Forces: The Incredible Shrinking Indian Air Force


May 27, 2007: The Indian Air Force is authorized 45 fighter squadrons, each with about twenty aircraft. But because so many of its MiG (21, 23 and 27) fighters are wearing out so quickly, India will only have about 28 squadrons by the end of the year. Only about ten of those squadrons are modern aircraft (Mig-29, Su-30 and Mirage 2000), the rest are the older MiGs that are still flyable. India is refurbishing its MiG-29s, and shopping for 126 modern fighters from whoever will give them the best deal for about $7 billion. Meanwhile, there is no immediate threat. Pakistan is the only real enemy in the region, and their smaller fighter fleet is also aging.

One unfortunate side effect of the rapid retirement of so many aircraft, is that there are now no flying jobs for nearly a thousand Indian fighter pilots. Most are now sitting at desks, and many would like to leave the service and make a lot more money flying civilian transports. Like all air forces, the Indian pilots joined up so they could fly. But the older Russian aircraft were designed for doctrine developed in the defunct Soviet Union. Back then, the Soviets sought to save money by not flying their warplanes nearly as much as Western air forces. The Soviets did not depend on skilled pilots, but lots of aircraft. That strategy has since been discarded, and everyone is trying to improve the training of their pilots.


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