The Indian Air Force may have been entrusted with the responsibility of securing Delhi's skies during the Commonwealth Games, but half of the equipment in the world's fourth largest air force is obsolete. In a frank assessment of the IAF's capabilities, air force chief Air Chief Marshal P.V. Naik said on Monday 50 per cent of equipment — including fighters, radars, transport aircraft and air defence weapons — was either obsolete or obsolescent (becoming obsolete).
Speaking ahead of the 78th anniversary of the air force on October 8, Naik said, "Around 50% of our equipment is obsolete and needs to be replaced. We hope it will come down to 20% by 2014-15."
Naik flagged concerns about the air defence units such as Russian-origin Pechora, OSA-AK and Igla surface-to-air missile systems. The systems are two to three decades old.
"Ten years ago we had no money for modernisation. This caused some delays. Subsequent planning will fructify by 2014-15." He stressed the air force was capable of defending the country from any threat.
The air force is upgrading its air defence units with a sense of urgency. It has contracted 18 Spyder low-level quick reaction missile systems from Israel. It is also jointly developing with Israel a medium-range surface-to-air (MR-SAM) missile system to detect and destroy hostile aircraft at a range of 70 km.
Another air defence system in the offing is the Maitri short-range surface-to-air missile (SR-SAM), a joint venture between the Defence Research and Development Organisation and French defence major MBDA. It has a range of around 15 km.
Plans are afoot to deploy eight squadrons of the Akash surface-to-air missiles.
Asked to comment on the Chinese air force capabilities, Naik said, "Borrowing from Chanakya, all neighbours have to be watched with caution. So we watch all neighbours, be it the smallest or the biggest."