The Indian Air Force could lose its combat edge over rivals in the neighbourhood in the next 10 years if it fails to keep pace with its modernisation targets, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik has warned. He said China had embarked on a "modernisation spree" and there had been "considerable development" of infrastructure and "induction of assets across India's northern and eastern borders".
"If the IAF has to maintain technological superiority, our plans for critical acquisitions for the next 10 years must stay on track. If not, others will catch up," Naik told HT in an exclusive interview.
Asked to assess the modernisation of the Chinese air force, Naik said it was consolidating "quantitatively and qualitatively" at a rapid pace.
"IAF is also in the process of upgrading its assets and developing new facilities," said Naik, who is credited with speeding up India's biggest military contracts such as the $10.2 billion (Rs 45,900 crore) deal for 126 fighter jets and the $4.1 billion (Rs 18,450 crore) tender for 10 C-17 military transport planes.
The People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is pushing ahead with the induction of Sukhoi-30s, JF-17 Thunder jets, J-10 strike fighters, airborne early warning and control systems, mid-air refuellers and air defence systems to transform itself into a credible air power.
China's J-20 stealth fighter is expected to add a new dimension to its capabilities.
The Communist neighbour faces daunting modernisation challenges, given the fact that its air force is saddled with more than 2,000 Soviet-design fighters from the 1960s. The PLAAF reportedly operates more than 3,500 aircraft compared to the IAF's 700 fighters.
With an annual economic growth of 10%, the Chinese have been able to invest large sums in military modernisation. Beijing's official defence budget is pegged at $92 billion (Rs 4,14,000 crore), but Pentagon estimates its actual defence spending to more than $150 billion (Rs 6,75,000 crore).
India will spend $36.5 billion (Rs 1,64,415 crore) on defence this fiscal - 1.8% of its GDP. But experts argue defence spending should be around 3% of the GDP, seen in the backdrop of China's rising military might.
The IAF plans to tone up with future acquisitions, including 300 fifth generation fighter aircraft, 140 light combat aircraft, six midair refuellers, 80 Mi-17 helicopters, 22 attack helicopters and 15 heavy-lift choppers.