NEW DELHI --- A severe fund crunch is slowly but steadily impacting the operational preparedness of the Indian Air Force (IAF), forcing it to put on hold acquisitions of helicopters, "smart bombs" and missiles as well as repair of runways in crucial airbases on both the western and eastern fronts.
Sources on Friday said several deals, including the ones for 48 more Russian Mi-17 V5 medium-lift helicopters (Rs 6,900 crore) and 32 additional British Hawk advanced jet trainers (Rs 3,500 crore), have been put on the backburner due to lack of funds. "Similar is the case for Russian laser-guided bombs and other precision-guided munitions," said a source.
More alarmingly, the paucity of funds has also adversely hit the upgrade of infrastructure and runways in airbases around the country, with at least three of them being under the Shillong-based Eastern Air Command at a time when China continues to upgrade its military aviation set-up in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).
"Apart from having 14 major airfields, advanced landing grounds and helipads in TAR, China is constructing underground hangers and parking bays for its fighters by digging tunnels into mountains at some of them," said another source.
On the western front, the IAF has already been taken to court by contractors involved in runway resurfacing works at Awantipur (J&K) and Chandigarh stations due to non-payment of outstanding bills. "Ongoing work at stations like Sirsa and Bakshi-ka-Talab (Lucknow), as also the IAF academy at Hyderabad, may suffer due to the same reasons," said another source.
The IAF, of course, is mighty pleased with the "two game-changing mega deals" inked for 36 French Rafale fighter jets for Rs 59,000 crore and five Russian S-400 Triumf air defence missile squadrons for Rs 40,000 crore.
While the Rafales are slated for induction in 2019-2022, the S-400s are to be delivered in the 2020-2023 timeframe. Though the money for these two "critical operational inductions" will be paid in instalments over several years, and is also linked to deliveries, it has virtually emptied out the already curtailed IAF budget.
The IAF had asked for Rs 77,695 crore under the capital (modernisation etc) outlay in the 2018-2019 budget, but got only Rs 35,770 crore. Under the revenue (day-to-day operating costs, salaries etc) head, it got Rs 28,821 crore instead of the Rs 35,261 crore demanded. The story is similar for the Army and Navy, which got just 60 per cent and 56 per cent of their projected requirements under the capital head.
The allocated funds are not enough to even pay for "committed liabilities or instalments" of earlier deals, leaving virtually nothing for new modernisation projects. It is similar under the revenue head, which by far outstrips the capital outlay in a skewed 83:17 ratio due to a ballooning salary bill in the manpower-intensive Army, as reported earlier by TOI.