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Indian Air Force: 2025

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With the Middle East in flames and Pakistan military-terrorist nexus routinely triggering border skirmishes, India is virtually at war. China now has a vibrant aircraft industry and routinely displays aggressive behaviour on the Sino-Indian border. Very close military and economic links between China and Pakistan is a cause of concern for India. Build up of India’s military strength has not kept pace with the increasing threat. The new government’s ‘Make in India’ thrust especially on defence is a very welcome move. Mired in bureaucratic red tape and political indecision, the Government of India (GoI) takes years to identify, select and induct military hardware. To cut short the procedure, direct government-to-government purchase is now becoming more of a norm. At the current pace, it may take over 15 years to reach the authorised 42 squadrons. A three-pronged approach is required to get value for money. Drive ‘Make in India’ hard, accelerate purchase of already selected systems and improve serviceability of existing systems.

India has miles to go before the combat fleet achieves the required number of 42 squadrons…

On July 30, 2015, the Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar informed the Upper House of Parliament that the government had withdrawn the multi-billion dollar tender for the 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA), for which the Dassault Rafale was shortlisted in 2012. Earlier during his visit to France in April 2015, Prime Minister Modi had announced that India would purchase 36 Rafale in fly-away condition. The long-awaited deal under a new framework would reportedly cost $7 billion and is near finalisation. The Indian Air Force (IAF) is down to 33 combat squadrons vis-a-vis the authorised 42.

The tech-savvy new Defence Minister has instituted a number of measures for enhanced efficiency such as speedy approvals by the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), a hike in the levels of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in defence production, acceptance of middlemen in defence procurement, revamping of the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and review of procedures and norms for blacklisting of companies. The recent oil price crash, low inflation and once again booming economy provide a fresh window of opportunity. For modernisation, the equipment-intensive IAF is the most affected.

To prevent further downslide, the phasing out of five squadrons of older MiG-21 variants has already been delayed to early 2017. The MiG-21 Bison fleet will be forced to continue till 2025 with depleting availability of spares. The DRDO-designed, Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL)-built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk I is well behind schedule and the closer-to-specifications LCA Tejas Mk II will not be operational till 2022. When compared with India, China has over double the number of combat aircraft and the IAF’s edge over the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) is at an all-time low of 1.5:1.

Antonov AN32

With the Middle East in flames and Pakistan military-terrorist nexus routinely triggering border skirmishes, India is virtually at war. China now has a vibrant aircraft industry and routinely displays aggressive behaviour on the Sino-Indian border. Very close military and economic links between China and Pakistan is a cause of concern for India. Build up of India’s military strength has not kept pace with the increasing threat. The new government’s ‘Make in India’ thrust especially on defence is a very welcome move. Mired in bureaucratic red tape and political indecision, the Government of India (GoI) takes years to identify, select and induct military hardware. To cut short the procedure, direct government-to-government purchase is now becoming more of a norm. At the current pace, it may take over 15 years to reach the authorised 42 squadrons. A three-pronged approach is required to get value for money. Drive ‘Make in India’ hard, accelerate purchase of already selected systems and improve serviceability of existing systems.

Very close military and economic links between China and Pakistan is a cause of concern for India. Build up of India’s military strength has not kept pace with the increasing threat.

The IAF in 2015

The IAF’s top-of-the-line air superiority fighter is the Sukhoi Su-30 MKI. 272 are on order of which 230 have been delivered till date. The 66 MiG-29 aircraft in service are being upgraded jointly with Russia. The 57 Dassault Mirage 2000 aircraft are also under upgrade to Mirage 2000-5 Mk 2 standards. The IAF also has 139 Jaguar and 85 MiG-27  dedicated strike aircraft and significant numbers in both these types are also being modernised. The oldest MiG-21 FLs were phased out in 2013. The IAF still has ten squadrons of MiG-21. Other than the Bison, all will be phased out by 2017. 125 upgraded MiG-21 Bison will be retained but will start depleting by 2017 till they are phased out by 2025. 40 of the LCA Tejas Mk I, meant to replace the MiG-21s, are under induction and the first squadron should be operational by late 2017.

The 104 Antonov An-32 medium transport aircraft, the work-horse of the IAF transport fleet, are being upgraded. The aircraft also have bombing and para-drop roles. The Dornier Do 228 is used for light transport duties. Also used for communications duties is the Hawker Siddeley HS 748, 50 of which remain in service and are to be replaced by the C-295. Starting 1984, 17 Ilyushin Il-76 strategic airlift aircraft (43-tonne payload) were inducted into the IAF. They are gradually being replaced by the Boeing C-17 Globemaster III strategic airlift aircraft with 75-tonne payload capacity.

