Pakistan's acquisition of additional F-16 combat jets is "an area of concern" as this would upset the balance of power in south Asia, the head of the Indian Air Force (IAF) said on Thursday.
Addressing a press conference in New Delhi ahead of the 74th IAF Day on Sunday, Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi spoke on a wide range of issues including the acquisition of additional aircraft, missiles and anti-missile systems, the creation of an Aerospace Command, and a controversy on whether or not the IAF should celebrate its platinum jubilee from October 8.
Speaking about the US decision to sell additional 36 F-16s to Pakistan and to upgrade its existing fleet of 32, Tyagi, who is known for calling a spade a spade, described this as "an area of concern".
"If the balance of power in the region changes then this has to be taken into account but I would not call it a worrisome development as some (in the media) are saying," he said.
"We keep a close watch on what is happening around us and alter our doctrines accordingly," Tyagi added.
His statement came a day after he attended a high-level meeting convened by Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi to consider Pakistan's growing military strength and India's response to this. It was noted at the meeting that the IAF's combat strength had come down to 34 against a sanctioned level of 39 due to the delay in floating tenders for 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA).
Responding to a question, Tyagi maintained that changes in India's defence procurement policy in 2005 and 2006 had caused a two-year delay but promised, "we are now pretty close to the baby being delivered".
His suggestion to Defence Minister Pranab Mukherjee that the process be fast-tracked has been shot down, but the air chief refused to comment on this, saying his communications on the issue were confidential.
Simultaneously, Tyagi painted a rosy picture of the IAF's planned acquisitions during 2007.
"We will be inducting the Hawk (advanced jet trainer) and the AWACS (airborne warning and control system). This is a very complex machine involving new techniques and new concepts.
"Then, there is the accelerated production of the SU-30 (frontline fighter that is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited—HAL—under Russian license) which means we can induct it at a much faster rate."
'We also will be getting six midair refuellers, 20 Jaguar (deep penetration strike aircraft) from HAL as also 20 LCAs (home-grown light combat aircraft). We also hope to get 80 medium-lift helicopters and more ALHs (indigenous advanced light helicopters)."
"This apart, we will be upgrading our Jaguar, Mig-27, MiG-29 and Mirage-2000 (fighters), as also the MI-17 (helicopters) and An-32 (medium-left transports)," he added.
Turning to missiles, Tyagi admitted that delays in the indigenously developed Akash surface-to-air air defence system had 'upset' plans to replace this with the ageing Russian Pechora rockets.
"The Pechora has seen better days. As an interim, we have zeroed in on the quick-reaction OSA missile that is now awaiting the CCS (cabinet committee on security) clearance. We should be able to sign the contract in a month or two," the air chief said.
"The other good news is that Akash finally looks like taking off. User trials should begin early next year and if they are successful, we should be able to induct the missile in about two years," Tyagi added.
Answering a question on the creation of an Aerospace Command, a move he has long advocated, he maintained that in the technology-driven world of the future, the Indian armed forces would have to increasingly rely on satellites to "detect the enemy, hit the enemy and conduct battle damage assessment after the hit".
"We are looking 20 years ahead. We have started thinking about not only creating assets in space but of protecting these assets from soft and hard kills. Ideally, these assets would have to function under a joint services command, even though the air force would be making maximum use of space," he said.
As to whether or not the IAF should celebrate its platinum jubilee from Oct 8, Tyagi said in a lighter vein that this had generated much heat.
"There were many views. Some said platinum jubilee meant different things to the British and the Americans. So I said that since Bollywood has the 75-week benchmark to judge a hit film, 75 years it will be for us and that was the end of the issue," Tyagi said amidst much mirth.