New Delhi, Oct. 1: The Indian Air Force fleet-strength is set to balloon with more than 200 aircraft being upgraded and 100 aircraft being added over the next two years.
The reinforcement of the IAF is in keeping with international military trends, which increasingly accord more importance to air operations. This would be largest acquisition programme for the IAF whose 70th anniversary was set rolling by Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy today.
The IAF currently has 800-odd aircraft, including fighters and transporters. Among the new inductions will be 32 Sukhoi 30 MKI, 10 Mirages, 37 Jaguars, and six IL-78 Air Tankers or “refuellers” that have been among the long standing demands of the force. Upgrades — which are treated in the force as new aircraft — are being carried on the MiG-21 Bis (called Bisons), Mirage 2000s, Sukhoi 30s. The strike force comprising 40 MiG-27s and 40 Jaguars will be upgraded to advanced avionics stage. The IAF has already added a “substantial number” of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles of Israeli-make and more were being added.
“We are looking for product support for 30 years from the Original Equipment Manufacturers,” Krishnaswamy said.
The air chief said the IAF was also carving out from within its resources a commando outfit christened “Tiger Force” to protect airfields and airbases. This follows from lessons learnt from an attack by militants on the Avantipur airbase near Srinagar earlier this year and the attack on the Colombo airport by LTTE militants. The Tiger Force would have 4,000 personnel. “The weapons system of a plane alone can cost Rs 120 crore or more. Airfields and bases are looked upon as soft targets and they demand special protection,” the air chief said.
Krishnaswamy said he had been assured that the Centre would decide on the acquisition of an Advanced Jet Trainer within the current financial year. The IAF had evaluated two aircraft — the British Aerospace built Hawk and the Czech-built L-159, which has the American Honeywell engines. Price negotiations for the hawk had also been completed and the file was now pending with the political leadership.
Asked if the US engines on the Czech aircraft were not a deterrent for negotiating for the Czech AJT because Washington has in the past embargoed military supplies to India, Krishnaswamy said: “We are looking for product support for 30 years from the Original Equipment Manufacturers.”
He said the IAF was also looking at acquiring airborne early warning systems such as the Phalcon. “The choice is between two technologies — the phased-array and the rotating radar — that can be mounted on the IL-76 (transport aircraft with the IAF) platform.”
Among the prized acquisitions of the IAF over the next year would be the IL-78 Air Tankers. Six of such flight refuellers are expected by January 2003. He said the Sukhois have the mid-air refuelling capability and the accessory will either be fitted to or activated in other aircraft such as the Mirage 2000.
Krishnaswamy said that military collaboration with the US was on the upswing. Only yesterday, an IAF IL-76 transporter had landed with an Indian army contingent at Fort Richards in Alaska for platoon-level exercises.
He said that manning was being improved by implementation of a “sliding” promotion system. Beginning July next year, airmen passing the requisite tests will be promoted to the rank of Sergeant in 13 and a half years of service. Similarly the ratio of promotions to the Warrant Officer (not a rank in the officer grade) and Group Captain ranks will be accelerated.