Delay in deliveries of Tejas LCA (Indian Light combat aircraft) is costing Indian Air force dearer. IAF squadrons strength is currently depleting at an alarming rate with the current strength remaining at mere 31 squadrons out of sanctioned strength of 42. Three more MIG squadrons are expected to retire next year making up strength to 28. Most of the Indian Airforce fighter aircraft are of 60’s and 70’s which comprises mostly of Russian origin MIG 21, MIG 23 & MIG 27. Even the Anglo-French origin ground attack aircraft SEPECAT Jaguar of Indian airforce are of 1970’s. Though these MIG’s and Jaguars might have been the best aircraft built of that era but now these aircraft have become flying coffins with a huge loss of exchequer for maintenance. To be precise IAF is using fighter jets which are made in the 60’s and 70’s and expect fighter pilots to fight in 2019. Its really a bizarre argument and shame to say that we have upgraded the fighter jets, its like saying that we are using a hull and body of 1960’s with a new blood infusion against latest fighters. A normal human can understand that even a well maintained car is unfit for races after 10 years. Here we are talking of aircraft which is more than 50 years old and sending it to fight with latest version fighter jets, thanks to the bravery of Indian fighter pilots they still manage to get the best out of it .
India had lost close to 150 best pilots in the last 15 years in crashes which is a serious irreparable damage. The recent loss of MIG 21 Bison during a dogfight with F16 of Pakistan had proved again that MIG 21’s have become obsolete inspite of the upgrades and cosmetic improvements made in recent years to make them fly. Thanks to the bravery of IAF pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan and his skills who had brought down the F16 of Pakistan. In layman terms its like a 1960’s purchased car winning race against the latest version Range rover car or in war words he managed to fight and win with a pistol against a AK47.
Incidentally India had lost 482 of MIG’s of which were lost to accidents between 1971 and 2012, averaging nearly 15 per year. Out of total 840 MIG’s 50% of them have been crashed in normal sorties. These were to retire by the mid-1990s, but were upgraded to Bison standard. Eventually these upgraded ones are now obsolete and not fit for flying, forget about dog fights in air. Inspite of this grave scenario and repeated requests from Indian Airforce, questioning by media no major volume of fighter jets were purchased from early 2000’s. The request for multi role aircraft famously known as MMRCA had been in the news from 2004, but its a shame that previous governments have shown deaf years on IAF making it pay for the political game. The current NDA government had ordered 36 Rafael in a government to government deal which had again become a hot topic over the price.
MIG’s have always been in news due to all wrong reasons in last 2 decades. The aircraft has been the mainstay of Indian Airforce combatable aircraft. However India needs to look beyond MIG’s and its early replacement is urgently needed on war footage. India needs to deploy 300 Tejas Light combat aircraft in the next 2 to 3 years complemented by Sukhoi’s, MIG 29’s, Mirage 2000 and Rafale aircraft. Indian Airforce cannot afford to lose their best pilots in sorties rather it should show their talent on skies in dogfights with enemy air force. IAF initially had plans to order well over 300 aircraft but due to huge delays in production, HAL’s inefficiency in fighter aircraft project, current capability and production rate had made this a snail’s walk. Due to the ever happening bureaucratic delays and political will, this short fall had put entire nation at shame in realistic scenario. Many media outlets over the world had reported that India is operating vintage aircraft. This narrative is a huge slap on the face of politicians, who have not taken any decisive steps from 2004 to 2014 in purchasing new advance fighter jets inspite of repeated requests from IAF, Media coverage and many veterans warning on the grave scenario. As usual its all about politics, commission or corruption which had taken center stage against nation, defense, security and pilots lives.
India needs to revamp its production capability of Tejas to 50 aircraft per year. It should focus quickly on MK1 and MK2 advanced versions with latest equipment installed. India needs 300 to 350 Tejas LCA in current circumstances to sustain the vaccum created by MIG’s and should immediately order few MIG 29’s and additional Sukhoi’s to complement the 36 Rafale from France and fill the squadron strength. Although this move will be a minor surgery for the deteriorating strategic advantage of IAF over Pakistan Airforce.
A long term defense approach is must in improving the quality and quantity of Light combat aircraft & Advanced medium combat aircraft designed, developed and produced in India. Foreign fighter jets should only supplement Indian made fighter jets in future rather being the mainstay, which best suits the national interest. A long term goal of 50 squadrons should be achieved by 2027. This can be augmented with greater role of private sector in aeronautical industry for setting up industries and encouraging them to develop and produce fighter jets in India instead of heavily relying on HAL.