Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Future of the Indian Air Force

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The Indian Air Force has been undergoing a modernization programs to replace and upgrade its aging and outdated equipment since the late 90’s to advanced standards. For that reason it has started procuring and developing aircraft, weapons, associated technologies, and infrastructures. Some of these programs date back to the late 80’s. The primary focus of current modernization and upgrades is to replace aircraft purchased from the Soviet Union that currently form the backbone of the Air Force.



The Indian Air Force began an upgrade of its MiG-29 fleet in 2007. India awarded Russia a US$865 million contract to upgrade its air superiority MiG-29 into multi-role MiG-29UPG standard warplanes, on Monday 10 March 2008. According to the deal, Russia will re-arm the twin-engined MiG-29s with air-to-air missiles, and the upgraded MiGs will feature increased fuel capacity and will include latest avionics. The design is a new modification intended for the MiG-29s used by Indian Air Force. It made its maiden flight on 4 February 2011. The standard includes the new Zhuk-M radar, new avionics, an IFR probe as well as new enhanced RD-33 series 3 turbojet engines. The modernisation is part of a $900 million contract to upgrade the 66 fighter fleet.

Although not initially designed to carry strategic weapons, the Indian Air Force will receive 40 upgraded Su-30MKIs capable of carrying the BrahMos cruise missile possibly by 2020. In addition, there are also plans to integrate the nuclear-capable Nirbhay missile with the aircraft as well. In May 2010, India Today reported that Russia had won a large contract to upgrade 40 Su-30MKI fighters with new active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars, onboard computers, electronic warfare systems and the ability to carry the BrahMos missile. The first two prototypes with the 'Super-30' upgrade will be delivered to the Indian Air Force in 2015, after which the same upgrades will be performed on the last batch consisting of 40 production aircraft. The exact value of the contract has yet to be disclosed however.

In March 2010, India and France finalised the long delayed deal to upgrade all of India's Mirage 2000H to Mirage 2000-5 Mk 2 variant with new radar systems, a new weapon suite, missiles, electronic warfare system etc. French claim that the combat-proven aircraft will be upgraded to next-generation fighter level. The first four to six Mirages will be upgraded in France, with the rest 50 or so being upgraded in India by Hindustan Aeronautics under transfer of technology. Under the upgrade, the entire airframe will be stripped down to be re-wired and re-equipped with new avionics, mission computers, glass cockpits, helmet-mounted displays, electronic warfare suites and weapon systems to extend and enhance the operational life of the multi-role fighters by around 20 years.

The Sepecat Jaguar remains an important element of the Indian military as, along with the Mirage 2000, the Jaguar has been described as one of the few aircraft capable of performing the nuclear strike role with reasonable chances of success. As the aircraft aged, the avionics were viewed as lacking suitable components for the ground attack mission such as terrain-following radar, GPS navigation, and modern night-flight systems; consequently, several upgrades were carried out in the mid-1990s, including the addition of the Litening targeting pod. India placed an order for 17 additional upgraded Jaguar aircraft from Hindustan Aeronautics in 1999 and a further 20 in 2001–2002. The Indian Air Force plans to upgrade up to 125 Jaguars starting in 2013 by upgrading the avionics (including multi-mode radar, auto-pilot and other changes) as part of the DARIN III programme and additionally is considering fitting more powerful engines, Honeywell F125IN to improve performance, particularly at medium altitudes.


HAL initiated the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) programme in 1983 to develop a replacement aircraft for IAF's ageing MiG-21. The remaining MiG-21 Bisons of IAF are scheduled to be phased out by 2019. After development during the 80s and 90s the first flight occurred in 2001. The aircraft has since been named HAL Tejas. Finally after Initial Operation Clearance status (IOC) Tejas is officially inducted in IAF for Final Operational Clearance (FOC) on 10 January 2014. The IAF plans to order 10 squadrons of the aircraft. The IAF is reported to have a requirement for 200 single-seat and 20 two-seat conversion trainers. It has ordered 40 Tejas. In October 2015 IAF announced that it will induct 100-120 Tejas Mk-IA instead of Mk-I standard. The Mk-IA variant will feature an AESA Radar and improved specifications which will improve its performance.

On 10 April 2015, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit to Paris, it was announced that India would buy 36 Dassault Rafales in fly-away condition. The deal was finalised in November 2015. However, it got stalled for a considerable amount of time in terms of price negotiation. Finally, the deadlock has been resolved.

On 23 September 2016, Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian signed the contract for the purchase of 36 off-the-shelf Rafales in a deal worth 7.8 billion Euros. The first Rafale warplanes are slated to be delivered roughly within 18 months of the signing of the deal. The first aircraft will be delivered to the IAF by early 2019, with the full complement of aircraft to be delivered by 2022.


