Visualising an expanded sphere of operations beyond the current area of strategic interest, the Indian Air Force is among the few forces in the world to modernise at a swift pace in view of the challenges ahead, Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne said on Monday.
“The process of modernisation [of the IAF] is going on at a fast rate, and I am not aware of any air force doing so in 15 years… We have to be [reaching] wherever the country's strategic interests are,” he said at apress conference, ahead of the Air Force Day that falls on October 8. Its traditional strategic sphere lay between the Gulf of Aden and the Straits of Malacca; but with India's global footprint expanding, the IAF should be ready to serve wherever India's strategic interests rested, he said.
Air Chief Marshal Browne said the IAF would reach its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons by 2022 — it now has 34 squadrons — and commercial bids for the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft should be opened by month-end.
To shore up its offensive and defensive capabilities and operate all types of aircraft along the border with Pakistan and China in the north and north-eastern regions, the IAF planned to expand the Nyoma advanced landing ground in Leh district of Jammu and Kashmir. The proposal was awaiting Cabinet approval.
The IAF hoped to plug the gaps in surveillance in the mountainous region by 2016-17, installing Low Level Lightweight Radars.
The IAF planned to expand the Kargil runway, so that it could operate heavy and tactical lift transport aircraft such as C130J Super Hercules and C-17 Globemaster.
The IAF would procure six more C130J Super Hercules, which would be based in the Charbatia airbase in Orissa, catering for the eastern region so far as the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The Air Chief said the IAF submitted reports to the government on the trials for acquiring attack and heavy lift helicopters, and negotiations should commence soon after commercial bids were opened.
As for the much-delayed Light Combat Aircraft, Air Chief Marshal Browne said the initial operational clearance was granted earlier this year, and the second clearance would be pushed back by a year.
Referring to shortage of officers, he said that compared with the shortage of 1,300-1,400 officers three years ago, the deficit now stood at 541.
He expressed the hope that in the next two-three years, the shortage would be eliminated, given the good response the IAF was evoking.
The IAF was focussing on training of new pilots, and a contract for Pilatus PC-7 Turbo Trainer of Switzerland should be signed by this month-end, and the aircraft available from 2013.