By Syed Haider A. Gardezi
It is a well-established fact that the bulk of Indian air force operational assets including radars and fighter jets are vintage. The Comptroller and Auditor General of India has highlighted this fact recently in his 2018 report on Indian Air force, where he discusses in detail the shortcomings of the Indian Air force capabilities.
The Indian Air force is one of the largest in the world, hence the costs of maintaining, upgrading the fleet is also exceptionally high for a developing country like India. This along with the poor standards of aircraft maintenance at the Indian Air force maintenance facilities, is the leading cause of duress for this Air force.
In 2015, a tender to acquire more than a hundred medium multirole fighter aircraft was floated by the Indian Air force. This tender had many contenders including Lockheed Martin with its F-21 (A variant of F-16 with some common components of F-22 and F-35), The Saab Gripen, Eurofighter Typhoon, and The DassaultRafale. After long deliberations and debates, India decided to buy 36 Rafales to fill the requirement of 100+ fighter jets, in a very controversial deal, which caused a lot of hue and cry in the Indian Defense establishment and media.
In the meantime, India had also encountered great short comings in its ground air defense infrastructure. The requirement came up for a long range, high performance, anti-air anti-missile air defense systems. After much deliberation, between U.S. Patriot System and Russian S-400, India decided to purchase, the Russian system.
Both of these procurements of Rafale and S-400 systems are dubbed as game changers in the Indian Media and academic circles. The Indian Air Chief Bhadauria and Former Chief Dhanoa, both have explicitly claimed that these acquisitions will bolster the Indian Airforce strength.
Let’s be real, the Indian Air force wants us to believe that with the acquisition of 36 medium multirole fighter aircraft, they can compensate for 100+ that were originally required. Now the Indian Air force has its people believed, that the HAL Tejas will fulfill the remaining requirement. However, the Tejas is a light combat aircraft, not a medium multirole fighter aircraft. With that said Tejas is still facing many hurdles and is not yet combat ready as per many analysts.
Moreover, the S-400 missile systems although are dubbed as the best in the world, but the only action they have seen is in Syria, against the Israeli and US mission, even there the S-400 has not scored a kill, not because it can’t but mostly because as a policy, the Russians did not engage, to avoid escalation. Hence it is too early to pass judgement on S-400 system. Theoretically it can pose a threat to Pakistani Aerial assets, however, in case of conflict, the S-400 are highly susceptible to Pakistani special forces raids and bombing runs on a tactical level.
The Pakistan Air force has shown extreme professionalism in identifying and countering the threats posed by these Indian acquisitions. Pakistan has familiarized itself with both the Rafale and S-400 platforms. There was a great hue and cry among Indian defense establishment and media when it was discovered that Pakistan Air force pilots posted on deputation for training missions have been a part of the squadron of the Qatar Air force, which had acquired a similar variant of the Rafale as India has. The only major difference in the variant that Qatar is flying as compared to the one being acquired by India is the communications link, otherwise, the rest is pretty much same. Hence, it’s safe to say that Pakistani pilots have flown Rafale before the Indian Air force got its hands on the fighter. This experience will add to the knowledge of Pakistan Air force, in order to effectively counter this aircraft in combat.
Now for the S-400, Pakistan has war-gamed and trained against S-400 effectively in its exercises with China. Recently the video footage circulated on news channels, which contained Pakistan Air force and Peoples Liberation Army’s Air force engaged in training exercises named ‘Shaheen VIII’ and S-400 was part of these exercises. Hence the Pakistanis are already a step ahead with their counter measures against the S-400. China was the first country to acquire S-400 and to our benefit and long-term strategic relations, we have been able to effectively counter a new threat posed to us in the face of Indian S-400 acquisition. Checkmate indeed!
Pakistan Air force has been vigilant and kept an eye on the Indian strategy and planning, this was evident from the February 27th retaliatory air strikes on the Indian depots and Brigade HQs, the ensuing dog fight resulted in downing of two Indian jets including a Mig21 Bison and an Su-30 MKI. Pakistan Air force has shown the world that it is not deterred by any Indian misadventure and India will have to pay the price in the same coin.
*All views and analyses expressed here are based on open source information.
*The Author is an Open Source Intelligence and Defence Analyst, he tweets @haiderwrites