In early 2008, the IAF signed a deal to acquire six C-130J Super Hercules, modified for special mission roles, for US$1.06 billion. The aircraft are based at Hindon Air Force Station in Ghaziabad and Lockheed Martin has delivered all six by October 2011. On 16 September 2011, the Government of India sent a Letter of Request to the United States to price out the purchase of an additional six C-130Js which will be based in the eastern theatre.

On 15 June 2009, the IAF announced that it was interested in purchasing about 10 C-17 Globemaster III strategic military transport aircraft. The C-17 deal, worth $4.1 billion, has been signed through Pentagon's Foreign Military Sales (FMS) route under which Boeing will deliver the planes to India over the next four years. It is possible that the deal might include an option for 10 more aircraft. India took delivery of the first C-17 in February 2013. Nine of these aircraft have been delivered to IAF as of January 2015. In August 2015 IAF cleared a proposal to acquire three more C-17s but the manufacturer boeing said they only have one C-17 left for sale and the production facility for C-17 is in shut down mode.

On 24 July 2012, the IAF issued a Request For Information for 56 transport planes at $2.4 billion. These will be the replacement for an ageing fleet of 55 Hawker Siddeley HS 748. The first 16 planes under the deal will be directly procured from the vendor. The winning company will have to tie-up with an Indian private or a public sector firm to acquire components for manufacturing the remaining 40 planes. On 28 October 2014, Airbus Defence and Space announced it would bid for the contract with its EADS CASA C-295 transport; the bid would involve a partnership with Tata Advanced Systems. Alenia Aermacchi also submitted a bid, offering their Alenia C-27J Spartan, but withdrew it on 6 November. On 12 May 2015 Government cleared the lone bid of Airbus-TATA consortium.

Two Air India Boeing 777-300ER aircraft will be transferred to the Indian Air Force for VIP transport duties of the Prime Minister and the President. These aircraft will be owned and operated by the Air Force unlike the previous Boeing 747-200 VIP transport aircraft that were operated by Air India. The transfer of the aircraft will be complete by the end of 2015.


The IAF was planning to acquire 181 basic trainer aircraft & IAF selected Switzerland's Pilatus Aircraft to supply 75 PC-7MkII trainer planes for $1 billion. The Indian Ministry of Defence wanted to buy an additional 106 basic trainer aircraft from Pilatus in a separate deal. However, on 28 February 2015, it was reported that Indian Defence ministry has selected 68 HAL HTT-40 trainers and 38 Pilatus trainers to replace its current trainer aircraft fleet stating that this move was "commercially viable" under the "Make in India" programme. India also ordered 72 Pipistrel Virus SW 80 microlight aircraft for basic training purpose.

AH-64 Apache and CH-47 Chinook

On 26 May 2009, the Indian Ministry of Defense invited bids for 22 combat helicopters and 15 heavy-lift helicopters in a deal worth US$2 billion. Companies which have expressed their interest in the tender include — Russia's Kamov and Mil Moscow Helicopter Plant, Europe's AgustaWestland and Eurocopter and United States' Bell Helicopter and Boeing. Boeing submitted its initial bid on 23 October 2009 offering the AH-64D Block-III Apache Longbow attack helicopter (later, Redesignated as AH-64E) and the CH-47F Chinook heavy-lift, twin-rotor helicopters. In 2011, it was reported that the American AH-64 Apache had emerged as the winner ahead of the Russian Mi-28N defence deal for 22 Attack Helicopter. CH-47F has emerged as the "L-1 (lowest bidder)" in comparison to the Mi-26 after both the huge helicopters passed the extensive technical field trials conducted by Indian Air Force. On 28 September 2015, a contract was formally signed; the first helicopter (both AH-64E & CH-47F) is expected to be delivered to India in the next three to four years.

HAL Light Combat Helicopter

The IAF will deploy indigenously developed HAL Light Combat Helicopters for its combat operations, complementing AH-64D Apache, after the Operational certificate is granted. Indian Air Force place an order for 65 LCHs

HAL Rudra

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is now developing the HAL Dhruv Weapon System Integrated (WSI) helicopter named HAL Rudra. It is a variant of Dhruv (ALH) MK-4 to strengthen the fleet of attack helicopters. Indian Air Force place an order for 38 Rudra helicopters.


