Indian Air Force’s Ageing Fighter Fleet: “Flying Rustbucket”

The Indian Air Force is currently facing a significant challenge with its ageing fleet of fighter jets. Many of the IAF’s current fighter jets, such as the MiG-21 have been in service for decades and are well past their expected lifespan. As these aircraft continue to age, maintenance costs increase, and their operational readiness decreases, making it challenging for the IAF to maintain its edge in the region. Not to mention the increased risk of crashes leading to loss of pilots.

Indian Air Force

The IAF’s ageing fighter jet fleet has become a significant concern, particularly in the face of increasing geopolitical tensions in the region. India’s neighbours, China and Pakistan, have both been modernizing their air forces with the latest fighter aircraft, such as the Chengdu J-20 and the F-16, respectively. This has put pressure on India to upgrade its fighter jet fleet to maintain a credible deterrence against potential threats.

India needs atleast 42 Squadrons to fight a two-front war with both Pakistan and China however we are not even close to that.  Currently, Indian Air Force is down to just 31 Fighter Squadrons. Out of these 31, Four Squadrons are Mig-21 Squadrons which IAF plans to phase out by 2025. As of now, if a two-front war broke out, India won’t have enough strength to deal with the threats. Indian Air Force will struggle to do Defensive Air Patrols.

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One of the key challenges that the IAF faces with its ageing fighter jet fleet is the availability of spare parts and maintenance support. Many of the suppliers of these parts are no longer in business, or the equipment they produce is no longer in production. This has resulted in significant delays and increased costs for maintenance and repairs, which are necessary to keep these ageing aircraft operational.

Another issue is the increased risk of accidents due to equipment failures, which could have significant consequences for the IAF’s ability to maintain air superiority. While the IAF has an excellent safety record, it must be noted that the aging fighter jet fleet poses a significant challenge in terms of ensuring their airworthiness.

To address this challenge, the IAF has initiated several measures, such as the upgrade of its existing fleet of fighter jets and the acquisition of new aircraft. For instance, the IAF has been upgrading its MiG-29s, Jaguar and Su-30MKI aircraft with modern avionics and weapons systems, which has improved their performance and operational capability.

Indian Air Force

Additionally, the IAF has placed orders for new fighter jets, such as the Rafale and Tejas, which will significantly enhance its air defence capabilities. These new aircraft are equipped with the latest technologies and weapons systems, making them more capable of countering threats from modern adversaries. However, the replacement rate is slower than the acquisition rate.  HAL only makes 16 Tejas per year. Su-30MKI orders have been cancelled and we are no longer making new Su-30MKIs. All 36 Rafales originally ordered have been delivered and there have been no interest in placing new orders. The MRFA/MMRCA Competition for 114 Jets is going nowhere. The original MMRCA Ceomepetion was started in 2001 and in 2018, it was rebranded as MRFA even after 22 years, we have yet to finalise a plan and at this point, we don’t think the tender will ever close and an aircraft will be selected.

In conclusion, the IAF’s ageing fighter jet fleet poses a significant challenge to its ability to maintain air superiority. The lack of spare parts, increasing maintenance costs, and operational readiness concerns have put the IAF at a disadvantage against its neighbours, who are actively modernizing their air forces. Indian Air Force and the government however haven’t done enough to keep Indian Air Force a solid fighting force. With the slow production rate of HAL, the retiring of existing jets and no sight of large jet orders…Brave Air Warriors are forced to fly very old of date Aircraft risking their lives just to keep this country safe

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