IAF shows commitment to India’s AMCA

“IAF’s vision is that all military platforms to be acquired after the conclusion of ongoing procurements will be designed, developed and produced in India.”

Issue: 9 / 2019By Vishal ThaparPhoto(s): By IAF
Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria takes charge as the Chief of the Air Staff at Air Headquarters in New Delhi on September 30, 2019

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is not considering any Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft other than the indigenous AMCA (Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft), the new Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria declared at a press conference on October 4 in New Delhi, categorically ruling out any import.

”AMCA will be given priority. We will give full support. No import (of a fifth-generation fighter) has been planned in the foreseeable future. AMCA will take a lot of budgetary support. Technology and weapons are the underlying requirements,” he elaborated. Russia, the US and Britain have pitched their Fifthand ‘Sixth’-generation fighters to India. The AMCA assertion fits in with the vision that all military platforms to be acquired after the conclusion of ongoing procurement will be designed, developed and produced in India.

He also made the significant disclosures that the IAF had not made any case for the acquisition of an additional 36 Rafale fighters, and that no decision had been made so far to acquire MBDA’s ASRAAM as the standardised short-range air-to-air missile across the fighter fleet. The indigenous Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missile which will be standardised weapon across multiple fighter types.

Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria’s background as a long-serving points person for modernisation programmes makes HIM probably the most qualified IAF Chief on platform development and procurement issues. Instrumental in finalising the Rafale deal, he is the only IAF Chief to have his initials as the tail number for a fighter aircraft. For military leaders like him, equipping their forces is as critical as operational savvy.

Responding to a question by SP’s Aviation on lessons learnt from the drone attack which crippled the biggest oil refinery in Saudi Arabia and whether this represented the future of asymmetric warfare, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria revealed that such warfare has been anticipated by the IAF in the past, and procurements made to handle such attacks. “Fresh procurement of sensors has been initiated after the drone attack in Saudi Arabia,” he disclosed

“There’s a plan for (acquiring) 114 multi-role fighter aircraft. There’s no separate plan for an additional 36 Rafale fighters,” the Air Chief said. On the ASRAAM, he clarified: “ASRAAMs are for the Jaguars. We have not yet decided whether these will be acquired for others.”

Amidst a string of announcements, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria also declared that HAL’s under-development HTT-40 will be the IAF’s new first stage trainer, and that the earlier plan for a follow-on order for 38 Pilatus PC-7 trainers had been dropped. “The next trainer will be the HTT-40. It has done some spin trials. But we can’t move to the next stage (to action procurement) until the tests are over, till the Final Operational Clearance,” he qualified.

The tender for six new mid-air refuellers has been withdrawn, and a fresh procurement process will be initiated soon with the issuance of an RFI. “We’re back to square one,” he shrugged. The Air Chief confirmed that 12 additional Su-30MKI fighters and 21 retrofitted MiG-29s are being acquired, and that the case for a weapon and radar upgrade for the Sukhoi fighter fleet has been initiated. A decision will be taken later on whether to seek replacements for the first lot of IAF Su-30MKIs fighters, the phase-out schedule for which begins in 2025, he said.

He also confirmed that the contract for 83 light combat aircraft (LCA) is very close to signing, and that the delivery of the first lot of Final Operational Clearance (FOC) configuration LCAs will commence in the next five months. “The LCA contract negotiations are not complete. There were discrepencies in the price quoted by HAL. We’re close to finalising it (the contract). It’s a priority, and should happen soon,” the Chief added.

Emergency procurements were made post the Balakot air strikes to make up the shortfall in air-to-air missiles and air-toground precision weapons, besides building up stocks of spares to ensure high serviceability of aircraft during the stand-off with Pakistan.

Upgrade of the perimeter security at the frontline Pathankot airbase – which was attacked by terrorists in January 2016 - will be completed by the end of this year, and subsequently replicated at critical airbases thereafter.

Marking the end of an era, all non-Bison MiG-21s will be phased out by March 2020. The MiG-21 Bison variants – an estimated 6 squadrons – will continue to fly till the end of their residual service life.

Responding to a question by SP’s Aviation on lessons learnt from the drone attack which crippled the biggest oil refinery in Saudi Arabia and whether this represented the future of asymmetric warfare, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria revealed that such warfare has been anticipated by the IAF in the past, and procurements made to handle such attacks. “Fresh procurement of sensors has been initiated after the drone attack in Saudi Arabia,” he disclosed.

Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria took over as the 26th Chief of the Indian Air Force on September 30 and will have a tenure of two years. Bhadauria has been closely associated with indigenisation programmes, particularly the development of the LCA Tejas and is highly regarded in India’s aeronautical complex. During his tenure, it is expected that there will be an increased reliance on indigenisation in acquiring crucial technologies and critical capabilities for the future.

“There shall be impetus on modernisation through acquisition of crucial technologies and critical capabilities with increased reliance on indigenous design and development. We shall proactively promote indigenisation for sustenance of all existing fleets and equipment,” Bhadauria said in his address to the IAF after taking over as its Chief.

Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria will provide leadership to the IAF at a time when air power is expected to be used as the principal instrument of cross-border punitive action. Besides coping with operational challenges, he will also be expected to leverage his unique experience in military procurements to give a big push to several long-pending programmes. Concepts and plans for building futuristic platforms will also be finalised during his tenure.

The sword of honour awardee for topping the June 1980 batch of the IAF, Bhadauria commanded a Jaguar squadron and a premier airbase. He is an experimental test pilot and a Category A Qualified Flying Instructor, a pilot attack instructor, he was also the commanding officer of the Aircraft & Systems Testing Establishment (ASTE) – India’s test pilot pool. In the course of his very distinguished career, the new Chief of Air Staff has also headed the National Flight Test Centre and was the chief experimental test pilot at the Aeronautical Development Agency.

As an Air Marshal, Bhadauria served as the Commandant of the National Defence Academy and the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Southern and Training Commands before his appointment as the Vice Chief of Air Staff in May 2019.