The Indian Air Force’s Declining Squadron Strength – Options and Challenges (excerpt)
(Source: Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses; issued Nov 03, 2017)
At a meeting of the Parliamentary Consultative Committee on Defence on 27 October 2017, senior officers of the Indian Air Force, including Vice Chief of the Air Staff, Air Marshal S.B. Deo, were reportedly rebuked by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman for “inappropriate responses” to the issue of declining squadron strength.1 It has been reported that the Indian Air Force (IAF) rehashed long standing issues of depleting combat strength without offering any solutions.

Besides being somewhat tiresome for the aforementioned Committee – having undoubtedly heard the same refrain for some time – the lack of solutions being offered is somewhat surprising considering that a number of steps are currently being taken to address declining force levels. What is perhaps more serious is that some of these steps are being pursued in a half-hearted manner, which is not attributable to lack of budgetary support.

The Current Situation

The Indian Air Force has an effective strength of 31 combat squadrons, although it has 34 combat squadrons in total. These include eleven squadrons of the Su-30MKI, three each of the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 (currently undergoing an upgrade), six of the Jaguar (at the initial stage of an upgrade process) and six of the MiG-21Bison. In addition, two upgraded MiG-27 squadrons continue to serve alongside the equivalent of half a squadron with the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE).

It is believed that three squadrons continue to operate older MiG-21s and non-upgraded MiG-27s – one each of the MiG-21bis, MiG-21M and MiG-27 - but these will be phased out in the near future, possibly by the end of 2017 or in early 2018.

It is to be noted that the peak strength of the Indian Air Force was approximately 39.5 combat squadrons, with four MiG-23MF/-BN and six MiG-27ML squadrons forming the core of the strike assets and some seventeen MiG-21 FL/M/MF/bis squadrons forming the bulk of the air defence units.

These were, at the time, complemented by the Jaguar, Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 squadrons, which added a high-technology cutting edge to an otherwise mediocre force. Since then, the MiG-21 and MiG-27 squadrons have been in decline and the MiG-23 phased out completely. (end of excerpt)

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