IAF should induct the MRCA by 2014, says Air Chief
By Gulshan Luthra and Air Marshal Ashok Goel (Retd)
Published : February 2009
New Delhi. The Indian Air Force (IAF) will begin flight trials of all the six competing Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) within the next few months with a timeline to induct them latest by end-2014.
Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal F H Major told India Strategic on the eve of Aero India that he was expecting the procedural clearance from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) within a couple of months and the flight trials should begin soon after. The process was on schedule, and knowing that it would take three years to acquire them after the agreement with the winner was made, IAF was keen to complete the process as soon as possible in a transparent way.
Air Chief Marshal Major said that there was no credence to the rumours that the approximately $10 billion acquisition would be divided into two competitors. “Our plan is to use Su-30 MKIs, MRCAs, Tejas, upgraded Mirage-2000 and Mig-29 as well as Jaguar aircraft.”
In about 10 years, IAF should also have manned Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) produced jointly with Russia.
The interview was held also to mark the Third Anniversary of India Strategic.
India is a Huge Market with huge Offset Opportunities
Air Chief Marshal Major said that India was a huge defence market now with combined orders from the Army, Navy and Air Force estimated to touch $100 billion during the current five year plan (ending 2012) while in the aerospace sector itself, the value of acquiring aircraft, sensors, satellites, ground support systems, precision weapons and the host of other systems that form the backbone of an air power would cost another $ 100 billion over an estimated 20-year period.
The Indian market is a tremendous opportunity for the foreign and Indian industry.
Offsets at 30 percent for combined projects – or $30 billion within the next five years and another $30 more in the Aerospace sector in about 20 years – Transfer of Technology (ToT), Indigenization, all these would help in forging and strengthening industrial partnerships to mutual advantage, he said adding that “he expected the foreign and Indian companies participating in the Aero India 2009 to fully appreciate this huge opportunity.”
Air Chief Marshal Major said that IAF had been able to arrest the depleting number of its aircraft, thanks to the increased and continuous production of SU-30 MKIs and acquisition of the latest and hi-tech precision engagement and other modern force multiplier systems.
By 2020-22, he observed, IAF should have 42 squadrons of a very potent fighting force, deployed evenly both in the East and West. At present, there are more aircraft in the western sectors.
The Air Chief, who had said at the recent National Seminar on Aerospace Technologies (N-SAT) held by India Strategic that IAF was “under a process of Transformation,” disclosed that the first of the three Phalcon AWACS (Airborne Warning and Control Systems Aircraft) from Israel would be delivered in March.
With AWACS, a dozen-plus tethered Aerostats, dedicated satellites and net connectivity, midair refuelers, a new set of combat and heavy lift helicopters, new short takeoff transport aircraft, and supporting infrastructure, IAF was steadily moving towards “a quantum jump in our operational capabilities.”
“The entire force would be networked for seamless operations,” he said adding that it would not matter who was where for every one would see the picture that he or she would be supposed to see.
All IAF aircraft and ground stations would know where they and their friends are, thanks to the Data Links for situational awareness being installed on IAF aircraft. Midair refueling capability on all combat jets has also been activated.
He described the SU-30 MKI as an “extremely capable aircraft with an amazing array of possibilities” with “state-of-the-art components” from various sources. IAF had acquired all the aircraft it had contracted with Russia, and HAL was now producing the aircraft “at the maximum possible rate” to complete delivery of a total of 230 aircraft.
Service Support Centres (SSCs) for these and other aircraft were being set up all over the country to ensure that IAF assets were available for maximum possible utilization.
Periodic upgrades in the aircraft’s sensors and weapons were already planned to ensure their air dominance role.
The Air Chief mentioned the AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radars for their jump in sensor performance and reliability, pointing out that overall, “IAF would have the capability to dominate the required airspace for the specified time period.”
“It involves the employment of potent combat platforms, armed with long range sensors and BVR (Beyond the Visual Range) missiles, along with requisite Electronic warfare and Precision Strike capability. The range and reach would be enhanced by utilizing air-to-air refueling. Command and Control would be exercised by airborne AWACS in coordination with other airborne and ground-based sensors like Aerostats and high-powered radars.
“The size and composition of the composite package would depend on the target system, the threat envisaged and many other tactical considerations.”
IAF’s Mirage-2000, Mig-29s and Jaguars were also being upgraded with state-of-the-art systems, some of which would be specific to MRCAs, so as to ensure data integration and night capability.
“The upgrade programmes focus on equipping the aircraft with newer radars and sensors, advanced weapons, faster and more capable mission computers, newer navigation systems incorporating the latest in Ring Laser Gyros and INGPS technologies.”
As for replacement of older aircraft, Air Chief Marshal Major said that there would “always be some assets being phased out, upgraded or inducted, at any given time. (More than 100) Mig-21 had already been upgraded to Bison standard, which is an extremely capable platform, and surprised some of the foreign participants in international exercises. The Mig-27 has also been upgraded.”
