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NEW DELHI : The integration of fifth and sixth generation technologies into 114 aircraft manufactured in India for the Indian Air Force will be a key consideration while selecting vendors for the mega deal, India’s new air force chief Vivek Ram Chaudhari said on Tuesday.

Addressing the annual press conference ahead of Indian Air Force’s raising day on 8 October, Chaudhari also said despite plans to procure 114 multi-role fighter aircraft (MRCA) and placing orders for 83 indigenously built light combat aircraft (LCA) besides some other procurements, the IAF would still be short of the sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons required for a two front war with Pakistan and China. The realistic number of squadrons India could have would be around 35 till the next decade, he told reporters.

“We would be around 35 fighter squadrons by the next decade in view of the phasing out of old aircraft and induction of new aircraft," he said.

Chaudari added that India will get delivery of Russian-made S-400 surface-to-air missile defence system “within this year" as he spoke of IAF’s preparedness to meet 21st century challenges and other threats. It was in October 2018 that India had signed the $ 5.43 billion deal with Russia for five S-400 regiments.

Responding to a question whether the 114 fighter aircraft would be built by an Indian firm with a foreign equipment manufacturer under the strategic partnership model, Chaudhari said the jets would be made under the “Make in India" initiative. But he added that the successful bidder would be chosen on the basis of their product being able to integrate 5th and 6th generation technologies including sensors, avionics and weapon systems. One of the “key requirements" of the IAF would be “the ability of the aircraft to integrate 5th and 6th gen technology," he said.

The IAF’s main work horse, the Russian made Sukhoi MKI, is a fourth generation aircraft. New Delhi has procured two squadrons or 36 Rafales from France that are considered 4.5 generation aircraft. For its 5th generation aircraft, the IAF is banking on the homegrown Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) that is being developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation. The AMCA is expected to enter combat service with the IAF in the early years of the next decade, Chaudhuri said in response to a question as to how India planned to take on strategic rival China’s building up of its air force.

Chaudhuri said India was concerned about possible collusion between China and Pakistan on the technology front, in the backdrop of reports of Pakistani army officers being posted to Chinese army’s Western, Southern Theatre Commands as part of an intelligence sharing exercise. “The only issue that concerns us is information of Western technology which passes hands from Pakistan to China," the IAF chief said.

When asked if India was concerned about China developing military infrastructure along the Line of Actual Control border, Chaudhari said China's capability to launch multiple high altitude missions would remain weak.

"The induction of (French made) Rafale, (US made) Apaches have significantly added to our combat potential. Our offensive strike capability has become even more potent with the integration of new weapons on our fleets," the IAF chief said.

He added that the IAF is keen on integration among the armed forces. The joint planning and execution of operations by the three services should result in the maximum increase in India’s net combat capability, the IAF chief said. India is looking at creating theatre commands to integrate capabilities of the three services and to ensure best utilisation of scarce resources.

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