for the first two LCA Squadrons is already under progress.

How critical is the need for MMRCA for the IAF’s combat fleet strength and how quickly do you need these aircraft to be in your fleet? When do you see the MMRCA joining the fleet? Is the Rafale going to be the chosen MMRCA or are you ready to look at any other aircraft?

The deal for procurement of 36 Rafale aircraft has been signed and induction of Rafale aircraft will greatly enhance the operational punch of the IAF. We should receive the first aircraft in 36 months time and delivery of all aircraft would be completed in 66 months.

You have three offers from Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Saab for building either F-16/A-18 or Gripen E combat aircraft respectively to be made in India for the IAF and for the export market. IAF has already evaluated these aircraft during the MMRCA tender. How open is the IAF to go for any of the three aircraft and what advice would IAF give the government of these aircraft on the strengths and weaknesses of each of these platforms?

The Ministry of Defence is preparing a road-map for induction of fighter aircraft in the IAF with an aim to build up to the sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons at the earliest. Various options are being considered and manufacturing of an additional type of fighter aircraft under the ‘Make in India’ initiative is also being actively explored by the Government. Obviously, whichever aircraft is finally selected would be meeting the operational requirements of the IAF.

What has been the progress made under the FGFA and MTA projects regarding technological breakthroughs planned under the project, work share between the two nations and their institutions, milestones to be achieved, and timelines to be adhered to?

The FGFA R&D phase contract is under negotiation with the Russian side. The details of the work share, technologies and milestones have been worked out for the R&D phase. With regards to the MTA, its design had certain shortfalls in the envisaged operational capability and
techno-commercial viability. Based on these aspects, the project is being reviewed.

Defence Space Agency was to come up as an interim measure ahead of the Aerospace Command. Could you please share the progress that has been make on this front in the last one year?

Formation of a Tri-Services Space Command needs to be expedited to provide impetus for enhancing military capabilities through utilisation of space based assets. MoD has communicated that formation of Space Command will be considered in due course. In the interim; a case is being processed for expanding the Integrated Space Cell at HQ IDS to Defence Space Agency (DSA). DSA is proposed to be headed by a two star officer under Chairman, COSC directly. It will perform the role of a Tri-Service Nodal Agency and will form the nucleus for a future Space Command.

What are the efforts that have been initiated to build the ISR capability of the IAF during your tenure at the helm of the IAF? Could you elaborate on the programme IAF is currently working on in this area of operations and what progress has been made to acquire those capabilities?

Since the Aerospace borne sensors play a very vital role in providing “sustained”, “real-time”, “credible information”, the development of a potent ISR grid is a KRA of the IAF. The “Bird’s eye” view provided by the Aerospace borne sensors, coupled with state-of-the-art communication systems, transform these platforms into capability enhancers. Towards this, IAF already possesses airborne sensors installed on various platforms like SIGINT aircraft, UAVs, Aerostats and AWACS. Similar capabilities would be installed on the envisaged new inductions like the AEW&C, additional AWACS, SIGINT aircraft and Aerostats. Further, IAF is also enhancing its inventory of tactical ISR assets for fighter aircraft.

What was the cause for the termination of the tender for acquiring mid-air refuellers and for the postponement of ISTAR aircraft procurement for the IAF? What do you intend to do to meet these two requirements now?

The IAF has been pursuing the case for Flight Refueller Aircraft (FRA) for last several years now. This case was being progressed based on Total Cost of Acquisition model which considers the Life Cycle Costs. Airbus Defence and Space with Airbus-330 MRTT emerged as the L1. However, the RFP has been withdrawn due to certain observations.

We are working on seeking Intelligence Surveillance Targeting and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) platform capabilities in consultation with reputed firms which are leaders in the field of technologies associated with ISTAR aircraft.

One of the missing links in the transport helicopter fleet is the replacement for the Light Utility Helicopters that are key to IAF’s Siachen operations. When do you propose to have a new fleet for this crucial role now and retire the existing fleet of Chetaks and Cheetahs?

To address the Light Utility Helicopter fleet requirements of the Indian Army and the IAF, Kamov 226 T helicopters are planned for induction under an umbrella Inter-Governmental Agreement between India and Russia. Some of the helicopters would be acquired in a flyaway condition and the balance would be co-produced in India.

Author: indostrat

IndoStrat is a media outfit that brings you news from the Indian defence and strategic sectors. If you are an avid watcher of India's military, diplomacy and strategic affairs, this is the place to come to for satiating your appetite for latest news, opinions, facts, tidbits and some informed gossip.

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