The IAF is the most technologically advanced and intensive service because the medium in which we operate requires it—that is the air and space domain. The modernisation plan of the IAF thus essentially centres around the induction of the state of the art weapons as far as possible and the ability to upgrade whatever we have to make it more combat-capable to retain IAF is the most technologically advanced and intensive service, because the medium in which we operate requires it—that is the air and space domain. The modernisation plan of the IAF thus essentially centres around the induction of the state of the art weapons as far as possible and the ability to upgrade whatever we have to make it more combat-capable to retain its operational relevance.
The Fighter Fleet
The fighter fleet is the IAFs cutting edge, and that is what we need to concentrate on to modernise. Sans the fighter fleet, the IAF would be akin to a packers and movers company. We have at present a requirement for more Fourth Generation aircraft, which would replenish what we already have and what would be leaving our inventory as the years go by. As of now, we have eight squadrons of MiG 21s and MiG 27s which are dated, and which need to be replaced by Fourth Generation aircraft.
These have been upgraded in the past, but despite that, their date of expiry is almost over, necessitating replacement. In future, as and when time goes by and we attain the technological muscle, we would need a Fifth Generation aircraft. While we do not have the wherewithal to get the Fifth Generation aircraft at this particular point of time, we are conscious of the need for the same and have accordingly, crystallised in our mind, the requirement for the same.
Our future inductions are well known. We are buying the Rafale, which unfortunately is mired in controversy, all for the wrong reasons. As far as the Make in India plan goes, we are at the moment procuring the LCA Mk I.
It is being purchased in two stages: We have the IOC (Initial Operational Clearance) variant, 20 of which were ordered in 2006, of which nine have been delivered and the remaining eleven, we believe will be delivered in the next two years. We have ordered another 20 LCAs, which are the FOC (Final Operational Clearance) variant, and these will be delivered after the IOC variant is complete. The LCA Mark I fleet, we have restricted to these 40 aircraft.
Subsequent to the above, we intend to procure the Mark IA, which is an improved version of the LCA Mark I and has a new radar and advanced EW capabilities. It is, however, essentially the Mark I, with a few add ons. We have issued an RFP in December 2017, to get an additional 83 aircrafts of this type.
It must be stated that the LCA Mark 1 and Mark 1A are very good aircraft. We recently conducted a major exercise called Gagan Shakti, and the LCA performed remarkably well. The best range scores and the best weapon delivery emerged from the nine LCAs we had fielded, which really worked wonders.
This gives me the confidence to state that the LCA will see us through the next 20 years, if not more, in technological capability terms. The first squadron of the LCA, 45 Squadron, also called the ‘Flying Daggers,’ has recently shifted from Bangalore, where they were being looked after by HAL to Sulur. They are now operating in a more operational scenario and are being put through the full spectrum of air operations as envisaged by the IAF.
Our aircraft of the future, as we perceive it as of today, is the LCA Mark II. This aircraft, we believe, will replace the MiG 29 in the next ten years, the Jaguar in the next 15 years and the Mirage 2000 in the next 20 years. All combined, this adds up to a total of twelve squadrons.
The requirements of the IAF for the LCA Mark II are centred on two crucial points. First, it has to be cutting edge, to the tune of its best electronic warfare capability and best weapons. As far as performance goes, we have pegged the performance to the level of the Mirage 2000, which is an aircraft already 35 years in our inventory. We are therefore not aiming for the moon, but for space at best. Therefore, our requirements have already been crystallised, our designers are at it, and given the fact that we have pitched ourselves at a level at which they are capable of generating and making, we will have an aircraft which will be in time in the next ten years or so. It will be the Mark II and will be a different breed of aircraft — probably bigger, probably more powerful and definitely capable of lifting much more load. We are envisaging an aircraft that can lift at least 6.5 tons of weapon load as compared to the LCA and LCA I which lifts about 3.8 tons.
