Indian Air Force: Facing the Facts

Three SU 30 MKI swing role fighter aircraft droping bombs at Exercise Iron Fist - 2013, conducted at Pokhran firing range in Rajasthan.

The Indian Air Force serves 1.2 billion Indians day and night. They are touted by us, ‘Our Guardians in the Sky’. However, at least some of you might feel that IAF is underdeveloped compared to our ‘friendly’ neighbours. Experts and amateurs lock themselves in social media debates throwing out facts to support their claim. So, is IAF really capable of fighting a two front war?

Dwindling Squadron Numbers

A common point thrown around in discussion forums spread in the internet. Indian Air Force currently operates 35 active fighter squadrons as opposed to government sanctioned 42 squadrons (45 as per IAF’s stats) to effectively counter a two-front war scenario. Considering the number of flight worthy aircrafts, this number could drop down to a meagre 25 squadrons, as per a Parliamentary Standing Committee report. As per Air Chief Marshall B.S.Dhanoa, the current inventory strength is more than enough to counter Pakistan and China in a possible conflict.

Retiring Legends


The IAF boasts of a huge collection of obsolete war tech. The good news is they are fast retiring them. The biggest attraction of them being the Mig-21 Bison a.k.a ‘The Flying Coffin’, for its notoriously high crash rates, is nearly all phased out. They served as the backbone of IAF during key points in history. Other notable aircrafts like MiG-27, HS-748 are also being phased out to make way for new aircrafts.


Heavy relying on upgrades


Indian Air Force is undeniably plagued by the scarcity of multirole fighters. Defence experts breathed of relaxation, when the news of multi-billion dollar Rafale deal was in the air. Unfortunately, the deal went down in drain, but the relief returned as Indian PM Modi signed a deal with his French counterpart for a sale of 36 Rafale MMRCA deal. The desperate attempt by Indian authorities to finalise the deal could be a possible sign of IAF’s inventory crisis. To negate the effect, IAF is stripping down most of its jets to the core and adding more muscle to the warbirds. A batch of Mirage-2000s just returned from France after an upgradation. The SEPECAT Jaguar is being fitted with Darin-III suite to make the bird worthy under current scenario. It is to be noted that IAF is the only air force still operating a Jaguar fleet. The Su-30 fleet is also facing hurdles, haunted by technical snags and lack of availability of spare parts.

The Silver lining

Even at this time of struggles, IAF is showing signs of huge modernization drives which are in full pace. The Tejas-MkI is near completion and a deal for 125 jets is already inked with HAL. The 36 Rafale deal is a quick relief to IAF and first plane will be inducted by early 2019.

Dassault Rafale in carrier ops

Other key orders include:

  • BAE HAWK and HTT-40 (Trainer)
  • Boeing Apache AH-64 and HAL LCH (Attack Helos)
  • CH-47 Chinook
  • Additional order for C-130Js
  • Airbus A330 MRTT

    An IAF C-130J Super Hercules clicked en route to India

An interesting point to be noted is that, IAF is venturing out into the western vendors shifting focus from its long time partner, the Russians. In the event of a possible war, the IAF is surely taking measures to keep its inventory updated.  It would be the governemnt’s role to further concrete IAF’s stand in the region as a formidable force. Under present inventory status, IAF could definitely hold of enemies, but domination is a far fetched idea.

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