Between murky political slugfest on Rafale and military hyperbole, Indian Air Force stares at shortfall of squadrons

Nearly two months after Prime Minister Narendra Modi signed the 'Rafale deal' with France's Dassault Aviation, political warfare had erupted in November 2016, with the Congress accusing BJP of non-transparency in the Rs 58,000 crore deal for 36 Rafale twin-engine fighter jets. Ever since the offensive has refused to die. And this is despite the fact the Indian Air Force's squadrons are depleting.

With only 33 squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 42, this ageing force stands to lose even more squadrons as many are slated to be decommissioned in the coming years.


Between murky political slugfest on Rafale and military hyperbole, Indian Air Force stares at shortfall of squadrons

Representational image. PTI

In a report by The Indian Express, it has been estimated that the IAF will be left with an alarmingly low 26 squadrons of fighter aircraft by 2022. Apart from it, the indigenously developed Tejas is still waiting to be inducted into the force.

By 2022, the Express further reports, six squadrons of the Soviet-era MIG aircraft will be decommissioned and only one squadron of the French Rafale and another of the HAL-manufactured LCA Tejas will be inducted.

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman had in December 2017, told the Parliament that 10 squadrons equipped with MiG-21 and MiG-27 aircraft are scheduled to retire by 2024 on completion of their total technical life."

Nearly a year later, in December 2018,  the defence ministry had issued a Request for Information (RFI) to procure 110 fighter jets, stating that it is currently doing with 31 squadrons of 18 jets each. During a press conference in the same month, former Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha had said that the IAF needed at least 200 more fighter jets in the next 10 years.

The problems for the Indian government and the Indian Air Force are plenty, the most notable being the Tejas conundrum.

According to reports, the IAF is not too keen on inducting Tejas into its fleet which is manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The single-engine fighter jet has an "endurance" limit of only an hour and its radius of action is up to 400 kilometres. While Tejas has a weapon-carrying capacity of three tonnes, other single-engine fighter jets like the Swedish Gripen-E and the American F-16 have two times its capacity and triple the endurance.

The HAL has also missed its delivery target for the year's first quarter.

According to a report by NDTV, the force currently depends on Su-30 MKI and MiG 29s, the British-made Jaguar and French-made Mirage 2000s.

Meanwhile, Army chief Bipin Rawat had recently said that the country was battle-ready if war is forced upon by enemy forces. Between Rawat's hyperbole and the political slugfest over Rafale, it is the IAF which seems to be losing the most.

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Updated Date: Jan 24, 2019 23:43:55 IST

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