POST-RAFALE IAF GROWTH CHALLENGES
Geopolitics|February 2021
In order to have its authorized 42 squadrons earliest by 2038, the Indian Air Force requires $110 billion (₹770,000 crore), estimates ANIL CHOPRA. Where is that money? Will this remain a pipe dream?
ANIL CHOPRA

The serious showdown with the Chinese in Ladakh has once again brought into focus the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) growth and its challenges. Defence analysts are closely comparing the defence preparedness of the armies and air forces of the two sides across the Line of Actual Control (LAC). The media hype related to the induction of Rafale did raise the public confidence and nationalist fervour, but professionals must look at the ground reality dispassionately and debate the challenges and options.

Current state of IAF

IAF is today at an all-time low in the number of fighter squadrons. Already down to 30 vis-a-vis the authorised 42, the numbers would go down further if some more squadrons are allowed to retire because of low availability of serviceable aircraft. As far back as 2001, IAF had apprised the government for the need to acquire additional fighters. IAF at that stage was very happy to have the upgraded version of the Mirage-2000, an option that finally got foreclosed in 2006 when Dassault closed the Mirage-2000 production line after repeatedly checking with India.

The process to acquire 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) was finally initiated in 2007. French Dassault Rafale was the eventual winner after a fierce competition among the world’s top available fighters. 8 of the 36 Rafale have arrived and are operational at Ambala.

Meanwhile the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) ‘Tejas’ has had a very delayed Design and Development (D&D) programme and after nearly 20 years since aircraft’s first flight, only around 25 aircraft have been delivered to the IAF. The second LCA squadron has just formed. Delayed acquisition of a sufficient number of 4th-Generation-plus fighters and slow induction of the LCA is the main cause of the depleted state that IAF fight fleet is in today.

Waiting to phaseout are at least five squadrons. So, the numbers could deplete further. Effectively the IAF today has one squadron of Rafale, 12 of Su30 MKI, 3 Mirage 2000, 3 MiG 29s, 4 MiG 21 Bison, 2 LCA, and 5 Jaguar. MiG 21 Bison Squadrons are awaiting retirements.

Air threat appreciation

Chinese are investing heavily in aerospace research and development and aircraft manufacture. They have two home-grown stealth fighters (J-20 and J-31), and one large transport aircraft (Y-20) already flying. They are also developing the H-20 stealth bomber and a host of attack helicopters and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has nearly 80 combat squadrons. They have an operational J-20 squadron, 24 Su-35, nearly 500 J-10s, and a large number of Su-27 and Su-30 variants. Chinese are right now sitting eyeball-to-eye-ball on India’s border in Ladakh and threatening conflict.

Pakistan has not only stepped up insurgency into Jammu and Kashmir but it also openly boasts of collusive support from China in case of a war with India. Pakistan has nearly 20 combat units and is fast inducting the JF-17 Block III.

Indian government and the three services are officially acknowledging and factoring possible two-front war scenarios. In 2018, IAF had tested the two-front war operational plans in the mother of-all-exercises ‘Gagan Shakti‘. While the IAF has a plan ‘B’ to fight with what it has, if forced into a conflict, but numbers are clearly not adequate to fully execute an air campaign even in a single front. It is incumbent upon the nation to provide IAF assets for the task it has been entrusted. It is imperative that IAF quickly rebuilt the squadron strength.

Fighter Aircraft Unfolding Action Ahead

Delay in LCA has forced IAF to extend the MiG21 Bison-fleet till 2024 with depleting numbers and lower availability of spares. IAF’s order of 40 LCA Mk1 will get completed only by mid-2022. 83 LCA Mk1A have just got CCS approval. The same will begin inducting around 2024. IAF’s dedicated strike aircraft fleet now has only the Jaguars, and these are being modernised further to DARIN III standard. Mikoyan MiG-29 and Mirage-2000 fleets have also been upgraded. 21 additional upgraded MiG-29s are being procured. However, these will take nearly three years to upgrade and induct. 272 Su-30 MKI air-superiority fighters are on order and 260 have been delivered till date. 12 additional SU30 MKI are being acquired, primarily to replace those that had crashed over the years or as War Wastage Reserve (WWR). Initially, 40 Su-30 MKI aircraft will be upgraded. This would include the ability to carry the BrahMos cruise missiles and nuclear-capable Nirbhay missiles, get an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, more powerful onboard computers and new electronic warfare (EW) suite. The process has still evolved. All 36 Rafale aircraft will induct by 2022.

Responses for IAF’s Request for Information (RFI) for 114 4th-Generation-plus fighters were received in July 2018. The seven in contention are Dassault Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 Block 70 (now named F-21), F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet, JAS 39 E/F Gripen NG, MiG-35 and SU-35. The Request for Proposal (RFP) has been waiting for long. It appears that there is a lack of clarity or funds to proceed further on this plan. Even if the process is hastened, the earliest these aircraft can be inducted is 2026. The Americans are reportedly independently pushing the case of Boeing F-15 EX.

Way Ahead LCA

The LCA Mk-II which is more likely to meet IAF’s ASQRs is still far away. Therefore, it was decided to have an interim, operationally better version, Mk1A with an advanced AESA Radar, an EW suite, a mid-air refuelling probe, and incorporate weight reduction along with easier service maintainability. 83 of these will induct from 2024 onwards.

