In a significant move, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has decided to go in for Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAVs).
Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi told the latest issue of India Strategic magazine that the IAF had "completed" its planned induction of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) required for surveillance and it was now moving towards the armed UCAVs for offensive roles.
"We do not have them yet, but in due course we need to acquire them due to the emerging symmetric and asymmetric threats," the air chief said in the interview.
He did not give details but said the IAF was aiming at precision delivery of weapons to minimise collateral damage on the one hand and to maximise destruction of a target on the other, on all its aircraft whether manned or unmanned. The UCAVs, armed with precision weapons, would enhance that capability.
An advantage of the pilotless UCAVs is that they can loiter around on routine patrols. Once their cameras or sensors detect an already programmed threat, or if they are directed towards a perceived threat, they can immediately engage it and neutralise it.
Whatever the type of war or hostilities, the IAF's endeavour would be to reduce the "Sensor-to-Shooter" time, and that is where the UCAV capability would play a big role, the air chief said.
UAVs carry only cameras and sensors to detect movement of aircraft, vehicles and men.
An air force, he observed, is the first to engage a threat. Whether it is aircraft, sensors, missiles or UAVs/UCAs being inducted or considered by the IAF, Air Headquarters had one objective in mind: air dominance.
An advance copy of the interview, being published in India Strategic, has been made available to the sources.
Air Chief Marshal Tyagi also disclosed that the IAF had "completed" its induction of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) "on schedule."
"The IAF has operationalised its UAV systems" which "are being employed to carry out a variety of missions". In fact, he added, IAF has been using the UAVs for some time and "it is now in the process of integrating them with various combat platforms to help generate a common picture and to reduce the sensor-to-shooter time."
The integration of the IAF's assets, through net centricity and advanced communications, including through space, would multiply the force's punch manifold.
Air Chief Marshal Tyagi said that any threat to the country was to be tackled by all the three services. Accordingly, steps were under way to share and complement one another's resources.
It may be noted that all the three services - the army, the navy and the air force - were using UAVs, which were all procured from Israel. Commonality of platforms makes them cheaper and easier to maintain.
But if trends at the recent Farnborough air show are an indicator, various firms from the US and Britain are also offering UAVs to India, particularly as their requirement is bound to grow in the coming years.
Although not cheap, a UAV or UCAV is expendable, unlike a combat jet that has to be manned by an experienced pilot.
As for space, Air Chief Marshal Tyagi said that while the IAF was keen on an Aerospace Command as a natural progression of its assets, the subject was still under discussion among the three services.
"Single ownership is not cost-effective. Space assets will be Indian... We will use them, they will use them.
"We are finalising arrangements with the army and navy for building and sharing space assets. Once the discussions are over, an (inter-service) proposal would be forwarded to the ministry of defence for implementation."
"Use of space is important," he added, pointing out that the IAF had created a space cell for the first time, and that "steps have been, and are being, implemented for net centric and space-enabled force enhancement capabilities towards real time management of battle space and integration of aerial and ground assets."
Air Vice Marshal DC Kumaria heads the Space Cell.
Air Chief Marshal Tyagi said the IAF had adopted an incremental approach and was likely to recommend the setting up of an independent body called Aerospace Group, "ultimately evolving into an Aerospace Command which, I believe, should have a tri-service structure."
Notably, all the three services are looking for their own satellites, although with clear-cut integration of space assets.