IAF to soon start replacing all single engine fighter jets

The Indian Air Force will start the process of acquiring a fleet of single engine fighter jets this month, which would give a big boost to its strike capability, Chief of Air Staff B S Dhanoa said on Thursday.

He said the acquisition of a new fleet of single engine jets was a "priority" for the IAF and the request for information (RFI) for it is likely to be issued "very soon".

The Air Chief said IAF's fighter strength will reach the desired numbers by 2032, adding that this, however, will not affect the force's strike capability.

Addressing the customary annual press conference ahead of the 8 October IAF anniversary, Dhanoa said that as squadrons of older fighter jets retire, Rafale fighters and Light Combat Aircraft Tejas would fill in the gap, and eventually, single-engine India-made fighter jets would take the numbers up to the desired 42 squadrons.

"There is a plan by the government of India to induct fighters and by the end of 15th Plan - 2032, we will have the authorised strength. But with the numbers that we have got, we are capable of carrying out operations anytime," Dhanoa said.

At least 14 squadrons of MiG 21 and MiG 27 fighter jets are retiring between 2015 and 2024, and one squadron of Jaguar fighter jets is to retire in 2027.

Dhanoa said the IAF would be buying 40 Tejas LCAs (Light Combat Aircraft) - 20 with Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) and 20 with Final Operational Clearance (FOC). In addition, 83 more LCAs are to be bought, which will make up for the requirement of single-engine aircraft.

Another 36 Sukhoi-30 fighters, and 36 Rafale jets, which have been bought from France, will also make up for the retiring squadrons. "So, the numbers will not go down below what we are right now. We will start going up only when the single-engine fighters come in, that is when the numbers will start going up," Dhanoa said.

The IAF currently has 33 combat squadrons against a sanctioned strength of 39.5, which is sought to be raised to 42.

Swedish defence giant Saab has teamed up with India's Adani group to manufacture single-engine jets for the IAF. US defence firm Lockheed Martin is also seen as a major competitor for the deal.

Dhanoa said IAF is giving priority to the single engine fighters as the twin-engine fighters will cost more.

"Right now, we are concentrating on the single engine so as to make up the numbers with lower cost," he said. The IAF currently has 33 fighter squadrons against authorised strength of 42.

The IAF chief, however, said the force has requirement of twin engine jets as well.

In September last year, India had signed an Euro 7.87- billion (approx Rs 59,000 crore) deal with the French government for purchase of 36 Rafale twin-engine fighter jets.