Kishore Kumar Kheda
Group Captain (Retd.)
The Indian Air Force will turn 91 this Sunday. The present times are dangerous for our country surrounded by two nuclear powered neighbours. While one neighbor is in bad shape politically and economically, the other continues to attack our borders. The standoff on our northern border has continued for the last three years, with no signs of change. China has modernized its military over the past three decades and also reorganized it in 2016. India is far behind China in both numbers and quality. The most beneficial thing for India is to use its resources properly.
The challenge before the Indian Air Force is also of materials and organization. The number of war planes is decreasing rapidly, which are very important in any fight. More than 1000 war planes are authorized for the army, but currently it has about 600 planes. After the completion of the life of MiG-21, MiG-29, Jaguar and Mirage-2000, the number of war planes may reduce to 450 by 2030. The situation will not change much with the recent induction of 36 Rafale aircraft and the very slow induction of light Tejas fighter aircraft into the Air Force. The Air Force will have to prepare for any next war keeping this reality of its fleet in mind. On the other hand, the arrival of 56 new C-295 transport aircraft will increase the airlifting capacity of the Air Force. At the same time, the capacity will also be strengthened with the arrival of indigenous ALH and LCH helicopters. The use of unmanned systems is also increasing continuously, which will help in espionage, surveillance, survey and attacks on land and sea. New radars, surface-to-surface weapons and integrated networks are also replacing the old systems. But will this be enough?
Preparation for military operations is based on two bases – the difference in capabilities of the two sides and the difference in their ability to obtain information. In addition to the main guidelines in military strategies, it is also important to have complete information to achieve a given goal, which also involves less expense or which can be gathered in as short time as possible. The Air Force has tried to focus on these changes in its new policy for 2022 and instead of being powerful, it is trying to be smart. But the existing equipment is not able to help in this. The number of reconnaissance AWACS, in-flight refueling aircraft and long-range weapons is limited. Monitoring resources are also very less. This is posing a bigger challenge. The work of integration of the three wings of the armed forces will gain momentum in the coming years. How resources are distributed and used for different theaters will determine how successful this model has been.
The public sector monopoly in defense for the last seven decades has not yielded the desired results. India has been the largest importer of arms for the last five decades. Now the talk of self-reliance seems to be moving beyond the slogan and Indian enterprises have started getting orders and a policy has also been made to keep some part of the budget for Indian companies. But the productivity and quality of public sectors is still in question. The slow pace of production of Tejas is an example of this. Opening up the defense sector to private enterprise, sharing DRDO’s testing facilities and technologies, and creating defense manufacturing corridors are steps in the right direction, but they are not enough. The Air Force will have to be prepared with its limited resources and stop the war. If this does not help, he will have to use his courage, talent and resources wisely to defeat the enemy. Remember, there are no runners-up in the fight.
(These are the personal views of the author)