The Indian Air Force (IAF) with 1.75 lakh personnel and contemporary equipment is a formidable force. It is evolving into an aerospace force that would operate state-of-theart platforms and systems to deal with multispectrum threats to India’s national security. Giving insight into this capability is the Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha. Here are excerpts of the interview:
SP’s M.A.I. (SP’s): What has been the most memorable event during your tenure as the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of Western Air Command as also during your tenure as the Vice Chief of Air Staff (VCAS)?
Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha (CAS): Every tenure in my career has been eventful, memorable, enriching and very satisfying. My tenure as the VCAS has been short but represents an accelerated learning curve in working with the Army, Navy, the Ministry of Defence (MoD), defence public sector undertakings (DPSUs) and other agencies. It is not possible for me to identify any particular event as outstanding while tenanting VCAS appointment.
However, the most memorable event during my tenure as the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief (AOC-in-C) of Western Air Command (WAC) was the execution of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations ‘Operation Rahat’ in Uttarakhand in June 2013. The unprecedented disaster of enormous magnitude had called for launching of perhaps the largest ever helicopter relief operations involving 45 helicopters. Various innovative steps including the fuel bridging missions undertaken by C-130 special operations aircraft and Mi-26 heavy-lift helicopter contributed to the success of the operations. A record 3,702 sorties were flown in airlifting 24,260 people to safety. This event will always be remembered by the IAF and the nation as one of the most outstanding disaster relief operations in the history of our country.
SP’s: Considering that the spectrum of war has been enlarged and requires capability and expertise for simultaneous conflict of different types, how has this affected the inventory of the IAF, its organisation and focus on training?
CAS: The all-spectrum capability development process of the IAF to enhance our combat potential has been factored in the longterm integrated perspective plan (LTIPP). Along with the acquisition of more versatile combat platforms, force multipliers and creating net-centric environment, the IAF is aware of the need to enhance the skills required of our air warriors to be able to absorb the state-of-the-art technologies. Hence, even on the training front, we have revised our training syllabi to be commensurate with our future needs. These include induction of new aircraft for training, like the Pilatus PC-7 MkII and Hawk along with greater emphasis on ground-based training systems (GBTS) like simulators, mission debrief equipment, synthetic training devices and computer-aided learning systems.
SP’s: What is the vision of the Indian Air Force vis-à-vis the emerging regional power status of the nation? What steps need to be taken in broad terms to enable the IAF to match the aspirations of the nation?
CAS: Considering our geopolitical, economic and energy needs, it is essential that we have the capability to safeguard India’s national interest. The IAF’s vision envisages a multi-spectrum strategic force capable of addressing the current and future challenges. The application of aerospace power would prove to be the decisive factor in any future contingency. Hence, one of our major challenges is to remain a contemporary aerospace power which possesses credible response options.
SP’s: Air power is the most predominant tool in war-fighting and it is also becoming the ‘weapon of first choice’. Is the IAF receiving adequate funding to meet its requirements for building the requisite capability?
CAS: The future threats are likely to be diverse, varied and complex with the spectrum of conflict likely to range from asymmetric to high intensity conflicts. The IAF needs to be prepared at all times to be able to successfully meet the challenges and be in a position to exert influence in our area of interest. These aspirations will have to be prioritised and juxtaposed with the overarching impact of budgetary constraints in the light of several competing demands. The government has assured us that the requirement for additional funds shall be reviewed based on the progress of new and ongoing schemes.
SP’s: What are your views on the establishment of Space Command?
CAS: Establishing a Space Command has been a long-pending need of the armed forces. The essentials of such a Command had been studied and the proposal is being processed for approval. The Space Command has been envisaged to have a tri-services character with IAF as the lead service.
SP’s: Strategic reach of a nation is also determined by the capacity to sustain operations far away from its borders. This requires capability for logistic support and cooperation of friendly countries by way of firm bases. Has this aspect been factored in at the strategic levels of planning by the IAF?
