A cut in India’s defense budget will not halt the acquisition programs of the Indian air force (IAF), Defense Minister A.K. Antony says.

“The government is committed to the modernization of the IAF and funds are not a problem to ensure that it remains at the forefront of technology,” Antony says.

Sluggish growth in the Indian economy in recent years has had a cascading effect on the country’s military; the government was forced to trim the defense budget in the last fiscal year to 1.78 trillion rupees ($32.8 billion) from the original allocation of 1.93 trillion rupees.

Several major military acquisition programs are feared to be affected by the cuts. The government has allocated 2.03 trillion rupees for defense in the current fiscal year, a modest hike of just more than 5% over the last year.

As the government scrambles to cut costs given the dismal growth rate, defense spending is one of the hardest hit areas, with the budget touching up to barely 1.79% of the country’s gross domestic product. This is a record low for India in at least three decades, with the figure dropping considerably from 3.16% of the GDP in 1987. 

But a defiant defense minister says,”Though availability of funds shall never be an issue, we need to strictly observe austerity measures circulated by the Ministry of Finance. Efforts must be made to cut down expenditure on non-core activities and avoidable ceremonial formalities.”

He expressed satisfaction that the budget allotted to the IAF is being fully utilized.

“At the same time, I am sure all of you appreciate the need for indigenization and [the] move toward self-reliance in defense production. We must minimize the overreliance of our armed forces in general and [the] Indian air force in particular on foreign original equipment manufacturers for procurement of major aircraft and equipment,” he says.

The Long Term Infrastructure Prospective Plan clearly lays down the road map for the IAF’s growth plan, he says.

“The procurement and acquisitions span the entire spectrum of the capabilities of [the] Indian air force, including fighter aircraft, transport aircraft, helicopters and modernization of air defense network. Net-centricity, cybersecurity and ensuring the requisite communication bandwidth for seamless operations are also a part of capacity building to ensure that [the] Indian air force remains at the forefront of technology,” he says.

The long gestation periods for acquiring new systems requires the Indian air force to upgrade its legacy systems to retain and further strengthen its capabilities.

India has announced several large IAF acquisition projects, including the more than $20 billion effort to buy 126 Dassault Rafales under the widely watched Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft project, and a program to buy Apache and Chinook helicopters from Boeing.

The minister also expressed concern over the shortage of trainer aircraft, which he says has been a training impediment. “The induction of Basic Trainer Aircraft [BTA], the Intermediate Jet Trainer [IJT] and the Hawk Mk-132 Advance Jet Trainer [AJT] will enable more meaningful training to the air crew and also prepare the crew to handle complex avionics in modern aircraft,” Antony says. “The skill levels of other air warriors too must be similarly developed to enable them to retain and sharpen the cutting edge of the operational capability, as well as adeptly handle other systems and structures in a net-centric environment.”

The IAF has projected a requirement of 181 BTAs, 85 IJTs and 106 AJTs for Stage-I, II and III training.

India also plans to order 30 more Swiss Pilatus PC-7s, along with the 75 trainers already ordered last year.

Rafale photo: Dassault