February 5, 2023

Combat Squadron Strength of IAF

Question: Whether our government has set any timetable for raising the IAF squadron strength to 45 which is said as optimal for over a decade? Will it not be logical to go in for French Rafale for further acquisition because the required infrastructure is already in the process of being completed, and the more of its numbers will will effectively reduce the overall maintenance costs? ~Omprakash Angnani

Both the government and the IAF do have a proposed timeline to achieve that squadron strength number, but the biggest issue is that of finances followed by the potential impact of such a deal on relations with a particular country. Futher the lack of coordination between IAF, MoD, manufacturers and development agencies mean that both the in-house development efforts and local assembly of imported aircrafts are blocked till date. These things combined with the slow and costly procurement procedures of MoD means that India doesn’t have lot of leverage while trying to bargain with the vendors.

So answering your question, more than the proposed timelines, it’s the proposed budget over next decade for Combat aircraft procurement which matters.

Yes procuring more Rafales is a logical step. A lot of cost went into procuring the infrastructure, training and ancillaries to support the Rafale fleet of IAF. And the most logical and realistic aim in my opinion is that the IAF and MoD should aim to procure another batch of 36 Rafales from off the shelf by the end of this decade. This has many advantages as the previous deal ensured that IAF will have enough infrastructure to support upto 72 Rafales. And this process will be quicker and will be cheaper.

In the long run we need to realise that IAF needs to modernise it’s helicopter fleet, it’s SAM fleet, add tankers and AWACS and also buy more fighters. All this in really limited budget. We need to ensure that a balanced approach is employed covering all capability holes without delays. We might not reach the 45 squadron strength in a decade but even if we are able to maintain the current numbers by the end of this decade, it will be an incredible achievement.


  • Ankit Kumar

    An independent analyst with engineering background. Besides covering military affairs, he is also interested in space, airlines, infrastructure, nuclear, energy and related issues.

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