Aero India 2023: Wither IAF Capability Building?
Even as Aero India 2023 is inaugurated today in Bengaluru by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi, the marque event should be a window of opportunity for the Indian Air Force to pitch for making up gaps in capabilities while showing aerobatic skills of the pilots.
Themed as, ‘The runway to a billion opportunities’, the Ministry of Defence Press Release indicates that the aim is to “radiate the rise of a strong & self-reliant ‘New India’ by displaying India’s growth in aerospace and defence capabilities,” and also showcase indigenous equipment/technologies and forging partnerships with foreign companies, in line with ‘Make in India, Make for the World’ vision for a secure and prosperous future.
At the curtain raiser press conference in Bengaluru on February 12, 2023, Raksha Mantri Shri Rajnath Singh stated that the Aero India 2023 will showcase the country’s manufacturing prowess and the progress achieved towards realising the ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat.’
He also remarked that the event will significantly contribute to the development of the aerospace and aviation sector.
While the Government and the Ministry of Defence seem to be focused on exhibiting and expanding India’s aerospace industrial potential, a thought for the IAF’s capability building needs consideration as this is having a significant influence on India’s short and long term defence readiness in terms of Indian Air Force combat fighters deficiencies. Presently multiple open sources reveal that this is down to 29-30 squadrons against what is variously described as 42-45 squadrons that is a deficit of one third of the force.
India’s defence exhibitions have matured thus these involve multitude of activities including inking of MOU's and contracts.
Defense diplomacy is also attaining a much higher pitch during the defence exhibition with attempts to incorporate Africa as well as the Indian Ocean region major countries in dialogue and promotion of defence sales to these.
This time around a Defence Ministers’ Conclave on 14th February is planned which does not appear to focused on any particular geography. Having held two meets focused on Africa and the Indian Ocean region in October last year, possibly it is wise not to overdo.
But the Ministry of Defence states that “Defence Ministers of friendly foreign countries will participate in the meeting, which has been organised on the theme ‘Shared Prosperity through Enhanced Engagements in Defence (SPEED)”.
It is well understood that the IAF operational readiness is not the aim of the national air show which is being organized year on year in the cyber capital of India Bengaluru in the South.
Normally governments have multiple purposes for organizing these shows including highlighting defence capability of the country and the export potential which is available as well as providing a platform for foreign companies to demonstrate their technologies and their willingness to share the same with the Indian counterpart but the perception that the show may give short shrift to the urgent necessity of the IAF’s capability deficiency needs to
Under the circumstances, the Indian Air Force will have to make a concerted pitch and layout the plans for acquisition of the deficit combat fighter aircraft at the earliest and the Aero India is a good opportunity for the purpose but will this be used for the same remains to be seen?