Future of the Indian Air Force

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Indian Air Force
Ensign of the Indian Air Force.svg
Nabha Sparsham Deeptam
"Touch the Sky with Glory"
New Delhi
History and traditions
History of the Indian Air Force
(established 8 October 1932)
Marshal of the Indian Air Force
Chief of the Air Staff
Indian Air Force ranks and insignia
Current Indian Air Force aircraft
Historical Indian Air Force aircraft

The Indian Air Force has been undergoing a modernization program to replace and upgrade its aging and outdated equipment since the late 90’s to advanced standards. For that reason it has started procuring and developing aircraft, weapons, associated technologies, and infrastructures. Some of these programs date back to the late 80’s. The primary focus of current modernisation and upgrades is to replace aircraft purchased from the Soviet Union that currently form the backbone of the Air Force.


The Indian Air Force began an upgrade of its MiG-29 fleet in 2007.[1] India awarded Russia a US$865 million contract to upgrade its air superiority MiG-29 into multi role MiG-29UPG standard warplanes, on Monday 10 March 2008. According to the deal, Russia will re-arm the twin-engined MiG-29s with air-to-air missiles, and the upgraded MiGs will feature increased fuel capacity and will include latest avionics. The design is a new modification intended for the MiG-29s used by Indian Air Force. It made its maiden flight on 4 February 2011. The standard includes the new Zhuk-M radar, new avionics, an IFR probe as well as new enhanced RD-33 series 3 turbojet engines. The modernization is part of a $900 million contract to upgrade the 66 fighter fleet.[2][3]

Although not initially designed to carry strategic weapons, the Indian Air Force will receive 40 upgraded Su-30MKIs capable of carrying the BrahMos cruise missile possibly by 2020.[4][5] In addition, there are also plans to integrate the nuclear-capable Nirbhay missile with the aircraft as well.[6] In May 2010, India Today reported that Russia had won a large contract to upgrade 40 Su-30MKI fighters with new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, onboard computers, electronic warfare systems and the ability to carry the BrahMos missile. The first two prototypes with the 'Super-30' upgrade will be delivered to the Indian Air Force in 2015, after which the same upgrades will be performed on the last batch consisting of 40 production aircraft.[7] The exact value of the contract has yet to be disclosed however.[8][9]

In March 2010, India and France finalized the long delayed deal to upgrade all of India's Mirage 2000H to Mirage 2000-5 Mk 2 variant with new radar systems, a new weapon suite, missiles, electronic warfare system etc.[10] French claim that the combat-proven aircraft will be upgraded to next-generation fighter level.[10] The first four to six Mirages will be upgraded in France, with the rest 50 or so being upgraded in India by Hindustan Aeronautics under transfer of technology. Under the upgrade, the entire airframe will be stripped down to be re-wired and re-equipped with new avionics, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites and weapon systems to extend and enhance the operational life of the multi-role fighters by around 20 years.[11]

Under procurement[edit]


HAL initiated the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme in 1983 to develop a replacement aircraft for IAF's ageing MiG-21. After development during the 80s and 90s the first flight occurred in 2001. The aircraft has since been named HAL Tejas. Finally after Initial Operation Clearance status (IOC) Tejas is officially inducted in IAF for Final Operational Clearance (FOC)on 10 January 2014, after achieving the FOC status IAF is going to order 10 squadrons of the aircraft for its aging fleets of MiG-21s.[12] The IAF is reported to have a requirement for 200 single-seat and 20 two-seat conversion trainers. It has ordered 40 Tejas Mk1 aircraft.[13] The Initial Operation Clearance was granted to the IAF on 10 January 2011 by the Defence Minister Mr.A.K.Antony.

