India’s Air Force Looks to Enhance Its Reach With Upgrades & Force Multipliers
India Defence notes India’s Air Chief Marshal S.P. Tyagi’s recent remarks that Indian Air Force (IAF) plans to acquire more advanced fighters, sophisticated defence systems and smart long-range weapons, as the country’s “strategic boundaries have been redefined” by its growing energy needs and participation in disaster management operations. Tyagi said the current scenario “necessitated a strategic reach to safeguard our national interests”.
Tyagoi acknowledged the effect that delays in the LCA Tejas fighter were having on India’s force structure, but noted that India would react in a number of ways. His response touched on everything from AWACS and revised MiG-21 modernization numbers to precision weapons and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
One response, he said, would be to speed up the delivery of the 140 Su-30MKI jets being built under license by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
The second component of that response is to implement upgrade programs across India’s fighter fleets.
Tyagi also noted a modification to one of these programs – India’s $630 million MiG-21 ‘Bison’ modernization program would be expanded, following excellent performances of the upgraded interceptors in the COPE India exercises. The Air Chief Marshal noted that the older MiG-21 T77 is already being phased out, the MiG-21 T96 will be used in training and operational roles until 2012, and the upgraded MiG-21bis will “remain in service till 2022-2025”. MiG-21bis numbers will now be enhanced by one squadron, from 125 to 145 aircraft. Bharat-Rakshak reports that as on 16 January 2006, 94 of the MiG-21s have been upgraded to Bison standard by HAL. However three of these have been lost in crashes.
This is not an uncommon problem for the MiG-21, and The Tribune of India has an excellent article analyzing this problem and revealing its true depth as well as some of the measures taken. The 1998 piece “India’s Vanishing Air Force” by Pakistani observer Manoj Joshi is also highly recommended, as it highlights the training and flying hours problem and traces it to the combined effects of poor procurement policies plus the USSRs collapse.
A third component involves foreign fighter jets. Chief Marshal Tyagi became quite specific here, noting that despite US invites to related events, his force “has not expressed interest” in the US-made F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which will begin entering service in 2011-2013. “For the present, the (126) Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCAs) we are seeking meet the current qualitative force requirements.” The RFP is expected soon, with an expected 6-month response period.
The fourth component is the induction of force multipliers like air tankers, AWACS, and precision weapons. The IAF currently has 6 IL-78MK ‘Midas’ air-air refuellers, and has ordered 3 of the related IL-76 “Candid” medium-heavy strategic transports fitted with the Phalcon AWACS system from Israel. India has also been in discussions with Northrop-Grumman around the Hawkeye 2000 carrier-capable AWACS aircraft, which is just beginning production for the US Navy.
India did not mention specifically which precision weapons it sought, but there are rumors that it is seeking an air-launched version of its medium range BrahMos supersonic cruise missile in addition to its existing arsenal of missile weapons.
- DID – Indian AWACS Moving Forward on 2 Fronts. The IL-76 Phalcon, and a mid-size companion.
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- DID – India’s Navy Picks Its Future Maritime Patrol Aircraft. Boeing’s P-8i Poseidon will offer India very long range coverage from its bases in Tamil Nadu.
- DID – India’s Mid-Tier Maritime Patrol Aircraft Competitions.