Here's his conversation with NDTV's Security & Strategic Affairs Editor Nitin Gokhale.
NDTV: Let me start by asking you what are the changes that are being done in the Air Force for the past 3-4 years and what do you think is going to happen in the next 3-4 years?
PV Naik: The process of change started seven or eight years back but it is materialising now, which is a very very exciting thing. Over the next 3-4 years, I expect the IAF to become one of the most modern air forces in the world. There are lots of things in the offing - we have aircrafts, equipment, missiles, radars actually we have a very long list.
If you permit me I will just read out from this just to tell you what all inductions we have planned.
First list is of acquisitions: 126 MMRCA's is well-known. 214 fifth generation fighter aircrafts that will be coming around 2017; 42 SU 30's additionally, we require the RFP has been issued to HAL; 75 trainers - that process is well on its way, two more AWACS of IL-76 base which we are waiting for; 10 C-17s - another famous deal cleared by CCS; 80 + 59 medium-lift helicopters; 22 attack helicopters; 12 VVIP helicopters. There are upgrades also going on for weapon systems: 63 MiG-29's, that upgrade is well on its way in Russia. Mirage 2000 upgrade will be going to the CCS next week and Jaguar re-engineering, that is another major project for which a new RFP has been issued now. Missiles, 18 firing units of MRSAM (Medium Range Surface to Air Missiles), 4 Spyders, 49 SR-SAM that is short range, 8 Aakash missiles.
As far as radars are concerned, Rohinis, aerostats, medium-power radars, low-level tactical radars, low-level light weight radars, we have the AFNET which is already active, we have the MAFI (Modernisation of Airport Infrastructure) which is going on. The first airfield to convert on to MAFI would be Bhatinda. And we have the IACCS which is active, so if you see all-round development of the Air Force is in the offing.
NDTV: Some of the deals are always in focus... for example, the 126 fighter jets, it's been a long process... and you've had a technical re-evaluation, flight testing and now you have come down to two manufacturers. There has been a lot of speculation, a lot of writing on this - that the Americans and the Russians were very unhappy and that they in fact went to the extent of saying some of the processes were unfair... they weren't transparent enough, what do you have to say to that?
PV Naik: You know right in the beginning when this deal was going through, I had said that whoever we select, the others would always be dissatisfied. So I think it is a case of that. As far as the entire process of the MMRCA selection is concerned I think it is one of the finest things the Air Force has ever done. There was no security breach, a very fair treatment was given to everybody, every vendor briefed as per RFP and in fact the process has gone so well and so timely that I would like to patent that process. After all these were six of the best aircraft in the world... Unnis -Bees ka farakh, very little difference in all these, very difficult to decide which is the best, ultimately what suits our country - the best has to emerge as the best. That doesn't mean the other aircraft are bad. But these were the best-suited to our conditions and so that is how we went about the selection. The process was very elaborate. As you are aware each aircraft had 600 testing points. So the whole thing went through in a very professional manner and I must compliment the team that undertook this task - very well done.
NDTV: In any case I think and the others have pointed out that this is not the only deal that is going in the Air Force, you have several others. Like the Americans shouldn't be complaining about not getting this deal because you are giving them other orders. For instance the C-17s, the C-130s, Harpoon missiles you are buying from them. Even the Russians - you have a major project with them isn't it?
PV Naik: Yes, we have the fifth-generation fighter aircraft, we have the Brahmos missile which is a joint project. And we have many others.
NDTV: Sukhoi upgrade also, I mean the additional Sukhois?
PV Naik: The Sukhoi upgrade, the MiG-29 upgrade... so many things for the Russians also.
NDTV: So everybody can actually get a part of the pie in India?
PV Naik: But we have selected whatever is best for us. It so happens that it is well-distributed.
NDTV: Coming back to the final selection what do you think is the time frame? You had said before that it should be done very quickly and you are hopeful... do you think there is a time frame you could think of?
