New Delhi- Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari on Tuesday said the benchmark for the situation to become normal in eastern Ladakh would be to return to status quo ante prior to the standoff and complete withdrawal of troops from all friction points and asserted that appropriate “non-escalatory” measures were taken following China’s recent air activities in the region.
The Chief of Air Staff said Chinese actions along the frontier including in the Ladakh sector are being monitored constantly and the IAF’s overall preparations are part of continuing efforts irrespective of challenges from China.
He was addressing a press conference ahead of the Air Force Day on October 8.
“The benchmark to say the situation on LAC is normal would be to return to status quo ante and complete withdrawal from all the points all along the LAC. That is the situation that we are looking for,” he said, replying to a question.
“All preparedness in terms of infrastructure building, equipment, training and tactics is a continuous effort, irrespective of whether we see any belligerence on the part of the Chinese or not,” he added.
His comments came days after Chinese envoy Sun Weidong claimed that the situation along the border is “overall stable” and the two sides have moved from the “emergency response” that followed the Galwan Valley clashes in June 2020 to “normalised” management.
India has been insisting on the restoration of the status quo ante prior to the standoff in eastern Ladakh.
Asked about reports of China’s air incursions and military activities along the LAC in eastern Ladakh, Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said the issue was taken up with the Chinese military and that all the activities by the adversary are being monitored.
“As regards to the recent air violations or incursions or increased air activity by the Chinese, we continuously monitor it by continuously enhancing our air defence efforts there. We have increased the presence of our radars and Surface to Air Guided Weapon (SAGW) systems and have integrated them into the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) network,” he said.
“Appropriate non escalatory measures have been taken. I think we have been able to signal our intent and state of readiness with the actions taken so far,” he said.
Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said confidence building measures (CBM) are in place between the two sides, but noted that a hotline between the two air forces is yet to be set up.
He said an IAF officer now takes part in the border talks between the two sides and suggested that the official takes up issues that the force feels should be flagged.
“In the last border talks, we had an Air Force officer and the various air violations cases have been communicated to them,” he said.
The Chief of Air Staff said the IAF is fully committed to the development of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA)-Mk 2 and the fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).
Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari also spoke on depleting number of its fighter squadrons and phasing out of the Mirage 2000s, Jaguars and the MiG 29s.
He said all these aircraft will be number-plated by middle of next decade.
The IAF Chief also acknowledged that his force would not be able to reach the sanctioned strength 42 fighter squadron anytime soon, notwithstanding upcoming inductions. “We will still be at 35-36 by the middle of next decade,” he said.
The IAF has been insisting that it would not review the sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons.
Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari said the process for acquiring 114 Medium Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) was underway.
“We are seeking more commitment from all the OEMs (Original Equipment Makers) for ensuring indigenous contents and ‘Make in India’ provisions. That is a work in progress,” he said.
On recruitment of women into the IAF, he said a high ratio of women officers in the force is testimony to its commitment in providing equal opportunity and a level playing field for every individual irrespective of gender.
He said the IAF would induct women under the Agnipath scheme from next year and the percentage would be around 10 per cent of total recruits.
“We as an organisation are gender agnostic and recognise merit and performance above everything else,” he said.
The IAF Chief said recent events on the global landscape have clearly indicated that the presence of a strong military is imperative to ward off external threats through deterrence.
“The armed forces in general and the IAF, in particular, will continue to remain a lynchpin in the national security matrix both as a deterrent as well as a war-winning instrument,” he said.
Air Chief Marshal Chaudhari also said that the IAF has been preparing for all kinds of security challenges including “worst case scenario” and asserted that it is fully ready to face any situation.
“We continue to be actively deployed while at the same time expediting the operationalization of recently inducted systems like Rafale, Light Combat Aircraft and S-400 among others. Today, as I speak, the IAF continues to be ever vigilant and deployed,” he said.
“Our air defence elements are deployed 24×7, 365 days of the year to prevent any violation or transgression of our national airspace. Our fighters are always on readiness to be scrambled in a matter of a few minutes to counter any emergent threat,” he said.
Asked about the accidental firing of a Brahmos missile in March that landed in Pakistan, he said it was adequately debated at tri-services level to ensure that such an incident never happens again.
To a question on IAF scrambling fighter aircraft after receiving information of a bomb scare on a China-bound Iranian civilian plane on Monday, he said standard operating procedures were followed.
“As per the given standard operating procedure, the response was to scramble fighters,” he said.
To a separate question on whether military supplies from Russia were affected because of the conflict in Ukraine, he said that there was no such impact.
The Chief of Air Staff also highlighted the IAF’s modernisation drive and operational aspects.
“Air power has the unique capability of undertaking independent strategic operations as well as operations coordinated with sister services and other arms of the national security apparatus,” he said.
“We understand the imperativeness of joint planning and execution in future wars and are keen on integrating the efforts of the three services. We believe that the model of integration that we adopt must be future-ready, it must reduce levels of decision-making, and capitalise on the strength of all three services,” he said.
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