“The Indian Air Force’s capabilities are continuing to deteriorate, despite the arrival of a government that seems ready to make big acquisition decisions,” summarizes a recently published Jane’s Defence Weekly briefing on the current state of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Among aviation experts, the IAF has been notorious for its high accident rate in its MIG-21 fleet. For the last few years, it has also been suffering from a shortfall in the number of trained pilots. In addition, the number of combat squadrons has fallen to 34 despite an authorized goal of 42.
The report quotes a previous IHS Jane’s World Air Forces from 2006, which states that the IAF is “a competent, technology-intensive service” yet also, “in a state of flux, and force structure decision-making is complicated by politics, sensitivity to past corruption in procurement projects, conflicting budget priorities, continuing problems with indigenous systems [and] bureaucratic delays in tendering processes.” In 2015, the situation does not seem to have changed too much. According to an internal IAF assessment obtained by IHS Jane’s, the operational availability of the force for the previous three years was on average as low as 60 percent.
The IHS Jane’s report notes that the future capabilities of the IAF are subject to the Modi government’s approach to procurement. “The early signs are that Modi’s MoD will adopt a hybrid policy, encouraging local development but with foreign help.” The success of this partnership approach remains to be been as progress has been slow and mixed, despite the new government’s decision to raise the cap on foreign direct investments, as well the pledge of Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley towards a more “pragmatic approach” when dealing with foreign firms and joint-ventures.
Yet, for example, India and France are still at loggerheads over a $20 billion deal for the local in-license production of 126 Rafale fighter jets in Bengaluru. France’s Dassault Aviation argues that it cannot take responsibility for the production of the aircraft since it has no control and oversight over the production facilities. However, the French defense contractor has pledged to help Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd stick to the delivery schedules. The Indian government will in all likelihood have to make a decision before Indian Prime Minister’s Modi’s scheduled visit to Germany and France in April of this year.
The media also reported reported that India will start developing its own fifth-generation fighter aircraft (FGFA), the advanced medium combat aircraft (AMCA), this year, and is also eager to purchase Israeli air-to-air missiles. New Delhi also wants to develop its first domestically produced military transport cargo plane. This, however, as Defense News recently reported, has run into various obstacles. It appears that what the former Army Chief V.K. Singh said two years ago still holds true: “The procurement game is a version of snakes and ladders where there is no ladder but only snakes, and if the snakes bite you somewhere, the whole thing comes back to zero.”