PV Naik: At present, the Technical Oversight Committee has finished their report. The report will be submitted to the Rakhsha Mantri. Thereafter, they will open the commercial bids and decide who is the L-1 (lowest bidder) vendor. After that the CNC will start negotiations, thereafter it will go to the Finance Ministry. From Finance, it will go to CCS and after their approval, the final contract will be signed. So I think another two months is a very optimistic assessment. That is by September, I expect this deal to be signed.
NDTV: And once the deal is signed, what is the time frame for the induction for the first aircraft that will come down?
PV Naik: That will be about three years.
NDTV: One way of overcoming over-dependence on foreign vendors or foreign manufactures is to indigenise...we have had this experience of the LCA Tejas. You have inducted the prototype, given operational clearance for the first prototype. How hopeful are you about the LCS Tejas finally getting inducted and coming into the IAF ?
PV Naik: See Nitin, Tejas took us 20-21 years to reach this stage but over the last two years I have seen that we have reached a very good stage and there is light at the end of the tunnel. And I'm very very positive Tejas will be inducted into the Air Force. We have already given the initial operational clearance, now the squadrons will slowly come and start operating these aircrafts. It will take a couple of years for these aircraft to get full operational clearance. During this time, the phase two build-up is also going on with the actual engine which is a GE-414 engine which has been decided. Thereafter, the Tejas will have the engine and we will have 6-7, if not more, squadrons of the Tejas class of aircraft. Now all the people who have flown this aircraft swear by it, it's a wonderful aircraft. Of course, it is not in the fifth-generation class but I would call it a MiG-21++, with some latest technologies, with the latest collaborations an excellent aircraft to fill in the gap in our numbers which is there.
NDTV: In the past we have spoken about critical gaps in air defence, and gaps in the radar and chain of radars we have within the country or on the borders. What is the situation now, what is the status?
PV Naik: See generally we have complete coverage at medium and high levels, there is no gap it is gap-free. It (gap) is only at low levels because the capability of ground base radars is limited because of the earth's curvature. And it is only at the lower levels that we have a gap. To fill these gaps we have many other schemes in place, firstly low-level radars, the medium-power radars, the LLTRS, the LLWRs, they fill in the low-level gap. We have the AWACS, we have the aerostats which actually raises the platform of the radar so it increases the range of the radar, so these are the radars through which we will fill in the gaps. Most of them are on track and 2012 onward, they will start ramping up. In fact, the first medium-powered radar at Naliya - I inaugurated it a couple of weeks back , so thereafter deliveries will start and I'm sure we will have gap-free coverage even at low levels .
NDTV: What about the air defence systems?
PV Naik: As far as missiles are concerned, we are into MRSAMs - medium range SAMs (surface to air missiles) which is about 100-110 kms range, we are into SR-SAMs that is the short range, we are into Spyders missiles which are even shorter range. So there are different stages of missiles coming - a multi-layered defence which is what is desirable in air defence. Plus we have the AWACS and from the AWACS to the IACCS. Complete pictures available to everybody for better command and control.
NDTV: I just want you to elaborate because in the post-26/11 scare that was there in this country - there was a lot of talk that we have these gaps and even Delhi is not safe. As an Air Chief, I want an assurance from you for the viewers that none of these scares are a reality?
PV Naik: You have my assurance, you must convince the public that our air defence at the present moment is good but we want to make it better. At the present moment, I give you an assurance that Delhi is safe.
NDTV: Let me now move away - a little bit from your current plans and look at the future. There are several threats in the neighbourhood as we know and you have spoken in the past, you don't want to be adversary specific but a capability-based force. Towards that end, how are you progressing? How are you looking at the future?
