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IDN TAKE: IAF Facing Dwindling Numbers – A Perennial Problem

A MiG-21 Interceptor of the Indian Air Force
The Chief of Air Staff Arup Raha had gone public recently with their fears that the continued inability to obtain new fighter aircraft is causing the fighter force to fade away. The numbers are stark. In 2000 it was believed that 45 fighter squadrons were needed to cope with aggression from both Pakistan and China (both traditional enemies). By 2013 the goal was reduced to 42 squadrons but aside from getting more of the troublesome Russian Sukhoi Su-30MKI the fighter fleet continued to shrink. Currently there are 33 squadrons and 14 of those are the obsolete MiG-21s and MiG-27s that are due to for retirement. Right now the core of the fighter force is ten Sukhoi squadrons. Several more will be added by the end of the decade but that is not enough and the growing reliability problems with the Su-30 (pathetic HAL workmanship is to blame) make it politically impossible to get the money to expand Sukhoi production.
The Chief of Air Staff Arun Raha after a sortie on the MiG-27 ground attack fighter
Since 2000 there have been repeated and sometimes simultaneous efforts to buy new fighters. But the usual procurement problems owing to an inefficient bureaucracy, political deal making, charges of corruption have combined to block nearly every attempt to replace the rapidly aging fleet of Russian MiGs and a smaller number of French and British warplanes.
But thankfully after the new government took over the indecisiveness on the viability and numbers induction of the indigenous Tejas has been put to rest, the defence minister has taken an appropriate and commendable step to induct more than 120 plus Tejas fighters into the Air Force. A typically vociferous IAF has uncharacteristically kept its mouth shut and endorsed the defence ministers’ decision.. The light fighter has been subject to ridicule for decades due to vested interests and yellow journalism notwithstanding the fighter proving its credentials progressively and the program realizing several critical technologies developed locally which in the end will prove its true worth for future combat aircraft development. The induction of TEJAS will address the reduced force levels of the squadrons with a decade since HAL has planned to augment the production rate of the fighter.

Meanwhile, a sound and necessary proposal to buy 126 foreign fighters is stalled because of the intense price negotiations underway between India and France. Corruption used to be the most likely cause but these days it’s simply political differences.

The Indian Air Force are frustrated and apparently feel speaking out, despite the damage to their personal reputations and careers is a worthwhile risk if it gets enough popular pressure on the politicians to make a decision. For the air force the usual responses of, “no” or “we haven’t decided yet” will not do.
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Source: Defense News

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