Three squadrons of the aging MiG 21 and MiG 27 fighter jets are set to be phased out this year even as Indian Air Force focuses on cannibalization to keep the serviceability rate of its aircraft high.
Top defence sources said that while three squadrons, 18 aircraft each, will be pulled out due to the end of their life cycle, an additional squadron of the Su-30 fighter aircraft is expected.
The planes – MiG 21s and MiG 27s — were bought from Russia in the 60s and 70s.
Senior Air Force officials are hopeful that the government will quickly wrap up the ongoing negotiations for 36 Rafale jets with France even as they await the Mark 2 version of indigenous Light Combat Aircraft Tejas.
“As we phase out a particular squadron, we need to bring in at least another squadron to keep the current strength. To reach the sanctioned strength, we need to induct more,” the sources said.
Air Force currently operates 35 squadrons even though the sanctioned strength is 42. The sanctioned strength for a possible two way fight – Pakistan and China combined – is 45.
While no one was willing to come on record about whether the force is content with the 36 Rafales instead of the earlier 126, a senior official said “At least in this government we are getting 36. The UPA was there for 10 years and nothing was decided”.
The Air Force is hopeful that the government might go in for more Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft than the 36 Rafales that have been decided.
Talking about serviceability (aircraft available for operation), the sources said the force was depending on ‘Christmas tree’ to keep it high.
Christmas tree is a term used by the Air Force in which parts of one aircraft are used as spare parts to keep the other running, a practice also known as cannibalization.
“But even the parts of each aircraft have their own life cycle and service requirements. It is not as simple as one would imagine,” the sources said.