Air Force ready to counter aggressive action: IAF chief
With disengagement between Indian and Chinese forces in eastern Ladakh turning out to be a challenging and sluggish process, Indian Air Force chief RKS Bhadauria on Wednesday asserted that the IAF was poised to counter any aggressive action by the neighbour even as defence minister Rajnath Singh asked the air force to stay prepared for any eventuality while addressing top commanders.
Singh said the swift deployment of the air force’s assets at forward locations in response to the current situation in eastern Ladakh “sent a strong message” to the adversary. He was addressing the IAF’s top brass on the opening day of a three-day commanders’ conference.
In his address, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria stressed on the need to focus on “the ability to handle situations at a short notice” to ensure a robust response.
The defence minister last week said the progress in negotiations with China should help resolve the border dispute but he “couldn’t guarantee to what extent the situation will be resolved”, underlining the complex nature of the disengagement process along the contested Line of Actual Control (LAC).
The disengagement process has barely made any progress after the last round of meeting between senior Indian and Chinese commanders on July 14, an official said on condition of anonymity.
Addressing top IAF commanders, the minister said the military needs to stay prepared for a collusive threat from China and Pakistan, people familiar with the developments said. The military is keeping a strict vigil on the western front to deter Pakistan from fishing in troubled waters and prevent what could turn out to be a two-front conflict.
The minister said the professional manner in which IAF conducted air strikes against a terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot last year, and the rapid deployment of IAF assets at forward locations in Ladakh sent a strong message to India’s adversaries.
Bhadauria said the IAF was fully prepared to counter short-term as well as strategic threats, and its units were “evenly poised” to counter any aggressive action by the adversary.
“The minister’s exhortation to the IAF to stay prepared for any eventuality has great importance in the present security environment. Air power has become the primary instrument of deterrence now and, as the IAF chief said, the air force would rise to the occasion if it comes to a shooting war,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
The defence minister said the country’s resolve to defend its sovereignty stood firm on the faith its people had in the military’s capability. He praised the IAF’s “proactive response” in bolstering its operational capabilities during the last few months, and assured the commanders that all requirements of the armed forces would be met.
The conference is taking place days ahead of the IAF inducting its first batch of five Rafale fighter jets imported from France at the Ambala air base on July 29.
The IAF could deploy its new Rafale fighters in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, where Indian and Chinese forces were locked in a tense border confrontation for weeks before a protracted process of disengagement began and is still ongoing.
India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases.
India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to plug gaps in the IAF’s combat capabilities.
The possible deployment of Rafale fighters in Ladakh could be discussed at the commanders’ conference where the air force brass is expected to focus on the border row with China, the IAF’s preparedness and new purchases that have to be made fast.
In the Ladakh sector, the IAF is projecting its capability to carry out day-and-night, all-weather combat missions, with front-line fighter jets, attack helicopters and multi-mission choppers getting airborne regularly for demanding missions from a forward base in the area.