The Indian Air Force
The Indian Air Force (IAF) has evolved from the Royal Indian Air Force set up by the the British.It mainly consisted of Spitfires and Vampires.It has a long and outstanding list of achievements which include most recently Operation Safedsagar ie: the air operations during the Kargil conflict of May 1999.The IAF has proved itself to be equal to any task handed to it.A good example being during Operation Safedsagar,it operated in altitudes where no other air force has operated in the past(the targets being approximately at 15,000 feet).The IAF also lost 2 aircraft and a multi purpose helicopter during the time.The IAF in it's early years and during it's youth started out as a force to mainly provide close air support to the army and destroy enemy logistics centers.However starting with the acquisition of the Jaguar DPS aircraft in the early 80's the service has diversified it's role into other avenues like strategic bombing of infrastructure and energy producing centres.the IAF also retains it's CAS role with the help of the MiG 23 and MiG 27 series of ground attack aircraft.The induction of the Su 30 MKI opens a whole new dimension to the IAF's capabilities.The IAF is now in the exclusive club of nations whose airforces can wage a war and WIN it on their own.
There are a number of misconceptions regarding the IAF due to lack of information and thus there is a serious underestimation of it's capabilities.
This article examines the future of the IAF to operate in a hostile environment ie: it's needs and the required force levels to achieve victory with the minimum possibble losses.
IAF Fleet 2000
MiG 21 bis/M 300
MiG 23 BN/MF 93
MiG 27 ML 160
Jaguar IS/IM 200
MiG 29 B/S 69
Mirage 2000 H 40
Sukhoi 30 K 18
The IAF during the Kargil conflict lost a MiG 21 M flown by Sq.Ldr.A.Ahuja to a Stinger sam.The plane was lost due to lack of effective decoys to counter the heat seeking missile.Flares and Chaff are the most basic decoy against heat seeking and radar guided missiles respectively followed by jammers.The MiG 21 a veteran aircraft flying in the IAF did not have flares and was subsequently downed.
The IAF has learnt the lesson and has started to fit flare packs on some of it's aircraft.
The IAF also lost a Mi 17 chopper to the Stinger again due to lack of flares.
There is also a lack of Precision Guided Munitions in the IAF and it has realised their importance during the Kargil Conflict where it's aircraft in particular the Mirage 2000 used some of the PGMs most effectively.There were rumours of the IAF acquiring Russian made precision guided munitions to supplement the Texas Instruments supplied Paveway Guidance Kits in service with the IAF.
Another need of the IAF in the future is the advanced medium and long range fire and forget air to air missile to takle out hostile aircraft from a safe distance.There is one currently under development called the Astra by the DRDO,but it will be safe to assume that the the missile will enter service only by 2006-07.Although the IAF has a long range AAM in service,the R 27 and it's variants it is of the Semi active radar homing type which means the attacking aircraft has to maintain the lock on the targeted aircraft thus exposing itself to retaliatory missile attacks.
Another point of worry for the IAF is the lack of a medium to long range multimode pulse Doppler Radar with look down shoot down capabilities which is absent in the bulk of it's present fleet of interceptors(the MiG 29,M 2000 and Su 30 being notable exceptions).This problem is being addressed albeit slowly by upgrading the MiG 21 to the MiG 21-93 standard.
There is also a notable absence of force multipliers like Airborne early warning and control systems and inflight-refuelling aircraft which significantly enhances capability of aircraft like range and survivability.Some aircraft such as the Russian A 50 and the Il 78 Midas have been evaluated by the IAF.The delay in their induction in the IAF is probably due to their high cost and the numbers required.However it must be noted that these aircraft increase the effectiveness of combat aircraft by a large factor.
The IAF has a poor safety record.But it is primarily because of poor training in which a trainee shifts directly from a Kiran Mk II to a MiG 21 UM/UM a supersonic fighter trainer!This problem is hoped to be solved soon as the IAF is undertaking a final round of negotiations with British Aerospace for procuring the Hawk Advanced Jet Trainer.
"Experts" and alarmists have claimed that the rate at which crashes were taking place in the IAF,Pakistan will just have to wait till the IAF flies itself ino the ground.This however is pure hogwash and a detailed analysis of the attrition in the IAF and PAF with the help of an article by Air Marshal(Retd.) Ayaz Ahmed Khan that appeared on the Pakistan institute of Air Defence Studies will reveal that even the highest rate of attrition of the IAF is less than the attrition rate of the PAF thus putting to rest the tall claims made by the PAF.
Armchair Air Marshals opine that the IAF's track record in terms of acquisition has been slack in terms of technology..with some even giving the impression that they thought IAF officers have recommended substandard equipment or equipment not suited for it's role.
In retrospect we feel that the IAF's acquisition policy has been farsighted and that we have constantly bought/manufactured planes that can be easily modified to suit variety of roles ie:multitasking.
IAF Force level reductions:
The IAF is one the largest air forces in terms of sheer numbers in the world however a major part of it's fleet is made up of old MiG 21s.Some aircraft in service are already well past their manufacturer recommended service lives.Thus engine trouble and loss of structural integrity of the airframes are major problems facing the IAF.The IAF has realised the problem and and will have to substitute quantity with quality and thus will have to phase out older variants like the venerable MiG 21 like the M and the FL soon.This reduction in the force levels will have to be offset by the induction of force multipliers mentioned above to significantly boost the capabilities of the existing fleet of aircraft.
Another way to improve combat effectiveness is to upgrade major systems of older aircraft to make them more compatible with newer weapons and avionics notable examples being the MiG 21-93 upgrade being undertaken on the MiG 21 aircraft of the IAF(which is expected to be completed by 2005-06)and the MiG 27 upgrade which is most probably being undertaken now.The IAF will have to adopt a middle path by upgrading some of the older aircraft,phasing out the even more older ones and acquiring a limited number(in the near future)of force multipliers.