The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) acquisition of five new Rafale fighter aircraft from France attracted media attention like never before in the backdrop of the border clashes with China. Earlier fighter aircraft inductions into the IAF, like that of the Russian Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter aircraft in the late 1990s, the British Jaguar and the Soviet-era MiG-29 fighters in the early 1980s, never made newspaper headlines.
Today, television channels bombard Indian society with details about fighter aircraft capabilities like avionics, stealth, weapon payload, flying range, mid-air refueller and manoeuvrability.
The IAF has 33 fighter aircraft squadrons. Each squadron has 16 aircraft plus two trainer aircraft, which are two-seaters. This amounts to over 500 fighter aircraft, which is adequate strength to ensure the air defence of Indian airspace against both Pakistan and China. The IAF’s sanctioned strength is a force level of 42 fighter squadrons to fight a two-front war, with Pakistan and China simultaneously.
But how logical is the rationale for a 42-squadron fighter aircraft fleet today in the context of aircraft mid-life upgrades, attack helicopters, airborne warning and control system platforms?