The IAF has three Beriev A-50 platforms based EL/W-2090 Phalcon AEW&C. Two more are on order. The IAF has seven Ilyushin-78 aerial refuelling aircraft. Six Lockheed C-130J (one crashed later) for Special Operations including troop insertion have also been inducted into the IAF and are stationed at Hindon airbase near New Delhi. The IAF’s VIP Squadron operates the Boeing 737 BBJ and Embraer Legacy ECJ-135.

PC-7 Mk-II trainer aircraft

The Swiss Pilatus PC-7 Mk II is the basic stage trainer. 75 have been inducted and 38 more will be acquired. HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk I and II are the intermediate stage trainers. The Kiran is to be one day replaced by HAL’s HJT-36 ‘Sitara’ which is still under development and facing serious design issues. The BAE Hawk Mk 132 is the Advanced Jet Trainer. Later, the IAF’s formation aerobatic team will also convert to the Hawk. 106 Hawk trainers were initially ordered and additional orders are being processed.

Well beyond their extended-life, S-125 Pechora and OSA-AK SA-8 Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) are finally being phased out…

For years, HAL-built light utility helicopters Chetak and Cheetah have been used for training, rescue and light transport role. Cheetah and its re-engine variant Cheetal, are used for high altitude operations. These aircraft are being initially replaced by HAL’s Dhruv Helicopter. In addition to the light utility role, the Dhruv also has a weaponised version. The Dhruv is also used for the ‘Sarang’ helicopter formation display team.

Mil Mi-8 has been the main medium lift helicopter of the IAF. Later, these were replaced by more modern variants Mi-17, Mi-17 1V, and Mi-17 V5. Mi-17 V5s numbers will go up to 139. The IAF also operates three heavy-lift Mil Mi-26 helicopters. Two squadrons of Mil Mi-25/35 attack helicopters operate in support of the Indian Army.

The IAF’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) fleet consists of IAI Searcher II and Heron. These are used for reconnaissance and surveillance. IAI’s Harpy is the anti-radar combat UAV and DRDO’s Lakshya is used for aerial targeting practice. Well beyond their extended-life, S-125 Pechora and OSA-AK SA-8 Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAM) are finally being phased out and replaced by indigenous Akash medium-range systems. Two out of the eight have already been delivered.

C-130J Super Hercules

With the secure encrypted Air Force Network (AFNET) becoming operational in 2010, communications and data transfer for the air defence network has been greatly enhanced. The Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS) rides on the AFNET. Designed for intrusion prevention, it is a great force multiplier. Currently, the IAF has a Special Operations force called the Garuds consisting of 1,500 personnel drawn from different branches. With Special Operations aircraft such as the C-130, the Garud force will go up to around 5,000 to undertake combat search and rescue, Suppression of Enemy Air Defence (SEAD), radar busting, missile and munitions guidance and other missions.

The IAF requires 14 LCA Squadrons with 294 aircraft to replace the MiG-21s…

Modernisation – Work in Progress

The upgrade of the MiG-29 air superiority aircraft into multi-role MiG-29 UPG will increase internal and external fuel carriage, aerial refuelling probe, latest avionics including Zhuk-M radar and new air-to-air missiles. The air superiority fighter Su-30 MKI is being upgraded to have strategic weapons such as the BrahMos cruise missiles and nuclear-capable Nirbhay missiles. Initially, 40 aircraft will be modernised and will include Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar, more powerful onboard computers and a new Electronic Warfare (EW) suite. The first upgraded aircraft is expected by the end of this year.

The Mirage-2000 aircraft are being stripped down and rewired and upgrade will include the RDY-2 radar, new mission computers, a glass cockpit, helmet-mounted sight, EW systems and the advanced MICA missiles. Aircraft life is also being extended by 20 years. Upgraded Jaguars are getting the multi-mode radar, an autopilot and more powerful Honeywell F125IN engines.

As on date, the IAF has ordered 40 LCA Mk I aircraft. The Mk I does not meet the IAF’s Final Operational Clearance (FOC) specifications. The IAF has also committed for 83 Tejas Mk II with the more powerful 98 kN thrust F414 engine, which is more likely to meet the LCA FOC albeit not earlier than 2022. Finally, the IAF requires 14 LCA Squadrons with 294 aircraft (including two-seaters) to replace the MiG-21s. Six LCA Mk I and four Mk II squadrons are expected by 2025. The DRDO also has plans to develop indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar ‘Uttam’ and a development partner is under selection.

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Europe’s Airbus Defence and Space and Israel’s Elta are contenders. The Tejas is also to be equipped with an Infra-Red Search and Track (IRST) sensor pods, FLIR targeting pod, ECM pods, flare and chaff pod and EO/IR sensor pod. The Electronic Warfare (EW) suite ‘Mayavi’ is to be developed by the Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE). In view of the delays, unspecified numbers of EW suites have been purchased from Israel’s Elisra. A stealthier LCA Mk III is also planned for the future.


Source: Defence Review

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