Every organisation is legitimately entitled to seek to dispel what it maintains are misconceptions. Yet, self-projection is seldom successful when recourse is taken to comparisons that can be interpreted as questioning the image of others. The stock of the Indian Air Force is unlikely to have risen in professional circles by Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa’s bid to suggest that it matched the Navy’s much-acclaimed effort at indigenisation.
Even a layman would note that several home-built platforms are part of the marine combat fleet ~ missile-destroyers, frigates, even submarines and an aircraft carrier. Dhanoa might have sounded more convincing had he stressed the very limited base of the Indian aviation industry, and how that came in the way of producing war-planes in the country.
Actually the comparison he drew has a negative fall-out, it has the potential to exacerbate inter-service rivalry when integration and “jointsmanship” are the buzzwords in modern military thinking. The Air Chief further weakened his case by pointing out that the IAF had lost 17 test pilots and engineers during the testing/evaluation of indigenous aircraft like Marut, Kiran, Ajeet, Saras and an AWACS ~ a death toll is no index.
That he was hurt by the image the Navy earned for itself was betrayed by his telling a New Delhi “think tank” that “It is unfair to compare only an aircraft for its indigenous content versus an entire ship” and he felt more realistic would be comparing an aircraft with a surface-to-air missile. By his reckoning the IAF’s indigenous content stood at 52 per cent, the Navy’s at 55 for a destroyer.
That was not his only curious comparison. According to him the indigenous Tejas LCA was more technologically advanced than the Chinese/Pak JF-17 ,(he offered no empirical evidence in support), and the Indian deal for 36 Rafales from France was more advantageous than Brazil’s arrangement for the Swedish Grippen. While most Indian aviation experts say that the Tejas is still “a work in progress” (as it has been for decades), Dhanoa hailed it as a fighter of the future.
Why, it might then be asked, has the IAF placed only limited/conditional orders on HAL? A bulk order may have led to a boost in production facilities. And why have international offers been invited for another 100 jets ~ would they, like the Rafales, be an emergency buy to plug the dwindling squadron strength of the IAF?
No “General” can be expected to publicly air apprehensions over the weapons and equipment at his disposal, yet he would be unfair to the nation at large if he presented an unrealistic picture. Worse, as his critics suggest in the context for his kudos for the Tejas, there are suspicions/apprehensions of playing to a political gallery ~ even though the Tejas traces its origin to an era that pre-dates the coining of the slogan “Make in India”.