IAF to Centre: We want those fighter planes, now

Deeply aware of a rapidly depleting fleet that will pull down the IAF's strength to a shocking 28 fighter squadrons by 2012, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi for the first time spoke out today on the critical threats to the country's fighter strength.

In an exclusive interview to The Indian Express, Tyagi said that since it would take 15 years for the 126 new fighters under consideration to be fully inducted and operational, Air Headquarters has told the government that it needs an immediate stopgap acquisition of fighters to tide over the crisis.

''The 126 new fighters will take 15 years. We cannot afford to wait that long. Numbers are falling. We absolutely have to increase the number of aircraft. Our only option is to get something in a hurry. We are looking to order more aircraft of the types we already operate and have told the government,'' Tyagi said.

The IAF has a sanctioned squadron strength of 39.5 squadrons but currently operates just 32. If that number hits the 28 figure, it would be the force's lowest ever below sanctioned strength.

Tyagi has his reasons for urgent acquisition. He indicated that Pakistan would soon have new American F-16s and from next year, would begin inducting Chinese-made JF-17 aircraft in large numbers. If things don't go the IAF's way, he said, Pakistan will have greater fighter density for a country its size compared to India.

The IAF's proposal is to scan the international defence market for new or good condition second-hand fighters, including Mirage-2000s a proposal to buy some from Qatar fell through recently and MiG-29s. Tyagi said it was imperative that a few squadrons were quickly acquired to save the force from hitting unacceptably low numbers.

It has also emerged now that the request for proposal (RFP) for 126 new fighters is still not complete, and is undergoing scrutiny at the Law Ministry. The request, incidentally, includes an IAF ''formula'' through which it will not be as simple as picking the cheapest eligible contender, but place greater emphasis on long-term ownership costs.

... contd.

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