Commentary: Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa Explains the Role of Indian Air Force in the Changing Security Environment at a Public Lecture

At the invitation of Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF), Air Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa delivered a public lecture on the “Role of Indian Air Force in National Security”. The lecture was attended by the members of the strategic community, general public and school and college students.

In a factual but engaging presentation, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa explained to the public the strategic environment in which the Indian Air Force (IAF) has to perform its role. The presentation by the Air Chief was aimed at re-assuring the nation that the IAF is capable of meeting the challenges posed by the adversaries.

A well informed public is an asset. The Air Chief deserves commendation for informing the public in simple terms about the roles and functions of the IAF. For instance, few people know that IAF protects an airspace of 40 million square kilometer, apart from defending the country from military aggression. Further, the IAF has played a tremendous role in helping the civilian authorities during national emergencies.

In a wide-ranging talk, the Air Chief covered the capabilities of the Air Forces of key neighbouring countries, the persistent sub-conventional threat, and India’s and the IAF’s role in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

India needs to build its military power to deter her adversaries from any misadventure. It is well known that over the years that China has built vast military infrastructure in Tibet Autonomous Region. India will need to take into account this important development. Rapid modernisation is a must for building credible conventional deterrence. The Air Chief explained that the role of the Air Force is to maintain air dominance and achieve air superiority. The Indian Air Force is geared to achieve precisely that.

Speaking in the context of the modernisation of the IAF, the Air Chief give an account of induction of new aircraft, helicopters, missiles, command and control systems and other equipment into the IAF in recent years. The process of modernisation is ongoing.

Expressing strong commitment to indigenisation, the Air Chief informed that the in the recent years, the IAF has already inducted eight indigenous built light combat aircraft. He also indicated that India would develop advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) in due course.

Jointmanship is key to effective war-fighting. It was refreshing to hear from the Air Chief about the progress made in developing jointmanship between the IAF and the Indian Army and Indian Navy.

Apart from modernisation, the Air Chief also laid great stress on readiness and training. The recently concluded massive exercise ‘Gagan Shakti, 2018’ was designed to test the preparedness of the entire force, to demonstrate its logistic and combat capabilities and to validate its operating procedures of jointness with the Indian Navy and the Indian Army. The Air Chief gave some statistics about the Exercise Gagan Shakti. The exercise was conducted from 08 to 22 Apr 2018, and involved surge operations during which 11,000 sorties were flown; 9000 of these were by the fighter aircraft. All the IAF Commands were activated. Serviceability of 80 percent in the case of aircraft and 97 percent in the case of radars was achieved. The exercise ended without any mishap.

It came out clearly from the Air Chief’s presentation that India’s military potential is aimed at building a credible deterrence. Contrary to the slant given in some media article, the Air Chief pointed out that the IAF maintains cordial relations with many air forces of the world, including that of China. This relationship was widely on display during the recently held Aero-India show. He further noted that, “both sides respect Air Confidence Building Measures (CBM) and during the Exercise Gagan Shakti there were no air violations from either side”. The also informed about his friendly talks with the Chief of Staff of the PLA’s Western Air Command when he confided to the latter that “ let us meet more on the ground so that we do not have to meet in the air.” He emphasised that India and China continue to build their relationship and thus the bilateral trade has reached over $80 billion. Even then, India will have to cognisant of the changes in the geo-political environment and be ready to deal with the emerging challenges.

The Air Chief’s talk was held in a town hall spirit. He answered searching questions from the public without hesitation and obfuscation. Sensationalism on national security issues is in nobody’s interest, and therefore, one hopes that senior functionaries of the Government dealing with national security issues engage the public regularly. This will help in generating healthy and informed debate on issues with which every individual is concerned. The media also needs to report on national security issues with a great sense of maturity and understanding of the issues.

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)

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