IAF Expanding Wings Beyond Pakistan And China

Indian Air Force

India is gradually building powerful military capabilities in tune with its expanding geopolitical interests, which are no longer limited to the swathe stretching from the Persian Gulf to Malacca Strait, even as the eastern and western fronts are being strengthened to deter the twin Pakistan-China threat.

After the over Rs 3,00,000 crore plan to build a potent three-dimensional Indian Navy for the future, reported by TOI last month, it was IAF's turn on Monday to assert it was on the path to transform into a true aerospace power with the capability to rapidly deploy and operate around the globe.

"No other air force has attempted to modernize at such a fast pace in such a short span of 15 years," said Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne, indicating a doctrinal shift in the run-up to IAF's 79th anniversary on October 8.

But he was quick to emphasize this did not mean "an expeditionary force" on the lines of the US Air Force. "We are not going to fight other people's wars. But yes, IAF must have the wherewithal to meet the requirements wherever India's strategic interests lie," said the IAF chief.
As for the two-front challenge, apart from progressively basing Sukhoi-30MKI fighters and missile squadrons in the two theatres, the plan also includes upgrading the Nyoma advanced landing ground in eastern Ladakh, located 23km from the LAC with China at an altitude of 13,300 feet.

"We want a 12,000-feet runway capable of handling fighters as well as transport aircraft at Nyoma. It will give us both defensive and offensive options. After being cleared by the defence ministry, it's now going to the Cabinet Committee on Security," said Browne.

Similarly, learning lessons from the 1999 conflict with Pakistan, the Kargil airstrip will be extended to ensure strategic airlift aircraft like C-17 Globemaster-III and C-130J 'Super Hercules' as well as fighters can operate from there. Moreover, the next six C-130Js, after the first six procured for the Hindon airbase for $1.2 billion, will be based at Charbatia (Orissa) for the eastern sector.

Armed with perspective plans till 2027, IAF is looking at a combat fleet of 250-300 fifth-generation fighter aircraft, 126-200 medium multi-role fighter aircraft and 270 Sukhoi-30MKI fighters, as also over 100 upgraded MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s. The estimated price tag for just these jets comes to over $70 billion.

"Our fighter squadrons will go up to 42 (from the existing 34) by end of the 13th Plan or 2022...We will be comfortable then,'' said ACM Browne.

Then, there are also different types of transport aircraft and helicopters, radars and missile systems, drones and mid-air refuellers in the pipeline to ensure modernization plans dovetail with long-term strategic interests.



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