IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari also drew attention to China’s vast air defence network - radars and surface-to-air guided weapons - across the border

NEW DELHI: The Indian Air Force will boost its capabilities with locally made military hardware including mountain radars for the disputed frontier with China to look deep inside the neighbour’s territory, long-range surface-to-air missile systems, new fighter jets, upgraded combat planes, light combat helicopters, tactical ballistic missiles, trainer aircraft and close-in weapon systems, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said on Tuesday.

The induction of this indigenous equipment into IAF during the coming years is expected to cost up to ₹3 lakh crore, with this year alone accounting for a spending of ₹41,180 crore, Chaudhari said at his annual media briefing ahead of the IAF Day on October 8.

The purchases lined up include 97 more light combat aircraft TEJAS MK-1A worth ₹67,000 crore and 156 Prachand light combat helicopters for ₹45,000 crore, apart from a project to upgrade 84 Sukhoi-30 fighter jets at a cost of ₹60,000 crore, he said.

He said that the situation along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China was the same as last year and the IAF would remain deployed along the disputed frontier till complete disengagement took place. The two countries have been locked in a military standoff since May 2020 and a full resolution of the border crisis through ongoing negotiations still appears elusive.

“We are constantly monitoring the situation across the borders through persistent intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR). We make note of the build-up of resources and capabilities. Our operational plans are dynamic and keep changing based on the situation that we perceive is developing across any front,” Chaudhari said in response to a question about the Chinese build-up along the LAC.

Chaudhari also drew attention to China’s vast air defence network across the border. The sheer number of radars and surface-to-air guided weapons is quite large, he said.

“In places where we cannot really counter the numbers or the might of the adversary, we will deal with the challenges through better tactics and better training. Our focus will remain to be dynamic and not to have a fixed mindset on deployment of assets in particular areas. We have flexible war plans which we keep revising based on the ISR inputs that we get.”

China has deployed radars all along the northern border and the IAF is aware how deep the neighbour can see inside Indian territory, he said.

“Our counter is through our own mountain radar project. Also, we have low-level lightweight radars that we continuously keep deploying and redeploying based on what we see developing across the borders. In the long run, we are looking at deploying mountain radars at these strategic locations to be able to see equally deep into the adversary’s territory.”

The need to have a strong and credible military has become imperative owing to the volatile and uncertain geopolitical landscape in the region, he said.

“The Indo-Pacific region is the new economic and strategic centre of gravity of the world and offers us both challenges and opportunities. The IAF, with its inherent capability to see the farthest, reach the fastest and hit the hardest, will be critical in mitigating these challenges and will remain a fulcrum in projecting India’s might in the region.”

He said the contract for 97 more TEJAS MK-1A jets was likely to be concluded soon. This order will follow a ₹48,000-crore contract awarded by the government to Hindustan Aeronautics Limited two years ago for 83 such fighter jets. The IAF chief said the delivery of S-400 air defence was hit by the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict. While three of the five systems ordered from Russia have been inducted, the remaining two are expected only next year.

Responding to a question on a mid-air collision involving a Sukhoi-30 and a Mirage-2000 in Madhya Pradesh on January 28, the IAF chief said human error led to the accident and standard operating procedures stood revised. A pilot was killed in the accident.

Modern warfare is constantly undergoing a transformation due to rapid advancements in technology, he said. “The IAF being a technology-intensive force needs to keep pace with these advancements and assimilate new technology to remain relevant. Our focus is on hidden force multipliers in the form of AI-based decision tools, electronic warfare equipment, robust networks and harnessing space and cyber capabilities.”

He said the IAF was committed to Atmanirbhar Bharat and was contributing extensively towards enhancing indigenisation in defence production. “Fast-paced development and operationalisation of indigenous aerospace projects, persistent surveillance capability, shortening of sensor to shooter time, long-range precision strikes, and development of multi-domain capability are the focus areas for the IAF,” he added.