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We hope to sign the deal for 83 LCA-Mk1A within next three months, says Bhadauria

Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria. File

Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria. File   | Photo Credit: PTI

Our initial focus is the revenue expenditure and target to prioritise it so we save 20-25% there. That’s the immediate area of focus, says Bhadauria

The Indian Air Force (IAF) will set up the second squadron of indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas by month-end, said Air Chief Marshal (ACM) R.K.S. Bhadauria on Monday, while the “high priority” deal for 83 LCA-MK1A jets was expected to be signed in three months.

Stressing on the effort to shift to indigenous production as much as possible, the IAF chief said the challenge was for the domestic industry to catch up.

Also read: 83 LCA-MK1A deal high priority: IAF chief

Excerpts

Given the budgetary constraints in the post COVID situation, what are the priorities in terms force mordenisation

Budgetary constraints is a given, both for this year and some constraints will kick in for next year too. Our initial focus is the revenue expenditure and target to prioritise it so we save 20-25% there. That’s the immediate area of focus. On the modernisation side, of course, some prioririsation needs to be done. Somethings need to be pushed back for the future, but not closed. There our immediate attention is on some critical weapons and technologies like Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles where we are going with the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), some guided Air to Ground weapons, some networking and data linking issues. Second very high priority area is 83 Light combat Aircraft (LCA)-MK1A because that has been in the plan for sometime. We have taken fairly long time to reach where we reached. So we don’t want to delay it. It has connotations of our industry doing their own planning and executing. Also they also need such demand.

Any programmes that can be deferred or trimmed down?

There are areas which we have already closed. Additional Pilatus basic jet trainers have already been closed and Jaguar fighter re-engineering was closed due to budgetary issues. Both decisions were taken before the COVID situation.

In procurements, there are many projects as per the Long Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) which are in fairly advanced stage. They will get deferred a little in terms of when to sign. There will be some repercussions. But we are trying to focus on immediate requirements and see we are not effected. Revenue prioritising is for saving. But even in capital there will be some cuts. There also we need to prioritise.

There have been some face-offs on the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China. Any unusual activity from the air? What is the situation?

On the ground situation is what is important in these things and Army Chief has already given a clear and elaborate statement. From the Air side we monitor these developments closely. If any aircraft is getting close to the LAC, that gets monitored. If there is a need to respond, is there is a need to scramble a fighter, or monitor from existing platform airborne that is decided in realtime. We are monitoring and taking action wherever required. Wherever there is a requirement to respond, the response is there.

When do you expect to sign the deal for 83LCA-Mk1A?

We are hoping within the next three months. Its in advanced stage of negotiations. It has been negotiated well. All the things are more or less frozen. It is in process with the Defence Ministry. We should have it cleared it soon. Time line of delivery is three years from the signing of the contract.

Our current focus is the 83 LCA for 2-3 reasons. It’s been in the works for sometime and place the order so that HAL can place the downstream orders. Second, given the current situation it is the best thing to do in terms of putting this order on the industry and HAL along with the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) involved need to get energised. We cannot afford to let the entire chain suffer the COVID damage plus the damage due to the delayed deal. It will have a long term impact.

On the indigenous we have already given go ahead for the LCA-MK2 and the future Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

When will get the LCA Final Operational Clearance (FOC) standard aircraft?

We will get the first LCA in FOC standard hopefully by next week. We are targeting formation of the second LCA squadron at Sulur next week before end of the month. We have already done the resuruction but induction of aircraft and inauguration got stalled due to COVID and HAL having stopped working.

What about ramping production of LCA from eight to 16 aircraft per year?

Ramping of production, HAL has been promising for sometime. It hasn’t happened and its is an area of concern. With the 83 LCA coming up, it’s an area that HAL needs to look seriously and very fast. The 83 jets has to be on a ramped up schedule. Otherwise, deliveries will be too delayed. The moment 83 LCA contract is signed, HAL has to rally ramp up production and do the integration of additional capabilities along with Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA). That must be done fast. Next issue is involving the private sector and MSME much more in order to ensure faster deliveries and meet the timelines. Otherwise we will again be behind timelines with higher costs. It is a large order, so there are no excuses now.

How is the Astra indigenous BVR coming up?

