Down to 32 fighter squadron, IAF currently finds itself in dilemma on how to make up the number. With a sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons and a requirement of at least a minimum of 39 squadrons to fight a 2 front war, IAF doesn’t seem to have a suitable answer on how to make up the number.
Current IAF fleet:
|Aircraft||Total numbers||Squadron strength|
|Mig 21 Bison||135||7|
|Mig 29 UPG||62||3|
|Mirage 2000 I||47||3|
|Su 30 MKI1||261||12 +1*|
Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment in Gwalior has an unspecified number of Su-30MKI, probably 1 squadron
So the current fleet is a mix of modern, upgraded, old and obsolete fighter jets, with old and obsolete forming a total of 13 squadrons. Mig 21 still being dragged are now planned to retire in 2024 which should have been retired at least a decade back. The same is the case with 6 jaguar squadron, with IAF being the only air force in which the aircraft is in service. These aircraft cannot perform aerial engagements except Close Combat Missile for self-defense, which means the limited role and absolutely no help to counter enemy fighters. Even out of these 6, 3 squadrons are to be retired by 2025 and the remaining 3 in 2030. However, IAF may retire them earlier considering they are not going to get a new engine. In the next 5 years, IAF is set to lose 10 squadrons and 13 by 2030 with committed orders limited to only 3 squadrons i.e. 2 squadrons of Rafale F3R and 1 Squadron of HAL Tejas MK1.
IAF acquisition plans by end of this financial year i.e. march 2021:
- 4 squadron of HAL Tejas MK1A – 83 jets
- 1 squadron of Mig 29UPG – 21 jets
- 1 Squadron of Su30MKI – 12 jets
Now if these are ordered in this financial year, we will see Mig 29 and Su 30 coming by end of next FY 2022 i.e. by march 2022 or in the 1st quarter of FY 2023. However, Tejas will be delivered over a period of 5 years with production starting from 2023 and last delivery by 2028. So by 2028 we will add 9 squadrons if all goes as planned but will lose 10 squadrons with 3 more in the next couple of years. So instead of actually increasing the number IAF may actually end up losing more squadrons.
Future Plans of IAF
IAF plans to restart the long and cumbersome process of MMRCA 2.0, which it has already gone through once and wasted a 1 whole decade in the process is not a good idea when you are about to go down to less than 30 squadrons by 2025. MMRCA 2.0 process from trials to selection to contract signing will take a minimum of 3-4 years and beyond that another 2-3 years for delivery of 1st jet. Also if any jet other than Rafale is selected in this process, it will only add up to logistical issues for IAF. Now if all goes as planned, 1st squadron of MRCA will come by 2027-28 off the shelf and HAL Nashik Su 30 production line converted to produce MMRCA locally. Also, IAF wants to acquire 150 Tejas Mk2 aka MWF but starting from 2028-29 onwards. As per this plan, we will remain stuck with 30-35 squadron by 2030 i.e. a whole full decade of deficiency. This is when PAF keeps increasing its JF17 squadrons with the latest Block 3 coming with KJ-7A AESA radar and long-range PL-15 BVR and also have plans to purchase 2-4 squadrons of J-10C. On the other hand, PLAAF is upgrading and developing more and more Air Bases all along LAC to host more and more squadrons including fifth-generation fighter J-20.
Dassault Rafale production capabilities enhancement
Unlike past Dassault has ramped up production of Rafale with the company delivering a total of 26 Rafale in FY 2019 up from 12 Rafale in FY 2018. Dassault in 2015 decided to double up production of Rafale by 2018 on account of surging export orders and they in 2019 delivered a record 26 Rafale. However this year production was affected by COVID 19 pandemic, but things are coming back on track.
Current order/ Delivery Stats:
* Qatar is likely to get few more jets by end on FY 2020.
# Dassault has delivered a total of 12 Rafale to IAF in France, of which 8 came to India and the rest are being used to train pilots in France.
Currently, rafale has a backlog of total 55 export and 28 domestic order taking the number to 83 jets. France will also order 30 more F4 variants in 2024 taking the total order to 123. France also expects more export orders from India, Egypt, Qatar, Switzerland, and Finland and likely want to maintain the enhanced production rate.
