The Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhary, on Tuesday stated that the IAF needed to have its squadron numbers up, even if achieving the goal of 42 squadrons appeared difficult at the moment.
Given the number-plating (retirement) of about 12 squadrons of fighters between now and the middle of the 2030s, the IAF chief said even a best-case scenario of induction of new aircraft would raise fighter squadron numbers only to about 35-36 squadrons.
Listing out the incoming aircraft, Chaudhary said two squadrons of Tejas Mark 1 and four squadrons of Tejas Mark 1A were due for induction. He said, in addition to those six squadrons of Tejas Mark 2, “the IAF was committed to” six squadrons of the Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and six of the multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA). He said the 4.5 generation MRCA had been tendered for and the IAF was evaluating the responses.
He said the global original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) had given their commitments for ensuring indigenous content and Made-in-India solutions.
Chaudhary also listed out the squadrons that would be retiring in this decade. He said three MiG-21 BISON squadrons had already retired and the remaining three squadrons would be phased out in another three years.
“This would be followed by the Jaguar fleet (which has six squadrons). From 2025-26, the first lot of Jaguars would be phased out and the depletion would continue till 2032-33. Then is the time when the three upgraded Mirage 2000 squadrons and the three upgraded MiG-29 squadrons would start depleting on having completed their total technical life. So by that time, six squadrons of Jaguars and three each of Mirage 2000s and MiG-29 would have been number-plated (retired),” said Chaudhary.
Asked whether it was possible to make do with less than 42 squadrons, given the induction of multi-role aircraft and force multipliers such as mid-air-refuelers and airborne warning and control aircraft, the IAF chief said it would be difficult.
“Quantity matters when it comes to conflict with the adversary across the large geographical space we have to contend with. It is important for the air force to have persistence and strong air defence capability around the clock. We have to maintain a 24×7 air defence capability all across India’s airspace, so numbers are important. Given the current state of the air force, it is essential to build up the numbers,” said the IAF chief.