Indian air power is world class but it needs to be constantly upgraded to match the best
AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)
As the Central government finishes three years in office, reviews galore of its achievements and shortfalls are ongoing. For the Indian Air Force (IAF) this period has been a very busy one due to the intense focus on its dwindling squadron strength, the selection of an MMRCA and the fact that its transport and helicopter fleets were heavily tasked for Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR), a task that they acquitted themselves in very creditably.
The past six months, however, have been relatively quiet after the hectic preceding three years — hectic, also because of heavy media coverage of the activities connected with the large scale and big ticket items that the IAF planned to buy. This article examines how the IAF’s operational capability presents itself to the nation in these times of a challenging security environment.
Two additional reasons demand this analysis. One, because the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) blueprint revealed in the Pakistan daily The Dawn shows that it could well become a ‘colony’ of China in the years to come, given the planned deep intrusive presence in Pakistani society and daily life. Thus, India would have a virtual Chinese existence on the western front too, aggravating the threat to it.
Second, the IAF’s Chief, in a personal letter to all his officers, has exhorted them to ready for ‘operations at short notice with our present holdings.”
The two acquisitions eagerly being looked forward to are the 36 Rafales and 123 Tejas. These are needed, not only for the capability that would come in, but also to reverse the trend of reducing squadron numbers due to the approaching phase out of MiG-21 and Mi-27 fleets.
Tejas: As is well known, the IAF is inducting 20 Tejas Mk I with the Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) status, another 20 with the Final Operational Clearance (FOC) and 83 Tejas Mk IA. It is the Mk IA that the IAF is really looking forward to as it would bring with it the four mandatory additions that the IAF has demanded of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). The four are: air to air refuelling capability, an Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, integration of a Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile and a modern Electronic Warfare (EW) suite. Of these, photographs are available of a fixed refuelling probe having been installed on the aircraft nose and last reports stated that ground tests are underway before flight tests begin.
An Israeli Derby air to air BVR has been test-fired on May 12 as part of the integration tests with the present mechanical radar in place; for sure, once the AESA radar gets installed this test would have to be repeated (as very many others too). What is known in the open domain is that the selection of the AESA radar and EW suite is ongoing — there would be many more steps before the selected equipments are test flown and thereafter contracted to equip series production aircraft. The necessity of compressing timelines cannot but be emphasised to make up numbers in the IAF inventory — for this, HAL would really have to buck its reputation of the past seven decades for delayed deliveries.
Rafale: The Rafale would bring with it a capability that would be unmatched in the region by many orders of magnitude; this is applicable for PLAAF, too, even when its J-20 stealth fighter enters service and becomes operational (by 2019 or so). The biggest advantage that the Rafale would bring is the fact that it has been tested in real life op conditions in Libya, Mali, Iraq, Afghanistan and Central African Republic, something that almost every important piece of Chinese hardware lacks. The aircraft would boast of stand-off air to ground capability with the SCALP missile and a BVR range par excellence with the Meteor missile.
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