WASHINGTON: India’s traditional air superiority is now under “threat” as China and Pakistan are rapidly modernising their air force, a top US think-tank warned today, underlining that resolving the “crisis” should be a priority for the government.
“Despite being a world-class combat arm, the IAF’s falling end strength and problematic force structure, combined with its troubled acquisition and development programs, threaten India’s air superiority over its rapidly modernising rivals, China and Pakistan,” said the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Authored by Ashley Tellis, the top American expert on India and South Asia, whose counsel is sought by governments in both the countries, the report “The Manifold Travails of the Indian Air Force” argues that Indian air dominance is vital for deterrence stability in southern Asia and for preserving the strategic balance in the Indo-Pacific region.
“Resolving India’s airpower crisis, therefore, should be a priority for New Delhi,” Tellis says in his report running in more than 60 pages.
The IAF’s fighter force, as of early 2016, is weaker than the numbers suggest, the report said, adding that at nominally 36.5 squadrons, it is well short of its sanctioned strength, and many of its frontline aircraft are obsolete. China and Pakistan field about 750 advanced air defense/ multirole fighters against the IAF’s 450-odd equivalents, the report said.
Though, the airfield infrastructure limitations in Tibet prevent China from bringing all of its air capabilities to bear against India, yet after 2025, China could be able to deploy anywhere between 300 and 400 sophisticated aircraft against India, in addition to the 100 to 200 advanced fighters likely to exist in Pakistan by then, it said.
“The IAF’s desire for 42 45 squadrons by 2027 some 750 800 aircraft is compelling, if India is to preserve the airpower superiority it has enjoyed in southern Asia since 1971,” it said, recommending that India needs to safeguard its regional air superiority over both Pakistan and China by mustering the requisite end strength and enhancing its extant operational advantages.
The IAF’s likelihood of reaching its 2027 goal with a high proportion of advanced fighters is poor, Tellis concluded in his report.
“It is stymied by serious constraints on India’s defense budget, the impediments imposed by the acquisition process, the meager achievements of the country’s domestic development organisations, the weaknesses of the higher defense management system, and India’s inability to reconcile the need for self-sufficiency in defense production with the necessity of maintaining technological superiority over rivals,” it said.