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A Rafale fighter jet preparing to land | Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg
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Indian Air Force hit by ageing fleet, low serviceability & slow pace of upgradation by HAL. IAF fears it could end up with just 19 squadrons by 2042.

New Delhi: Hemmed in by an ageing fleet of fighter aircraft, low serviceability and a cautious bureaucracy and political leadership, the Indian Air Force is staring at an alarming fall in its muscle.

To make matters worse, even as one squadron after another of the MiG-21s and -27s continue to be phased out, the IAF is being stymied by the slow progress of upgradation work on its existing fleet of Jaguars and Mirage aircraft by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The situation is so bleak that according IAF projections, even if all existing orders for 36 Rafale, six squadrons of Tejas (including Tejas Mark 1A) and two more squadrons of Su30 MKI are taken into account, the squadron strength will reduce to 27 by 2032 and a mere 19 by 2042.

The IAF has a squadron strength of 30 at present.

Target won’t be met even if all goes to plan

Even in the best case scenario, sources said, the IAF will not reach its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons by 2042. That is if the force takes into account the Tejas Mark 2, the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and 114 fighter aircraft for which a Request For Proposal (RFP) is still awaited.

The sources said that even if one assumes that all the three futuristic aircraft are inducted as planned, the squadron strength will still only be 37 by 2042. The last time the IAF had 42 squadrons was way back in 2002.

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Another concern is the low serviceability of the fighter aircraft. While it is a fact that during Exercise Gagan Shakti last year, the IAF managed to get some impressive numbers, the figures at other times are abysmally poor.

For example, the serviceability ratio of the country’s frontline fighter aircraft is only around 58 per cent. This means that if there are 100 aircraft, only 58 are available for flying at a time with the others in service and maintenance.

This has been a major concern and hence the deal for the 36 Rafale fighter jets comes with a performance-based logistics pact, under which at least 75 per cent of the Rafale aircraft will have to be available for flying at any point of time.


Also read: India pulls off big feat as indigenous combat helicopter decimates target in air


The HAL delays

A major troubling aspect is the series of delays by HAL when it comes to its upgradation programmes for the force. The IAF had even written to the government last year detailing the delays.

For instance, HAL was tasked with upgrading 47 Mirage 2000 aircraft, tasked with delivery of nuclear payload, on 29 July, 2011, at a cost of Rs 2,020 crore. The final operating capability (FOC) was scheduled to be completed by July 2017 but was it completed only by March 2018. HAL has revised the contracted production schedule thrice.

So far, HAL has upgraded only six aircraft against a contracted schedule of 21 aircraft, the IAF note says.

It is a similar story with the Jaguar Darin-III upgrade. In December 2009, HAL was handed the contract for upgrade of 61 deep penetration strike Jaguar Darin-I aircraft to Darin-III standard at a cost of Rs 3,113 crore.

The completion date of development activities and series upgrade of all 61 aircraft was December 2017. So far, however, no aircraft has been delivered to the IAF. The series upgrade is now expected to be completed by 2023-24, a delay of six years, the IAF has said.

Another concern is the go-slow approach when it comes to the RFP for the 114 fighter aircraft, especially in the wake of the Rafale contract controversy.

Following the signing of the deal for 36 Rafales, the government and the IAF were working on bringing out a tender for single-engine fighter aircraft, keeping the cost in mind.

The defence ministry, however, sprang a surprise by questioning the need for a single-engine foreign fighter when the indigenous LCA programme was on. This caused the IAF to retune itself and bring out an RFP in April, which did not limit it to single-engine fighters.

Industry experts wonder how this will play out, because one of the primary factors for the selection of aircraft will be cost, besides technical parameters.


Also read: ‘Romeo’ is just the first of hundreds of helicopters Indian military desperately needs


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7 Comments Share Your Views

7 COMMENTS

  1. Half of the Rafale contract is an offset to build a private sector aerospace industry+train personnel.
    Now, be aware that
    1. A Tejas assembly line makes 8 units/year
    2. A Rafale assembly line makes 18 units/year, but can be extended to 26
    42 squadrons = 14 of 18x Su-30, 14 of 18x Rafale-C/B, 3 of Rafale-M for INAF, 14 of 21x Tejas. Add 1 spare aircraft per sqr for attrition.
    Rafale = 266+57. As a 2nd batch of 36 is in talks = 251
    Tejas = 308, 16 already delivered, 2nd assembly line is on, 24 additiona Mk1 on order = 268
    It takes 2 years for an assembly line to start production and 2 more years to start deliveries.
    If decisions for massive orders are taken NOW, deliveries can start end 2023.
    BUT the right number of assembly lines has to be decided too!!!!
    At a rate of 18 units a year, it takes 7 years to have 2 assembly lines building 251 Rafales while 4 Tejas assembly lines would take 8 years and 6 months for 268 Tejas, in fact, since 2 are already online, if decisions are taken NOW, being at 42 squadrons by 2030 is feasible!

