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Many MiGs set to retire in few years; How will IAF tackle this depleting fleet problem


New Delhi, July 27: The Indian Air Force (IAF) is staring at a massive problem of depleting fleet size. The IAF should ideally have a strength of 42 combat squadrons to be fully prepared for a two-front war. With barely 32 squadrons of fighter aircraft currently in inventory, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is staring at a massive problem.

In the IAF, each fighter squadron is expected to hold 18 fully operational planes plus two trainers. Some of the squadrons - especially those of the older generation MiGs - are operating with much lesser number of aircrafts. The IAF has raised a new squadron of Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).

Representational Image

Tejas was supposed to have played a key role in IAF's scheme things. In general, armed forces want to reduce reliance on imports which cost the exchequer a lot. It was thought that India's requirement for single engine fighters could be met with LCA Tejas. But due multiple problems encountered during Tejas's development and HAL's failure to meet the delivery deadlines, IAF was forced to look at other foreign aircrafts.

LCA Tejas: Importance and expectations

To add to the woes, the IAF will be phasing out nine squadrons of the MiG-21 and 2 MiG-27 over the next 5 years. Two squadrons of Rafale fighters, two of the LCA Tejas and two more Sukhoi-30MKI are to be added by then, making the number of 28 squadrons by 2022, a report published in The Tribune said. Some 120-odd MiG-21s continue to be in service. These will be retired in phases till 2021-2022.

Also, MiG 21 and 27 are in a way reminiscent of the Soviet era and some aptly call them as 'flying relics'.

Things may not be that bleak:

Another MiG that IAF operates is MiG-29, and that is still considered a formidable fighter. MiG-29 has gained in strength and ferocity after the latest upgrade, giving the Air Force that has been battling a shortage of warplanes a much-needed boost. In 2018, the upgraded MiG-29 showcased its combat capabilities at Admapur Air Force Station.

A report published in www.orfonline.org, says the IAF will get the MiG-29 fighters upgraded to the latest standards by Russia, and get them at virtually throwaway prices, reportedly Rs 200 crore per piece. They will augment the 62 MiG-29 fighters that are in the IAF's fleet which are also being upgraded to give them an all-weather multi-role capability. In fact, there are reportedly 15 more such aircraft.

MiG-29 may continue to remain good for another 10-15 years, but the bigger problem at hand for India is depleting squadron strength in the IAF.

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According to the information available in the public domain, the IAF currently has around eleven squadrons of the Su-30MKI, three each of the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000, six of the Jaguar and six of the MiG-21.

Two squadrons of Rafale fighters, two of the LCA Tejas and two more Sukhoi-30MKI would be added in the coming years, but that still will not make up for the shortfall. So, all in all, there is a big problem at hand.

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