It has been 82 years since the formation of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the guardians of the sky have been a source of pride for the entire nation. Today, October 8th, is the day when the original ‘men in blue’ celebrate their Air Force Day.
“On Air Force Day, I salute our air force personnel. They are our pride and their bravery, commitment and dedication continues to inspire,” PM Modi said in an official statement today.
The Indian Air Force has come a long way post independence. From relying primarily on imports from countries like USSR (now Russia), Britain, France, Israel and United States, they are now looking to imbibe more indigenous products. The Air Force is in the process of replacing its controversial fleet of MiGs with Light Combat Aircraft, HAL-Tejas, a multi-role light fighter being developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
However, many a challenge still persists for the 175,000 person strong establishment.
Stagnant defence deals and negligence of the Ministry of Defense has forced the IAF to use equipment which is decades old. The IAF has reportedly lost nearly 116 aircraft to crashes outside of combat out of which 81 crashes occurred in the past two decades.
This year alone a Mig 21 crashed in May in Jammu, A Jaguar fighter crashed near Rajasthan in January, an advanced 307 IAF chopper went down in UP and another chopper crash killed three officers this very month.
The notorious record of the IAF’s MiG-21s has lead to it being referred as a “flying coffin” and a ”widow maker”. The Soviet-era fleet still remains functional despite its obsolete condition.
The Public Accounts Committee of Parliament had called for discontinuation of the aircraft in March, 2002 following the aftermath of the horrific MiG 21 crash in 2002. The government, however, is still in the process of phasing them out.
The IAF also faces the challenges of upgrading their base stations and training their personnel accordingly.
Defence deals over the years have been marred with charges of corruption, inaction and negligence. Many lament, that due to this the IAF has fallen prey to stagnant work ethics.
The Air Force also ends up being tested by political and economic constrains. In the 2013 Indian Helicopter Bribery case the Government of India canceled a Rs 3,000 crore deal following charges of bribery against many officials. Allegations surfaced stating that a whopping sum of Rs 360 crore was paid as bribe, which would constitute more than 10% of the whole deal.
The Government in a bid to upgrade initiated an aggressive defence program called Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) competition with the aim to procure 126 multi-role combat aircraft. The $ 20 billion deal went to the French Rafle fighter jet in 2012 as it was declared the lowest bidder.
The deal however has still not been inked on account of escalation in costs. The Cost Negotiation Committee has proceeded with the deal at a snail’s pace even after the Air Chief Marshal, Arup Raha, stressed on the dire need to move quickly.
Equipment shortage is another bane. The IAF is supposed to allot a ratio of 20 planes for 42 squadrons but the real figure falls short of the required mark, thus resulting in a declining fleet.
Even though India’s defence budget today has increased to Rs 2.29 trillion, utilizing the funds in an appropriate and swift manner is the need of the hour.