Indian Air Force Fighter Squadrons
The IAF is hungry for fighter aircraft. India requires 45 fighter squadrons to counter a “two-front collusive threat”. A fighter squadron nominally consists of 20 fighter aircraft, though in practice at times as few as 16 aircraft may make up a squadron. As of 2000, the Indian Air Force was equipped with twenty-two squadrons of ground attack fighters. Five of these squadrons have over eighty British Jaguar aircraft. Another five squadrons had over 130 Soviet-origin MiG-27 aircraft. The air force also fields twenty fighter squadrons, two of which are equipped with a about 40 French-built Mirage 2000 H/TH aircraft. The Indian Air Force has also recently acquired a small but growing number of Russian Su-30 multi-role combat aircraft. There were also twelve squadrons of transport aircraft in the inventory. Because of the large number of Soviet-origin aircraft, the air force is dependent on Russia for spare parts and equipment and weapons upgrades.
As of early 2002 the IAF reportedly planned to have around 35 combat squadrons by 2010, versus the existing 40, each equipped with the modern aircraft after around 300-350 MiG-21 variants are phased out. This revised plan apparently reflected the availability of imported aircraft, such as the Mirage 2000.
As of 2005, the Indian Air Force claimed to have 32-33 squadrons of fighter aircraft and sought to expand that to 40 squadrons. However, there were about 41 fighter squadrons active in the IAF, spread out among the five geographical commands. This discrepancy might arise from some squadrons not being officially disbanded despite their aircraft undergoing maintenance or being phased out. The IAF might be awaiting to resupply some of these squadrons from the 140 SU-30's being manufactured by HAL and the additional 126 multi-role fighter aircraft the IAF is expected to order in the near future.
From a peak of 39.5 squadrons in the mid-1980s, by early 2006 the IAF was down to 32 squadrons or less, seven below its sanctioned strength of 39.5 fighter squadrons and the lowest in over three decades. At that time, sixteen squadrons of the MiG-21 formed over 40 per cent of the fighter fleet, accounting for over half of all fighter aircraft sorties flown each year.
As of 2007 the Indian Air Force (IAF) had around 30-32 squadrons worth of serviceable combat aircraft. This was well below the target of 39 1/2. About 21 squadrons flew MiG-21s of one vintage or another, and overall squadron strength was projected to plunge to 27 during the 2012-2017 period.
At the beginning of the 11th Plan period [2007-12], the force had only 32 squadrons. In February 2009 Defence Minister A K Antony said that by the end of the 13th Plan period, Indian Air Force's combat fleet would be of 42 squadrons, more than the strength sanctioned by the Government. "During the period 2007-2022, the strength at the end of 11th, 12th and 13th Plan periods is expected to increase to 35.5, 35 and 42 squadrons respectively," Antony said in a written reply to a query in Rajya Sabha. Government had sanctioned the IAF to have a total of 39.5 squadrons of fighter aircraft. He said that the air force will reach the peak of strength with the induction of Su-30 MKIs, Jaguars, Medium Multi-role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA), Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major said 13 February 2009 that the squadron strength envisaged by 2017 was 34 squadrons and the remaining strength was to be achieved by 2020. Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Fali Homi Major said that the Indian Air Force would have its full sanctioned strength of thirty nine-and-a-half squadrons within next eight years, that is, by 2017. He was addressing the media at a press conference at Yelahanka Air Force Station. He asserted that operation at lesser strength did not compromise on its fighting edge. He further said, "The programme of phasing out, upgrading and induction is being carried out in a concerted manner without losing the combat edge. We should be able to reach thirtynine-and-a-half squadrons by 2017 and will have what we want and more by 2020."
By 2018 it was down to 31 fighter squadrons, from its peak of 39 squadrons (each squadron has 18 jets). Over the next decade, it would retire 14 squadrons of MiG-21s, MiG-27s and MiG-29s, numbering over 200 aircraft. The IAF planned to replace all these retiring aircraft to reach its sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons by 2027. Even with new LCA squadrons and other aircraft coming as planned, the Total Technical Life (TTL) of many IAF aircraft is nearing end, and the Government will have to ensure a steady flow of additional funds to maintain the minimum required numbers. The 42 is now a dream figure, and at best, this would stabilise around 35 over the next couple of decades, although many of the IAF aircraft will by then incorporate cutting edge technologies.
The IAF needs to reach the 45 squadrons mark as soon as possible. That 45 squadrons should consist of a good mix of heavy, medium and light aircraft. The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is the heavy aircraft and is supposed to reach a total number of 272 which would comprise of 15 squadrons . The Rafale and Mig-29 would be the medium jets for about 8-10 squadrons. Then a single engine fighter including 60 Mirage-2000 and new TEJAS Mk-II would be the light aircraft and should be some 20 squadrons in total. This last category includes the Mig-21 and Mig-27 which will be phased out in the next few years. So the need is urgent, to say the least.
By the end of 2016, the Indian Air Force had 34 fighter squadrons (18-20 aircraft per squadron) but required 42 active squadrons. India has to wait more than a decade to achieve the required strength of 42 squadrons to fight a simultaneous two-front war. The Indian Air Force plans to replace the venerable MiG-21 series of combat jets with the home-produced fighter named Tejas. But, capacity constraints at the factory means the replacements will take place at a very slow pace.
Indian Air Force (IAF) boss, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, stated in October 2015 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. 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."
A Parliamentary panel on 22 December 2014 revealed that the force levels of the Indian Air Force were down to 25 fighter squadrons. The IAF until recently had maintained it had 32-34 squadrons with about 18 planes each. But the revelation by the standing committee on defence in a report tabled in Parliament indicated the IAF's traditional air superiority over Pakistan may have been severely diluted. The panel found that the air force had only 25 active fighter units. "Moreover, 14 of these squadrons are equipped with MiG-21 and MiG – 27 which will retire between 2015-2024. Thus the strength will be reduced to just 11 squadrons by 2024.. our capability has already come down,” the panel said. It flagged concerns about India’s depleting military capability in the context of tackling a two-front challenge – euphemism for a combined threat from China and Pakistan.
A total of 54 MiG 21s and MiG 27s, bought from Russia in the 60s and 70s - would be de-commissioned by the end of 2015, bringing down the strength of the Air Force from 35 to 32 squadrons, by one account. The Air Force - which needed at least 42 squadrons of 18 aircraft each to provide proper air cover at the Western and Northern borders - considered an unprecedented step to fill the gap. The IAF told the government that it could divert four to six planes from the existing squadrons - depending on requirement - to keep the total number of squadrons intact. The 18 fighters of a squadron include two trainers and two fighters in reserve.
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