Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Why India can't afford to ignore its air force in 2018

Defence contracts inevitably involve long-drawn-out processes and no government can really be judged by what has been achieved in a couple of years. However, the process of defence modernisation was given a huge boost by Manohar Parrikar when he was the defence minister. A ministry, which was mostly viewed as slow and indecisive, did display signs of a revitalised entity oriented to chase deadlines with vigour. However, more than three years down the line, since the present government in New Delhi picked up the reins, there isn’t enough evidence to conclude that substantial progress has been made.

Taking stock of the Indian Air Force (IAF), its equipment state has been deteriorating by the day. Instead of its authorised strength of 42 squadrons to meet the dual threat from China and Pakistan, the IAF stands at a mere 33 squadrons. It has also to phase out its vintage MiG 21 and MiG 27 fleet that together form 11 squadrons. In 2016, the minister of state for defence had informed the Parliament that all MiG 21s will be phased out by 2018, and MiG 27s in two lots. The last MiG 27 ML flew over Hashimara on December 28, 2017. A few upgraded MiG 27s will be grounded by 2024.

In between, the MiG 29s will be due for retirement, too. All that the IAF can be assured of inducting so far are 36 twin engine Rafales and 40 Tejas 1 light combat aircraft. Manufactured by Dassault Aviation, France, Rafale is undoubtedly a state-of-the-art fighter aircraft.

However, the first aircraft is scheduled to be delivered in September 2018 and the deliveries will be completed by April 2022.
The IAF is interested in purchasing an additional 36 Rafales. Rafales will come with state of the art weapon systems to include Meteor Air-to-Air missiles that range over a 100km. They will also have Scalp air to ground missiles, and perhaps the Brahmos too.

What’s even more important is it will be a part of India’s nuclear triad capability and surely a formidably deterrent for Pakistan and China. However, the French have declined to advance the deliveries. As such, most of the MiG 21 and MiG 27 squadrons will have been done away with before the Rafales enter service in strength.
01/01/18 Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)/Daily O