On row with China, the IAF chief RKS Bhadauria says: "If we have to be a strong military power, it has to be on indigenous defence capability. And that is our focus"

BANGALORE: From plans to deploy a locally produced stealth fighter to the focus on indigenisation and the current situation in the Ladakh sector, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria spoke to Rahul Singh on a wide range of issues on the sidelines of Aero India-2021.

Edited excerpts:

What is the status of India’s fifth-generation fighter programme -- the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA)?

I am hopeful that the government approval for the project will come this financial year. I must tell you that the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has set a very aggressive timeline for the AMCA. They are looking at a timeline of 2027 to 2030 to put the stealth fighter into production. If that materialises, the fighter should be operationally available to IAF as a squadron by 2032.

Will the AMCA have some sixth-generation technologies (more advanced than those in any fighter jet currently in service globally)?

A lot of sixth-generation technologies are already being talked about. It is possible for us to look at some of those technologies for the AMCA. While the platform will have fifth-generation stealth design features, a lot more can happen with the sensors, weapons, overall reach, and the aircraft’s capability. There is a possibility of equipping it with directed energy weapons, superior anti-missile systems, advanced missile approach warning systems, and teaming it with unmanned systems. These are some of the areas that will get looked into. It’s critical we start working on those sixth-generation technologies and bring them into the AMCA wherever we are successful. There’s no looking back on the AMCA.

What are your thoughts on the ₹48,000-crore TEJAS MK-1A project and its future?

It’s an advanced indigenous aircraft, and it’s a matter of pride for us to fly our own aircraft. We have graduated from the basic TEJAS to a much higher level now. In placing the order for the TEJAS MK-1A, we have looked at what our requirements will be over the next decade. It will have superior weapons, radar, fully integrated electronic warfare systems and a level of sensor fusion that is going to be relevant in the next decade. The TEJAS MK-1A brings a lot to the table in terms of capability. It’s no longer just an indigenous project that we must support but it’s something that will give IAF a strong capability enhancement.

What do you think of TEJAS MK-1A’s export potential?

Quality, cost competitiveness and timely deliveries are important factors for the aircraft’s export potential to finally materialise. These are issues that the industry must take care of as we expand further. Orders will come and we will have to demonstrate that the Indian industry will supply the right stuff in good time and also be cost competitive.

The last of the 83 TEJAS MK-1A’s ordered will be inducted into the IAF in 2030. Any concerns about technology getting outdated?

Some of those aspects were factored when the order was placed in terms of the level of IAF’s specifications. So it will not get outdated, but in another 10 years there will surely be better sensors and weapons around. But the best part of having indigenous technology is that whatever upgrades take place in sensors, weapons, electronics and avionics hereafter, we will be able to integrate them into the aircraft as we have the intellectual property rights, the methodology, and the capability. Then we will also have the TEJAS MK-2 that will be a further development of MK-1A. It will fill the gap between MK-1A and AMCA.

The border row with China saw India make some last-minute critical weapon imports. How do you see that in the context of the focus of indigenisation?

When you look at the long-term picture, indigenisation is the most important aspect we need to concentrate on. If we have to be a strong military power, it has to be on indigenous defence capability. And that is our focus.

What is the situation in the Ladakh sector?

China has continued to strengthen its defences during the last three to four months. They have been making efforts to strengthen their deployments and upgrade their infrastructure. There has been no change in our deployment, and we are very much there. If the talks go well and there is disengagement and de-escalation, then we will take a view on changing our deployments. Currently, our deployments match theirs. If status quo does not change, we will take action on the basis of the real situation on the ground.

Is the IAF happy with the budget given to it?

Despite the effect of the pandemic on the economy, we have got a good allocation under the capital head. Our capital budget is 20% more than last year’s. It will help us to continue with our modernisation and also to look at building important combat capability in the near future.