As the conflict in the world is increasing and our two hostile neighbours, China and Pakistan, are conspiring against India. It has become imperative to strengthen our defence capabilities. Also, as the nature of war has mostly shifted towards air capacity, it is important to analyse how the Indian Air Force is ‘battle ready’.
The World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft (WDMMA) recently published the Global Air Powers Ranking of 2022, where it has placed the Indian Air Force (IAF) above the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. The Global Air Powers rankings are not solely based on the number of aircraft that a particular country’s Air Force possesses, but also on other factors such as modernization of the fleet, logistic support, defence, and attack capabilities.
Current strength of the Indian Air Force
The strength and capacity of an Air Force are mostly defined by its fighter jet capabilities. Its numbers, manoeuvring strength, range, and striking capacity have the authority to decide the fate of a war. In this scenario, it is imperative to understand India’s currently operable fighter fleet’s capacities.
Presently, India operates six kinds of fighter aircraft. Su-30MKI, Rafale, Tejas, MiG-29, Mirage 2000 and MiG-21. Considering MiG-21’s frequent accidents, the Indian Air Force is expected to decommission the ageing aircraft by 2025. So effectively, we have five types of fighter jets.
Among all, Sukhoi Su-30MKI is the largest and primary fleet of the Indian Air Force. With a total of 284 operational numbers, the Russia-made Sukhoi is an air superiority fighter with additional air-to-ground strike capability. Unlike the Chinese version of Sukhoi, the Indian version is attached with advanced Israeli avionics and electronic warfare systems.
China too operates Su-30 MKK and MK2 versions. But, restrictions on the use of Israeli technology in Sukhoi make them sub-standard as compared to Indian ones. The Chinese Sukhoi are less manoeuvrable and nimble than Indian ones, due to the non-availability of vectoring engines.
Consequently, China was forced to make its own version of Sukhoi. Copying Russian Su-30s and Su27s designs, China made two indigenous versions called J-11 and J-16. But, again, a copy remains a copy. China was not able to maintain the quality and the J-11 and J-16 remained substandard fighter jets.
Another important fighter jet that the IAF operates is Jaguar. Famously known as Shamsher, IAF has 139 Jaguars. Attached with EL/M-2052 AESA radars and new avionics, Jaguar is considered a ground attack specialized fighter jet.
Dassault Mirage 2000, also known as Vajra, is the fourth generation single-engine multirole fighter jet. Currently, about 50 different variants of Mirage are being operated by IAF. In February 2019, Mirage-2000 fighter jets were used in striking terror camps in Balakot inside PoK. Attached with Israeli laser-guided SPICE bombs, Mirage-200 is a highly reliable aircraft for India.
With all these fourth-generation fighter jets, India now has inducted 36 Dassault Rafales. A French twin-engine canard delta wing multirole fighter jet is capable of performing air supremacy, interdiction, aerial reconnaissance, ground support, in-depth strike, anti-ship strike, and nuclear deterrence missions.
Rafale is much superior and ‘battle-ready’ than China’s so-called stealth fighter J-20. Rafale has proven its capacity in the Afghanistan, Benghazi, Iraq, and Syria wars and has an edge over China’s J-20 which is largely untested.
Upcoming batches of fighter jets
Whenever India will be dragged into a war with its hostile neighbour, it will be a two-front war. Consequently, India will have to prepare to fight with both neighbours simultaneously. In pursuant to that, the IAF requires about 42-squadron strength of Combat Aircrafts. But currently struggling with 30-squadron is a grave concern for the Indian securities. It is also important to note that IAF is set to retire the largest fleet of Jaguar and Mirage by 2030. In this scenario, the squadron capacity is further expected to decrease.
In February 2021, the Defence Ministry signed a 48,000-crore deal with HAL to supply 83 LCA-Mk1A to the IAF. It includes 73 LCA Tejas Mk-1A fighter aircraft and 10 LCA Mk-1 trainer aircraft at the cost of 45,696 crores along with the design and development of infrastructure sanctions worth 1,202 crores.
As per the contract, HAL has to deliver the first three MK1A aircraft to IAF in 2024. After 2024, it will deliver 16 aircraft per year for the next five years. The timely induction of LCA Tejas will help in maintaining the required squadrons of fighter jets.
Further, under the ‘Buy Global & Make in India’ initiative, India is expected to procure about 114 Multirole Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) at the cost of 1.5 lakh crores. IAF will import 18 aircraft in the fly-away condition in the first phase. In the second phase, 36 aircraft would be manufactured in India. In the last stage, 60 aircraft would be made by Indian partners.
Reports suggest that global manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Saab, Mig, and Dassault Aviation are expected to take part in the floating tender.
India’s own 6th generation fighter
India is aggressively pushing for indigenous development of 6th Generation stealth, multi-role, air superiority fighter jets for the Indian Air Force & Navy. With the composite collaboration of the state’s defence giant DRDO (Defense Research & Development Organization), HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited), and a domestic private company, India is expecting to start the trial of its first indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft by 2024-25 & introduction in forces by 2030-35.
Concerning its AMCA project, India needs a new fighter jet engine technology with the powerful thrust of 110-kilo newton (kN). As reports suggest, French Safran is ready to establish its MRO facilities in India and has also offered to support India’s AMCA project.
Watching the current and upcoming fighter jets capacity, India seems to be fully ready for future wars. With the added advantage of the S-400 air defence system, the Indian Air Force has totally secured its territorial sovereignty. With the addition of 114 Multirole Fighter Aircraft and 83 LCA in five to eight years, India will be able to fully modernise its aircraft fleet. With the required 42 squadron capacity, India is battle ready for a two-front war.
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