The Indian Air Force (IAF) has changed for the better in the two decades since the 1999 Kargil conflict, acquiring better surveillance and strike capabilities, but it needs to address gaps in tackling “possible” terror attacks on IAF installations, Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal, BS Dhanoa said.
Air Marshal Dhanoa, a Wing Commander at the time of India’s most recent war with Pakistan, flew repeated MiG-21 sorties, destroying Pakistani supply dumps and logistics facilities along the Line of Control (LoC).
“We have prioritised our requirements,” the air chief said, underplaying shortages of fighter aircraft; the IAF should have 42 fighter squadrons but has only 30 fighter squadrons. The strength of “42 fighter squadrons is needed only in case of a two-front-war,” he said, referring to a scenario in which India has to fight the enemy on both its western and northeastern borders.
The IAF, Dhanoa said, was spending on “game changers”: the Rafale fighters and the S-400 Russian made missile shield, for instance. Simultaneously, resources are being spent to acquire capabilities to deal with “most likely events”. The “probability” of a terror attack on an airbase or other air installations is “much more” as “compared to a two-front-war” , he added. The IAF concern is now concentrating on “integrated perimeter security system, better bulletproof vests for the Garud Commandos, close quarter carbines, and light bulletproof vehicles for quick reaction teams defending airbases,” the Air Chief said.
In January 2016, a group of terrorists stormed the Pathankot airbase; seven security personnel, including an officer of the National Security Guard (NSG), were killed.
Describing the changes, Dhanoa said, all IAF strike “formations across fleets” have “all-weather” capability to carry out precision strikes during “day and night.” In contrast, IAF was operating “legacy platforms” — for instance, the MiG -21 Type 96, Mig 23Bn, MiG 27, etc — during the Kargil war, he added. The upgraded IAF fleet, although old, now qualifies as 4th generation fighters, Dhanoa said.
Recalling the Kargil operations, the Air Chief said, India was “taken by surprise.” A quantum jump in surveillance capabilities of the IAF makes that “impossible” today, he added. Satellite imagery is accurate to the metre, and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles ( UAVs) with geolocating capabilities and other reconnaissance and surveillance systems have changed the game, he said. During the Kargil war, India had “low-level tactical photography capability,” the satellites then did not have “required resolution” and India did not have “digital imagery” capabilities, he explained.
On the larger changes in the security infrastructure, Dhanoa said better coordination between the forces have also made a difference to how the military fought 20 years ago and now. The Headquarter of the Integrated Defence Staff (Hq IDS), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and Strategic Forces Command (SFC), among others, have come up, the Air Chief said and added, “there is joint procurement of assets” instead of every service trying to procure on its own.
“Today” more than ever before, “ we plan jointly,” Dhanoa said.