Two years ago on February 26, the Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted an airstrike in Balakot, Pakistan in response to the death of over 40 CRPF personnel on February 14, 2019, in a suicide terror attack conducted by Pakistan-based terror organisation Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM).
Since then, a lot has changed for the IAF. The force has undertaken several reformative measures to bolster its operational capabilities. Since February 2019, India has acquired several fighter jets, assault weapons and missile systems.
Induction of Rafale fighter jets
The induction of Rafale aircraft was expedited post the Balakot strike. India received the first batch of five Rafale aircraft on July 29, 2020, which were, subsequently, inducted into the 17 'Golden Arrows' Squadron on September 10 at the Ambala Air Base. The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft has given a boost to IAF’s air dominance.
The second batch of three Rafale combat aircraft arrived in India on November 4, 2020. Three more combat aircraft landed in India on January 27, taking the fleet size to 11.
Manufactured by the French company Dassault Aviation, the Rafale is a 4.5 generation combat aircraft and has the latest weapons, superior sensors and fully integrated architecture. It is an omni-role aircraft, meaning it can carry out at least four missions in one sortie.
The fighter jet also has HAMMER missiles. It is armed with beyond visual range missiles like Meteor, SCALP and MICA, increasing its ability to take on incoming targets from a distance.
The IAF also received a second airborne warning plane in 2019. Netra, an Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEWC) aircraft, had played a crucial role during the Balakot airstrikes. It had provided surveillance and radar coverage to the five Mirage jets that bombed the JeM facility in Balakot in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province in Pakistan.
Designed and developed by the DRDO, Netra is fitted with indigenously developed electronics and hardware. It is useful for surveillance, tracking, identification and classification of airborne and sea surface targets and is useful in detecting incoming ballistic missile threats.
Tejas Mark-1A, anti-airfield weapons and more
Over the course of two years, India placed several procurement orders to boost IAF’s capabilities and strengthen its squadrons. In January this year, the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved the largest indigenous defiance procurement deal to strengthen the IAF fleet of home-grown Light Combat Aircraft (LCA).
The cabinet approved the purchase of 83 Tejas Mark-1A variants, including 10 trainers for the IAF for Rs 48,000 crore from HAL. The 83 jets will help fill the gaps in the IAF as its fleet is down to 30 squadrons, way below the sanctioned strength of 42. Each squadron comprises 18 fighter jets.
The order is in addition to the 40 LCA Mark-1 order the IAF placed in 2016 with HAL to deliver for setting up two squadrons of the fighters. Of the 40 LCA Mark-1, the company has delivered 23 and ramped up its production to deliver the remaining 17 fighters, including eight trainer versions by 2023-24, with six this year and the remaining 11 by 2024.
Of the 83 Tejas Mark-1A, HAL is all set to manufacture 73 Mark 1-A, the new variant of the Tejas which will be more potent and effective than the previous Mark-1. Ten others will be Mark-1 trainers.
Light Combat Aircraft Mk-1A variant is an indigenously designed, developed and manufactured state-of-the-art modern 4+ generation fighter aircraft.
A proposal to purchase static HF tans-receiver sets and smart anti-airfield weapons for the Indian Air Force was also approved in 2020. The HF radio sets will enable seamless communication for the field units of the Army and the Air Force, while the smart anti-airfield weapons will add to the firepower of the Air Force.
In addition to combat aircraft and weapons, the government has also upped the number of trainer planes. In August 2020, the Defence Acquisition Council (DAC), chaired by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh, approved the purchase of 106 HTT-40 trainers for the IAF for Rs 7,600 crore.
In a push for the Make-in-India initiative, the IAF has opted for the indigenous basic trainer. The HTT-40 aircraft has undergone elaborate tests to demonstrate its safety for rookie pilots.
Successful missile testsSince 2019, India has successfully tested several missile systems for the Indian Air Force. The most notable ones include Dhruvastra and Rudram 1.
Dhruvastra was tested from the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) platform in the desert ranges.
Designed and developed by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), the missile system has all-weather day and night capability and can defeat battle tanks with conventional armour as well as with explosive reactive armour.
Meanwhile, the Anti-Radiation Missile (Rudram-1) can hit any radio frequency emitting target. The successful test firing of Rudram-1 was seen as a major milestone as it is India's first indigenously developed anti-radiation weapon.
The missile is integrated on the Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft as the launch platform, having the capability of varying ranges based on launch conditions. It has INS-GPS navigation with Passive Homing Head for the final attack. It hit the radiation target with pin-point accuracy.
The Passive Homing Head can detect, classify and engage targets over a wide band of frequencies as programmed. The missile is a potent weapon for the IAF for suppression of enemy air defence effectively from large stand-off ranges.
Integration of Brahmos missile with Su-30MKI
Post the Balakot strike, IAF fast-tracked the integration of the Brahmos missile with Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets. In May 2019, the Indian Air Force for the first time successfully test-fired the aerial version of the BrahMos missile from a Su-30 MKI fighter aircraft.
The BrahMos missile provides the IAF with a much-desired capability to strike from large stand-off ranges on any target at sea or land with pinpoint accuracy by day or night and in all weather conditions.
Chief of Defence Staff
In a landmark decision, the government created the post of Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in the rank of a four-star General in 2019. The CDS is the single-point military adviser to the government.Prime Minister Narendra Modi had on August 15 announced that India will have a CDS heading the tri-services. General Bipin Rawat was appointed as India's first Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) in December 2019.