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By Bulbul Singh

08 Apr 06. India’s Air Force fleet strength falls to the lowest strength by next year in the last 40 years when the total fleet strength will be reduced to less then 29 squadrons from a peek strength of 39.5 squadrons. One squadron comprises of 18 combat aircraft. The fall in strength is mainly on account of the slow development of the indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) which was to replace the aging MiG fleet, and bureaucratic delays in settling acquisition of advanced aircraft from overseas countries. The Indian Air Force has told the Indian defense ministry to finalize purchases of aircraft on an emergency basis including the purchase of 126 Medium Range Multi role Combat Aircraft. Sources in the Indian Air Force said they have even recommended to the Indian government to substantially reduce joint air exercises with foreign air forces of foreign countries in view of the falling strength of aircraft. The present strength of the Indian Air Force is 32 squadrons against a required optimum strength of 45 squadrons and the Indian Air Force has already announced its decision to ground three squadrons of its MiG 23 aircraft and two squadrons of the MiG 25 aircraft beginning this year. The MiG 23 is a ground attack aircraft while MiG 25 is a reconnaissance Platform. As per this calculation the squadron strength will drop to 29 squdrons but taking into consideration the effective strength of the fleet after deducting the number of aircraft which are in stages of upgradation the effective strength will be 26 squadrons which is even lower then the strength of the Indian Air Force when it fought the 1965 battle with Pakistan.

The Indian Air Force is already flying the MiG 21 combat aircraft beyond its age, and the MiG 27 aircraft and MiG 29 need upgradation and need grounding. The Indian government last month decided to upgrade 67 MiG 29 aircraft with the Indian Air Force. Currently the Indian Air Force is upgrading 125 MiG 21 bis, 40 Jaguars and another 40 MiG 27 fighter aircraft.

The upgrade would be done at a cost of over $900 million and will include mounting of new weapons, new generation radar, and changing the current avionics suite with the Phazatron Zhuk-M radar.

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