According to Air Force Chief Dhanoa the Sukhoi-Su30MKI delivery is delayed by over three years

New Delhi: Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa just stopped short of saying that the Indian Air Force (IAF) is not happy with the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) track record when it came to adhering to delivery targets of key defence projects. The IAF chief mentioned delays by the HAL in several programmes including the Sukhoi 30s, Jaguars, Mirage 2000s and the Light Combat Aircraft.

The Air Chief's remarks come at a time when the IAF is facing massive problem of depleting fleet size. IAF is already down to 31 squadrons of fighter aircrafts against an authorisation of 42. To fight a two-front war, the Indian Air Force needs the optimum strength of 42-plus squadrons.

"In the Sukhoi-30... HAL is three years behind. 25 are yet to be delivered. In Jaguar Darin III, we are six years behind. In the LCA (initial operational clearance configuration), we are five years behind and in Mirage-200 upgrade, we are two years behind," Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said yesterday.

He, however, avoided saying it in clear terms that IAF is unhappy with the HAL. "Whether the IAF is happy or unhappy with HAL is for internal debate. It is not a subject of public debate," Dhanoa said.

IAF's Problems:

The problem of shortage is not only with fighter aircrafts, but also with helicopters and other equipments needed by IAF. Broadly, the main assets needed by the IAF to effectively defend India's borders can be classified under - fighter planes, transport fleets, mid-air refuellers, trainers and helicopters.

IAF is fifth largest air force in the world and is also one of the highest purchasers of defence products from the foreign vendors. It can be said that IAF buys almost everything from foreign vendors.

Reason Behind Foreign Purchases:

Many reasons can be given for IAF's (or for that matter all the three forces) over reliance on foreign purchases. But, blunt and straightforward reason is that ingenuously manufactured products are not good enough yet to carry on the advanced multi-task roles that a modern air force needs. Whether it is LCA Tejas or indigenous helicopters like Dhurv, Cheetah and Chetak, these are no match for the US, French or Russian made defence products. It is not that HAL is not no capable, HAL is trying its best to come out with world class products, but the time taken by it to develop a news product is just too high.

Beyond Rafale: IAF's Options To Replenish Depleting Fleet

India is set to get 36 Rafale jets but the IAF's requirement is far more than it. India wants both single engine fighters and twin-engine fighters. Rafale jets that India will get from from France will fall in the category of twin-engine type fighters.

It was thought that India's requirement for single engine fighters could be met with LCA Tejas. But due multiple problems encountered during Tejas's development and HAL's failure to meet the delivery deadlines has forced IAF to look at other foreign aircrafts.

Sometime back, reports had emerged that the Indian Air Force (IAF) was showing interest in Lockheed Martin's F-35 Lightning II fighter jet. The Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II is a family of single-seat, single-engine, all-weather stealth multi-role fighters. The fifth-generation combat aircraft is designed to perform a ground attack and air superiority missions. But on March 1 this year, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa rubbished the reports and said that no such "request been made to the Americans."

The other good single engine fighters that India can consider are F-16, Mirage, Gripen, other SAABs, Chengdu J-7, MiG-27, Su-7 through 17. India would not want a single engine aircraft from Russia as Russian engines are notorious for failure.

Defence Ministry has made it clear that two separate "Make in India" programmes will be considered - the first for a single-engine type and the second for a twin-engine type. It has been speculated that the F-16 and Gripen will be in competition for the former category, while the F/A-18 and the Rafale will compete in the latter category.

Lockheed Martin is excited about the prospect of making F-16 fighter aircraft in India and making India a global manufacturing and supply base for the aircraft. There is legitimate concern that the choice of a new single-engine fighter type could jeopardize India's own Tejas project. This should not be an issue since the single-engine type being sought is to replace the MiG-23-MF/-BN and MiG-27ML aircraft in service, while the Tejas has been earmarked to replace the MiG-21.

There are plenty of options, but even after IAF freezes on a particular purchase, the defence acquisitions in India take a long time to materialise because of process involved. The problem is not only with the purchase process but also with the politics being played around defence purchases.