Antony sets aside fears on defence capabilities

Antony sets aside fears on defence capabilities

Says air fields are upgraded to strengthen preparedness

In the wake of parliamentarians expressing concern over India’s military preparedness, Defence Minister A K Antony said the country’s air defence system was being strengthened.

He said that airfields all over the country were being upgraded to strengthen the level of preparedness. Addressing the Indian Air Force (IAF) commander's conference here on Tuesday, the defence minister said the government would support IAF modernisation drive over the next five years but cautioned that modernisation could not be accelerated “in fits and starts” as it was a continuous and time consuming process.

In the last five years, the IAF concluded 317 capital acquisition contracts worth over Rs 1.11 lakh crore. The trend would continue. The new platforms to be inducted in the IAF include 10 heavy-lift C-17 Globemaster III, 126 Rafale fighter-jets and an additional six C-130J Super Hercules planes in addition to the first batch of six that Indian purchased.
On Monday, IAF Vice Chief Air Marshal Kishan Nohwar reportedly informed the Parliamentary Standing committee on Defence that the IAF currently had a strength of 34 squadron instead of government approved 42 squadron. 

The numbers are expected to fall further by 2017 as more and more old planes are phased out. Sources said the IAF squadron strength might come up somewhere close to 42 by the end of 13th plan, if all the IAF acquisition proposals fructify. “The government is aware of the need to modernise the IAF at a rapid pace and of its long-term plans for capacity building. Modernisation is a continuous, time-consuming process and cannot be accelerated in fits and starts,” Antony told IAF commanders.

The minister said air defence system of IAF was being further strengthened with new inductions and integration of weapons and modern sensors. Last month, Antony had  handed over the first batch of indigenous surface-to-air missile- Akash - to the IAF. With a range of 25 km, Akash will be the mainstay of the air defence up to 2030s. Induction of more missiles and upgrading of anti-aircraft guns are in the pipeline.

Modernisation of air fields remains another key area. All the 52 air fields being used by the IAF are being upgraded in two phases, officials said.  Priority is being given to 10 airfields that did not have electrical airfield lighting systems.

Talking to reporters, IAF chief N K Browne said the fleet of 49 Mirage-2000 fighters, which have been grounded since March 5 after two crashes, would be flying by the end of April.  Problems were detected in the engine of the crashed aircraft, which was taken to France by the equipment manufacturer Snecma for investigations. 

Last July, the government had approved a Rs 13000-crore (about $ 3 billion) plan to upgrade its entire Mirage fleet. The IAF’s mainstay transporter AN-32 is also being upgraded since 2009. The force, however, is suffering due to lack of trainer aircraft, which led to insufficient flying training for rookie pilots.

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