We are also looking at six squadrons of fighter aircraft through the strategic partner route. A lot of doubting Thomas’s doubt whether this will happen. We believe it will. We believe we require this aircraft to bridge over the fighter gap which we see happening in our inventory as the years go by. Our future is the Advance Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). This is not just wishful thinking. We have committed land, money and a lot of thought to this programme, and we believe that in the next 15 years, we will have the AMCA prototype, the NGTD1 (Next Generation Technology Demonstrator) and the NGTD 2 flying. We intend to have this aircraft in collaboration with the DRDO, with the Public-Private Partnership model, flying out of Sulur by that date. We have broad concurrence from the government, the DRDO is on board and an expression of interest is already in the market for establishing a partnership for the AMCA.
Our bottom line is to have indigenously built fighters which will form the bulk of the IAF inventory by 2032. Mark II of the LCA will be as many as 12 squadrons. That is how we envisage the IAF to be heading.
The Transport Fleet
Achievements in the transport fleet are in very good shape, probably next only to the US in terms of heavy-lift capability— the capability to reach what we want, where we want, when we want. The aircraft for this purpose are the C17 and the C130, the IL76, the IL78 and all the other platforms which go with it.
Two major programmes are on the cards. The first is the replacement for the AVRO. We are doing a Make in India programme, a Buy and Make Programme with a foreign vendor that is Airbus, to establish a factory here in India, in collaboration with Tata’s to replace the AVRO. 16 aircraft are going to be direct flyaway from Spain, where the C295 is being manufactured today, and the next 40 aircraft, to make a total of 56 will be manufactured somewhere in India. We have not yet decided where the factory will be, and we are close to completing commercial negotiations.
The other platform is the Dornier, which is being produced by HAL. We have this aircraft primarily for training purposes and also for small-time communication. Both of these are totally Make in India programmes.
We are fairly well off as far as the helicopter fleet of the IAF is concerned. Future inductions are the Chinook and the Apache, both of which are being imported from the USA and will not be made in India. The quantity envisaged for these platforms is 15 Chinooks and 22 Apache’s. The former is a heavy-lift helicopter and the latter is for employment in the attack role. In addition, we are looking into getting an additional 48 MI-17-B5s from Russia, which is already in use by the IAF. This will form a large chunk of our helicopter fleet.
With respect to the Apaches, which are attack helicopters, I do not believe that there will be any coordination issue with the Army. All the Apache’s will be under the Army control, in the same manner as the MI 35 is today. The men in Blue fly with Army formation signs on their shoulder and they operate under the functional control of the Army. This is an ongoing arrangement and has been in force for long. I do not see any problem with such an arrangement which also highlights the joint manship in the forces. There is no dichotomy in having Apaches in the Army and in the IAF. I think they can go hand in hand.
As far as the Make in India initiative goes in the helicopter fleet, we have a wide range of helicopter variants all of which the IAF is procuring in small quantities or more. We have the Cheetal which is an upgraded Cheetah aircraft. We also have the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) for which the RFP response is being evaluated, and we hope to have the contract signed within the next six to eight months. The Light Utility Helicopter is also being developed, which I believe will be a true replacement along with the Kamov for the Chetak helicopter, including its training role, which we do. The IAF is also fully supporting the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter. This is an aircraft which is being developed by HAL. We believe this aircraft will replace the MI-17, the MI-17-1V and the MI-17-V5 in future as and when these aircraft complete their total technical life.
Combat Support Elements
Combat support Elements are essential and no Air Force can fight without them. These include the re-fuelers, AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems), and also the RPS in various forms. As far as the Make in India programme is concerned, the DRDO Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEWACS) is a true example of the Make in India programme, with the aircraft being fully integrated and operationalised by the DRDO at CABS (Centre for Airborne Systems) in Bangalore. We have successfully operated this aircraft for some time now, which was inducted into the Service about two years ago. We are regularly flying this aircraft and routinely operating it in large force engagements, and we are fairly satisfied with its performance. It has certain issues which we believe will get ironed out in due course and this will be the prelude to the next programme, which is the Airborne Warning and Control Systems India Programme. The AON (Acceptance of Necessity) has already been given for further development of two such aircraft, which will be produced in CABS. They are based on the A-330 platform, have 14 hours of endurance in the sky, and are equipped with a radar that will have the 360-degree capability and probably would be the best airborne platform available to us at that point in the world. This programme will take some time and the first flight of this aircraft will be about 2027. We are in the process of getting CCS sanction for commencing procurement action on this.
