Source – TNN ( Rajat Pandit)
With rapid technological advances in stand-off weapons and armed drones changing the very nature of warfare, the IAF will now raise a separate specialised cadre of officers to handle advanced missiles, space-based systems, surveillance and combat unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
The first lot of new officers for this new Weapon Systems Branch (WSB) in the IAF, cleared by the PM-led cabinet committee on security on Thursday, will be inducted by end-2023. The branch will be headed by an Air Marshal-rank (equivalent to Lt-General) director general of weapon systems.
“This is the first time since independence that a new operational branch is being created. This will essentially be for manning of four specialised streams of surface-to-surface missiles, surface-to-air missiles, remotely piloted aircraft and weapon system operators in twin and multi-crew aircraft,” Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhari said on Saturday.
“Creation of this branch would result in savings of over Rs 3,400 crore due to reduced expenditure on flying training,” Air chief marshal V R Chaudhari said, while addressing the IAF Day parade at Chandigarh.
In Delhi, the defence ministry said Weapon Systems Branch’s (WSB) creation would entail the unification of all weapon system operators under one entity dedicated to the operational employment of all ground-based and specialist airborne weapon systems. The WSB will have the four sub-branches: flying (weapon systems operators in twin-seat fighters like Sukhoi-30MKI fighters), remote (operational crews for RPAs and drones), intelligence (information warfare, image and signals intelligence specialists) and surface (mission commanders and operators for missiles, guided and close-in weapons).
At present, units of different kinds of air defence and precision-strike missiles as well as UAVs in the IAF are largely commanded and staffed by officers (pilots and navigators) from the flying branch. These range from Russian S-400 Triumf surface-to-air missile systems (380-km range) and Israeli low-level Spyder quick-reaction missiles (15-km range) to the indigenous BrahMos supersonic cruise missiles (290 to 450-km) and Akash area defence missiles (25-km).
“The WSB will be a fully operational and gender-neutral branch of officers who will not undergo the expensive and time-consuming flying training, especially for fighter pilots. This will save an estimated Rs 3,400 crore over several years. Active pilots will also not have to be diverted to missile and other units,” an officer told.
Moreover, as the IAF chief noted on Saturday, the advent of drones, swarm drones, hypersonic weapons and space-based ISR (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance) systems have added a new dimension to war-fighting.
The advanced weapon systems being inducted into the IAF will need a cadre of the specially-trained officers. There is, for instance, the plan to induct new MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) and the HALE (high-altitude, long-endurance) UAVs.
There is also the Rs 3,500 crore upgrade programme planned indigenously for over half of the around 80-90 Israeli Heron UAVs inducted by the armed forces over the years with laser-guided bombs and air-to-ground anti-tank missiles as well as advanced reconnaissance capabilities under ‘Project Cheetah’.