India may order more Su-30MKI fighters as the squadron strength of the Indian Air Force (IAF) has dipped to 25 and negotiations with Dassault over Rafale fighter sale tether on the brink of collapse.
For the first time since negotiations with Dassault began three years ago, Indian MoD officials have been quoted by various local media that there is the real possibility of the talks collapsing. The issues over which the talks are deadlocked include cost escalation, transfer of technology and Dassault not wanting to assume responsibility for the aircraft assembled by HAL in India.
Indian defence minister Manohar Parrikar had earlier this week this told journalists that his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian had offered to send an ‘empowered’ team to take forward the negotiations. In Indian bureaucratic talk, an empowered person is someone who has been given the authority to take decisions. What this could mean is that Dassault teams negotiating with India may be frequently consulting with their top management in Paris leading to delays.
What may be egging the Indian MoD to order more Sukhoi fighters is revealed in a recently report of the Parliamentary Standing Committee (PSC) on Defence. The PSC report has for the first time pointed out that the squadron strength of the IAF has come down to 25 from the sanctioned strength of 45. The IAF and MoD had all along maintained that the current strength is 32 squadrons with each squadron comprising of around 18 aircraft.
“Moreover, 14 of these squadrons are equipped with MiG-21s and MiG-27s, which will retire between 2015 and 2024. Thus the strength will be reduced to just 11 squadrons by 2024. Our capability has already come down,” the report, tabled in the Indian Parliament last week said.
The Air Force has ordered 272 Su-30 MKI aircraft, which will be able to add 13 squadrons only by 2020 and raise the strength to 24 squadrons.
The IAF recently inducted several force multipliers such as airborne early warning systems (AWACS), mid-air re-fuellers and tactical airlift aircraft. But the dwindling fighter strength operationally means that the supremacy that India has enjoyed over its neighbours is fast eroding. “The committee noted with concern that the “laxity” is compromising national security, and asked the government to take concrete steps expeditiously and submit a status report”, the Hindu newspaper observed.