Way forward for IAF
If IAF is serious about improving squadron strength it should focus on 3 pronged strategy which is discussed below
1- Government to Government deal for 36+36 more Rafale: India should order 36 more Rafale F3R with elements of F4 by end of next year. At the current production rate discussed above, France should be able to deliver those by 2025-26. For people wondering about the high cost of procurement here is the surprise. Egypt ordered 24 Rafale for $7 bil, however, when they ordered the follow-up 12 aircraft it cost them merely $ 1.25 Bil. Surprised? don’t be! The reason for such a low cost of procurement was to follow up order was only for additional units and did not include support packages like weapons, maintenance, or spares. Similarly for India, the deal for 36 Additional rafale will cost only 60% of the current deal as stated by ACM BS Dhanoa (retd.). The reason for this is Deal for an initial 36 rafales involved a heavy one-time cost i.e. Indian specific modification, Training and simulators, other than that both Ambala and Hasimara airbase is developed to host 2 squadrons of Rafale each. All this cost around 40% of the total deal which can be saved on follow-up order. Also now with new DAP nullifying the requirement of offset clause in G2G deals will also help in reducing cost, in all next 36 Rafale should cost IAF around $ 5.2-5.5 bil. Again IAF should order another batch of 36 more rafale F4 in 2025, with delivery by 2028-2029. This order will cost IAF more than the 2nd order, as this will include the creation of 3rd base for Rafale along with a logistics facility. But since the contract will be 5 years from now, the Indian Economy should be able to sustain the cost. This would mean the delivery of 4 additional Rafale squadron by 2029 while going with MRCA will only ensure delivery of at best 1 additional squadron in a similar timeframe.
2- Tejas and MWF: 2nd thing IAF should focus on is working with HAL to increase the production of Tejas. HAL current production capacity is 12 aircraft annually (8 at LCA Tejas division & 4 at Aircraft division aka Ex. Kiran Mk2 division) and 3rd production line with 8 more is supposed to come up this month taking total capacity to 20 annually. HAL will deliver all 16 FOC Tejas by march 2022. From April 2023 they will produce 18 Tejas MK1 Trainers and from April 2023 they will start producing Tejas Mk1A at a rate of 16 per annum till march 2028, while Kiran division will likely be converted to manufacture HTT-40 basic jet trainer of which IAF is supposed to order 100+ in 2021. From April 2028 HAL will start producing 150-160 Tejas MK2/MWF at a rate of 20 annually (16 from LCA division and 4 from Kiran division) keeping the line running, eventually replacing 2 squadrons of Mirage 2000 and 2 squadrons of Mig 29UPG by 2037. Beyond this, the line can be converted to AMCA which will likely see induction after 2035.
3 – HAL Nashik Division aka Su 30MKI line producing Tejas LIFT: HAL will likely produce 12 more Su 30MKI till march 2022 as a replacement for 11 MKI which has crashed to date if ordered this year. After this the line will become idle, IAF/HAL should convert this particular line to produce Tejas SPORT/LIFT, lead-in fighter trainer. IAF has requirements for some 100 such aircraft. The benefit of Lead-in fighter trainer is that in peacetime it is used to train fighter pilots the full envelope of combat missions, a role which cannot be totally fulfilled by transonic BAE Hawk Mk132. During wartime, these fighters can be used as an actual fighter, as they will come integrated with all sorts of sensors and weapons including AESA radar. HAL may able to start limited production by 2023 with full-scale production by 2024 as the airframe basically remains the same as HAL Tejas. As per the HAL test pilot, one of the Tejas LSP has already been converted into SPORT, and flight testing will likely start next year. 100 aircraft can be produced by 2032-33 beyond which line can be converted to produce TEDBF for the Indian Navy.
This plan will ensure simultaneous induction will ensure IAF squadron strength reach sanction limit by 2030.
Induction Plan: (Numbers/Squadrons)
|Jets/Years||Mig 21||Jaguar||Mig29||Mirage||Su30mki||Tejas (Bnglr)||Rafale (France)||SPORT (nasik)||MWF (Bnglr)||Total|
This ensures that IAF gets Sanction strength by 2030, beyond that they can keep producing the remaining MWF and Tejas SPORT/LIFT to increase the number and beyond 2035 induction of AMCA replacing Mirages and Mig 29.
The obvious question which will come to the mind of anyone who looks at this plan finances. How will India manage it finances for so many projects simultaneously?
So here is the answer – IAF current year Capital allocation is around $ 6 bil. If we consider modest growth of 7-8% in capital allocation annually IAF will have around $ 90 bil in the next 10 years.
The total amount required for all above deal will be as follows:
|Aircraft||Expected cost (in $ Billions)|
|83 Tejas MK1A||5.4|
|21 Mig 29 UPG||0.9|
|12 Su 30 MKI||1.2|
|36 Rafale F3R||5.5|
|36 Rafale F4||8.5|
|100 Tejas SPORT/LIFT||7|
So it is clearly visible out of some $90 Bil available to IAF in the next 10 years, they need only some $ 32-34 bil to fulfill the above deals(remember MWF will come in production only in 2028, so only a fraction of the deal will be paid before 2030.), while the rest majority of the budget can be used to purchase other assets.
In all, IAF should focus on the purchase of Rafale directly from France and the massive local production of Tejas MK1A, Tejas LIFT and MWF to reach the sanctioned squadron strength by 2030.