Video Summary

[RSTV The Big Picture] Need to modernise Indian Air force

Amid escalating tension between Indian and Pakistan over the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) said that the Indian Air Force is still flying a 44-year old MIG – 21 Russian fighter jets.
By IT's Video Summary Team
September 02, 2019


  • Introduction
  • MIG- 21 accidents
  • What is the level of modernizing the IAF?
  • Challenges in IAF modernization
  • IAF progress in modernization
  • How to modernize the IAF in remaining areas?
  • Is it time to open up the Aeronautical industry to the existing Indian industry?
  • What are issues in aircraft procurements?
  • It is time to look beyond Hindustan Aeronautics Limited?
  • Does the private industry have bandwidth to take up aircraft manufacturing?
  • Way Forward

[RSTV The Big Picture] Need to modernise Indian Air force

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MIG- 21 has been the most accident-prone of all IAF jets earning the name ‘flying coffin’. Speaking at an IAF seminar in New Delhi, ACM said that the basic version of the Russian Fighter jet would be phased out this year. The AIF is also replacing the high-end obsolete weapons with indigenously developed ones that will boost in house defence manufacturing. However, to win a war India also needs high-tech items which are needed to be imported.

MIG- 21 accidents

  • From 1963 to 2015 the MIG -21 has had a total of 210n accidents and of these 16 accidents took place in 1999.
  • India is currently the largest operator of MIG-21 where the more than 100 aircraft are on duty.

What is the level of modernizing the IAF?

  • India’s modernization need for IAF is the derivative of the threat perception and it also depends upon the future wars that India is going to fight.
  • The modernization of IAF is not limited to the induction of new aircraft only.
  • It is a larger issue which needs to be looked in within a doctrine which has now become two front war policy, net-centric warfare, an aerospace kind of IAF which can take care of space assets or it can build-in air-space assets into wars domain as well offensive-off capability wherein fighter aircraft and missile network will dominate.
  • Apart from the above areas, it should be looked in terms of Force-Multipliers like air-to-air refuelers, Airborne Early Warning and Control System(AEWACS), logistics, communication networks.
  • All these areas will factor in making the modern IAF that can undertake future air war or can protect vast airspace.

Challenges in IAF modernization

  • The induction rate of new aircraft is slower than the aircraft’s retirement rate.
  • The MIG-21 is retiring and so will be MIG-27, Mirage and Jaguar gradually. It will have left only 500 aircraft out of 900 (42 squadrons) to protect the vast Indian airspace if new aircraft are not inducted.
  • Until 1990, the IAF had 3:1 kind of superiority in numbers over the Pakistan airforce. Now in the age of two-front war, Pakistan is having 450 and China has 1700 fighter aircraft, which left Indian side too weak with only 500 aircraft unless it is updated with modern inventories to 900 aircraft.
  • The IAF administration needs to think about the kind or types of aircraft needed in IAF squadrons such as some should be lightweight, some for higher role etc.
  • India does not have indigenous inventory and largely depended upon imports.

IAF progress in modernization

  • India has currently added Heavy lift the US-made Chinook helicopters, the Apache new attack helicopters are coming and Rafael is also going to be inducted next month.
  • Other than aircraft, a satellite which is a dedicated satellite for IAF, Airborne Early Warning and Control System(AEWACS) which was used extensively during Balakot attack and for net centricity, IAF has Integrated Air Command and Control System (ACCS) and air-refuelling is being taken care of.
  • On the infrastructure front, IAF has a project called MAFI (Modernization of Air FIeld structure) under which 30 airfields has been upgraded to all-weather and 24×7 flying capabilities with all networks centric capabilities available in these airfields.
  • IAF has implemented Integrated Material Management Online System (INMOS) which is a part of modernization.
  • On the missile front, IAF has strategic missile segment which is extremely good like Agni I- Agni V, Prithvi, Akash and Brahmos. To enforce the missile segment India has a separate command called Strategic Command.

How to modernize the IAF in remaining areas?

  • India needs to have some kind of foreign tie-up coming in for speeding up of new aircrafts induction. The Tejas, indigenous manufacturing, is moving very slow with the manufacturing of 12 aircraft per year.
  • There is the need for multiplicity to bring in like twin engines, single-engine and multiplicity aircraft.

Is it time to open up the Aeronautical industry to the existing Indian industry?

  • There are three problems which prompt India to do so:
  • The first is the perspective plan to take note of the expiry of the aircraft which is present but not executed well. There are administrative glitches which are not allowing some of the important plan to be implemented on Ground. For example, the AVRO Apache manufacturing plan. At the same time Manufacturing requires huge capital investment too.
  • The second is the technology development roadmap in which every aircraft requires a technology development timeline working in a structured manner. Indian IAF does not have such a timeline because the public sector enterprises have never tried to collaborate with the private industry. The private industry is seen as either part-time players or tough competition.
  • The third is industrial production which is the real challenge. The access to technology and talent, large capital investment, the long gestation period required for the return on investment and enabling ecosystem. These challenges can only be addressed with a collaborative effort from the government, public sector enterprise and the industry.

What are issues in aircraft procurements?

  • The procurement issue has become a Chakravyuh in which every level of procurement has become a challenge as it happened in Rafael Version-I.
  • Indian Air Force is trying to do buy aircraft as it has some omnibus criteria available all across and in every kind of procurement.
  • Therefore, all the aircraft get into competition and beat one another in procurement time and price. But they all have certain specific specialities which are important equally.
  • While publishing tenders, the authorities fix some criteria which are available across the board. For example, India wanted to go for 140 single-engine aircraft but it was contested which leads to procurement of twin engines.
  • Initially, India had the plan to have a layered aircraft strength where the money can be utilized the best. Hence, the only solution lies in letting IAF choose the aircraft best for its operations rather than authorities choosing them.
  • The whole issue of procurement decision masking increases the cost overall and that is a big problem.
  • India needs a waterfall mechanism or layered structure where private players other than public enterprise like HAL should be given responsibility for every tier or level job.

It is time to look beyond Hindustan Aeronautics Limited?

  • It is one of the biggest companies India has and doing well.
  • Instead of completely overlooking it, it can be tied up with a foreign vendor or foreign manufacturer which will improve its efficiency.
  • Two such examples\include, in 20017-08 India signed two G2G deals i.e. C-17 from Boeing and C-30 from Lockheed Martin, both came-in under G2G deal and inducted in IAF.
  • Many of the foreign companies are ready to come and set up plants in India. India is already 2 decades behind today’s need for technology enhancement.

Does the private industry have bandwidth to take up aircraft manufacturing?

  • At the current Indian economy status and further expand it, India needs to broad base and expand its industry. The private sector needs to be called-in because HAL alone will not be able to do everything.
  • Public industries having infrastructure facilities should be allowed to tie up with private industries where the latter can use these facilities on lease and start the production.
  • India can’t be an economic superpower unless it does not have the indigenous manufacturing capability.

Way Forward

  • Ministry of Defence has permitted usage of all the present facilities. Government is trying to encourage industries to participate. The major challenge to look into is the order inflow.
  • The discussion on aircraft modernisation needs to be intensified and done regularly so the industry, armed forces and the government sit together and find out the best possible way.
  • The National Aeronautics Commission needs to be established to take on challenges in aircraft procurement and manufacturing plans.
  • India needs to pick up the pace, strategic culture and the trust to give private industry the places and fixed targets for manufacturing aircraft.
  • The Indigenously Design, Develop and Manufacture (IDDM) and strategic partnership policy under the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) are the structured programs in which the private industry can participate with the government.


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