Is there Really a “Shortage” in Projected Squadron Numbers?

We have been seeing mind numbing articles for quite some time with an emphasis on

  • Tejas program not up to mark
  • IAF personnel wanting the end of Tejas Program
  • IAF wanting a Single Engine jet Deal in place of Tejas program

First one has to understand this is in backdrop of a so called Single Engine Fighter Plane requirement and with that context , certain vested interests have been taking pot shots on the Tejas program. The technicalities are a bit different from the topic in this small article but I certainly believe a Mark1A+ should be in a position to out match Gripen D, Mirage 2000 Vajras and will push the plane closer to capabilities to F16 Block 70 and Gripen E (barring MTOW) in particular mission roles.

The whole general perception that Tejas program may not able to match the expectations and time schedule and hence the additional 83 planes which has been awarded AoN as per IAF may be scrapped has built hysteria that there is a critical shortage in IAF inventory.

Let us take an example of such a possibility with this pictorial, courtesy dadeechi who took pain to understand how the whole scenario is being played out to weaken the psyche of all the Indians


Figure 1

As you can see the gap being shown makes a grim situation and a opening for a SE jet to pitch in quickly a so called make In India or MII Line and take a deal of 98+16 Flyaway + follow on possible option of at least 56 over time making a grand total of 170+ planes easily… The truth is such a SE fighter jet deal can eventually rise to 200 jets as well over a long time say by 2030.

So it made me wonder what if we don’t take these 170 jets by 2027 but rework something out better, how could different combinations look like?

Below is one such combination..


Figure 2

What I did is basically considered “magically” the 170 aircrafts possibility by 2027 and break it down into two halves.

~ 170+ = 105 + 72 by 2027

Apparently such a approach enables me to consider two existing platforms which has been invested a lot already (time, money, efforts and strategic willpower)

As you can see I have conservatively considered that a total of 7 squadrons can come in LCA Mk1A+ by end of 2027. This implies a clear cut additional 5 squadrons or approximately 105 planes over Figure 1 scenario.

Second I considered further batches of Rafale under MII program where for every batch component localisation and ecosystem creation increases. So two more batches of 36 under DRAL plant lets to a total of 6 squadrons as well.

Eventually 8 more squadrons of M2K, Jags and MiG 29 will be up for replacement as well post 2030 allowing at least another 5 squadrons of LCA fleet and 3 more for Rafales. Interestingly such a combination puts the whole LCA fleet at 14 sqd plus or 294 Jets and Rafale 12 squads or 216 odd aircraft’s. The whole fleet is left with Just Super MKi, Rafales and LCA eventually AMCA comes in with AURA.

Now it’s not that all these production facility can’t be scaled up in either of the cases. For example in case of LCA we can scale up additional 8/year to bring it to 24/year as long as ecosystem support the same. Same is the case for DRAL Line. This means even the 2030 scenario of 40 sqd number can be achieved couple of years earlier as well. The chief challenge being timely “Ecosystem” growth & support + emphasis on ensuring higher efficiency in the whole chain.

The naysayers say the SE line can pump minimum 24-30-36 Jets per year easily from the very beginning of stable operations. But what people miss out is that a new SE Fighter jet manufacturing line will mean net investment from zero level. As an incentive government will share half the expenses of such a line set up with direct or indirect help, second for good amount of time they will focus on CKD or completely knock down route progressing to SKD or Semi Knockdown to finally sufficient localisation. Now all that is already under progress with existing 2 lines in LCA and DRAL (through offset localisation), so why again reinvent the thing and waste time and money?

Technically I believe the challenge to this proposition is simply the following

How to make French side commit for making Rafales in India and still support Tejas program?

Tejas program biggest challenge is the ecosystem and the outsourced parts… If there is a possibility that entire imported portion of Tejas can be augmented by a DRAL component manufacturing facility which is indeed making parts for Rafales under offsets, then this proposition is a win win for both the sides.. With enough of present LRUs and Components, you get a facility which becomes part of HAL Ecosystem naturally.

How so? Well let’s for example contemplate the following –

  • Safransied Kaveri engine program which is under offset implementation for Rafale 36 deal is successful and the same 65/98 Kn engine gets qualified for LCA and later better 72/110Kn version becomes available as well..
  • Thales RBE 2 AESA family Radar into the radome with new cooling solution
  • EW suit internal + RWR
  • Internal re-arrangement and taking forward the open system architecture with more cores to boost the performance of the system
  • Avionics Package
  • Aerodynamic improvement in 0.8-1.2M zone
  • Rearranging landing gear to improve the central pylon capabilities
  • Arming Tejas with MICA IR and MICA EM and using the sensors to transfer data to main processing unit for enhanced target recognition and engagement
  • Improving the maintenance regime and making it more friendly with easier accessibility for quicker turn around, a health Monitoring system for plug and play approach with enhanced Quality Checks

Such an approach leads to creation of a much improved Mki1A and hence designated Mk1A+.

To further use the expertise of the French side, we should propose a simple block approach with each of the capabilities which can be later upgraded to latest standard.

To keep Program Tejas move ahead, there must be a Joint program with French side for AMCA and use the development of technology to seamlessly flow into all future iterations.

Is that all?

The answer is still No.. 

The reason being every program under aviation history will show dramatic cost over runs, delays and at times a black hole like situation. The major focus is not to lose hope and continue on the path of an indigenous development.. But at the same time reinventing the whole wheel is not needed. It’s better to use the joint development efforts and bring in the best of synergistic congruence towards a better risk management in the project.

Developing Tejas program with such capabilities and AMCA joint program opens the path to future iterations of Tejas as well.. Our AURA program without the after burners can learn a lot from NUERON program as well.. So it’s not a day dream to think a swarm of AURA drones can be controlled by LCA as well like below


This implies Rafale /AMCA remains our best access medium for 5th gen level capability and use many of the 5th gen functions in a network centric role with LCA iterations itself.. With so many possibilities and future potential, it’s still hard to understand is the gap really there or forced to be there by some opinion makers in order to thwart such a incredible possibility.

So back to opening question
Is there Really a “Shortage” in Projected Squadron Numbers?

– In my humble opinion, No but it becomes a Yes if you do get a government which in spite of knowing the best course of action maintains the status quo for some other strategic motive.


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By Aashish

Bachelor's in Electronics and Communication Engineering + MBA in Finance & Marketing.

Part of founding team of this Think Tank

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One reply on “Is there Really a “Shortage” in Projected Squadron Numbers?”

Excellent analysis. The conceptual illustrative concept could be more descriptive, with the circles with active radar range and the range to get detected with different color, but that would be for the advanced readers. Any way — you are on the Bang target, congratulation. Another congratulation for the