Centre names Air Marshal VR Chaudhari as next IAF chief
New Delhi: The Union government on Tuesday announced that Air Marshal Vivek Chaudhari will take over as the next chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF) after Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria retires on September 30.
Chaudhari is currently serving as IAF’s vice chief.
The government has followed the seniority principle in appointing Chaudhari to the top job. He will be most senior IAF officer the day Bhadauria retires. An experienced pilot, Chaudhari has logged more than 3,800 hours of flying on a variety of fighter planes such as MiG-21, MiG-29 and Sukhoi-30.
He also flew air defence missions during the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan.
He was commissioned into the air force’s fighter stream in December 1982. Before taking charge of his current appointment as vice chief, Chaudhari was the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the operationally critical Western Air Command (WAC). He commanded WAC at a time when the IAF was inducting its new Rafale fighter jets at Ambala, and operationalising them at the earliest was a top priority amid the border row with China in the Ladakh sector.
He earlier held the appointment of IAF deputy chief at the Air Headquarters in Delhi and steered a raft of key procurements to sharpen IAF’s combat edge.
As deputy chief, he was closely associated with the Rafale programme -- he was the head of the bilateral high-level group monitoring the progress of the fighter jet project in France.
He has commanded important fighter bases in his military career including a front-line base in Kashmir.
Chaudhari will take over the top job at a critical time -- the armed forces are working out the details of the theaterisation model to best utilise the military’s resources, and he will also oversee several key projects to sharpen the IAF’s combat potential.
“He has his work cut out for him and I am sure he will do a great job,” said former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali Major (retd).
The current theaterisation model, which has the full backing of the government, seeks to set up four new integrated commands for synergy in operations -- two land-centric theatres, the Air Defence Command, and the National Maritime Theatre Command.
The air force has had some reservations about the model that came out in the open in July, when Bhadauria argued at an event that it was critical to first get the structure right. Speaking separately at the same event, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat gave out details of the theaterisation plan and brushed aside IAF’s reservations.
Asset split, leadership and dilution of the powers of the chiefs are key concerns for the IAF on the theaterisation move, as previously reported by HT.
Chaudhari takes over months ahead of the scheduled induction of a key weapons system being imported from Russia to strengthen India’s air defence architecture. India is set to begin the induction of the S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems ordered from Russia for ₹39,000 crore in October 2018. India is buying five S-400 missile systems capable of destroying a variety of aerial threats, including enemy fighter jets and missiles, at a range of 400km, with the first deliveries expected by the year-end.
Chaudhari’s appointment also comes at a time when the indigenous (light combat aircraft) Mk-1A jet project is set to enter a critical phase. State-run plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has set a March 2022 deadline to carry out the first flight of the fighter jet.
In February 2021, the defence ministry awarded a ₹48,000 crore contract to HAL for 83 LCA Mk-1A jets for the IAF. The first Mk-1A aircraft will be delivered to the air force by March 2024, with the rest slated to join its combat fleet by 2029.
Also, the government recently cleared some key projects that are expected to make progress during Chaudhari’s term as IAF chief. Earlier this month, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) cleared the much-delayed purchase of 56 C-295 medium transport aircraft to replace the IAF’s ageing fleet of Avro-748 planes. The C-295 project is estimated to be worth ₹22,000 crore.
CCS also cleared a Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) proposal to develop new airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) aircraft for the IAF using Airbus jets bought from Air India. The project is estimated to be worth around ₹11,000 crore.