Security Issues

India’s Fighter Jet Conundrum

The article covers the issues that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has had in modernising its fighter jet force due to procurement delays and insufficient finances.

Why discuss this?

  • The IAF currently has 31 fighter squadrons, as opposed to the sanctioned strength of 42.
  • This figure is predicted to remain stable or even drop by 2029.
  • The IAF spokesperson assured the Parliamentary standing committee that the shortage would most likely not be met anytime soon.

A Brief History of the Indian Air Force (IAF)

  • The Indian Air Force (IAF) was founded in 1932 and played an essential part in India’s security during World War II and the 1947-48 Kashmir War.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s, it was modernised with the introduction of new aircraft and weapons systems.
  • Since then, the IAF has expanded to become one of the world’s largest air forces, playing an important role in India’s defence and security.

The IAF’s Current Situation

  • Large workforce: The IAF has over 1,500 aircraft and 140,000 men, making it one of the world’s largest air forces.
  • The IAF has a sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons, while its current strength is 31 squadrons.
  • Victorious wars: It was crucial in several conflicts, notably the Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971, as well as the Kargil crisis in 1999.
  • It has also participated in humanitarian aid and disaster relief activities, such as the 2004 tsunami and the 2013 Uttarakhand floods.

Challenges faced

  • The IAF faces multiple challenges in the 21st century.
  • Decommissioning aircraft: By the end of the decade, many of the Jaguars, Mirage-2000s, and Mig-29s will begin going out, which is why the decision on Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) is essential to arrest this drawdown.
  • Arsenal shortages: The IAF is facing a fighter aircraft shortfall, which is a major issue given the current geopolitical climate.
  • Selective modernization is one of the important challenges, and it includes modernising its aircraft and weaponry systems.
  • Diverse threat: The IAF must also maintain operational preparedness in order to deal with the changing character of warfare, which includes non-state actors, asymmetric warfare, and cyber threats.
  • Logistic ramifications: In order to properly support its operations, the IAF must upgrade its logistics and infrastructure.
  • Maintenance issues: There is a steady convergence with vendors for “long-term spares and repair contracts.”

Opportunities for the IAF

  • In the current period, the IAF has various opportunities to improve its capabilities.
  • Modernization entails purchasing new aircraft, weapons systems, and technology, which can dramatically improve the IAF’s combat capability.
  • Joint cooperation: The IAF can also improve its international cooperation with other air forces in order to gather knowledge and improve interoperability.
  • Induction of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs): The IAF can also investigate the use of UAVs for surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat operations.
  • Indigenization: The IAF is emphasising the importance of indigenous fighter jet production through the LCA and Fifth Generation fighter aircraft programmes.

Fleet modernization challenges

  • Procurement delays: Due to procurement delays and limited finances, the IAF has considerable hurdles in modernising its fleet.
  • R&D and infrastructure bottlenecks: Implementing indigenization is a difficult process that necessitates major investment in R&D, infrastructure, and human resources.
  • Others: Other difficulties include a shortage of skilled workforce, restricted funding, and the necessity for technology transfer from international partners.

Way ahead

  • To attain long-term self-reliance, the IAF must prioritise the procurement of MRFA, focus on boosting Su-30 availability rates, and invest in its own industry.
  • Effective coordination between business, government, and the armed services is critical for the success of defence indigenization activities.
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