The CAG also pointed out that up till November 2016, only 43 percent of airfields were provided with both Precision Approach Radar (PAR) and Surveillance Radar Element (SRE).

Several shortcomings in the safety and support facilities at numerous forward Indian Air Force (IAF) airfields, which could not only risk the aircraft but the lives of pilots operating them, have come to light in a scathing report of the Comptroller and Auditor General on Tuesday.

Some of the key safety equipment where the shortcomings were found are Runway Visual Range equipment which are important for forward airfields that are prone to low visibility, arrester barrier for stopping an aircraft from overshooting the runway in cases of emergency landing and failure of braking system, Crash Fire Tenders for rescue and fire-fighting, modern weather radars to provide advance information on weather conditions for safety and radar systems to help in landing of an aircraft.

The CAG also found inadequacies in facilities such as restoration of runways after bombing, modernisation of airfield infrastructure, aircraft refuellers, aircraft support vehicles and handling of armaments to be loaded on the aircraft. These, according to the CAG, adversely affect the operational readiness of airfields. It explains that the operational readiness of airfields is important for air operations, especially during conflict. It adds that when airfields are unable to provide landing, take-off or critical support facilities, air forces get effectively grounded.

In regard to safety, the central auditor has in detail explained the deficiency in arrester barriers, which are essential for flying operations. Different types of aircraft require different types of arrester barriers. Conventional arrester barriers were inefficient as different types of them had to be installed at each airfield. The IAF therefore decided to procure Smart Arrester Barriers, which would be compatible with all types of aircraft.

In 2005, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) was tasked with indigenous development of Smart Arrester Barrier, which was to be delivered by 2011. But it could not deliver by that time. The IAF then in October 2012 had proposed the global procurement of 12 Smart Arrester Barriers to meet the critical requirements of six airbases. It had also proposed to replace 49 vintage Arrester Barriers. The Request for Information (RFI) for procuring the Smart Arrester Barriers was issued in February 2013. But this process was closed and a fresh acquisition was started in October 2016 because of the revised Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP-2016). In December 2017, the defence ministry stated that the procurement of arrester barriers was under process for approval of operational requirement before floating the RFI.

“The requirement of Smart Arrester Barriers envisaged in 2005 is yet to be fulfilled even after 12 years. The absence of these barriers limited flexibility in air operations and operational readiness of the IAF,” reads the CAG report.

The CAG also pointed out the inadequacy in Crash Fire Tenders (CFTs). The non-availability of requisite CFTs would lead to suspension of flying operations. In June 2014, the IAF assessed that it needed particular number (not specified by CAG) of CFTs in addition to the authorised number to meet its operational requirement at 38 airfields. “The IAF did not get the authorisation revised...A proposal for procurement of ‘ac’ additional CFTs was given (June 2014) ‘in principle approval’ by the Vice Chief of Air Staff. Even after three years, no further action has been taken by the IAF for procurement of additional CFTs,” said the report.

There was also a delay in induction of the modern weather radars. During any air operation, the greatest attention is paid on the weather condition, including occurrence of thunderstorms and dust storms. Advance information on the weather ensures safety. Accordingly, in September 2004, an Acceptance of Necessity was given procuring 11 Doppler Weather Radars (DWR). The Request for Proposal (RFP) was issued in January 2008, but withdrawn a year later because no vendor could offer a radar compliant with the requirement. The RFP was revised in September 2009. Three years later, a contract was signed with Selex Germany. But the vendor’s name changed due to merger with another company. This issue lingered for some time with the IAF, defence ministry and Legal Adviser (Defence).

“The contract was amended in October 2016. The IAF was thus not provided with an efficient and effective weather prediction system (DWR) even after 13 years of AON, due to the slow procurement process,” said the CAG.

The CAG also pointed out that up till November 2016, only 43 percent of airfields were provided with both Precision Approach Radar (PAR) and Surveillance Radar Element (SRE). The SRE keeps surveillance over an airfield and helps in landing of an aircraft up to 1500 metre visibility. The PAR supports aircraft landing up to 800 meter visibility level. So both PAR and SRE are needed for landing in low visibility. 

“About 34 percent of the airfields had only SRE. The remaining 23 percent airfields did not have either...were dependent on visual landing aids,” said CAG.