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India mulls Unified Drone Force, not silos in each wing

Highlights
  • IAF has been mooting a separate cadre for UAVs, including combat versions, missiles, air defence and other weapon systems
  • The proposal recommends a role-specific cadre, which ensured that candidates will be selected from recruitment itself, just like fighter and transport pilots

Even as a proposal from the Indian Air Force (IAF) Training Command to form a separate cadre for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones remains with the Air Headquarters, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman told STOI that creating another silo is not the way forward and that discussion on having a unified drone force was afoot.

With changing threat perceptions and anticipated future warfare scenarios, the IAF had been actively mooting creation of a separate cadre for UAVs, including the combat versions (UCAVs), missiles, air defence and other weapon systems, and a proposal for this was first sent by the IAF Training Command headquartered in Bengaluru, in 2012.

The proposal recommended a role-specific cadre, which ensured that candidates will be selected for these specific cadres from the time of recruitment itself, just like fighter pilots and transport pilots are picked, increasing career options for aspirants.

That the majority of over 200 UAVs or remotely piloted vehicles (RPVs) inducted into the Indian armed forces since 2000 are with IAF, the Training Command had taken lead in the matter.

Sitharaman, while pointing out that there was no doubt that drones are an important aspect of India’s defence and offence strategies, said that all three wings have several assigned roles so far as operating drones go.

“That said, creating another silo is not the way forward, it will only create another structure and more procedure. Of course personnel from all three wings will be given specific training for drones, but the way forward, as we have been discussing, is to have a joint force that will draw personnel from all three wings,” she said.

Sources in South Block told TOI, that the proposal is now expanded and will include missiles, air defence and other weapons systems, which are all headed and largely handled by officers from the flying branch of the IAF.

“This will be a role-specific cadre, so that the officers are trained for a specific role from the word go,” a senior official said.

The IAF, which already uses UAVs, is in the process of multiplying the forces with more acquisitions, including new mini UAVs for its special force -Garud -in the pipeline.

Presently, at least in the IAF, fighter pilots are diverted to operate drones.

Air Marshal (retd) Dhiraj Kukreja - under whose term as the IAF Training Command chief the proposal was sent - had earlier said that a lot of money and time is spent on training pilots, especially fighters, so "using them for these roles unless they are medically incapable of being fighter pilots or other pilots is a waste of resources".

Sitharaman further said that not just UAVs, but jointness is being worked on all fronts of the armed forces because "that’s really the way forward".

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