The dipping numbers of the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter fleet has alarmed the security establishment as it will be operating with half of its current strength in a little over a decade.
The Indian Air Force is operating with only 33 fighter squadrons against the sanctioned strength of 42. The number will be further reduced to 16 by 2032, and 19 by 2027.
As of now the IAF requires at least 45 squadrons, but it is short of the target. Each squadron has 18-20 fighter jets with many of them not having full strength.
This means that the total number of fighter jets could be 300 by 2032. De-induction of MiGs 21, 27, and 29 over the next 10 years will cause this critical fall in the number of fighter fleet.
The numbers are part of a presentation made by the Air Force to a Parliamentary panel on Defence.
The falling numbers are a cause of concern keeping in mind the two-front collusive threats.
IAF is banking on Rafale, Sukhoi 30s, and indigenous Tejas to fill the critical gap.
India struck a deal with French company Dassault Aviationto buy 126 Rafale fighter jets. While 36 will come in a fly-away condition, the rest will be manufactured in India as part of an offset clause.
36 Rafale and Sukhoi jets will be part of the fleet by 2019, and another 83 Light Combat Aircraft are expected to be inducted by 2020.
By 2019, five extra squadrons are also expected to be part of the fleet, but with some being withdrawn, the number will remain around 30-33 for some time.
“The capital funding provided to IAF is not at all commensurate with the large envisaged requirements. This could lead to erosion of existing capabilities to a large extent,” the Ministry of Defence said in a reply to the standing committee on Defence.
The committee has expressed anguish over the ‘customary nature’ of the reply.
“The issue of depletion in squadron strength has been taken up repeatedly, but no concrete measures seem to have been taken,” the Committee has observed in its recent report tabled in parliament.
The Indian Air Force has begun the hunt for 114 fighter jets to enhance its operational capabilities and add firepower to its depleting fleet.
This will be done under the Strategic Partnership Model of the Narendra Modi government that aims at a synergy between foreign and Indian manufacturers to boost indigenisation in defence manufacturing. Out of the 114 fighters, 16 will be flown from the country of origin and the rest will be manufactured in Indian production lines set up here, sources said.