Def Min’s buylist an attempt to augment IAF
Newly ‘emboldened’ defence ministry and ‘Hanuman’-like Indian Air Force (IAF) appear to have pitched forth, for a 42-squadron service. The goal is oft repeated by the IAF that they wish to be a ‘strategic’ force that would seek not just air-dominance but seek ‘air superiority’ in the region. This is a long held goal. And the current buy list of the MoD and the IAF point towards the fact.
For example, even before the ink was dry on the government-to-government deal on the Rafale aircraft, a search has begun for more advanced fighter aircrafts in the medium-weight category. The current IAF chief Marshal Arup Raha has indicated that in his annual press conference recently, where he otherwise showed the ‘prudence’ of being silent on most issues of concern.
Now the reports are about how the IAF has issued Request for Informations (RFIs) for a single-engined fighter aircraft. The three types that are on their radar seem to be Lockheed Martin’s F-16, Boeing’s F/A 18 and SAAB Gripen E. Does this mean that it is the end of the road for the much reviled, Tejas Mark I, of which the IAF has asked for two squadrons. Of course, they have been shown some generosity to the Indian indigenous effort to by tentatively asking for 120 of the Mark II variety.
Most people in the know say that it is not the end of story for Tejas.
Former Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) chief, Dr PS Subramaniam, says. “There are expectations for more orders beyond 120 LCAs, once the induction begins.”
But does the country needs a 42-44 squadron IAF to maintain its ‘strategic’ formation? Former vice chief of IAF, Air Marshal (R) Pranob Barbora says “No.” His belief is that we could defend the air space over any battleground in the region with even 36 squadrons. But he wants more force multipliers like air-to-air refuellers, more Aircrafts Warning And Control (AWAC) aircrafts and Aircraft Early Warning aircrafts etc.
The IAF is planning for some time now to augment its inventory of such aircrafts – beyond the three IL-76 mounted Phalcon AWACS, and three indigenous Embraer-mounted AEWs. Two more AWACs and three more AEWs are on line. But plans for two more indigenous AWACs with 360-degree AESA radar view have been cleared, mounted on Airbus-330s. Six more are in line.
Thus, the need of the IAF for more fighter aircrafts to create ‘redundancy’ can be fulfilled by these force multipliers, which can keep a fleet of 36 or 38 squadrons operating at an optimal level. But clearly, the IAF also has the PLAAF in mind.