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IAF at 85 

The Economic Times , Oct 07, 2017

The Indian aerospace and defence industry has become an important investment platform for Indian as well as foreign companies across the globe. With the third largest armed forces in the world, India sends a large portion of its defence budget on acquiring equipment and capital. The past few years have witnessed many megasized deals and the future looks equally attractive. The vision of the government for the sector mainly involves the indigenisation of the industry and acquiring advanced technologies, which will facilitate the lowering of dependence on imports.

In keeping with existing security concerns on both borders, defence experts estimate that the Indian Air Force needs 42 squadrons but currently manages with about 34 fighter squadrons, each comprising about 18-20 aircrafts. Hence, policymaking in the defence sector has focussed not only on procuring globally competent technology but also creating capabilities to design and manufacture state-of the-art defence equipment within country. This is especially true for a technology-intensive force like the IAF which relies extensively on combat aircrafts, MRO systems, precision missiles and net centricity.


The IAF continues with a heterogeneous fleet of combat aircraft and support assets of varying origin and ages. The men and machinery of the IAF have repeatedly proved their mettle not only on the security front but also in terms of humanitarian aid and disaster relief. The support fleet, particularly transport aircraft and utility helicopters have played a significant role in helping the IAF emerge as a premier Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) force in Asia, indicated recently by its efficient rescue operations in South Sudan and Yemen.

Clearly facing combined hostile forces of nearly 100 squadrons, the Indian Air Force has a tall task ahead of sustaining and boosting quality while enhancing quantity of advanced machinery at an unprecedented scale. The Indian Air Force, as the most technology-centric wing of the armed forces, is disproportionately affected by the skyrocketing costs of weapons systems in this digital age. At the same time, Defence strategists believe that India can hardly afford to downsize its air force beyond a certain point. Hence, indigenisation and modernisation are indeed the way forward for the IAF today.

"While India provides a substantial market for equipment and systems in Aerospace and Defence, it is not adequate to sustain economical investments. The Indian defence manufacturing sectors should be able to exploit economies of scale. This means that new manufacturers should not only be catering to the domestic market but also look at export markets. The implementation of a medium term programme for the localisation of defence manufacturing requires "jointness" in planning, acquisition, and production systems," says Dr. Sanjaya Baru, Secretary General, FICCI.

In terms of fast jets, the IAF currently flies the Hawk, Mig-21, Mig- 27, Mig-29, Jaguar, Mirage 2000, Su- 30MKI and Tejas and Rafale. In addition, the current ambition is to procure another lightweight fighter, most likely the Saab Gripen E/F or Lockheed Martin F-16 'Block 70/72', as well as a fifth generation derivative of Russia's troubled PAK FA/T-50 stealth fighter. With such a staggering diversity, ranging from extremely old and on their way to retirement to cutting edge and expensive multi-role aircraft, a recent report by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) suggests that the IAF faces daunting logistics, training standardisation and force design challenges. Moreover, partly due to the expense of supporting and operating so many different aircraft fleet, the IAF is seriously under strength with only 34 squadrons. The fast jet components of the IAF will be examined here in terms of its air defence and strike capabilities as against Pakistani and Chinese airpower.


Modernisation of IAF is forcing it to espouse cutting-edge threshold technologies to retain its fire power and relevance in warfighting structure of the nation that is confronted with ever-growing threats to defend its growing economic independence and political sovereignty. “With the recent induction of HAL made indigenous Tejas and Dassault Rafale in IAF, the mix of Indigenous, western origin and Russian origin fleets of aircrafts has further grown in diversity in terms of operations and maintenance. These fleets of HAL Tejas, Dassault Rafale, SU 30MKI, Dassault Mirage 2000, C-130J Hercules, CH-74F Chinook etc. demand unprecedented amount of implicit or tacit engineering knowledge to keep them in combat worthy state for peace and war time. IAF's air defence can count on extremely mobile; jam-resistant radars that are networked to detect any intrusion in all sensitive areas of our borders. There is a depth, diversity, discrimination and redundancy in our air defence that is a direct offshoot of incorporating modern advancesin technology,” says Air Vice Marshal PK Srivastava (retd).

India is looking at making a sea change in the area of defence equipment design, development and manufacture. Therefore, one of the major challenges is to find a way of speeding up the procurement process, a must for industry as well as for India's armed forces.