The Indian air force (IAF) aims to spend $37 billion over the next 10 years to step up its modernization program, according to a defense official.

“We are on [a] path of modernizing our assets,” says Air Marshal R.K. Sharma, IAF’s deputy chief. “In the last five-year plan [2007-12], IAF procurements were around $27 billion. We envisage [purchasing] assets worth more than $37 billion over the next two plan periods [by 2022].”

The IAF is pushing to reach its approved strength of 42 squadrons by 2022, up from its current 34. “Contracts worth $4 billion have already been signed,” Sharma says.

The Indian government has introduced several measures, including relaxing its defense offset guidelines, to leverage capital acquisitions and develop the country’s defense industry. Current rules require any foreign vendor receiving an Indian defense deal worth more than 3 billion rupees ($53 million) to reinvest 30% of the value of the deal into the country’s industry.

Sharma says there’s “a lot of scope for both [the] public and private sector” to participate in the IAF’s modernization plans. “Indian aerospace industry will have to focus on developing in-house infrastructure, training and R&D capabilities to energize this sector,” he says.

Under its 15-year Long-Term Integrated Perspective Plan for 2002-17, the IAF is buying fighters, transport aircraft, helicopters, radars and missile systems in a phased manner. Some of the big ticket deals in the near future include the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) deal for 126 fighters, the fifth-generation fighter to be jointly developed by India and Russia and the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 MK II turboprop aircraft.

“The MMRCA project will bring in more offsets to Indian industry,” Sharma says. France’s Dassault won the MMRCA competition with its Rafale fighter, and is negotiating the terms of its deal with the IAF.

The IAF also has plans to buy around 220 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft, with orders for the initial 20 having already been placed. And the service is 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 $3.2 billion.

India has also signed a $2.4 billion contract with two French defense firms to upgrade its 51 Mirage combat jets that were acquired in the 1980s. Plans are also under way to upgrade Su-30MKI fighters deployed by the IAF with certain fifth-generation systems to convert them into “Super Sukhois.”

The IAF will also buy an additional 59 Russian-made Mi-17 V5 helicopters. It ordered 80 of the type in 2008.

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), a trade body, hails the government’s ambitious investment plans. “This will change the face of the Indian aerospace and defense sector. There lie huge opportunities for the industry in the form of defense offsets,” says Gurpal Singh, a defense, aerospace and security expert at CII based in New Delhi.

Tejas photo: Indian Ministry of Defense