India is looking to induct more frontline fighter jets to bolster the capabilities of its air force, which is currently short of its sanctioned strength, the Indian Air Force (IAF) chief said here Wednesday.
"It is very tough for the IAF to maintain even the (sanctioned strength) of 39.5 squadrons. The acquisition of new aircraft is a slow-paced process," Air Chief Marshal S. Krishnaswamy told a news conference ahead of Air Force Day, which is observed Oct 8.
Sources said the IAF was currently about five squadrons short of its sanctioned strength as ageing MiG-21 and MiG-23 fighters of Russian origin had been retired over the past few years. Following a review conducted some years ago, the IAF had recommended that its strength should be increased to 45 squadrons.
Replying to a query about an IAF proposal to induct some 120 frontline fighters, Krishnaswamy said the technical parameters and requirements for such a move had been finalised by his force.
This proposal would soon be examined by a joint group comprising officials of the IAF, Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) and the defence ministry.
Though Krishnaswamy did not identify the jets that the IAF was considering, recent reports have suggested the force has short-listed the Mirage 2000-V of France, Sweden's Gripen and the Eurofighter.
The IAF chief said the proposed acquisition of more jets was in addition to 140 Su-30 jets that would be built by India under licence from Russia, 20 Jaguars being built under licence by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) and 10 Mirage 2000s ordered from France.
"The production of the Su-30s by HAL has already started and the first aircraft is expected to be delivered by next year," said Krishnaswamy.
"The replacements (for the IAF's older aircraft like the MiG-21s) are coming in but some decisions have to be taken. The development of the (indigenous) Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is going a bit slow," he said.
The LCA programme has run into problems, initially because of US sanctions imposed on India after its 1998 nuclear tests and later due to snags in the development of an indigenous jet engine called Kaveri by the DRDO.
"We have called for a quality review and asked for accelerating the flight testing of the Kaveri," said Krishnaswamy.
"We hope the first squadron of the LCA will be inducted by 2007."
Krishnaswamy also noted that his force had ordered three Phalcon airborne warning and control aircraft from Israel and 66 Hawk jet trainers from Britain. Twelve IAF pilots are currently being trained in Britain to fly the Hawk jets.
The IAF is also working to create an integrated air command and control system that would integrate all radars and computer networks of the force, and an aerospace command that would link the force with the country's space-based assets like satellites, he said.