The Balakot air strikes and the air combat thereafter in which a MiG 21 Bison of Indian Air Force (IAF) had to engage a more modern F-16 of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has once again brought IAF modernisation back into focus. IAF Chief, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa, has said that IAF has hit an all-time low of 30 fighter squadrons vis-a-vis the government authorised 42. At a seminar on modernisation of the IAF on August 20, 2019, he said: “We are still flying the MiG-21 which is 44 years old but nobody is driving cars of that vintage.” He also highlighted the convergence of strategic interests between China and Pakistan and their rapidly modernising air forces. IAF, on the other hand, has been slowly losing the combat edge that it had enjoyed over Pakistan in 1971 both in terms quality and numbers. Technology intensive air power requires faster replacement of assets due to quicker obsolescence.
Air power today is the dominant means of prosecuting war. It is clear that IAF must win the air war for the army and navy to win the surface war. Aerospace is the domain of the future and the one who controls it will control the planet. It offers prompt multiple response options to the political leadership in times of national security crises. IAF did test its operational plans, in a two-front scenario, in the mother of-all-exercises 'Gagan Shakti'. While IAF has a plan 'B' to fight with what it has, if forced into conflict, numbers are clearly not adequate.