India goes for shopping fighter aircrafts. Again.

As Indian Air Force continues to loose its fleet to aging machinery and retirements, Indian Air Force has issued preliminary global tender or RFI (request for information) to acquire 110 fighter jets. The RFI document on the IAF website directs that at least 85% of the machine needs to be manufactured in India.

While it takes years to establish a proper assembly line and transfer of technology, the current depletion rats of IAF suggest that the Air Force needs these new fighters starting as early as 2022.

The RFI has a renewed focus on strengthening defences against China. The RFI specifically asks for operational take off from the Air strips at the height of 10,800 ft above mean sea level. Leh airport is at 10,682 ft above mean sea level.

RFI is just first step for a long-drawn process that can take upto a decade for a sign off. With fifth generation aircrafts being deployed by China, F35 becoming operational and the Russian PAK FA joining Syrian campaigns, there is a serious risk that the this proposal may be obsolete even before coming to any fruition.

In the ever-evolving threat scenario, IAF seem to be completely overwhelmed. The ‘now cancelled’ Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) capabilities were felt during the Kargil war when Airforce realised its gap between its heavy fighters and light defenders. While the Government promptly cancelled the MMRCA bid, instead opting for just 36 of Rafale, it told both the parliament and the JPC on defence that the combat readiness of retiring squadrons will be met with SU 30 MKIs and Tejas LCA. Rafale was asked by IAF to fill in the gap between SU30 and LCA.

Then there is a case for AWACS. In today’s networked warfare when Aircrafts are supposed to fight with Beyond Visual Range (BVR) Missiles, pilots are supposed to kill their enemy mostly likely without witnessing the hit. It’s the machines and networks that see enemy, guide missile and confirm kills. Ground based Radars are limited by their static location and technology. AWACS fill in the gaps for a constant vigilance and can even guide ground based anti-air missiles to take down the enemy. They multiply the effectiveness of Air Force by a lot.

IAF currently has only three AWACS, with Israeli Phalcon radar systems mounted on Russian IL-76 heavy-lift aircraft, which were inducted in 2009-2011. Pakistan now has seven such platforms, with the Chinese Karakoram Eagle ZDK-03 AWACS being the latest inductions. PAF is on course to get three more. China already has over 20. Clearly our forces are out matched to our western neighbour.

The third aspect of the trio is ground based defence. While India has initiated for S-400 Triumph systems – the final negotiation is still on. While within the same time frame Turkey has steamed ahead.

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