In what is seen as a not-so-veiled warning to Pakistan, IAF chief Birender Singh Dhanoa on Thursday declared that his force was able and willing to “locate, fix and strike” tactical nuclear weapons, among other things “across the border.” Speaking at a press conference ahead of Air Force Day October 8, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said the IAF has the capability to carry out the full spectrum of air operations, including supporting any surgical strike approved by the Centre.
Asked about the possibility of a two-front war (with both China and Pakistan), he said that in “the present ... scenario the possibility of a two-front war is low. However, the intention of the enemy can change overnight.” If it did, however his force was prepared even though “we need 42 squadrons for full spectrum of operations. But it does not mean that we cannot fight a two-front war with the existing strength. We have a Plan B.” At present, the IAF has 33 squadrons and 10 of those are listed to be phased out. The full requirement of 42 squadrons will only be achieved by 2032.
The air chief’s remarks are significant because they follow several scathing indictments of his force by the Comptroller and Auditor General over the past few months. These range from inadequate security at airbases despite terrorist strikes last year, delays in servicing and repair of aircraft including the ageing IL-76 fleet “which was still flying with 1985 vintage avionics”, as well as the misuse of leave travel allowance by his officers.
The fact that the message reached home was obvious from the remarks of Director General of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor later in the day, saying threats from India are perpetual. “We are a peaceful country and do not want war with India.” However, it would be naive to take that sentence at face value, given that earlier in the day, the same man had declared that “there are no organised strongholds of any terrorist organisation in