Sitharaman to fly Sukhoi 30 today, gauge combat power of armed forces

Nayanima Basu New Delhi | Updated on January 16, 2018

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman   -  Sandeep Saxena

Shrinking fighter squadrons, a concern for IAF; paucity of funds delaying purchase

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman will fly a sortie for about 45 minutes in the twin-jet multi-role Sukhoi 30 MKI fighter aircraft on Wednesday in an effort to understand the combat capability of the Indian Air Force (IAF) as it waits anxiously to replenish its depleting feet of fighters.

Sitharaman will fly the Russian Sukhoi 30 MKI at the Air Force Station Jodhpur, according the official sources.

Sources said the sortie will be a part of the Minister’s continued effort to “gauge and review the operational preparedness and combat capabilities of the Armed forces” while the IAF continues to wait for the Defence Ministry to place orders for buying more fighters.

At present, with only 33 fighter squadrons, as opposed to the 42 that is the basic requirement, the IAF is staring at a grim future.

Last month, in its reply to a Parliamentary panel, the Ministry of Defence had admitted that 14 squadrons of the MiG 21, MiG 27 and MiG 29 are due for retirement in the next 10 years which will bring down the fighter squadron strength to 19 by 2027 from the current 33. It also said that the squadron may get depleted further to 10 by 2032 if new fighter jets are not inducted in the coming years.

“Now that the Defence Minister is flying Su-30 MKI, I hope the government places an order to buy the upgraded version of it which is ‘Super Sukhoi’ that is now rated as the best aircraft in the world. Institutionally, we have not been able to gauge our capabilities and there has not been enough money that was allocated,” said Bharat Karnad, Research Professor in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research.

In an effort to augment the depleting squadron strength of the Air Force, the government had ordered to buy the twin-engine 36 Rafale jets from French Dassault Aviation.

However, not all 36 jets can be operational at one go when all these planes are inducted in the Air Force because at any given time at least 10 or 11 of these will have to be grounded for maintenance and repair, Karnad said.

“The Air Force has to settle for something that fits their current circumstances,” Karnad added.

In 2016, the government had sent request for proposals (RFP) to the leading global jet fighter manufacturers seeking to buy single-engine warplanes in a deal worth $20 billion. And the choice narrowed down to American F-16 Block 70 made by Lockheed Martin and the Swedish Gripen E.

However, according to sources, the government was unable to place the orders due to paucity of funds. It seems the government will be coming out with a new RFP soon that will not specify the number of engines but only the operational capability.

“There is nothing happening at all. Flying in Sukhoi by the Defence Minister will not help increase the Air Force’s efficiency. The new ‘Strategic Partnership’ policy has complicated things further. At least from outside the picture looks grim,” said Amit Cowshish, former Financial Advisor (Acquisition), Ministry of Defence, and a Distinguished Fellow in IDSA.

Published on January 17, 2018

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