New fighters for the IAF: Answers and more questions

In the midst of a tense military standoff with Chinese forces in Eastern Ladakh, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) of the Ministry of Defence cleared military procurement proposals worth an estimated Rs 38,900 crore ($5.2 billion) on 2 July. The bulk of the approvals were directed to domestic programmes, including rocket artillery, armoured vehicle upgrades, land attack cruise missiles (LACMs), and 248 indigenous Astra beyond visual range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAMs). The DAC also approved purchase of the first foreign fighters for the IAF since the Rafale deal was announced in April 2015 – 21 Russian MiG-29UPGs and 12 Su-30MKIs, the latter to be assembled and delivered by Defence PSU Hindustan Aeronautics. Buried in the announcement, however, are certain details that offer some insight into the future of the Indian Air Force – and beg some pressing questions.

First, these are pragmatic measures to shore up rapidly declining force levels – the upgraded MiG-29s will allow formation of a new squadron at a cost of under $1 billion, and there are few better options at that price. Moreover, the MiG-29UPG variant has impressed the service with vastly improved reliability and capability, and there is sufficient existing infrastructure and trained manpower to quickly absorb and operationalise the additional aircraft. Similarly, the Rs 10,730 crore ($1.43 billion) Su-30MKI deal will account for attrition over the years and almost a third of this amount will be spent on new equipment and modifications that will improve fleetwide capability and resolve long-pending performance issues.

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