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Indian Air Defence:INADEQUATE & OUTDATED SURVEILLANCE, by Radhakrishna Rao, 8 December 2008 Print E-mail

Defence Notes

New Delhi, 8 December 2008

Indian Air Defence


By Radhakrishna Rao

At a time when the competence of India’s three Armed Services is under the scanner following the Mumbai mayhem, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) in its latest report has pointed out to serious lapses in the Air defence network, due to inadequate and outdated radar surveillance systems operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Though “air defence is critical to the nation’s security, it holds less than the adequate number of surveillance radars needed for providing efficient and reliable detection capabilities for ensuring credible air defence,” reads the CAG report on the country’s defence establishment. Significantly, an in-depth analysis of India’s Air Defence Ground Environment System (ADGES) has revealed that the number and type of radars in possession of the Air Force is not good enough to cover the entire country.

The CAG, which has expressed its concern over the outdated analogy technology used by IAF in its communications network, had taken exception to the failure of the Defence Ministry to go in for the state-of-the-art digital technology. In particular, the delay in acquiring middle-power radars needed for ground control and interception roles is quite conspicuous, says the report. The situation in respect of low-level transportable radars is said to be even worse! The IAF operates only 24 per cent of its actual requirements.

Pointing out to the threat posed by low-flying objects, the CAG observes that “a project for networking low-level radars and operationalization of an automatic control and reporting centre to increase operational effectiveness of radars and generate viable tactical response against low-flying aircraft did not succeed due to deficiencies in critical components and non-serviceability of some of the equipment.”

The Defence Ministry has failed to ensure timely upgradation, replacement and modernization of radars and associated equipment” said the CAG. Against this backdrop, it has highlighted the need for an immediate upgradation of ADGES, an integrated network of surveillance radars, air defence control centres, anti- aircraft guns, air and missile bases tasked with the protection of India’s vast airspace.

As it is, IAF which is faced with the critical problem of squadron depletion and obsolescence of its fighting equipment is making vigorous efforts towards the acquisition of the latest generation hardware to pep up its fighting edge and strategic sharpness. In fact, the immediate concern of the IAF is to sustain its authorized strength of 40 combat squadrons, even as the phasing out of the aging Russian built MiG series of combat aircraft continues. There is a growing realization in India’s defence ministry that with a booming economy and its expanding geo political influence, India would need to quickly develop its air power strong enough to play a “beyond the share role.”

Against this backdrop, former IAF Chief S.P.Tyagi had said “no future war can be won without adequate exploitation of aerospace power.” With its focus firmly concentrated on net-centric warfare and evolution of the capability to exploit the advances in space technology, the IAF is planning to  emerge as a trans-continental force well-equipped to protect  Indian “interests  and  assets” beyond  national boundaries. Indeed, the recent successful launch of India’s maiden lunar probe, Chandrayaan-1, pointing out to the country’s capability to carry a payload with precision could come in handy in giving a boost to the development of long-range inter-continental ballistic missile capability.

In the context of India’s emergence of technological powerhouse and in the backdrop of the vast extent of the frontiers, the IAF is required to guard, it will be necessary for the Air Force to have a  squadron strength of 50 plus by 2020. It is the recognition of the growing professional competence of the IAF that India was invited to participate in the multi-national Red Flag exercise held at Nellis Air Base, Nevada Desert, US. At the Red Flag exercise, IAF notched up the distinction of being the only air force to have 95 per cent of all its platforms, including eight Su-30MKI combat aircraft, two IL-78 air to air re-fueller and one IL-76 heavy lift off military transport aircraft in full operational trim.

The present IAF Chief F.H. Major has also highlighted the need for setting up of an aerospace command to boost the fighting capability of the IAF. Defence Minister A.K.Antony, who not long back had expressed his concern over the Chinese space war techniques posing a threat to our space assets, has recently announced the formation of a tri-Service space cell that would facilitate the access of the defence forces to the space assets controlled by Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO).

This is being viewed as a first step towards the formation of a full-fledged aerospace command with the participation of ISRO and DRDO (Defence Research and Development Organisation). On its part, the Defence Ministry is mulling over the creation of a constellation of satellites for a variety of end-users for the defence forces, including the IAF.

Indeed, in the aftermath of the Chinese anti-satellite test of early 2007, ISRO Chairman G.Madhavan Nair had  stated that though it is well within the capability of ISRO to develop and deploy a system to knock down a satellite in orbit, India’s concern is to keep outer space a zone of peace and tranquility. China had stunned the world by successfully deploying a ground-based, medium-range ballistic missile to destroy an ageing weather watch satellite located at an altitude of 537 miles. This was the first demonstration of China’s well-conceived plan to perfect a satellite killer device as a prelude to its “space weaponization programme”.

Meanwhile, the IAF is pressing ahead with the plan to acquire 126 multi-role combat aircraft from one of the six global aeronautical manufacturers, who have submitted their bids. These aircraft are meant to fill the gap created by the phasing out of the Soviet era MiG aircraft series.

As ensilaged now, 18 of these 126 fighter planes will be delivered in fly away condition while the rest of the 108 will be licence produced by the Bangalore-based Indian defence and Aeronautical major, HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd). It was the delay in the induction of India’s homegrown fourth generation Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) that nudged the IAF to go in for the purchase of 126 combat aircraft. As things stand now, LCA is not expected to enter service before the end of this decade.

The good news for IAF is that India and Russia have agreed for the joint development of a fifth generation fighter aircraft and also a heavy lift-off military transport aircraft. On top of it, the project to develop an indigenous Medium Combat Aircraft (MCA) is gathering momentum. Not surprisingly then the opportunities and challenges of the future nudges the IAF to look beyond the Indian skies with advanced technological systems and innovative warfare strategies. And, perhaps help the Indian State in its fight against terror. –INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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