Bengaluru: The formation of the second Tejas squadron (No 18 Flying Bullets) at Air Force Station Sulur on May 27 was an historic event for the Indian Air Force (IAF), Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), private industries and many other national laboratories supporting India’s home-grown military efforts.
It was also a very significant one for the Thiruvananthapuram-headquartered Southern Air Command (SAC), which has under its belt three fighter squadrons now – No 45 Sqn Flying Daggers, No Sqn 18 Flying Bullets (both at AFS Sulur operating Tejas) and No 222 Sqn Tigersharks (at AFS Thanjavur operating the Sukhois).
The two-hour-packed event held under tight social-distancing norms owing to COVID-19 restrictions, had many significant parts to it.
But what probably went under the radar was an inspiring speech made by Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria.
With the help of a Ministry of Defence official, Onmanorama accessed a video file of the speech that has inspired the air warriors, scientists, engineers involved with current and future aeronautical military programmes.
“This is probably the best speeches of an IAF Chief we have heard so far. It was very pointed and thought-provoking. More than the speech, it was some directions for everyone. It was a wake-up call for all of us,” said a Director of HAL, not wanting to be quoted.
Another official from Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) said the talk had all ingredients as to what various stakeholders had to do to keep the indigenous flag flying high.
“It was a speech with a purpose,” the official said, again not wanting to be named.
So what did the IAF Chief speak that touched a chord with everyone present at AFS Sulur?
Best boys in
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria took off smoothly and said the No 18 Squadron Flying Bullets has been resurrected with the advance version of the Light Combat Aircraft Tejas with a great thought.
“There are many firsts to the No 18 Squadron. This squadron was equipped with Ajeet, one of the initial indigenous aircraft after Marut in the IAF inventory. When the Southern Air Command got its first fighter squadron in 1985, it was again Ajeet manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) that was part of it,” the IAF Chief touched upon some uniqueness of the squadron.
The No 18 Squadron had moved there from Srinagar to SAC then. Later, they got converted to MiG-27 in 1989 at AFS Hindan. It got number plated in April 2016 and was resurrected in April at AFS Sulur.
“Your Squadron motto of ‘Teevra aur Nirbhaya (Swift and Fearless) is apt in many ways. Teevra epitomised by Flying Officer Nirmal Jit Singh Sekhon (Param Vir Chakra awardee, posthumous) and Nirbhaya is what you will get with LCA Tejas. It is now up to the Commanding Officer and all the air warriors of No 18 Squadron to join the operations of IAF in full form at the earliest,” he said.
He said the IAF has placed lots of trust in the new squadron members and they are the best men put on the critical job.
“You are amongst the best in the IAF so that you will have to operationalise the squadron at the shortest span of time. Tejas today what you are getting is the best in its class in the world. Take my word for it. It is for you now to study it, gain knowledge, understand its capabilities, maintenance aspects and know everything about the aircraft. With your brains, with your abilities to synergise and with networking you must ensure that Tejas continues to grow and increases its combat capabilities,” he told the air warriors present there.
The CAS soon dived into the business end of the talk and thanked all stake-holders who played a part in making the Tejas a war-fighting machine.
Sustaining fleet key
He then turned his attention to the makers and designers of Tejas present there.
“I must also tell ADA, HAL, DRDO and others that there’s a big responsibility coming your way as we grow the Tejas fleet. We must get the supply chain right, efficiency in provisioning of spares right and we must be able to maintain and sustain the fleet effectively,” the IAF Chief said.
He said having inducted two squadrons of Tejas, now the most critical aspect for IAF is to maintain and sustain the fleet. He also urged all agencies to work together and proactively support the maintenance set-up.
He said IAF is transforming in its operational philosophy, in terms of training, networking, security, information and weapons.
“I assure you lot of work is happening in order to provide you the technology and capability edge as far as possible within the country. Only where it is absolutely essential we will seek some support from outside. So much is possible within our country and that is why our attention has shifted in a major way to indigenous manufacturing,” he said.
