Enhancing Air Defence Power of India
To boost the Indian Air Force’s capabilities, the Cabinet Committee of Security (CCS), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved to procure 83 LCA Tejas Mk1A aircraft from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). Along with this, there is a proposal to acquire 21 MiG-29 aircraft and 12 Sukhoi-30 MkI aircraft from Russia. The existing fleet of the IAF also requires an upgrade, and talks are going on with the Russian Defence establishment for the same. In a show of solidarity and strengthening each other’s capabilities, the Indian Air Force conducted a joint exercise with French Air Force in Jodhpur, known as Desert Knight 2021. The exercise involved showcasing Indian and French Rafale fighter jets.
Indian Air Force is currently working with around 30 squadrons of aircraft. To tackle a two-front attack from adversaries on our northern borders, there is a need to add to IAF squadrons’ strength. The requirement put forward by IAF is that of 42 squadrons. Recent procurements like that of LCA Tejas Mk1A will require time to be inducted. For example, it is estimated that the first LCA Tejas Mk1A will come into IAF inventory by 2024.
Moreover, IAF has also to deal with depleting aircraft of existing squadrons because of phased de-induction. Hence to keep up with the requirements, IAF has to keep its serviceability up, and for this, extra money has been released by the government under the Emergency Relief Fund. Before the squadron goes up, IAF has to conserve its resources.
Air Force has to work through 3 verticals to build its capabilities. The first is through the optimization of aircraft. India was to acquire LCA Tejas way back in the 1990s, but this proposal came to force only by 2013. To make up with the lost time and degrading aircraft, there is a need to optimize the existing squadrons. Secondly, the management and control system of the air force should be enhanced. To get its eye in the sky, IAF has developed Integrated Air Command and Control System. Thirdly, IAF needs to develop its ground-based air defense capability.
The existing Akash missile system, AWACS, Netra, etc., provide enhanced power to the IAF. Moreover, the procurement of the S-400 missile system from Russia and the digitization of missiles will provide a shot in the arm to the IAF.
In keeping with the spirit of the Atmanirbhar Bharat policy of the Government of India, the defense establishment will indigenize its resources. IAF is in talks with companies like Airbus and Boeing for the Transfer of Technology of aircraft to develop an indigenous fleet. In order to increase its stature in the World order, India cannot afford to depend upon imports for its defense capabilities. Moreover, the requirements of the armed forces cannot be met entirely with buying only. As India opts for indigenous development of aircraft, this will help develop ecosystems of the entire production line. There will be a requirement of skilled manpower and resources to create a supply chain and integrate logistics. This will help create employment through various MSMEs and contribute to economic development. For example, to develop LCA Tejas Mk1A aircraft, HAL remains the entire supply chain’s lead integrator and producing partners. India is going for indigenous production through a strategic partnership program. The Defence Corridors being developed will also bring in investments from outside and help make the country Atmanirbhar vis-à-vis defense equipment.
The current plight of the defense sector, where it has to wait for modern technology laden equipment while dealing with existing resources’ falling standards, is due to long-term neglect. Time and cost overruns have held us back regarding resources. The country’s project management is not up to the mark and has to cross numerous hurdles before going on the floor. To modernize our defense system and provide the latest, advanced designs to our aircraft, manufacturing and project support is needed. The timeline of product delivery should be met to avoid delays. The system should also provide timely clearance as the defense is a subject that can only be compromised at our peril. The efficiency of the indigenous companies should be enhanced. Diversifying the production towards the private sector as has been done with respect to K-9 Vajra Artillery System produced by L&T defense should be emphasized.
Academically, Aerospace science should be promoted so that many youngsters can opt for it. We can get our engineers and technicians to develop innovative designs in the country itself. Its high time that the government, along with the IAF, cut out, cost out, and turn out quality to fulfill the needs of IAF. Innovation, Indigenization, Integration, Enhancement in Efficiency – all these, when added, can provide a boost to IAF so that it can purely “Touch the Sky with Glory.”