Sub Title : A freewheeling QA session with the Chief of Air Sta

Issues Details : Vol 17 Issue 5 Nov – Dec 2023

Author : Editorail Team

Page No. : 40

Category : Military Affairs

: November 27, 2023

Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari PVSM AVSM VM ADC was commissioned into the fighter stream of the Indian Air Force on 29 Dec 1982. He is an alumnus of the National Defence Academy, Flying Instructors’ School and Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. The Chief has a rich and varied experience of operational flying, having flown over 3800 hours.

During his career, he has held numerous Command and Staff appointments and has been an Air Force Examiner on fighter and trainer aircraft. He is a Cat ‘A’ Qualified Flying Instructor and an Instrument Rating Instructor and Examiner. The Chief has the unique distinction of being an instructor at Defence Services Staff College, Wellington as well as Defence Services Command and Staff College, Zambia.

The Air Chief Marshal has commanded a frontline fighter squadron and two important fighter bases. Some of his notable assignments include Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Air Defence), Assistant Chief of the Air Staff (Personnel Officers) and Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, where he spearheaded several major procurement cases of the IAF. He later was Air Officer Commanding-in- Chief of Western Air Command and Vice Chief of the Air Staff before taking over as Chief of the Air Staff on 30 Sep 21.

Defstrat: Geopolitical developments and emerging technologies mandate a relook at the ‘art of war’. Is the Indian Air Force looking at doctrinal changes, while it continues on the process of modernisation? How do such operational doctrine changes maintain synchronisation with capability and capacity development of IAF?

CAS. The IAF has recently updated its Doctrine. The new doctrine has been made keeping in mind advances in technology, geopolitical imperatives, India’s growing eminence in the world order and lastly the need for IAF to be future ready. Contours of recent conflicts have presented multiple lessons and have stimulated a compelling discourse with diverse views on the application of airpower. Though, all wars are different and the next one may not be identical to the previous one, an assured doctrinal continuity is the necessity of potent airpower, its adaptable application philosophy and the need for force preservation and sustenance. The biggest imperative that IAF has extracted from this is to examine and be prepared for short & swift as well as a protracted conflict.

Towards this, the IAF is on a path of becoming a multi domain capable aerospace power that would provide suitable response options throughout the spectrum of conflict irrespective of duration and intensity. In addition, lessons of contemporary airpower application like UCAV/drone operations, dynamic and synergistic joint operations in any kind of battlefield, inevitability of complementary information and cyber operations, and necessity of seamless battlefield transparency have been observed and are being analysed in IAF’s context. Accordingly, IAF is continuously enhancing its combat capability, developing new methods of airpower employment while synergising with other two services for integrated application of combat power.

Defstrat: Atamanirbharta in defence has been progressing well over the past few years. The Indian Air Force too has been ‘vocal for local’ and the positive effect is visible, going by the number of start-ups and new entrants in defence domain. India’s aviation industry, however, is still in a formative stage and may not be able to match global giants in terms of R&D, niche technologies and production processes. How do you guard against technology, (and consequent capability) voids which may creep in while the domestic R&D and industry catch up?

CAS: The Aerospace domain remains the most challenging operating environment for any system and thus requires time, resources and funding to convert an idea into a viable product. Aviation Industry in India is in the formative stage not only because of lack of R&D and niche technology but because of the lack of first-mover advantage that the developed countries enjoy. Technology voids which may creep in are guarded against by sharing the technological requirements of the IAF with DRDO which publishes Technology Progression Capability Roadmap (TPCR). While there has been a shift to reduce dependency on DPSUs by encouraging domestic private players to participate in the defence ecosystem, various frameworks are actively utilised to ensure that niche technology is harnessed for developing cutting edge products. Frameworks like Make and iDEX with stringent developmental cycles are being explored to obviate voids that may arise during traditional R&D processes.

