The Indian Air Force (IAF) has drawn up a massive plan to upgrade hundreds of its combat jets and transport aircraft to extend their life as it scouts the world market for 126 new fighters.
Air Marshal Ajit Bhavnani, vice chief of the IAF, said here Monday that his force planned to refurbish its inventory of surface-to-air missiles and fighter jets like the Jaguars, MiG-29s and Mirage 2000s to keep them flying for longer.
At the same time, its fleet of Russian-made Mi-17 transport helicopters and An-32 medium transport aircraft would also be upgraded with better avionics and sensors.
The IAF is mulling a proposal to refurbish An-32 transport planes and all its helicopters to make them capable of midair refuelling.
"The IAF is also keeping open the option of upgrading more squadrons of its MiG-21 fighters. An earlier contract to upgrade 125 of these jets is complete," Bhavnani told a select group of journalists at a briefing at Air Headquarters.
The issue of upgrading more MiG-21s would depend on whether this was a cost effective option, he said.
India signed a contract worth Rs.12 billion with Russia in March 1996 to refurbish 125 MiG-21s using a mix of modern Russian and Israeli avionics and weapon systems. The contract included an option to upgrade 50 more jets.
Bhavnani, however, said the move to upgrade more jets would be carried out alongside its programme to buy 126 new jets.
Five jets are currently being considered for purchase - the Lockheed Martin F-16 from the US, France's Mirage 2000, the MiG-29 from Russia and the Swedish Gripen jet.
"We are planning upgrades of practically every aircraft. We will also upgrade our surface-to-air missiles which are about 30 years old," Bhavnani said. "We are doing this so that we don't have to start looking for more new aircraft."
As the IAF acquired more potent combat jets like the Su-30, it could consider a proposal to "trim down" its manpower to become a "leaner and meaner" force. However, no guidelines had been framed as yet for the cuts in force levels that could be made, Bhavnani said.