We are moving to place orders for over 200 missiles. More orders will come. Again they have to set up production facilities quickly so that they are able to look at quality and timeline issues. We have told DRDO that.

These are high risk decisions. We go indigenous and they fail to produce on time and we run out of missiles, it is very tricky. So we have to balance. They really have to meet deadlines in terms of time and quality. We are taking lot of risk to support indigenous production and they must match in terms of quality and timelines.

What is the status of the 114 fighter tender?

For the 114 fighter tender the Request For Information (RFI) is finished. One thing is very clear that it will be totally Make in India. Some of the reforms announced that will also get factored in. We will finalise the way forward on the 114 tender. The fighters will be under Make in India, so they will not be imported.

With this latest reforms we should target a huge set up in terms of capability absorption and manufacturing capability of this class. This is a different class of aircraft. We have to take LCA to its best and we have to set up within our industry a capability of another class. That itself will be a big jump for the industry. Bottom line will be Make in India, technology transfer even more so in terms of the current approach.

The Finance Minister has announced a negative import list being promulgated. From IAF’s end what all systems and weapons are going to be on it?

We already have a negative import list. That is being revised based on these directions and it will get increased. All the areas where we have set up indigenous capabilities will come on the negative list. Our entire effort is to shift to indigenous production as much as possible The challenge is for our industry to come up to it, both Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSU) and private. There will be no lack of attention or intent from our side on this issue.

Radars we have made progress, lot of electronics, issues with networking, some weapons we have been successful, HTT-40 trainer is coming up. So any trainer of this class we will not go out. HTT-40 we are moving towards issue of Request For Proposal (RFP). We asked them to speed up.

The Army is cutting down on movements and exercises this year to mitigate the budgetary constraints. How is the IAF going to deal with it?

International exercises are already stopped, decided practically till the end of the year. About next year we will see. We will also not do large scale planned exercises. Lot of our movements have have been minimised in terms of temporary duties, and courses have been moved to video. Lot has happened in that area. But we also need to go beyond that. That exercise is on. We will prioritise our expenditure in the revenue.

We have to revive the supply chains that have been effected. For instance, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) wasn’t working so the Su-30MKI supply chains were effected and some supply chains from abroad also. So those we will recover and sustain the fleet.

Can you give an overview of the COVID response efforts of the IAF?

Right from the beginning of lockdown, we continued with our operational tasks. Our air defence alert state has never changed. Our air maintenance, wherever required towards Army, be it Ladakh or Nirth East that continued. Our

On top of that we did the COVID tasks be it Ministries, or State Government for movement of COVID related supplies. Particularly Ladakh, Jammu and Kashmir and North East lot of effort has been put in. Again these are areas less connected. We have conducted over 500 sorties already. Basically, our transport and helicopter fleet continued to work.

Fighter fleet because of supply chain and other issues initially in the lockdown conserve. Thereafter we worked out protocol to work with the COVID-19 situation. We have not allowed the combat capability to degrade at all.

How is the integrated air defence command coming up? From an operational perspective what is your view of Naval fighters operating in the deserts along with the IAF?

It is coming up well in terms of finalising the contours. The Vice Chief of Air Force is heading the team. They are working to solve all the issues. Presentation was already given to the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS). Next will be to all Chiefs and Chiefs of Staff Committee (COSC). These are complex issues and best discussed thoroughly.

Fighters can be deployed anywhere. If the Naval fighters are not deployed for sea duty and are available on shore they can get integrated into Air Force plans and along with the IAF elements be part of any mission. If there are any fighters not deployed they will get utilised along with the IAF. In principle we have no issues. We can utilise it.

When will the first batch of Rafale jets arrive in India? Will there be any delay in the S-400 deal?

There is a delay, about two months. May end it was expected, and the plan is July end unless something unforeseen happens. We will catch up on subsequent deliveries.

S-400 there is no delay discussed as yet but there might be a slight delay. But we will mitigate the delays in subsequent deliveries. As of now, S-400 deliveries start end of next year.

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Printable version | May 28, 2020 11:47:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/we-hope-to-sign-the-deal-for-83-lca-mk1a-within-next-three-months-says-bhadauria/article31618828.ece

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