IAF Takes to a Trajectory of Modernization: Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa

By Editor 2017

Article

Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa PVSM AVSM YSM VM ADC took over as the  25th Chief of the Air Staff on December 31, 2016. He had been the Vice Chief of the Air Staff since 01 Jun 15, and Honorary ADC since 01 Aug 15.

He is an alumnus of Rashtriya Indian Military College, the National Defence Academy and the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington. Commissioned into the Flying Branch of IAF as a fighter pilot in Jun 1978, he is a Qualified Cat ‘A’ Flying Instructor and has more than 3000 hours of fighter flying with an immaculate flight safety record.

He led the IAF punch during the ‘limited war’ against Pakistan in 1999 to evict the enemy from their ‘dug in’ defences in the icy heights of Kargil region. He has held a number of significant staff appointments at operational Commands, Joint Training Establishments and Air Headquarters. For his experience and professional excellence, he was handpicked to establish an ‘IAF Training Team’ abroad. In recognition of his meritorious services, he was awarded Yudh Seva Medal (YSM) and Vayusena Medal (VM) in 1999; Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) in 2015; and Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) in 2016.

In this interview with Aeromag Asia after his becoming Chief of the Air Staff, he shares his vision and planned trajectory for the IAF. 

On being the 25th Chief of the Air Staff—a very distinct, memorable landmark in the annals of IAF. How do you perceive it?

It is an honour to command the Indian Air Force.  A privilege to serve at the helm of this inspiring and professional military force of the finest and best.

You are often lauded for developing the aerial targeting philosophy against our potential adversaries and transforming the concepts of Air Operations of the IAF to contemporary war fighting practices of Air Power, which brings us to your vision for making India a strategic aerospace power. Could you spell out more on the mission statement that you made on taking over as the Chief of Air Staff?

The mission of IAF is to protect our country with an impregnable Air Defence and maintain a strong deterrent offensive force capable of defeating the enemy across the entire spectrum of war. The aim is to embrace war fighting technology to equip, and skill to train our Air Warriors to effectively fight conventional, sub-conventional and non-conventional threats.

A momentous development in the recent times is the Rafale Acquisition deal with France. How would the French fighter jets bring additional leverage to our drive for modernisation and bolstering our capabilities?

Rafale is a State-of-the-art multirole aircraft with its advanced systems and weapons with capability to dominate any modern day air battle. Capabilities of Rafale include the most advanced radar, helmet mounted sight, superior avionics, electronic warfare and weapon systems which will provide IAF with better offensive, defensive and long range capabilities.

A high reliability factor and ability to operate in the most adverse situation with reasonable amount of success makes this a preferred aircraft for all kinds of future operations. Rafale is the most modern fighter aircraft to be inducted into the IAF and it will give the IAF unquestionable edge over its adversaries.

The induction of our indigenous LCA Tejas, forming a new squadron for IAF, was the big news last year. As a most distinguished field Commander–a Commanding Officer of a frontline ground attack fighter squadron that created history up there in Kargil, a fighter pilot with flying experience across the entire spectrum of fighter aircraft in India, and a flying instructor par excellence–how would you describe the outstanding features of the Tejas aircraft? How is the progress of the project?

LCA is a modern and state-of-the-art combat aircraft. LCA along with its variants, once fully operationalized, will enhance IAF capabilities in Light Combat Aircraft category. IAF has been actively supporting the LCA development plan. Induction of LCA is critical in arresting the drawdown of IAF’s fighter fleet. Further, development of LCA will also usher Indian Aerospace industries to a highly complex and technology intensive field of combat aircraft. 

How about the plans for more attack helicopters, heavy lift helicopters and Force enhancers?

IAF has signed contracts for procurement of Apache attack helicopters and Chinook Heavy Lift Helicopters. Induction of these helicopters will commence in next two years. Apart from induction of Apache Attack Helicopters, Govt has also granted Acceptance of Necessity for procurement of limited series production of Light Combat Helicopters which are being indigenously manufactured by HAL.

