New Delhi: Aerospace is set to play as critical a role in shaping geopolitics as maritime power with a proliferation of next-generation aircraft such as those with increasingly complex stealth capabilities, former Indian Air Force (IAF) air chief marshal Fali H. Major said in an interview. Edited excerpts:
The Bangalore Aero India show has evolved a great deal since it began.
After a very humble beginning, Aero India today, is one of the finest air shows in the world. The number of exhibitors, the wide array of aerospace technologies and the fact that aerospace majors have flown their products down to Bangalore from all corners of the world very clearly indicates the huge growth potential of the Indian military and civil aerospace market now, and in the future.
What are the key challenges you think the IAF will face in the medium and long term given a strong and growing China armed with stealth aircraft and aircraft carriers and smaller neighbours upgrading forces faster?
Future warfare will assume many forms and will be unpredictable. Conflict situations may not be able to fit neatly into convenient categories and classifications. The regular will merge with the irregular, the actors will be diffused and faceless, the terrain will vary from urban areas to snowy mountain peaks and the spectrum of conflict could stretch from low-intensity conflict situations to a full blown conventional war. Coping with this range and the accompanying complexities will be the biggest challenge the Indian Air Force and indeed, the Indian armed forces will face in the future. The other challenges that the IAF will have to address are -- a lean and mean force structure excelling in absorbing the emerging aerospace technologies, evolving concepts and doctrines to effectively employ the cutting-edge platforms/sensors/weapon systems in the pipeline to build up a credible capability. The effort must be to become a ‘full-spectrum credible air force’, rather than remaining a ‘threat-centric’ air force.
Do you think we are responding adequately to the upcoming challenges. What more can be done?
The Indian Air Force is poised at the threshold of a transformational change today. If this transformation is to be a success story, it requires a ‘whole-of-government’ approach, which will involve an extraordinary amount of integration between the DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation), PSUs (public sector units), private industry, government and the user (IAF). If this is done successfully, the IAF will leapfrog a generation ahead, and become a credible and demonstrable aerospace power in the region. I am an optimist and see no reason why this shouldn’t happen!
The current IAF chief has said that 50% of Indian air force equipment is obsolete. What does that suggest and how much is it a worry?
Air forces around the world, in some manner or the other, always remain in the process of modernization because the rate of change of aerospace technology is so rapid, that it becomes difficult for air forces to remain relevant vis-a-vis their likely adversaries. The IAF is no different and faces this dilemma today, both in terms of numbers and technology. The good news is that the government is backing the IAF’s modernization plan for it to gain back its lost ground faster than ever before!
What are the items you think India should speed up procurement of?
The greatest requirement for IAF is air defence. That is sensors and missiles because guarding the sovereign skies is the first responsibility of IAF and there should be no delay in that. Aircraft have long gestation periods. Air defence should be impregnable.
How do we deal with the issue of getting cutting-edge technology to add to our tech base, a key focus of defence minister A.K. Antony?
There is no doubt we need a strong, local defence industry However, no country in the world can indigenise everything fully, not even America. Our aim should be to have an aerospace technology base in the country where we can integrate things which we do not indigenously. The theme of Aero India 2011 is international collaboration. The effort should be to manufacture all we can locally but buy what we cannot.
Do you think India will gain the same edge when developing the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) for $35 billion, in which we will not start from the design stage? How much do we stand to benefit in such a scenario in the long term?
The FGFA will have a huge work sharing, maybe we have missed out on the design stage, but don’t forget that we will learn a lot and we are going to get a large work share in this project. The contract also says we can export these aircraft to other countries. I think we are headed in the right direction. Stealth is a great deterrence because the capability is immense.