In December 2008, India and Russia inked a deal for the supply of 80 Mi-17V-5 medium lift helicopters at a cost of US$1.2 billion. The two countries had earlier negotiated a price of $650 million, but early in 2008 Russia asked for a revision of the contract price. Russia is expected to deliver the Mi-17 to the IAF in 2010. The deal also envisages a US$405 million "offset" obligation by Russia. The new choppers, which have an 18,000 ft operational ceiling, will replace 50 Mi-8s currently in service with the IAF, some of which are over 35 years old, and boost IAF's capability to support high-altitude posts in Siachen and Ladakh sectors. The helicopter will come with the circuitry and hard points to carry weapons. In September 2010, the IAF placed an order for 59 more Mi-17V5 helicopters in addition to the 80 ordered in 2008, this is to replace its ageing fleet of the older MI-17s and MI-8s; the process would be completed by 2014.

HAL Dhruv

IAF operates indigenously developed Advance Light Helicopter HAL Dhruv for various purposes including Transportation of troops and logistics, to limited search and rescue operations. 46 have been delivered to IAF, with 65(+) on Order with HAL.


The Indian Air Force had signed a €560 million contract with Italy's AgustaWestland for 12 AW101 helicopters. The aircraft was supposed to be delivered with self-protection equipment capable of warning off missile threats and would serve as VIP transports for the Indian president and prime minister. However, the procurement was put on hold and subsequently cancelled due to the 2013 Indian helicopter bribery scandal, in which Finmeccanica, AgustaWestland's parent company, had allegedly used bribes to win the contract. The three helicopters delivered as part of the contract may be returned to the manufacturer as part of the arbitration process.

HAL Light Utility Helicopter

HAL Light Utility Helicopter is under development and are expected to join the air force and army to replace the ageing Chetak and Cheetah helicopters.

Kamov Ka-226T

In December 2014, Kamov Ka-226T was selected as a Light Utility Helicopter and an initial replacement for Chetak & Cheetah, while the LUH is under development. Kamov would set up a production plant in India and around 197 would be procured under the "Make in India" programme. The agreement on manufacture of Kamov 226 helicopter in India is the first project for a major defence platform under the Make In India mission.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

The Indian Air Force has submitted a request for information to international suppliers for an unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) with low radar cross-section, high service ceiling, an expected range of 500 nm (925 km) and the capability to carry precision-guided weapons in an internal weapons bay. DRDO Rustom and DRDO AURA are the two UCAVs under development.

Surface-to-air missile systems

In June 2007, India signed a $250 million to purchase SPYDER (Surface-to-air PYthon and DERby) mobile air defence missiles from Israel. The two countries signed an additional $4 billion deal for the joint development of a medium-range surface-to-air missiles. However, the procurement of SPYDER missiles was delayed because of an ongoing investigation against Israel Aerospace Industries and RAFAEL by Indian intelligence agencies for its alleged kickbacks in the Barak-I deal with the Indian Navy. In August 2008, a $2.5 billion deal was signed by India and Israel to develop an advanced version of the SPYDER.

Cruise missiles

DRDO is developing the air-launched version of the BrahMos cruise missile in a joint venture with Russia's NPO Mashinostroeyenia. The air-launched version for the Indian Air Force is ready for testing. The IAF has signed a contract with Russia to upgrade 40 Su-30MKIs to give them the capability of carrying the BrahMos cruise missile by 2012.

DRDO has also developed the nuclear capable Nirbhay cruise missile, which is capable of hitting target at 1000 km to 1100 km far at 2 m accuracy.


In October 2007, India and Russia signed a pact to develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft which is a derivative project from the PAK FA. The Indian version will be a two-seater, air superiority fighter. Another agreement was signed between India's Hindustan Aeronautics and Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) in December 2008 which detailed the joint development and production of the aircraft. Work on the program will start by mid-2009 and the program is expected to be completed by 2017. Indian Air Force will get 200 twin-seated and 50 single seated FGFAs. Sukhoi/HAL FGFA when fully developed is intended to replace the MiG-29 Fulcrum and Mikoyan MiG-27 in the Indian inventory.


HAL has also started design work on an Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), which is a twin-engined 5th generation stealth multirole fighter. It will complement the HAL Tejas, the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA, the Sukhoi Su-30MKI and the Dassault Rafale in the Indian Air Force. The main purpose of this aircraft is to replace the aging SEPECAT Jaguar & Dassault Mirage 2000 fighters.

Single-engined fighter

On 3 January 2017, Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar addressed a media conference and announced plans for a competition to select a Strategic Partner to deliver "... 200 new single engine fighters to be made in India, which will easily cost around (USD)$45 million apiece without weaponry" with an expectation that Lockheed Martin (USA) and Saab (Sweden) will pitch the F-16 Block 70 and Gripen, respectively. An MoD official said that a global tender will be put to market in the first quarter of 2018, with a private company nominated as the strategic partners production agency followed by a two or more year process to evaluate technical and financial bids and conduct trials, before the final government-to-government deal in 2021. This represents 11 squadrons of aircraft plus several 'attrition' aircraft.

