HPT-32 Deepak, HJT-16 Kiran,Hawk Mk 132, Pilatus C-7 Mk II
Il-76, An-32, HS 748, Do 228, Boeing 737, ERJ 135, Il-78 MKI, C-130J
The Indian Air Force is the air arm of the Indian armed forces. Its primary responsibility is to secure Indian airspace and to conduct aerial warfare during a conflict. It was officially established on 8 October 1932 as an auxiliary air force of the British Raj and the prefix Royal was added in 1945 in recognition of its services during World War II. After India achieved independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, the Royal Indian Air Force served the Dominion of India, with the prefix being dropped when India became a republic in 1950.
Since independence, the IAF has been involved in four wars with neighbouring Pakistan and one with the People's Republic of China. Other major operations undertaken by the IAF include Operation Vijay – the invasion of Goa, Operation Meghdoot, Operation Cactus and Operation Poomalai. Apart from conflicts, the IAF has been an active participant inUnited Nations peacekeeping missions.
The President of India serves as the Commander-in-Chief of the IAF. The Chief of Air Staff, an Air Chief Marshal (ACM), is a four-star commander and commands the Air Force. There is never more than one serving ACM at any given time in the IAF. One officer Arjan Singh, DFC has been conferred the rank of Marshal of the Air Force, a five-star rank and the officer serves as the ceremonial chief.
In its publication the Military Balance 2010, International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) estimates that the Indian Air Force has a strength of 127,000 active personnel. However, various reliable sources provided notably divergent estimates of its strength over the years. The air force is estimated to have around 1,361 aircraft in active service during 2011/2012.
Thus, the IAF has the primary objective of safeguarding Indian Territory and national interests from all threats in conjunction with the other branches of the armed forces by defending Indian airspace. The IAF provides close air support to the Indian Army troops in the battlefield and also provides strategic and tactical airlift capabilities. The IAF also operates the Integrated Space Cell together with the other two branches of the Indian Armed Forces, the civilian Department of Space and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) to utilise more effectively the country's space-based assets for military purposes and to look into threats to these assets.
The Indian Air Force along with the other branches of the Indian Armed Forces provide assistance in disaster relief such as during natural calamities by undertaking evacuation or search-and-rescue (SAR) operations and air dropping relief supplies in affected areas. The IAF provided extensive assistance to relief operations during natural calamities such as the Gujarat cyclone in 1998 and the Tsunami in 2004. The IAF also provides assistance to other countries during relief activities such as Operation Rainbow in Sri Lanka.
Formation and World War II
The Indian Air Force was established in British India as an auxiliary air force of the Royal Air Force with the enactment of the Indian Air Force Act 1932 on 8 October that year and adopted the Royal Air Force uniforms, badges, brevets and insignia. On 1 April 1933, the IAF commissioned its first squadron, No.1 Squadron, with four Westland Wapiti biplanes and five Indian pilots. The Indian pilots were led by Flight Lieutenant (later Air Vice Marshal) Cecil Bouchier. Until 1941, No. 1 Squadron remained the only squadron of the IAF, though two more flights were added. There were only two branches in the Air Force when it was formed, namely the General Duties (GD) branch and the Logistics branch.
During World War II, the red centre was removed from the IAF roundel to eliminate confusion with the Japanese Hinomaru ("Rising Sun") emblem. The Air Force grew to seven squadrons in 1943 and to nine squadrons in 1945, equipping with Vultee Vengeance dive bombers and Hurricanes, along with a transport unit with the surviving A.W. 15 Atalantas until 1944. The IAF helped in blocking the advance of the Japanese army in Burma, where its first air strike was on the Japanese military base in Arakan. It also carried out strike missions against the Japanese airbases at Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand. In recognition of the crucial role played by the IAF, King George VI conferred it the prefix "Royal" in 1945. During the war, many youths joined the Indian National Army. Forty five of them (known as theTokyo Boys) were sent to train as fighter pilots at the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force Academy in 1944 by Subhas Chandra Bose. After the war, they were interned by theAllies and were court-martialled. After Indian independence, some of them rejoined the IAF for service.
First years of independence (1947–1950)
After gaining independence from the British Empire in 1947, British India was partitioned into the new states of the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. Along the lines of the geographical partition, the assets of the air force were divided between the new countries. India's air force retained the name of the Royal Indian Air Force, but three of the ten operational squadrons and facilities, located within the borders of Pakistan, were transferred to the Royal Pakistan Air Force. The RIAF Roundel was changed to an interim 'Chakra' roundel derived from the Ashoka Chakra.
Around the same time, conflict broke out between them over the control of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. With Pakistani forces moving into the state, its Maharaja decided to accede to India in order to receive military help. The day after instrument of accessionwas signed, the RIAF was called upon to transport troops into the war-zone. And this was when a good management of logistics came into help. This led to the eruption of full scale war between India and Pakistan, though there was no formal declaration of war. During the war, the RIAF did not engage the Pakistan Air Force in air-to-air combat; however, it did provide effective transport and close air support to the Indian troops.
When India became a republic in 1950, the prefix 'Royal' was dropped from the Indian Air Force. At the same time, the current IAF roundel was adapted.
