INDIAN AIR FORCE PLANS BIG UPGRADE
By Bulbul Singh
25 Oct 05. Faced the threat of a loss in fire power due to aging aircraft, mostly Russian fighters, the delay in the induction of the home-grown Light Combat Aircraft and the time delays in purchase of proposed acquisition of 126 Multirole Medium Range Combat Aircraft, MMRCA, the Indian Air Force (IAF)has drawn a major plan to upgrade its existing fleet strength.
The augmentation plan seeks to concentrate on upgrading every aircraft in the Indian Air Force besides the fast acquisition of six more mid air refuelers within the next five years. The purchase of 126 MMRCA aircraft will take a minimum of five to six years due to the bureaucratic delays in procurement. In addition the IAF has also decided to acquire medium category transport aircraft like Hercules C-130s from the US.
The Indian Air Force will purchase six more mid air refuelers from overseas markets for the existing fleet of AN 32 transport aircraft and also the helicopters with the force.
The IAF has also decided to upgrade its fleet of the Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopters and An-32 medium transport aircraft.
In addition every single aircraft in the Indian Air Force will be upgraded with latest avionics and electronic systems within the next five years, said a senior Indian Air Force official adding that the plan has already been approved by the Indian government and that funds will not be a problem.
An Indian defense ministry official also said that funds will not be a problem for the up gradation of the aircraft.
The most crucial period for the Indian Air Force will be the 2007-2012 period, said the Indian Air Force official as the force during this period will be losing combat aircraft squadrons at a much faster rate then they being replenished. The current production of Russian licensed SU 30 MKI aircraft are also not likely to be completed by 2015.
The IAF presently has only 32 squadrons as compared with the target of 45 squadrons of various varieties of aircraft. The fighter aircraft mainly include the MiG varieties and the Indian Air Force has already decided to phase out the MiG 23 and MiG 25 aircraft. In addition the current program of up gradation of the MiG 21 aircraft is unlikely to be completed by 2007.
The Air Force has three squadrons (18 planes to a squadron) of the MiG 23-BN ground attack aircraft and one squadron of the MiG 23 MF air defense fighter. Besides, there are 16 MiG 23 BN variants for the electronic warfare role and six combat capable trainers for the type. There are eight MiG 25 in the Indian Air Force. Though the IAF will have three Phalcon airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft arriving in 2007-08, and 140 SU 30 MKI aircraft by 2016, and the concern of the Indian Air Force is that it faces block obsolescence of most of its aircraft, including the Mirage 2000-H, Jaguars, the MiG 27s, and the MiG 21s in case they are not upgraded. Currently the Indian Air Force is upgrading the MiG 21 to the Bison, and also the MiG 27 and part of the Jaguar fleet. However with the latest decision on augmentation plan the Indian Air Force will accelerate the whole process of up gradation so that the project is completed within the next five years, added the Indian defense ministry official.
The current strength of the Indian Air Force includes MIG 21, MiG 23, MiG25, MiG 27, MiG 29, British Jaguars, French Mirage 2000-H, Russian SU 30 MKI and around 300 helicopters which are mostly Russian MI varieties and the French license produced Cheetah and Chetaks and the homegrown Advanced Light Helicopters.
The IAF will see induction of 190 SU 30 MKI around 2016-18, 66 Hawk trainers by 2012, three AWACS beginning 2007. In addition the IAF has already launched a hunt to acquire 126 MMRCA aircraft. However, the most crucial period is the next five years, and unless the exis