SOURCE: RAUNAK KUNDE / NEWS BEAT / IDRW.ORG
As part of its modernization efforts, the Indian Air Force (IAF) is looking at indigenous fighter jet programs to replace its ageing fleet. The IAF plans to retire 150 aircraft by 2035 and an additional 100 by 2040, highlighting the need for new aircraft to maintain its combat capabilities. With concerns raised about the dwindling strength of the Air Force, the IAF is looking to ramp up its modernization programs to avoid hitting rock bottom in the next 10 years.
The IAF has been grappling with the challenges of an ageing fleet for some time now, with many of its aircraft nearing the end of their operational lifespan. The retirement of these aircraft will create a significant gap in the IAF’s combat capabilities, underscoring the need for new aircraft to fill the void.
Due to the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, plans to procure an additional 12 Su-30MKI and 21 Mig-29UPG fighter jets have been put on hold and may even be cancelled in the long term. The Indian Air Force (IAF) is now pinning its hopes on the 73 Tejas Mk1A fighter jets, which were scheduled to be delivered from February 2022 onwards, but reports suggest that even their timeline might shift further.
To address concerns over dwindling combat capabilities, the IAF is looking to bolster its combat fleet by acquiring an additional 50-60 Tejas Mk1A jets. With the Tejas Mk2 program facing more expected delays, the IAF is relying on further Tejas Mk1A orders to fill the void left by the retiring Jaguar fleet post-2028.
The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) has assured a rollout of the Tejas Mk2 program in 2025-26, with the first flight in 2026-27 and production of the aircraft expected to commence in 2028-29. However, given the aggressive timeline, delays were expected, and production of the Tejas Mk1A will continue for another three years.
The procurement plans for 114 Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) under a tender are currently delayed, and it may take another 3-4 years to finalize the contract, followed by an additional 5 years for the induction of the first aircraft, which could be as late as 2031. While the Indian government had initially considered acquiring an additional 36 Dassault Rafale jets separate from the MRFA tender, these plans were scrapped. However, talks with Dassault for a possible direct deal between the two countries to acquire 90 jets are still ongoing.
The Indian Air Force’s 5th generation fighter program is awaiting clearance of funds from the government for Phase-I. The program’s initial phase includes the acquisition of 40 jets powered by older F414 engines. However, delays in completing the Critical Design Review (CDR) phase have pushed back the program’s timeline. As a result, production of the MkI variant is expected to be extended by an additional 40 jets. The MkII program, which was supposed to feature a higher thrust engine, has also experienced delays and is likely to miss its target of entering production by 2035.
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