Desperately short of fighters, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is moving the government to buy an additional 21 Russian-made MiG -29 ground attack and air-defense aircraft, a senior official with knowledge of the development said.
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has also confirmed plans of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to acquire an additional 18 Su-30MKI
IAF needs a minimum of 42 squadrons but has only 30. More squadrons will be decommissioned in the coming months. India is expected to get first Rafale fighter jets in September 2019.
The procurement is intended to shore up the fighter fleet of the Indian Air Force (IAF) which has slunk to 31 squadrons; it’s lowest in over a decade. The jets would help to keep the manufacturing and servicing facilities of HAL afloat for several years more after the current order for the assembly of Su-30MKI gets exhausted in a year’s time.
HAL is expected a large order for over 120 aircraft- an advanced version of the Light Combat Aircraft, Tejas, in the next two to three months, R Madhavan said.
The first flight of LCA Mk-1A was likely to take place three years after the contract was signed, followed by full series production a year later. The air force plans to buy 83 Mk-1A jets, taking the total number of LCA variants ordered to 123.
The Indian Air Force already has three squadrons of MiG-29. All three are positioned along the western borders. The Indian Navy too uses the naval version of the MiG-29 fighters. They are positioned on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya.
Earlier, in February 2019, a team of senior Indian Air Force officials rushed to Russia to examine the fleet of the MiG 29 fighters.
“The airframes are ready and Russia has promised to deliver all 21 fighters within 18 months,” the senior IAF official who asked not to be named said.
“The air-frames are ready and available in Russia.”
The IAF is in dire need of maintaining the number of squadrons required for a possible two-front war. The IAF is down to 31 fighter aircraft squadrons when it needs 42 squadrons to simultaneously fight a war on two fronts.
Four squadrons (two each of MiG-21 and MiG-27) are retiring in 2019. Moreover, all the remaining seven squadrons of MiG-21 will retire by 2024. The pace of indigenous Tejas fighter aircraft’s development is also slow and still awaits final operational clearance from the IAF.