Must expand fleet to counter China, Pakistan: IAF chief
China poses a significant challenge to the realisation of India’s strategic goals, while Pakistan has upgraded its combat aircraft fleet and forward airbases, the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief said on Wednesday, outlining key threats facing the country.
To counter these challenges, the IAF needs to rapidly modernise, expand its fleet and improve indigenous manufacturing capability, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said while addressing an event organised by the Centre for Air Power Studies.
“In my assessment, China possesses a more significant and long-term challenge to the realisation of India’s strategic goals,” he said.
China continues to display its economic and military might and its assertiveness is bound to grow, he said, adding this will increase “contestation and competition” in the economic domain. China will also try to tie India down by keeping the country engaged on the unsettled border, he said.
Beijing’s aggressive intent is most visible in the rapid enhancement of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force’s operational infrastructure, such as additional airfields in the Tibet Autonomous Region. China has also deployed air defence units, advanced aircraft and drones at these facilities, he said.
Force multipliers such as rocket and strategic forces are “redefining the contours of future warfare”, Chaudhari noted.
At the same time, India continues to be in a “no war no peace” situation on the border with Pakistan, which is unlikely to ditch its Kashmir-oriented strategy for the foreseeable future, the IAF chief said.
The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is equipping itself with advanced aircraft and upgrading air defence capabilities. It has also built up 24 main and forward operating bases and six satellite bases, and this provides it with greater flexibility to “influence battles across a large spectrum and larger volume of areas”, he said.
The Pakistani military has formulated a new concept of war fighting called “triple R” or rearticulate, reorganise and relocate. “Strategically, they are making a transition from fighting a predominantly defensive war to adapting a more aggressive approach for an offensive defence under the nuclear umbrella,” Chaudhari said.
For the IAF, all of this translates into a need for a higher counter-air effort to ensure minimum interference from the Pakistani side and to gain requisite control of the airspace, he contended.
The IAF needs to rapidly modernise, expand its fleet of combat aircraft and improve indigenous manufacturing capability, Chaudhari said. While budget will remain a constraint, the prioritisation of procurements for key combat elements becomes very critical. Training and equipment is needed to fight and win tomorrow’s war and India must not lose focus in attempt to distribute finances for the defence sector evenly, he said.
“There is a need to brainstorm and find solutions to further our national interests in this constantly evolving regional and global security environment,” Chaudhari said.
“In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous geo-political environment, there is a strong linkage between security and development and this is where the armed forces come in,” he added.