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Defence Minister asks IAF to focus on conserving resources

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NEW DELHI (PTI): Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has asked the Indian Air Force (IAF) to focus on safety and conservation of available resources as he interacted with top commanders just days after India decided to buy 36 Rafale jets.

He also met with the commanders of the Army and emphasized on national security and capability-development, reiterating that capacity-building was a continuous process that must proceed apace and unabated.

Addressing the Commanders in New Delhi, Parrikar emphasized on aviation safety and conservation of available resources, an official statement said.

His remarks come at a time when the IAF is flying with 34 Squadrons of fighter aircraft even though the sanctioned strength is 42.

A worrying scenario is that over 10 squadrons of MiG 21s will start seeing phasing out from 2017. However, the effort is on to extend them by a few more years.

"The Minister has been talking about how the defence sector has been neglected over the last 10 years. Any remedial measures will take time to come in. Fresh planes to replace the old ones cannot come in quickly and will take time," defence sources said explaining what the Minister meant.

During Prime Minister Narendra Modi's recent visit to France, he announced that India will buy 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition to meet the operational requirement of IAF.

Parrikar has said it will take at least two years for the fighters to be inducted.

IAF has been banking on Rafale, the indigenously-developed Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft deal with Russia to augment its strength.

However, all the three projects are running behind schedule.

Addressing the Bi-Annual Army Commanders' Conference, Parrikar highlighted some key issues and challenges, both external and internal, that had an impact on the nation's security calculus, the statement said.

His statement came even as the government has decided on cut down the strength of the Mountain Strike Corps by nearly half.

In July 2013, the Cabinet Committee on Security had cleared the raising of Army's first Mountain Strike Corps (17 Corps) along the China border in the Northeast.

It was expected to cost over Rs 70,000 crore and comprise more than 80,000 men.

During his address, Parrikar also congratulated the Indian Army stating that it was one of the most professional institutions of the country.

He also emphasised that one of the topmost priorities of the government was the welfare of ex-servicemen in which the 'One-Rank-One-Pension' scheme implementation process is underway.

Similarly, other welfare projects like the ECHS will continue to be fully supported by the government, he said.

Army chief Gen Dalbir Singh stressed on various major operational, logistics, training and manpower issues.

The conference is the highest-level 'Military Conference' and is held bi-annually to discuss current internal and external strategic issues, review operational preparedness of Indian Army and aspects pertaining to military technology and force modernisation.

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha updated Parrikar on operational status of IAF, induction of C-17 and operationalisation of C-130 aircraft.

He also highlighted the efforts put in to increase the aircraft serviceability and the corresponding increase in flying task of IAF as compared to the previous year.

Achievements of IAF, especially during the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) operations, were covered by Raha.

He also elaborated on IAF's focus areas and covered the future road map for IAF.

Raha also expressed his concern for well-being, morale and enhancement of physical fitness of air-warriors.

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