Tomorrow 18th March, the Indian Air Force is all set to conduct its mammoth high voltage “Iron Fist” firepower demonstration at Pokhran. The President of India Pranab Mukherjee and the Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with other foreign dignitaries will witness by their gracious presence. The motto of this Iron Fist is “Demonstrating the capability to punish. Weapons on target…on time”. 103 fighters, 59 helicopters and 19 aircraft will showcase their might to take on the war with “ruthless precision” in day or night. The message is clear for Pakistan & China which would clear their doubts on India’s deterrence.
But, the question arises if India is ready for a two front contingency from Pakistan & China together?
Before arriving at answer introspection is required in IAF contingency and obviously it is grim compared to Pakistan & China at present laagering with only 33 squads’ each having 16-18 aircrafts out of which 11 squads’ includes obsolete MiG-21 & MiG-27. The authorized strength of IAF is 42 squads’ whereas Pakistan is having over 80 F-16 adding to it 8 more F-16 recently approved by the US to Pakistan that means India has to deploy 2 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters for each F-16 of Pakistan which is loaded with superior weapon packages. So far India received 200 out of 272 Sukhois from Russia that is contracted for Rs.55,717 crore.
Now, how much these Sukhois have serviceability?
Only 50-55% of them are having serviceability and the Defense Ministry – IAF’s major thrust is to improve availability of at least 50 critical spares. India is in a tough negotiation with France in getting 36 Rafale fighters for Rs.60,000 crore which would strengthen its contingency as then Pakistan has to deploy 2 F-16 to combat each Rafale although India requires 126 medium multirole combat aircraft. India would induct the first squadron of 4 Tejas Jets out of 120 by end of 2016. 100 nos. of Tejas would be inducted in next 10 years. India is also undergoing an up gradation of 63 MiG-29 and 51 Mirage-2000 with technical help from Russia & France for over Rs.23,800 crore.
How far India is expecting a threat of war from China when the bilateral ties with them are on firm upward trajectory?
The tension about Brahmaputra River is still persisting though Zangmu Hydroelectric Project of China built on the mainstream of Brahmaputra River has been fully operationalised in October 2015 and the 12th 5-year plan of People Republic of China proposed 3 more such hydropower projects in the pipeline in the Tibet Autonomous Region which needs careful monitoring of all developments on the Brahmaputra River by China as India have a considerable established user rights to the waters of Brahmaputra. Though China is enmeshed in its own territorial disputes in South & East China seas as well as disturbed with the ongoing rebalance of the US military forces in Asia-Pacific region. So, it seems a contingency from China is extremely remote but China can swiftly deploy 21 fighter squadrons from its 8 airbases in Tibet and other airfields to its north against India.
Therefore, what are the future plans of IAF?
By the year 2027 the full strength of 42 squads’ will be commissioned. Major thrust would be on indigenous 5th Gen Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft Project which is aimed to fly prototype by 2023-24. Joint 5th Gen Sukhoi T-50 project with Russia is still to be finalized. As per the plan with Russia, there is going to be a joint production of 127 single seat Jets, but India is also exploring an idea for a direct purchase of 60-65 of such Jets from Russia. All these executions will take place in another 10 years from now which is a huge delay in induction plans and is effecting the serviceability of IAF which needs a boost very badly as if 90% of 35 squads’ have serviceability that would reach 504 fighters now. By 2027 when full 42 squads’ would be commissioned then 75% of them attains serviceability that would also achieve 504 available fighters keeping the number same so handling Pakistan alone is not a problem but India simply does not have the requisite number of fighters to take on both Pakistan & China simultaneously.