In this first part of an exclusive interview to Jayant Baranwal, Editor-in-Chief, SP's ShowNews on the occasion of Aero India 2023, Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, Chief of the Air Staff, gave some very elaborate and candid insights on the plans and preparedness of the Indian Air Force
SP's ShowNews (SP's): Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA)
(a): When will this programme finalise?
Chief of the Air Staff (CAS): The IAF plans to induct six squadrons of the MRFA in a phased manner. IAF is evaluating the responses to the RFI and Air Staff Qualitative Requirements for the proposal are being finalised prior to seeking Government approval. Certain key areas which need more elaboration are being queried, following which, necessary details would be included in ASQRs. The necessity of 'Make in India' has been conveyed to all the OEMs.
(b): What is the ratio of off-the-shelf delivery and manufacturing within India?
CAS: Towards reducing our foreign dependencies, the IAF is planning to minimise off the shelf deliveries while maximising manufacturing within India. The programme will also ensure long term maintenance support by Indian resources. The exact details can only be worked out as a part of contract negotiations.
SP's: Fighter Squadrons
(a): We do believe Rafale has added great edge to the combat-readiness as the delivery of 36 French jets have been concluded and timely so.
CAS: Answer inclusive in the following response.
(b): In spite of the above, you have very candidly maintained that even by around 2035 the total number of squadrons will be well below the authorised and sanctioned level of 42 fighter squadrons for the Indian Air Force. Does this concern you?
CAS: There is no doubt that the Rafale is a very potent platform that has given a fillip to our combat preparedness. But we have to keep an eye on the larger picture as well. The IAF currently has 31 fighter aircraft squadrons. In the next 10 years, the squadrons operating the MiG-21 aircraft will be phased out completely along with some squadrons of MiG-29 and Jaguar aircraft. However, the shortfall would be offset by induction of the indigenously manufactured Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk-1A fighter aircraft. Right now, the IAF is fully capable of undertaking its role of defence of the nation while future concerns are being looked after by current and future acquisitions.
(c): Is there any plan to arrest the depleting number of Fighter Squadrons? Can you kindly share the same?
CAS: The IAF has strived to arrest the draw-down of its fighter fleet and presently we are in the process of gradually building it up to the approved level of 42 squadrons. The shortage in the number of fighter squadrons is being addressed through multipronged approaches to ensure that this is realised within time, budget and under the 'Make in India' initiative.
The numbers of the indigenously manufactured fighter aircraft are only going to increase with the procurement of 83 LCA Mk1A, for which the contract has been signed with HAL on January 25, 2021. Deliveries are envisaged from January 2024 to January 2029. DRDO is working towards the indigenous development of LCA Mk 2 and a fifth generation fighter aircraft, AMCA. Induction of the AMCA is expected to commence from 2035. IAF also plans to induct the Multi Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) in a phased manner. The programme is being progressed under 'Make in India' provisions of DAP-2020.
SP's: Transport Fleet
(a): Can you kindly share your perspective of current fleet of military transport?
CAS: The IAF transport fleet is the fourth largest in the world. It comprises of a mixed bag of aerial assets ranging from VHETAC category (C-17) to LTA (Avro & DO-228). Each aircraft type in the transport fleet possesses a unique role and has proven its mettle on numerous occasions. The nation has been witness to the fleets' contribution during several International evacuations, civil heavy lifts, HADR and SAR of troops and population at border areas. The potential of the IAF's mobilisation capability was a major highlight during the Eastern Ladakh contingency. The fleet is undergoing further enhancement including the induction of the C295 aircraft which has a major Make-in-India component.
(b): Is there any wish-list you may like to share with us?
CAS: As the An-32 and IL-76 legacy fleets are approaching EOL (End of Life), IAF is in the process of identifying suitable replacements. The demand for Air to Air refueling aircraft as force multipliers towards strengthening our fighting potential remains and we are therefore progressing the case for procuring six flight refuelling aircraft (FRA). As this process is likely to take some time, a case for leasing one FRA to augment the training requirements has also been initiated. Furthermore, we are also progressing a case for the induction of additional Dornier aircraft and upgrading some of our Dorniers through HAL. As part of the indigenisation process, we are also hopeful that MRO facilities for most of our platforms are established in India itself. We also look forward to early induction of AEW&C Mk II.
Continued in SP's ShowNews Day 2...