Defstrat: Certain efforts at developing indigenous systems have taken longer than the envisaged time lines. Such scenarios often result in development of platforms and weapon systems which may have outlived their utility by the time they are in production stage. In such a scenario, would it be better to forego an entire technology cycle and opt  for a next generation aircraft rather than evolutionary development of dated designs?

CAS: While the point made is valid, it may be appreciated that the concept of ‘leapfrogging’ may not work in every technology domain as lessons need to be learnt at each stage and applied at the next. Also, upgrades and integration of modern weapons on to older platforms mitigate these voids and proves to be cost effective. We need to appreciate that technology by itself does not win wars but does cause disproportionate effects if adopted and adapted rightly. Adoption of new technology is a decision which must factor in costs, assured benefits, and risk in case of failure. Indigenisation in military technology, especially in the aerospace power domain is a complex as well as challenging proposition.

Defstrat:  Unmanned and autonomous aerial vehicles are an essential and integral part of a modern air force. What is our current and future capability? Is the IAF also working on Manned -Unmanned teaming concept?

CAS:  RPAs equipped with air-air capability, possibly working in tandem with manned aircraft in the Manned-Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) role are expected to arrive shortly in the global airpower domain. The IAF is also pursuing similar projects to realise MUM-T capability.

Defstrat: Aerospace is witnessing vigorous activity with new technologies and capabilities emerging every now and then. Increasing number of cyber capabilities are also space based with a massive proliferation of low orbit satellites.

Is the IAF aintaining pace with this race? Are you receiving adequate support from the DRDO and ISRO?

CAS: This evolution of the IAF into an air and space force would be in keeping with the statement made by the Raksha Mantri during his keynote address delivered at the 37 th Air Chief Marshal PC Lal Memorial Lecture on 05 May 2022. While delivering this address, the RM had exhorted the IAF to become an aerospace force and be prepared to protect the country from the challenges of the future. The IAF has taken a conscious decision to expand its operations beyond the threshold of military space services and applications into the realm of space operations to transform itself into an Indian Air and Space Force. The IAF is focussing on capability enhancement by expanding mil space services and applications for information dominance. We are invested in niche and emerging technologies through copious support to R&D, apart from supporting indigenous industries.

IAF is in the process of employing suitable space surveillance, deterrence and defensive measures for protection of our space assets. We have made necessary changes to align organizational and training requirements to begin the transformation into an Air and Space Force. IAF has 29 DefSpace Challenges which are currently being progressed with the help of Indian industry partners and the space eco-system. Development of technology for Cyber defence system also form part of these DefSpace Challenges. Additionally, there are few identified niche space technologies which are being discussed with DRDO and ISRO.

Defstrat: Irrespective of the number of fighter ac squadrons that the IAF may need, there is a definite need to ramp up acquisitions to maintain a certain minimum combat potential. MRCA 2.0 (MRFA) is important from that point of view. Where are we at the present moment?

CAS:  IAF has plans to bolster its ac inventory by induction of various platforms. LCA MK-1A induction is scheduled to commence from Feb 2024 onwards. Also, the case for procurement of 114 MRFA aircraft is being progressed to fill voids arising from the drawdown of fighter squadrons.

Efforts are being made to expedite planned procurements to retain our combat potential.

Defstrat: What is the IAF’s mechanism of remaining in synch with the Navy as they continue to acquire new capabilities in the skies, particularly for surveillance (ISR) and aerial combat? Do the IAF plans exist to harness and maximise the potential utilizing the op capabilities that the Navy possesses (and to some extent even the Army), more so in the spirit of jointness?

CAS: IAF is totally in sync with all stakeholders in the task of national defence. IAF is fully committed to jointness and interoperability of aerial platforms and weapon systems. The armed forces always aim to maximise their unified potential by utilising the op capability of each service to ensure that the adversary faces our combined combat potential in case of a conflict.

IAF, being the lead airpower organisation of the nation, is always forthcoming in supporting the organic aviation arms of the other two services in terms of training, maintenance, best practices and aerospace safety.