IAF chief exclusive: Rafales arriving July-end; Air Force prepared to counter any threat including two-front war

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Updated: May 28, 2020 6:45 PM

While preparations are on to receive the French combat aircraft Rafale end of July, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is keen to induct platforms, weapons & systems made here in India.

IAF chief exclusive, Rafale, Air Force, RK Bhadauria, Air Chief Marshal, COVID-19, defence budget, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, light comabt aircraft, defence newsThe IAF is prepared to counter any threat to the country.

While preparations are on to receive the French combat aircraft Rafale end of July, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is keen to induct platforms, weapons & systems made here in India. Air Chief Marshal RK Bhadauria talks with Financial Express Online’s Huma Siddiqui on various issues including defence budget, jointness of assets, operational preparedness and fighting COVID-19. Following are excerpts of an interview with the Chief of Air Staff:

With the government planning to cut down imports, global companies who have been bidding for fighters have expressed their concerns. How does the IAF plan to increase the number of fighters?

IAF is highly committed to self-reliance and indigenous production. We have clearly provided our plan for the 83 LCA Mk IA programme followed by LCA Mk II and fifth-generation plus AMCA aircraft. The MRFA programme is also been oriented totally toward Make in India. With the exception of urgent and niche technology procurements, we would induct only make in India platforms, weapons and systems.

Has Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) shared the timelines for the delivery of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) for IAF?

The order for 83 MK IA is likely to be placed soon and deliveries will commence in three years. In the long run, the IAF will have 40+83 Tejas Mk I/IA followed by around six squadrons of Tejas Mk II. We expect the production rate of LCAs to be rapidly ramped up to 16 aircraft per year once the 83 LCA contract is signed.

Is it correct that the French fighters Rafales will arrive in July? When exactly are they arriving and if you could please share your experience flying them?

Despite COVID- 19 disruptions deliveries are on track in France, however ferry of the first batch to India has been delayed to end July 20. The Rafale aircraft is a highly integrated, agile and smart air combat system. Like all modern fighters it is quite easy to fly. I was quite impressed with the man-machine interface and data fusion. With its immense combat capabilities and ability to integrate with our existing fighter fleets, we will have a very significant enhancement of our overall combat potential and associated deterrence value.

Has IAF prepared a list of items to be put in the Negative List? Will radars, chaffs, air defence systems also be added to the list?

A draft “negative List” had already been prepared and forwarded to the HQ IDS with approx. 60 items and technologies. These include various missiles, radars, EW systems, and CBRN systems. The list is being revised to add more and more technologies and systems that are available within the country and we will provide the details when this gets finalized.

How much has the IAF committed itself to indigenisation? Is India’s aerospace industry ready to make fighter jets locally?

The IAF is committed to indigenization and the current reforms and announcements by the government provide a unique opportunity for the Indian aviation sector to collaborate, innovate and establish a self-reliant Aviation industry. The industry will have to commit resources, manpower, money and focus in order to grasp the design development and manufacturing opportunities opened up in this sector based on IAF’s acquisition plans that have been clearly explained to the industry.

With all exercises – national and international being put on hold due to the global pandemic, when will the exercises re-start? Will this impact operational preparedness?

The decision on resuming the international exercises will be based on the global Covid-19 situation. Our own training activities continue with all necessary precautions required under COVID 19 and we will ensure that there is no impact on our preparedness.

Are we ready for a two-front war?

The IAF is prepared to counter any threat to the country. Taking into account all possibilities including the possibility of two fronts, IAF is a flexible and agile force with effective responsiveness to engage on multiple fronts. The capability building and our operational philosophies cater to this aspect.

Pooling in & jointness of assets: Naval assets like the P-8I – can these be used in the deserts? Would the naval or IAF pilots fly these?

Integration of all the national air assets for joint operations is feasible and planned. Our planning caters for optimum usage of all available resources and assets in whichever area of operations is necessary. These assets would be operated by their parent service in a planned and integrated manner.

Make in India is the focus of the government. Would the IAF work only with the DPSUs or other PSUs are also in the picture?

To make India self-reliant in defence and succeed on the aviation front, the DPSUs, PSUs, Private Sector, Big Players and MSMEs, all need to rise to the occasion and work together. IAF will work with the entire industry to meet our future requirements indigenously which would not only include acquisition of aircraft and systems but maintenance and lifecycle support. The potential for the aviation industry to deliver is immense.

What do you think about the Space Command?

The creation of Defence Space Agency (DSA) is an interim arrangement until a full-fledged dedicated Aerospace Command is formed. The DSA is a tri-service agency mandated to plan, execute and control all Defence Space-related issues. It will also exercise command and control over all tri-services units and progressively over defence units performing space-related tasks.

Is there any change in DPP?

The revision of DPP 2016 is already underway. It is likely to be finalized and promulgated in the next few months.

Lastly, what has been the contribution of IAF in fighting the COVID-19?

Our plans were initiated proactively catering to force preservation through travel protocols, mandatory quarantine for vulnerable categories and minimising exposure. We took a number of precautions/preventive measures as early as Feb this year such as preparing Isolation and Quarantine centres. By March 2020, we had established quarantine facilities in nine locations across India with a capacity of 1650 personnel. Crisis Management Centres were established at all levels and a Corona helpline for IAF personnel has been functional since the beginning of March. We rapidly implemented specific COVID precautions for our transport and helicopter fleets.

The transport and helicopter aircraft have been working successfully throughout the lockdown period to handle COVID related tasks, support to state administration and Govt agencies as well as air maintenance tasks to support the Indian Army in forward areas. We also carried out the evacuation of citizens from abroad and supplied medical aid to friendly countries. Internally, our training and fighter squadrons’ operational methodology was also reviewed to ensure the preservation of operational capability.

For the future we have given detailed instructions on rejoining of people from leave and duty areas and continuation of all operational training and tasks with revised work protocols.

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