Air Force Day – 08 OctOBER 2006

An IDC Analysis


New Delhi, 07 October 2006  


On the eve of Air Force Day, we salute the intrepid Service and all its brave men who have kept the Indian skies safe and secure and consistently proved their mettle in every test they have been put to since India became independent. In the Kargil War of 1999 it was the combination of the Army’s brilliant use of artillery, the raw courage of the soldiers who climbed the bleak heights, and the IAF’s deft use of the air power that defeated General Pervez Musharraf’s designs, no matter what he says now in his work of fiction.

The Air Force Day this year which will be the last for the present Air Chief ACM S P Tyagi as he retires on 31 Mar 07, is foreshadowed by his letter to the Defence Minister in which he has expressed concern over the depleting fighting strength of the Force as also the news of the American package to Pakistan of 36 or more advanced F-16s, apart from the upgrading of the 32 F-16s already present in Pakistan’s combat fleet. It also includes a deadly munitions package, including beyond-visual range missiles. Pakistan is also on course to acquire a large number of JF-17 ‘Thunder’ fighters jointly developed with China, apart from more J-10 fighters. While the maintenance of superiority over Pakistan in air power, naval power and land power is vital, India’s future plans cannot be based on this factor alone. A country of a billion plus people that has a fast growing economy and hopes to be a major power with a much wider international role than hitherto must also have a wider vision.

Unless the strength of the combat element in the Air Force is augmented quickly, the result will be dismal. With the rate of obsolescence rising, the number of combat squadrons would fall below 32 in 2011 and to barely over 26 by 2016. That would just about equal the strength of the Pakistan air force. In the traumatic aftermath of the 1962 border war with China, it was decided that the IAF must have 45 combat squadrons. To this day, 44 years later, this target has not been achieved. The famous JRD Tata Committee recommended that the combat element in the Air Force should be 65 squadrons, not 45, and another committee, headed by the veteran C. Subramaniam, suggested later that the number of combat squadrons could be lowered to 55, “in view of resource constraint”. Only in 1982 did the Indira Gandhi government sanction the raising of the combat strength to 35 squadrons. Four and half more squadrons (some of them for training purposes only) were added later, making a total of less than 40. But several of the combat squadrons consist of MiG-21s that are 40 years old and have to be phased out. The really effective number of combat squadrons is thus down to 34.

Defence Minister Pranab Mukherji has assured constant upgrading and timely procurements of air force assets will take place. IAF is worried about the delay in issuing the RFPs (request for proposals) for the $6.5-billion contract to procure 126 MRCA, for which the contenders are the Russian MiG-35, French Rafale, Swedish JAS-39 Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon and, of course, the American F/A-18 ‘‘Super Hornets’’ and F-16 ‘‘Falcons’’. It might take another five-six years for the actual contract to be signed and another four-five years after that for the fighter deliveries to commence. The defence ministry is now ‘‘pretty close’’ to issuing RFPs (request for proposals) for acquiring 126 multi-role fighters. As an interim measure, IAF is exploring the purchase of around 40 secondhand Mirage-2000-5s from France as well as Qatar to add to the three Mirage-2000 squadrons it already operates. On other fronts too, IAF is on course to acquire 80 new medium-lift helicopters and six more midair refuellers.

Another big deal on the verge of getting approved by the Cabinet Committee on Security is the acquisition of 18 Spyder quick-reaction antiaircraft missile systems from Israel, worth over Rs 1,800 crore. As for fighters, apart from the accelerated programme for production of Sukhoi-30MKIs, it is looking at getting 20 new Jaguars and 20 Light Combat Aircraft from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. There are several upgrade programmes, ranging from MiG-27s and Jaguars to MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s. There will be Hawks (advanced jet trainers from UK) and the Phalcon AWACs (airborne warning and control systems from Israel) next year. Then, Akash (the indigenous 25-km surface-to-air missile system) is on the horizon though some trials are still to be done.

In preparation for the forthcoming Senior Commanders’ Conference of the three Services, the strategic environment in the Indian sub-continent and the military capabilities of neighbours like Pakistan were reviewed on 04 Oct by a panel headed by Cabinet Secretary BK Chaturvedi with the three Service Chiefs, Defence Secretary and many other senior officials present. This exhaustive assessment will form part of a report to the top political leadership, including Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and enable the decision-makers to form the required policies. This high level interaction will be followed by a presentation to the Prime Minister on October 16 by the military top brass during the combined commanders' conference. The briefing will cover all aspects of the situation around India and the threat perception. The PM will also be informed about the state and pace of modernisation and upgradation in the Armed Forces and their projections.

Back to Top

Disclaimer   Copyright