New Delhi: With an aggressive China “exponentially” modernizing and expanding its air combat operations in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), even as Pakistan expands and upgrades its F-16 fleet, India is going in for a major upgradation of its fighter induction and serviceability plans to be ready for any individual or collusive threat in the years ahead.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha on Saturday said several plans were under way for induction and deployment of “potent assets” as well as infrastructure development along the borders, even though he admitted China was developing “tremendous” military capabilities at a very rapid clip.
As for Pakistan, on being asked if IAF could take out the terror camps across the border if required, ACM Raha said his force had the requisite “capability” but the “intent” or “decision” to undertake such surgical strikes “is a political one”.
“We are not looking at one-front or two-front war. We just want capabilities to deter a war and project power in our area of strategic interest. We are looking at building our fighter combat squadrons to 42 by 2027,” said ACM Raha.
Towards this, the IAF chief said he expected the contract for the direct acquisition of 36 French Rafale fighters – which was decided during the Modi-Hollande summit in April — to be inked before the end of this year.
But IAF is down to just 35 fighter squadrons, which includes a mix of obsolete jets like MiG-21s and MiG-27s being progressively retired as well as new fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs grappling with poor serviceability rates. Just two new squadrons of Rafales, expected to cost around $5 billion, will not make up the desperately-required numbers.
“As IAF chief, I would certainly want more…at least six MMRCA (medium multi-role combat aircraft) squadrons, whether they are Rafales or some other alternative. But they have to be viable in terms of costs, transfer of technology and the Make in India policy. The government will decide in due course,” said ACM Raha.
Concurrently, the stress now in on “improving” the indigenous Tejas Mark-I fighter and then jumping straight onto the development of the indigenous fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) or AMCA (advanced medium combat aircraft) by junking the development of a Tejas Mark-II.
As was first reported by TOI, with the preliminary design work for the twin-engine AMCA over, the aim is to fly its first prototype by 2023-2024. It will combine advanced stealth, super-cruise (capability to achieve supersonic cruise speeds without use of afterburners), super-maneuverability, data fusion and multi-sensor integration on a single fighter.
The thrust on AMCA, of course, also puts a big question mark on the future of the proposed joint project with Russia to co-develop and co-produce a FGFA modelled on its Sukhoi T-50 or PAK-FA.
Apart from long-term strategic and economic reasons behind the push for the indigenous AMCA, India is not happy with the technical, cost and delivery time frames bedeviling the Russian FGFA. The PAK-FA, for instance, can still not super-cruise, which is critical for the capability to “look first and shoot first”.
“But the “issues” in the Indo-Russian FGFA project are being “addressed at the highest levels” now. India is keeping all options open ahead of PM Narendra Modi’s visit to Moscow in December, which range from an off-the-shelf purchase of 60-65 fighters to undertaking the joint production envisaged.
Source: Defence News