Fifth generation Indo-Russian fighter by 2017: IAF chief (Interview) (With image)

August 13th, 2008 - 2:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Ritu Sharma
New Delhi, Aug 13 (IANS) The fifth generation Indo-Russian fighter aircraft will be ready for induction by 2017, says Air Chief Marshal Fali H. Major, while pointing out that the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) squadron strength has grown after plummeting to an all-time low. “An inter governmental agreement (IGA) between India and Russia has been signed for the co-development of the fifth generation fighter aircraft and the induction into the IAF is expected to start from 2017 onwards,” Major told IANS in an exclusive interview.

The fifth generation combat aircraft will be in addition to the 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) that the IAF is set to acquire.

The IAF chief outlined plans to increase the combat strength and strategic reach of the IAF. He said the number of squadrons in the 75-year-old IAF had seen an increase after hitting a low of 29.

“Every air force goes through this phase (of depleting squadrons). Long gestation periods for acquiring equipment and aircraft also add to the situation. However, the number of squadrons have marked an increase from 29 (a couple of years ago) to 33.5 squadrons,” said Major.

The sanctioned strength for the IAF - the world’s fourth largest air force - is 39.5 squadrons.

Major, who was appointed IAF chief on March 31, 2007, expressed the hope that various acquisitions would be fast-tracked with the new Defence Procurement Procedures-2008 (DPP-2008) in place.

The IAF chief stressed that it plans to acquire equipment and develop capability to change the profile of the organisation and meet the challenge of depleting squadrons. The IAF has begun training its personnel and developing doctrines for strategic and operational deployment.

“To be able to protect far-flung areas, the IAF needs to be capable of ’strategic reach’. The Sukhoi-30 MKI procurement is on fast track to replace phased-out fleets. The induction of the MMRCA and LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) would partially bring up the force levels,” Major said.

He himself has the distinction of having 7,765 hours of flying experience and commanding a helicopter unit that took part in operations in Siachen - the world’s highest battlefield - and an MI-17 squadron during the Indian Peace Keeping Force operations in Sri Lanka.

The IAF chief expressed satisfaction over Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) projects, including the LCA-Tejas. LCA, India’s second indigenous aircraft, has been under development in Bangalore for the last couple of decades.

There were demands for more powerful engines for the LCA on the grounds that the General Electric engines would not be able to provide adequate thrust to the aircraft.

But Major said: “The LCA project is shaping up well and the LCA may be ready for induction by 2011.”

IAF is also working on the modernisation and upgradation of its transport and helicopter fleets.

“IAF proposes to procure 80 medium lift helicopters from Rosoboron Export, Russia, to raise six new helicopter units and the deliveries are expected to be completed by 2013.

“IAF is also processing a case for procurement of 22 attack helicopters for which bids will be submitted by September,” Major elaborated.

The IAF has signed contracts for 38 Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH)-Dhruv and 16 armed ALH. It is also in the process of procuring fully equipped light utility helicopters to replace the Chetak and Cheetah helicopters.

To increase its reach, the IAF has acquired air-to-air refuellers and plans to acquire more.

“The airlift capability of IAF is being enhanced and we are in the process of inducting the C-130J Hercules for special operations and developing with medium transport aircraft in collaboration with Russia,” Major added.

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