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Air Force Equipment

The exact number of aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force [IAF] cannot be determined with precision from open sources. Apparently reliable sources provide notably divergent estimates for a variety of high-visibility aircraft.

As of mid-2000, the Air Force had in its inventory a wide array of modern aircraft and support equipment, weapon systems, communication and detection systems. This included air superiority fighter like the MiG-29 aircraft, multi-role combat aircraft like Mirage 2000 and SU-30 aircraft, strike/air defence/reconnaissance aircraft like Jaguar, MiG-21 and its variants, MiG-23, MiG-25 and MiG-27 aircraft. The sole squadron (Trisonics) of 8 MiG-25 aircraft was retired in 2006.

Over the decade leading up to 2008, the IAF had phased out nearly two-thirds of its 300 Mig 21 aircraft, as well as Mig 23-MF, (six) Mig 25 recon jets, Hunters, Canberras and some transports. Of the 300-plus Mig 21s, which formed the mainstay fighting force of the IAF, about 125 were being retained and upgraded to the Mig 21Bis category. That is, the platform and engines are same but overhauled, and the onboard avionics and missiles are the latest. By early 2008 the IAF had already completed the upgrade for 100 Mig 21Bis, fitting them with Beyond the Visual Range (BVR) missiles, a new navigation-attack radar and other weapons dramatically improving their capabilities.

Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshall NAK Browne, speaking at the Aero India, talked 07 February 2013 about the 10-year-plan for both fixed wing and rotary wing planes. On procurement plans during the next fiscal, Browne said his force would process fresh order for six C-130J medium lift planes for basing them at Panagarh in West Bengal. These would be in addition to the six C-130Js that are based in Hindon air base near Delhi. Among other procurements on the priority list is conclusion of 22 Attack helicopters deal with US company Boeing and signing of contract for 15 heavy lift helicopters, apart from six Airbus-330 mid-air refuellers. “The government is fully aware and conscious of our requirements and I am sure, these will go through,” he stated. In the long run will come replacements for 56 Avro small transport aircraft and MiG-21 and MiG-27 fighter jets. Mi-8 helicopters are also slated to be phased out. While the Avros will be replaced by the new turbo prop engine planes, the MI17 V5 choppers will be added to phase out the MI-8 copters. Light Utility Helicopters will replace cheetah helicopters. The C-17 heavy lift transporter will join the fleet in June.

The Defence Minister Shri AK Antony said 16 April 2013 the Government remained committed to the modernisation of Indian Air Force. Inaugurating the Air Force Commanders' Conference, Shri Antony said the Long Term Infrastructure Prospective Plan (LTIPP) clearly lays down the roadmap for the accretion plan of the IAF.

"The procurement and acquisitions span the entire spectrum of the capabilities of Indian Air Force including fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, helicopters and modernisation of air defence network. Net centricity, cyber security and ensuring the requisite communication bandwidth for seamless operations too are a part of capacity-building to ensure that Indian Air Force remains at the forefront of technology", he said. The theme of the Conference is “Enhancement of Op Infrastructure and Security”.

Shri Antony said the long gestation periods of acquisitions, induction and operationalisation of these systems require that Indian Air Force upgrades its legacy systems and modern systems to retain and further strengthen its capabilities. He expressed satisfaction that the budget allotted to the Force has been fully utilised. Shri Antony said though availability of funds shall never be an issue, we need to strictly observe austerity measures circulated by the Ministry of Finance. 'Efforts must be made to cut down expenditure on non-core activities and avoidable ceremonial formalities. At the same time, I am sure all of you appreciate the need for indigenisation and move towards self-reliance in defence production. We must minimise the over-reliance of our Armed Forces in general and Indian Air Force, in particular, on foreign Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) for procurement of major aircraft and equipment', he said.

