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Exclusive Interview with IAF Chief: ‘Indian Air Force is progressing well on a capability driven modernization plan’

To meet emerging challenges the IAF is progressing well on a capability driven modernization plan in consonance with the roadmap laid down in the IAF’s Long Term Perspective Plans.

IAF Chief Air Marshal VR Chaudhari

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is on a path of becoming a multi domain capable aerospace power that would provide suitable response options throughout the spectrum of conflict irrespective of duration and intensity. To achieve the sustenance of force and its combat capability for long duration, IAF has established an efficient and sustainable network supported op logistics chain.

“To make the force sharp and offensive, the focus is on multirole offensive platforms and systems, varied type of precision and standoff weapons, secure and seamless networking, and contemporary operational training of all the planners and field operators in realistic combat conditions,” says IAF Chief Air Marshal VR Chaudhari.

According to him, “Towards force preservation, the IAF has instituted various measures that include induction and operationalisation of various modern air defence sensors and weapons, and expediting op infrastructure at airbases. To achieve the sustenance of force and its combat capability for long duration, IAF has established an efficient and sustainable network supported op logistics chain.”

Following are excerpts of an interview with IAF Chief Air Marshal VR Chaudhari by Huma Siddiqui

Technology is at the core of an air force – and acquiring it is your primary challenge.  How are you planning to handle this?

As a technology intensive force, IAF recognises the changing dynamics of air warfare brought about by new technology. IAF is sensitive to the fact that the side with superior technology will have an overwhelming advantage in any conflict. We have been on a path of gradual transformation to tackle threats over the entire spectrum of conflict. Towards this, new technology enabled capabilities are envisioned that meet key requirements of long range strike, air defence, cyber and networking.

Recent procurements of Rafale & LCA fighter aircraft, C-17, C-130J & C-295 transport aircraft, Apache & Chinook helicopters, S-400 Air Defence Missile Systems are steps in that direction. Development of the Operational Data Link (ODL) and upgraded version of Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) are at advanced stages of completion which would enable the IAF to be ready to fight modern hi-tech wars.  We are also pursuing induction of Software Defined Radios which will be a major step towards Network Centric Operations (NCO). Processes have also been put in place to ensure infusion of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) in all future procurements.

However, technology is an ever evolving field and there are new advancements taking place continuously. Therefore, remaining abreast with emerging technologies and inducting hardware based on cutting edge tech is essential to retain the combat edge.

How will the Russia-Ukraine conflict impact the upgrade of some part of the IAF fleet?

IAF has a large number of Russian aircraft and other defence equipment. India also has defence equipment procured from Ukraine.  Impediments in the delivery of products are likely as a result of the Russia-Ukraine conflict. However, operational preparedness of IAF would not be hampered as we have sufficient technical resources/ support available within the country and a robust stocking policy. In order to maintain operational preparedness in the coming years, IAF is exploring alternate sourcing for spares including increased indigenisation.

Any update on the modernisation plans of IAF?

To meet emerging challenges the IAF is progressing well on a capability driven modernization plan in consonance with the roadmap laid down in the IAF’s Long Term Perspective Plans.This is being achieved by the induction of new platforms and weapon systems along with the continuous up gradation of existing equipment.

Fighter aircraft like Rafale and Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) as well as Special Operations Transport aircraft(C-130), Heavy Lift Aircraft (C-17), Attack Helicopters (Apache) & Heavy Lift Helicopters (Chinook) have already been inducted and operationalized. Additional combat support assets like Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C), Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA) are also being procured.  Air Defence Radars, long and medium range surface-to-air missile systems (S-400, MRSAM), Low Level Quick Reaction Missiles (LLQRM) and Close In Weapon System (CIWS) are being procured in order to provide adequate multi-layered air defence.

Proposals to induct modern technology include Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), C-295 transport aircraft, Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) and equipment to enable Network Centric Operations.In order to obviate technology obsolescence; we are upgrading existing equipment so that they remain relevant and contemporary. Up-gradation of numerous weapons platforms like MiG-29, Jaguar, Mirage-2000 fighter aircraft, An-32 transport aircraft, Mi-17/ Mi17 1V helicopters and SAGW& communication systems is also in progress.

Do you think future conflicts are going to be sharp and swift”? Is the IAF prepared for long drawn conflicts which could be challenging and unpredictable?

The conflicts in the future can be Short High Intensity, Protracted Low Intensity, or Protracted Conflict of varying intensity. Though the capability demands of short and swift conflict as against the prolonged one can be widely different; there are certain common aspects that would be imperative for creating a balanced force structure and capability.

While short and swift conflict would require a sharp, agile, and offensive force, the outcome of a protracted conflict would largely be determined by force preservation, sustenance, and maintenance capabilities. IAF is working on both these aspects to build a credible air force for short and intense as well as prolonged conflicts. In order to handle the contingencies of interruption of logistics lines that could be a concern in any conflict, dynamic options like large scale air bridging of fuel, armament and other crucial airpower components are regularly war gamed, reviewed and refined.

Networking and assimilation of space, both are interdependent. How prepared is IAF to meet this challenge?

The fast paced technological advancements, seamless flow of information and diversified roles of state and non-state actors has widened the spectrum of conflict.Today, it also includes the non-kinetic domain encompassing the information and cyber space. The repudiatory nature and asymmetric effects make these domains a lucrative choice of application in conventional as well as non-conventional operations. In the future, encroachment of space, cyber, and information verticals on conventional domains is inevitable.

IAF is continuously building up its capabilities to effectively handle conventional and non-conventional threats in the cyber and space domain. Network centric operational capability with modern combat and combat support platforms, rapid deployment and redeployment capability ensures effective handling of conventional threats within the available resources. A strong and robust operational network based on secure fibre optics, ground network and SATCOM links allow pan IAF connectivity.

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