Even as the Indian Army remains under intense media scrutiny over recent controversies, some real and some manufactured, the Indian Air Force is quietly building its resources and strengthening its capabilities to meet rising security challenges in the neighbourhood.
Inaugurating the first biennial Air Force Commanders' Conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, Defence Minister AK Antony in fact expressed happiness that the Air Force has signed over 300 new contracts to acquire new platforms and systems over the past five years.
While the biggest deal for purchase of 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft worth nearly 20 billion dollars is stuck in the negotiation stage, several other programmes to improve and upgrade existing fighter fleets that have adequate residual life such as Mirage 2000, MiG-29 and Jaguars are well under way.
The IAF is also progressively inducting additional Su-30 MKI aircraft to arrest any further downslide in its combat squadrons' strength. However, IAF would still have only 34 to 35 squadrons by the year 2020 against its sanctioned strength of 39-and-a-half squadrons.
Despite the delays and current low strength, the IAF leadership is confident that it is poised for a strategic transformation a decade from now. Addressing the commanders, Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne, said on Tuesday: "Our operations rest on three pillars -- operational capability, operational infrastructure and security of these operational assets. An operational mindset must dictate all our actions and the primacy of operations in all our actions must be understood by each and every air warrior as well as be demonstrated in our daily work. The IAF is poised for a strategic transformation; how we would be a decade down the line, will depend on how we perform now."
The conference spanning four days is focussing on 'Optimisation of Weapons' and would have the commanders carry out reviews on issues relating to operations, infrastructure development and capability enhancement, personnel training, aviation safety, maintenance and administration. The conference provides a forum for the commanders to get together and take stock of the progress, identify course corrections and chart out a future roadmap for the IAF.
According to an Air Force press note, Army Chief General VK Singh and Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai, besides other distinguished guests, are scheduled to interact with the commanders.