Indigenous AEW&C aircraft are likely to be inducted into IAF shortly and a case for procurement of additional AWACS aircraft is at the final stages of approval.

Could you tell us more about accretion – plans for state-of-the-art inductions, new acquisitions, upgrading vintage weapons platforms and air defence radars?

The Indian Air Force is continuously enhancing its capabilities across the entire spectrum of current and envisaged roles. Towards this, contracts have already been signed for procurement of Rafale aircraft, Heavy Lift Helicopters, Attack Helicopters and additional C-130 aircraft. Case for procurement of additional AWACS is at advanced stage for approval of contract. Also, the increase in the existing fighter aircraft strength is planned through induction of remaining contracted Su-30 MKI, LCA and other suitable fighter aircraft planned to be manufactured in the country. We are also upgrading our existing fleet of Mirage 2000, MiG-29, Jaguar, Mi-17, An-32 and IL-76/78 with modern avionics and systems. IAF is in the process of acquiring additional force enablers and advanced weapon systems which include Air-to-Air and Air-to-Ground weapons. Short, Medium and Long Range Surface-to-Air Missile systems, as well as various RADARS to provide adequate multi-layered Air Defence cover to the country are also being inducted. Further, with Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) being expanded to cover the entire nation including Island territories, IAF is progressing towards Network Centric Operations.

How do you propose to equip the IAF to deter sub-conventional threats and enhancing aerospace safety in the country?

While the aim is to maintain a combat ready professional Air Force to meet any external threat, enhancing the security of Air Bases, VAs and VPs is also at the apex of our thrust areas. Having assessed our vulnerabilities and shortcomings, post the terrorist attack on AF Stn Pathankot, we have embarked on a two pronged approach to further our security against a possible ‘Fidayeen’ attack on our VAs & VPs. On the one hand we are upgrading the Air Field security at all bases by installing high technology Integrated Perimeter Security System, while simultaneously commencing specialised training of IAF personnel to counter  terrorist attacks. Our aim is to embrace technology and both equip and train existing Air Warriors to effectively detect and thwart any kind of sub-conventional attack on our assets.

Every aircraft accident in the IAF is followed by an investigation by a Court of Inquiry and subsequent remedial measures instituted are based on the findings and recommendations. The Indian Air Force has taken various measures to reduce aircraft accidents. These measures relate to invigoration of Aerospace Safety Organization, streamlining of accident/ incident reporting procedures and to carry out analytical studies and quality audits of the aircraft fleet to identify vulnerable areas and recommend remedial measures.  Induction of contemporary simulators of all aircraft will significantly reduce human piloting errors.

IAF maintains a close liaison with the Original Equipment Manufacturers while conducting technical inquiries on accidents/ incidents so as to promptly introduce remedial measures in equipment or maintenance practices. Towards mitigating the risk from bird strikes IAF has revamped anti bird measures keeping with the local conditions. Ornithology Cell established at Air HQ specifically monitor, study and recommend remedial measures to mitigate the risk from bird strikes. Solid Waste Management projects have been undertaken at major airfields to tackle bird menace. In addition, IAF has contracted for 72 microlite ac to enhance the ability for effective environmental monitoring and better bird hazard management.

How are the plans for modernization of airfield infrastructure progressing? Last year we heard about the upgrading of 8 ALGs. How about the next phase?

Modernisation of airfield infrastructure is being progressed as per plan. Infrastructure is being created to meet the requirements of new inductions and various weapon platforms. Existing infrastructure is being put into good use by modifications and upgradation. Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) Project is planned for execution in two phases. Contract for Phase-I encompassing 30 IAF airfields was signed with M/s Tata Power (SED) on 16 Mar 2011. 14 IAF airfields have already been commissioned and works are in progress in the remaining 16 airfields. Phase-I is planned to be completed in Dec 2017. Upgradation of airfield infrastructure at 22 IAF airfields is planned in MAFI Phase-II. The IAF is bolstering its defences in the Ladakh Sector as well and has plans to develop IAF airbases at suitable locations in this sector.  Eight ALGs were planned for development in North East Sector. Six ALGs have been operationalised as on 31 Dec 2016 and work is under progress for the remaining two. The ALGs of Passighat, Along, Walong, Mechuka, Tuting and Ziro have been operationalised. Offer has been made to MoCA to plan civil operations from these ALGs as ‘Joint Users’ to enhance connectivity in the North East Region.

