A host of challenges greets India’s new Air Chief

Synopsis: The IAF has played a stellar role in defending India. The squadron strength of the Air force is depleting. We need a quality and quantity check of its operational assets before pushing for the creation of theatre commands.


Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari assumed office as Chief of Air Staff on September 30. One of the main problems confronting Chief of Air Staff, is that of IAF’s depleted assets.

What are the challenges confronting the new Air Chief?

The new Air Chief has a wide spectrum of challenges to address, including

Rewiring of India’s military into new theatre commands and the reservations expressed by the IAF about its “support” role

The depletion in operational air assets due to obsolescence and lack of new platforms. From a strength of 42 combat squadrons in 2002, the IAF now operates barely 30. Experts have cautioned that the combat strength of the IAF will decline to 27 squadrons in five years and will come down to 19 in 10 years.

All this at a time when the country is coping with the Covid pandemic, a complex geopolitical situation due to US withdrawal from Afghanistan and the setback in Galwan.

How the Air force intends to boost its squadron strength?

In the next decade

IAF hopes to induct the indigenous fifth-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and the Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) — a new platform that would be built in India with a foreign entity, the “original equipment manufacturer” (OEM), and thereby move up to 35 squadrons.

What are the issues with future plans to boost squadron strength?

The AMCA is “under design” and India’s track record in the design and manufacture of indigenous fighter aircraft is cost- and time-intensive.

As regards the MRFA, the request for information for 114 jets has just been issued. The Rafale experience and the long delays associated with it would suggest that speedy selection of an OEM will be difficult to find.

What is the way forward?

Air power is becoming technologically more refined with unmanned platforms, cyber-space linkages and AI advances. The inherent trans-border nature of this military capability needs astute professional and political handling. China has demonstrated the degree of suasion and intimidation that airpower can bring to bear in relation to Taiwan.

Acquiring credible aerospace power with a meaningful degree of indigenization will need a greater degree of national resolve, professional integrity and resource allocation.

Source: This post is based on the article “A host of challenges greets India’s new Air Chief” published in The Indian Express on 8th Oct 2021.

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