From war rooms to war games, the Indian armed forces have been busy evolving strategies and sharpening tactics to lame Pakistan and tame China in an imaginary plot of having to deal with two unruly neighbours together on multiple fronts. In line with the threat perception, the Indian Air Force has been on its toes for a few weeks now practising scenarios likely to be thrown up by a possible two-front war with nuclear-armed adversaries as a massive drill named ‘Gagan Shakti’ peaks. The armed forces conduct exercises regularly at various levels as a matter of routine to put their plans to practice but when these moves are made public, the objective goes beyond training. Entering the realms of optics, which is one of the goals of such projections, the intention is to send a signal about the prepardness. This gesticulation has been necessitated by the bitter aftertaste left by the Doklam stand-off in Sikkim where China has firmed up its defences despite withdrawing from the disputed plateau in August 2017 after a nearly three month long tiff with the Indian Army. As the IAF goes into the drill mode, it is pertinent to deep dive into the IAF’s inventory pool for an assessment of its capability to handle China and Pakistan. Emerging from the briefings of ‘Gagan Shakti’ was the fact that more than 1,100 aircraft are taking part in the day and night operations that shifted from western to the eastern front. But the question that begs an answer is: Does IAF have so many flying assets? Numerical strength is not the be all and end all of the military capability but when you are up against the united might of two hostile nuclear powers, numbers do come into play. If one goes by open source information, it is not a secret that the IAF is facing a huge asset crunch. A typical air force fleet comprises fighter jets, transporters, helicopters and force-enhancers. Let us take a look at IAF’s inventory. First, the firght jets. Over the years, Su-30 MKIs have become the mainstay of the IAF’s fighter strength. It had planned to induct 272 Su-30 MKIs and the order was enhanced to 314 subsequently. Even the delivery of 272 aircraft is yet to be completed. At the moment, the IAF flies only around 240 – an approximate figure – of these air superiority fighters. The IAF fleet also includes three squadrons of Mig-29s. The current availability of the aircraft, according to sources, is way below the complete strength of three squadrons. The IAF had ordered an upgrade of 51 French Mirage 2000s, which is still underway. The upgrade of around 100 Jaguars, the deep penetration striker also used in a maritime role, is going on at a painstakingly slow pace. The Soviet-era Mig-21s have limited utility. The number of the most advanced version of Mig-21s – the Bisons – is around 100. The IAF has been facing an acute shortage of helicopters. It had acquired around 150 Mi-17 V5, the advanced version of Mi-17 helicopters. The state of the transport fleet is equally abysmal. There are around 100 An-32 small lift transporters and less than half a dozen medium lift Il-76s, apart from five C-130 J special operations aircraft and 10 C-17 Strategic Lifters. A force has to fight with whatever it has but the government will have to speed up the acquisition plans.
It has been practising scenarios likely to be thrown up by a possible two-front war with nuclear-armed adversaries