The IAF issued a Request of Intent (RoI) for the procurement of 126 multi-role combat aircraft. Contenders for the $10 Billion Indian MRCA competition were the MiG-35 from Mikoyan of Russia, the Rafale from Dassault Aviation of France, the Eurofighter Typhoon, from EU, JAS 39 Gripen from Saab of Sweden, the F-16IN Super Viper from Lockheed Martin and F/A-18E/F Super Hornet from Boeing.[14]

The order is for 126 aircraft with the option to buy another 64–74 more.[15] While there were reports of the direct order being increased to 200, or split between two vendors, Former Chief of Air Staff of the IAF, Air Marshal S.P. Tyagi stated during Aero India 2007 that the number would remain the same, and would be sourced from a single vendor.[16] The first squadron would be directly supplied by the vendor, while the rest would be manufactured under license in India by HAL. He stated however, that as the bidding progressed, this could change.

On 31 January 2012, it was announced that Dassault Rafale has won the competition.[17] The cost of the deal is revised at USD 20 billion.[18][19]

On 29 February 2012 It was reported that India will phase out MIG-21s from 2014.[20]


Newly acquired Boeing C-17 Globemaster III being tested at Edwards Air Force Base.

On 15 June 2009, the IAF announced that it was interested in purchasing about 10 C-17 Globemaster III tactical military transport aircraft. The C-17 deal, worth $4.1 billion, has been signed through Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route under which Boeing will deliver the planes to India over the next four years.[21] It is possible that the deal might include an option for 10 more aircraft.[22] India took delivery of the first C-17 in February 2013. 9 of these aircraft have been delivered to IAF as of January 2015.[23]

In early 2008, the IAF signed a deal to acquire 6 C-130J Super Hercules, modified for special mission roles, for US$1.06 billion.[24] The aircraft are based at Hindon Air Force Station in Ghaziabad and Lockheed Martin has delivered all 6 by October 2011.[25][26] On 16 September 2011, the Government of India sent a Letter of Request to the United States to price out the purchase of an additional 6 C-130J's which will be based in the eastern theatre.

On 24 July 2012, the IAF issued a Request For Information for 56 transport planes at $2.4 billion. These will be the replacement for an ageing fleet of 55 Hawker Siddeley HS 748. The first 16 planes under the deal will be directly procured from the vendor. The winning company will have to tie-up with an Indian private or a public sector firm to acquire components for manufacturing the remaining 40 planes.[27] On 28 October 2014, Airbus Defence and Space announced it would bid for the contract with its EADS CASA C-295 transport; the bid would involve a partnership with Tata Advanced Systems. Alenia Aermacchi also submitted a bid, offering their Alenia C-27J Spartan for consideration, but dropped it on 6 November.[28] [29]


The IAF was planning to acquire 181 basic trainer aircraft & had to select an aircraft from six contenders - Grob G-120TP, Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano, Korean Aerospace Industries KT-1, Hawker Beachcraft t6, Finmeccanica M-311 and Pilatus PC-7MkII after flight trials. In June 2011, IAF selected Switzerland's Pilatus Aircraft to supply 75 PC-7MkII trainer planes for $1 billion [30]


On 26 May 2009, the Indian Ministry of Defense invited bids for 22 combat helicopters and 15 heavy-lift helicopters in a deal worth US$2 billion. Companies which have expressed their interest in the tender include — Russia's Kamov and Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, Europe's AgustaWestland and Eurocopter and United States' Bell Helicopter and Boeing.[31][32] Boeing submitted its initial bid on 23 October 2009 offering the AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopter and the CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift, twin-rotor helicopters.[33] In 2011, it was reported that the American AH-64D Apache had emerged as the winner ahead of the Russian Mi-28N defense deal for 22 Attack Helicopter.[34][35] CH-47F has emerged as the "L-1 (lowest bidder)" in comparison to the Mi-26 after both the huge helicopters passed the extensive technical field trials conducted by Indian Air Force.[36]

