NEW DELHI: Making it loud and clear that the Indian Air Force has the capability to take on China and Pakistan simultaneously, if the situation demands, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa admitted that they have ‘Plan B’ ready for it despite force’s depleting combat strength.
IAF chief’s statement came days after the Army chief General Bipin Rawat had said that the country should be prepared for a two-front war, stressing that China had started "flexing its muscles" and there seemed to be no scope for reconciliation with Pakistan, whose military and polity saw India as the adversary.
“We need strength of 42 squadrons to carry out full spectrum operations, but it doesn't mean we can't fight a two-front scenario. There is a Plan B," Air chief Marshal Dhanoa said, while maintaining that the though the possibility of two-front war scenario is ‘low’. IAF at present operating with 32 squadrons and on the verge of losing out more squadrons as MiG 21 and MiG 27 fleeting is ageing and the Air Force would achieve its sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons by 2032. IAF will have 83 indigenous Light Combat Aircaft Tejas, 36 Rafale and 36 additional Sukhoi fighter jets by end of 2019.
In response to Pakistan’s recent boast of short-range nuclear weapons to counter India, IAF chief said the Air Force has the capability of locating, fixing and striking across the border, but making it clear that any decision on a surgical strike would be the government's.
Speaking at the customary press briefing ahead of the Air Force Day, Air chief Marshal Dhanoa indicated that the tension at the China border still continues, despite both armies had decided to disengage at the stand off site at the tri-junction at Dokalam after over two months.
The IAF chief said Chinese troops were currently present in the Chumbi valley, which is in the Dokalam Plateau, and added that a peaceful resolution of the issue would be in the interest of both countries.
"The two sides are not in a physical face-off as we speak. However, their forces in Chumbi Valley are still deployed and I expect them to withdraw as their exercise in the area gets over," Dhanoa said. The Chumbi Valley is north of Doklam. Doklam is remote, uninhabited territory claimed by both China and India's ally Bhutan. It is believed that barely 10 kilometres from the location of the stand-off, China is expanding an existing track, reinforcing its claim to the disputed and remote Doklam Plateau. China is trying to reinforce its claim in the area, which has been objected both India and Bhutan, with nearly 500 troops.
About 350 troops were deployed by India at the face-off site and a similar number of Chinese soldiers were camping in the area since June 16 after Indian troops stopped the Chinese soldiers from building a road in the disputed area. Incidentally, Nirmala Sitharaman is also traveling to Sikkim and Arunachal in the weekend to take stock on the situation after Dokalam crisis.
About a possible confrontation with China, he said India's air power was "adequate". At the same time, he talked about what China could or could not do from Tibet. "Our capability is adequate," he said.
Clarifying that no air force assets were used during the Myanmar operation and the surgical strike in PoK, IAF Chief maintained that a war-like situation may arise if the IAF crossed the border.
"Surgical strike is a decision that has to be taken by the government. The IAF has the capability to carry out the full spectrum of air operations," he said.
"The IAF is prepared to fight at a short notice in full synergy with the other two sister services should the need arise," he said, adding that the force was in a high state of readiness to fight a war.
IAF also briefed about force’s expansion plans including acquisition of S-400 'Triumf' long-range air defence missile systems from Russia and 36 Rafale combat jets alongwith mid-life upgrading of Mirage 2000, Mig 29s and Jaguar fleets, adding that the IAF was working to fully achieving a network-centric operational capability.