To tide over the acute fleet shortage the Indian Air Force is looking forward to induction of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft `Tejas’ and is also in the process of finalizing a separate proposal with the foreign partners for more fighter jets.
On Tuesday at the annual press conference ahead of the Indian Air Force Day on Oct 8, Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said: “It will be impossible to keep watch and do combat air patrol across the country with the given number of 31 squadrons.” He said that the target of 42 fighter squadrons will remain even though it may take a decade to meet it.
While citing the growing strength of the Pakistani and Chinese Air Forces, Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Sandeep Singh, made it clear that there was no question to review the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons of fighter jets. When it came to combating opponents with bigger numbers and operating in vast geographical areas the numbers of fighter squadrons was absolutely necessary.
It will be impossible to keep watch and do combat air patrol across the country with the given number of 31 squadrons, the chief told the media persons in New Delhi. He said that the target of 42 fighter squadrons will remain even though it may take a decade to meet it.
In response to several questions related to the shortage of fighter squadrons the chief explained that an order for 83 Light Combat Aircraft `Tejas’ Mk 1A is already in place.
According to the chief, the IAF will get another 10 jets of the first lot of 40 `Tejas’ which will be delivered this year.
Adding, the proposal to make 114 medium-range fighter aircraft (MRFA) in India is in the process of being firmed up based on the technical requirements and soon the Request for Proposal will be sent out.
Why the delay?
The government has been in discussions with the OEM to increase the indigenous content in the fighter jets and to have greater `Make in India’ commitment.
Status of the additional Su-30 MKI and MiG-29
“The project to get additional 12 Su-30 MKI and 21 MiG-29 has been deferred,” the chief said in response to a question.
Long-term acquisition Plans
He said that the force was committed to Tejas Mk2 and will get six squadrons and also the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). Both Tejas Mk2 and the 5th generation AMCA are still in the design phase.
Phase out plans
By 2024, the IAF has plans to phase out three squadrons of MiG-21 Bison. This will be followed by the phasing out of six squadrons of the ageing Jaguar fighter fleet starting 2025 and continuing till 2032. By late next decade three squadrons each of the upgraded Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 fleets would be scheduled to be phased out.
In response to media queries, the IAF Chief said by mid next decade all these aircraft will be number plated.
Position of the fighter fleet in IAF
The number has gone down to 31 fighter jets squadrons. And roughly each squadron has 18 fighters.
Last month the strength of fighter squadrons fell to 31 as the Srinagar based MiG-21 Bison squadron was phased out.
The IAF has an authorised strength of 42 fighter squadrons which stands at 31 and this number includes two squadrons of the French Rafales and the indigenous LCA `Tejas’
When will it be 42 squadrons?
According to the chief, even if all the procurement planned goes on without any delays or any glitches the number of squadrons by 2035-36 will just touch 35 as against the sanctioned 42. The focus is not on numbers but on technology and quality.