Stressing on the importance of training on the growth of any organisation, Shri Antony said, the shortage of trainer aircraft has been an impediment in the training of aircrew. The induction of Basic Trainer, the Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) and the Hawk Mk-132 (Advance Jet Trainer) will enable more meaningful training to the aircrew and also prepare the crew to handle complex avionics in modern aircraft. The skill levels of other Air Warriors too must be similarly developed to enable them to retain and sharpen the cutting edge of the operational capability, as well as adeptly handle other systems and structures in a net-centric environment.


In February 2001 India announced an intention to acquire six II-78MK Midas air tankers, with the first plane set for delivery in 2003. The Russian/Uzbekistan-made planes would be newly built, and not from Moscow's existing inventory.

Surveillance, AWACS, etc

The Indian government spent some time negotiating for the purchase of the Israeli-made Phalcon AEW system.

A major order of 40 MI-17-1B helicopters was placed between late September and October 2000 with Rossovorozinia, a Russian state organisation - 25 helicopter gunships for the Indian Air Force and 15 helicopters for cargo-logistic role for the Indian army.

In July 2002 the United States authorized a potential sale of a Tethered Aerostat Surveillance System with L-88 (V3) and AN/APS-144 radar sensors to the Indian Ministry of Defense.

Transport Aircraft

The transport fleet consisted of IL-76, AN-32 and HAL manufactured HS-748 and Dornier 228. Boeing 737 aircraft are used for VIP transport. While the IL-76 were used to provide the Air Force with heavy lift strategic capabilities, AN-32 and HS-748 were used for training besides their operational role of air maintenance and communication.

In 2003, the Indian government signed a deal with the Brazilian aircraft manufacturere, Embraer, for 5 of its Legacy Jets for the purpose of transporting VIPs. These jets would replace the aging AVRO HS 748 planes. Four of the Legacy jets would go to the IAF and the remaining one to the MInistry of Home Affairs for use by the Border Security Force. Delivery of the jets commenced in 2005.

In early 2008 the Cabinet Committee on Security cleared an Indian Air Force proposal to acquire all-weather 24-hours troop transportation aircraft from the US in a deal estimated at about $1 billion. The IAF signed an agreement for six Lockheed Martin C-130Js transport aircraft in early March 2008. Defence Minister A K Antony told the Lok Sabha the estimated value of the aircraft along with associated ground support equipment, ground handling equipment and the role equipment was in $962,454,677 US. The delivery of these aircraft was completed by December 2011.

Together with the raising of No. 77 Squadron, named 'Veiled Vipers', the Indian Air Force (IAF) inducted the first C-130J-30 Super Hercules aircraft, procured from the United States of America (USA), into service at IAF's Hindan airbase. Adopting 'Kill with Stealth' as their motto, the tactical airlift aircraft will be able to undertake quick deployment of 'Special Forces' in all weather conditions including airdrops and landings on unprepared or semi-prepared surface even in complete darkness. Capable of undertaking low-level air-to-air refueling to enhance its range, rapid forward basing of personnel and equipment in emergent situations would be one of its multifaceted roles.

The war-time employability will include special air operations, airborne operations, air transported operations, air supply operations, air maintenance operations and casualty evacuation among other roles. The peacetime roles include operations and air maintenance in mountainous terrain in adverse circumstances, UN or multinational missions, humanitarian assistance including disaster relief and evacuation of Indian Diaspora during emergencies and crisis situations.

A contract for Total Technical Life Extension, Overhaul and Re-equipment of AN-32 fleet was concluded in July 2009 with Spets Techno Export, Ukraine to overhaul and upgrade these planes, as part of the IAF fleet management approach. The project includes calendar life extension upto 40 years, overhaul and re-equipment of AN-32 aircraft. There were no conditionalities at the time of acquisition of AN-32 with the Russian Government.

