With precision weapons and persistent surveillance, air power is more important than ever to influence the control of land and sea. So what is happening in India in regard to their air force?
The IAF presently operates around 37 combat squadrons, expected to fall to 32 to 35 (estimates vary) by the end of the year. Its 'sanctioned strength' was supposed to be 42 combat squadrons by 2022. On present trends, this looks to me to be entirely unattainable. MiG-21s are retiring quicker than other aircraft are coming in. Even if the 90-aircraft 'Rafale gap' is filled, I struggle to see how India gets above the mid-30s in squadron numbers by 2020. And after that point, India will start losing its dedicated ground attack aircraft (5 MiG-27 and 7 Jaguar squadrons). The IAF has shown little interest in procuring dedicated replacements for the strike role, suggesting that multi-role aircraft like the Su-30MKI and Rafale will have to take up the slack – underscoring the problem of numbers.
In his 2011 report on the MMRCA deal, Dogfight, American analyst Ashley Tellis suggested that, 'in terms of raw numbers alone, the IAF must plan on confronting by 2020 as many as 1,500 fourth-generation Pakistani and Chinese fighters'. Even if we generously assume that India can stay at 37 squadrons around that date, that would still be around half of that number of aircraft.
I've already written about the importance of air power to India and that India's fighter decision was the most important defense decision of this decade. But India is effing it up massively.
That kind of record can't be anything but the result of high-level decisions can it?
We can at least say that the string of errors and foot-shooting incidents was made possible by decisions to roll out the welcome mat for the Fuck-Up Fairy and reward corruption that led to so many errors and missing toes in the Indian design and procurement process.
Which is essentially a decision to concede the region to China and their ally Pakistan. China may be able to claim the South China Sea because it has the word "China" is in it, but if India can't defend their region, China won't concede India's ownership of the Indian Ocean from similar logic.
UPDATE: Sometimes miracles happen:
India, after three years of deliberation by the procurement bureaucrats and politicians, approved the purchase of 22 American AH-64 Apache helicopter gunships and 15 CH-47F transport helicopters. Such delays are not unusual for India where decades of corrupt foreign arms purchases have been exposed in the last decade and the made those still involved in those decisions extremely cautious. It usually takes external events to move decisions forward. In the case of the American helicopters the primary motivators were Russian sales to Pakistan and a feud between the Indian Army and Air Force.
India needs more miracles.