Indian Air Force chief expects full strength of 42 squadrons by 2027 - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Sunday 4 October 2015

Indian Air Force chief expects full strength of 42 squadrons by 2027

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 5th Oct 15

Indian Air Force (IAF) boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, has verified Business Standard’s report (October 2, “Parrikar cuts Gordian knot to boost Tejas line”) that the air force was ordering 120 (six squadrons) Tejas Mark I Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), triple the 40 aircraft it had previously committed to buying from Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday, in the lead up to Air Force Day on October 8, Raha declared: “We are ready to take more --- 120 (fighters), six squadrons of Tejas… We are ready to take it as soon as they (HAL) can provide it. That means they have to ramp up the production rate, which is running behind schedule… But we will take all 120.”

Raha endorsed Business Standard’s description of the configuration of the additional fighters, which is being dubbed the Tejas Mark 1A. It will have an under-wing pod for electronic warfare and jamming, aerial refuelling capability, better air-to-air missiles and rearranged internals for easy maintenance.

Unlike former air force chiefs who have often used Air Force Day to paint a dire picture of a weakening air force with dwindling aircraft numbers, an optimistic Raha predicted “We are looking forward to building up our combat fleet to 42 squadrons by the end of the 14th plan, by 2027. I think it is possible, it is viable, there are a lot of options available with us, and discussions are already on.”

Raha’s optimism rests on his acceptance of indigenisation, a notable turnaround from his predecessors, who never planned beyond one-to-two Tejas squadrons. Raha’s acceptance of six Tejas squadrons immediately makes the numbers better.

Furthermore, he is bullish on the next-generation “advanced medium combat aircraft” (AMCA) that the Defence R&D Organisation (DRDO) has begun designing in close partnership with the IAF.

Raha sees the AMCA, which he says will take 15 years of development and prototype testing, as the IAF’s future, along with the “fifth-generation fighter aircraft” (FGFA) that Russia and India plan to co-develop.

The AMCA would come into service around 2030, just in time to replace three types of IAF combat aircraft whose service lives are currently being extended through avionics upgrades (MiG-29 and Mirage 2000), and an engine replacement programme (Jaguar).

Raha signalled growing IAF disenchantment with the FGFA, something that has been increasingly evident from the inability of New Delhi and Moscow to agree on an R&D contract. The air chief confessed: “There are some issues which have cropped up in terms of the work share, in terms of the present technological and technical aspects of the PAK-FA (the Russian FGFA prototype, which is undergoing test flights), and of course the cost visibility. So these are the issues we are looking at and they have been taken up at the highest level.”

However, the air chief believes that the AMCA’s promise compensates for uncertainty over the FGFA. Says Raha: “If the FGFA comes through it is fine, otherwise the Indian FGFA --- that is the AMCA, the advanced medium combat aircraft --- we still have over 15 years to work on it before the MiG-29 upgraded aircraft retire, before the Mirage 2000 upgraded ones retire, as well as Jaguar upgraded ones retire in another 15 years.”

In contrast to its aloofness from the Tejas programme, the IAF has immersed itself in the AMCA programme, to the DRDO’s pleasant surprise. Raha enthuses: “I’m very sure, if we put our hearts and souls together, and if the air force, the DRDO, the ADA (Aeronautical Development Agency) and HAL and other agencies involved take joint responsibility, joint accountability and joint ownership, [AMCA] is highly possible.”

Notwithstanding Raha’s embrace of indigenisation, he retains the IAF’s conviction that it is essential to have at least six squadrons of the Rafale.

Interestingly, he leaves the door open for any other medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA). “I cannot give you numbers, but definitely we would like to have the MMRCA type of aircraft, at least six squadrons to my mind. But let’s see, there may be some other alternatives as well,” he said.

The IAF chief stressed on the on-going development of advanced landing ground (ALGs) along the Himalayan frontiers, especially in Jammu & Kashmir and the north-east. He said Nyoma and Kargil airports in Ladakh are important “Not only for capability enhancement of the air force in support of the army, it is also going to help us in increased tourist traffic and economic development.”

Indicating that Kargil would be developed as a tourist hub, Raha said the IAF would “extend the runway not only so that it can be used by larger bodied aircraft of the air force, or combat aircraft, but also larger-bodied (civil) aircraft…”

In contrast, Nyoma, which is being developed as a fighter-capable airfield in remote Southern Ladakh, at an altitude of over 13,000 feet, would take longer, because of its hostile climate and short working seasons. “So even if we can start the work this year, it will take several working seasons, to my mind between three and five to complete the work.” 


