The Indian Air Force is discussing a comprehensive plan to make its 29 operational squadrons more precision strike-capable.
If the plan is implemented fully, senior Air Force planners said, the service could multiply its strike capability by as much as five times in five to eight years without increasing the size of its combat fleet.
Each squadron includes 18 aircraft. The front-line fleet comprises Mirage 2000-H, MiG-29, Su-30 MKI and Jaguar aircraft, but the majority of squadrons still are equipped with second- and third-generation armaments.
Three years of hard labor have gone into the plan, which incorporates input from sources inside and outside the Air Force, the planners said. A final version was drafted late last month.
The plan is less a procurement road map for the service than a guideline for wisely spending annually allocated funds to enhance strike capability in phases, one senior Air Force official said.
The $250 million the Air Force intends to spend each year to accomplish its goals would be drawn from the service’s annual budget, the official said, so it will not be necessary to seek approval for new funds from the Defence Ministry.
Defense analyst Bhim Singh, a retired Air Force wing commander, said the service’s munitions are made up predominantly of dumb bombs, and the service urgently needs to acquire precision guided missiles, beyond-visual-range missiles and integral aircraft airborne radars.
“Future wars will not be fought like the earlier ones,” Singh said. “Electronic warfare, laser-guided bombs, smart ammunition are replacing conventional weapons, and so it is necessary for ordnance factories to exploit the latest technologies available in the world.”
The plan includes the induction of Popeye standoff weapons, probably for the Air Force’s Mirage, MiG-29 and Sukhoi squadrons.
Within the next 10 years, the service plans also to equip a majority of its 29 combat squadrons with all-weather capabilities, navigational attack systems and sensors in order to build an effective air operations network, according to the service’s plan. Most of the front-line combat fleet also will get self-protection suites, air-launched decoys and electronic warfare suites.
Air Force planners said the service also will provide for inducting sensors into most front-line combat aircraft between 2008-2012.
Sensors are the need of the hour for the Indian Air Force, which has lagged in acquiring new sensor technologies because of the slow pace of their development at Indian defense laboratories, the senior Air Force official said.
One of the plan’s greater thrusts would be to equip the front-line combat fleet with smart sensor systems such as intelligence suites, reconnaissance suites, electro-optical payloads, forward-looking infrared systems and directional infrared suites.
To make the fleet’s future air strike capability far superior to today’s, the Air Force official said the service also has proposed to the Defence Ministry equipping at least 10 squadrons with Shord short-range air defense missiles. The proposal is awaiting the ministry’s approval.
The Air Force also will modernize its fleet of Searcher, Mark-2 and Heron unmanned aerial vehicles with tactical precision guided munitions, such as Global Positioning System-guided systems, laser warning systems and infrared-TV systems for carrying out precise operations in mountainous regions, including the Kashmir valley bordering Pakistan.
A Defence Ministry official, however, revealed that plans already are under way to get smart munitions for the Air Force. He said negotiations are in progress with Israel to acquire fifth-generation missiles, including the Delilah-2 air-launched standoff missile.
The Air Force intends to mount missiles such as the Delilah-2 on both Mi-17 and Mi-24 helicopters for low-intensity air operations in areas such as the Kashmir valley.
The 400-pound Delilah-2 precision strike missile, with a range of 230 miles, is accurate within around 300 feet and loiters.