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IAF fully committed to theaterisation concept: Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari


NEW DELHI (PTI): Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said on Tuesday that the Indian Air Force is fully committed to the ambitious theaterisation concept to best utilise India's military resources but at the same time stressed that the strength, requirement and doctrines of each of the three services must be kept in mind while redesigning the structures.

Addressing a press conference ahead of Air Force Day on October 8, he also asserted that the IAF is not a support arm and that each air force around the world has multiple roles including carrying out offensive strikes.

The newly-appointed Chief of Air Staff said the IAF is fully prepared to deal with any security challenge in eastern Ladakh and that new airbases and other infrastructures created by the Chinese side in the Tibetan region will not affect his force's combat readiness and it is fully ready to deal with any eventuality.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari spoke on a range of issues including the IAF's modernisation plan, dealing with new security challenges in the wake of geopolitical developments, enhancing the force's capability to deal with rogue drones, phasing out old aircraft like the MiG-21 jets and proposed procurement of 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) under the Make in India initiative.

He said the IAF will unlikely to meet its target of 42 squadrons over the next 10-15 years and it will have around 35 squadrons by the next decade due to the phase out of old aircraft. Each fighter squadron comprises around 18 aircraft.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said there are four MiG-21 squadrons and the plan is to retire them in the next three to four years.

Asked about security threats emanating from close ties between Islamabad and Beijing, he said there was nothing to worry about the partnership, but flagged concerns over the possibility of western technology reaching China from Pakistan.

Assuring the nation that the IAF will be ever ready to safeguard the nation's sovereignty and interests in all circumstances, Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said his force is effectively capable of dealing with a "two-front" war scenario involving China and Pakistan.

Replying to a question on China ramping up infrastructure development along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, he said India was aware of it and noted that the neighbouring country continued its deployment at three airbases in the Tibet region.

However, he said the building of airfields and other infrastructure by China will not impact India's military preparedness and suggested that the Chinese military has the disadvantage of high altitude in the region. "That is a weak area for them."

"We are fully prepared to deal with any situation and challenge in the region," said the IAF Chief.

He also noted that the IAF was fully committed to theaterisation concept to maximise the utilisation of military resources. But he added that wider discussions on the requirement of each service should be ensured to carry forward the initiative.

"The Indian Air Force is absolutely committed towards integration and jointmanship. There should be no doubt about it," he said, noting that his predecessor RKS Bhadauria focused on the need for structures and processes that should cater for future warfare.

"That is the key element. The strength of each service needs to be taken into account. Doctrines of each service need to be kept in mind while redesigning our structures. Our concerns have been taken into account and deliberations and discussions are ongoing. We are hopeful that the structures that will emerge will cater for joint planning for operational requirements," he said.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said various options were being discussed among three forces on the matter.

The theatre commands are being planned to integrate the capabilities of the three services and to ensure optimal utilisation of their resources.

The theatre commands are being set up under a larger mandate of ensuring synergy among the three service chiefs to deal with future security challenges.

In July, the then IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria flagged concerns over the theaterisation plan arguing that there was a need to get the structures right.

At a seminar over two months back, Chief of Defence Staff General Rawat, while referring to the proposed integrated theatre commands, described the Air Force as a "support arm" triggering a strong reaction from Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria.

Gen Bipin Rawat has been focusing on bringing convergence among the three services and restructuring military commands to effectively deal with future security challenges.

There has been a growing perception that the Indian Air Force has some reservations about the theaterisation programme.

Asked about the delivery of the S-400 air defence systems by Russia, the Air Chief marshal said the first batch is expected to arrive within this year.

On the deployment of anti-drone technology, he said efforts are underway to enhance indigenous capabilities.

To a question, he admitted that the IAF has had a large number of accidents involving the MiG-21 fleet but noted that there has been a reduction in such accidents.

On the proposed procurement of 114 medium combat aircraft, the IAF Chief said the response to the Request for Information (RFI) has been received from several aerospace forms and that the process is taken forward to the next phase.

He said the IAF's strike capability has become more potent with the induction of Rafale fighter aircraft and various weapons.

The IAF Chief also said that the proposed acquisition of 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) will be carried out under the ‘Make in India’ initiative.

He said that the IAF is taking forward the proposed procurement.

In April 2019, the IAF issued an RFI (Request for Information), or initial tender, to acquire 114 fighter aircraft at a cost of around US$ 18 billion. It was billed as one of the world's biggest military procurement programmes in recent years.

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