May - 2013 ISSUE

Force Magazine
Fighting Fit - July 2012
IAF modernisation needs to be sustained across the 12th and 13th plan periods
By Atul Chandra

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will by 2012, have completed the first phase of its fifteen year modernisation plan that began in the year 2006 and was divided into three, five year plans namely the 11th, 12th and 13th plans, to be completed by the year 2022.

Air Chief Marshal (ACM) FH Major (retd) told FORCE that “the 11th plan period saw the IAF increase its capability tremendously with the finalisation of a number of acquisitions and has been a great plan period for the IAF.” He added that the biggest shift in IAF doctrine and Concept of Operations (CONOPS) also began in the 11th plan. This has seen the IAF move away from a threat or adversary based approach to a more realistic and flexible capability based approach.

Capability enhancement in all spectrums of warfare has been incorporated in the doctrine and while part of this has been completed, more needs to be done. The modernisation process of the armed forces in general and as ACM Major notes with satisfaction, the “IAF in particular, has gained momentum in the last 4 to 5 years with adequate funding and governmental support. This initiative and momentum needs to be maintained.”

The highlight for the IAF in the 11th plan was the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) acquisition where the Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued; trials completed with the Dassault Rafale being selected and is now in the last stages of finalisation within the plan period itself. With its combat force level down to 34 squadrons, the IAF intends to maintain it at this level for the 12th plan. The first two upgraded MiG-29 air superiority fighters will also join the IAF in June this year. The finalisation of a Basic Trainer took place on fast track basis during this plan, with an order for the Pilatus PC-7 Mk-2 placed in the 11th plan itself.

Some of the most significant inductions to have taken place in the 11th plan were induction of the Hawk Mk-132 Advanced Jet Trainers (AJT) that have provided a quantum leap to training within the IAF. All aircraft from the first batch are due to be delivered by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) by 2013. The induction of Mi-17 V5 medium lift helicopters also took place and all 80 will be inducted into the IAF by May next year. The Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) and C-130J were also inducted and are fully operational, orders for two more AWACS and six more Hercules are expected to be placed shortly The Boeing AH-64 D Apache has been short listed now and the contract for 22 is also expected to be finalised this year. For VIP duties the Boeing BBJ, was acquired and orders were placed for VIP Agusta Westland AW 101 helicopters, whose first deliveries are scheduled for December this year.

The IAF was looking at having 12 AWACS and Airborne Early Warning And Control (AEW&C) aircraft by the end of the 12th plan given the size of the country. The first example of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) developed AEW&C platform is also expected to make its maiden flight by the end of the 11th plan period. There have been numerous challenges involved with the positioning of antennae and installation which have been overcome and the first flight will be a huge step forward. The AEW&C’s along with the Phalcon AWACS will provide a tremendous addition to IAF capability. The indigenously developed Rohini radar was also inducted and has performed well in its role. The first phase of the Air Force Network (AFNET) was completed and this was a significant achievement during the 11th plan period.

The 12th plan (2012-2017) will be a crucial period of transition for the IAF where it will have to balance the induction of state of the art platforms with the attendant requirements of training, infrastructure and air base upgrades and retirement of numerous legacy systems, many of which have served well beyond what even its original manufacturer would have intended. The Dassault Rafale will be inducted into IAF service during this plan period, as will the first two squadrons of the LCA ‘Tejas’ more than four decades after the HF-24 Marut became the first indigenous fighter to enter IAF service.

These inductions will be crucial to help the IAF maintain its combat force during the 12th plan which despite being planned at 39.5 combat squadrons will remain at 34 squadrons. The 12th plan will see the induction of SU-30 MKI fighters, C-17 Globemaster (May 2013) and C-130 J Hercules transports, Phalcon AWACS, DRDO AEW&C and Multi Role Tanker Transports (MRTT). The delays in the case for 6 MRTT will see the first of these tankers being inducted only towards the end of the 12th plan.

This plan period will see the long delayed revamp of the IAF’s training fleet with the induction of Pilatus PC-7 Mk-2 Basic Trainers, more Hawk AJT’s, HJT-36 Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) and retirement of the long serving Kiran Mk-2 trainers. The induction of the latest generation of light, medium and heavy lift helicopters along with attack helicopters will provide a quantum leap in terms of helicopter operations. The upgrade and modernisation of air defence systems will begin with the induction of new missiles and radar systems.

The Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) for which a contract was signed last year will be completed to a large extent in the 12th plan, MAFI was planned in two phases under which 30 airfields are due for modernisation in Phase-I with the balance airfields scheduled to be modernised in Phase-II. Thirty airfields would be modernised over a period of 42 months and on completion the selected airfields will have a runway length of 11,000 feet and be capable all weather operations in day and night. They will also have surveillance radar, Instrument Landing Systems (ILS) and navigation aids such as Tactical Air Navigation (TACAN), etc. Earlier some airfields were constrained as to the aircraft they could operate; On completion of MAFI this will not be the case. The Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) and Operational Data Link (ODL) are also expected to be completed in the 12th plan and on completion be the bedrock of the IAF’s transformation to a network centric force.

By the end of the 12th plan, the IAF would have largely put in place the capability required to ensure full spectrum dominance in any conflict and ensure that it is pre-eminent in any form of conflict across the entire spectrum. The inductions into the IAF by this time will provide it with the capability to conduct prompt, sustained and synchronised operations tailored to specific situations. The entire focus of the IAF will be on capability based plans to provide full spectrum dominance.

However, the capability to cater for a full-scale ‘two-front’ conventional war will be available only by the end of the 13th plan. Besides the induction of new and additional combat assets, what is more important for the IAF, says ACM Major is to optimise existing infrastructure and augment it well in time, along with the induction of additional resources and combat assets in the North East Sector, and existing gaps in other sectors. This requires a steady infusion of new technology along with the modernisation and replacement of obsolescent equipment. A beginning has been made he says, but this needs to be sustained and expedited.

The IAF is likely to reach its sanctioned strength of 42 combat squadrons in the 13th plan, and it is at this level that the IAF will be able to maintain a healthy force ratio between the Eastern and Western fronts. The IAF will see its first 5th generation fighter, the Sukhoi-HAL PMF (FGFA) entering into squadron service only by 2020-2021. By the end of the 13th plan the IAF would have its main combat fleet built around the Perspective Multi-role Fighter (PMF) Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), Dassault Rafale, Su-30 MKI (upgraded) with upgraded Mirage-2000, Mig-29 and Jaguar’s followed by the LCA ‘Tejas’ Mk-2.

Distribution of Air Assets

The Indian Air Force does not fight a war for itself. The entire role and task allocation of helicopters within the IAF are for joint operations, on this there can be no doubt. Why should the helicopter remain with the parent service is an argument that has been put forward. Very simply, the reason for this is because aviation is a lifetime dedication in the IAF, in the Army it is not. Therefore it is prudent that a service which is dedicated to aviation must retain the assets. Our attack helicopters operate under army command when required so that they can be used in the manner required. Under the IAF aspects like training and the flying ethos are continuously looked after and the aviator will thrive and do well in only such an environment. Training the required number of pilots and more importantly, ramping up training requirements is a very tough task.

Within the IAF, a pilot is allowed to make the transition from a single engine Cheetah/Chetak to a twin-engine Mi-8/Mi-17 before moving onto an attack helicopter, the army is not in a position to do so. All the new helicopter types being inducted by the IAF are for use by the Indian army and I am of the opinion that the country cannot afford to distribute scarce air assets in a manner which will lead to duplication of infrastructure, spares and maintenance, pilot training, etc.
Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major (retd)


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