8 minute readVideo: Vayu-StratPost Air Power Roundtable III

StratPost recently teamed up with the defense and aviation magazine Vayu to hold discussions around a round table on the future of Indian air power. These discussions held on July 04, 2014, were meant to shed light on how the fleet structure of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter aircraft is expected to evolve over the coming years and decades, given current circumstances.

We invited some of the top officials associated with planning and operations in the Indian Air Force and Indian Navy, some of whom have retired only recently, and who have been closely associated with the MMRCA and LCA procurement programs.

Participants included:

1. Admiral (retd.) Arun Prakash
2. Air Chief Marshal (retd.) SP Tyagi
3. Air Marshal (retd.) Harish Masand
4. Air Marshal (retd.) Nirdosh Tyagi
5. Vice Admiral (retd.) Shekhar Sinha
6. Air Marshal (retd) M Matheswaran
7. Air Marshal (retd.) Jimmy Bhatia
8. Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora
9. Air Marshal (retd.) SR Deshpande
10. Maj Gen (retd.) Ashok Mehta
11. Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal
12. Air Commodore (retd) Suren Tyagi
13. Col (retd.) Ajai Shukla
14. Capt (retd.) PVS Satish IN
15. Mr George Verghese
16. Mr Vinod Mishra
17. Mr Vishal Thapar
18. Mr NC Bipindra
19. Mr Nitin Gokhale
20. Mr Pushpindar Singh

In the next round, moderator Inderjit Badhwar, senior journalist and editor of India Legal, initiated the discussion on the balance of air power in India’s neighborhood and the challenges posed by the air forces of Pakistan and China.

Speakers include, Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora, Air Marshal (retd.) Jimmy Bhatia, Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal, Nitin Gokhale, Maj Gen (retd.) Ashok Mehta, Col (retd.) Ajai Shukla, Admiral (retd.) Arun Prakash, Air Marshal (retd.) Harish Masand and Air Commodore (retd) Suren Tyagi.


“Do we require to have so many systems – a triad – to have as a deterrent system?” – Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

“At the end of the day, our annual budget works out to just about 1.4 to 1.8 percent of the GDP.” -Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

“I don’t agree with Ajai (Shukla) at all that would we have to do a rethink. We’re already a decade and a half behind time. If we have to rethink our whole kahani, I’m sorry we’ll go another decade and a half behind time.” – Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

“(The) two (Pakistan & China) together have about a hundred combat squadrons so they’ll have that kind of capability. And India – the Indian Air Force today is struggling with 34 – maybe trying to build up to 42.” – Air Marshal (retd.) Jimmy Bhatia

“We need to build the kind of capability which will be able to cause certain amount of deterrence on this combined capability that we are talking about.” – Air Marshal (retd.) Jimmy Bhatia

“I personally feel that if you are really talking about this kind of a thing then we should think of ultimately going up to somewhere close to 50 squadrons if we’re going to do that.” – Air Marshal (retd.) Jimmy Bhatia

“I am talking about matching capabilities and if we do fight a two-front war what kind of force requirements we will have on both sides to be able to fight the war.” – Air Marshal (retd.) Jimmy Bhatia

“The probability of state-on-state conflict is low.” – Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal

“If a conventional conflict does break out, in my view there’s an 80 to 90 percent probability that it’ll break out in the mountains. That’s where the disputes are. Territorial and boundary disputes with china and territorial dispute with Pakistan though we like to call it an issue and not a dispute. Also Pakistan’s proxy war.” – Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal

“Having broken out in the mountains, in my view, there’s a 60 to 70 percent probability that the conflict will remain confined to the mountains.” – Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal

“In order to achieve the required military aims in a future conventional conflict with either China or Pakistan, since I’m saying it’s going to be confined to the mountains, and you cannot maneuver in the mountains – maneuver and firepower being two sides of the same coin – we will need massive air symmetries of firepower.” – Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal

