‘No war, no peace in Ladakh,’ says IAF chief RKS Bhadauria

Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria on Tuesday said the security scenario along the country’s northern borders was at “an uneasy, no war-no peace status” and the Indian military was prepared for any eventuality, amid heightened military tensions with China in the sensitive Ladakh sector where both armies have made arrangements for a long haul.

Speaking at a conference on ‘Energising Indian Aerospace Industry: Challenges in the New Environment’, the IAF chief said, “Air power will be a crucial enabler for our victory in any future conflict. It is really critical for any future conflict. It is imperative that the IAF obtains and maintains technological edge over our adversaries.”

He said the air force had swiftly responded to the developments in eastern Ladakh and was prepared to counter any misadventure by the adversary. The conference was organised by the Centre for Air Power Studies along with the Society of Indian Defence Manufacturers (SIDM) and Confederation of Indian Industry (CII).

Key military talks on September 21 over the dispute at the Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China remained inconclusive, with Indian negotiators firmly demanding comprehensive disengagement at all flashpoints and restoration of status quo ante as the only approach towards de-escalation, and China asking India to withdraw its soldiers from strategic heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso to reduce friction.

The two sides, however, made some headway.

According to a joint statement issued on September 22 in New Delhi and Beijing, they agreed to stop sending more troops to the front line, and to hold a seventh round of commander-level talks “as soon as possible, take practical measures to properly solve problems on the ground, and jointly safeguard peace and tranquility in the border area”.

The IAF is operating its newly-inducted Rafale fighter jets in the Ladakh theatre where the military is on its highest state of alert.

Bhadauria said the recent induction of several platforms including the Rafales, C-17s, Chinooks and Apaches had provided the IAF with “substantial tactical and strategic capability enhancement.”

The IAF’s current fleet of five Rafale fighters is fully operational and ready to undertake any mission. India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016.

The air force formally inducted the planes at the Ambala air base on September 10 though they landed at their home base on July 29. At the induction, Bhadauria made it clear that the warplanes were mission-ready and the ceremony marked their “full operational induction” into the air force.

The Rafale jets are part of the IAF’s No. 17 Squadron, which is also known as the “Golden Arrows.”

“The IAF is always mission-ready and can strike its place of choosing when it so desires anywhere, anytime,” said military affairs expert Air Marshal PS Ahluwalia (retd).

The IAF has been projecting its capability to carry out day-and-night, all-weather combat missions in the Ladakh sector, with front-line fighter jets, attack helicopters and multi-mission choppers getting airborne for demanding night-time missions from forward airbases.

The IAF chief said the raising of two squadrons of the Tejas light combat aircraft and the integration of indigenous weapons on the Su-30 in reduced time frame were the most promising developments on the indigenisation front and the march towards self-reliance in the defence sector.

Talking about providing impetus to the Make in India initiative, he said the new Defence Acquisition Procedure-2020, released on Monday, addressed a number of issues “with bold and far reaching reforms”.

He said to provide stimulus to the aerospace industry, IAF had committed to the purchase of 83 LCA Mk1 fighter jets and 106 HTT-40 trainer aircraft. “We strongly support the indigenous development of the fifth-generation fighter aircraft — the advanced multirole combat aircraft (AMCA) — and have a demand of at least six squadrons, and Avro replacement is planned under Make in India. This in itself amounts to more than 350 aircraft in next two decades. There cannot be a better time to indigenise,” he said.

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