How IAF’s future fighter fleet will revolve around Indigenous technology

Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa while speaking to media at the backdrop of events in celebration of 20 years of Kargil war hinted that MMRCA 2.0 Tender for 114 units of Made in India fighter jets of foreign origin could be last such instance of India relying on fighter aircraft not designed in India for its requirements. Dhanoa also stressed that Dassault Rafale + S-400 combo will be Gamer changer for the air force and will be instrumental in safeguarding national interest for decades to come.

With the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) MMRCA program getting serially delayed and recast more than once, there was a feeling in various quarters that the Tejas Mk2 design should perhaps evolve further than what was initially envisaged to provide an indigenous option for the IAF’s requirements. Thus, the IAF and the Aeronautical Development Agency (ADA) sat down to redefine the Tejas Mk2 with more elaborate modifications such that it could function as a medium weight fighter for ground attack roles while continuing to be nimble in the air to air (A2A) role. In fact, the version of the Tejas Mk2 currently envisaged has been rebadged as the Medium Weight Fighter or (MWF) and is being designed as a replacement for the Mirage 2000 with a view to surpassing its capabilities in almost every respect

India has struggled to get its hands on a fifth-generation fighter aircraft, such as the F-35, but has not succeeded so far. The Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project, which was to follow the Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), has remained on the drawing board for years, awaiting approval for design and development, and is not expected to make its first flight until at least 2032; India’s bid to join the Russian fifth-gen fighter project (PAK-FA) at a late stage fell through last year after years of negotiations; and the US will not sell India the F-35.

India’s next door adversaries like China already has two 5th Generation Stealth fighter jet program which is close to entering scale production soon and China is reportedly also developing third 5th generation fighter jet which will have vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) capabilities for carrier operations,China will not be far behind in the development of a 6th generation fighter program and is likely will field one by 2030.

For India which has started working on the development of 4.5 Generation Tejas MK1A and MCW (MK2) fighter jet just now will operationalize them in the same period when the world might have already moved on to 6th Generation fighter program and India’s own 5th Generation AMCA fighter program which is yet to kick-start officially is scheduled to go into production around same time when many countries around the world could have started producing 6th generation aircrafts which make India look like grossly late to the Big Boys Club when the advanced countries have already moved on to the next generation .

For modern air force, achieving air superiority remains the primary mission. Air superiority can be understood as that degree of air dominance which allows air, land, and sea forces to operate free from interference by an opponent’s air forces, while at the same time denying the opponent such dominance. To achieve air superiority, it is not enough to simply defeat an opponent’s air forces, but it is also necessary to sufficiently degrade, disrupt, or deny air defenses and air bases. With air superiority assured, ground forces can then move into areas without fear of attacks from the skies; aircraft can observe and strike the opponent without obstruction; navies can position themselves freely and support ground operations;

Indian military planners should take notice of changes which are happening in the combat arena and how the world is already shifting focus and also making efforts to move on to the 6th Generation fighter program. AMCA not only have to fast-tracked even Ghaatak UCAV Program too should be moved in Fastlane so that when the world moves to the 6th Generation fighter, India must necessarily have at least working 5th generation fighter in hand so that it can have enough expertise to start working on the 6th Generation program simultaneously so that India is not left behind too far .

Replacement of Sukhoi-30 by 2050 and Failure of FGFA joint venture with Russia has provided Indian designers and aerospace ecosystem in the country to come up with an alternative which can take on and replace Heavy Class fighter like Su-30 and yet be India’s frontline fighter in terms of technology. Indian military planners should start work on Advance Heavy Combat Aircraft (AHCA) concept which could be India’s 6th Generation fighter program which should materialize by 2040.

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