  1. It is really good news in the view of IAF indigenous efforts (may be first time!) to make our country self reliance. My particular interest about LCA, as platform and future fighting machine, the recent development should be initiated atleast some 10 years before. Although it is not so late, I am still wonder why nobody understand that any platform developing from scratch need upgrading cycle to make it is a matured platform.

    But IAF expectation wants ready to go war jet. But they helped Russian's to develop SU-30MKI for IAF by taking delivery of 40 limited capacity SU-30!!! Take Mirage 2000 and Jaguar of that time doesn't have war fighting capacity when inducted.

    Many hardware's such as electronics getting shrink due to advances there by reducing space and weight. In this view, LCA have huge potential as small light fighter that perfectly fit our BILLS. But need constant support and upgrade.

    I think Parrikar knows well and hope he is doing good. Will wait and Watch!

  2. Now on the issue of ramping up production the government should take a speedy decision to offload to pvt Industry.

  3. Add another engine to Tejas and you've an MMRCA which can be designed and built in next three years. This will cost a fraction to that of Rafale and will also be a precursor to twin engined AMCA.
    For our immediate needs, 90 Rafale shortfall can be made up by purchasing more Mig29 or Su30mki. After France's treachery in MMRCA deal we shouldn't have purchased even one Rafale. But then with Mir Jafar netas at the helm of affairs what more can you expect?

    1. Right mr engineer! Why don't you put 3 engines on? No idea of what you're talking about. And what french treachery? Refusing to take responsibility for someone else's work (incompetence). With comments like this showing the incapacity for certain people to really understand it seems like wisdom on the french part!
      Beside light even got through to the mod cause they ended up cancelling the rfp when they realised nobody would assume such a clause and that whatever anybody said or signed up to Hal would screw up anyway.

  4. As the economy expands from 2.5 trillion to 10 trillion $ the airforce needs to be expanded from 42 to 60 squns , the army from 40 divs to 75-80 divs as both pakistan and china can throw over 65 divs combined . The NAVY needs 45 destroyers , 60 to 75 frigates ,8 cruisers , 5carriers and assorted corvettes asw and patrol craft in addition to 25 ssks, 6ssbns , 12 to 18 ssns 4 ssgns and 6LHDS AND INFANTRY CARRYING TROOP CARRIERS . A FLEET OF OVER 45 TO 50 TANKERS , SUPPLY SHIPS , ORDNANCE CARRYING SHIPS TO SUPPORT THE OPERATIONS .the indian defence budget needs and will expand from 40 billion to over 150 to 200 billion $ by 2030. To economise on costs the paramiltary and CPF FORCES INCLUDING STATE POLICE ADMINSTRATIVE AND CENTRAL SERVICES MUST HAVE LATERAL INDUCTION OF OFFICERS AND OTHER RANKS STARTING WITH 5, 7 ,9, 12, 15 18 AND 20 YEARS SERVICE

    1. I feel they should also procure several star destroyers and at least one death star.

  5. At last the govt has forced the IAF in the interest of the nation. If they had jettisoned the LCA it would have been a repeat mistake like they did in the case of HF-24

  6. Convincing the IAF to engage with DRDO and adopt Tejas looks like a major achievement by Parrikar. If he can resuscitate the Kaveri engine project and deliver a potent engine (with or without DRDO); sky will truly be the limit for the Indian defence industry. Godspeed Parrikar!

  7. The last comment by Annonymous regarding adding engine on Tejas sounds so hilarious. I am sure the gentleman is absolutely clueless about what goes in designing, payload, aerodynamics, certification,etc. It is not simple as you think.

  8. To expedite production as the IAF needs, the next 80 Tejas units must be contracted to the private industry. This is because HAL is too overburdened and may not meet production numbers.

    Why not throw open the production lines to Mukes Ambani, or L&T or Godrej or Walchand or what have you? Bharat Forge could also take up major sub-assemblies. If the private sector can contribute, it is here i.e. efficiency in production and speedy deliveries.

    If this step is taken, Manohar Parrikar will go down in history as independent India's most visionary defence minister.

  9. Now we can see the anti-LCA lobbies getting more active and bashing it. Good to see that Tejas is going to be mass produced. A time will come in distant future where we will look back and say it changed Indian aviation industry for the good.


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