The Indian Air Force has set the ball rolling for buying 42 more Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters from Russia to upgrade its thinning combat fleet at a cost of more than R20,107 crore.
The proposal, a repeat order from Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, will soon be placed before the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) for approval.
Tiding over depleting force levels is crucial for the IAF. Its existing 32 fighter squadrons are much below the sanctioned 39 and half. The squadron strength is projected to plunge to around 27 during 2012-2017.
The new fighters would be delivered during 2014-2018, Defence Minister A K Antony told Lok Sabha on Monday. The latest order will be in addition to the 230 Su-30 fighters already contracted from Russia. The IAF currently operates five Su-30 squadrons (around 100 fighters) — three based in Pune and the remaining two in Bareilly.
Plans are afoot to deploy two extra squadrons each in Punjab and the Northeast. A Su-30 can carry eight tonnes of armament including nuclear bombs.
The IAF is beefing up its airbases and inducting modern aircraft in the Northeast to keep pace with Chinese military in the Tibet Autonomous Region.
It is also monitoring the modernisation of the Pakistan Air force (PAF), which has been striving hard to bridge the capability gap with the IAF. The PAF is expanding its fighter fleet by inducting US-supplied F-16 fighters and JF-17 Thunder jets, developed jointly with China.
The IAF is also scurrying ahead to induct 126 medium multirole combat aircraft.