Bengaluru: Air Marshal Balakrishnan Suresh, the Air Officer Commanding in Chief (AOC-in-C) of Western Air Command (WAC) has hung up his boots today after serving the Indian Air Force (IAF) for close to four decades.
In an interview to Onmanorma, Air Marshal Suresh said that indigenous efforts to develop military platforms and technologies might take time, but in the long run it would pay rich dividends for the country.
"When you look at the user, we always want the best with us. We want cutting edge technologies, weapons and platforms of current generation. Aviation itself is a very young arm compared to naval and land forces. Lots of home-grown efforts have taken place on radars and weapons. It is not a simple task to make a fighter like Tejas. It is not just R&D alone but it is also a process of discovery," Air Marshal Suresh said.
He said at the moment India is not in a position to provide complete military technologies.
"Finding the right balance (developing and importing) is the trick of the trade and many people go wrong here," Air Marshal Suresh, hailing from erstwhile Trivandrum said.
Interestingly, he donned the military uniform at the age of 12 in 1972, after joining the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) in Dehradun. Later he was selected for the National Defence Academy (NDA) in 1977 and was part of the 57th course.
Tejas is fantastic
When asked about the possibilities of Tejas finding a potential user outside India, he said the task should not be left with Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) alone.
"It has to be through a wider government approach as well. It has to be strategized. Tejas is a fantastic aircraft and there is no doubt about it. I have flown it. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Availability of the aircraft is important now with the squadrons in place. The serviceability of aircraft, readiness of mission-critical systems and maintainability are key factors. The machine must be available when I want it," says the senior officer, who was commissioned as a fighter pilot into the IAF in 1980.
Rafales will be a game-changer
"India has to leapfrog in military technologies. And we are capable of doing so. We don’t have the liberty of evolution at a slow pace. All other countries and manufacturers had that liberty and luxury of time on their hands, which we don’t have now. We need to catch up with the rest," he said.
On Rafales, he said the fighters offer phenomenal capabilities and will be a game-changer for the IAF.
"Rafales will tilt the balance in our favour a bit for now. Situational awareness is the key and this aircraft gives you more in terms of technology. The numbers will build up to 36 eventually. Numbers will be the key for IAF and technology can counter numbers only to some extent. Rafale will be a game-changer," he said.
He added that the operationalisation of the new fighters will be accelerated.
The tactics man for IAF
Air Marshal Suresh has nearly 1000 hours on MiG 21 (T-96/75) and 1100 hours on MiG 23 BN and MiG 27 ML fighter aircraft.
Here are the key highlights of his career:
• Spent a total of eight years with the coveted Tactics & Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE) in three different stints, which is a record of sorts.
• Did the first ever Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missile trials and developed BVR tactics for IAF while at TACDE. This formed the basic foundation for the anti-Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM) tactics followed by the IAF.
• As the Exercise Director, conducted Exercise Cope India 2004 with the United States Air Force at Gwalior. This was the first ever exercise with USAF after a gap of 40 years. IAF performed extremely well against USAF F-15 aircraft. The world sat up and took notice of IAF’s tactics and capabilities.
• He has been awarded Vayu Sena Medal, Ati Vishisht Seva Medal and the Param Vishisht Seva Medal. He was also appointed as the honorary Aide-de-Camp (ADC) to President of India.
• As the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command headquartered at Thirivananthapuram, Air Marshal Suresh played a pivotal role in the relief and rescue operations during the Kerala floods of 2018. It was one of the high-intensity Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations undertaken by the IAF in the recent times.
• Successfully steered the first ever combined Guided Weapons Firing Range (GWFR) with Spyder, Akash, OSA-AK and IGLA missiles against a Manoeuvrable Expendable Aerial Target (MEAT).
• As the WAC Chief, he laid the foundation for the induction of Rafales and was instrumental in operationalisation of Chinook heavy-lift helicopter and Apache attack helicopter. Airfields in Ladakh sector was made ready for night fighter operations under his leadership.
(The writer is an independent aerospace, defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)