Chandigarh: Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadhauria’s recent declaration that the Indian Air Force (IAF) would, over the next decade, concurrently design, manufacture and licence-build over 320 aircraft of three – if not four – combat types, worth lakhs of crores, appears somewhat incredible.

昌迪加尔报道:印度空军元帅R.K.S. Bhadhauria最近宣布,印度空军将在未来十年,同时设计、制造和许可制造超过320架3代乃至4代战斗机,价值数万亿卢比,这听起来有些不可思议。

At his annual press conference, three days before Air Force Day on October 8, ACM Bhadauria detailed the IAF’s plans to make good its fast depleting fighter squadrons, whose numbers had dropped to a perilous 28-29, from a sanctioned strength of 42. Over the next two to three years, these are expected to decrease even further to around 25 squadrons, as the IAF retires 4-5 squadrons of its 100-odd legacy MiG-21 ‘BIS’ ground-attack fighters, sharply reducing the force’s numerical platform superiority over Pakistan, leave alone China.


The air chief, however, conceded that the IAF would be unable meet its goal of operating 42 combat squadrons by 2030, but would manage 36-38 squadrons by then.


But he did not elaborate on how the colossal funds, technological input and industrial capability needed for these additional assets would be sourced. Bhaduria also tellingly admitted that the IAF would face budgetary constraints in ‘due course’, which under India’s enduring severe economic downturn due to the COVID-19 pandemic is, by all considerations, a gross understatement.


Besides, at a conservative estimate, the additional 320-odd fighter types that Bhadauria has planned for the IAF, would cost upwards of $ 45 billion, or around 68%, of the annual defence budget of $65.9 billion for the fiscal year 2020-21. And though, admittedly, this entire amount would not need to be discharged all at once – as it would be spread over several years – it still remains an inordinately large amount for a solitary weapon platform in a developing country’s military, especially one that badly needs a plethora of other assorted equipment.


This includes multi-role utility and attack helicopters, tanks, infantry combat vehicles, aircraft carriers, warships, submarines, minesweepers, armed and unarmed unmanned aerial vehicles and varied missiles and ammunition, amongst other critical materiel.


Other serving officers concurred, affirming that the IAF’s impecunious state militated against such ambitious future acquisition plans.


The IAF also claimed that it had a ‘committed liability’ of Rs 480 billion for FY 2019-20 for assorted equipment bought earlier, which was responsible for ‘severely depleting’ its allocation, leaving little or nothing for new programmes.

印度空军还声称,它在2019- 2020财政年度为之前购买的各种设备承担了4800亿卢比的“责任”,这是“严重消耗”其分配资金的原因,几乎没有资金留给新项目。

And though the military emergency prompted by China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) occupying Indian territory in eastern Ladakh had galvanised the IAF into conducting air domination sorties over the region, greatly boosting its media profile, its future procurements outlined by Bhadauria remain hostage to a crippled economy and a problem-ridden HAL and ADA plagued by inefficiencies. “The services, including the IAF continue to reflect a disregard for fiscal reality in planning their equipment buys,” said Amit Cowshish, former defence ministry financial advisor on acquisitions.


No country in the world can possibly afford to acquire so many fighters, even over a prolonged 10-15 year period to the exclusion of all other defence equipment, he cautioned.


In his presser, ACM Bhadauria declared that the force would operationalise the second No. 18 ‘Flying Bullets’ Tejas Mk1 light combat aircraft (LCA) squadron at Sulur in Tamil Nadu, equipped with full operational clearance (FoC) platforms by 2022.


But these IOCs too were accorded with 53 waivers – of which 20 would be permanent even after the platform secured its FOC – with regard to the platforms drop tanks, airfrx fatigue test and assorted weapon system configurations. Of the 40 MK1s, however, eight would be tandem-seat trainers that would subsequently join their two squadrons after all single-seat platforms had been delivered at the rate of around eight fighters per year. The IAF has been pressing HAL to double this output to 16 LCAs, but this remains a trying work in progress.


