Need to build asymmetric capabilities keeping China in mind: IAF Chief RKS Bhadauria

Keeping China in mind, India needs to come up with niche, asymmetric technologies which can be built in-house as they can be critical in a future conflict, Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria said on Wednesday.

“Whatever new surprises that we can spring in the next conflict, that is what will be critical,” he said.

“The next challenge is how to bring in asymmetric technological capability to Indian Air Force. While atmanirbharta (self-reliance) is very important, looking at our northern neighbour, we have to have areas, niche technologies, niche capabilities which must be built in-house, by our own industry. For reasons of security, and for reasons of rapidity. This is an area, which is easier said than done,” said Bhadauria. “This is what will give us the maximum results; be it in weapons, be it in sensors, artificial intelligence” among others.”

Speaking about the Air Force’s plans for the future, its chief said that the force is expected to buy 350 aircraft over 20 years, including the order for 73 Mk1A and 10 Mk1 of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas placed in January. “From the IAF perspective, we are looking at at least 350-odd aircraft over the next two decades. It includes the 83 LCA. It is a substantial number.”

Senior Air Force officials, however, said that this estimate is based on the number of IAF aircraft that are expected to retire over the next two decades. The officials said that even if these numbers are met, the Air Force will still have around 38 to 39 squadrons of fighter jets, compared to the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, which was decided keeping the threat of a two-front war in consideration.

Beyond the LCA, being built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), two more fighter jets are being designed indigenously, including the next generation of LCA, called the LCA Mk2, and the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraf (AMCA), which will have stealth capabilities.

“To my mind short of the stealth of AMCA, every single aircraft can be manufactured because of what has been done in the LCA project, and the entire ecosystem,” Bhadauria said on Wednesday. He said that AMCA is at an “advanced stage of preparation”.

“Overall, as far as Air Force is concerned, we have put all our effort towards making our future procurement s from indigenous sources,” he asserted.

Calling self-reliance a “a strategic necessity” he said that the aerospace sector is the “most complex, and most time consuming”.

“But once you get it right in the aerospace sector, the rewards or returns on atmanirbharta on becoming atmanirbhar in the aerospace sector are the maximum. Because, what aerospace power can bring, in terms of asymmetric results, in any conflict or non-conflict situation in the future, no other weapon systems or power can be compared.”

He said that it is “crucial that we find ways and means of identifying the challenges and moving forward”.

Speaking about the emerging threat from drones, Bhadauria said that “there are other areas of indigenous development” and said, the “recent developments that have taken place in terms of drone attacks and such threats that have come up, a lot of orders have been placed on our industry” and mentioned drones, counter-drone systems, jammers, and some radars. “Very good progress has taken place across the board,” he said.

Some of the “critical areas of focus” he said are “efforts towards research and development” looking at some niche, asymmetric technologies and their “rapidity”. “The criticality for us in technology is to bring in, in real short time, otherwise the major advantage of doing an indigenous development and indigenous mission systems and weapon systems is lost if we are not able to put it quickly in terms of changes.” He said that niche technologies can take some time.


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