CAS: The IAF has an exemplary record of providing succour to friendly foreign countries in emergency conditions such as tsunami, cyclone or earthquake. Participation of the IAF in international exercises across continents such as Red Flag (USA), Garuda (France) and Indradhanush (UK) are demonstrations of the IAF’s strategic reach.
SP’s: Joint and integrated operations have been weak areas in the Indian armed forces. Has the joint doctrine adequately addressed this issue?
CAS: Jointmanship has been an essential component of operational philosophy of the armed forces. The Joint Doctrine issued by Headquarters Integrated Defence Service (HQ IDS) in 2006 formally addresses all issues pertaining to conduct of joint operations by the three services.
SP’s: Each service has professed its interest in acquiring networkcentric warfare (NCW) capabilities for the future. NCW mandates networked organisations, command and control and new warfighting methodologies apart from attitudinal changes. What is being done in this field at the tri-service level?
CAS: The IAF recently demonstrated its network-centric capabilities in Exercise Iron Fist and Exercise Livewire in 2013. The integration of sensors into the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) and Air Force Net (AFNET) is an ongoing project and the IAF endeavours to seamlessly integrate maximum number of sensors in this network. The IAF has taken a lead in undertaking the requisite integration with Army and Navy networks at appropriate levels with the IAF network for sharing of relevant data.
SP’s: India will soon be one of the largest economies in the world. How do you see the new role and responsibility of the IAF in this context in the future?
CAS: The IAF is ever ready to undertake any role assigned to us by the government to safeguard our national interest as well as that of the friendly foreign nations. Modernisation of Air Field Infrastructure (MAFI) along with flexi-use of air space would enable economy of expenditure by reduction in fuel consumption and carbon footprint. In the future, the IAF would evolve to be an aerospace force that would operate state-of-the-art platforms and systems, in a real-time, fully-networked environment and would be fully equipped to deal with multi-spectrum threats to India’s national security.
SP’s: The nation continues to be dependent on foreign sources even for basic equipment. What steps are needed to strengthen indigenous capability?
CAS: The Defence Procurement Procedure 2013 lays emphasis on providing the desired boost to the Indian defence industry by mandating a higher preference to the ‘Buy (Indian)’, ‘Buy and Make (Indian)’ and ‘Make’ categorisation in capital procurement. The industry needs to come forward and invest in quality infrastructure to capitalise and strengthen their production base and become centres of excellence. The DPSUs as well as the private industry, would be in a position to ensure that more and more cases are categorised as ‘Buy (Indian)’.
SP’s: Development of the armed forces in India has been somewhat Pakistan-centric. How do you see the equation with China in the event of a military confrontation in the future?
CAS: Our capability build up is not specific to any country, but is based on an analysis of the overall capability requirements to face challenges arising in our area of interest. The IAF analyses its threat perception at regular intervals and accordingly updates its plans factoring in all the envisaged contingencies. The government has sanctioned a force level of 42 combat squadrons for the IAF. Even with the 34 combat squadrons currently, the IAF has adequate operational potential to meet any emergent situation impinging on India’s national security.
SP’s: In what time frame can the nation hope to see the Dassault Rafale streaking across the Indian skies?
CAS: The MMRCA is a complex weapon system procurement case. The wide ranges of requirements of this project are being extensively negotiated with the vendor by the Contract Negotiations Committee (CNC). The CNC has to ensure that all aspects of manufacturing 108 Rafale aircraft in India between Dassault Aviation and numerous Indian production agencies including the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited are captured in the contract. The contract would be signed with due approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security after being processed at the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Finance. The first of the Rafale aircraft would be inducted a few years after the signing of the contract.
The interview was conducted in mid-December when Arup Raha was the Vice Chief of Air Staff and designate-Chief of Air Staff.
For full interview, please look out for SP’s Military Yearbook 2014 (42nd Edition)