Chief of the Air Staff S. Krishnaswamy has called for the downsizing of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to make it more effective within budgetary constraints.
"Let's be very clear that the (defence) budget can't grow (substantially). To make the most of the available budget, we have to trim manpower. We must improve the man, machine and firepower ratio. We have to maximise capability with minimum people and equipment," the Air Chief told HT in an exclusive interview.
Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy, who is also Chairman Chiefs of Staff Committee, reserved his comments however on whether he was in favour of manpower downsizing in the Army and Navy as well. "We must make it work in the air force first," he said. The IAF has about 150,000 personnel.
The last time manpower downsizing was mooted was in the late 1990s by the Army, with the aim of saving on manpower costs and overheads, thus generating more money for modernisation. The idea to reduce troops by 50,000 was aborted after the 1999 Kargil skirmish. Thereafter, the 1.1 million-strong Army felt its counter-insurgency deployments were too manpower intensive for it to consider downsizing.
Krishnaswamy did not say precisely how much manpower needed to be cut but emphasised that the IAF's approach would be to reduce numbers by multi-skilling of personnel.
"Arrangements are being made to have new training systems and attitudes in place. We have to make people to do much more. The number of relatively untrained personnel will be reduced. For instance, we will not be recruiting people who are only drivers. They will be trained to do much more," the Air Chief said.
Besides, institutional changes were being introduced so that pilots fly for at least 20 years; other specialists would also "apply their knowledge" for that duration.
The emphasis on doing more with less extends to the fleet, weapons and infrastructure as well. "At the moment, we are lower than our sanctioned strength of 39.5 fighter squadrons. We will do well to maintain that level," he said.
"All new aircraft to be inducted into the IAF will be of the multi-role variety. The priority is replacements for the MiG-21 and MiG-23 fleets," Krishnaswamy said. The IAF has told the government it needs about six squadrons of multi-role fighters; capability requirements rather than preferences have been spelt out.
Talking of some options, Krishnswamy termed the Mirage 2000-V as a "good plane", the MiG-29 MRCA as "very promising". He said there was no emphasis on a twin-engine aircraft. On the Eurofighter (Typhoon), the IAF Chief said his understanding was that "it is yet not a multi-role aircraft" and is "currently available only in its air defence variant".