Capable of countering new-age Chinese jets, Rafale will give us edge: Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa
India is capable of countering new generation Chinese fighters and is creating new infrastructure on the border to boost capabilities, including a new fighter jet base in east Ladakh, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa tells Economic Times in a wide ranging interview. The air chief feels that the Make in India initiative will arm the air force against future threats and has confidence in the abilities of the private sector to deliver.
What is your assessment on the capability of the two fifth generation Chinese fighter jets?
We have some of the latest aircraft in our inventory positioned in our eastern sector to tackle our adversary’s air power. The Chinese 5th generation aircraft have just been tested out and it will take time for them to realise their full potential. Our air defence architecture is capable of detecting intrusions and have the requisite combat assets, ground and air to counter the threat from them. With the acquisition of the Rafale, our capability in terms of combat air assets will vastly improve and will be in a position to greatly increase the asymmetry in combat potential over the adversary. We are also in the process of building our capacities to acquire more state of art combat and combat support assets. A substantial portion of this would be procured through the ‘Make in India’ route.
What are the Air Force plans for augmentation of infrastructure in the border areas?
Our operational capability is dependent on equipment, training, procedures, infrastructure availability and plans based on our analysis of the adversary. We have quite a few bases in our eastern sector operating frontline squadrons. These bases are being modernised with the latest facilities to undertake fullscale operations. Special shelters are being build over these structures to provide for passive air defence and they are progressing at a fast pace. On the northern front, trial landings by transport aircraft have been carried out by our aircraft at Nyoma air base and its development into a fighter aircraft base is part of the IAF’s plan in the near future. India is looking at partnering a private player for a new fighter jet line under the Make in India plan.
What kind of technology is being looked at?
The main objective of Make in India initiative in aerospace sector is not only to manufacture these aircraft in the country but to harness key technologies essential for manufacturing defence equipment in the country. The technology capability transfer being sought is to enable us to unilaterally design develop and manufacture top of the line fighter aircraft in the country. This will have multiple spinoffs -technology infusion will boost the R&D sector, is likely to revive some of the stagnated design and development projects and will also assist in future fighter development programmes.
The air force has been looking at force enhancers. What mix of capability enhancers are planned in coming years?
We already have three AWACS aircraft on the IL-76 platform operational and a case for the procurement of two additional AWACS is at CCS (Cabinet Committee on Security) approval stage. The flight trials for indigenous AEW&C aircraft is in the final stages and the system is likely to be inducted soon. Apart from these, DRDO has chalked out a roadmap for development of indigenous AWACS on Airbus A330 platform and we expect the first two indigenous AWACS to be inducted in the IAF by 2025. IAF was pursuing the case for Flight Refueller Aircraft (FRA). After the withdrawal of RFP, we are now exploring available options in order to ensure that this critical capability is available to us in the earliest possible timeframe.
The Indian industry has some capacity to manufacture aerial bombs and other ammunition domestically, would the air force look at them as a source?
Procurement of weapons has a recurring cost and indigenisation in the field of weapons is one of the priorities of IAF. IAF is closely involved in design and development of weapons undertaken by DRDO and we also carry out flight trials of all these weapons. We have identified certain weapons that can be designed and manufactured by the private sector. One criticism is that the F-16 jets being offered to India are similar to the ones being operated by Pakistan. Is this a matter of concern? At present, there is no case for procurement of the F-16 aircraft under process. However, the F-16 jets offered to India during the bids for 126 MMRCA were more advanced than the versions being operated by PAF. There are significant differences in the two variants and the one offered to India by Lockheed Martin have superior capabilities. This was not a matter of concern during the selection process.