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The Hindu Explains | How is India building up the squadron strength of its air force?

The story so far: On July 2, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh approved defence deals worth ₹38,900 crore which includes procurement of 21 MiG-29 fighter jets for the Indian Air Force (IAF) along with upgradation of 59 existing MiG-29 jets in the IAF inventory and procurement of 12 Su-30MKI aircraft from Russia.

What are the major deals approved?

The Defence Ministry said the MiG-29 procurements and upgradation from Russia are estimated to cost ₹7,418 crore while the 12 Su-30 MKIs, which will be licence-produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), are estimated to cost ₹10,730 crore. Other deals approved by the DAC include Pinaka rocket ammunition, long-range land attack missile system of over 1,000 km range and close to 250 Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missiles for the IAF. The Astra Mk-1 has been integrated on the Su-30MKI jets and is being inducted into the force. An ungraded variant, the Astra Mk-II is under development by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Also read | IAF gets last of 5 Apache attack helicopters from Boeing

What are the new fighter jets for?

The Defence Ministry said in a release after the DAC meeting that these decisions will address the long-felt need of the IAF to increase its fighter squadrons. The IAF currently has 30 fighter squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons and is set to phase out its MiG-21 fighters in the next few years further reducing the strength. As seen during the Balakot air strikes (Pakistan) in February 2019, air power will be key to swiftly respond to any short escalations and especially relevant amid the ongoing stand-off with China on the Line of Actual Control (LAC).

The 21 MiG-29s to be procured from Russia have already been manufactured for an unfulfilled order and will now be upgraded and delivered to India. These will add to the three MiG-29 squadrons in service with the IAF which are already undergoing an upgrade. The 12 Su-30 MKIs are meant to make up for the gaps in the Su-30MKI squadrons caused due to crashes over the years. India has contracted 272 Su-30 jets from Russia in different batches, a majority of which are being licence-manufactured by HAL.

What other steps is the Indian Air Force taking to address the shortage?

In July-end, the IAF will start adding the first batch of the 36 Rafale multi-role jets contracted from France. Another deal for 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk-1A estimated to cost ₹38,000 crore is expected to be signed in the next two months which the IAF Chief Air Chief, Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria, termed as “top priority”. The deal has assumed even greater importance with the emphasis on indigenisation in defence advocated by the Finance Minister recently.

The IAF currently has one squadron of LCA in initial operational configuration (IOC) and in May, it constituted the second LCA squadron with one aircraft in the final operational clearance (FOC) configuration. It is scheduled to get 20 IOC aircraft and 20 FOC aircraft in all and will eventually operate 123 LCA including the 83 Mk-1A aircraft.

The more capable and larger LCA Mk-2 is under development which the IAF is keen to add in large numbers. An indigenous fifth generation advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) is also under development and is expected to make first flight by 2032. There is also a tender for 114 fighter jets that has been floated to global aircraft manufacturers to be manufactured in India under technology transfer.

The IAF is also upgrading all aircraft in its current inventory to make up for the shortfall. The Jaguar, Mirage-2000, MiG-29 fighters are all being upgraded and negotiations are on with Russia for a major upgrade of the Su-30MKI fleet.

What about budgetary allocations?

The defence budget has been going down as a percentage of the GDP, and the novel coronavirus pandemic has put further budgetary constraints on military modernisation. For instance, the defence allocation for 2020-21 is pegged at ₹3.37-lakh crore excluding defence pensions which accounts for 1.5% of the GDP. There is a steep rise in defence pensions, 13.5%, from ₹1.18-lakh crore in revised estimates of last year to ₹1.34-lakh crore this year. The ₹3.37-lakh crore allocated is 5.67% higher compared to the budget estimate of last year and just 1.8% higher compared to the revised estimates of 2019-20 which stood at ₹3.31 lakh crore.

Of the total capital allocation of ₹1.13-lakh crore, the IAF got 38% which comes to ₹43,281 crore, but in real terms the capital allocation for IAF has gone down from the revised estimates of 2019-20 which was ₹44,869 crore. In comparison, last year, the IAF had committed liabilities, payments for deals already signed for, of over ₹47,000 crore which was more than its entire capital allocation. The IAF has signed several major deals which include 36 Rafale jets from France, S-400 air defence systems from Russia, Apache attack helicopters and Chinook heavy lift helicopters from the U.S. among others.


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Printable version | Oct 16, 2021 10:56:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/the-hindu-explains-how-is-india-building-up-the-squadron-strength-of-its-air-force/article32053910.ece

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