The IAF has made a huge commitment for supporting the Make in India initiative – with regard to indigenous production combat aircraft, helicopters, weapon sensors and systems and other aviation equipment. What are the prospects?

Procurement of Defence Equipment from indigenous sources is foremost commitment and a major priority of IAF. We firmly believe that indigenisation reduces dependence on external agencies, offers better product support and leads to economic growth of the Nation. IAF has always encouraged development of indigenous defence production capability and capacities. Our endeavour is towards self-sufficiency through focused, sustained and evolved indigenisation programmes. Our future procurements are aimed at acquiring certain core technologies and developing an ecosystem for manufacturing high tech defence equipment in India thereby ensuring that our indigenous defence industry grows.

Defence Sector is being opened up to private industry and foreign OEMs are being encouraged to set up their manufacturing centres in India through joint ventures. Government is also trying to boost defence production in fields of Fighter aircraft, Helicopters and other weapon systems with involvement of Strategic Partners.

Now that we have women fighter pilots, how about new vistas and more scope for women empowerment in the IAF?

Women pilots were first inducted in 1991 in the helicopter and transport aircraft streams and now they are being inducted in the fighter stream as well. Nothing can be more empowering than women joining the combat force as fighter pilots.  As of now we have three women fighter pilots who are undergoing advanced training and we hope to see more of them in the years to come. Women officers in the IAF have managed all roles with equal aplomb. Our women helicopter pilots have also displayed their flying skills by participating in the Sarang Aerobatic Team in ‘Aero India’ at Bengaluru and also successfully executing relief and evacuation operations.

How do you assess the increasing need for expanding our strategic reach—by way of more joint exercises with other forces abroad and more commitments in the line of Humanitarian Aid and Distress Relief Operations?

With percolation of technology in all spheres of activities, conflict dynamics are fast changing. Rather than purely military force on force threat, our threat analysis includes various facets.  All issues which negatively impact on our national objectives come in this category.  Military capabilities of all our neighbours are well known.  Scenarios that could play out in near future with use of military force are directly or indirectly assessed. 

Our capability development plan is continuously reviewed to factor in these realities. Our current force levels are below the desired state; but we have optimized our force application plans with existing resources to protect our national interests. With implementation of our acquisition plans, this capability will systematically improve. We are a technology intensive organisation and skill development in aviation is a long drawn process. 

Our major challenge has always been to synchronise these two elements for optimum results. As a result of our critical self analysis we as an organisation are focusing on processes rather than events. Our operational capability is dependent on five verticals namely equipment, training, procedures, infrastructure and force application based on knowledge and in-depth analysis. Our capability at any instance is governed by the vertical least developed. Therefore, our endeavour is to keep all verticals moving up in sync. We are aggressively pursuing our acquisitions and simultaneously changing training philosophy and operational procedures to exploit our equipment profile fully.  While infrastructure is being developed on ground to assist aerospace operations, minds are being trained for requisite force applications for holistic capability development.

Can we expect to see more exciting operations like the touch-and-go operations exhibited on the Lucknow- Agra Express Highway?

MoD and MoRT&H have formed an inter-ministerial coordination group to oversee this project. We have identified a number of locations throughout the country and NHAI has been extremely cooperative and forthcoming to complete this strategic task. These locations would serve as operating surfaces during emergencies and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief operations. The State Govts have responded with great enthusiasm to this project and rendered necessary assistance wherever it is required.