The Indian Air Force (IAF) faces a shortage of 400 pilots and it will take five years to make plug the gap, says its chief, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major.
It takes 6-8 years of operational training before an IAF pilot can be fully utilized in his intended role.
"They have to be trained over a period of time and there are not shortcuts. We are short of about 400 pilots but with the measures we are taking, we will make good the shortage in the next five years," the chief of the air staff told IANS in an interview.
Overall, the IAF is short of about 800 officers.
According to Major, the IAF was working on a two-pronged strategy to reduce the shortage. "The IAF has addressed the issue with emphasis on two aspects - 'retain' and 'attract'. We are carrying out a focused publicity campaign to attract the best to our fold.
"Whilst we cannot match the salaries of the private sector, we compensate by offering a challenging and fulfilling profession with an unequalled quality of life," Major said.
The IAF chief said plans are afoot to increase the intake of men and women into the Short Service cadre as it would be an attractive option for youth while meeting the organisation's needs. Short Service cadre officers are appointed for 10 years, which can be extended by another four years depending on one's performance.
"We are seeking to improve promotion avenues by the implementation of the Ajay Vikram Singh Committee (AVSC) recommendations," the IAF chief told IANS.
The Singh committee on defence reforms, in the second part of its recommendations, had suggested that the number of posts be increased for operational reasons.
As per the recommendations the IAF is expected get 70 more posts of Air Marshal (existing 22), 32 more posts of Air Vice Marshal (47), 158 additional posts of Air Commodore (131) and 592 more posts of Group Captain (476).
The number of officers seeking premature retirement also adds to the shortage of officers in the IAF. According to the highly placed sources in the IAF, more than 160 officers are annually permitted to opt for early retirement.
"The number of officers leaving the IAF prematurely has reached the levels it was around six years ago. We are not holding people back just for the sake of it," a senior IAF officer said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
"A large batch of amateurish people cannot compensate a group of trained people as it takes time to train a person to the level required operationally," the officer added.