India — IAF To Loose Conventional Edge Over PAF

With the defence min­istry drag­ging its feet on cru­cial defense pur­chas­es, for the first time since inde­pen­dence the Indi­an Air Force (IAF) is set to lose con­ven­tion­al edge over Pak­istan. It’s fight­er squadron strength is set to hit an all time low of 31 in the next two years.

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Since the 1971 Indo-Pak war in which Pak­istan was com­plete­ly defeat­ed, the Indi­an defence strat­e­gy has been based on main­tain­ing a supe­ri­or air force over Pak­istan and Chi­na. In the event of a con­flict with either of these coun­tries, the IAF will be a crit­i­cal fight­ing instru­ment of first resort.

Fight­er assets of the IAF are dwin­dling fast and the force will not be able to attain it’s min­i­mum required sanc­tioned strength of 42 until 2032 thus adverse­ly affect­ing the “oper­a­tional capa­bil­i­ty” of the IAF. No doubt that the IAF is pur­chas­ing new state-of-the-art fight­er jets and also man­u­fac­tur­ing the top of the line Su-30 MKI’s in India, it will still not bridge the gap.

The com­mit­tee has found that the IAF has at present 34 fight­er squadrons against the sanc­tioned strength of 42. As the Com­mit­tee under­stands the strength is like­ly to be reduced fur­ther to 31 dur­ing the 12th plan (from 2012–2017).

The cur­rent strat­e­gy has been aimed to build even­tu­al­ly to 45 num­bers of com­bat squadron of air force. The num­ber of sanc­tioned strength now is 42 but final­ly the need will be to have 45 squadrons, which will hap­pen only by the 15th plan (2032),” said the committee’s report tabled in the Par­lia­ment.

As ear­ly as 1959, the IAF had pro­ject­ed the require­ment of 64 squadrons, includ­ing 45 com­bat air­craft squadrons, to pre­pare for an even­tu­al­i­ty of fac­ing war on two fronts. The deba­cle in 1962 reaf­firmed the require­ment. But since then the snail-paced acqui­si­tion has hurt the IAF bad­ly. The IAF man­aged to main­tain an edge against the Pak­istan Air Force (PAF) giv­ing the IAF a 2.9:1 advan­tage in com­bat air­craft.

Present­ly the PAF has around 26 squadrons and the IAF needs to have 39.5 squadrons to main­tain it’s edge. The PAF too is under­go­ing a major aug­men­ta­tion of it’s capac­i­ty. And as recent­ly as in 2006 it ordered 28 F‑16CD Block 52 fight­ers from the US. Out of these 14 has already been deliv­ered. It has also placed order for 36 J‑10 com­bat jets with Chi­na.

Pak­istan is also doing series pro­duc­tion of JF-17 Thun­der air­craft – the Chi­nese equiv­a­lent of the home-built Light Com­bat Air­craft (LCA) – with Chi­na. Pak­istan has pro­duced 26 such fight­ers with Chi­nese help since 2009. Chi­na has also agreed to pro­vide 50 JF-17 Thun­ders equipped with sophis­ti­cat­ed avion­ics to Pak­istan.

The decline in India’s com­bat squadron will come as it begins its “obso­lete” MiG-21 fight­er jets in 2014 and the phase-out will com­plete by 2017. Already the force has decid­ed to stop train­ing its fight­er pilots on the Sovi­et-vin­tage war-jet fol­low­ing a series of crash­es last year. Accord­ing to data 482 MiG air­craft have crashed since 1971–72 result­ing in the death of 171 pilots, 39 civil­ians and 9 ser­vice per­son­nel earn­ing a moniker of “Fly­ing Coffins”.

With the devel­op­ment of indige­nous Light Com­bat Air­craft (LCA) Tejas tak­ing place fac­ing con­stant time over-runs and the pro­cure­ment of 126 Medi­um Mul­ti-Role Com­bat Air­craft pro­gress­ing painful­ly slow, the force had been unable to write off the MiG-21s. After a long wind­ing pro­cure­ment process span­ning near­ly ten years, the deal for 126 fight­er jets is now in price nego­ti­a­tion stage and the first of the air­craft is like­ly to be deliv­ered by the end of this decade only.

The con­ven­tion­al edge of the air force has already been com­pro­mised qual­i­ta­tive­ly, as these MiG-21 vari­ants have already out-flown their ini­tial pre­scribed life span of 20 years. Present­ly, there are four ver­sions MiGs fly­ing with the IAF — Type-77, Type-96, Type 75 and Bisons. Of these Type-77 jets are the old­est and Bisons are the upgrad­ed ver­sions. Fly­ing for the last four decades, these air­craft have been giv­en life exten­sions sev­er­al times over.


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