The Indian Air Force (IAF) which is facing a shortage in its fighter squadrons, is hopeful that increasing the low availability rates of Su-30 and other fighters in service will offset some of the shortfall, it informed the Parliamentary Standing Committee on defence. However, that delivery schedule could be potentially impacted due to the Russian offensive in Ukraine and the Western sanctions on which officials said they are assessing the situation.
“But there is an interesting fact that we have ended up spending a large amount when we got the funds last to last year and last year also on revenue spares. There is an interesting aspect that a very large number of Sukhoi-30 and other fighters are on ground and we are hopeful that when those spares start coming from this year onwards, we are hopeful that will be able to actually add some squadrons,” an IAF representative told the committee as per a report tabled in Parliament last week.
That is one way Air Force fills that, the representative said stating the serviceability state “has been low”. “Once we get that, the existing strength itself we can ramp up before the new aircraft come in. That is the best we are looking at for us as of now,” the Committee was appraised.
In the aftermath of the Balakot air strike and tensions with Pakistan earlier 2019 and the continuing standoff with China in Eastern Ladakh since May 2020, the three Services have undertaken major emergency purchases and fast track procurements, which several officials said would cater for immediate requirements. However, several revenue contracts for spares and others were signed recently at the end of the financial year, March 31, on which atleast two defence officials said the planned delivery schedules may be impacted. “We are assessing the impact for deals we have signed at the end of this financial year,” a defence official said.
The IAF has an authorised strength of 42 fighter squadrons. As time passes, the drawdown is increasing as the total technical life is completed, the IAF said.
While acknowledging that they we will not be able to achieve the desired strength for the time and they are doing the best they can, the IAF said the delay is in productionisation of indigenous fighter and till 2024 before it starts coming, they are hopeful there would be few other revenues which can be explored. The 83 LCA MK-1A for which contract was signed in January 2021 are scheduled to be delivered from early 2024 onwards.
The LCA-MK1A along with the proposed to be acquired Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) will help arrest the drawdown, the IAF stated.
With delays in acquisitions, the IAF has been forced to continue the last four MIG-21 Bison squadrons on service. On this the IAF told the Committee that as and when the technical life is complete, “we can’t keep them extra even for a day, and we don’t keep them either.”
Stating that life extension is done for some aircraft and in this case, they now have the Bison aircraft remaining, which are upgraded, but still old, the representative added, “There is no doubt about that.”
Several frontline aircraft in the inventory including the Jaguars, MIG-29s will begin phasing out by the end of the decade. For instance, by 2027-28 the first of the MIG-29s, inducted in later 1980s, will start going out.
The IAF has recently completed inducting 36 Rafale fighter jets and in all has 123 LCAs on order. A larger LCA-MK2 as well as the fifth generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) are under development.
On the helicopter front, the IAF has around 500 helicopters. In forward areas of Siachen and air maintenance in the North-East, the Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal which are being employed will be totally depleted by 2032, the IAF told the Committee. These will be replaced by Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), for which the Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) has been granted and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will start delivering 12 helicopters this year, it stated
Along with this, contract for Light Combat Helicopter manufactured by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is set to be signed and the numbers will slowly increase. With this “our fighter attack helicopter” capability will increase, the IAF representative added.
In the last 7-8 years, several steps have been taken to increase the serviceability rates of the Russian equipment in use, especially the Su-30MKI fleet which constitutes a significant number in the IAF inventory. Part of the measures are long term spares and support agreements as well as Joint Ventures in India with Russian original equipment manufacturers for faster turnaround.