INDIA DEFENCE CONSULTANTS
AIRFORCE –– CHALLENGES GALORE
An IDC Analysis
Delhi, 07 October 2001
The Indian Air Force celebrates Air Force Day on 8 October as usual with an impressive fly past, at a time when the region is charged with military tension. USA and its allies are at war with terrorism and this war will be long and diffused. India is talking tough with Pakistan and the Armed Forces on both sides are on the alert. The IAF has understandably cancelled its International Review and firepower demonstration. The emphasis has rightly shifted to operational readiness.
year the Tehelka scandal and many swift changes being implemented by a
part time Defence Minister via the still to be clarified CDS scheme, have
witnessed some disagreements among the top brass on the control of the
nuclear and strategic missile forces. The turbulence affects the IAF the
most, and will settle only when issues are clarified on ground. In the
process the IAF could lose control of some of its assets. Hence a survey
of India’s Air Force is considered timely.
strength of the IAF is 110,000 personnel and a current budget
of US$ 3.2 billion dollars. The fighter fleet
comprises of 38 combat squadrons. These include:
Mirage 2000H with RDM multimode radars from Dassault of France.
Ten more are in the pipeline.
squadron of SU 30, the Russian supplied
planes which are to be upgraded to MK I.
19 aging squadrons
of MiG 21 BIS/MF/FL with the I/J band Jaybird
radars and the Tumansky R-25-30 engines.
Four squadrons of
MiG 23 MF/BN with the I /J band High Lark radars.
Five squadrons of
swing wing MiG 27ML which have been upgraded with
western electronics by HAL.
Four squadrons of MiG 29A/B with OI-93 radars and
infrared trackers, laser range finder and helmet
Five squadrons of Sepecat/HAL
Jaguars with the Rolls Royce/Turbomeca Adour engines,
which have seen many modifications including over
wing firing pods for the Magic Matra and Russian missiles.
is hardly any medium sized Air Force in the world,
which has a fighter interceptor air
fleet of so many diverse planes and even
though the prefix MiG exists before each of them,
their roles, engines, flying characteristics and technologies vary.
The IAF also has half a squadron of MIG 25 high-level
the technological and training challenges before the Indian Air Force have
been many, but the IAF has weathered the times well, both in peace and in
war. The Achilles heel of
the IAF has been the unacceptable accident
rate of over 20 planes per year with many
fatalities, especially of the aging main
backbone MIG 21 fighters. Whilst the accident
problem is attributed to poor transition from
the Kiran to the unforgiving supersonic MiG 21 fighters and bird hits, it was
to be partly addressed
by the acquisition of 66 Hawk-115
advanced jet trainer (AJT) aircraft from BAE.
This 15-year old demand seems to have again fallen back. There is also a
total of 123 MiG-21 bis are being upgraded
in India in the next two years by HAL
at Nasik and two will fly on IAF’s birthday with the old Hunters now
used for target towing. The upgraded MiG
21s will be able to fire the medium range R-73RDM
(AA-11 Archer 40 km) and beyond
visual range R-77EW-AE (AA-12
Adder 100 km). For the future the IAF will induct 50 SU 30s from
IAPO in Russia and HAL will build 140 in India. The DRDO LCA seems far
away and some say may become a pipe dream.
Indian Air Force has a modest
helicopter fleet of over
squadrons of MI
MI-26 Transporters and MI 35 Hind Attack versions which have
two Isotov TV3-117 engines,
twin barreled Gsh 30mm high velocity cannons and two UV-20-76 pods for
rockets or anti tank missiles. These attack gun ships were employed in
Sierra Leone last year
with success. The
Air Force has ordered 40 upgraded MI 17s
have arrived and
these have upgraded engines,
rocket and gun pods and can fire chaff/flare dispensers from under their
ASO 21. Two squadrons
will be employed
in the Siachen area. The IAF has handed over the majority of its Cheetah
Aerospatiale/HAL SA-315B Lamas and some Alouette III (Chetaks) to the Army
It is all set to
induct the ALH with
the Turbomeca engine in the next few years in numbers.
will be self sufficient for the next decade except for a modern attack
helicopter and AEW/AWACS capability, which is being attended to. The
Navy has taken a march by ordering KA-31 AEW helicopters, and recent
developments may see Pakistan getting US Gunships in numbers. The balance
is likely to tip.
IAF transport fleet is critically dependant on the aging HAL built AVRO
748s and some 100
AN 32s and the large long range IL-76s.
The IAF was extremely fortunate that the Russian’s designed the AN-32 aircraft
for the IAF specifically for their high altitude
needs and the IAF has fitted cockpit recorders and new radars.
These have proved very reliable and planes to
land at the heights of Thoise in Siachen and
Leh, though three crashed
initially on arrival and three later, two near Delhi. This
workhorse has served the IAF well and is also
used for para dropping. Augmented by the long-range
fuel guzzling IL-76 the IAF is in a satisfactory position but will have to
contemplate for its future requirements. The
acquisition of 6 VIP 50-seater jets for the
Transport and Communications Squadron at Palam is pending. as the
demands for VIP travel by IAF planes has increased and is also misused.
IAF is looking to acquiring IL-78 mid air refuellers which the Air Chief
witnessed at Kubinka air base near Moscow and the Phalcon AEW Synthetic
Aperture Radar System from Israel, which has inputs from Lockheed Martin
to be fitted on the IL-76 in Russia. This may now be possible, as US
sanctions have been lifted.
IAF has also solved its lubricants problems and
AVI-OIL a Government joint venture with NYCO SA of France has come of age
but the IAF’s spares problems and upgradation of radar and
communications will continue to pose challenges.
in the Armed Forces
one must address the issue
of jointness between the Services, which in
today’s context has become a necessity and seems a shortcoming in the
Indian Armed Forces. Air Chief Marshal A Y Tipnis has rightly advocated greater
India’s space power, since the present structures on airspace and
air defence between the Army and Air Force are hazy.
The basic principle governing the use of air power is its indivisibility.
The dictum of treating air power as one
entity can never be forgotten. If the air
assets are centrally controlled, they can be concentrated in peace
and war, and deployed at the right time to destroy
the enemy’s war potential.
shock action of air power can
only be realized through coordinated and centralized control. Separation
of command and control between different agencies may lead
to splitting of forces into ineffectual penny packets. This
is the crux of the Air Chief’s thrust. There has been no debate
on command and control of air assets, nuclear forces
and defence, but a new template is on the cards and that will be
the IAF’s and the nation’s challenge.