The I-STAR is a programme which we are running with the DRDO and for which we are collaborating with the US, as part of the DTT (Defence Technology and Trade) initiative. We believe we can get a business jet, modified with a synthetic aperture radar, capable of very high resolution at very long ranges, along with an EOI sensor of phenomenal ranges so that we could use it for the surveillance role in a benign environment and for long durations. The aircraft can cruise at 50000 feet and look well across the border, as far as we would like to go.
As far as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) are concerned, the Tapas is under development at Aeronautical Development Establishment (ADE). We fully support the programme and have placed an order for 12 of them. The programme is, however, experiencing delays and we expect this to happen in the next five to seven years only. We are also in the process of obtaining AON for a medium altitude long endurance RPA.
Air Defence, which is our core competency, has recently been attracting a lot of attention. Over the years, we have experienced large depletion of our capability, but today, we are in a position to claim that we are on the way up. In the next five years, we would be in a position to cover about 85 per cent of our skies. In addition, we have inherent Air Defence capability through our own fighter aircraft that can operate well beyond our shores.
The IAFs Air Defence systems such as the LRSAM or the S- 400 (under procurement from Russia), would come into the IAF inventory over the next two to four years. As far as the Make in India programme goes, we have the Aakash and the Aakash NG. The Aakash is already inducted into the IAF with eight squadrons deployed, primarily in the Northeast. The Akash NG is under development and is likely to see some traction in the next three years.
The MRSAM has been long delayed. This is an Indo-Israeli programme, which has come out of the Navy LRSAM programme. The IAF has ordered 18 firing units, and we are in the process of getting the first firing unit. We had deployed the first unit during the Uri crisis, but we were not very satisfied with its performance, especially in terms of operationalising it, so we are back to the drawing boards and we believe that the first firing unit will now come up in the next six to eight months.
The IAF’s Pichora system is rather old, about 40 years plus. We are now giving it a digitisation programme, after which it is likely to last us another 20 years. Another programme, which is under technical evaluation, is the Close-in Weapon System, which is a Make in India Programme. There are about six vendors in the fray. This is a gun solution with a radar for close air defence. In addition, we have other programmes like the XR SAM and the LR SAM, which is an Air Defence Anti Ballistic Missile System which is being manufactured by DRDO. The S-400 also gives us the capability to be an anti-Ballistic Missile System, with fairly large coverage. We are buying five squadrons of the S-400, and with the induction of this weapon system, we would be capable of defeating most ballistic missiles launched at us.
One of the success stories in our modernisation programme has been radars. From the Purulia incident which exposed serious gaps in our systems to the present times, we have seen a major enhancement in our capabilities. We earlier imported aerostats, but now all radar systems are being developed in-house, either through BEL directly or through Buy and Make Programme. The MPR (Medium Performance Radar), procured from Israel, has a lot of TR (Trans Receive) modules which are made in India. Already delivered is the Rohini radar manufactured by BEL, and the Low-level Light Weight 3D Radar, ASLESHA. The latter was manufactured initially with Israeli collaboration and subsequently, it has been totally indigenously designed by BEL and DRDO. Under development, we have the Arudhra Medium Power Radar (MPR). Trials of this radar have been completed successfully, and this will supplement our medium Power Radars. Also developed is the Low-Level Transportable Radar (Ashwini) and trials are in progress. For future development, competition is on for the High Powered Radar (HPR). We will have an Indian designed, developed and manufactured solution for the same.