    What I’d recommand : Look at this ;
    https://tinyurl.com/y4p9cfhv
    https://tinyurl.com/yyn34tab
    https://tinyurl.com/y6fe8h36
    => Having hardpoints for 5 Meteors, and also for 2, to be placed under the outer-wing
    This would allow to carry 36 Meteors and 2 MICA-NG/IR at once…
    This means 648 meteors and 36 MICA for a single Rafale squadron (31 for Rafale-M)…. Remember that if dodged, Meteor can be re-locked on target, MICA too.
    In a SINGLE FLIGHT, a Rafale squadron can take out all jet-fighters in PAF; 6 squadrons can deal with PLAAF the same way!
    Better hardcore negotiate with MBDA : Meteor is a bit expensive, especially if you buy 4536 units, at the same time, they’d better please their #1 client as they’re far from having as much cumulated orders…

    The 2 conformal tanks allow a 2,450km CAP patrol without refuelling. Note there is also a 3000L drop tank. The 2 conformals + the 3000L would allow to deliver 4 SCALP-EG to Beijing (take off with half internal fuel and complete from the tanker once airborne, so Rafale can carry up to 12t!)…. If the Tse-Tse design is used, just don’t tell us if you fit a 1.7 megatons warhead in a SCALP (1961 W59 was 1 megaton and weighted 250kg), you know, NPT… (I suppose that Israel has recuperated the W59 design from UK)

    Tejas Mk1 can be EASILY IMPROVED
    1. India has already stored 100 GE F414. F414 is just a more powerful F404 and a drop-in! Fit them on Mk1!
    2. It lacks fuel? F*cking prepare conformal tanks!
    3. Thales has already prepared a modified RBE2/AESA for Tejas, it’s aready DRDO-validated and flight tested! Put it in the nose!
    4. Thales has prepared a standalone version of SPECTRA’s active stealth 4 Tejas
    => Fit all this onboard = WOW!
    The F414s can be used, maybe keeping some as spares, let”s say build 4 squadrons of 21+1 and keep a dozen F414 as spares?
    Hardpoints have enough payload for 17 Meteor and 2 MICA-NG/IR :
    http://i.imgur.com/rcxQxGI.jpg
    Note that the integration can be a bit expensive, but….

    Dassault-recommanded mods for Tejas (all blueprints ready since summer 2017!) I’d HIGHLY recommand to have this version once F414 are depleted.
    – Same baked-in radar absorbent materials as Rafale
    – Rafale’s active stealth [DRDO-validated]
    – 98kN version of Rafale”s engine (as powerful as Mirage-2000-9, the Emirati on steroids version with 6.8t payload or as GE F414). Advantages : IR stealth, much smaller than F414 => 1.1m^3 less => room for fuel, 200kg lighter. Note : M88 is the only engine allowing 5-6 missions per 24h in normal use and no less than 1 week of intensive use with 10-11 missions per 24h (wasn’t tested further : after 1 week operations, Rafale-M faced a problem : lack of targets : Gaddafi’s army was totally f*cked up) [DRDO-validated]
    – As much internal fuel as Mirage-2000
    – Rafale’s AESA radar : much more powerful than Elta EL/M2052, serious ECM features [DRDO-validated]
    – Reinforced airframe to take 11G
    – 500kg lighter than Tejas Mk1 => 1,800kg lighter than Mirage-2000-9 with the same thrust => Payload and speed affected… And since M-2000-9 has 6.8t payload and is Mach2+ capable…
    – Safran has created a joint venture with HAL to make the 98kN M88/K9+ (Kaveri 9+) in India
    – BRS (balistic recovery system) parachute.

    AS YOU CAN SEE BY YOURSELF, the full replacement of old IAF aircraft is feasible by the time Mrage-2000, MiG-29 and Jaguar won’t be able to serve any more….

    Other things I’d recommand : give up classic airbases with Rafale : they take off in 400m and land in 450m.
    A 600m portion of road able to cope with a 30t truck is enough. Take a look at Swede or Swiss hidden road-bases.
    In case of war, classic airbases will receive a rain of ballistic+cruise missiles and swarms of drones.

