New Delhi: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking at regaining its edge over its Pakistani counterpart in air-to-air missile capabilities that was “allowed to slip” amid a “struggle” to acquire them in a process that has lasted 15 years, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhaduria said Friday.
In a frank conversation on the takeaways from the Balakot air strike and the subsequent dogfight on 27 February 2019, the IAF chief said the force is not just depending on the Rafale aircraft and its weapons to regain the edge but also on other missiles, including indigenous ones.
He was speaking at a seminar organised by the Centre for Air Power Studies.
When Pakistan launched Operation Swift Retort, their F16s were armed with the Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile — AMRAAM — which has higher capability than that of the R-77 used by the Su 30 MKI and the MICA used by the Mirages.
This meant that while Pakistan could hit Indian aircraft in air from BVR, the Sukhois and the Mirages could not.
Rafale to tilt scale in India’s favour
The 36 Rafale fighters that India will operate come with state-of-the-art radars and unmatched BVR capabilities. They will also be armed with the Meteor air-to-air missiles that have a range of 150 km. This means that a Rafale can take out an enemy aircraft 150 km away, in effect without even crossing Indian airspace.
At present, neither Pakistan nor India have missiles to counter the Meteor, which tilts the scale in India’s favour.
“We had the edge over the Pakistan Air Force in terms of Beyond Visual Range Missile capability at the time of Kargil. We allowed that to slip and thereafter it took a decade-and-a-half of struggle with the acquisition process to be able to get better capability,” Bhaduria said.
He added that the BVR capability will soon materialise with the induction of the Rafale. The first four Rafales will land in India in May.
The IAF chief underlined that in air engagement, especially in a deeply-contested area, it is important to have an edge in weapons.
“Once we retain this edge, it is important that we don’t allow it to slip,” he said.
The IAF chief further said that the force cannot depend on the Meteor alone to meet the requirements and so is looking at other systems too.
The trials for the indigenous air-to-air missile Astra has been successfully completed and is now being inducted. The plan is to increase the range further, sources said.
There are other systems too that India is eyeing, sources added.
‘We struck at the heart of terrorists training camps’
Speaking about the Balakot air strikes, the IAF chief said the government took a “tough and bold decision” to strike at the heart of terrorists training camps deep inside Pakistan.
He said that the successful strike proved how air capability can be used for non-conventional warfare as well.
Even during Kargil, the then government did not allow the IAF fighters to cross the LoC since it was always felt that the use of air power could be escalatory.
“The IAF successfully struck the chosen target. The Pakistan Air Force responded 30 hours later with a large package of aircraft under Operation Swift Retort. IAF ensured they weren’t able to hit targets,” Bhaduria said.
“They were in a hurry to disengage after being surprised by our response. They were doing it for their domestic audience.”
‘Strong will of government necessary’
Speaking at the same seminar, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Bipin Rawat said if the military has to be prepared for the tasks assigned to it, “then it’s important we maintain credible deterrence at land, air and sea at all times”.
“Deterrence comes from keeping every personnel trained and motivated. The credible deterrence comes from the will of the military leadership and intent of political leadership while taking the tough decision,” he said. “This was amply shown after Kargil and the Uri and Pulwama attack.
Defence Minister Rajnath Singh said the security scenario has completely changed in the last few years.
“Kargil and incidents of cross-border terrorism are examples of new kind of warfare,” he said. “Hybrid warfare is the reality of the present day. There is no clear beginning and end in this changing scenario of conflict.”
He further said that for Pakistan, employment of terrorism against India is a low-cost option. “We have taught a lesson to Pakistan on this. Through Balakot, we have indicated that terrorist camps across the Line of Control are no longer secure places for terrorists,” Singh said.