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SOURCE: RAJESH AHUJA / FOR MY TAKE / IDRW.ORG

Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria recently said that the force is expected to buy 350 aircraft over 20 years, including the order for 73 Mk1A and 10 Mk1 of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas placed in January.“ From the IAF perspective, we are looking at at least 350-odd aircraft over the next two decades. It includes the 83 LCA. It is a substantial number.” IAF chief estimate is based on the number of IAF aircraft that are expected to retire over the next two decades, but quick math and opportunity to come close to the sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons, will be determined if the above figures can be achieved.

The above chart gives an idea of a possible fleet that will exist in 2040. A lot will depend on the Sukhoi-30MKI fleet especially those that were inducted in the 2010-2020 timeframe that will be 20-30 years old and if it manages to go through Super-30 upgrades in the next decade with the latest Indian technology breathing in a fresh lease of life on this fighter fleet.

The second factor also depends if IAF can execute fresh orders for 114 jets over 36 Rafale that already has been inducted. India for the last two decades has been trying to procure 100+ jets from an international vendor but due to budgetary issues, it procured 36 jets from France. Recent turmoil due to the covid pandemic and economic slowdown in the country does raise few questions if IAF will be able to get them in the required time frame.

The third factor depends if HAL and other private players will be able to deliver 150+ LCA MkII variants by 2040 considering it goes into production by 2029-30. LCA MkII program needs to stay on course since a lot, is dependent on this program to fill the void left by the retirement of the three fighter types from the IAF by 2035. LCA MkII program in terms of sheer numbers that will be ordered needs to succeed to boost the numbers of fighter jets in the fleet and even delays of few years can upset the number of fighter intakes that IAF is counting on to stabilize Squadron decline.

The fourth factor depends on the AMCA program that needs to stick to the timeline to see if 90 jets can be procured in two batches starting 2032 onwards. MK2 variant of the AMCA is the most ambitious of the program and it will be a task to get it going from 2035 that will be less than 9 years after its first flight that has been planned in 2026.

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