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Indian Air Force under major Transformation

New Delhi, Feb 17 (WAM) The Indian Air Force (IAF) has initiated a major transformation process, requiring around US$ 70 billion over the next few years.

According to an India Strategic defence magazine study, except for the newly acquired SU 30MKIs from Russia, IAF needs to replace and augment nearly 100 per cent of its fighter, transport and helicopter fleets for the simple reason that all of them are around 20 years old or more.

They need replacement even after their useful lives are extended by around 10 years or so with new onboard avionics as the airframes and engines remain the same.

Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal F H Major told India Strategic that “the process to transform the force had begun and that the next 10 years would be important in this regard” as there would be positive, all-round changes.

From aircraft to airbases with precision approach and surveillance radars, there would be visible changes by 2015, the Air Chief observed adding that the emphasis was on all-weather, round-the-clock operational capability.

He did not comment on the financial figure calculated by India Strategic but said that the IAF “plan is three-pronged – to preserve, upgrade and acquire” and that “adequate budgetary support is available for procurement of new aircraft.” As a thumb rule, it takes about US$1.5 billion to set up a fighter squadron, inclusive of 18 aircraft, systems and weapons with supporting equipment.

If the combat squadron strength of IAF is maintained at 35, the cost comes to nearly US$ 50 billion.

The problem for the overall transformation has arisen because nearly all acquisitions for the armed forces were stopped by the then government in 1990, and the process to re-equip was triggered only after the 1999 Kargil with Pakistan.

More than 70 per cent of the equipment with the Indian armed forces is of Soviet vintage, and needs replacement. That is why defence companies from around the world are thronging the DefExpo’08 exhibition that opened here yesterday.

Notably, although now some aircraft are planned to be used for up to 40 years with periodic technological upgrades, the earlier aircraft were designed for a useful life of 20 years.

India has already floated a US$10 billion tender for 126 Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) like the F-16.