Ukraine’s UkrOboronProm delivered a third shipment of five upgraded An-32 military transport aircraft to India in early 2012, and declared its ability to meet further deliveries as scheduled. According to the contract, UkrOboronProm would support modernization of 105 An-32 military transport aircraft for the Indian Air Forces. Of those, 40 aircraft will be upgraded in Ukraine and 65 in India. The first lot of 5 modernized aircraft departed to India in May 2011; a second delivery took place in September 2011.

AN-32 aircraft, the backbone of transport fleet of IAF, operational since 1984, has flown more than eight lakh hours on various missions. To overcome maintenance challenges due to ageing and obsolescence while still left with airframe hours and number of landings led IAF to conceive mid-life upgrade in 2005, and contract finalised in June 2009.

The project envisages TTLE from existing 25 to 40 years, overhaul and re-equipment of 40 aircraft at designer certified plants in Ukraine of 10 aircraft annually and supply of material and 'transfer of technology' (ToT) for upgrade of 64 remaining aircraft at IAF's No. 1 Base Repair Depot (BRD) at Kanpur. The upgrade at Kiev is expected to be completed by March 2014 and upgrade at 1 BRD by March 2017.

The special features of AN-32 RE include modification in cockpit layout, upgraded avionics equipment, noise and vibration reduction enhancing crew comfort, reliability and maintainability of the aircraft. Sharing the experience of the aircrew flying the upgraded aircraft fitted from Kiev to India via Ankara, Cairo, Jeddah, Doha and UAE, Gp Capt RC Mohile, one of the Captains of the AN-32 RE and the team leader described that the new navigational equipment proved extremely useful and made the complex navigation process involved on the international route easy to negotiate.

On 23 April 2010 the Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified the US Congress on of a possible Foreign Military Sale to India of 10 Boeing C-17 GLOBEMASTER III aircraft and associated equipment, parts, and logistical support for an estimated cost of $5.8 billion. The Government of India (GOI) requested a possible sale of 10 Boeing C-17 GLOBEMASTER III aircraft, 45 F117-PW-100 engines (40 installed and 5 spare engines), 10 AN/ALE-47 Counter-Measures Dispensing Systems, 10 AN/AAR-47Missile Warning Systems, spare and repairs parts, repair and return, warranty, pyrotechnics, flares, other explosives, aircraft ferry and refueling support, crew armor, mission planning system software, communication equipment and support, personnel training and training equipment, publications and technical data, U.S. Government and contractor technical, engineering, and logistics support services, and other related elements of logistics support. The estimated cost is $5.8 billion.

In June 2011 India's Ministry of Defence signed an agreement with the United States government to acquire 10 C-17. The deal was the largest defense contract to date by the Indian government with the US. India will take delivery of the first C-17 in June 2013. The Indian Air Force will have all the 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifters by August 2014.

India will likely use these aircraft to replace its aging aircraft and associated supply chain with new and highly reliable aircraft. The acquisition of these C-17s will not present a new capability for the Indian Air Force, but will offer an increase in airlift capacity, reliability, and safety. The C-17 will increase the ability of the GOI to mobilize troops and equipment within the country and will enable India to provide significantly increased humanitarian assistance and disaster relief support within the region. Additionally, the C-17s will facilitate enhanced standardization with the United States. India will have no difficulty absorbing these aircraft into its armed forces.


The Indian Air Force (IAF) operated in 2013 a trainer fleet comprising Kiran MK-I/MK-II, Hawk-132 and Pilatus PC-7 K-II aircraft. The current helicopter fleet of the IAF comprises Chetak, Cheetah, ALH and various Mi-series helicopters. Of these, the Chetak, Cheetah, Kiran MK-I/MK-II, Hawk-132 and ALH are manufactured by M/s Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL), which also carries out the Repair & Overhaul (ROH) of these aircrafts/helicopters and their aggregates.

