Those Indian Air Force Blues

Indian Air Force MiG-21s in action. The MiG-21 has been in service since 1959, and the last one was produced in 1985. (AP photo)

Indian Air Force MiG-21s in action. The MiG-21 has been in service since 1959, and the last one was produced in 1985.
(AP photo)

Whenever you think of how broken our military procurement system is, comfort yourself with the knowledge that somebody else has it worse:


With Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi set to visit Russia on July 7, speculation is swirling about the potential for a final agreement between the two countries regarding a jointly developed and produced Fifth-Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA). Since March, reports have circulated that India – faced with combat aircraft capacity pressures – is willing to exhibit greater negotiating flexibility with the Russians in order to move the program forward.

In addition to the non-stealth Dassault Rafale as its preference for a medium swing-role fighter, India has long viewed the FGFA as critical to meeting its air force’s advanced jet fighter requirements.

As centerpieces of India’s future strategic airpower component, both platforms are considered crucial in terms of providing more modern fighter options while also helping fill the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) goal of fielding 42-44 fighter squadrons by around 2027.

Officially the IAF currently fields 34 squadrons, but parliamentary reports indicate just 25 are operationally available. Even worse for the IAF, 14 of the supposed 34 squadrons are composed of aging MiG-21 and MiG-27s, due to be phased out of service by 2025 and 2020, respectively.

The new FGFA fighters are meant to help fill this emerging gap.

It’s not going very far out on a limb to say that it seems unlikely India will come close to its goal of fielding 42 fighter squadrons. And they certainly won’t get there by partnering with the Russians on a fifth-gen jet which the Russians have been forced to tacitly admit sucks. The Rafale won’t be produced in enough numbers to serve all of India’s needs, and the Indian Air Force is crazy (or at least desperate) if they think they’ll keep a significant number of MiG-21s flying for ten more years. The locally designed and built HAL Tejas is supposed to fill the gap left by the aging (and crashing) MiG-21 fleet, but it hardly seems a match for China’s growing fleet of Russian-built Su-30s and Chinese-built Su-30 knockoffs.


The MiG-27 is, charitably put, a pig.

India ought to be a prime candidate for F-35A exports, but their military’s close contacts with the Russians make that sale… problematical.

So it looks like the Russians and the Indians are stuck with one another, for all the good that will do either one of them.


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