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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.

By 2015, India was in a dismal state in defense production. Low investment in R&D; socialistic workforce with low productivity; generalist bureaucracy controlling and deciding technical activities; grown from the ranks and often fatigued PSU higher management; and lack of initiative and drive to achieve results. Aviation specific: LCA is over thirty years behind schedule; Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) has serious technical problems; Basic Trainer Aircraft (BTA) is not even on drawing board. The Russia led Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and Medium Multi-role Transport Aircraft (MTA) joint programs faced delays and unacceptable design and development cost escalations. Private industry was pussy-footing their entry because of high investments coupled with uncertainty.

India’s DRDO, Ordnance Factories (OFs) and Defence Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) like Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) were in place in initial years after independence. Yet seven decades later India imports around 70 per cent of its military hardware. In aviation India ias little more than a foreign licensed-production house. The case in point is the manufacture of MiG series, Jaguar and Su-30 MKI fighters; Avro and Dornier light transport aircraft and Chetak and Cheetah helicopters. Aircraft production quality has often been in question. Many aircraft accidents have been attributed to HAL’s quality control.

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.

The Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) on 01 Feruary 2016 cleared a proposal to acquire two more Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) at the cost of Rs.7,500 crore under a tripartite contract with Israel and Russia. The Indian Air Force already had three such platforms, which give an ability to see deep inside enemy territory. All three AWACS, comprise Israeli-made radars mounted on Russian heavy transport planes IL-76.

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 planned to deploy a defence system in Delhi based on three Aerostats in view of the perceived threat from low flying aircraft. A similar Aerostat would also be used for the Taj Mahal in Agra.

Russian Aerostat radars would give Indian armed forces the teeth along the border with Pakistan. In the major overhaul of obsolete air defense system along the border, the Russian system will be deployed with Israeli SPYDER air defense missile in 2017. Delivery of Russian Aerostat radar was expected to start in mid-2017, fitted with Israeli EL/M-2083 early-warning radars.

India would replace its older air defense system at six air bases and some other critical locations along western border with SPYDER, to replace Soviet-era OSA-AKM and ZRK-BD Strela-10M. “The EL/M 2083 will provide elevated view with the Russian Aerostats, thus enhancing the range for scanning threats. This will be linked to the SPYDER SR through the command center providing early warning thus facilitating Lock on Before Launch (LOBL) for the missile,” said Brigadier Rahul Bhonsle, a retired Indian Army brigadier and defense analyst.

India has also deployed its indigenous 25-km range surface-to-air missile Akash along Pakistan border. However, the slower reaction time and less than 360 degrees coverage of Akash makes it less suitable for employment in the tactical battle areas. “The SPYDER SR system is a generation and a half ahead of the OSA and Strela which were essentially designed four decades ago. The SPYDER SR will provide a high degree of assurance in terms of air as well missile defense cover with a LOBL and Lock On After Launch, thus the reaction time will be much faster with high hit probability,” Bhonsle said.

India had inked an $1.2 billion contract with the Israeli company in 2008-09 for the supply of 90 launchers. SPYDER incorporates RAFAEL's most advanced, air-to-air missiles: the I-Derby active radar (RF) missile and Python-5, a dual waveband Imaging Infra-Red (IIR) missile. Slant-launch SPYDER SR has 20-km intercept range. “The SPYDER is a much more modern and resilient system. Along with the Aerostats, it will substantially enhance the air defense cover available to ground formations,” Gurmeet Kanwal, distinguished fellow at the Delhi-based Institute for Defense Studies and Analyses. Delivery of the SPYDER has been delayed for more than five years as Indian armed forces decides to use high-mobility trucks made by Indian truck maker TATA.


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.

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Page last modified: 21-11-2021 18:39:22 ZULU