Eyes on the Future

The IAF sets its sights on a transformative journey towards modernisation and strategic autonomy by 2032

Mohammad Asif Khan


In its centenary decade, the Indian Air Force (IAF), as outlined by Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari, envisions itself as an ‘agile and adaptable’ air force, providing decisive aerospace power in furtherance of national interests.

Indian LCA TEJAS at IAF Day parade in Prayagraj
Indian LCA TEJAS at IAF Day parade in Prayagraj

By 2032, when the IAF completes 100 years, it aims to be one of the best air forces globally. The doctrine emphasises the critical role of skilled personnel behind the machines.

Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhary’s vision for the Indian Air Force in 2024 focuses on modernisation, operational effectiveness and adaptability to evolving security challenges. The IAF aims to reduce dependency on imports by developing indigenous capabilities. Evolving technology and changing requirements drive the need for skilled air personnel.

The vision prioritises reforms across various areas, including equipment modernisation, streamlined training processes and promotion of jointness with other military branches.

Additionally, efforts are directed towards enhancing human resource management and gender representation within the Air Force. The overarching goal is to maintain a decisive edge in national security through agility and innovation.


Modernisation Efforts

The IAF is currently undergoing a comprehensive modernisation programme aimed at replacing and upgrading outdated equipment to meet contemporary standards. One of the key objectives of this initiative is to achieve a squadron strength of 42 by the year 2035. Typically comprising 12 to 24 military aircraft, a squadron plays a crucial role in operational readiness and effectiveness.

In terms of the deployment strategy, the IAF plans to position approximately 450 fighter jets along the borders with Pakistan and China. Among the aircraft slated for induction into the Air Force are 36 Rafales, 114 Multirole Fighter Aircraft, 100 Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and over 200 variants of the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

The modernisation efforts encompass a thorough review of organisational structure, training methodologies and equipment enhancement. Key areas of focus include bolstering sustainment and logistics capabilities, advancing IT infrastructure and revamping business systems. Detailed roadmaps have been developed to guide the incremental functionality development of various platforms.


Deployment of New Aircraft

India’s Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) has sanctioned the procurement of 97 Tejas light combat aircraft. Equipped with updated avionics, an active electronically steered radar, an enhanced electronic warfare suite and beyond-visual-range missile capability, the Tejas Mk-1A is expected to significantly enhance the IAF’s combat capabilities. Moreover, existing Tejas LCA squadrons have been deployed on temporary assignments to forward air bases along the Western and Northern Borders.

The rollout of the first Limited Series Production (LSP) aircraft of the Mark.1A variant occurred in April 2022. It is anticipated that IAF will commence the formation of the TEJAS MK-1A squadron in 2024.

Efforts are underway to procure an additional 97 Tejas MK-1As, part of a broader initiative to replace the ageing fleet of Mikoyan MiG-21 aircraft. The strategic deployment plan includes the establishment of two squadrons at Ambala and Hashimara, focusing on operations against Pakistan in the Western Front and China in the Eastern Sector. Notably, the Rafale jets have been fully integrated into operational service, having been delivered to the Indian Air Force from France.

Furthermore, a squadron of upgraded MiG-29 fighter jets has been stationed at the Srinagar air base, replacing the MiG-21 squadron. The Tridents squadron, now dubbed the ‘Defender of the North,’ has been equipped with advanced weaponry, including very long-range air-to-air missiles and air-to-ground ordnance, following upgrades facilitated by the emergency procurement powers granted to the armed forces by the government.

Presently, only two MiG-21 Bison squadrons, namely No. 3 Squadron ‘Cobras’ and No. 23 Squadron ‘Panthers,’ remain in service. These squadrons are slated for phased retirement, with the entire fleet expected to be decommissioned by 2025.


Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft

The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) represents a significant leap in India’s aviation capabilities. Designed as a fifth-generation stealth, multi-role combat aircraft, it is intended for deployment by both the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy (IN). Developed under the auspices of the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA), operating within the ministry of defence (MoD), the AMCA aims to incorporate sixth-generation technologies alongside its fifth-generation features.

Characterised by its low radar cross-section and super cruise capability, the AMCA is designed to fulfil various roles, including air superiority, ground strike, suppression of enemy air defences (SEAD) and electronic warfare (EW) missions. As a potent successor to the Sukhoi Su-30MKI air superiority fighter, which currently constitutes a significant portion of the IAF's fighter fleet, the AMCA project is strategically important for India's defence modernisation efforts.

The inception of the AMCA programme dates back to 2010, running parallel to the Indo-Russia Sukhoi/ HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited) FGFA (fifth generation fighter aircraft) initiative. Since then, the program has progressed through several developmental phases, including feasibility studies, preliminary design and basic design configuration. As of February 2023, the program awaited the Critical Design Review, a pivotal technical milestone ensuring that the system is poised for fabrication, demonstration and testing, while meeting performance requirements.


Modernising Airfields

In tandem with aircraft modernisation, the IAF is actively engaged in modernising its airfields to bolster operational capabilities. In 2020, the MoD entered into a contract with Tata Power SED (TPSED) worth nearly INR 1,200 crore for the Modernisation of Air Field Infrastructure (MAFI) across 37 airfields utilized by the IAF, IN, and Indian Coast Guard (ICG).

The MAFI project is executed in two phases, with Phase I focusing on upgrading 30 IAF airfields. This phase, executed as a turnkey project, involved the installation and commissioning of modern airfield equipment such as CAT-II Instrument Landing System (ILS) and CAT-II Air Field Lightning System (AFLS). Additionally, the airfield systems were integrated with Air Traffic Control (ATC), enhancing control for air traffic controllers.

Phase II of MAFI extends the modernisation efforts to include 37 airfields across the IAF, IN and ICG, under a contract signed with TPSED in May 2020. Currently underway, this phase aims to further enhance operational efficiency and safety across a broader spectrum of military and civil airfields.

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