With the Indian defence ministry dragging its feet on crucial purchases, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is set to lose its conventional edge over Pakistan for the first time since independence reported Indian Media. The force’s fighter strength is set to hit an all-time low of 31 in the next two years. The largest arms importer in the world with a defence spending of Rs 77,000 crore, India seems to have missed out on buying the much-needed fighter aircraft.
Since 1971, the Indian defence strategy has been based on having a superior air power over Pakistan and China. In the event of a conflict with either of these countries, the IAF will be a critical fighting instrument of first resort.
But according to the recent finding of the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Defence, the fighter assets of the IAF are dwindling fast and the force will not be able to attain its required sanctioned strength of 42 until 2032, thus adversely affecting the “operational capability” of the IAF.
The IAF has 34 fighter squadrons at present and it is likely to reduce further to 31 during the 12th plan (from 2012-2017).“The number of sanctioned strength now is 42 but finally the need will be to have 45 squadrons, which will happen only by the 15th plan (2032),” said the committee’s report tabled in Parliament.
The defence ministry is aware of the alarming situation but the only reaction it could offer was “even if the contracts are signed today, it cannot accelerate the process of aircraft induction.”
As early as 1959, the IAF had projected the requirement of 64 squadrons, including 45 combat aircraft squadrons, to prepare for an eventuality of facing war on two fronts. The debacle in 1962 reaffirmed the requirement. But since then, the snail-paced acquisition has hurt the IAF badly. But the force managed to maintain an edge over the Pakistan Air Force (PAF).
Presently, PAF has around 26 squadrons and IAF needs to have 39.5 squadrons to maintain its edge. The PAF is undergoing a major augmentation of its capacity and in 2006, it ordered 28 F-16CD Block 52 fighters from the US. Of these, 14 have been delivered. It has also placed an order for 36 J-10 combat jets with China.