Indian Air Force - Bharatiya Vayu Sena
By Hans van Herk
The former British colony of India was divided into present-day India and Pakistan. India became an independent republic on 26th January 1950. It consists of 22 states and 9 union territories. A neutralist policy has been traditionally followed, although there have been several instances of military action, mostly against Pakistan, but also against the former Portuguese India (Goa) and against intruding forces on the Kashmir and Tibet borders. The President is the nominal Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, but control is exercised through the Minister of Defence.
Indian Air Force / Bharatiya Vayu Sena
The Indian Air Force is a young service. The oldest of its units is only 60 years old. Its birth in 1932 and its growth to date can be conveniently divided into four 15-year periods: 1932 - 1947 - 1962 - 1977 – 1992 - 2007. By a coincidence these dates correspond to the major changes in the structure, composition and the capability of the Air Force. The 1990s started on a very unfortunate note for the Indian Air Force in particular. Economic difficulties along with the collapse of the Soviet Union severely affected expansion and modernisation plans, and various key programmes were pushed back by at least half a decade. Major problems with the availability of spares and support from the ex-USSR affected operations severely during 1991-1994, and serviceability rates declined heavily. Recovery started in the mid 1990s, when India learned from tense lessons. Much needed overhaul facilities were established and where possible, equipment and spares were saved through the widespread use of simulators. The average pilot flight hours are back to the standard 180-200 figure. The formulation in 1997 of India's first ever Air Power Doctrine (APD) provided the main map to modernisation and ensures that the Indian Air Force remains a viable deterrent against its principal potential adversaries.
The Indian Air Force has accepted that the increased costs of maintaining a modern and effective air force in the future would necessitate a reduction in quantitative levels. Since the latest deliveries of Mirage 2000s, MiG-29s and Jaguars in the mid-eighties, the number of active combat aircraft squadrons dwindled from the sanctioned strength of 39.5 squadrons to 30 as of January 2014. The Indian Air Force kept on flying the aircraft that should have been replaced by 2010. However, the use of MiG-21s and MiG-23/MiG-27s led to frequent crashed and attrition losses. In 2001, the Indian Air Force started a Request for Information (RFI) for the supply of 126 multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). The Request for Proposal (RFP) process was approved for release to the respective bidders in August 2007, six years after the RFI was initiated. On 31 January 2012 it was announced that the Dassault Rafale won the competition due to its lower life-cycle cost. However, the deal stalled due to disagreements over production in India. The MMRCA deal which was cancelled in 2015 after the Modi government decided to buy 36 Rafale fighters from France under a government-to- government deal. The year 2019 will see the delivery of new aircraft and helicopters. The first Rafale fighter aircraft are expected in September 2019 and from March 2019, US made AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and CH-47F heavy transport helicopters will be delivered. As far as training is concerned the Indian Air Force has selected the BAE Hawk Mk132 for advanced jet training. In total 126 Hawk Mk132 training aircraft were ordered. For initial training, the air force selected the Pilatus PC-7 Mk.II of which 75 aircraft were ordered in 2012. The expectation was that another 38 aircraft were to be ordered, but this changed to the selection of the Indian designed and built HAL HTT-40, of which 68 aircraft are expected to be ordered.
The HQ of the Indian Air Force Command is located at Delhi and is commanded by the Chief of Air Staff. The Indian AF currently has five operational commands, each of which is under an AOC-in-C (Air Officer Commander-in-Chief) with the rank of Air Marshal. The IAF also has two additional commands - Training Command and Maintenance Command - to maintain a uniform standard in training and maintenance.
Western Air Command
With its headquarters located at Delhi -Palam AFS-, it is the most important of the five regional commands. It controls air operations north of Jaipur, including the capital and Punjab, from Kashmir south to Rajasthan. There is an Air Operations Group at the Udhampur AFS, formed in 1982, which is dedicated to the defence of Jammu & Kashmir and also includes Ladakh. There is a forward headquarters located near the Army's Western Command at Chandigarh. Western Air Command features mostly air defence squadrons and ground attack squadrons.
