Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said the Jaguars are expected to be phased out by 2032-33, while upgraded Mirages and MiG-29s will complete their calendar life and total technical life around the same time

The Indian Air Force will not reduce its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons even if it looks like a difficult goal to achieve in the next decade, with a number of fighter aircraft set to be phased out, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari said on Tuesday.

Making it clear that IAF does not bean count or rely purely on quantitative analysis but also on qualitative analysis while reassessing the capabilities of the adversary, he said it is important to build on the numbers of fighter squadrons since the force has a large geographical area to take care of.

“Quantity does not merely matter when there is a conflict with the adversary. It does matter, when we have a large geographical area to contend with. It is important when we are to have persistence, by that I mean we need to have strong air defence capabilities round the clock,” the top IAF officer said, while addressing a press conference ahead of Air Force Day on October 8.

He added: “With the given numbers, it may be impossible to maintain 24X7 combat air patrol or air defence watch from Siachen to the east…Based on the current situation and mandate given to the IAF, it is essential we build on the numbers.”

The IAF chief said this in the context of several fighter aircraft getting phased out by the middle of the next decade. He explained that the Jaguars are likely to be phased out by 2032-33 and the upgraded Mirages and MiG-29s will complete their calendar life and total technical life around the same time.

“Five or six Jaguar squadrons, three squadrons of the Mirage-2000s and three MiG-29 squadrons will get number-plated by the middle of the next decade,” he said.

Vice Chief of IAF Air Marshal Sandeep Singh said considering the growing presence of the Chinese and Pakistani air forces, numbers were necessary as the IAF operated in large geographical areas, as well as to ensure a balance with the opponents.

Planned Fighter Inductions In IAF

The Air Chief said while 16 light combat aircraft (LCA) TEJAS IOC version have been inducted into the IAF forming the first squadron, 14 of the FOC version of the aircraft have been inducted so far.

“The balance aircraft, including trainers, should get inducted by the end of this financial year. We have contracted 83 TEJAS MK-1, we are also committed to getting TEJAS MK-2 and the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA) in future,” he said. The AMCA is a fifth-generation multirole aircraft being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.

The Air Chief further said efforts to procure the 4.5-generation 114 multirole fighter aircraft (MRFA) were underway. “We have analysed all RFI (request for information) responses. The air staff qualitative requirements are being finalised. We are seeking more commitment from all OEMs (original equipment manufacturers) to ensure all ‘Make in India’ provisions are adhered to,” he said.

He added: “With all these inductions, of around six squadrons of TEJAS MK-2, AMCA and MRFA, we will be at 35 to 36 squadrons by the middle of the next decade.”

Aside from fighter aircraft inductions, there are long-term plans to procure C-295 transport aircraft, Airbus A319 based Netra Mk2 airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system expected to be developed in five years and six of them should join the fleet by the end of this decade, the IAF Chief said.

There are plans to induct additional flight refuelling aircraft to the IAF inventory, newer radar systems and modern surface-to-air weapon-guided systems of all ranges and calibre, he said, adding that there is also a focus on developing robust networks with focus on space and cyber domains.

Additionally, the IAF is working on indigenously upgrading Sukhoi Su-30MKIs with new weapons and electronic warfare systems, and inducting a range of UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicle), counter-UAV systems as well as “weaponizing” the existing fleet of UAVs.

The IAF chief also said India, so far, had not faced a shortage of spares because of the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war. “We have domestically procured 62,000 spares and components in the last few years. Our dependence on Ukraine and Russia is reducing. We are confident with domestic industry stepping up, we will be able to overcome any shortfall in spares that we have been traditionally getting from Russia and Ukraine.”