China Looms Large For New Indian AF Chief

AVIATION WEEK

The Indian air force (IAF) has long had big ambitions, and the pending arrival of a new leader with a broad agenda indicates there will be no easing up in efforts to strengthen the service’s capabilities.

The first major revamp of the IAF’s order of battle—revival of border air bases to counter Chinese air force deployments, along with quick acquisitions of new weapons and systems—will be operational priorities for Air Marshal Norman Browne, who takes over as IAF chief at the end of July when Air Chief Marshal P. V. Naik retires.

The foreign hardware inflow into India will be substantial during Browne’s time in office. His tenure as IAF chief will also likely see the signing of contracts worth tens of billions of dollars.

One key program that Browne will have to oversee is the $12-billion Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). This is a befitting turn of events, since Browne played a central role in navigating the MMRCA teams through the competitive process during his 2007-09 tenure as deputy chief of the IAF.

During his time in office, the government will likely sign deals for 10 or more Boeing C-17 heavy transports, six new-generation tanker transports (the Airbus Military A330 and Ilyushin Il-78 are in the running), 22 attack helicopters, 12 heavy-lift helicopters and nearly 200 basic trainer aircraft. Browne will also be under pressure to ensure the smooth introduction of several large network-centric systems.

The IAF also should mark several milestones under Browne’s leadership, including the entry of the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) into full operational service and the certification of India’s indigenous airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system.

An IAF officer who has worked closely with Browne says “his other key commitments will include giving shape to how the Indian [fifth-generation fighter aircraft] and AMCA [unmanned combat aircraft] will turn out, and getting the Tejas LCA to full operational status in the shortest possible time.” What’s more, he warns local industry that “HAL [Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.] is going to find it has an unusually tough customer in [Browne].”

With 3,100 hr. on aircraft that include the Russian MiG-21 and Su-30 and Anglo-French Jaguar, Browne says he believes strongly that the IAF must diversify its equipment sources and ramp up self-reliance. Israel—which has emerged as one of India’s biggest suppliers of weapons and equipment in the last seven years—is a country that Browne knows well. He established India’s defense wing in Tel Aviv in April 1997 and served as military attache there until July 2000.

Moreover, Browne will oversee substantial changes in asset deployments aimed at giving the IAF greater reach and faster response to external threats. For instance, the government is considering a proposal developed by Browne during his time as leader of the IAF’s most operationally sensitive theater, the Western Air Command. His plan calls for India’s Nyoma airfield, close to the Chinese border, to be developed into a full-fledged air force station with operational fighter squadrons.

Last October, Browne indicated that the IAF would consider basing detachments of new-generation fighters, such as Su-30MKIs, at its high-altitude border bases.

Force parity with Pakistan—and to a much larger extent, China—will be a major preoccupation for the new chief in the face of dwindling aircraft numbers. While a recent report by India’s tri-service Integrated Defense Staff sounded a note of warning about how Indian-Pakistani force parities were at an all time low, Browne is more sanguine. He was previously quoted as saying that “the asymmetry between the capabilities of both air forces was a certain amount in the past, but this [is now] somewhat reduced. The Pakistani air force is going in for a fast-track induction of beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles and precision-guided munitions. These are things that actually tend to reduce the gap. But they won’t catch up.”

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Posted by pilotpaul on Jun 10 2011. Filed under All News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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