South Western Air Command
South Western Air Command (SWAC) was established in 1980 at Jodhpur. Headquarters are now located at Ghandinagar AFS (Gujarat). Previously the area currently covered by SWAC was under the operational control of the Western Air Command. SWAC controls air operations in the south western air sector, which includes most of Rajasthan, and south through Gujarat to Saurashtra, and Kutch to Pune. Because SWAC has no sensitive adjacent areas, its task has been largely air defence, however, it is now reported to have a strike mission.
Central Air Command
Headquarters of Central Air Command are located at Allahabad AFS (Uttar Pradesh). CAC controls air operations in all of central India, from Delhi to Bengal. This command was reduced in size with the establishment of the Southern Air Command. It is the main transport command with aircraft like the BAe748, An-32, Il-76MD, C-130J Hercules and C-17A Globemaster III. Smaller aircraft like the Do228 are used in the utility role. Central Air Command also has helicopter squadrons equipped with medium transport helicopters like the Mi-17-1V and Mi-17V-5 and a Heavy lift helicopter squadron that will start operations from March 2019 and is equipped with the CH-47F Chinook.
Eastern Air Command
Eastern Air Command controls air operations in the eastern sector, which includes West Bengal, Assam, Mizoram and the other eastern states bordering Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tibet. With its headquarters located at Shillong AFS (Meghalaya), it features -as with Western Air Command- mostly air defence squadrons and ground attack squadrons.
Southern Air Command
With its headquarters located at Trivandrum AFS (Kerala), it controls air operations in the southern sector which includes all the southern states, the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshwadeep. Some of the airbases located in the responsible area also have training and support units. SAC features no combat aircraft squadrons, but could do so in an emergency.
Prospective military pilots come from three sources: the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and the various universities. The NCC, which has facilities all over India, operates types as the Zenith CH-701 and the Pipistrel Virus SW80. Students from the National Defence Academy, who are able to fly the eight HK-36TC Super Dimona motor gliders during their time at Pune, can go straight to the Air Force Academy. Other trainees have to undergo six months training at the IAF's Pre-Flying Training School at Hakimpet, near Hyderabad. Although the headquarters of Training Command is located at Yelahanka AFB, Bangalore (Karnataka) most of the flying and ground training establishments are located in central and southern India.
With its headquarters located at Nagpur (Madhya Pradesh), it handles the repair, overhaul and maintenance of all aircraft, helicopters and other equipment.
Indian Naval Air Arm
The Indian Naval Air Arm is a branch of Indian Navy which is tasked to provide an aircraft carrier based strike capability, fleet air defence, maritime reconnaissance and anti-submarine warfare.
The Air Arm is divided into three Naval Command areas, each of which is controlling a number of Air Stations, well known by their Indian Naval Ship names. The three commands are Western Naval Command, Southern Naval Command and Eastern Naval Command.
All Naval Squadrons/Flights are controlled and supported by the parent Naval Air Station or the Carrier ship. The Naval Air Station (NAS) exercises control through Commodore (Air) who in turn controls the Air Squadrons/Flights. The Squadron Commander is responsible for the functioning and operational status of his squadron. The Air squadrons operate from the Naval Air Stations and ships which provide necessary facilities for the operation and maintenance of these squadrons.
Flag Officer Naval Aviation (FONA) controls training, maintenance and other functions of naval aviation. Aircraft yards at Kochi, Kerala and Dabolim (Goa) are responsible for maintaining the fleet's air arm.
To protect and preserve India's growing trade with Southeast Asia and offer a defence against increasing Chinese naval presence in the Bay of Bengal, a new naval base is being built near Visakhapatnam. It is expected to be capable of harbouring two aircraft carriers, including the planned new Vikrant-class aircraft carrier. There are two more naval air stations, INS Rajali and INS Parundu in Tamil Nadu.
Indian Army Aviation Corps
The Army Aviation Corps is a component of the Indian Army, formed on 1 November 1986. In 1986, the "Air Observation Post" units were transferred from the Indian Air Force to the Indian Army to form the Army Aviation branch.
