‘China building airfields in high altitude but they have huge penalty of high altitude’
It is not possible for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to reach the sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons in the next 10-15 years and the force will remain at 35 squadrons, given the current phaseouts and inductions, according to Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal (ACM) V.R. Chaudhari.
Addressing the annual press conference on Tuesday ahead of the Air Force Day on October 8, he said that deliveries of the S-400 Surface to Air Defence (SAM) systems from Russia were on track, but cautioned that SAM systems could not be a replacement for fighter jets.
“The four squadrons of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) TEJAS MK-1A, six squadrons of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and six Medium Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA), and then factoring in the phaseout, it will remain at 35 squadrons in the next decade. There is no scope for increment as of now,” he stated.
The Force has an authorised strength of 42 fighter squadrons to tackle a twin threat from China and Pakistan.
Responding to questions, he remarked that the first S-400 regiment should be inducted within this year. Asked if the requirement of fighter jets could be offset by the long range S-400, he observed that one shouldn’t make a balance here because the S-400 or any other SAM system were defensive weapon systems. “We need a balance of strike aircraft which can penetrate deep into enemy territory to deliver ordnance.”
Elaborating on force modernisation, he disclosed the last four MiG-21 squadrons would be phased out in the next four years. Owing to the draw down of the MiG-21s, and the Jaguars, Mirage-2000 and MiG-29s going out by the end of decade, the accretion plan was mainly based on firstly the 83 TEJAS MK-1A, for which the contract was signed last year and deliveries would commence by 2024.
“We are fully committed to the AMCA programme, for which an ambitious timeline has been set by DRDO themselves. The AMCA will roll out well before the end of this decade. We hope to start inducting the AMCA by the early years of next decade,” he stressed. However, to mitigate the gap in fighter squadrons and the combat capabilities, the Request For Information (RFI) for 114 MRFA was floated. “The RFI were received and we are now awaiting to move the case up further”, he noted.
China, Pak Cooperation
On the military cooperation between China and Pakistan, he remarked that their only concern was “dissemination of information of western tactics and technology which passes hands from Pakistan to China… We are prepared to handle a two-front contingency”.
On China’s continued military and infrastructure build-up along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), he pointed out that China continued its deployment at three airbases in the Tibet region. “We’re fully prepared to deal with any situation. We need to keep in mind that while they have built airfields and hardened their shelters, they have the huge penalty of high altitude. That will be a weak area for them.”
Reiterating the IAF’s full commitment to integration among the Services, he emphasised that joint planning and execution of operations by the three Services would result in a maximum increase in the net combat capability.
On formation of integrated theatre commands, he reiterated, “Theaterisation needs to be done keeping in mind future warfare. Should be synchronised. Doctrines and strength of each service need to be kept in mind.”