Air chief: Chinese air force still present in three bases in Tibet - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Tuesday 5 October 2021

Air chief: Chinese air force still present in three bases in Tibet

Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari assumed the post of Chief of Air Staff (CAS) on 1st October


By Ajai Shukla

Business Standard, 6th Oct 21


Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari on Tuesday said the Chinese air force is still present in three air bases in Tibet. Addressing the media five days into his tenure as the chief of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Chaudhari painted a reassuring picture of an air force that, despite being low on numbers, is equipped, trained and poised to handle Chinese aggression on the borders.


Chinese air force


Indicating that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) continues to pose a threat to Indian forces and territory in Eastern Ladakh, the air chief said: “The situation is that the Chinese air force is still present in three air bases on their side of the Line of Actual Control (LAC). We are fully deployed and prepared on our side.”


When asked about the PLAAF’s operational disadvantage in having to take off from high-altitude air bases in Tibet, with consequently less weapons and fuel payloads, he agreed that China’s capability to launch multiple, high altitude missions would remain weak.


Chaudhari played down the threat from airfields in Pakistan and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir. “We don’t need to be alarmed as they are small strips capable of taking a few helicopters. The one towards the Afghan border is probably for rescuing their own people from Afghanistan,” Chaudhari said.


On the possibility of India facing a two-front war against China and Pakistan acting jointly, Chaudhari said that there is “nothing to fear from this partnership,” except for “western technology passing from Pakistan to China”.


The future IAF fleet


Chaudhari said the IAF, which operates barely 30 fighter squadrons against its authorisation of 42 squadrons, would remain short of numbers all through this decade. After the four remaining MiG-21 squadrons retired in the next three to four years, numbers would rise to about 35 fighter squadrons by 2030.


Making it clear that the IAF’s three squadrons of Mirage-2000 fighters would remain in service for the foreseeable future, the IAF chief revealed that retired Mirage-2000s were being acquired from France to cannibalise spare parts to keep the Indian Mirages flying.


Around the turn of the decade, IAF numbers would start swelling with the induction of two new fighters: the indigenous, fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA); and the Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) that would be built in India in partnership with a foreign “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM).


“Our 5th Generation fighter aircraft requirement would be met by the AMCA… and would match the capability across the (Sino-Indian) border,” Chaudhari said.


“We hope to start inducting AMCA by early years of the next decade. We are waiting for movement on the MRFA case after responses to our Request for Information were received,” said Chaudhari.


Another enormous capability boost to the IAF will come from the impending delivery by Russia of the first of five S-400 air defence missile system units. China has already bought S-400 units from Russia and has deployed one unit in Ladakh in the Daulat Beg Oldi sector.


“We will get the S-400 on schedule within this year,” said the IAF chief.


It remains to be seen whether the US, which has threatened to impose sanctions on countries that buy significant weapons systems from Russia, provides India with a waiver, or goes ahead and imposes sanctions.


The Rafale effect


The IAF chief talked up the capability boost from the acquisition of several new aircraft for the IAF. “The induction of the Rafale and the Apache (attack helicopters) have significantly added to our combat potential,” he said.


Chaudhari declined to be drawn on the question of whether the IAF’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighters in 2016 had placed the French fighter in pole position in the tender for 114 MRFAs. “I can't say if Rafale will be a lead contender… I can say we are very happy with the Rafale,” he said.


Chaudhari made it clear that one of the key features the IAF was looking for in the MRFA is the integration of 5th and 6th generation technologies.


Joint theatre commands


Rejecting the notion that the IAF is opposed to the creation of integrated theatre commands, Chaudhari said: “The IAF is keen on integration among the armed forces. The joint planning and execution of operations by the three Services will result in a maximum increase in our net combat capability.”


Providing interesting statistics on the role of the IAF in combating the Covid-19 pandemic, Chaudhari stated that the IAF’s transport fleet had flown relief materials and oxygen to and from 18 countries, flown 2,600 hours in India alone and covered over 27 lakh kilometres during the pandemic.


Having successfully participated in the multinational Exercise Desert Flag in the UAE in March, an IAF team will be going to Israel later this month for the prestigious multinational Exercise Blue Flag.

1 comment:

  1. Debapratim Dhara6 October 2021 at 06:05

    Hi Colonel Shukla, there is a rumor going on that IAF may not opt for Tejas Mk2 in the future. Is this true?


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