New Delhi: After Indian Army chief, Gen JJ Singh's recently concluded visit to the People's Republic of China, as the head of an inter-services delegation, it will soon be the turn of Indian Air Force chief, Air Chief Marshal (ACM), Fali Homi Major, to meet up with his Chinese counterpart, and others, during a visit to mainland China in August.
Prior to that visit, the air force chief will also be visiting the United Kingdom, to attend an engagement of the two air forces in a joint exercise. The exercise will be a follow up to the one held last year at Gwalior, in India, between the Royal Air Force and the Indian Air Force.
In an interview with a national daily, the air chief spoke of plans to strengthen India's standing in the international airpower arena. The ACM said that the IAF had started upgrading its combat aircraft fleet over the last few years in order to enhance its operational capability. "While the MiG-21, MiG-27 and Jaguar aircraft have already been upgraded, the upgrade of Mirage-2000 and MiG-29 is being planned."
He further said, "The upgrade is essentially on the radar, avionics and weapon systems. Contracts for upgrade of the Su-30 MKI aircraft, as per provisions of the initial contract for the Su-30K, have been concluded."
Touching upon other topics affecting the air force the ACM said that not only have all IAF airfields "been offered for joint civil-military use, but watch-hours at airfields, like Pune and Gwalior, have been extended beyond normal timings to meet the demands of scheduled civil flights are operating."
On a number of occasions, he said, the IAF had deputed its ATC controllers, fire-fighters and other support staff at various civil aerodromes, whenever such requirements were projected by the AAI to meet various contingencies.
As for service conditions, the ACM pointed out, "It is a known fact that the wages in the private sector are increasing annually by 12-15%, whereas the pay package in the Armed Forces is not keeping pace with such an increase. The Sixth Pay Commission has been constituted and the recommendations of the Services have been projected. The defence minister AK Antony has also expressed his views on the subject supporting the proposals."
On another contentious issue of a larger number of higher service ranks for all the three services, the ACM said that service-specific proposals have been submitted to the ministry of defence as per directions from the chief of staff committee.
MRCA and other contracts…
According to ACM Major, the IAF is processing matters related to the acquisition of 126 medium range multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), 40 (fast-track) Su-30MKI and 20 LCA in IOC configuration from HAL. The procurement of 126 MMRCA is not only a very big deal, he said, but also a very complex project, as very capable aircraft of European, Russian and US origin were in the fray. This involved a thorough scrutiny of matters related to transfer of technology, transparency of the selection criteria, maintainability aspects etc.
The IAF was also processing a case for the procurement of 80 medium-lift helicopters to supplement the existing Mi-17 helicopter fleet and 12 helicopters for VVIP role, for which technical evaluation of the proposals has been completed.
New acquisitions were also underway to address the issue of force level depletions, he added. In this regard he pointed out that though technological advancements and better capabilities could not act as a replacement for numbers, the induction of highly capable aircraft like the Su-30 MKI and force-multipliers like in-flight refueling tankers, aerostat radars, and the soon to be inducted AWACS, would counter force depletion to a certain extent.