The Indian Air Force (IAF) said Thursday that given its depleting strength, it does not have adequate number of fighter jets to “fully execute” an air campaign in case of a two-front war involving Pakistan and China simultaneously.
It also sought more fifth generation fighter aircraft over and above the 36 Rafale aircraft.
The revelation by the IAF comes at a time when the squadron strength of the force has come down to 33 in comparison with the sanctioned strength of 42.
Of the 33, a very large chunk is made up of Russian origin Su-30 jets, the frontline fighter aircraft of the country.
However, the serviceability ratio of the aircraft is very poor with the figure hovering around 55%. This means that out of 100 aircraft, only 55 are available at a point of time with the rest being bogged down in service.
“Our numbers are not adequate to fully execute an air campaign in a two-front scenario. Probability of a two-front scenario is an appreciation which you need to do. But are the numbers adequate? No. The squadrons are winding down,” Air Marshal B S Dhanoa, Vice-Chief of the IAF, said addressing a press conference in New Delhi.
IAF sources said a two-front war is not a likely possibility for the next few years and, in the meantime, the force hopes to come up with the required capability.
“We have conveyed our concerns. The government is seized of the problem. It signed the 36 aircraft (Rafale) on G2G basis because of the depletion in squadron numbers,” Dhanoa, a Kargil war veteran, said.
Asked if there is requirement for more Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft type aircraft besides the 36 Rafales, he said: “Various avenues are being explored. There is need to buy a MMRCA class aircraft more than the 36 numbers that we have signed. Which platform may come in, that is something between us and the government. We (both) will have to take a call,” he said.
Deputy Chief of the IAF Air Marshal R K S Bhadauria said a decision on buying more aircraft will be taken only after the conclusion of the contract for 36 Rafale fighter jets.
IAF officers said Rafale will significantly enhance the capability of the IAF.
Talking about the low serviceability of the Su-30, Dhanoa said it was an issue.
“It is being monitored at the highest level in the ministry of defense. We want to sign the long-term material contract so as to have a quick turnaround,” he said.
Dhanoa said the sale of eight F16s by U.S. to Pakistan will not drastically alter the air power balance in the region but he admitted “it makes my life more difficult.”
To beef up the IAF, the defense ministry will procure 120 indigenous Tejas Light Combat aircraft. Of the 120, 100 will come with 43 improvements over the existing Tejas, currently being test-flown by the IAF for various parameters and slated for final operation clearance in March.
The first upgraded Tejas is scheduled to be produced in 2018 and the target is to complete the requirement by 2022-2023.
Tejas will fill the void created by aging MiG-21s and MiG-27s that will be phased out by 2022.
There are 260 Soviet-era single-engine MiG-21 and MiG-27 jets in the IAF fleet. The Air Force needs at least 400 additional jets over the next 10 years.
The government is also exploring getting fighter jets through the ‘Make in India’ route.
A number of fighter jet manufacturers have approached the defense ministry with plans to set up production plants in India.