Air Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari will replace Air Marshal B Suresh who will retire on July 31. Chaudhari is currently serving as the Senior Air Staff Officer at the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command.
The Indian Air Force’s Western Air Command (WAC), whose responsibilities include the sensitive Ladakh sector, is set to get a new chief even as the IAF remains on its highest state of alert to deal with any military provocation by the Chinese forces amid tension along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) in eastern Ladakh, people familiar with the upcoming change of guard said on Friday.
Air Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari will take charge of the Delhi-based WAC on August 1, said one of the officials cited above. Chaudhari was closely associated with the Rafale programme in a previous role, and the IAF is inducting its first batch of the fighters imported from France next week.
He will replace Air Marshal B Suresh who will retire on July 31. Chaudhari is currently serving as the Senior Air Staff Officer at the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command. He earlier held the appointment of IAF deputy chief at the Air Headquarters in Delhi and steered a raft of key procurements.
An experienced pilot, Chaudhari has logged more than 3,800 hours of flying on a variety of fighter planes such as MiG-21, Mig-29 and Sukhoi-30. He has commanded important fighter bases in his military career including one in Kashmir. He also flew air defence missions during the 1999 Kargil war with Pakistan.
Chaudhari, who was commissioned into air force’s fighter stream in December 1982, is assuming command of the WAC at a time when the IAF is inducting its new Rafale fighter jets and operationalising them at the earliest is a top priority for the air force.
He was closely associated with the Rafale programme as IAF deputy chief — he was the head of the bilateral high-level group monitoring the progress of the fighter jet project, said a second official.
The IAF will induct its first batch of five Rafale jets at the Ambala air base, which comes under the WAC, on July 29. The air force could deploy the new fighters in the Ladakh sector as part of India’s overarching plan to strengthen its military posture in the region, officials previously indicated to Hindustan Times.
India is looking at arming its Rafale jets with an all-weather smart weapon of French origin that will allow combat pilots to engage ground targets from a standoff range of up to 60 km, as reported by HT on Thursday.
The IAF is likely to initiate the purchase of Hammer (Highly Agile Modular Munition Extended Range) using the emergency financial powers granted to the military by the government at a time of heightened military tension with China.
The other weapons that the Rafales will be armed with include Meteor beyond visual range air-to-air missiles, Mica multi-mission air-to-air missiles and Scalp deep-strike cruise missiles.
India ordered 36 Rafale jets from France in a deal worth Rs 59,000 crore in September 2016 as an emergency purchase to plug gaps in the IAF’s combat capabilities.
India-specific enhancements on the jets include cold engine start capability to operate from high-altitude bases including Leh, radar warning receivers, flight data recorders with storage for 10 hours of data, infrared search and track systems, jammers and towed decoys to ward off incoming missiles.