New Delhi: Air Chief Marshall, N.A.K Browne, talks about his plans for the Indian Air Force and his experience serving as the Air Chief Marshall for the past one year in an exclusive interview to NDTV's Nitin Gokhale.
Here's the full transcript: NDTV: How has the year been like? You have been at the helm of the Air Force for more than a year now.
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Well, it has been a very exciting year, a challenging year. It has not been easy, let me assure you that. Lot of hard work has gone into building up of the Air Force and we have been very satisfied with the results we have achieved so far. And this not the only year we're looking at, we are looking at many years ahead. NDTV: That's right. What are the highlights of this say past one year, what have you achieved? Air Chief Marshall Browne: Well actually, you know the number of challenges we came up with. First of course were the training issues. As you are aware, basic trainer was grounded for at least 2 and half years and we were in the process of acquiring a new trainer, the Pilatus PC-7. I am happy to tell that the trainer, the contract was signed in May this year. And we are starting deliveries from February next year itself. So this was the major, should I say, breakthrough because we wanted our pilots to fly the best trainers in the world. And this is a top of the line basic trainer to give confidence to the young boys and girls who are joining the Air Force. Because this will stay with us for the next 30 to 40 years. And it has to be. We had to get it right. So that was the major change. And the other part was of course, we fined tuned our entire training program. As a matter of fact, in the last one year, a lot of my time has gone into fine tuning our training programmes, our technical training programmes and of course our flying training programmes as I just mentioned.
NDTV: The technology is growing and growing so fast across the world and especially in the air forces, how are you training your pilots and other air warriors to keep up with the speed with which technology is changing? Air Chief Marshall Browne: Oh! We have. We have top of the line simulators now, as a matter of fact all the inductions that we are doing in the Air Force whether it's helicopters, tankers or whether it's fighter aircraft, we all have state-of-the-art simulators which are going to be joining the fleet. We already have a few and for all the new programs we have full simulation facilities available. And apart from that of course the desktop simulators and the full motion simulators, so in the simulation side a lot of attention is being given to that aspect of training. And of course the other part is you. You fly and exercise with some the best air forces in the world. So that gives you a fair amount of operational confidence as to what you are doing is at par if not better than many of the leading air forces.
NDTV: Okay. But you are also upgrading your Jaguars and your Mirage 2000s, which are also a part of your inventory. How is that program going?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: See, the Jaguars have been through a series of upgrades, we had the Darrien -1, the Darrien -2, these are all the program we had on the Jaguar, improving the NAV-attack essentially on the NAV-attack systems and now we are moving into the Darrien -3 which...that program is going on now and of course that will involve the fitment of a full-fledged air-borne radar and a full NAV-attack suite, totally new. So that's a major change along with EW Suite that will take place on the aircraft. NDTV: Okay. What about the Mirage?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: The Mirage upgrade of course you know we have already signed the contract and in May this year I was in France, I visited the facility, they are doing the upgrade there itself. And it's absolutely on track. And Dassault is doing a good job on the upgrade, our team is there and though of course the upgrade will take a fair amount of time but when it comes back it will be a different Mirage I can assure you that. NDTV: Dassault is also the L1 in the MMRCA contract. Let us move from upgradations or modernisations to acquisitions you have in the pipeline, several of them. You have done fair amount and the biggest one still remains to be clinched. Where is that now? The MMRCA Contract?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Well, negotiations are on with the French with HAL also involved because of the transfer of technology issues, the offset issues, it is a very comprehensive CNC, we call it CNC - Commerical Negotiations, you know. So that is going on at this point of time. And I hope we will be able to wrap it up by at least this financial year. NDTV: That's true. But just to assure our countrymen, that you know they constantly keep hearing maybe in the media so much and also from commentators, that Indian combat jets numbers have dwindled and as long as these 126 combatants don't come they are in vulnerable position. How would you explain that? How would you reassure them? Air Chief Marshall Browne: See, right now we have 34 combat squadrons and in spite of these draw downs that I just mentioned to you of the MIG-21s, we are supplementing them with the Su-30 squadrons. So you can see it is not just the numbers it is also the capability. And what's gonna happen is that at least in the 12th plan which finishes in 2017 we will continue to maintain 34 squadrons. We will not allow the force levels to drop. They go up a little bit, up and down but they will remain at 34 squadrons but with far greater capability than even what we have today.
