Air Force veterans are of the opinion that there should be more lines of production apart from incentivisation of the private sector in order to bridge the shortfall that the country is facing in numbers of its fighter fleet.
As is evident from the statement of Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa last week about ageing aircraft, it is apparent that the government is seized of the need to strengthen the fighting capabilities of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Addressing a seminar in Delhi on the topic of modernisation and indigenisation of the IAF, Dhanoa had queried as to why one should fly aircraft that are 44 years old when no one drives cars of that vintage.
The IAF had 42 squadrons of fighter jets in the year 1985 which had been authorised for a single-front against Pakistan. But this number was never sought to be increased. The number of aircraft began dwindling after 2001-02 because induction was not commensurate with the rate at which ageing aircraft were retiring.
As of 2019, India has 30 squadrons of fighter jets in comparison to Pakistan which has 25 squadrons. India's indigenous Light Combat Aircraft, which was later christened Tejas, was in the offing in 1985. The government has been looking forward to bridge IAF shortages through the Tejas MK 1A, the Tejas MK 2 and the Tejas AMCA with the MiGs set to retire in the next four years.
"Since the Tejas was in the offing, there was no procurement of other aircraft. You should not focus on developmental aircraft alone. Delay is inherent in the process of developmental aircraft with its own share of uncertainties. We should have three lines of production. The indigenous line of production and procuring single-engine and twin-engine fighter jets from western countries. For procurements, we should not get into multi-vendor competition because we are not looking at price alone but at results too. The government and the IAF should decide on which jets to procure. The procurement should be a mix of single-engine and twin-engine jets by computing a cost-benefit analysis and keeping in mind the operational risks involved," retired Air Marshal S.B.P. Sinha, former C-in-C of Central Air Command, told IANS.
Defence experts are of the opinion that the private sector must be incentivised in order to help DPSUs in equipment production.
"The number of Rafale aircraft ordered from France are not enough. But the country cannot keep on importing. Indigenous manufacturing and research and development must be boosted. There cannot be any further delay in phasing out the MiGs. It is very important for the HAL to deliver the Tejas within the stipulated time limit," retired Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur told IANS.