Fifty years after the Indo-Pak war an Interview with a Living Legend - Former Indian Air Force Chief SP Tyagi
"Diplomacy without national strength is like a dinner without wine” Former Indian Air Chief Tyagi
This month the Former Indian Air Force Chief S.P Tyagi, a veteran of both the 1965 and the 1971 Indo-Pak Wars sat down for an exclusive interview with The Diplomatic Society Global Editor, Srimal Fernando and Prateek Joshi in New Delhi. The Former Chief Marshal Shashindra Pal Tyagi is a living legend of both the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak Wars.
Photo: (l-r) Former Indian Air Force Chief S.P Tyagi, Srimal Fernando and Prateek Joshi
The Former Indian Air Chief was awarded the Param Vishist Seva Medal (PVSM) in 2003. Tyagi held the appointments of Director Operations of Air Defence, ACAS Intelligence and Operations. He also had a stint as a senior fellow at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA) and was a senior Instructor and Directing Staff at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington in India.
Srimal Fernando (SF): Can you give a brief background of yourself?
Air Chief Tyagi (AC): I grew up in Jodhpur, a town in the state of Rajasthan and also an important airbase. My uncle was an instructor at the Jodhpur airbase. Initially I wanted to become a lawyer but when I saw fighter pilots for the first time, I was awestruck and made up my mind to become an Officer. I made it to the air force and was commissioned on the 31st of December, 1963, a few months short of my 19th birthday. I felt that being a fighter pilot is an attitude; it is a determination of winning.
SF: Can you recall some of your achievements?
AC: I feel that attaching achievements to an individual should be discouraged. We have worked as a team where even the suggestions from our juniors have been of immense importance, so there is no question of personal achievements. Achievements are only possible due to teamwork.
(l-r) Former Indian Air Force Chief S.P Tyagi, Srimal Fernando and Prateek Joshi
SF: What is your vision regarding the Indian Air Force?
AC: Generals have a vision of tomorrow. We have to think about the global situation and also look towards the next 10 to 15 years regarding the steps we take.
SF: What are the challenges you have faced?
AC: Serving in the armed forces is a risky business even during times of peace. Life is at a constant risk. In fact, I've carried the remains of my roommate who passed away in an air crash. But, we have been trained to live with this challenge.
Prateek Joshi (PJ): What do you have to say about the threats to India and our preparedness?
AC: Given the continental size of the country, we have to operate on all fronts. We have to focus on the North and South at the same time. We have to protect our sea lanes of communication. Quantity wise, it's true that we need more planes but quality wise you must understand that your needs should be as per your requirement. The nation needs a quality-quantity balance.
Also, not all security challenges can be tackled militarily but diplomatically too. Military is only one aspect of our national strength.
PJ: Do you think that the rate of modernisation is slow as far as the Indian Air Force is concerned?
AC: We don't need the world's best technology to win wars. Rather, we need the best we can use given the situation and resources. Also, the need of the hour should be the decision-making capacity of senior officers. An air chief is not appointed to make the country buy new planes or the best technology, but for efficient decision making and utilising the resources given the nation’s capacity.
SF: Does the Indian Air Force have any cooperation with the South African Air Force?
AC: Yes, we hold Air Force exercises and we have bought some equipment from the SAAF in the past.
SF: Have you attended any training and courses abroad?
AC: I have attended a course on air safety at the University of Southern California. In Hawaii I attended a course on national security at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies (APCSS). I also followed a six months flying training with the Royal Air Force (RAF) of the United Kingdom.
SF: What are your views on diplomacy?
AC: Diplomacy without national strength is like a dinner without wine. Superpowers like the USA have a strong economy and a strong military; hence they use this power to influence the global diplomacy. So, we need a balance of elements like economy, military, political stability, educated population etc. which will determine our influencing capacity. Without these tools, no one will listen to us.
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