PV Naik: You know being part of the services - all the three services do an exercise. We assess all the threats around our region - that means it can be a person, it can be a country, it can be anything, it can be an organisation. Anything that affects the growth of our country or that impedes the growth of our country is a threat. Thereafter we decide on what capability we require based on the strategic decisions taken by the country's leadership. Our zone of interest, our political leanings, various other factors come into this. Thereafter we decide what capability by which year we should acquire. Then we go towards procuring that capability. Now in the years to come, our Air Force needs to meet the aspirations of the country. From the Gulf of Hormuz to the Malacca Straits, as the Prime Minister has pointed out therefore, we must have the range, we must have the capacity to reach these vast distances... and we must have the capability to carry out what is known as net-centric warfare because that is the warfare of the future. You cannot do it isolated. So towards that net-centricity forms the bedrock, the base is AFNET which is already in place and it is improving slowly day by day. On the AFNET will be based the ICACS (integrated command and control systems), that are various nodes, places geographically across the country. The IACCS will give you a filter-clear picture of what is happening in its area of jurisdiction. It will pick up the pictures through sensors of Army, Navy, and civilian radars. It will give you a fused and filtered clear picture. So that wherever, you are sitting you will be able to see what is happening all over. This forms the ground segment of the network-centric warfare. Then we come to the air segment, all the aircrafts will be connected through datalink, the AVACS will be connected through datalinks. They download onto what is known as a ground-exploitation station and from there it goes to the IACCS. This forms the air part of the net-centric warfare. On top in space, we have the satellites through which information, recce, communication etc is projected down and once again merged with the IACCS. Once you have net-centricity - at present, we don't have, we are network-enabled. Once we have the net-centricity, then the sensor to shooter time reduces and your reaction is very fast. You are able to undertake immediate operations with this capability. So that is the future that I am looking at you know in about 8-10 years time.
NDTV: You said this before, but I want to ask you this again, are we looking at China more closely? Is our readiness towards or against China - are we looking at it more closely than before?
PV Naik: You know, many people ask me this as a very serious question. We have always looked intently at every threat, not only China or Pakistan. But as I told you, as a military mind, you assess all the threats. We call it the appreciation method. Each and every threat is listed...and a threat is anything that impedes the progress of the country, and we look at it closely. We look at things very, very closely and give the required inputs to the leadership.
NDTV: Coming back to the MAFI and the 30 airfields you are upgrading and modernising...are we also looking at a series or a network of airfields in say Ladakh or Arunachal Pradesh? Are we also looking at that?
PV Naik: Yes, we are. In the North East, it is long overdue. We have a major drive on to modernise all the ALGs (Adavance Landing Grounds). We have eight ALGs which are being modernised. Pasighat, Along, Menchuka and all these places and modernisation of the airfield which are already existing from Chabua, Mohanbari, Jorhat, Guwahati, Bagdogra, Hashimara, Tezpur. And down South, all these things are already under hand. They are on a fast-track. There is a committee, as you know, empowered committee which is looking into the operationalisation and modernisation of these and that is headed by the Vice Chief. As far as the Western Sector is concerned, Nyoma, DBO - that is a Phase 2 for which action has already started and these will also be brought up to the upgraded standard.
NDTV: Are there plans to have Fighter air bases at Nyoma and Leh?
PV Naik: We will have to see that, for that a study is going on at the moment. But for transport airport and helicopters, definitely. Thereafter we will evaluate if it is fit for fighters and then decide.
NDTV: Now let me come back to the other issue we spoke about last year also, about use of airforce in the anti-Maoist operation. At this moment, where does it stand?
PV Naik: See, use of Indian Air Force in anti-Maoist operations is the government's prerogative and we are doing that. What you want to know is if there is any offensive use of the IAF. My views remain the same. After all, it is our own people. Intelligence is not available 120 per cent which is required. There is likely to be collateral damage so therefore, offensive use of the Air Force I will not visualise in the near future. It is already being used for roles like insertion, extraction, CASEVAC (casualty evacuation), recces, surveillance. And it will I think continue to be used for these purposes.
NDTV: Do you think that role will increase?
PV Naik: I am sure it will increase.
NDTV: You recently pulled out all your helicopters from the UN Peacekeeping Mission in Congo, and they are not very happy about it. What was the reasoning?
PV Naik: It was the requirement for our country. You know the helicopters are used basically to support the Army in forward areas. And now... more and more use in urban warfare also. Internal situations against the Maoists, Naxalites etc. We didn't have the helicopters, although we are getting some, but they are yet to be ramped up. So therefore the only way to do it was to pull out from Congo.
