SOURCE: VIHAAN KAPOOR / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG
In early 80’s when Pakistan decided to procure 40 F-16 from the United States and planned for a fleet of 150 jets in near future, then Congress government decided to procure ultra cheap Mig-23s on offer from the Soviet Union, if when Indian air force’s test pilot which had evaluated them had given a negative report on them and had advised against procurement of this jets.
Yet Government went on to procure MiG-23MF, MiG-23BN and MiG-23UB variants which were not only had major shortfalls in its capabilities but also was highly accident prone in the service that just after their induction it was declared unfit to take on mighty F-16 fighters which came with latest 4th generation avionics and system. which meant India again needed to scout for a new aircraft.
1981, then french company Dassault-Breguet had developed advanced Mirage-2000 warplanes which as per IAF’s test pilots were capable enough to take on F-16s. Mirage-2000, a delta-winged, all-purpose craft designed to become a mainstay of the French Air Force meet Indian needs the best and was far more superior to F-16s procured by Pakistan.
IAF demanded 150 Mirage-2000 most of which majority will be licensed built by HAL back home after the production run of Mig-21 had ended. Government to seemed keen to go for the purchase of 150 jets but financing problems crippled up and Government did a complete U-Turn and went on to procure only 40 jets in flyaway condition even when IAF back home had invested in creating an infrastructure to operate more than 80 jets.
Sensing shortfall in requirements, Government made another rash decision and brought 60 odd Mig-29A to supplement Mirage-2000 fleet when IAF was instead favorable to procure more Mirage-2000 as a follow-on order then buying Mig-29.
3 Deals and yet IAF was not happy
1999, Kargil war was wake up call not only to IAF but also to the then current government. Swing-wing Mig-23s were crashing at record speed due to technical issues and in less than two decades force was actively considering retiring them after half fleet were lost in accidents.
The superior performance of Mirage-2000 in Kargil war vindicated that IAF was right all along and if IAF had got 150 Mirage-2000 fleet which it had asked for country won’t have been staring at lack of jets which could operate at such mountain terrain in the first place. Mig-29A due to its limited air to ground capabilities were limited to providing aerial escort cover to other existing aircraft while Mirage-2000 fleet did the bulk of bombing missions over the Himalayan range were Pakistani forces were dug in.
Mig-23 were retired with less than three decades in service which meant it was getting withdrawn prematurely from the fleet at the same time the major bulk of Mig-21 was retiring and political indecision from 1999 to 2015 meant that no new fighter jets were procured other then Su-30s for nearly one and half decades which only worsened present situation of the Indian air force .
Botched up deal of Mig-23 and Mirage-2000 can be identified as one of the biggest reasons why IAF went into a downward spiral from mid 90’s and lack of procurement of new jets in the last few years only meant depletion of fleet strength was only fast-tracked ,it will actually require nearly over two decades for IAF to recover its sanctioned fleet strength.