It would also be around 1,000-kg lighter than the Mk1, weighing 6,500 kg, and feature modified internal systems, under a ‘panel-in-panel’ arrangement, for easier maintainability. The 83 Mk1A deal- that includes 10 dual-set trainers-is costed at round Rs 390 billion, negotiated down over two years from Rs 500 billion that HAL had initially demanded for the tender.


Meanwhile, to bridge the shortfall of fighters, till the indigenously Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) joins the fleet 2029 onwards, Bhadauria stated that the IAF would pursue its long awaited procurement of 114 Multi-role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA).


The IAFs April 2018 request for information or RFI for these fighters had elicited responses from seven OEMs: Eurofighter (Typhoon), France’s Dassault Aviation (Rafale F3R), Sweden’s Saab (Gripen-E), Russia’s United Aircraft Corporation and Sukhoi Corporation (MiG-35 and Su35) and USA’s Boeing and Lockheed Martin (F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and F-21).


The deadline for this programme, costing not less than $ 20 billion, is unspecified, as a not even a request for proposal or tender has yet been issued. This will be eventually succeeded by a technical uation of the responses, followed by user trials and complex price and technology transfer negotiations lasting, at a conservative estimate 3-5 years. This, in turn, would be followed by the domestic company creating manufacturing facilities and developing a product support system. Thereafter, all else being equal, the first of the 96 licence built fighters could roll out around 2029-30 at the earliest, said officials associated with the project, expressing little or optimism for the project’s future.


In tandem, the IAF also aims to begin inducting the first of seven indigenously designed and built squadrons of 125 twin-engine AMCAs 2029-30 onwards. Of these, the IAF envisages the first two squadrons would be powered by the US General Electric GE-414 engine with a 98 kN thrust, and the remaining five by a locally designed engine with enhanced 125kN thrust developed in collaboration with a foreign OEM.


If that were not enough the ADA-HAL combine plans on simultaneously developing a twin-engine LCA Mk2 variant powered by the more powerful General Electric F414 GE-INS6. Envisaged as an eventual replacement for the IAFs upgraded Mirage-2000H fighters, HAL aims on series building some 200-odd LCA Mk2’s, making it eventually a grand total of some 324 LCA variants alone for IAF induction.

如果这还不够,ADA-HAL联合计划同时发展一种双引擎LCA Mk2变种,由更强大的通用电气F414 GE-INS6发动机提供动力。设想作为印度空军升级的幻影-2000H战斗机的最终替代品,HAL的目标是系列建造大约200多架LCA Mk2,使单单加入印度空军的LCA改型的最终总数达到约324架。

The IAF is also in advanced negotiations with Russia for 21 additional second-hand MiG 29 ‘Fulcrum’ fighters and 12 Sukhoi-“Flanker’ Su-30 MKI’s multi-role combat aircraft which HAL will licence build, once it has completed the 272 it is currently constructing. The twin engine MiG-29 fighters that were lying in an ‘unassembled and mothballed’ state in Russia were being acquired for around $850 million and would supplement three squadrons of 60 similar platforms inducted into the IAF 1986 onwards.

印度空军还在与俄罗斯就另外21架二手米格29“支点”战斗机和12架苏霍伊“侧翼”苏-30 MKI多用途战斗机进行深入谈判,一旦完成了目前正在建造的272架战斗机任务,HAL将获得授权建造这两种多用途战斗机。这些双发动机的米格-29战斗机正以零件形式封存在俄罗斯,将以大约8.5亿美元的价格被印度购买,对1986年印度空军引进的60架类似平台组成的3个中队进行补充。

With such an embarrassment of combat aircraft riches proposed by ACM Bhadauria at such tremendous cost, it appears as if only the IAF has a monopoly on the lion’s share of India’s declining defence budget.


Perhaps, the army and navy too have an opinion.