NDTV: One final thing on the internal thing. The Air force also does a lot of behind-the-scenes and away from peoples' gaze work. A lot of humanitarian operations in floods and disasters. Do you see even that role being increased because a lot of effort goes into that kind of situations?
PV Naik: I think that role will remain the same, we are already doing considerable work. We do not have the resources but we still give it our best because after all it is saving your own citizens. There have been some very very great rescues which have been carried out. One has been carried out by my predecessor on the Timber Trail (near Shimla) which got a lot of publicity but there are a lot of rescues which do not get publicity. There are always floods along the Ganges, there are always floods down South because suddenly unseasonal rains cause floods and everywhere, the Air Force is the first to go. You want to ferry troops, you need the Air Force. You want to ferry boats, you need the Air Force. You want to rescue, you want to drop packets, now if there is an earthquake you need the Air Force. In fact, in the earthquake which happened in Pakistan and in our adjourning parts of J&K, Air Force did a hell of a lot of work. Leh there were floods, suddenly the Leh airfield was unusable. Army and Air Force together got that airfield up with just about 12 hours which was a very great accomplishment.
NDTV: You are looking at a very modern Air Force, are you getting the required technical manpower? Is the best of the technical talent coming to you? Or is it that you are trying to make special efforts to bring them in?
PV Naik: The intake has improved a little bit, but it is still not up to the desired standards... so we are taking various measures to make sure the intake improves. We are taking them before the 12th standard, before their degree, we are giving them a degree in the Air Force. We are approaching various regions to find new talent. Basic thing, is after their induction, training them and then retaining them. These are the two areas where we are giving our focus. And it is being emphasised everywhere that absorption of new technology and converting the operationalisation of new technology is the need of the hour. So our training patterns have been suitably modified. The training itself is being ramped up. All of this will take a little time.
NDTV: Let me take your views as Chairman, Chiefs of Staff Committee. What are your views on CDS (Chief of Defence Staff)? What do you think should happen to CDS?
PV Naik: You know the Air Force has been maligned quite badly over a lot of years, they feel that the Air Force doesn't want CDS. Totally to the contrary, the Air Force is very much in favour of the CDS. The point is I do not want a CDS in the present form. That means you make a 3-star, 4-star, 5-star head of IDS which is an existing organisation and call him CDS, you cannot do that. If there is a CDS - in my opinion and this is the Air Force opinion - that he has to be the single point of military contact to the Raksha Mantri. Are we ready to do that? Second point: what role model of CDS do we want? There are different role models all over the world. In the American role model, he controls all the operations of all the three services and he is answerable to the President directly. In the Australian model, the Defence Secretary and the CDS are at par. There are other models where CDS only looks after training and acquisition. There are other models where CDS only looks after operations. So we have to decide what model do we want. The third issue is, do we need a change just because everybody else has a CDS? Now since 1947, we have done pretty well. In 1947, '65, '71 and Kargil operations, despite what people say, I think there was a considerable amount of synergy involved. Today also when we go down to the field levels, that is command level, station level, you find a tremendous amount of synergy between the Army, Navy and Air Force. So do we need a CDS? That is a basic question. In my opinion, I don't think we need a CDS for the next 5-10 years.
NDTV: Do you think India needs to develop credible missile deterrents? Specially because of what China is doing? The distances should improve, the range should improve, do you think?
PV Naik: I feel we are developing the capability to have long-range missiles. This development of capability should never be stopped because 10-15 years from now, when you want it, it will not be available. So the capability development must continue. As far as weaponisation is concerned, that is the government's prerogative. Depending on the geo-politics, they will decide on what distance and what weaponisation is important. But capability build-up must continue.
NDTV: Towards that you are quite happy with what DRDO is doing? The missile program?
PV Naik: That has been one of our most successful programs.
NDTV: Air Chief Marshal, it has been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you very much for your time.