The year was 1971. War with Pakistan was a foregone conclusion. As a flight cadet in Fighter Training Wing, Air Force Station, Hakimpet one of the first thing that we were told that IAF is a 45 squadron Air Force. Indeed we did not have 45 Squadrons even then (Max 39.5 Sqns). We were also told to memorise the squadron numbers with type of aircraft flown by that squadron. Being or becoming a ‘Fighter Boy’ was the ultimate dream.
One day I happen to ask my instructor as to why we talk only of Fighter Squadrons, when we talk about the IAF? What about transport fleet, helicopters, radar units and many other components that are essential to allow a ‘FIGHTER’ to get airborne. Stoic silence followed by a polite sermon that ‘I must pay attention only to what is needed to fly solo on Vampires’. The doubt, however, stayed on.
If I were to identify just ONE POINT, which has not allowed IAF to develop as a ‘BALANCED’ Air Force, it would be our misplaced sense of ‘STRIKE CENTRIC APPROACH’. It has not changed even in 2017.
IAF leadership continues to lament that unless we have a 45 Squadron Air Force, we cannot fight/ are handicapped to fight a two front war. I will leave the matter here itself by stating that IAF ‘Throw Weight’ has increased by over 400%, when compared with the ‘Throw Weight’ in 1961 in spite of numbers of aeroplanes having reduced considerably. A Su 30 MKI carries more ordnance than four MiG 21 BISON. Indeed there is flip side to it as well; One Su 30 MKI lost means four MiG 21s gone. I am mentioning this merely to highlight that we need a healthy combination of ‘NUMBERS’ and enhanced ‘LOAD CARRYING’ platforms.
In the prevailing scenario, we cannot meet the ‘numbers’ with FGFA, Rafale and other platforms. Alas! There will never be a HUNTER or a MiG 21 variant again. It is ironic but true that we in the IAF talk about third, fourth and now fifth generation fighter in the same vain as 2G, 3G, 4G and 5G spectrum of telecom. Let us grow out of it, sooner the better. Why don’t we talk about the abysmal state of our transport fleet. We need a medium lift capability of around 20-40 tons in large numbers; at least 150 aeroplanes. Our operational commands as on date do not have dedicated transport fleet in substantial numbers. Our helicopter fleet is outdated and is nearly antique barring few units. Our radar network is not capable of meeting demands of modern fighters for full envelope employment. Our SAM units are capable of providing only ‘POINT’ protection.
And the most important of them all is awfully inadequate AIRFIELD and VITAL INSTALLATION SECURITY. We must not forget that simplest and most economical means to neutralize AIR POWER is to attack it on the GROUND by infiltrating. We have paid scant attention towards this.
In a nutshell:-
- Let us stop talking about FGFA and the like. Hopefully political leadership will clinch F-16 deal with USA. If it happens, it might enable us to become the ‘WORLD FRACHISEE’ for F-16 spares for next 30-40 years.
- Airfield Security and Vital Installation Security must engage our total attention to prevent any losses on the ground due to infiltration. 16 one inch bolts are enough to ground the complete fighter squadron ( one bolt each thrown in the air intake of each aeroplane).
- We simply do not have time to develop and induct medium lift aeroplane. Our next big ticket buy for the IAF should be at least TWO SQUADRON (24 aircraft) worth for all five operational commands. Current fleet of AN-32 (SIX TON), IL-76 (40 TON) and C-17 (60-80 TON) do not meet our operational requirements, both during peace and war.
- We must procure UCAVs in large numbers.
- Our reccee capability needs a quantum jump.
List is endless. But top priority items are listed above. Most important is the mindset that must change from STRIKE CENTRIC AIR FORCE to a BALANCED AIR FORCE.