“We will continue to fly and upgrade aircraft which have relevant operational life remaining.”
Asked how would he define the roles of newer aircraft like FGFA, SU-30 MKI, MRCA and India’s Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, he said that “aircraft today are capable of a wide variety of roles and are not usually designed for specific or limited roles, as used to be earlier. To illustrate, the SU-30 MKI can be used as an air dominance fighter, for precision night strike, for gathering electronic intelligence (ELINT), or even as an air-to-air buddy refueler. Their operational deployment would depend on the prevalent situation.”
Significantly, in the next 10 to 15 years, he expected the IAF to develop into a credible strategic force with the ability to deliver aerospace power, wherever required, in whatever form, as directed by the national leadership.
“We would exploit space-based assets to dominate the conduct of operations, executed in real time, and achieved through robust and responsive Command Control Networks. We would have the potential to transport men or material, through airlift and heli-lift, providing immense flexibility to the commanders. The IAF will attain and maintain a credible capability across the entire spectrum, and that display will (also) ensure deterrence.”
Asked to elaborate the “Overall Transformation” that he had mentioned at the N-SAT seminar, Air Chief Marshal Major said: “A large number of projects of a very wide variety are presently underway and would achieve completion with the next decade. Almost every facet of our capability is being systematically addressed, that will cumulatively provide us with a quantum jump in our overall capability to deliver aerospace power.”
By 2022, all the important modernization plans for IAF would be over but the results of the ongoing process, he pointed out, would be visible from the middle of the next decade itself. He was satisfied at the pace of the process, he said.
The younger generation of pilots were also being trained accordingly, and to cater to the “extremely complex operational environment” and the “changing demands of the new environment,” knowledge of the pilots would be refreshed periodically and newer and newer aids like simulators would be inducted with increased pace of exercises
.The newly inducted Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) aircraft would be playing an important role as “appropriate lead-in trainers to the modern fleet of combat aircraft.”
Air Chief Major said that space-based assets increased the ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) capabilities tremendously.
IAF had plans for own satellites to act as its eyes in the sky, and that would help in extending the reach and power of its combat units. Space played an important role in the civil life in communications; for an air power, space-based assets were vital for connectivity and ISR.
With the country’s increasing maritime interests including trade, and area of responsibility, space was playing an important role for IAF.
UAVs and UCAVs
The Air Chief described UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or pilotless Drones) and UCAVs (Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles) as “very versatile platforms with immense possibilities.
“UAVs have been integrated into our operational loop and we look forward to acquiring newer capabilities and payloads. UCAVs are very cost-effective platforms and would be acquired in due course of time.”
He also indicated that the IAF was working towards indigenous capability in rotary UAVs in collaboration with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).
The Air Chief Marshal gave a clear picture of the Missile programme of the Indian Air Force for the first time, both air to air and surface to air.
Fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force are being equipped with “a number of modern air to air missiles of different capabilities.”
As for air defence, he said that IAF had placed orders for two squadrons of the indigenous Akash (or Sky) Missile Systems, constituting four firing units with four launchers each. These would be delivered within two years.
“We have also placed an order for three squadrons of Spyder Quick Reaction Missiles (QRSAMs, from Israel) which will be in IAF service by 2011. Each Spyder squadron will have four firing units and each firing unit has four launchers.”
The process would continue as required.
Air Chief Marshal Major said that the IAF had to be technologically a highly sophisticated air power. Although numbers are always important, some of the depletion due to non-acquisition in the past several years had been made up with newer technologies already. And that has been proved in exercises with air forces of other countries. In the Red Flag exercise in August 2008 for instance, IAF SU-30 MKIs were deployed far, far away and in the day and night exercise with US and other aircraft, “our pilots matched their counterparts.”
New technologies and force multipliers are needed to refine IAF’s operational efficiency, he said adding: Besides the acquisition of most capable combat assets available, we are laying down a robust secure network that will integrate all our sensors, weapons and Operations Centres so as to reduce the decision cycle and make our air and space operations responsive and effective.”
He described force multipliers as “combat assets that enhance our capability.” Air to air refuelers, AWACS, Wide Body heavy lift transport aircraft, and a technology doctrine are force multipliers.
He pointed out that while DRDO and public sector undertakings like HAL, BEML, BEL had played an important role, overall, India has had “the disadvantage of being left out of the early years of aerospace development and industrialization.”
The new Defence Procurement Procedures (DPPs) were designed to acquire talent and technology precisely towards building indigenous capabilities. Private industry is being encouraged now in the defence sector, but rather than attempting large scale indigenization, the industry “must develop expertise in niche capabilities.”
Air Chief Marshal Major said that he wanted to assure his “fellow countrymen that their Air Force is one of the finest in the world, and they can justifiably be proud of the capability and professionalism of its personnel.”