Future of Military Aviation and Indian Air Force
IAF is an Emerging Power
By Gulshan Luthra and Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd)
Published : October 2008
New Delhi. What will be future of air power, and that of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the coming years?
This is a question concerning the strategic analysts, defence industry, and of course, the actual practitioners of air power – those in the air force.
With this in mind, India Strategic held a two-day conference, the first National Seminar on Aerospace Technologies (N-SAT) September 25-26, and in the formal and on-thesidelines discussions, the participants agreed on a mixed use of advanced manned and unmanned aircraft.
The emphasis was also on long and longer range missiles in the coming years to ensure a much-beyond the visual range kill of an enemy, and one’s own survival in terms of men and platforms.
The Chief of Air Staff of the Indian Air Force, Air Chief Marshal F H Major, set the ball rolling with his inaugural address, declaring: The last couple of decades have been marked by a number of new emergent technologies which have changed the way operations will be conducted.
These have and will continue to have, far reaching effects on the way we do our business. It is fittingly appropriate that we take stock of the emergent technologies, the requirements of the Indian Air Force, the capability of the Indian Defence Industry and plan out the strategy ahead.
IAF’s Vice Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal P V Naik, observed that the Indian defence industry and organizations like the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) needed to visualize what the future technologiescould be like. He agreed that a body like the US DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), or Boeing’s Phantom Works and Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works should be set up in India.
There was none at the moment, he lamented, adding that IAF would support this idea. Both the Chief and Vice Chief emphasized the importance of technology, and pointed out that the IAF was networking all its assets to make the maximum possible and timely use of its aircraft, systems and weapons. Secure net-centricity was the key in today’s and tomorrow’s air warfare, they said.
Air Marshal Naik said that the IAF had operated for the first time in a totally networked environment in the Red Flag Exercise in the US in August. There were 80 aircraft at any given time, day or night, from four countries with AWACs control, hostile radar and simulated missiles. “Our pilots stood out exceptionally well.”
The Chief and the Vice Chief also indicated that the IAF would have mix of manned and unmanned assets in the visible future.
While observers in the US say that after the Lockheed Martin’s 5th generation F 35 there would be no more manned aircraft, India should get its 5th generation aircraft only by 2016-17. While the joint project with Russia was on, IAF was looking at both manned and unmanned missions, although the number of unmanned sorties would increase gradually as and when required, Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal N A K Brown said on the sidelines of the seminar.
Deputy National Security Advisor Shekhar Dutt indicated the thinking of the Government of India when he said in his valedictory address that India needed a “High-end Capability” air force and that “in the development of Air Power one has to look ahead and not at what has gone by.”
As a civil servant, Mr Dutt has spent long years in the Ministry of Defence as a Joint Secretary, Secretary Defence Production, and finally Defence Secretary.
In fact, he is regarded as the author of the Offsets Policy that has become mandatory now for all major defence deals that India signs with major companies from across the world.
Indian Army’s Additional Director General, Perspective Planning, Maj Gen A K Singh outlined the growth of the Army Aviation in the coming years while Assistant Chief of Naval Staff (Air) Rear Adm V Shankar, emphasized the importance of technology in naval aviation.
Maj Gen Singh said that the Indian Army would be the biggest user or space based assets.
Rear Admiral Shankar observed that net-centricity would play a key role in linking ships and submarines not only with its own aircraft but also those of the air force.
The theme of the seminar was provided by the Conference Chairman and former Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi (Retd), who told us in an informal interaction that while dogfights would always be there perhaps, he would want the Indian Air Force pilots to shoot down a threat much before it has a chance of coming near them.
As the IAF Chief till last year, he had emphasized the acquisition of latest technologies like the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar, a capability which the IAF hopes to mount on all its aircraft one day.
Former President A P J Abdul Kalam, a space and missile scientist, delved into futuristic missiles, suggesting their developments indigenously. India had a talented pool of defence scientists.
He lauded the Indo-Russian BrahMos missile as an example of collaboration with other countries, pointing out that this supersonic missile was way ahead of any competition from anywhere in the world.
Dr Kalam suggested a virtual aeronautical grid between the user and partners, and expressed the hope that an Earth-Moon-Mars complex to exploit the nature’s resources for mankind would be a reality in not too distant a future.
He also said that IAF should aim to get about 100 indigenously built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and stressed on the need for lowcost aircraft, including 50-90 seat turbojets to operate from small airports without the need for costly instrumentation.
Dr Kalam set Vision, Mission and Realisation (VMR) as the three steps in aerospace development.
Dr Prahlada, Distinguished Scientists and Chief Controller in DRDO, said that the government realized the importance of advance technologies and that it was encouraging the Indian state-run and private industry to acquire the best of the technologies through joint ventures. In some cases, the Foreign Direct Investment (FDA) was selectively being raised from 26 per cent to 49 per cent.
The new rules were being devised in a way that everybody had a stake; the armed forces as a user and the industry as developers to make sure that a given project fructified and grew.
As for DRDO, Dr Prahlada said that from now on, it would take only large projects, and once a product or technology had been developed, it would be onpassed to the industry. The private sector was being encouraged and treated at the same level as the state-run corporates. Leading industrial powers as well as major MNCs were offering their best to India.
The N-SAT was supported by Boeing, Eurofighter, Rolls-Royce, Snecma and Samtel. Their representatives said that they supported the cooperation between the Indian and foreign defence industry.
President of Boeing Military Aircraft Chris Chadwick clearly said in a video message that his company would offer the best possible technology to India while Boeing’s Robert Gower and Vivek Lall elaborated some of the futuristic technologies in various fields from space to laser warfare and fighter aircraft like the F-18 Super Hornet which it has offered to India for its requirement of 126+ Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA).
Erwin Obermeier of Eurofighter, who has been associated with the development of this aircraft from its beginning, said that the four countries associated with this aircraft – Germany, Britain, Spain and Italy – had pools of cuttingedge technologies, and that they were willing to share them with India.
Paul Andre Chevrin of the French Snecma, which has been making engines for civil and military aircraft, elaborated on the cooperation already existing between India and his company, and delved into the future of aircraft engines. In the near future, he observed, they would look like more or less the same as the engines of today, but the challenge was to reduce their weight and consumption and get more power out of them.
Air Vice Marshal D C Kumaria, Assistant Chief of Air Staff (Ops - Space ) spoke on the importance of sensor-to-shooter time and the importance of precision missiles and weapons.
He showed a real-time footage of how an unmanned US aircraft picked six terrorists one by one after a persistent search and destroy mission in Afghanistan. Satellite connectivity played a key role in identifying and neutralizing the threats.
Air Vice Marshal Kumaria said that space was extremely useful for both civil and military purposes, and one day, it would be possible for aircraft to navigate seamlessly the world over using a network of satellites and ground stations.