The IAF reuires 181 BTA, 85 IJTs and 106 advanced jet trainers (AJTs) for Stage-I, II and III training of rookie pilots. The advanced training issue is already settled with India progressively inducting 123 British Hawk AJTs contracted in an overall project worth around Rs 16,000 crore. Air force pilots are trained in two stages the world over, but in India this was done in three stages - basic flying training followed by intermediate training and finally advanced jet training. The Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT), to which pilotsl graduate after completing “Stage-1" training on the Pilatus PC-7 Mark II trainer, is intended to replace the obsolescent Kiran Mark II. After “Stage-2" training on the IJT, pilots will graduate to “Stage-3" training on the Hawk advanced jet trainer. Only after that do they fly IAF frontline combat aircraft.

The IAF replaced its HT-2 primary trainers with the HPT-32 (Deepak), the new piston engined trainer being utilised at the Basic Flying Training School at Allahabad since January 1988 and at Air Force Academy at Dundigal. Flight cadets then proceed to the Air Force Academy, Dundigal for instruction on the HJT 16 Kiran, first on the Mk. I/IA and then on the armed Mk II version or the Polish origin Iskra, for tactical flying. After commissioning, pilots are streamed to various conversion units, depending on their selection and proficiency. Future fighter pilots are sent to operational conversion units (now known as the MOFTU or MIG Operational Flying Training Unit) where operational and tactical flyng is conducted on MIG 21. Thus are born the IAF's leaders and even future spacemen, like Sqn Ldr Rakesh Sharma, India's first cosmonaut who participated in a joint space flight with the Soviets in 1984.

The Indian air force agreed to buy 66 Hawk trainer fighter jets from the UK. In February 2003 India awarded a $1.7bn contract to supply the trainer fighter jets to the UK company, BAE Systems. The Hawk beat a rival bid from a state-run Czech firm. India would buy 24 Hawks outright and build the rest under BAE licence in the southern city of Bangalore. Negotiations over the possible British sale of Hawk jets to India went on for over a decade. In September 2003, Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee decided to go ahead with the deal given recent MiG-21 crashes. The IAF had been asking for trainers for 20 years and had purchased 27 second-hand MiG-21 trainers from Krygystan as a temporary solution. Of the 66 trainers, it was finally decided that 22 would be delivered in "fly-away" condition and the rest would be manufactured in India under license under a technology-transfer deal. The IAF had originally wanted 160 AJTs but reduced that number to 66 due to budget constraints.

The HPT-32 aircraft being used as Basic Trainer Aircraft since 1986 were grounded in July 2009 due to safety reasons. Thereafter, the basic training has been shifted to Kiran Mk 1/1A aircraft earlier utilized for Intermediate training.

Air Defense

The Army, which is responsible for air defense under 5000 feet, controls SA-6, SA-7, Tigercat, and AAA assets. Manned interceptors, in conjunction with SA-2/SA-3 squadrons, formed one component of India's Air Defense Ground Environment system (ADGES). Other constituent elements in the 1980s included static and mobile radars, tropospheric scatter and microwave communication links, and regional air defense centers tasked with threat assessment and determination of appropriate responses. The ADGES, to be completed by the end of the 1980s, suffered from a number of shortcomings. First, the system seemed vulnerable to low-flying aircraft, especially those employing ECM. Second, terrain masking may prevent radar detection of intruding aircraft in hilly areas along the northern border. Third, there was insufficient redundancy in the ADGES communications network. Nevertheless, the ADGES furnished an air defense capability far exceeding that of any neighboring state.

IISS had reported in the 2000-2002 timeframe that India had acquired the SA-10 from Russia. These reports were apparently in error, and more recent IISS annuals did not contain such claims.

By end of 2008 the IAF already operated two aerostat radars and had ordered four more from Israel to boost air-defence cover. The EL/M 2083 Aerostat radar was bought from Israel in 2004-2005. The Air Force is planning to deploy a defence system in Delhi based on three Aerostats in view of the perceived threat from low flying aircraft. A similar Aerostat will also be used for the Taj Mahal in Agra.

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