Indian Air Force Chief B S Dhanoa today said China has been ramping up its aerial prowess in the Tibetan Autonomous Region bordering India and that the neighbouring country has a “credible mix” of multi-role fighter and strike aircraft. In an address at a think-tank, the Air Chief Marshal, while talking about requirement of his force, said it needs 42 squadrons of fighter jets to carry out “full spectrum of operations in all contingencies”.
At present, the IAF has only 31 squadrons of fighters. At the same time, he, however, said the IAF has the ability to fight a “short” and “swift” war whenever required. Talking about Pakistan sponsored terrorism, he said the repeated strikes by terror groups indicate that the Indian deterrence in the sub-conventional domain is not working and emphasised on the need to enhance such capabilities to ensure a behavioural change in Islamabad’s approach.
On situation along the border with China, he said, “Over the past few years, we have seen a significant increase in deployment of Chinese aircraft and aircrew in Tibetan Autonomous Region from other military regions.” The comments came on a day Prime Minister Narendra Modi left for the central Chinese city of Wuhan for a two-day-long informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping. The IAF chief said the neighbouring country has a “credible mix” of multi-role fighter and strike aircraft.
“The deployment of Sukhoi 27 and J-10 fleets for the continuous operations during the winter months affords them a credible all round capability. Many years back they used to only occupy the air field in summers,” he said in an address to a select gathering at Vivekananda Foundation. Elaborating on IAF’s needs, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said the force needs 42 squadrons of fighter jets to carry out “full spectrum of operations in all contingencies”.
At present, the IAF has only 31 squadrons of fighter jets. Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa also junked the concept of theatre commands, saying it was not required. Taking a dig at the military establishment in Pakistan, the IAF Chief said in most countries the “state has an Army but in Pakistan the Army has a state.”
“Pakistan is a different kettle of a fish…I can’t afford to put my children in Ivy league colleges and settle in London like many of their generals do,” he said. He said India needs to work on deterrence on sub conventional domain to thwart terrorist attacks originating from Pakistan. In an apparent reference to the tensions between India and Pakistan after an attack on Indian Parliament in 2001, Dhanoa said the last time a behavioural change in Pakistan was affected in 2001 “when they were told that they should be ready to be bombed back to stone age and they changed their behaviour”.
“Hence we need to speak softly and carry a big stick,” he said, On China bolstering its air defence in TAR, he noted that geography works against the Chinese Air Force there, adding it has an “inherent operational disadvantage” due to high altitude and very cold temperatures. “Modernisation plan of the PLAF (People Liberation Army Air Force) will ensure that more than 50 per cent of its fleet will comprise advanced multi role combat aircraft,” he said.
The Air Chief Marshal said he recently told a Chinese Air Force official that the two sides should meet more frequently to avoid conflict. This month the Indian Air Force carried ‘Gaganshakti 2018’, an extensive drill on its borders. Dhanoa said despite this there was not a single airspace violation from both sides and the two air forces share a healthy relationship. He said there is a misconception that the Air Force does not need 42 squadrons.
“We have government sanction of 42 squadrons. When they (adversaries) go to fourth generation aircraft, we need a fourth generation aircraft to counter them. You are not fighting against vacuum,” he said.