On paper the Indian Air Force has roughly 700 fighter and strike jets, but in reality slightly only about half are operational raising concern about how effective the military of the 2nd largest population in the world is being protected.
The average aircraft availability measured over the entire year is about 50 to 55 percent, Defence officials have admitted towards the parliamentary committee on defence matters. About 20 percent of those jets are simply grounded because of the lack of spare parts, but Indian Air Force sources say that concerns mostly the older Soviet-era jets like the approx. 120 MiG-21 Bisons, 80 MiG-27 Bahadurs and 130 to 135 SEPECAT Shamshers (Jaguars).
The government watchdog authority also slashed the reputation of the Air Force’s three Ilyushin/Beriev A-50 AWACS aircraft. Lack of trained aircrew, lack of bases to operate from, lack of funds and resources for the aircraft maintenance have seriously hampered the effectiveness of the airborne radar and intelligence gathering platforms.
UPDATED 6 January | Sri Lanka is said to have signed up for at least eight Pakistani-made JF-17 Thunder fighter jets. A memorandum of understanding was signed on Tuesday 5 January during a visit to Sri Lanka by Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif , confirming earlier rumours about an imminent deal.
Update | The first export customer for the JF-17 Thunder now appears to be Nigeria and not Myanmar, as reported earlier. Nigeria expects delivery of three Thunders this year, records in the country show.
The Thunders wil almost surely replace obsolete MiG-23 and MiG-27 fighter jets. Next to those, the Sri Lanka Air Force currently also operates Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) Kfir and Chinese made Shenyang F-7 fighter jets.
Neighbouring India is said to oppose the deal between Sri Lanka and Pakistan. India had hopes to sell its indigenous Tejas jet to Sri Lanka and incidentally on Tuesday 5 January announced that aircraft’s international airshow debut at the Bahrain Air Show later this month.
The apparent deal in Sri Lanka marks the second export success for the JF-17 Thunder. Last June, another foreign customer was announced at the Paris Air Show. On 6 January 2016, Nigeria revealed itself as that foreign costumer.
The Indian Air Force will retire three more squadrons of 18 aircraft each this year. The units are equipped with either the aging Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 or the MiG-27, defence sources told media in India.
Meanwhile the top brass is hoping to quickly field another unit of Sukhoi Su-30 multi-role fighters, while the strength is going down quickly. With a wished-for strength of 42 squadrons, the Indian Air Force might go down to 32 or 33 in 2015.
Hopes are high for the indigenous developed Tejas, but the light combat jet is not expected before 2019. In the mean time the Indian Air Force needs to do what it can to fulfill its tasks with an aging fleet.