Networking is a major requirement of the IAF because we operate at very high speeds with very high resources being used in our environment. To defend and protect our air space and to operationalise it fully, we require a very robust and capable network, operating at high Mach numbers. The Air Force has played a leading role amongst India’s Armed Forces in making the network function. In our context, we have the AFNet, which is an IAF owned, operated and managed digital information grid, which became functional in September 2010. This is a net which encompasses fibre optics, satellites and multiple other means to ensure that all of us are connected in every station and in every base. As a first, the IAF also has an entirely Air Force cellular network, which allows pan India coverage on a cellular network which is exclusive to the IAF. It is, however, a CDMA based network, which means its coverage is restricted to 10 to 15 km around the base. We also have fully integrated material management online system which is fully functional, and we are in the process of fully integrating all our Aircraft Maintenance Management Systems, all of the diverse platforms from Russia, France, UK and the USA. These will come under a single EMMS (Electronic maintenance Management System) developed by WIPRO and which is at the moment being rolled out.
The IACCS network which functions on the AFNet is a ground plane, consisting of fibre optics, satellites and multiple other sources, which integrates all our Air Defence Systems in one grid. It is, therefore, possible today, for an aircraft which is flying over Leh to be controlled from Delhi. This is the capability we have built up over the last ten years. The entire grid is operational in the Western border and we are in the process of rolling out the Eastern grid and along with the Southern sector in the next three months. This is a major achievement, which makes sure that all our assets work in synergy with each other. We intend to integrate this master network along with the Army’s Air Defence Control and Reporting System (Akash Teer) and the Navy’s Trigun network to form a seamless master network, which will fully integrate the full spectrum of air operations by any of the forces. This will ensure that fratricide cases do not occur and that any intruder into our area of operations or into our area of interest is picked up and suitably addressed.
In addition to the ground network which is fully functional today, we intend getting up into the air with a fully secure software-defined radio network, and through using various applications, make our operational data link fully feasible. These Applications include situational awareness, collision avoidance, ground collision avoidance—a GPS in the sky so to speak, with each aircraft performing the role of a GPS satellite, so that anyone in this loop, irrespective of GPS being denied, would be self-sufficient in determining the time, space and position. The ODL network is being fielded. Aircraft are currently undergoing modifications and we expect the first flight in another six months. We expect to equip all our aircraft with the ODL. Presently our order size has been restricted to 483 radio sets, of which most are in the ground and about 200 will be in the air. Another 3000 plus will be procured later, which will be a fully make in India programme and which will integrate with the existing 483 sets in a seamless ODL network. Even a FAC in the forward area will be on the ODL network and will have the capability to control aircraft in a secure and uninterruptible manner.
We are in the development stage of the Pralaya guided short-range (400 km) tactical ballistic missile for battlefield use developed by DRDO. Also developed for the IAF are the precision-guided munitions (PGMs) Garuthmaa and Garuda. An air-launched anti-tank missile has been developed called SANT (Standoff Anti Tank) which will have multi-platform launch capability and can be launched from attack helicopters. Other weapons developed are the SAAW (Smart Anti Airfield Weapon), Dhruv Astra an anti-surface missile and a new generation anti-radiation missile—the Rudram-1. We also have the Rudram-2 and Rudram-3 missiles which are variants of the Rudram-1 with different functions for ground attack.
We have enhanced our capability to operate in bad weather with visibility as low as 500 meters. 30 airfields have been modernised and another 37 are in the pipeline. The capability is CAT 2 IRLS in most bases. This has been a successful Make in India effort with Tata Power being the vendor. We also have a new set of SAR radars which is a surveillance radar element as well as a PAR which is a precision approach radar. All of them are working well and are either indigenously designed or are Buy and Make in India programmes.
For the future, we are looking at Make 2. By this we expect private industry to step in, make a product, give it to us as a prototype, and if successful, we will procure it. For the IAF, Make in India is important as it gives us lifetime product support. Finally, if we as an Air Force have to succeed, we have to build up an aerospace eco-system for which the private sector will have to play an important role. The IAF is committed to making in India, from major platforms, right down to the nuts and bolts. The role of both the private and public sector is vital to achieving the same.
This address was delivered at the Military Modernisation Seminar co-hosted by SALUTE Magazine and Businessworld at the India Habitat Centre