The Indian Air Force (IAF) Thursday urged the government to set up a new Aerospace Command for the military use of space even as it announced plans to acquire a large number of helicopters and transport aircraft.
The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi, emphasised the need for a new command to control and protect India's space-based assets like satellites that would play a key role in future wars.
"The new medium to be exploited in this environment is space. Considering that space is just an extension beyond the medium of air...it is but natural that we are advocating the setting up of an Aerospace Command to exploit the military usage of space," Tyagi told a news conference ahead of Air Force Day Oct 8.
Noting that India was already using space for communications, navigation and reconnaissance and sending a large number of satellites into space, Tyagi said there "would soon be a requirement to safeguard" these assets.
"Therefore, there is a pressing need to set up an organisation that will be dedicated to exploiting space utilisation," he said.
At the same time, he announced the IAF was keen on purchasing a large number of medium lift transport aircraft and 80 multi-role medium lift helicopters, most of which would primarily be used for the force's growing role in aiding the civil administration during emergencies and natural disasters like the Dec 26 tsunami.
Tyagi pointed out the IAF had airlifted 54,000 people and carried 1,500 tonnes of relief materials after the tsunami and heavy snowfall in the Kashmir Valley early this year - marking a four-fold increase in such operations over the previous year. IAF planes also carried relief to tsunami-hit Asian nations and the US after Hurricane Katrina.
The IAF chief also asserted that India's growing energy needs "necessitated enhancement of strategic reach" and the purchase of "weapons with strategic reach".
Towards this end, the IAF was looking at buying more air-to-air refuelling jets that could double as cargo planes as well as helicopters and transport aircraft.
Tyagi said his force was looking for medium lift transport aircraft that fitted in between its Russian-made An-32s capable of lifting five tonnes and Il-76s that can carry up to 50 tonnes.
"We want to join hands with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) to produce (a 15-20 tonne class transport aircraft)," he said, noting there was a demand for similar aircraft in India's burgeoning civil aviation sector.
"These can be converted into 100-seat aircraft for civilian use."
At the same time, The IAF is carrying a study to decide whether to refurbish its ageing fleet of An-32s that was acquired about 20 years ago. The study will ascertain how much longer the An-32s, of which the IAF has about 80, can be kept flying.