Owing to complexities of the Defence Procurement Procedure and paucity of funds, the list of assets required by the IAF to replace those approaching obsolescence, has only been growing.
Presentation of the national budget for the financial year 2018-19 by the Minister of Finance, Arun Jaitley, on February 1 this year, has certainly generated a wave of concern across the board in the Indian armed forces. This adverse sentiment has been triggered by the quantum of funds allotted for defence, something that has been regarded by the leadership of all the three services as highly inadequate. The Indian armed forces were given the opportunity to present their perspective on the level of budgetary allocation for defence to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence, headed by Major General B.C. Khanduri (Retd), Member of Parliament from the BJP. To present the concerns of the Indian armed forces were the Vice Chiefs of the three services.
In an extremely frank and forthright manner, Lt General Sarath Chand, Vice Chief of the Army Staff, apprised the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defence that “the allocation for defence in the budget for the year 2018-19 was in fact, a setback for the Indian Army as the quantum of funds sanctioned by the government under the head for procurement of new weapon systems, was not sufficient even to pay for ongoing projects and barely left anything for new procurements”. He went on to state that the budgetary allocation for the Indian Army had dashed hopes of the service for making any tangible or meaningful progress in the drive towards modernisation.
Projecting the perspective of the Indian Air Force (IAF), Air Marshal S.B. Deo, Vice Chief of the Air Staff, candidly stated that with the highly depleted strength the combat fleet of the IAF, it would be difficult if not impossible to take on a war against both China and Pakistan simultaneously. He went on to state that the need to build up the strength of the combat fleet from the existing 32 squadrons to the authorised level of 42 squadrons, was indeed urgent. For the IAF, the depleted state of the combat fleet is a matter of serious concern as this translates into a deficiency at this point in time of around 200 combat platforms. To make up for this worrying shortfall, the IAF would need to induct the required number of fourth and fifth generation combat aircraft as early as possible. Efforts by the IAF in this regard initiated in the beginning of the last decade, have so far, failed to fructify for a variety of reasons. With the retirement from service of the ageing fleets of the MiG-21 Bison as also of other platforms in the next few years, the deficiency in the fleet of combat aircraft would go up by another 200 platforms, taking the total to around 400.
As per the VCAS, the other requirement of equal urgency of inducting a major weapon system is the procurement of the long range surface to air missile (SAM) S-400 Triumf. A total of five units of this weapon system that is proposed to be purchased from Russia for around $5 billion, will strengthen the IAF’s air defence capability against the menacing modern platforms the enemy is operationalising and will provide a clear edge over both the adversaries, Pakistan and China. The VCAS informed the Parliamentary Committee that with the current state of equipment on the inventory of the IAF, fighting a two-front war would indeed be very difficult, if not impossible.
Over the years, owing to complexities of the Defence Procurement Procedure and paucity of funds, the list of modern assets required by the IAF to replace the obsolescent ones has only been growing. Apart from the two major assets dealt with above, there are a large number of other platforms and weapon systems that the IAF has been struggling to induct over the last decade or so. On top of the list are 22 AH-64E Apache attack helicopters and the CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, both from Boeing, for which contract has already been finalised with delivery scheduled to commence in 2019. While some advance payments have already been made, bulk of the financial commitment is yet to be met with. The other major financial commitment is for over $9 billion for 36 Rafale jet fighters to be delivered in the period 2019-22. Other deals in the pipeline include production of 200 of the Kamov Ka-226T light helicopter in India in collaboration with the Russian original equipment manufacturer. The requirement of this platform could well go up to 400 or even more as the ageing fleets of Cheetah, Chetak and Cheetal are retired from service. Then there is the requirement for another 70 basic trainer aircraft, either the Pilatus PC-7 or its equivalent the indigenous HTT-40 under development at the Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL). The IAF also needs to induct a fleet of Intermediate Jet Trainer, either from HAL or from foreign sources.
The list of assets required by the IAF to build up and maintain the mandated operational capability is indeed large. However, unless the government provides the resources that are adequate to fund all these projects, the operational prowess the IAF aspires for, may continue remain a distant dream!