Ahead of Aero India International Airshow being held at the Air Force Station Yelahanka in February this year, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, PVSM AVSM VM ADC, Chief of the Air Staff, spoke to Jayant Baranwal, Editor-in-Chief, SP’s Aviation.
SP’s Aviation (SP’s): What are the components of the modernisation plan that the IAF has embarked on and what has been the overall progress so far?
Chief of the Air Staff (CAS): Modernisation of the IAF has been progressed as per the capability building roadmap laid out in the Long Term Perspective Plan (LTPP). The IAF has embarked on a path to modernisation which is aimed at a capability-based buildup. IAF plans to induct the light combat aircraft (LCA) Tejas, medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), heavy-lift helicopters, flight refuelling aircraft, additional C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft and attack helicopters in the near future. It is also upgrading the MiG-29, Jaguar, Mirage 2000, An-32 fleets and Mi-17 series helicopters. The air defence system is being made more robust by inducting modern radars, surface-to-air guided weapons (SAGW) of various ranges and networking their operations. Operational and technical infrastructure is also being modernised to provide the requisite combat support capability. In the near future, the IAF will transform into a potent force with state-of-theart platforms and systems with cutting-edge technology.
SP’s: Reports appearing in the media in the recent past indicate that there some impediments in the finalisation of the MMRCA deal with Dassault and the award of contract. Can you please give us your perspective on the issue?
CAS: The Maintenance, Offset and Transfer of Technology Sub-Committees of the Contract Negotiation Committee (CNC) for the MMRCA have completed their negotiations and submitted their reports to the CNC. The Contract Sub-Committee has also finalised most of the articles of the draft contract as per RFP and DPP. CNC is in the process of resolving certain aspects pertaining to the contractual framework and licence manufacture of 108 Rafale in India with Dassault Aviation and HAL. The IAF is confident that the outstanding issues would be resolved soon and the contract will be signed in the near future.
SP’s: What are the plans to restore the strength of the fleet of combat aircraft in the IAF to the currently authorised level of 42 squadrons by 2022?
CAS: The IAF today has 35 active fighter squadrons against government authorised strength of 42 squadrons. Early conclusion of the MMRCA contract negotiations and speedy production of the LCA by HAL are critical for arresting further drawdown in the strength of combat squadrons. Achieving the government authorised strength of squadrons is dependent on a large number of intangibles and would materialise by the end of the Fifteenth Five Year Plan period.
SP’s: What is the present situation with regard to the proposal initiated by the IAF to replace its ageing fleet of Avro aircraft?
CAS: The IAF urgently needs transport aircraft to replace its ageing fleet of Avro aircraft. The replacement aircraft will have features unique to military transportation such as a rear ramp to facilitate paradropping of troops and equipment in support of the Army, ability to take-off and land from underprepared surface and operate from high altitude airfields and advanced landing grounds. The RFP for the procurement of 56 transport aircraft to replace Avro aircraft of IAF was issued in May 2013 to eight transport aircraft original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The RFP envisages that the foreign OEM identifies an Indian Production Agency (IPA) for manufacturing the aircraft in India. 16 aircraft will be delivered by the OEM in flyaway condition while the balance 40 aircraft will be manufactured in India by the IPA. The OEM will select the IPA stipulated in the RFP. The project will provide an opportunity to the Indian private sector to enter the extremely high technology and competitive aviation industry, which will promote competitiveness and capacity building in larger public interest. The project is ideally posed to kick-start the ‘Make in India’ campaign. All efforts are being made to finalise the procurement case at the earliest.
SP’s: Sometime ago, the IAF had selected the Airbus A330 MRTT to augment its fleet of flight refuelling aircraft. What is the current status of the project and in what time frame can the IAF expect to receive these aircraft?
CAS: The scheme for the procurement of additional flight refuelling aircraft is at the contract negotiation stage and the contract is expected to be concluded soon.
SP’s: There have been reports that the intermediate jet trainer (IJT) that has been under development at HAL for over a decade-and-a-half needs to be redesigned. What is the nature of the problem and what are the options before the IAF to replace the ageing fleet of HIJT 16 intermediate jet trainers?
CAS: The stall and spin characteristics of the aircraft are the major issues which are yet to be resolved. The solutions for the same involve major structural modification and extensive flight testing. There are also certain issues with the aircraft performance and engine life which need resolution for its employment in the envisaged training role. Timely availability of suitable trainer aircraft is crucial to IAF’s operational capability. IAF is critically monitoring the development status of IJT and exploring other options also to meet our training requirements.
SP’s: What is the position with regard to the upgrade of the fleet of Jaguar aircraft with the IAF?
CAS: The contract for upgrade of Jaguar aircraft from DARIN-I to DARIN-III standard was signed with HAL in December 2009. Presently, the upgrade programme is behind schedule. The major bottlenecks in the project have, however, been resolved and currently, the project is moving in the right direction. The project is likely to be completed by 2021. The Jaguar fleet is also being fitted with new weapons and the proposal to fit a new engine on the aircraft has reached the contract negotiation stage.
SP’s: It has been reported that the government plans to impose a 10 per cent cut in government spending across the board. What are the implications of this decision for the IAF?
CAS: The IAF is presently at a critical stage of its capability building with many schemes at different stages of procurement. There is a need to sustain this momentum of capability building so as to enable the IAF to acquire the desired capability and safeguard the nation’s interests in the region. The operational readiness of the IAF is also a direct function of the availability of revenue budget, and towards this, the capital as well as revenue budgetary support has to be sustained over a period of time.
SP’s: Are we likely to witness any significant change in the character of higher defence management in India in the near or distant future?
CAS: The creation of the post of CDS and the resulting changes in Higher Defence Management structure in India have been part of the recommendations of the Kargil Committee Report. The creation of CDS is an incremental process and is supported by the three Services. The proposal to create the appointment of Permanent Chairman COSC by the Naresh Chandra Task Force has also been concurred by the Service HQs. As per its recommendations, the Chairman COSC would be one of the three Service Chiefs appointed by the Government and be the single-point of contact between the Government and three Services on matters of policy, joint acquisitions, joint capability building and training. He would, thus, be the fourth four-star officer who would also be responsible for the various tri-Service Commands like Andaman & Nicobar Command (ANC), Strategic Forces Command (SFC) and at a later date, the Special Operations Command, Space Command and Cyber Commands. The Service Chiefs will continue to exercise operational control and staff functions over their respective Service and have direct access to the Raksha Mantri.
This set up will allow HQ IDS under the Chairman COSC to function as an effective advisory nodal agency to the Government. It is also useful to have functional integration of MoD and Service HQ, for which certain posts have been identified in MoD and at Air HQ where Service and civilian officers can be cross posted. A full switch over to CDS concept would be possible only after assessing the functioning of Permanent Chairman COSC for some time and after a more substantial integration of MoD and Service HQ.