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM GEOPOLITICSView All

MEETING NEW AIR AND MISSILE THREATS

The Indian Air Force has begun substantial modernisation of its strategic air defences. But while progress has undoubtedly been made, strategic SAM defences remain weak, writes SANJAY BADRI MAHARAJ

10+ mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

EXPENSIVE BUT INDISPENSABLE AIRPOWER

AMIT GUPTA argues why given the harsh economic challenges facing the country, which is not unique to India, the best way to afford an effective air force is to plan differently but smartly by going for techno-globalisation rather than futile techno-nationalism

10+ mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

IAF INDIGENISATION REALISTIC TARGETS ARE NEEDED

India cannot and must not expect complete indigenisation. The tendency to view Indian efforts in terms of indigenous content is singularly unhelpful. While increasing indigenization is necessary, economies of scale, costs, and realistic appraisal of the level of technology transfer have to be taken into consideration, argues SANJAY BADRI MAHARAJ

8 mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

EVERGREEN RUSSIAN FACTOR IN EVOLUTION OF IAF

AMIT COWSHISH argues why it is hard to ignore the Russian factor in India’s military capability

10+ mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

NANO DRONES: A BIG IMPACT ON THE BATTLEFIELD

Nano drones, the advanced systems that pack a lot of functionality into a tiny form factor, are becoming a major military tool. With China having a huge lead, India needs to get its act together, argues RAKESH KRISHNAN SIMHA

9 mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

BEING SELF-RELIANT IN DEFENCE

The ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ campaign is speeding up the growth of indigenous defence manufacturing capability in India, writes C SANTHOSH

10+ mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

POST-RAFALE IAF GROWTH CHALLENGES

In order to have its authorized 42 squadrons earliest by 2038, the Indian Air Force requires $110 billion (₹770,000 crore), estimates ANIL CHOPRA. Where is that money? Will this remain a pipe dream?

10+ mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

AUGMENTING THE AIRLIFT CAPABILITY

India is slowly and steadily raising its means to deploy and sustain military forces across possible distant battlefields by air, writes NINAD D SHETH

10 mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

MSMEs Can Make Or Mar ‘Make In India' Initiative

The fulcrum of the ‘Make in India’ programme is the micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) segment and, as of now, the MSMEs are thought of only as an adjunct. But that is slowly changing, explains R Chandrakanth

6 mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021

Defence Against Offence: India Is Building Up Its BMD Systems

The experience gained from the development and operation of the BrahMos Mach-3 supersonic cruise missile by the Indian armed forces will be an added advantage not available to other nations in the region. As a result, India could likely have operational hypersonic weapons capability before the end of the decade, explains C Santhosh

9 mins read
Geopolitics
February 2021
RELATED STORIES

Life Changing

I was happily married, happily employed, just plain happy. Until the accident

8 mins read
Guideposts
February 2021

IN SEASON Chickpeas (GARBANZO BEANS)

Chickpeas appear in early recordings in Turkey well over 5000 years ago. India produces the most chickpeas worldwide but they are grown in more than 50 countries. An excellent source of carbohydrates, protein, fiber, B vitamins, and some minerals, they are a nutritious staple of many diets. The name chickpea comes from the Latin word cancer, referring to the plant family of legumes, Fabaceae. It is also known by its popular Spanish-derived name, the garbanzo bean. Kidney beans, black beans, lima beans, and peanuts are other familiar foods found in this legume family.

1 min read
Alternative Medicine
February 2021

When the Signal Goes Out

Government-ordered internet shutdowns are becoming more frequent

3 mins read
Bloomberg Businessweek
February 15 - 22, 2021

Giving More, Taking Less

FRANCOIS BOUDERLIQUE learnt about the basic principle of Nature – to give more than you take – when he left a high-powered banking job in Paris to live and farm in Kutch, India. He realized that his understanding of eco farming was colored by his past and he needed to open his eyes to a new reality.

3 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
February 2021

Moringa – Cook With Color

In India, moringa has long been used medicinally. This nutrient-dense green food, best known for its energy-boosting and anti-inflammatory properties, adds a mild spinach flavor to recipes like this delicious dip.

1 min read
Better Nutrition
February 2021

Wild-card playoff: Buffalo 27, Indianapolis 24

Stefon Diggs and the rest of the passing game ultimately came through in the end

3 mins read
Bills Digest
February 28, 2021

CHINESE APP TIKTOK CUTS JOBS IN INDIA FOLLOWING BAN

Popular short-video Chinese app TikTok is cutting its workforce in India after hundreds of millions of its users dropped it to comply with a government ban on dozens of Chinese apps amid a military stand off between the two countries.

2 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #483

GAP YEAR ADVENTURES in the Age of CV19

Welcome to 2021, where it seems that masks are no longer just for Halloween. Few would dispute that 2020 was a year of major ups and downs. And, for many, the conditions sparked the question, “What am I doing with my life?”

4 mins read
Adventure Motorcycle (ADVMoto)
January - February 2021

Region To Region

Region To Region

10+ mins read
Musky Hunter
February/March 2021

YOGA & PEACE

DEEPAK CHOPRA speaks with DAAJI about the role Yoga has to play in bringing about world peace. This is an excerpt from their conversation broadcast on International Day of Peace, September 21, 2020. That documentary is available at https://heartfulness.org/en/international-day-of-peace/.

6 mins read
Heartfulness eMagazine
January 2021