The Indian Air Force (IAF), struggling to maintain its operational capabilities with an ageing and depleting strength of combat aircraft, will see its fighter squadrons rising from the current 32 to 42 by 2022, parliament was informed Wednesday.
"With the planned induction of Su-30, Jaguar, medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) and the light combat aircraft (LCA) during 2007-22, the strength at the end of the 11th, 12th and 13th plan periods is expected to increase to 35.5, 35 and 42 squadrons respectively," Defence Minister AK Antony said in a written reply in the Rajya Sabha.
"In addition, steps have been taken to upgrade the existing MiG-21, MiG-27, MiG-29, Jaguar and Mirage-2000 aircraft," he added.
This apart, the induction of force multipliers like airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) and midair refuellers, together with advanced weapons systems "will greatly enhance the combat capability of the Indian Air Force," Antony pointed out.
The IAF is set to begin field trials of the six combat jets in the running for its MMRCA order for 126 fighters, with the number likely to go up to 200.
The field trials are expected to last 18 months as the aircraft have to be tested in different environments like the deserts of Rajasthan, the icy heights of Leh in Jammu and Kashmir and the humid conditions of south India.
The Boeing F/A-18 Super Hornet, the Lockheed Martin F-16IN Super Viper, the Dassault Rafale, the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Saab Gripen and the MiG-35 are the six aircraft in the fray.
As for the indigenous Tejas LCA, after prolonged cost and time overruns, series production of two squadrons has begun and the IAF is expect to induct the first aircraft from 2012.
While the IAF has ordered 124 aircraft, it is known to be unhappy with its performance with its existing engine and is not likely to order any more. Ironically, the delays in the LCA programme had prompted it to embark on the MMRCA hunt.