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            Amid escalating tension between India and Pakistan over the abrogation of the special status of Jammu and Kashmir, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa on Tuesday said the Indian Air Force (IAF) is still flying 44-year-old MiG-21 Russian fighter jets. MiG-21s have been the most accident-prone of all IAF fighter jets, thus earning the names “flying coffin”. Speaking at an IAF seminar in New Delhi, Dhanoa said the basic version of the Russian fighter jet would be phased out this year. He also said the IAF is replacing high-end obsolete weapons with indigenously developed ones that will boost in-house defence manufacturing, however, “to win a war, we also need high-end, high-tech items, which we need to import”. From 1963-2015, the MiG-21 has had a total of 210 accidents. Of these, a maximum of 16 accidents took place in 1999. India is currently the largest operator of MiG-21 Bison, with an estimated 100+ aircrafts on duty.


  • The Air Force Day was officially started celebrating on 8thof October in the year 1932 as an auxiliary of the British Air Force and in 1945 became part of the British Royal Air Force. After India getting Independence it became Indian Air Force (IAF). 2016 marks the 84th anniversary of IAF.
  • From 1932 IAF has come a long way. Slowly the expansion of IAF has taken place. From a few squadrons during British time, the IAF has developed into an effective balance force. Balance force not only believes in platforms like fighter air craft, transport air craft and helicopters, but also equipments like Radar, UAV, surface to air missiles, weaponry, information technology, cyber warfare, electronic warfare systems and many others.
  • Today we have got Balance force which can take on most threats, which can do what the National Security Environment There are certain flaws and deficiencies. Over a period of time these also will be overcome.


History of Indian Air Force

  • IAF was effective right from the first campaign which was in 1948 where Pakistan intruded into J&K. The IAF played a very critical role.
  • In 1962 Indo-China war air power was not used. So the loss was ours.
  • In 1965 Indo-Pakistan war air power was used with little less coordination, but they played an effective role.
  • In 1971 India had complete air superiority because we have 12 to 14 F 86 Sabre’s which made a difference. In East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) there are many tributaries of small rivers. Crossing these rivers was a problematic area. This was overcome by the IAF, providing a huge amount of helicopter support.
  • In 1999 Kargil war, there was effective use of air power. This was first time in the history of air power that weaponry was delivered from high altitudes and with accuracy. No other air force in the world had done before which was a tremendous achievement for IAF.    


The importance of Air Force

  • Air power today is the most lethal component of the 3 services. The flexibility and mobility, the precision of striking the targets which are 1000s of miles away very accurately.
  • From 1999 to 2016, new technologies have emerged, evolved and changed. It is not air force but the air space we are looking at.
  • We always discuss about the number of squadrons saying we must have 42 or 44 squadrons. The fact is we have 33 at present. We are going to retire about 11 squadrons of MIG-21 and MIG-27 by 2022. These air craft have to be replaced. The 36 Rafale air craft takes 70 months to come in. Engineers, pilots, and technicians have to be trained for it. Considering all these we need to think of a balance force.


Need to modernize:

  • To derivate from threat perception in future days.
  • Doctrine which has now become two front war policy.
  • Net centric warfare.
  • Aerospace kind of IAF to handle space assets in a required manner.
  • Force multipliers that is air to air refuelers.
  • To protect the airspace in a high manner.



  • The induction rate in the airforce has been slow.
  • MIG 21 is accident prone as mentioned.
  • Cost of making aircrafts indigenously has proved to be costly.
  • The concern for the military in general, for the country and for the political leadership is to how to manage the two fronts. The immediate threat is from the western front i.e., Pakistan. The medium or the long term would be china. It is very important to make the threat assessment and based on that is to counter the threat.
  • There is lack of collaboration between PSU’s and private sector wrt airforce.
  • For Pakistan it will have to be complete air superiority which means the IAF must be prepared to carry counter air operations and effective air defence operations.
  • The expenditure diverted is not enough and is a concern.
  • For the Chinese threat is concerned, it should be the missiles. It will not be platform based like fighter air craft, because do they have the technology. For this the force levels have to be different. We need an integrated air and missile defence system, ballistic missile defence system. It will be a different formulation of the threat assessment for the two neighbours.
  • Today technology is power. We should have a smaller number but high technology which is very effective for its objectives rather than having quantities. Certainly we need quantities, but the overwhelming factor should be technology.
  • Order outflow is a concern.
  • C&AG’s Audit Report of2019 on ‘Capital Acquisition in Indian Air Force’ revealed the following findings:
    • Volume I consisting of seven chapters discusses the systematic issues in the acquisition process. It includes details of ten acquisition contracts.
    • Volume-II consists of audit findings relating to the acquisition of Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft through an Inter Government Agreement (IGA) with the Government of France. This includes examination of the pricing.
    • To acquire the right product at the right price, it is essential that the qualitative requirements (Air Staff Qualitative Requirements in the IAF-ASQRs) truly reflect the users functional need. This helps in generation of maximum possible competition and technical and price evaluation is done objectively.
    • Audit noted that IAF did not define the ASQRs properly. As a result none of the vendors could fully meet the ASQRs. ASQRs were changed repeatedly during the procurement process.
    • Audit noted that the vendor response to solicitation of offers was low, which restricted competition. Number of vendors who responded to the Request For Proposal (RFP) was far less than the number of vendors who were invited to bid.
    • Defence Ministry faced difficulties in realistically estimating the Benchmark price, making it difficult to establish the reasonability of price. This also caused delay in price evaluation and contract negotiations.
    • There were severe delays at various stages of the acquisition process. Against three years envisaged in Defence Procurement Process, four cases took more than three years and seven cases took more than five years to reach the contract conclusion stage.
    • Delays in acquisition were essentially due to a complex and multi-level approval process, where objections could be raised at any stage.


Way Forward:

  • We need to broadbase our industry, need to spread our industry to private sector.
  • Collaborative approach where industry is allowed to take such facilities which are existing on lease
  • We need to have a National Military Strategy in the public domain. It should specify the intentions, objectives in terms of geo-politics, cost effectiveness, and involvement. Based on this we should have a National Security Strategy. Based on the National Security Strategy we should have a Doctrine. Based on the Doctrine we should have the concept of operations and on the concept of operations we should have the force levels.
  • National Aeronatics Commission.
  • HAL should tie-up with foreign manufacture units.
  • Today in the Defence budget division, Army gets 53%, IAF gets 23%, Navy gets 17%, and DRDO gets 6-7%. This does not make any sense. Each service should have a different balancing financial structure year on year.
  • The funds are not always available. There is need to spend 3% of GDP. At present we are spending around 1.5% of GDP.
  • Multiplicity of several engines.
  • Proper mechanism to allow foreign companies to invest.
  • The most important deterrence would be having an overwhelming conventional superiority. To stop the Pakistan army, the ISI and jihadi’s the only way to do this is to have our own defence, and having an overwhelming superiority so that our deterrence on the both sides (Pakistan and China) is complete.

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