From air to sea defence, India has many gaps

NEW DELHI: It is not just the Indian Army that has chinks in its armour, but the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy are also grappling with acute shortage of weapons and platforms to d

Published: 15th April 2012 11:45 PM  |   Last Updated: 16th May 2012 07:31 PM   |  A+A-

NEW DELHI: It is not just the Indian Army that has chinks in its armour, but the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Indian Navy are also grappling with acute shortage of weapons and platforms to defend the aerospace and maritime borders of the country respectively.

For the last decade or so, the IAF, the fourth largest air force in the world, has been struggling to complete its required strength of 42 fighter squadrons, projected in 1980s. At present, its squadron strength is down to 33.5 and to maintain its conventional edge over the Pakistan Air Force, the IAF cannot phase out its obsolete Soviet vintage MiG-21 fighter jets.

Overcoming the delay in indigenous Light Combat Aircraft programme and in the acquisition of 126 medium multi-role fighter jets, the IAF is hoping to get desired 42 squadrons by 2022.

According to senior officials, the other issue concerning the force is the lack of basic pilot trainers. Since 2009, its fleet of HPT-32 initial trainer aircraft remains grounded following a series of crashes and engine failures. This comes at a time when the force is already short of about 400 pilots.

The third problem is the upgradation of its existing fleet of fighter jets. The fleet of ground attack fighter jets Jaguar, which will cross into the enemy territory during a war, is underpowered—meaning they “cannot take off with the full weapon complement and fuel tank”. But the proposal to procure new engines for the fighter jets is still gathering dust.

The IAF is equipped with three kinds of Russian-made air defence missile systems—S-125M Pechora, OSA-AK and Igla 1-M—that are in need of replacement and upgradation.

The IAF currently has 1,100 Igla shoulder-fired missiles, as against a sanctioned 1,200. Of the existing Igla missiles, about 880 are on life extension. In comparison to this, Pakistan is about to start manufacturing third-generation shoulder-fired Anza MKIII missiles with technology from China.

Despite the 26/11 attack, the maritime security of the country remains to be Achilles heel as the Indian Navy is facing acute shortage of submarines and helicopters. The present strength of submarines in the navy is down to 15 and by 2015 it will have only 10 underwater platforms in the flotilla. On the contrary, the biggest navy in Asia, China, is known to have 8-10 nuclear-powered submarines and 50-60 diesel submarines. Now Beijing is actively helping Islamabad in augmenting its fleet and signed a contract for constructing six conventional submarines for Pakistan Navy in 2011.

The Indian Navy’s next cause of concern is shortage of helicopters. The helicopter fleet of the navy comprises Sea Kings and Soviet-vintage Chetak-Cheetahs—all these have already crossed their life cycle of 20 years. The situation has been accentuated by the delay in the production of the naval variant of the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv.

The Indian Navy is aspiring to become a three aircraft carrier force. But the existing Sea Harriers (only 11 are remaining) operating from aircraft carrier INS Viraat have become old. The newly acquired MiG-29 Ks for Admiral Gorshkov are forced to do shore-based flying due to the delay in the delivery of Admiral Gorshkov. Also the delay in development of the naval variant of LCA is giving nightmares to the force.


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