NDTV: And what about in the transport department, you have got new acquisitions lined up or already done? How is the acquisition of C-130J given you the edge? Air Chief Marshall Browne: It has been a tremendous, should I say, change the C 130J coming into the Air Force. And not only is it a special ops aircraft which has a very fine sensor suites and capability. It also has a great amount of flexibility in how we operate it in short strips, day and night, all weather capability. So C 130 has really made a big difference. And right now we have a case, a FMS case which we are progressing for 6 additional aircraft and these would be based at Panagarh in the East. NDTV: Oh I see. Okay. What about the C17s, they are also in the pipeline? Air Chief Marshall Browne: The C17s infact, strategic airlift, I mean, that will be the first aircraft we will have which will truly give us real strategic airlift; that component which was lacking so far. Of course we had the IL-76s but you know the payload is much less so almost half that of the C17s. And the C17 has the capability of going around the globe. Long ranges, air to air refuelling, everything else is possible so that will give us the flexibility for inter- theatre deployment of forces and operating also from short strips. And some of the areas, should I say, in the mountainous regions, so it will give us all those options.
NDTV: So when is it likely to join the Air Force?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Actually, the first aircraft will be with us in June next year.
NDTV: As early as that?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: As early as that, yeah, and over the next 12 months we will have 10 aircraft. NDTV: But is the ground infrastructure keeping pace with the speed of acquisition because your MAFI programs or Modernisation of Air Force fields or airstrips, is that keeping pace? What about the ALGs in the East and the North? Air Chief Marshall Browne: See as far as the MAFI is concerned, MAFI actually stands for Modernisation of Air Field Infrastructure, so that's the short form for that. The first airfield we have already done, Bhatinda is already done fully. The next stage is five more is already going to happen in parallel. The East infrastructure is where we have some concerns because that is what is taking a little more time. You know also because of the mountain region and the hilly region. The work cycle is just about 7-8 months in a year. (Maybe less in fact) Yeah, so it rains, monsoons, people, labour to reach there and work in those areas. We have made some progress but it is not. I am not very happy with that progress, we need to do much much more. NDTV: You are actually talking of the ALGs here (hmm) and that is Arunachal Pradesh? Air Chief Marshall Browne: That's correct. So we need to step up the gas on that.
NDTV: What about Ladakh? Are there any concerns there about modernisation of infrastructure? Air Chief Marshall Browne: Well we have plans to upgrade the Kargil airfield. So that at least some these modern aircraft that we will be getting have better infrastructure there. So that process is on and also the development of the new airfield at Numa which is South-East Ladakh region .That would bring a quantum change of forces in that sector. So that's also in the pipeline. NDTV: Also helicopter fleets, I think you are enhancing the numbers. How are they doing? Air Chief Marshall Browne: In fact, the maximum induction is taking place in the induction fleet. Both in terms of the medium lift as also few attack helicopters. As you know the attack helicopters, 22 of them we will be getting from the US. And 80 helicopters, medium lift will be from the Russian side, the MI -17 V5. And in a very short we have already operationalized four of these units- Two in East and two in the West. And by December this year or by just about early next year we will have all these units operationalised it full day and night, fully capable. And we are also in the pipeline for 59 more of these Helicopters NDTV: That brings me to the Naxals operations... I think there are these concerns and there are always these discussions about the employment of Air Force in the anti-naxal operations in the heart of India. Where are we, as far as the Air Force is concerned, where are we on that issue?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: See we have got something like six helicopters, MI-17 IV, the medium lift, which are operating full time in Chhattisgarh, that area, Jagdalpur, Raipur. You know the Ranchi area. And they have been there since 2009 December. So, this year in fact we will complete almost 3 years of these operations. NDTV: But are there demands to increase their numbers there?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Everybody wants more and more but no we can't afford to have anything more happening there. But these are adequate I can assure you. They are almost flying 120 hours a month just for this kind of operation. Because we also have to now start moving by road. That's important, I mean to have the confidence to clear areas and move by road rather than to move everything by air. So I think the requirements will always be there but we are meeting the requirement.
