Source : Indian Defence Analysis
The world knows that India has critical deficiency in its air power. These includes lack of fighter jet squadrons & force multipliers such as air born early system & inflight refuellers. Indian Air Force is operating 31 squadrons with each squadron fielding 18-20 aircrafts against the sanctioned strength of 42. The air force can only get a maximum of 35 squadrons in the next ten years. To reach the 35 Squadrons by 2035, the IAF is under process of inducting 83 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas Mk1A & 114 Multirole Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) under buy global category. The IAF has committed to 10 squadrons of LCA Tejas Mk2, which will come in two phases. In Phase-I IAF will procure six squadrons followed by four squadrons in Phase-II. Indian Air Force has also committed for 2 squadrons of AMCA Mark-I and 5 squadrons of AMCA Mark-2.
|Indian Air Force HAL Tejas Mk-1 elephant walk|
The major threat for India is China. The PLAAF has gone from a rudimentary air force to one that is catching up with the USAF through the rapid, “iterative” deployment of better aircraft and distinguished capabilities. In a span of 9 years from 2012-2021, PLAAF has inducted 878 4.5th generation fighter jet which is almost 44 squadrons.
PLA Air Force operates 650 4.5th/5th Generation fighter jet
The J-20 which is touted as Chinese 5th generation fighter is alleged to have copied much of its technology and design from American 5th generation fighter jet F-35. The aircraft conducted its maiden flight in 2011 and was commissioned in the year 2017. The aircraft is now active in all five theatre commands across the country i.e. in eastern, southern, western, northern and central parts of China. As per latest reports, China has nearly 208 J-20 in its inventory. At the same time China also has 240 J-16 fighter jets in its inventory. The aircraft derives its features from Russian Su-27 and SU-30 fighter jets. China has developed an electronic-attack version of the J-16 known as the J-16D. China has also fielded 200 J-10C fighter jets which the most capable single engine fighter in Chinese inventory.
|Chinese J-20 5th Generation Stealth Fighters alongwith J-16 4.5th generation air superiority fighters|
In summary the PLA Air Force has more than 650 latest fighter which is combination of 5th and 4.5th generation fighter jets operational. There has been questions and doubt around the Chinese aircraft’s quality and capability, however these fighter jets are being upgraded continuously with better engine, electronics and avionics and weapons. The PLA Air Force has been focused on inducting fighter jets at faster pace and upgrading them, thereby maturing the underlying technologies.
At the same time China is also arming Pakistan with 4.5th generation fighter jet which is touted as Rafale challenger by Pakistan fanboys.
Time to fly homegrown bird
|Indian Air Force HAL Tejas Mk-1|
The PLA air force is now a formidable force with massive fleet of aircrafts which has been churning out fighter jets indigenously. Indian Air force should study – how PLA Air force has steadily built its fighter jet squadrons & force multiplier assets ? No country has achieved state of superior air power by importing fighter jets.
One can always challenge the lack of matured aerospace industry in India. However, if the how grown aerospace sector is not encouraged, it’s never going to mature. R&D is a journey and indeed a tough one which one has to embrace to ripe its benefits. Hoping that some other country will transfer the technology based on which India can take a giant leap in aerospace sector is misguiding.
Armed forces are the going to be the primary users for howgrown technology and their induction into service will bolster its export capabilities. Therefore, they need to be extensively engage with development process with ADA and to larger extend own it as Indian Navy has done for LCA Navy program which will be help in designing the TEDBF fighter jet.
Any critical technology in Aerospace be it engine or fighter jet design & development – must be pursued indigenously with continuous supply of fund. Learning from Kaveri engine development, India need to kick start the futuristic engine development program which can power AMCA & TEDBF.
MRFA – A need or waste of exchequer money?
MRFA is going to be a massive 18-20 Billion dollar deal to procure 114 fighter jet. However, if what will Indian gain from this deal technically – may be local manufacturing but that has been least helpful in indigenous aircraft design & development.
Instead, of draining billion dollars on foreign firm, India must redirect this fund towards order of 40 more LCA Tejas Mark 1A and expedite radar and engine upgrades for Su-30 MKI. Once Su-30 MKI gets Uttam AESA radar and new engine, it will rule the sky once again.
India should order 36 more Rafale to maintain 4 squadrons – 2 for eastern and 2 for western frontier – considering the 2-front war situation. This should be done considering the present threat and lack of fighter jet squadron.
|Top Contenders in Indian Air Force Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) tender|
The funds from MRFA should be diverted to expedite LCA Mark-2 development and more orders for the fighter jet once it enters the production. Its is going to be the next home grown bird which is going to fly after LCA Mark-1A and much more capable fighter jet.
The AMCA development & indigenous engine development also need to be pursued at war scale. These are some of the areas where the fund for MRFA must be redirected which will build the strong base for Indian Air Force for decades to come.
If MRFA program continues, it will take away a massive chunk of fund which should have been spent on indigenous platforms be it future engine, LCA MK2 or AMCA.
India must not repeat the mistake of past. The indigenous program will have to succeed and the onus for the same is on leaders and decision makers.