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IAF losing edge over PAF

Shiv Aroor and Durga Nandini

The Pakistan Air Force is stronger than ever. Since the last Indo-Pak air war of 1971, the Pakistan Air Force has with steely determination built up numbers, lethal capabilities and a combat force now counted as one of the most disciplined and well-trained air forces in the world. Headlines Today has a disturbing proof that all this has made India worried. A recent presentation by the defence intelligence establishment paints a morbid picture of how the numbers and capability advantage that the Indian Air Force has always found comfort in is rapidly slipping away. Headlines Today has accessed the recent presentation made to the Ministry of Defence. The document makes singularly ominous projections. The most glaring warning is about combat force ratio. The presentation says that the ratio of 1:1.7 is likely to progressively dip to 1:1.2 by the end of 2012. It describes this as a “historic low”. It also says that the traditional hi-tech advantage is almost equal now with 9.5:11 squadron ratio.

With Pakistan rapidly acquiring early warning aircraft, mid-air refuellers and long-range missiles, the technology gap is at a historic low. It is a wake-up call to India’s military planners. The decisions taken now could forever doom the crucial advantage that the Indian Air Force has always enjoyed against an adversary that can never be underestimated.

A formidable adversary

The last time the air forces of India and Pakistan fought a full-blown war was 40 years ago. But if the Pakistan Air Force of 1971 was an enemy to be reckoned with, circumstances have made it an even more formidable adversary today. The internal assessment by the Indian defence establishment makes some grimly practical projections in the light of an adversary emboldened by an unfettered modernisation spree. The government has been warned that with the Indian Air Force’s edge slipping fast, the Pakistan Air Force’s assertiveness is likely to increase. Once seen as a primarily defensive force, the Pakistan Air Force will use its new strength to employ offensive and defensive operations in equal measure. With new precision weapons, the Pakistan Air Force will conduct limited strikes to achieve strategic effects. The one thing that won’t change – high-value targets in the Indian held Jammu and Kashmir will be high-priority targets for the PAF. There’s a deeper threat at play than just fighter numbers. Consider these newly inducted force multipliers that all but kill the Indian air advantage. Pakistan is inducting four Swedish Saab Erieye and four Chinese Y-8 airborne early warning aircraft, while India, currently, has three. India no longer has the mid-air refueller advantage. Pakistan is inducting four identical IL-78M aircraft. The Indian Air Force’s UAV advantage is also disappearing. Pakistan is acquiring 25 European UAVs, with more in the pipeline. Despite the ominous projections of the presentation, there are those who believe the Indian Air Force will always remain on top. Among them, Air Marshal Denzil Keelor, one half of the legendary Keelor brothers, who scored independent India’s first air-to-air kill against Pakistan in 1965. But for the IAF to remain ahead, and stem the swiftly dwindling capability advantage over Pakistan, it needs to make some hard decisions across-the-board.

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