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Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria: ‘Can’t lose sight of North and West, both our foes increasing inventories’

We have ensured that our operational capability has not been degraded at all. Air defence alert has continued unabated while our transport and helicopter fleets have been working throughout the lockdown period to handle COVID-related tasks.

Written by Sushant Singh | New Delhi | Updated: May 19, 2020 7:37:29 am
 Indian air force, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria, IAF COVID-19 pandemic, Indian air force modernisation, Indian express Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria. (File Photo)

Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal R K S Bhadauria speaks to Sushant Singh about how the IAF is working through the COVID-19 pandemic, likely budget cuts and modernisation efforts.

How has the IAF been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, operationally and otherwise?

We have ensured that our operational capability has not been degraded at all. Air defence alert has continued unabated while our transport and helicopter fleets have been working throughout the lockdown period to handle COVID-related tasks, support to state administration and government agencies, as well as air maintenance tasks to support the Army in forward areas. Training and operational methodology was reviewed to ensure segregation of combat crew and preservation of resources.

Our plans were initiated proactively catering to force preservation through travel protocols, mandatory quarantine for vulnerable categories and minimising exposure. We took precautions and preventive measures as early as February, such as preparing isolation and quarantine centres. By March, we had established quarantine facilities in nine locations across India with a capacity of 1,650 personnel. Crisis Management Centres were established at all levels and a corona helpline for IAF personnel has been functional since beginning of March. The IAF remains fully engaged in the collective national effort and has been continuously shouldering tasks as part of Mission Lifeline Udaan and Op Sanjeevani.

Read| Armed forces in coronavirus outbreak battle: their role, procedures for requisition

The Army chief recently said that the government indicated to him an initial 20% budget cut for the Army. If a similar cut has been made for the IAF, how will you tackle the challenge? How will the IAF’s modernisation schemes be affected?

The revised budgetary estimates for the year have not yet been received. However, the IAF is already prioritising its capital and revenue expenditure plans for the year. As a first step, we are looking at rationalising revenue expenditure as well as reprioritising the capital expenditure outgo so as to refocus on indigenous production. Our highest priority lies with the contract for 83 LCA Mk1A along with indigenous production of high tech weapons such as air-to-air missiles and long range Precision Guided Munitions.

Considering that IAF now has only 30 squadrons, is there a discussion on reducing the number of fighter squadrons authorised to the IAF? Or to redefine the tasking of a two-front war?

The squadron strength is a force structure issue and depends on a host of factors. We cannot lose sight of the developments in the North and West; with both our adversaries continuously increasing and upgrading their inventories. As part of its long-term perspective plan, IAF plans to increase its squadron strength in a pragmatic manner leveraging the Make in India initiative.

Read| Govt plans to make second line of fighter aircrafts under Make in India project, says IAF chief

With the renewed emphasis on Make in India, how is the IAF going to meet its modernisation requirements? Are the 114 foreign MRFA fighter jets still on track or will the IAF have more LCA Tejas in its fleet?

We intend to purchase 83 LCA Mk IAs and more than 100 LCA Mk II. 114 MRFA will also be progressed under the Make in India scheme. The MRFA is to be seen under a separate performance and technical class. Transfer and absorption of technology as well as complete manufacturing in India will need to be ensured, which will energise the indigenous industry, particularly for the ambitious fifth generation plus indigenous AMCA programme.

Is there a delay in the arrival of Rafale aircraft and the S-400? How will these delays affect the operational readiness of the IAF?

Initial delivery of Rafale has been delayed by about two months due to break in training and supply chain disruptions. The first four are likely to come to India by end of July. The S-400 is expected with minimal delay. The delays are being followed up closely for mitigation and minimal operational impact.

At what stage are the plans to procure more AWACS, mid-air refuellers, and the Su-30 upgrade?

The case for two additional AWACS is being processed. The FRA project is being analysed de novo and various options for procuring the basic platform for FRA are being considered. As far as Su-30 upgrade is concerned, IAF is in detailed discussions with HAL as well as the OEM for finalising an upgrade plan.

Finally, what is the IAF’s vision for joint/ theatre commands in the current environment?

A study team has already been established to work on the contours of Air Defence command and this study is progressing well. Similar approach would be followed to work out the optimum plan of joint commands/ theatres that will achieve the desired integration.

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