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The Indian Air Force’s Big Problem: Not Enough Pilots!

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Asia Defense

The Indian Air Force’s Big Problem: Not Enough Pilots!

New Delhi faces a critical shortage of both planes and pilots a parliamentary panel revealed this week.

This week, a parliamentary committee attacked the Indian Ministry of Defense (MOD) over the poor state of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in comparison to its Chinese and Pakistani counterparts. The committee’s concern? New Delhi faces a critical shortage of both planes and pilots (for additional background see: “Indian Air Force Still Plagued by Poor Procurement Process”).

The report of the Indian government’s 35-member  Standing Committee on Defence noted that “even the slight edge over rival neighboring nations” would be lost if “complacency” remains. The Indian officials particularly lamented that the number of current active fighter squadrons (35) is seven below the sanctioned strength of 42.

However, the number of squadrons may even further decline over the next seven years. “With regard to this, representatives of air force deposed before the committee that a drawdown has already begun and, by 2022, air force will have around just 25 squadrons, thereby losing even the slight edge over rival neighboring nation,” the panel’s report emphasized.

Furthermore, the IAF’s current fighter aircraft to pilot ratio is 1:0.81.”Our sanctioned strength for [combat] pilots is less than that of our adversaries,” the report said, adding that the Pakistan Air Force’s fighter to pilot ratio was 1:2.5, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly reported. In the U.S. the cockpit to pilot ratio is 1:2. Jane’s further summarized:

This was far less than the authorised figure of 1:1.25 and was responsible for depreciating the force’s operational capabilities, the report stated. The sanctioned cockpit to pilot ratio for the IAF’s transport aircraft is 1:1.5 and 1:1 for its helicopters.

The report of the panel, headed by Major General (retd.) B.C Khanduri, expressed its deep concern over the operational readiness of the IAF:

The committee takes serious view of the fact that our squadron strength is already short of what has been authorised by the Government and moreover, insufficiency in number of available pilots in the Air Force further deteriorates our operational capabilities.

Additionally, the report also highlighted the high number of accidents (83 between May 2007 and January 2015) in the IAF:  “From the above information, it is evident that there is either lacuna in training that is being imparted to our pilots and support officials or the systems installed are technically ill equipped.”

India is still pursuing the perspective multi-role fighter (PMF) project (see: “What’s the Status of the Indian-Russian Fifth Generation Fighter Jet?”) and has not entirely abandoned plans for the acquisition of medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA), although prospects for its successful completion are slim (see: “India Makes if Offical: ‘The Mother of All Defense Deals’ is Dead”). New Delhi also remains confident in the induction of the indigenous-produced Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Tejas.

Nevertheless, “if all the procurements fructify, IAF is likely to achieve the authorised strength of 42 squadrons only by the end of the 15th Plan, or in 2032,” the panel said, “however, despite all the efforts in this regard, the committee is perturbed to note that no concrete results have so far come from MMRCA negotiations and LCA has certain design/development issues that need a relook.”

In April 2015, while in Paris, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that New Delhi would purchase 36 Dassault Rafale multi-role fighters off-the-shelf in a government-to-government deal (see: “India Will Buy 36 Ready-to-Fly Dassault Rafale Fighters from France”), a stopgap solution to overcome some the critical shortages facing the IAF as highlighted in the parliamentary committee report.