Concerned Over IAF’s Strength, Parliament Panel Calls for Time-bound Procurement

Indian Air Force

New Delhi: Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence in one of its reports submitted to the Parliament March 16, noted that it is “of the considered opinion that Air Force should have two front deterrence capabilities which is of utmost priority, as the threat on both sides of Indian neighbourhood is a reality which cannot be ignored”. Expressing concern over the Air Force’s squadron strength, currently below the sanctioned limit of 42, the committee called for time-bound procurement to replenish it.

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The current strength of around 30 squadrons will go down further as older fighter jets are phased out. “….the representatives of the Air Force submitted that the present authorised strength of the squadron is 42. It was further stated that the total technical life of most of the existing squadron is expiring and consequently the squadron strength is progressively depleting,” the panel said.

The panel emphasised on “a time-bound procurement of these aircraft, so as to replenish the Air Force squadron”. The induction of the Light Combat Aircraft Mk-1 and Mk1A and the proposed induction of Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft “will be helpful”, it said.

The Air Force in its presentation to the committee, had stated that the delay in creation of the LCA Tejas was one of the main causes of its depleting fighter jet strength. An Air Force officer told the committee that the current fighter squadron strength, “for the roles that we have been given, for the rivals we have, to counter them, it is inadequate”.

An Air Force representative told the committee: “We will not be able to achieve the desired strength for the time but I think we are doing the best we can. The delay in productionisation of indigenous fighters has been the cause. Till 2024 before it starts coming, we are hopeful there will be few other [avenues] which can be explored.” The representative also noted that “serviceability state… has been low, and “once we get that, the existing strength itself we can ramp up before the new aircraft come in. That is the best we are looking at for us as of now.”

Defence Secretary Ajay Kumar also informed the committee that in the last three to four years, “concerted efforts have been made by the Air Force to ramp up its capability and to make up for the less squadron” and “this pace of acquisition was not there earlier.” Apart from LCA and Rafale fighter jets, Kumar said, “We have ordered S-400; we have ordered UAVs. So, the composite effort to ramp up the air defence and the air capability in the last four to five years has been significant.”

The Defence Secretary, talking about Navy’s modernisation plans, told the committee that the force is focusing on three focus areas — unmanned aerial vehicles; unmanned underwater vehicles, which is a smaller submarine; and underwater domain awareness. With IAC-1 likely to be commissioned this year, the IAC-2 features in the list of “planned acquisition” in 2022-2023 in the Navy’s list, along with 20 other platforms, including several unmanned platforms, both aerial and underwater. The government is yet to approve the building of a second Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC-2) for the Navy.

“There is relatively lesser spending for modernization activities of Army,” the committee noted. Highlighting the indigenisation thrust, it said, “utmost care should be taken and as far as possible modern weapon systems should be procured which are manufactured by Indian Companies.”

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