In December 2008, India and Russia inked a deal for the supply of 80 Mi-17V-5 medium lift helicopters at a cost of US$1.2 billion. The two countries had earlier negotiated a price of $650 million, but early in 2008 Russia asked for a revision of the contract price. Russia is expected to deliver the Mi-171 to the IAF in 2010.[37][38] The deal also envisages a US$405 million "offset" obligation by Russia. The new choppers, which have an 18,000 ft operational ceiling, will replace 50 Mi-8s currently in service with the IAF, some of which are over 35 years old, and boost IAF's capability to support high-altitude posts in Siachen and Ladakh sectors. The helicopter will come with the circuitry and hard points to carry weapons. In September 2010, the IAF placed an order for 59 more MI-17V5 helicopters in addition to the 80 ordered in 2008, this is to replace its ageing fleet of the older MI-17s and MI-8s; the process would be completed by 2014.[39]

The Indian Air Force has signed a 560 million euro contract with Italy's AgustaWestland for 12 AW101 helicopters.[40] The aircraft will be delivered with self-protection equipment capable of warning off missile threats[41] and will serve as VIP transports the Indian President and Prime Minister.[42]

IAF will deploy indigenously developed HAL Light Combat Helicopter for its combat operations.

HAL Light Observation Helicopters are also expected to join the airforce and army to replace the ageing Chetak and Cheetah helicopters.

Unmanned aerial vehicles[edit]

The Indian air force has submitted a request for information to international suppliers for an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) with low radar cross-section, high service ceiling, an expected range of 500 nm (925 km) and the capability to carry precision-guided weapons in an internal weapons bay.[43]

Surface-to-air missile systems[edit]

In June 2007, India signed a $250 million to purchase SPYDER (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby) mobile air defense missiles from Israel.[44] The two countries signed an additional $4 billion deal for the joint-development of a medium range surface-to-air missiles.[45] However, the procurement of SPYDER missiles was delayed because of an ongoing investigation against Israel Aerospace Industries and RAFAEL by Indian intelligence agencies for its alleged kickbacks in the Barak-I deal with the Indian Navy.[46] In August 2008, a $2.5 billion deal was signed by India and Israel to develop an advanced version of the SPYDER.[47]

Cruise missiles[edit]

The air-launched version of BrahMos.

DRDO is developing the air-launched version of the BrahMos cruise missile in a joint venture with Russia's NPO Mashinostroeyenia. The air-launched version for the Indian Air Force is ready for testing.[48] The IAF has signed a contract with Russia to upgrade 40 Su-30MKIs to give them the capability of carrying the BrahMos cruise missile by 2012.[4][5]

DRDO has also developed the nuclear capable Nirbhay cruise missile. Which is capable of hitting target at 1000 km to 1100 km far at 2 meter accuracy.[49]

Under development[edit]


Design of Next Generation Fighter Aircraft under development

In October 2007, India and Russia signed a pact to develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft which is a derivative project from the PAK FA.[50] The Indian version will be a two-seater, air superiority fighter.[51] Another agreement was signed between India's Hindustan Aeronautics and Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) in December 2008 which detailed the joint development and production of the aircraft.[52] Work on the program will start by mid-2009 and the program is expected to be completed by 2017.[53] Indian Air Force will get 200 twin-seated and 50 single seated FGFAs. Sukhoi/HAL FGFA when fully developed is intended to replace the MiG-29 Fulcrum and Mikoyan MiG-27 in the Indian inventory.[54]

HAL has also started design work on an Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which is a twin-engined 5th generation stealth multirole fighter. It will complement the HAL Tejas, the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and the Dassault Rafale in the Indian Air Force. The main purpose of this aircraft is to replace the aging SEPECAT Jaguar & Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters.[55] IAF has a requirement of at least 250 AMCAs.

