Indian Air Force Intends to Reduce Fighter Jet Downtime

The Indian Air Force (IAF), which is experiencing a fighter-squadron shortage, is hoping that boosting the low availability rates of Su-30 and other fighters in service will help offset some of the gap, according to a report presented to Parliament’s Standing Committee on Defence. However, due to Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and Western sanctions, which officials have said they are examining, that delivery date could be jeopardised.

“However, there is an interesting truth that we ended up spending a considerable amount on revenue spares when we received the cash last year and also last year.”

According to a report tabled in Parliament last week, “there is an interesting aspect that a very large number of Sukhoi-30 and other fighters are on the ground, and we are hopeful that when those spares start coming in from this year onwards, we will be able to actually add some squadrons,” an IAF representative told the committee.

According to the speaker, one method the Air Force fills this is by indicating that the serviceability state “has been low.” “Once we have that, we can ramp up the existing strength before the new planes arrive.” As of now, that is the best we can do for us,” the Committee was informed.

The three Services have made substantial emergency purchases and fast track procurements in the aftermath of the Balakot air strike and tensions with Pakistan earlier this year, as well as the ongoing stalemate with China in Eastern Ladakh since May 2020, according to numerous officials. However, some revenue contracts for spares and other items were signed recently near the end of the fiscal year, on March 31, according to at least two defence officials, putting the anticipated delivery timetables at risk. “We’re looking at the implications of the deals we signed at the end of the fiscal year,” a defence official said.

There are 42 fighter squadrons in the IAF’s authorised strength. The drawdown is increasing as the overall technical life is completed, according to the IAF.

While acknowledging that they will not be able to achieve the desired strength for the time being and that they are doing their best, the IAF stated that the delay is due to the production of indigenous fighters, which will not begin until 2024, and that they are hopeful that there will be other sources of revenue that can be explored until then. The 83 LCA MK-1As for which a contract was signed in January 2021 will be delivered beginning in early 2024.

The LCA-MK1A, as well as the projected Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA), will aid in halting the drawdown, according to the IAF.

The IAF has been obliged to keep the last four MIG-21 Bison squadrons in service due to acquisition delays. The IAF told the Committee that “we can’t keep them extra even for a day, and we don’t keep them either” once the technical life is completed.

“There is no doubt about that,” the spokesman said, adding that certain aircraft had their lives extended. “In this case, they now have the Bison aircraft surviving, which are modernised but still old.”

By the end of the decade, several frontline aircraft in the inventory, such as Jaguars and MIG-29s, will be phased out. For example, the first MIG-29s, which were inducted in the late 1980s, will begin to be retired in 2027-28. The IAF recently received 36 Rafale fighter jets and has a total of 123 LCAs on order. A larger LCA-MK2 is in the works, as is a fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA).

In terms of helicopters, the IAF possesses roughly 500 of them. The IAF told the Committee that the Cheetah, Chetak, and Cheetal aircraft used in forward areas of Siachen and air maintenance in the North-East will be completely depleted by 2032. These will be replaced by the Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), for which an Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) has been given, and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) will begin delivering 12 helicopters this year, according to the announcement.

In addition, a contract for a Light Combat Helicopter built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) is expected to be signed, with production quantities gradually increasing. The IAF spokesperson claimed that “our fighter attack helicopter” capability will improve as a result of this.

Several initiatives have been done in the last 7-8 years to improve the serviceability rates of Russian equipment in use, particularly the Su-30MKI fleet, which makes up a large portion of the IAF inventory. Long-term spares and support agreements, as well as joint ventures in India with Russian original equipment manufacturers for faster turnaround, are among the strategies.

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