IAF seeks ₹40,000 crore to acquire new equipment
Grappling with a spending crunch that could hit its modernisation efforts, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has sought additional money from the government to buy new equipment and also pay for weapons and systems it has already contracted to purchase, two senior IAF officials said on condition of anonymity.
The capital expenditure of ₹39,300 crore earmarked for IAF in this year’s budget is not enough to upgrade capabilities and more money needs to be pumped in to avoid a funding crisis, said one of the officials cited above. IAF requires at least ₹40,000 crore more to pursue its modernisation, he added.
“There’s a worrying mismatch between our requirements and the money allocated for it. We have asked the government to provide more funds. We have been told that IAF’s demand will be looked into at the revised estimate stage in December,” the official said.
Big-ticket critical purchases on IAF’s wish list, running into billions of dollars, include 114 new medium-weight fighter planes, 83 light combat aircraft, a mix of 33 more MiG-29s and Sukhoi-30s, six aerial refueling planes, 56 new medium transport aircraft and 70 basic trainer aircraft.
“Apart from buying new platforms, we also have to make payments for those that were contracted for earlier and are in the process of being inducted. The IAF has a committed liability of ₹48,000 crore,” the second official said.
The already ordered multi-billion dollar weaponry and systems that the air force has to pay for include 36 Rafale fighter planes from France, five S-400 Triumf air defence missile systems from Russia and 22 Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters from the United States.
Military affairs experts said IAF’s demand for additional funds (a 100% increase in allocation) for modernisation was not unreasonable and shoring up force levels is critical to deal with the threat of two-front war with Pakistan and China.
“The money is never enough. Committed liabilities consume a large percentage of the capital budget, leaving little money for new schemes. Getting force levels in order are critical,” said Air Marshal KK Nohwar (retd), director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.
The experts said lack of funds could hinder IAF’s modernisation and its ability to effectively defend the eastern and western fronts. “There’s a massive backlog of modernisation and committed liabilities are also consuming resources. There’s no doubt that the IAF needs more money to power its much-needed modernisation,” said military affairs expert Air Marshal Anil Chopra (retd).
In March 2016, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa (then vice chief) admitted that IAF did not have a sufficient number of warplanes to fight a two-front war with China and Pakistan, drawing attention to the sharp drawdown of India’s fighter fleet.
The experts said IAF had bought new equipment over the last three years but critical capability gaps still needed to be filled. Over several years, the count of IAF’s fighter squadrons has shrunk to 31 compared to a desirable strength of 42, a capability gap the air force is struggling to fill. Parliamentary panels have time and again raised questions about India’s ability to fight the two adversaries at the same time, a worrying scenario that IAF describes as ‘Contingency-III.’
India defence budget for 2019-20 stands at ₹3.18 lakh crore, including a capital outlay of just ₹1.04 lakh crore. India’s defence spending currently stands at around 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), the lowest in decades. Experts have argued that India should spend 3% of its GDP to build military capabilities.