“The bulk of it (firepower) will come from the Indian Air Force. Therefore, me contention that for the next conflict which will be fought in the mountains we need massive firepower to be delivered from the air.” – Brig (retd) Gurmeet Kanwal

“The first priority should be to redress that balance (of air power).” – Nitin Gokhale, Journalist

“I think the first priority should be to improve the squadron strength – and a squadron strength of aircraft which are relevant.” – Nitin Gokhale, Journalist

“In 1999 the greatest critiques against the air force was that it was not ready to fight the war in the mountains. In Kargil, the air force was not prepared.” – Maj Gen (retd.) Ashok Mehta

“When we had initially worked out our QRs etc for our aircraft, there were certain aircraft that couldn’t fire a weapon system beyond a certain altitude. So we were not fully prepared. But we were prepared to take on – and we did innovate some things to take on the issue at Kargil, otherwise Kargil wouldn’t have stopped when it stopped.” – Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

Earlier, we had weapons platforms which carry only one ton of load. Or two missiles, or a gun. Today we’ve got platforms which have got ten plus launchers. Whether you carry bombs, missiles, air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground missiles.” – Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

“There are three figures as far as my knowledge goes. 39.5. Then we went to 42. Then someone produced 44. And in some document signed in 1974, it is even given as 55 squadrons if required. I’ve read it personally. But we can’t afford. Cost factors comes in – we just cannot do it.” Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

“Let us restrict ourselves – we’ve got multi-role aircraft, we’ve got multi-swing aircraft – dual-swing aircraft in the air – do the numbers also based on the nuclear factor which is going to be there.” – Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

“But we cannot afford – I don’t think we can go beyond 30 squadrons with the kind of costs – pricing that was talked of – 1200 crores per aircraft. Sorry.” – Air Marshal (retd.) P Barbora

“We like to take it as an article of faith that we have this national interest that must guide our defense strategy and therefore our force structure. And that this national interest is over-arching and immutable and unchangeable and so on. The fact is there is a higher interest than national interest. And that is ki tumare jeb main kya hai. Any study of British defense policy and the retreat of British power shows that they have progressively down-scaled their national interest to match with their ability to pay. Whether it was the withdraw from the Suez, from Southeast Asia. They have consistently, as a strategically educated country redefined their strategic interest, which is why I find this entire talk of a two-scale war – it’s a joke.” – Col (retd.) Ajai Shukla

“It’s not for the Indian government to decide whether they want to fight a one-front war or a two-front war – unfortunately the decision does not lie in their hands.” – Air Marshal (retd.) Jimmy Bhatia

“On the other hand if you’ve read The Blood Telegram, Kissinger was ordered to go to China and – I think it would be very short-sighted of us not to talk about it but also prepare for it. No government is going to tell you to do this or do that. I think the armed forces must be prepared because if you go to war with one country the other one will definitely take advantage – why not? And they are – their friendship is as deep as the sea and as high as the mountains – you don’t expect them to do that. They don’t even have to anything. They just have to move a few formations for you to be absolutely side-tracked.” – Admiral (retd.) Arun Prakash

“Two-front deterrence, at least, is required. We may not fight a two-front war. Two-front deterrence is required. That’s what you’ve got to consider.” – Air Marshal (retd.) Harish Masand

“There is a major difference between being prepared to handle a two-front war and structuring for a two-front war. Structuring means you create the forces and do the spending necessary for that.” – Col (retd.) Ajai Shukla

“When you say be prepared, actually, you have to have forces. You cannot just do exercises on paper and move forces from one end to the other end and then say you do it. The troops for mountains have to be trained for mountains and have to build in the mountains.” – Air Commodore (retd) Suren Tyagi

If you really look into it I think you will find that armed forces are getting not even one tenth of what they should be getting.” – Air Commodore (retd) Suren Tyagi

The duration of this session is 23 minutes, 02 seconds.

Producer: Shruti Pushkarna, StratPost

So what do you think?