NDTV: Going forward as you look at the Air Force's shape and size in the next 10 years or so, you are also looking at acquiring the 5th generation fighters in collaboration with the Russians. Where does that program stand as of now?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: You see we have a joint program with the Russians on the FGFA program. Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft and right now their aircraft is undergoing testing. They have about three prototypes. The fourth one is undergoing testing now and what will happen with our program is that there are basically two phases, the D&D phase, the design and development phase and the second phase is the R&D phase. So the Design & Development phase as far as our involvement is concerned is practically over and now we are moving into the R&D phase which actually is the Mother of all phases. So we are starting the contract negotiations and that will involve extensive amount of discussions, technical side, propriety issues, IPR issues and heaps of technical details like data sharing this that .Performance, QRs, everything else. That process in on now. And we hope that we will be able to finalise that contract by this year itself. Now as a part of the R&D phase, once the contract is signed, we are supposed to sign three prototypes, prototypes meant for India. So the first prototype will actually join us in 2014, the second around 2016-17 and the third prototype in 2019. So our boys will be testing that in Ozar and these are all development testing that will go on. So the final version which I am talking about is in 2019, that standard of preparation will be the one that we will be ordering to the HALs and the Russian of course to produce that variant. And that will happen around 20-22 or so. So we are expecting the first squadron around 20-22, which also coincides with the completion of the 13th defence plan.
NDTV: You know in all this the critical perhaps factor is the HAL. The support and the technical support as well as the capacity to absorb so many you know transfer of technologies that are going to come from various (unclear). How are you looking at HAL and are you happy with the performance? Because LCA is still at a stage where we haven't been able to decide whether you should go for LCA one more squad. Well I don't know whether that is the correct.
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Well coming to HAL first, let me put it this way. They have their hands full they have some very big programs you know on the table and whether it's to do with helicopter, FGF phase programs as you mentioned, the mirage overall and so many issues. So we are dependent a lot on HAL. In fact that is the only aviation industry we have today in the country supporting the IAF. And as time goes by you can see them getting more and more involved. But then of course what we are looking at also is the need for greater response to deliveries, you know in terms of time much better quality in terms of the product itself and HAL has to just get on with it because we cannot afford to have these delays taking place, slip ups happening. It affects our training schedule, it affects our induction schedules. So like I said they have a lot of food on the table, they need to sort that out and get on with each one.
NDTV: What about, I mean are you looking at it or do you think Indian private planes should also be coming in a big way?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: No, no I am a big advocate for the private defense industries, companies joining the defense arena and I think IAF was the first service after taking over last year in a CIA conference I myself had announced, that for the 56 Savor replacement we had made a proposal to the government that we need to invite the private players in this area along with an OAM from outside to start with at least. And I am happy to tell you that proposal had been accepted by the government leaving the PSU's out of it because they had too much, like I said that they had too much on the table and we could not afford those kinds of slippage of timeline so on and so forth. So the 56 Savor replacements has been cleared by the government. And we will have OEM from abroad who will tie up with, you know consortium they will tie up with the local industries and they will produce the aircraft here. 16 fly away from outside and 40 will be produced here. NDTV: That is excellent news because that is something way forward I think...
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Because that is the way that will form, should I say the basis of what and where we go ahead in next few years? And right now we are talking about aero aircraft why not the fighter aircraft in future. You know absolutely.
NDTV: Let me move away from acquisitions and modernisation. I have been hearing military leaders like you speaking about acquiring capabilities which is not adversary specific. But the fact is we have two adversaries Pakistan and China, among the two the Chinese seem to be a bigger threat to a lay person like me. How is the Air Force preparing for any possible challenge you know or competition from China in the coming years?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: I will take you back to the same point. You know it's when you develop a certain capability you are not just looking at the adversary specific specially in terms of Air Forces because air power gives you that kind of flexibility to shift from left to right, up or down. It gives you the amount of, you know, the freedom to operate. What actually should happen is it's just not moving force left or right or here or there, but also to be able to have the infrastructure on the ground. So if tomorrow if I have to move forces from Chabua in the east, he can tank up refuel over central India perhaps land in Trivandrum to look after something happening in the Indian Ocean in the southern side, you know same thing can happen from the west to the east. So it's not Pakistan or China that we are looking at or getting worried about. That's not the issue. What we are looking at is to build up that capability to be at No 1. Number two is when you operate you got to have the infrastructure support on the ground. It's pointless landing up in Trivandrum when you don't have fuel there, you don't have the support infrastructure, you don't have the weapon storage and so on so forth. So the operational infrastructure has to go side by side along with capability development and when you have that across the board then whoever it may be you can take it on at any point of time.
NDTV: But looking at the Chinese especially in Tibet, there is lots of exercises that they have been doing in Tibet. How are you viewing those excises?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Well this year they have little more than the normal, I am just going by the experience of past few years. Eh! But that's Tibet for them, they have basis there operating there. And we look at that as we look everywhere else.
