The Indian air force (IAF) is expediting its modernization efforts as it aims to reach its sanctioned strength of 42 squadrons by 2022, up from its current 34.

Under its 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan (LTIPP) 2002-17, the IAF is buying fighters, transport aircraft, helicopters, radars and missile systems in a phased manner.

The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft deal for 126 fighters is the biggest single piece of the effort, and India’s biggest military procurement. The Eurofighter consortium’s Typhoon and Dassault’s Rafale are vying for the $11 billion deal. The government is expected to open the financial bids for acquiring these fighter jets in the next couple of weeks (Aerospace DAILY, Sept. 23).

“A meeting of the defense acquisition council is likely to be held this Friday [Oct. 7], which will consider various aspects related to the deal,” says Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, the Air Staff leader.

The next major deal in the pipeline is the fifth-generation fighter, to be jointly developed by India and Russia. Browne says the IAF will procure 214, of which 166 will be single seaters, to be assembled at state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL). These aircraft are likely to be introduced into the air force’s fleet starting in 2017.

The IAF, which is facing a serious obsolescence problem, also has decided to  buy six more C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft from Lockheed Martin in addition to the six that had been ordered at a cost of $1.1 billion (Aerospace DAILY, Oct. 4). Deliveries of the stretched-fuselage transports started in December 2010. Five have already been delivered this year.

“Talks with the U.S. government and Lockheed Martin for the new batch of aircraft are on, and the order is expected to be placed by January 2012,” Browne says.

India’s Light Combat Aircraft program to acquire 220 LCAs has been delayed yet again. According to Browne, the initial operational clearance (IOC) has slipped by another year.

“We were supposed to get the IOC by the end of this year. As we see it, there is a delay of almost another year in that,” Browne says.

The IAF has plans to buy around 220 Tejas LCAs, of which orders for the initial 20 have already been placed. Designed by the Defense Research and Development Organization’s Aeronautical Development Agency, the aircraft was to replace India’s aging Russian MiG-21 fleet. The delay in the Tejas project has pushed back the phase-out of the MiG-21s to 2015.

The acquisition of 75 Pilatus-7 trainers is in the final stages. “This contract may be signed by the end of October,” Browne says. The total cost of the acquisition is likely to be around $1 billion, and the aircraft are expected to be delivered over the next two years.

“Training is an area of concern for the IAF. The focus is entirely on training now. If not, it becomes a matter of [the] safety of pilots,” Browne says. “[The] HPT-32 basic trainer had 108 engine cuts and 23 pilot fatalities. So, in 2009, we grounded the HPT-32s.”

The IAF is also progressively introducing British Hawk advanced trainers, 123 of which were ordered in two contracts inked in March 2004 and July 2010 for a total of roughly 160 billion rupees ($3.2 billion).

“The next batch of newly recruited pilots will be flying the British-origin Hawk advanced jet trainers,” Browne says.

Obsolete equipment like MiG-23, MiG-25 and Canberra aircraft have been phased out. Existing fighters like the MiG-27, MiG-29, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 and Su-30MKI, as well as transport aircraft like the An-32 and various helicopters, are being upgraded in a phased manner.

In August, after several delays, India finally signed a $2.4 billion contract with two French defense firms for upgrading its 51 Mirage combat jets that were acquired in the 1980s.

Plans also are underway to upgrade Su-30MKI fighters deployed by the IAF with certain fifth-generation aircraft characteristics to convert them into “Super Sukhois.” The IAF currently deploys about 100 Su-30MKIs. “The upgrade will cover the Su-30MKI’s weapons load and list,” according to a defense ministry official.

The modernized Su-30MKI will be loaded with one BrahMos missile. The Russia-India joint venture Brahmos Aerospace Private Ltd., Sukhoi Holding and HAL are jointly engaged in developing the air-launched version of the missile.

The IAF also will buy an additional 59 Russian-made Mi-17 V5 helicopters. It ordered 80 such helos in 2008. Browne also notes that the IAF will augment its helicopter fleet with the delivery of the first four of the 80 Mi-17V5s that it ordered from Russia in 2008.

Browne says the IAF will receive 12 Mi-17V5s to form a squadron in Bhatinda in the northern Indian state of Punjab by the end of October. It will get another 21 by December and another 26 by next March, when another squadron would be based in Srinagar to serve the troops headed for the Siachen glacier.

India also has signed an agreement with the U.S. government to acquire 10 Boeing C-17 Globemaster III airlifters. The deal, under the foreign military sales program, would establish India as the largest international customer of the C-17. According to the agreement, India will take delivery of its C-17s in 2013 and 2014. The final contract is expected to be signed within a couple of months, according to a defense ministry official.

In June, India’s federal Cabinet Committee on Security, a panel comprising ministers and chaired by the prime minister, accorded the approval to buy the strategic heavy-lift aircraft from the U.S. at a cost of $4.1 billion.

India marks its Air Force Day on Oct. 8.