Indian Air Force Updates

India’s Fighter Jet Conundrum


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Modernization of IAF


Central idea: The article discusses the challenges faced by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in modernizing its fighter jet fleet due to unending delays in procurement and limited resources.

Why discuss this?

  • Against the sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons, the IAF has only 31 squadrons today.
  • And this number is expected to remain the same or even decrease by 2029.
  • The IAF representative informed the Parliamentary standing committee that the shortfall may not be accomplished anytime soon.

Indian Air Force (IAF): A quick backgrounder

  • The IAF was established in 1932, and it played an important role in India’s defence during World War II and later in the 1947-48 Kashmir War.
  • It underwent modernization in the 1960s and 70s with the induction of new aircraft and weapons systems.
  • Since then, the IAF has grown to become one of the largest air forces in the world, with a significant role to play in India’s defence and security.

Evolution of the IAF

Key Events

Pre-Independence Phase – Small organization with only six officers and 19 airmen

– Played a crucial role in World War II and the 1947-48 Kashmir War

1947-1962 Phase – Expansion and modernization of the IAF

– Acquisition of new aircraft and weapons systems

1962-1980 Phase – Involvement in the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars

– Modernization with the induction of new aircraft and missiles

1980-Present Phase – Further modernization with the acquisition of new aircraft, missiles, and weapons systems

– Focus on enhancing operational readiness


Current Status of the IAF

  • Large workforce: The IAF has around 1,500 aircraft and 140,000 personnel, making it one of the largest air forces in the world.
  • Fleet details: The IAF has a sanctioned strength of 42 fighter squadrons, but the current strength stands at 31 squadrons.
  • Victorious wars: It has played an essential role in various conflicts, including the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak wars and the Kargil conflict in 1999.
  • HADR operation: It has also been involved in humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, such as the 2004 tsunami and the 2013 Uttarakhand floods.

Challenges faced

The IAF faces multiple challenges in the 21st century.

  • Decommissioning aircraft: By the end of the decade, many of the Jaguars, Mirage-2000s, and Mig-29s will begin going out, which is why the decision on Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) is essential to arrest this drawdown.
  • Arsenal shortages: The IAF faces a shortage of fighter aircraft, which is a significant concern given the current geopolitical environment.
  • Selective modernization: One of the critical issues is modernization, which includes the upgrading of its aircraft and weapons systems.
  • Diverse threat: The IAF also needs to ensure operational readiness to address the changing nature of warfare, which involves non-state actors, asymmetrical warfare, and cyber threats.
  • Logistic fallouts: Furthermore, the IAF needs to improve its logistics and infrastructure to support its operations effectively.
  • Maintenance challenges: There is a slow synergy with vendors for ‘long-term spares and repair contracts’.

Opportunities for the IAF

There are several opportunities for the IAF to enhance its capabilities in the modern era.

  • Modernization: The acquisition of new aircraft, weapons systems, and technologies can significantly enhance the IAF’s combat capabilities.
  • Joint cooperation: Additionally, the IAF can improve its international cooperation with other air forces to gain experience and enhance its interoperability.
  • UAV induction: The IAF can also explore the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance, reconnaissance, and combat roles.
  • Indigenization: The IAF is emphasizing the need for indigenization of its fighter jet production via LCA and Fifth Gen fighter aircraft program.

Challenges in fleet modernisation

  • Procurement delay: The IAF faces significant challenges in modernizing its fleet due to delays in procurement and limited resources.
  • R&D, Infra bottlenecks: Implementing indigenization is a complex process that involves significant investment in research and development, infrastructure, and human capital.
  • Others: Other challenges include a lack of skilled labour, limited funding, and the need for technology transfer from foreign partners.

Way forward

  • The IAF needs to prioritize the acquisition of MRFA, focus on increasing the availability rates of the Su-30, and invest in its own industry to achieve self-reliance in the long term.
  • Effective collaboration between industry, government, and the armed forces is crucial for the success of indigenization efforts in the defence sector.


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