Interview : Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VM, ADC

Defstrat Team
Tuesday, October 2, 2018

As the Indian Air Force celebrates the 86th Air Force Day on 08 Oct 2017, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, PVSM, AVSM, YSM, VM, ADC, Chief of the Air Staff, in a frank and forthright interview with South Asia Defence & Strategic Review (Defstrat) articulated his views on a number of contemporary issues facing the IAF. The CAS, in a freewheeling manner, addressed questions related to force planning, combat readiness and HR management in the IAF amongst others. Excerpts from the interview:

Defstrat. The year would be long remembered for the successfully held Ex Gagan Shakti, the largest ever Air Exercise. Now, almost six months later, the lessons learnt from the Exercise would have been analysed. Could you elaborate on some of the major lessons learnt and takeaways from Gagan Shakti?

CAS A major highlight of the exercise was a very high availability and reliability of all combat assets including aircraft, missile systems and radars. High tempo operations also enabled the IAF to ascertain sustainability of the logistics chain. We were able to achieve desired serviceability of aircraft. The radars and surface to air guided weapons also maintained a very high serviceability, which included some of the legacy systems that were over 40 years old.  Focused effort enabled an exceptional dispatch rate of more than 95% for the Combat Assets, 100% availability of Combat Support Systems and exceptional dispatch rates of Combat Enablers. This had been possible due to good planning and dedicated efforts of our air warriors as well as continuous support by DPSUs like HAL & BEL and also DRDO. The Exercise also confirmed that the IAF is capable of high sortie generation rate along with sustenance of high serviceability through operations. This would have a force multiplier effect.

With the availability of strategic/tactical airlift assets like C-17, IL-76, C-130J and An-32 ac, the forces can be moved between areas of operation within a short span of time. With strategically located bases in South India and Andaman & Nicobar Islands along with long range ac like Su-30 & Jaguar, the IAF has considerable reach into the Indian Ocean Region and can successfully interdict maritime ships of the enemy.

 The IAF has an Integrated Air Defence Network and fairly robust network connectivity. It would enable conduct of Network Enabled Operations to a great extent.

Defstrat; An aspect of Ex Gagan Shakti, as emphasised at the time, is the participation by personnel of the other two Armed Forces. While jointness in the realm of operations is indisputable, there have been concerns voiced recently regarding the IAF’s ‘intransigence’ on integrating command echelons and structures. Would you like to elaborate on the IAF’s position?

CAS The IAF is not in opposition to jointness or major reforms in the defence establishment. The IAF is completely in favour of the reform of Higher Defence Organization. The exact nature of this reform is the subject of extensive consultations between the concerned stakeholders and includes the establishment of a Permanent Chairman Chief of Staff Committee as the single point professional military advisor to the Cabinet on defence matters, along with departments of the Army, Navy and Air Force headed by the respective Vice Chiefs as Secretaries.

On the issue of integrated commands, the IAF is of the view that given the size of our country, the entire country needs to be treated as a single theatre. This is in line with the general expanse of theatres seen in major militaries that subscribe to this model. The Western Theatre Command of China is larger than India. The other major military that subscribes to this model, i.e. the US military also has integrated commands which are far larger. For example, the entire Continental United States, along with Canada and Mexico make up the area of the US Northern Command. 

Defstrat; This year has also seen the setting up of the Defence Planning Committee, seen as a ‘policy incubator’.  All measures towards inclusive policy formulation are ipso facto welcome. However, unless these are complemented by the Armed Forces participation in the decision-making edifices, the ‘inclusivity’ remain superficial.  Does the IAF support pressing for the implementation of the Naresh Chandra Committee recommendations in the regard?

CAS: The IAF supports reforms in the current Higher Defence Organisation. There is a growing need for greater integration of the Ministry and the Armed Forces, especially in terms of cross staffing, policy formulation, monitoring and decision making. DPC has been a very good step in this direction. Mature democracies have seen an increasing integration of the Armed Forces into the decision making fabric of the government.

Defstrat: Acquisition plans of the IAF may result in multiplicity of Aircraft in terms of countries of origin and technologies especially in the combat aircraft segment. Is that a planned welcome development or an unavoidable step in the given situation?

CAS. The IAF has been operating a varied inventory of aircraft since the very beginning. IAF had invested in developing a digital material management system and today we have a robust Integrated Material Management Online System (IMMOLS) in place for over a decade. Further, the IAF in a few cases has invested in Performance Based Logistics to achieve a high availability of these Combat platforms.  

Defstrat: As all platforms get increasingly ‘technologically enabled’, it calls for higher levels of technological competence and training.  How is the IAF addressing this entire aspect including ageing aircraft, new technologies and training?

CAS: Training methodologies have been suitably upgraded to keep pace with our new and technologically advanced inductions. We now have the PC-7 ac replacing the HPT-32 for basic flying training, and the Hawk AJT which has replaced the Kiran Mk-II as well as Iskra trainers for initial fighter flying training.

Modern simulators are a highly cost effective and efficient means of training. We have inducted a large number of capable simulators which closely replicate the aircraft they simulate, providing exceptional training at much lower cost with added safety and efficiency.  Similarly, we have also inducted simulators for training of personnel on systems, vehicles and equipment.

Our training pedagogy is being consistently upgraded to match developments and advances observed in the field of education.  We have successfully implemented pilot projects at our ground training establishments for using technology to improve the effectiveness of our training. We have introduced the use of tablets and handheld devices, making it possible to provide a large information resource to trainees without the inconvenience associated with earlier mechanisms of books and documents. Our training establishments are in the process of being linked into the National Knowledge Network, which will provide up-to-date knowledge resource and facilities to trainees. We have started using networked systems to conduct examinations and distance learning in our professional military education programmes, reducing the cost and complexity of moving large numbers of personnel for periodic training. Examinations for induction of officers and airmen are now conducted online, improving the efficacy of the process manifold.