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India to spend $35 b on military aircraft
Jangveer Singh
Tribune News Service

Bangalore, February 11
India is set to spend $ 35 billion on military aviation over the next 20 years as most of its existing fleet needs to be replaced sooner or later. This will put Pakistan at a strategic disadvantage with the country finding it difficult to get sellers to maintain the military balance with India.

Two different reports, released at Aero India show, clearly indicate that buyers, may they be Russian, American or European, were flocking to offer the best in military technology to India and there was immense competition for the Indian Air Force's 126 fighter-jet order, besides other aircraft, to replace an ageing Indian fleet.

In a direct contrast, the reports say, the range of fourth-generation fighter jets being offered to India is not on offer to Pakistan indicating India's rise as a superpower in the region.

According to a report by Mr Gulshan Luthra and Air Marshal Ashok Goel (retd), published in the latest issue of the India Strategic Defence magazine, most of the IAF's planes, including the MIG-21, 23,25 and 27, besides the Jaguars or Mirage 2000, and the IL-76 and AN-32 transport aircraft are either due for replacement or upgradation.

It says after Rajiv Gandhi, there was a paralysis in the acquisition process triggered by a spate of inquiries which blocked even the normal process of replacing outdated equipment.

This is a costly mistake, it says, adding the IAF has only been able to acquire the Sukhoi 30MKI which is presently its mainstay to deliver key missiles.

The report says the situation is same for the Indian Navy which has projected a figure for acquisition of 100 aircraft in the next 20-25 years, particularly the MIG-29ks.

It says the Indian Army has projected a figure of 500 helicopters and was already in the process of finalising purchase of 197 copters. It says most of the helicopters with the Army are more than 20 years old.

Another report, which has compared the acquisitions India is likely to go through vis a vis Pakistan, says Pakistan will find it nearly impossible to maintain the military balance in the region. The study, conducted by US-based think-tank Strategic Forecasting Inc (Stratfor), says the Aero India expo is “a reminder of India’s continuing rise as a military power”.

It says Pakistan’s most-recent acquisition, the American F-16 Fighting Falcon, is a third-generation aircraft while India is being offered fourth-generation plus fighters under the combat jet order. It says another trend which has emerged is the continuous manner in which India won vis a vis Pakistan be it in dealing with Russia or the United States.

The report says India’s plan to spend $ 30 billion on defence purchases in its eleventh plan was causing concern to Pakistan as this amount was almost half of the country’s GDP.Even if Pakistan can acquire new F-16s from the US, it will help maintain the military balance only for now, it notes. It says the Chinese J-10 fighters can be a substitute “but not quite as good in terms of technology, sensors or accompanying armaments”.

IANS adds: India will be spending a massive $35 billion on military aviation over the next 20-25 years for the simple reason that most of the existing aircraft need replacement sooner or later and there is also a requirement for more aircraft with newer technology.

According to a study In the latest issue of the India Strategic Defence magazine, except for the SU-30MKI, all the fighter and transport aircraft of the Indian Air Force (IAF), be it the MiG-21, 23, 25, 27 and 29, or Jaguars or Mirage 2000, or IL-76 heavy transport and AN-32 medium transports, were contracted for acquisition during the time Indira Gandhi or her son Rajiv Gandhi was prime minister.

The study says that the same is also true for the helicopter Mi-17 and its older Mi-8 version. The IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, released the magazine at the Aero India air show here.

As for transport aircraft, the only exception was for VVIP travel, with four Embraers acquired from Brazil in 2005. Additionally, three new generation Boeing 737s, configured to the same security standards as the Air Force One of the US President, are now on order while some new Embraers are being considered for a surveillance role.

The situation is no different for the Indian Navy, whose existing aircraft, including those vital for maritime reconnaissance like the Il-38 and Dorniers, are old. The navy needs not only more aircraft but also technologically advanced newer aircraft - and in greater numbers.

The navy has projected a figure of about 100 aircraft in the next 15-20 years, particularly the MiG-29Ks, whose number should go up to about 50 from less than the 20 initially contracted. These jets will be deployed on the aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya the navy is acquiring from Russia.

Indications are that the Indian Army has a projection for about 500 helicopters. It is already finalising purchase of 197 helicopters from a choice of two. Field and other trials for these have been completed and an announcement is expected by mid-2007. Notably, most of the helicopters in India are also more than 20 years old.

During the 1999 Kargil war for instance, the army neither had adequate munitions for the Bofors howitzers, which saved the day, nor any Weapon Locating Radars (WLRs) to detect the source of hostile fire for counter action. The result: the army suffered 80 per cent of its casualties in the war to Pakistani artillery.

As for aircraft, it is amply known that the strength of the IAF’s combat squadrons has been coming down as the existing aircraft are old, and there is a limit to the extension that can be given to any machine’s life.

Fortunately, the IAF has acquired the formidable SU-30MKI, each of which carries three strategic missiles. India should have more than 200 of these aircraft, with the HAL asked to produce 8 to 12 jets a year over the next decade. Their indigenous production has already begun.

The IAF has already decided to go in for 80 Russian Mi-17 IV helicopters as a follow on order but it would need to buy some more helicopters to replace its existing fleet of nearly 150 machines. IAF also needs heavy lift and high altitude strike helicopters.

The IAF is also seeking an increase in the number of AWACS and flight refuellers, to double their strength from three to six for the former, and from six to 12 for the latter.

The navy is acquiring newer warships, including at least two aircraft carriers over the next decade and possibly, a couple of nuclear submarines.

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