Grappling with a drawdown of its fighter jet fleet, India has firmed up a plan to plug the capability gap over the next 10 to 15 years. A top defence ministry source said the Indian Air Force was working towards the target of inducting around 400 warplanes by 2030 to buttress its depleting force levels that set off alarm bells about the country’s ability to tackle a combined threat from China and Pakistan.
T he count of IAF’s fighter squadrons ha s shrunk to 33 (a round 640 fighters) compared to a desirable strength of 42. T he squadron strength is likely to come down to a mere 19 (around 380 warplanes) by 2027, as revealed in a Parliamentary panel report earlier this month.
The source said the IAF would get 120 Tejas light combat aircraft, another 120 twin-engine mediumweight aircraft to be built in India in collaboration with a foreign manufacturer, and an equal number of single-engine fighter planes. India is currently negotiating a deal with France for buying 36 Rafale fighters and 72 Sukhoi-30 fighters are on order. B ridging the capability gap is vital for the IAF that is saddled with ageing Soviet-era fighters.
T he IAF also wants to deploy a total of 15 AW AC S (airborne warning and control system) over the next decade. T he IAF currently operates three Israeli Phalcon AW AC S mounted on Russian IL-76 heavy-lift planes. The system has a range of 400km. Itis also on course to induct two Brazilian Embraer airborne early warning and control (AEW &C ) system aircraft. The AEW &C systems developed by the DRDO are being installed on Embraer-145 jets imported from Brazil.
In M arch 2015, India took the first step towards developing an indigenous AW AC S, with the defence acquisition council giving its go-ahead to a Rs 5,113 crore project involving mounting two such complex surveillance systems on the European Airbus A330 platform. Airbus Defence &Space was the only bidder for the AW ACS India programme, making it the first single vendor project to be cleared by the NDA government.
“T he finance ministry has raised some objections but the defence ministry has given a clarification emphasising the operational need for more such platforms,” the source said. As per IAF’s plans, eight AW AC S are required for the eastern border, and five for the western boundary. The IAF wants these monitoring systems to provide 360-degree coverage, which is far more than that offered by (AEW &C ) system aircraft.