Wake up and move on
Turning his focus to the industry, the CAS said that the Covid-19 has impacted the private sector, MSMEs and supply chain of DPSUs.
“We cannot sit back and take these as excuses or demoralising factors. We must get up and start moving. When I took over as IAF Chief I said we will do everything possible to support the industry. The two squadrons here is very much a testimony to what we have promised,” he said.
He said IAF is keen to look two to three decades ahead with many home-grown systems set to join its fleet. He said the orders for 83 Tejas MK1As will be in soon while IAF’s unflinching support for LCA MkII and Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) would continue.
“Our vision is clear. For future fighters, host of radars, weapons, sensors and AI systems we will seek industry’s support. We need 300-plus fighters and 70-plus HTT-40 trainers which we have indicated. The industry must move together to synergise and take advantages of all available opportunities. We should be able to grab the opportunity and change the face of aviation industry in the country in the next 10 to 20 years. If we do not act now we would only lose time, opportunity and the capability as we go ahead,” he said.
He said the IAF is clear with what it needs from indigenous sources in the next few decades.
“Working together is the key and I am confident that we will be able to improve production rates, timelines, reliability factors, cost-cutting measures and efficiencies across the board,” he said.
Smart budgeting must
Admitting that budget will be cause of concern for everyone in future the IAF Chief called for innovative methods to tackle the problem.
“Budget will be an issue in the immediate future. Again budget constraints should not become an excuse for the industry not to take off. Demand is what matters more. If you get together, there are innovate ways of doing budgeting for firm programmes. I would urge the industry partners to come together for budgeting with innovate ways and overcome this period of constraints and yet move forward,” he said.
He signed off his compact speech again reminding both Tejas squadrons that they will become the core of IAF’s growth in terms of combat capability for the future.
“As a core you need to grow and absorb the 83 new LCAs that will come up in the next decade and ensure that the combat capability is proliferated into the IAF in the right manner. I have no doubt when the opportunity arises these two squadrons will surprise the adversary with their capability and determination,” he concluded.
Air Marshal T D Joseph, who is currently the Senior Air Staff Officer at Bengauru-based IAF Training Command, was present at the event as the Commodore Commandant of No 18 Squadron.
Tejas fans thrilled
When Onmanorama sought the reaction of Tejas followers across the globe using various social media tools, they were thrilled to see the addition of yet another squadron with a desi bird to the IAF fleet. The gist of select-few responses below.
• Tejas is a stepping stone for future projects and its future iteration like the MK2/MWF will be a game changer for Indian aviation. Tejas is the first step towards making IAF 'aatmnirbhar'. - Hitesh Adhikari, Uttarakhand
• The second squadron will bolster IAF operations and will act as a stimulant for seamless integration of Tejas Mk1A and Tejas MkII-2. - Ajayshree Singh Sambyal, Ph.D Scholar, University of Jammu.
• New Tejas squadron is good but I hope if HAL can partner with private industry to start a new line of production, we will be able to deliver 24 to 30 aircraft every year. - Ravi Lokwani, Postdoctoral research fellow, National Institute of Health, USA.
• There couldn't have been a better news than this. It's a delight that we are seeing a second squadron of LCA Tejas in the IAF. I really can't wait to see the bird touch the sky with glory. - Aditi Patwardhan, MBA student, Nagpur.
• It's such a proud feeling that the second squadron of the Tejas is being formed and I can't wait till it is completed and positioned at our northern borders. - Atul Singh, Research Analyst, Gurugram.
• The Tejas programme though behind schedule has enabled India to develop and master many technologies. It will serve as a springboard to accede late development of future variants. - Danny Saldanha, Chartered Accountant, Dubai.
(The writer is an independent aerospace and defence journalist, who blogs at Tarmak007 and tweets @writetake.)