    Other weapons I’d recommand :
    – MBDA Apache anti-runways stealth cruise missile. A Rafale may carry 5 at once : enough to demolish a 2,400m airbase runway
    – CBU-105 : one kills 40 tanks (!)
    – Modified K-LOGIR guidance kit for Hydra-70 guided rockets. Modified for more contrast : the basic K-LOGIR’s EO/IRST is deliberately ultra cheap to go only after ships, e.g. Kim ‘Rocketman” Jong Un’s swarms of speed boats, can be fit with better sensor. Advantage : fire’n’forget : just point the targetting laser once, and launch. Pods of 19. Each rocket compares with a TOW and ranges 10-15km from a fixed wing aircraft
    – Zuni-LG : laser-guided Zuni rocket by MBDA. I’d recommand to create pods for 8-9 of these. 10km+ range. Third of a Hellfire’s price, twice the warhead and the speed.

  2. Indian reliance on defense imports denotes Indian lack in military industrial complex. Though successive governments recites the mantra of elf-reliance and indigenisation, these objectives remain elusive. The challenges to Indian defense industry is from the corrupt bureaucrats to that of lack of technical expertise. The dearth of expertise often results in a parochial view of defence. Unless India overcomes these challenges, India will continue to falter on its mission to modernise its defence sector,

  3. Rafale deal the largest defence scam that the country has seen. The Rs. 58,000-crore Rafale fighter jet deal has been at the centre of a raging political row with the Congress accusing the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government of wrongdoing. It left the Indian Air Force high and dry, and by securing offset contracts for Anil Ambani’s new company that has no experience in building fighter aircraft, it also puts our national security at risk.

  4. India will have less than half the fighter strength sanctioned two deacdes ago when Pakistan and China were weak by 2042! What should have been an Indian Air Force is sitting in overseas Bank Lockers of Politicians and Bureaucrats. What do you expect?

  5. That’s not correct. How its possible for world’s largest arms importer to have a crippling IAF? This news is just to convinces masses to pour more money in defense expenditures. Its there to manage public perceptions in favor of investing in defense.

  6. If two squadrons now cost about 60,000 crores, 42 will cost over twelve trillion. The Navy’s Budget is also very capital intensive. MoD will have to sit with the finance ministry and project its requirements far into the future, aligned with likely scenarios for India’s economic growth and the amounts that can realistically be earmarked for defence. 2.As a lay person one cannot judge how realistic this expectation of a two front war is. Preparing for it is becoming unaffordable.

    • No! In fact, the 2 squadrons don’t cost 60,000 crores at all… The flyaway cost is about the 3rd of it!
      Half is an offset to build Dassault+Thales+Safran factories, have about 200 subcontractors settled, al this into JV with Indian companies, and the training of thousands of personnels.
      One 6th of the contract is €710M in weapons, the integration of Indian, Russian and Israeli weapons, the Elbit HMD too, custom pylons for Russian weapons, 2 simulators, guarantee for 75% availability, training of pilots, maintenance facilities, MILCON, etc etc.
      Note that the integration of Meteor on Typhoon costed $175M (Germany paid alone). Don’t hope any integration for cheaper than $100M from Saab or Boeing… Dassault is said having done a never seen price.
      Let’s suppose you buy a total of 266 Rafale-C/B for IAF (14 squadrons and 14 spare aircraft), the flyaway cost would be around $19.5BN thus around 130,000 crore. I’m NOT counting weapons purchases, MILCON, spares, fuel
      If Tejas is made the way Dassault recommands, it would cost about $45-46M/unit, flyaway cost.
      14 squadrons of 21+1 spare = 308 units = $13.86BN => 92,400 crores
      Add 57 Rafale-M for INAF : $4.85BN = 32,300 crores
      About $38BN to be spent over 10 years.
      This includes the Rafales already ordered, and I do as if all Tejas received the mods (you can read about in my other post on this page).
      Now, it’s a bit the fault of all governments who neglected IAF since the Su-30 orders
      For AMCA, consider it to start replacing Su-30 in the mid 30’s…
      Unless IAF considers that since the French companies have became bi-national, joining the Dassault-Airbus 6th gen project makes sense, and considering 2 characteristics Dassault CEO spoke about at last Paris Air Show, these features would allow to make it much more than an aircraft (nothing official, but these are characteristics from e.g a space-shuttle : skin taking up to 3,650°C and reactance control system!)

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