Indian Air Force hit by ageing fleet, low serviceability & slow pace of upgradation by HAL. IAF fears it could end up with just 19 squadrons by 2042

New Delhi: Hemmed in by an ageing fleet of fighter aircraft, low serviceability and a cautious bureaucracy and political leadership, the Indian Air Force is staring at an alarming fall in its muscle.

To make matters worse, even as one squadron after another of the MiG-21s and -27s continue to be phased out, the IAF is being stymied by the slow progress of upgradation work on its existing fleet of Jaguars and Mirage aircraft by state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).

The situation is so bleak that according IAF projections, even if all existing orders for 36 Rafale, six squadrons of Tejas (including Tejas Mark1A) and two more squadrons of Su 30MKI are taken into account, the squadron strength will reduce to 27 by 2032 and a mere 19 by 2042.

The IAF has a squadron strength of 30 at present.

Target won’t be met even if all goes to plan

Even in the best case scenario, sources said, the IAF will not reach its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons by 2042. That is if the force takes into account the Tejas Mark 2, the indigenous Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and 114 fighter aircraft for which a Request For Proposal (RFP) is still awaited.

The sources said that even if one assumes that all the three futuristic aircraft are inducted as planned, the squadron strength will still only be 37 by 2042. The last time the IAF had 42 squadrons was way back in 2002.

Another concern is the low serviceability of the fighter aircraft. While it is a fact that during Exercise Gagan Shakti last year, the IAF managed to get some impressive numbers, the figures at other times are abysmally poor.

For example, the serviceability ratio of the country’s frontline fighter aircraft is only around 58 per cent. This means that if there are 100 aircraft, only 58 are available for flying at a time with the others in service and maintenance.

This has been a major concern and hence the deal for the 36 Rafale fighter jets comes with a performance-based logistics pact, under which at least 75 per cent of the Rafale aircraft will have to be available for flying at any point of time.