Airborne early warning

In 2004, Defence Research and Development Organisation revived the Airavat Project, which was India's first attempt in developing an indigenous AEW aircraft. A $210 million deal signed with Brazil's Embraer in 2008 for the supply of three Embraer EMB-145 regional jets. Embraer Defense and Security, on 16 August 2012, delivered the first EMB 145 Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C) class of aircraft. The delivery followed successful completion of ground and flight tests of the aircraft which met operational targets established by both Embraer and Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) of Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO). Later on, the aircraft will be delivered to the Indian Air Force after integration of missions systems of DRDO by CABS in India. India has sent a request for proposal to six vendors for the supply of Active Array Antenna Unit (AAAU) and various other sub-systems. These vendors include Israel's Elta, the European consortium EADS, France's Thales, Sweden's SAAB Erikson and the United States' Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.


HAL entered a joint-venture with the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) of Russia to develop the UAC/HAL Il-214 Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA) which is a medium-lift military transport aircraft. Both companies will invest US$300 million each in joint venture. The aircraft will be able to perform regular transport duties and also deploy paratroopers. The jet is expected to fly by 2014 and inducted by 2015/16. The Indian Air Force plans to acquire 45 MTAs. The aircraft will have a maximum payload of 18.5 tons, with a range of 2500 km and a speed of 870 km/h. In January 2016, it was announced that the India's HAL would no longer be involved in the project and that Russia would proceed with the project alone without Indian participation.

The IAF had also placed an order for 15 NAL Saras light transport aircraft designed by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL). The manufacturer has stated that the Indian Air Force intended to place an order for up to 45 aircraft. National Aeronautics Limited (NAL) has stopped all work on NAL Saras as the funding for the project stopped by end of 2013 due to cost overruns and inability to reduce weight of the aircraft.


HAL has developed the HAL HJT-36 Sitara intermediate jet trainer aircraft for the IAF which carried out its maiden test flight in 2003. These aircraft are scheduled to replace the aging HJT-16 Kiran mk.I. The Indian Air Force has placed an order for 73 aircraft, of which the first 12 are in production. The order by the Indian Air Force could eventually grow to 250 aircraft. Two prototype aircraft have been built. These aircraft have undergone 280 test flights.


Indian defense ministry has selected 68 HAL HTT-40 trainers and 38 Pilatus trainers to replace its current trainer aircraft fleet stating that this move was "commercially viable".

HAL Light Combat Helicopter

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is now developing the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) for the IAF based on the successful HAL Dhruv platform. It is being designed to fit into an anti-infantry and anti-armour role and will be capable to operate from altitudes of 6,500 metres. The first prototype of the LCH has successfully completed its first flight run on 29 March 2010

It is the smallest and lightest in its class of contemporary supersonic combat aircraft. The Tejas is the second supersonic fighter developed by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) after the HAL HF-24 Marut. As of 2016 the Tejas MK1 was in production for the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the naval version was undergoing flight tests for Indian Navy (IN). The projected requirement for IAF is 200 single-seat fighters and 20 twin-seat trainers, while the IN expects to operate 40 single-seat fighters. The first Tejas IAF unit, No. 45 Squadron IAF Flying Daggers was formed on 1 July 2016 with two aircraft. Initially being stationed at Bangalore, the first squadron will be placed at its home base at Sulur, Tamil Nadu.

HAL Light Utility Helicopter

The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited is now developing the HAL Light Utility Helicopter (LUH) to replace the fleet of Cheetah and Chetak helicopters. The project is in hardware realization design phase. The flight trials have begun in September,2016.

The helicopter is designed to carry out various utility roles such as reconnaissance, transport, cargo load and rescue operations. The helicopter can operate from sea level to high altitudes of Himalayas.

Unmanned aerial vehicles

The DRDO of India is developing a Medium Altitude Long Endurance Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) called the Rustom(English: Warrior) for all three branches of the Indian Armed Forces. The Rustom will replace/supplement the Heron UAVs in service with the Indian armed forces.

DRDO is also developing the AURA (Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft) which is an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) for the Indian Air Force. The design work on the UCAV is carried out by Aeronautical Development Agency (ADE). The AURA UCAV will be a tactical stealth aircraft built largely with composites, and capable of delivering laser-guided strike weapons. It would be a stealthy flying-wing concept aircraft with internal weapons and a turbofan engine.

Surface-to-air missile systems

India and Israel have agreed to expand their missile development cooperation with a longer-range version of their extended-range Barak 8 air defense system for the Indian Air Force.

DRDO is in talks with MBDA to develop Maitri LLQRM (Low Level Quick Reaction Missile) for all three branches of the armed forces. Sources said that DRDL is preparing feasibility report and is awaiting formal clearance from defence ministry.


Future of the Indian Air Force Wikipedia