NDTV: It's not matter of concern? Air Chief Marshall Browne: Nothing concerns us but we look at everything. Ok. Whether we have concerns whether we have serious concerns that are a separate issue but we look at everything. So this is very much in our domain to you know monitor what's happening not only in Tibet but also in the north in the west everywhere else. NDTV: On that count you are also doing a lot of work in the Andaman's now. The Air Force has just started a base I mean you are sort of wide the base. How are you looking at that part of the country or at least that part of the region?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: No the Andaman and Nicobar islands command is a very important tri service command for us and we are building up Air defence capabilities there more putting up sensors on the ground because you need to know who is coming and going in that entire region.
NDTV: Talking about Andaman Nicobar command now your Chairman Chiefs of Staff and we had just operational committee report which we got glimpses of, we don't have the access to the full report. But there is that suggestion that there should be a permanent Chiefs of Staffs, who's going to look after the tri services command especially special operations command. What are your views on that particular proposal? Air Chief Marshall Browne: See we have concurred with the proposal. Ah! By and large like... Though it's not in the public domain. There recommendations in respect of this issue that you are mentioning, the Air Force has concurred with the proposal because we require, we require somebody to spend some time and to carry programs through and of course they have proposed that he will also be looking after the tri services command. Right now we have two, we don't know in future we have five or six or so. But when you look at the challenges that are facing the country today ah! The area that we need to focus on is cyber, it's extremely really important. We need to look at aerospace domain as well; right and we need to look at special operations like just mentioned. And I think it's time now that we really take a hard look at creating focused energies in these three areas because these are the challenges that the India is facing and is going to face next couple of years and the services themselves have a fair amount of capability and competence you know. Now instead of staying in a defused standalone modes we need to combine all our energies together and including some of the civil agencies. So everyone gets plugged into this and we have a very unified approach to these issues.
NDTV: That means there is a big paradigm shift in the Air Force's thinking as far as, because Air Force has always had reservations about CDS five star one pointer military adviser, but in terms of chairman permanent chairman staffs for two years you don't have any issues with that?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: No it's not that the Air Force didn't have reservations on CDS. What we always said was that yes you must have whether you call it CDS or Chairman's Chief's of Staff. What is more important all alongside this process is the need to integrate services people in the Ministry of Defence. So these miscommunications and the other things and the time factor that we take to respond to the issues and the cases going back and forth, that actually will stop or there will be greater understanding let me put it in this way between the Ministry of Defence and the services. So I am a strong advocate of having integration of service officers in Ministry and vice- versa you know. So when you have that process happening you'll actually strengthen the hands of either the chairman which they have proposed now or for that matter even at later stage even the CDS. And I am of the view that the services service Chiefs should continue, must continue to retain the operational role of the services that they had and they can continue to give advice to the government as the head of the their organization. Whereas the CDS or Chairman's staff should advice the government on joint issues which affect all the three services together. So there is no such thing as single point of contact, we don't want just one God father sitting there and giving just one view to the government. He will give one view and there is also a view from the chiefs and all this needs to be put together and I am quite sure at highest level the need to look at more and more options and this is the one. This is the process that will give these options.
NDTV: So are you going to push for it as chairman Chief's of Staff for this kind of integration and this type jointness that you are looking at within the three services in coming months?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Absolutely.
NDTV: Finally in the 8oth year of the Air Force future looks good to you?
Air Chief Marshall Browne: Absolutely. It looks good now. NDTV: And ten years down the line how do you see the Indian Air Force? I know it is one of the best in the country, in the world but going forward do you think it is going to be a force which is not only just, you know guarding India's territorial boundaries would also be looking at other stuff? Air Chief Marshall Browne: See as I have said this earlier also in some other interview that it will take us the modernisation process for the IAF, the full process will take us at least 8 to 10 years more. Right we started it 5-6 years ago and I think in 15 years' time if you can modernise and turn Air Force around nobody has attempted this in any part of the world, at such a large scale ours is a big Air Force you know. But it is not just not machines and machines and equipment's that we are talking about we are talking about people's focus is right now is on people as well. Because there are the guys who are going to maintain them, service them, look after them you can afford to leave them behind. So long with this Air Force future is starting now itself. we are also giving a lot attention on our people, so I keep telling my guys look it stop running after the equipment start running after the people, they are the ones who going to deliver the goods. And I can assure you that the Air Force is in good shape the are doing well and next few years, I keep telling the youngsters they are so fortunate have joined the services today because they have so much to look forward to whether its transports, helicopters or aircraft or the missile system. There is tremendous amount of room for growth and development itself. So it's a great future.