Defence and Security Alert - DSAlert.Org

DSA Dialogue
English French German Italian Portuguese Russian Spanish

Modernising the Indian Air Force by Air Marshal B K Pandey

| | | Share |

Author: Air Marshal B K Pandey (Retd)
The induction of the first fourth-generation aircraft, the Su-30 MKI began in 1997 and the IAF is expected to build-up to full strength of 230 by 2014. It is understood that another 42 have been ordered taking the total fleet strength to 272 aircraft.  There is a proposal from Russia to eventually upgrade the IAF Su-30 MKI fleet to fifth generation standards.


In the meantime, the MiG-23 fleet has already been phased out and the MiG-21 fleet with its different variants would be extinct in another five to seven years at best. The fleet of Jaguars, MiG-27, MiG-29 and even the Mirage-2000 all with upgrades, would last for another 10 to 15 years; but being of third generation vintage, would not really be able to project frontline capability.  The strength of the combat fleet currently is reported to be down to 34 squadrons as against the authorised 39.5 and by 2015, is expected to reduce further to possibly well under 30 seriously eroding combat capability of the IAF. This situation will be incongruous for an emerging regional power and catastrophic in two-front war scenario.

Modernising the Indian Air Force

The emerging geopolitical and security scenario requires our nation to possess comprehensive military capability, characterised by flexibility and speed of response, the mobility and transportability of all forms of national power, long-reach, precision targeting, minimum  collateral damage and reduced visibility. Aerospace power fits the bill perfectly. The 21st century belongs to aerospace power and given the Indian situation, concerns and aspirations, the need for a strong and comprehensive aerospace capability is inescapable

There is therefore an imperative need for total revamp of the fleet with fourth and fifth generation aircraft beginning not later than 2015 and to build-up to the sanctioned level of 42 squadrons by 2022

Backed by a resurgent economy, two decades into the post-cold war era, India is beginning to emerge as a regional power and given competent political and bureaucratic management, has the attributes to rise to the status of a super power. The growing status of the nation is accompanied by enhanced responsibilities wherein India may be called upon to intervene decisively in the region militarily to safeguard national interests that transcend our geographical boundaries and extend from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca. As a regional power, the nation may be called upon to respond to calamities, man-made or natural, to humanitarian crisis, to restore order or to ensure peace and stability.

While economic strength is the main pillar of national power, the military capability of a nation must be enhanced in tandem to secure its economic status and provide the environment for further growth. This philosophy was echoed by Air Chief Marshal F H Major, the then Chief of Air Staff, Indian Air Force (IAF) on the occasion of its platinum jubilee celebrations in October 2007 when he said “The emerging geopolitical and security scenario requires our nation to possess comprehensive military capability, characterised by flexibility and speed of response, the mobility and transportability of all forms of national power,
long reach, precision targeting, minimum collateral damage and reduced visibility. Aerospace power fits the bill perfectly. The 21st century belongs to aerospace power and given the Indian situation, concerns and aspirations, the need for a strong and comprehensive aerospace capability is inescapable”.

Stated in simple terms, the nation’s aerospace power must possess the capability to project power effectively in the region for which it must have combat aircraft with adequate reach, lethal firepower through modern stand-off / precision guided munitions and stealth characteristics. It must have strategic airlift aircraft with the capability to move large forces by air over long distances, tactical transport aircraft to operate over shorter distances and a fleet of helicopters to provide mobility and firepower in the tactical battle area. Two things follow from this, one being that the nation must possess multi-layered air defence system to protect its offensive operations capability and secondly that development of aerospace power must not only cater to perceived threats but more importantly, must be capability-based to respond to a wide variety of threats, existing or unforeseen.

What then is the picture today with regard to the IAF, the primary constituent of national aerospace power?

Combat fleet of the IAF

The IAF went through a partial upgrade of its combat fleet between the period 1979 to 1989 when its fleet of Gnats, Hunters and Maruts were approaching the end of their Total Technical Life and were due to be phased out leaving only the MiG-21 as the mainstay. In this period, the combat capability of the IAF was upgraded through the induction of the British Jaguar, Russian MiG-23, MiG-27, MiG-29 and the French Mirage-2000.

The C-130J has the capability to undertake deployment of Special Forces in all-weather conditions by day or night even in complete darkness.  It is capable of receiving fuel in flight at low level and apart from special operations,   can be employed for airborne assault, air transported operations

The induction of the first fourth-generation aircraft, the Su-30 MKI began in 1997 and the IAF is expected to build-up to full strength of 230 by 2014. It is understood that another 42 have been ordered taking the total fleet strength to 272 aircraft. It is also understood that there is a proposal from Russia to eventually upgrade the IAF Su-30 MKI fleet to fifth generation standards. In the meantime, the MiG-23 fleet has already been phased out and the MiG-21 fleet with its different variants would be extinct in another five to seven years at best. The fleet of Jaguars, MiG-27, MiG-29 and even the Mirage-2000 all with upgrades, would last for another 10 to 15 years; but being of third generation vintage, would not really be able to project frontline capability. The strength of the combat fleet currently is reported to be down to 34 squadrons as against the authorised 39.5 and by 2015, is expected to reduce further to possibly well under 30 seriously eroding combat capability of the IAF. This situation will be incongruous for an emerging regional power and catastrophic in two-front war scenario. There is therefore an imperative need for total revamp of the fleet with fourth and fifth generation aircraft beginning not later than 2015 and to build-up to the sanctioned level of 42 squadrons by 2022.

As there was considerable uncertainty at the turn of the century with regard to the operationalisation of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, over a decade ago, the IAF had projected a requirement of six squadrons of fighter aircraft to replace part of the MiG-21 fleet being phased out. It has been five years since the tender was issued by the Ministry of Defence and nine months since selection of the French Rafale was made public, contract with Dassault is yet to be signed. If all goes well, the contract may be concluded sometime in 2013 at the earliest and delivery will commence four years later. Thereafter it may take a decade for the Rafale fleet to reach full strength and operational status. All this presuming that there are no fresh impediments.

In the meantime, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has entered into a contract with Russian companies Rosoboron export and Sukhoi to develop the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA), a stealth fighter in the class of the American F-22 Raptor. A derivative of the Russian PAK FA whose single-seat prototype T -50 is already undergoing flight tests, the FGFA will be a twin-seat version customised to conform to the new doctrine of the IAF. To be produced in India by HAL, the initial order by the IAF will be for 214 aircraft (roughly ten squadrons) at a cost of US$ 100 million per aircraft and the total outlay of US$ 25 billion apart from development cost. Series production of the FGFA is scheduled to commence in 2019. The IAF can hope to have the complete initial order delivered and squadrons fully operational by 2029 at the earliest.


blog comments powered by Disqus
 
You are here: Home October 2012 Modernising the Indian Air Force by Air Marshal B K Pandey

DSA Journey - Archives