On Geriatric Air Forces

The officer grinning in the photo above, standing in front of an IAF Su-30 is Lt Gen Dave Deptula, a retired USAF veteran whose name has begun to appear frequently in the American press for a comment he made to the Wall Street Journal in September: "We have a geriatric air force." His comment has come to represent the massive challenges the USAF faces with an ageing fleet, coupled with unforeseen delays in inductions of new aircraft, specifically the F-35 Lightning II.

I met Gen Deptula in Kalaikunda, West Bengal in November 2005 at the Cope India exercise; at the time he was Vice Commander of the Pacific Air Forces. While I reported only on the Indo-US exercise for the newspaper I wrote for at the time, I also chatted with the General about how India and the US, while essentially incomparable in terms of most parameters, suffered pretty much the same affliction: both are progressively ageing forces with slow inductions that fail to bridge critical gaps. He seemed to agree. My notes quote him as saying, "We've both got very professional air forces. And they have a lot that they can do together cooperatively. It's important that we understand each other and the technology we use. From the discussions I've had here, both air forces have similar strengths. Our two air forces also face similar challenges, including the entry of new generation aircraft and hardware. But there is always benefit to both if we work together. I have personally never seen a more professionally conducted exercise."

Photo / Shiv Aroor

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