The army aviation pilots are drawn from other combat arms, including artillery officers. The Indian Air Force operates & flies attack Helicopters like the Mi-25/Mi-35 and HAL Rudra which are owned and administered by the air force, but under the operational control of the Army. Apart from the attack role, helicopters like the HAL Chetak, HAL Cheetah and HAL Dhruv provide logistical support for the Indian Army in remote and inaccessible areas, especially in the Siachen Glacier. Training is imparted to all candidates at the Combat Army Aviation Training School (CATS) at Nashik. In 2001 nomenclature was changed from R&O squadron to Army Aviation Squadron, also R&O Flt to AAF.
On 12 June 2018, the US State Department announced that an approval was given for the sale of six AH-64E Apaches to India for use with the Indian Army as part of the Foreign Military Sales programme. Already on 17 August 2017, on the back of a long-winded turf battle between the Indian Air Force and Army over which service will operate attack helicopters, the Indian Ministry of Defence (MoD) cleared the purchase of these six AH-64E Apaches for the latter.
The Indian Army wants to retire 41 of its oldest Cheetah and Chetak helicopters, the licence-built versions of the Aerospatiale SA315B and SA316B assembled by Hindustan Aeronautics (HAL) in the 1970-1980s. For the Army, which presently has 150 Cheetahs and Chetaks on strength, replacing the legacy helicopters is a priority. Both types are essential to supporting outposts in high altitude areas along the China and Pakistan borders. The Cheetah in particular plays a crucial role, flying at more than 6,096 metres (20,000 ft) to support Indian troops on the Siachen glacier.
A follow-on request for proposal (RFP) was issued to the India-Russia Helicopters Limited Company (IRHL) for 200 Kamov Ka-226T light multi-role helicopters. The RFP was submitted around 26 August 2018. The helicopters are to be acquired for the Army Aviation Corps and the Indian Air Force for an estimated amount of USD 1 billion. Within this order sixty helicopters are bought in a fly-away condition direct from Russia, while the remaining 140 are expected to be licence-built in India. The split between the Army Aviation Corps and the Air Force will be 140 respectively 60. Of the sixty platforms set to be directly imported, 44 are meant for the AAC and sixteen for the Air Force.
Indian Coast Guard
The Indian Coast Guard (ICG) is the principal agency for enforcement of provisions of all national enactment in force in the Maritime Zones of India (MZI). The need for a full-fledged Air Wing for the Indian Coast Guard (ICG) was felt right from the time of its inception.
The first ICG aviation unit to be commissioned was CGAS800 on 22 May 1982 with two Chetak helicopters at Goa/Dabolim. The first fixed wing squadron was commissioned with two Fokker F-27 Friendships on 30 July 30 1983. These aircraft were taken on dry-lease from Indian Airlines and were operated out of Dum Dum Airport for their entire career.
Modernisation of the Aviation Wing
The present force levels of the Aviation Wing comprises 39 Dornier Do228s, four twin-engined Dhruv helicopters and 19 Chetak single-engined helicopters. Since the formation of Aviation Wing in May 1982 and nearly two decades later, in a comprehensive Long-Term Perspective Plan 2002-12, the Indian Coast Guard envisioned its aviation assets to be enhanced to 100 aircraft.
The approved modernisation plans for ICG Aviation, broadly included 42 aircraft, prominent among them being six MRMR (Medium Range, Maritime Reconnaissance) aircraft. The ICG version of MRMR aircraft being Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA). In response to the RFP for six MMA only two leading aircraft manufacturers, the Russian Irkut’s Beriev Be-200 and the American Bombardier Q400, whose bids were conforming to the RFP, were shortlisted for trials. However, both aircraft failed to qualify the stringent field evaluation tests. Considering the strategic importance of MMA, ICG is pursuing MoD for expeditious issue of fresh RFP for six MMA.
The first of sixteen of the latest version of the Dhruv helicopter (Mk.III) for the Indian Coast Guard was handed over to the Rotary Wing Research and Development Centre at Bengaluru on 29 June 2018. The Dhruv was still in primer colours. The Indian Coast Guard started operating the Dhruv in 2002 and only four were delivered to this moment. The order for the sixteen additional helicopters was placed in March 2017 with deliveries to start in 2020.