Airborne early warning[edit]


In 2004, Defence Research and Development Organisation revived the Airavat Project, which was India's first attempt in developing an indigenous AEW aircraft.[56] A $210 million deal signed with Brazil's Embraer in 2008 for the supply of three Embraer EMB-145 regional jets.[57] Embraer Defense and Security, on 16 August 2012, delivered the first EMB 145 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) class of aircraft. The delivery followed successful completion of ground and flight tests of the aircraft which met operational targets established by both Embraer and Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) of Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). Later on, the aircraft will be delivered to the Indian Air Force after integration of missions systems of DRDO by CABS in India. India has sent a request for proposal to six vendors for the supply of Active Array Antenna Unit (AAAU) and various other sub-systems. These vendors include Israel's Elta, the European consortium EADS, France's Thales, Sweden's SAAB Erikson and the United States' Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. The IAF has a requirement for 24 DRDO AEW&CS.


NAL Saras taking off

HAL entered a joint-venture with the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) of Russia to develop the UAC/HAL Il-214 Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) which is a medium-lift military transport aircraft.[58][59] Both companies will invest US$300 million each in joint venture.[60] The aircraft will be able to perform regular transport duties and also deploy paratroopers. The jet is expected to fly by 2014 and inducted by 2015/16.[61] The Indian Air Force plans to acquire 45 MTAs.[61] The aircraft will have a maximum payload of 18.5 tons, with a range of 2500 km and a speed of 870 km/h.

The IAF has also placed an order for 15 NAL Saras light transport aircraft designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL) which is still under development. The manufacturer has stated that the Indian Air Force intends to place an order for up to 45 aircraft.[62]


HAL HJT-36 Sitara

HAL has developed the HAL HJT-36 Sitara intermediate jet trainer aircraft for the IAF which carried out its maiden test flight in 2003. These aircraft are scheduled to replace the aging HJT-16 Kiran mk.I. The Indian Air Force has placed an order for 73 aircraft, of which the first 12 are in production.[63] The order by the Indian Air Force could eventually grow to 250 aircraft. Two prototype aircraft have been built. These aircraft have undergone 280 test flights. The HJT-36 is scheduled to enter service with the Indian Air Force in Dec, 2012 or January 2013.

HAL will also develop the HAL HTT-40 which will replace HAL HPT-32 Deepak as basic trainer. HAL has decided to rope in an international partner for the design and development of the much needed ab initio turbo trainer for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Navy.


HAL is developing the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) for the IAF based on the successful HAL Dhruv platform. It is being designed to fit into an anti-infantry and anti-armour role and will be capable to operate from altitudes of 6,500 metres.[64] The first prototype of the LCH has successfully completed its first flight run on 29 March 2010[65]

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of India is now developing the HAL Light Observation Helicopter (LOH) to replace the fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. The project is in preliminary stages and is in the design phase. The project is expected to be completed within next 5–6 years.[66]

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited of India is now developing the HAL Dhruv Weapon System Integrated (WSI) helicopter named HAL Rudra. It is a variant of Dhruv (ALH) MK-4 to strengthen the fleet of attack helicopters. The project is in under various trials. The project is expected to be completed by the year 2012.[66]

Unmanned aerial vehicles[edit]

The DRDO of India is developing a Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) called the Rustom(English: Warrior) for all three branches of the Indian Armed Forces.[67] The Rustom will replace/supplement the Heron UAVs in service with the Indian armed forces.

DRDO is also developing the AURA (Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft) which is an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) for the Indian Air Force. The design work on the UCAV is carried out by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADE). The AURA UCAV will be a tactical stealth aircraft built largely with composites, and capable of delivering laser-guided strike weapons. It would be a stealthy flying-wing concept aircraft with internal weapons and a turbofan engine.[68]

Surface-to-air missile systems[edit]

India and Israel have agreed to expand their missile development cooperation with a longer-range version of their extended-range Barak ship defense system for the Indian Air Force.[69]

DRDO is in talks with MBDA to develop Maitri LLQRM (Low Level Quick Reaction Missile) for all three branches of the armed forces. Sources said that DRDL is preparing feasibility report and is awaiting formal clearance from defence ministry.[70][71][72]

See also[edit]


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