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The Next Big Call

The IAF needs 500 new fighter aircraft by 2030 to compensate for the phasing out of old ones

Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd) Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd)

Combat aviation has not only become the most preferred means of prosecution of war but has seen the fastest growth of technology. The combat aircraft assets of the Indian Air Force (IAF) continue to be floundering at around 34 squadrons vis-à-vis the authorised 42 squadrons and strategically much desired 45.

After pursuing 126 modern fighters for long, the final contract for multirole Rafale was only for 36 aircraft. Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), which has been under development to replace IAF’s largest fleet of MiG-21s for over two decades, continues to progress slowly, and the first squadron had to be formed with just two aircraft. To make good some numbers, the IAF had to increase orders for the much larger Su-30 MKI repeatedly and now stands at 314.

India already having contracted two twin-engine fighters Su-30 MKI and Rafale and two more under development, the Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and Advanced Multirole Combat aircraft (AMCA), the IAF has no choice but to go for more single-engine fighters to meet tactical requirements.

IAF’s Current Fighter Holdings
Currently, the IAF has around 900 fighter aircraft with half of them fourth generation plus. The IAF’s MiG-21 variants Type 96 and Bis have been extended for long and are now stated to phase out by 2019. The air force already has around 250 Sukhoi Su-30 MKI air superiority fighters and 65 more are on order. The fleet is going through a major upgrade with AESA radar and new strategic weapons. Sixty-five Mikoyan MiG-29, 55 Dassault Mirage 2000, and 140 Anglo-French Jaguar aircraft have been recently upgraded with near state-of-the-art radars, new avionics and latest weapons, and all will be in service till around 2035 or beyond.

Similarly, two squadrons of MiG-27 strike aircraft have been significantly modernised and will retire around 2025. Some 125 upgraded MiG-21 Bison will be retained but will start depleting by 2017 till phased out by 2022. LCA Tejas Mk I is just being inducted. The first squadron will be complete by end 2018. The IAF is committed to 20 LCA Mk I and 83 LCA Mk 1A. All these will join the IAF only by 2025 or so. LCA Mk II may fly by around 2022 and induct around 2025. The interim variant Tejas Mk IA will be equipped with AESA radar, an electro-optic EW Sensor suite and a mid-air refuelling probe. 100 EL/M-2052 AESA radars are being procured from ELTA. LCA original Air Staff Requirements will be met only by LCA Mk II of which four squadrons are planned. If all goes well the IAF may have 14 Tejas squadrons with 294 aircraft. The Mk II is a new aircraft and will require extensive flight testing. The 36 Rafale aircraft will be inducted in 2019.

Indo-Russian FGFA is the twin-engine fifth generation aircraft. The IAF currently plans around 144 FGFAs to replace the MiG-29 and MiG-27
Indo-Russian FGFA is the twin-engine fifth generation aircraft. The IAF currently plans around 144 FGFAs to replace the MiG-29 and MiG-27

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