Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria became the Indian Air Force chief on September 30, 2019, months after the IAF launched airstrikes at Balakot, Pakistan. On the occasion of the first anniversary of the Balakot airstrikes, ACM Bhadauria speaks with the Indian Express. Excerpts:
One year after the Balakot strike and subsequent air operations, how do you look back at the events from February 2019 till now?
The Balakot airstrike redefined the use of air power towards meeting the national objective and has changed the paradigm of sub-conventional action and response in the subcontinent. The event itself, and the subsequent air operations on February 27, 2019, have remained in public attention with the battle of narratives spreading out to the masses over all forms of media. But the fact remains that the Balakot airstrikes were the most significant air action by the IAF in over four decades, when our fighters penetrated deep into Pakistan airspace, executed a precise attack on the terror camp and returned home unchallenged.
Over the last year, we have continued to focus on our operational training and readiness, induction of enhanced BVR (Beyond Visual Range) missiles, stand off weapon capability and upgradation of secure communications. We have looked closely at our modernisation and acquisition plans for prioritisation in line with the changing threat scenario.
What were the big lessons from Balakot? How will it impact planning for future missions?
The Balakot strikes clearly demonstrated the IAF’s level of operational preparedness and capability. The package was precisely coordinated and comprised combat aircraft and enablers from many bases across the country. The men and women concerned performed their tasks admirably under challenging conditions which is a testimony to their planning and training. This complex plan was conceived and executed in full secrecy and the mission went unchallenged even when PAF was on full alert.
As in any military action, there were several lessons learnt which have been implemented in terms of capability enhancement and future plans. We have instituted measures covering the entire spectrum of induction of new capability, operational training and tactics, which will further enhance the IAF’s operational capability to undertake any such mission at short notice.
How do you plan to realistically overcome the challenge of shortage of fighter aircraft, considering the state of funds allocated for capital acquisition and IAF’s committed liabilities?
We are aware of the reducing strength of combat platforms for some time now. We have already put into place measures to overcome the shortfalls by a combination of capacity and capability enhancements. We have instituted a series of midlife upgrades and weapons integrations on legacy platforms. The LCA Mk1A and MRFA should serve to halt the reducing trend, and LCA Mk2 will thereafter boost the numbers once the upgraded platforms come to the end of their life cycles.
These inductions will be spread over a number of years which will help spread out the funding, as has been alluded to by the CDS.
Are there plans for buying more AWACS and mid-air refuellers, better weaponry for Su-30 and better air defence capability, with reports of S400 delivery being delayed?
We have plans in place for additional AWACS, both through the acquisition and development routes. We are also looking at various possibilities to enhance our refuelling capability, and these should be formalised soon. The Su-30 upgrade is on our priority list. The S400 is not delayed as has been reported, but the programme delivery schedule is being optimised in coordination with the Russian side to enable us to operationalise the weapon system quicker.
How prepared is IAF for the challenges on the northern borders? Any special plans in the offing?
The IAF, as does any armed force, continues to monitor threats and challenges across the geographical and strategic space that we operate in. With specific reference to our northern borders we are aware that matching numbers is a difficult proposition but we are adequately prepared. We are focussing on hi-tech weapons, force enablers along with emphasis on operational training.
Integrated theatre commands are in news, with CDS having it in charter, while IAF has long held that the whole of India is one theatre. How will this be resolved?
There is no doubt that our current setup, while time-tested, is old, and there is room for improvement. However, as the CDS has brought out, we need to guard against blindly following models adopted by different countries in a ‘change for change’s sake approach’. We need to clearly understand our unique situation, our resources, and develop solutions which fit our needs and requirements.
There is a clear case to enhance jointness at the operational level. Several studies are underway to resolve the practical issues of how this is to translate into deliverable and achievable actions on the ground. Our air power resources are highly inadequate to permit fragmentation into smaller theatres. We are studying methods to create joint structures and yet retain the ability to bring to bear the maximum possible firepower from air at the desired point of delivery across our entire national AOR (Area of Responsibility) in the shortest possible time.
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