Congo crisis and liberation of Goa (1960–1961)
The IAF saw significant conflict in 1960, when Belgium's 75-year rule over Congo ended abruptly, engulfing the nation in widespread violence and rebellion. IAF sent No. 5 Squadron, equipped with English Electric Canberra, to support United Nations Operation in the Congo. The squadron started undertaking operational missions in November. The unit remained there until 1966, when the UN mission ended. Operating from Leopoldville and Kamina, the Canberras soon destroyed the rebel Air Force and provided the UN ground forces with its only long-range air support force.
In late 1961, the Indian government decided to deploy the armed forces in an effort to expel Portugal from the enclaves of Goa, Daman and Diu after years of disagreement betweenNew Delhi and Lisbon. The Indian Air Force was requested to provide support elements to the ground force in what was called Operation Vijay. Probing flights by some fighters and bombers were carried out from 8–18 December to draw out the Portuguese Air Force, but to no avail. On 18 December, two waves of Canberra bombers bombed the runway of Dabolim airfield taking care not to bomb the Terminals and the ATC tower. Two Portuguese transport aircraft (a Super Constellation and a DC-6) found on the airfield were left alone so that they can be captured intact. However the Portuguese pilots managed to take off the aircraft from the still damaged airfield and made their getaway to Portugal. Hunters attacked the wireless station at Bambolim. Vampires were used to provide air support to the ground forces. In Daman, Mystères were used to strike Portuguese gun positions. Ouragans (called Toofanis in the IAF) bombed the runways at Diu and destroyed the control tower, wireless station and the meteorological station.
Border disputes and changes in the IAF (1962–1971)
In 1962, border disagreements between China and India escalated to a war when China mobilised its troops across the Indian border. During the Sino-Indian War, India's military planners failed to deploy and effectively use the IAF against the invading Chinese forces. This resulted in India losing a significant amount of advantage to the Chinese; especially in Jammu and Kashmir.
Three years after the Sino-Indian conflict, in 1965, Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar, a surprise invasion into India which came to be known as the Second Kashmir War. This was the first time the IAF actively engaged an enemy air force. However, instead of providing close air support to the Indian Army, the IAF carried out independent raids against PAF bases. These bases were situated deep inside Pakistani territory, making IAF fighters vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. During the course of the conflict, the PAF enjoyed technological superiority over the IAF and had achieved substantial strategic and tactical advantage due to their sudden attack. The IAF was restrained by the government from retaliating to PAF attacks in the eastern sector while a substantive part of its combat force was deployed there and could not be transferred to the western sector, against the possibility of Chinese intervention. Moreover, international (UN) stipulations and norms did not permit military force to be introduced into the Indian state of J&K beyond what was agreed during the 1949 ceasefire. Despite this, the IAF was able to prevent the PAF from gaining air superiority over conflict zones. The small and nimble IAF Folland Gnats proved effective against the F-86 Sabres of the PAF earning it the nickname "Sabre Slayers". By the time the conflict had ended, the IAF lost 59 aircraft (24 lost in air combat), while the PAF lost 43 aircraft (37 lost in air combat). More than 60% of IAF's air combat losses took place during the battles over Kalaikunda and Pathankot; where most of the aircraft were destroyed while parked on the ground.
After the 1965 war, the IAF underwent a series of changes to improve its capabilities. In 1966, the Para Commandos regiment was created. To increase its logistics supply and rescue operations ability, the IAF inducted 72 HS 748s which were built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under license from Avro. India started to put more stress on indigenous manufacture of fighter aircraft. As a result, HAL HF-24 Marut, designed by the famed German aerospace engineer Kurt Tank, were inducted into the air force. HAL also started developing an improved version of the Folland Gnat, known as HAL Ajeet. At the same time, the IAF also started inducting Mach 2 capable Soviet MiG-21 and Sukhoi Su-7 fighters.
Bangladesh Liberation War (1971)
By late 1971, the intensification of the independence movement in erstwhile East Pakistan lead to the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan .On 22 November 1971, 10 days before the start of a full-scale war, four PAF F-86 Sabre jets attacked Indian and Mukti Bahini positions at Garibpur, near the international border. Two of the four PAF Sabres were shot down and one damaged by the IAF's Folland Gnats. On 3 December, India formally declared war against Pakistan following massive preemptive strikes by the PAF against Indian Air Force installations in Srinagar, Ambala, Sirsa, Halwara and Jodhpur. However, the IAF did not suffer significantly because the leadership had anticipated such a move and precautions were taken. The Indian Air Force was quick to respond to Pakistani air strikes, following which the PAF carried out mostly defensive sorties.
Within the first two weeks, the IAF had carried out almost 2,000 sorties over East Pakistan and also provided close air support to the advancing Indian Army. IAF also assisted the Indian Navy in its operations against the Pakistani Navy and Maritime Security Agency in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. On the western front, the IAF destroyed more than 29 Pakistani tanks, 40 APCs and a railway train during the Battle of Longewala. The IAF undertook strategic bombing of West Pakistan by carrying out raids on oil installations in Karachi, the Mangla Dam and a gas plant in Sindh. Similar strategy was also deployed in East Pakistan and as the IAF achieved complete air superiority on the eastern front, the ordnance factories, runways, and other vital areas of East Pakistan were severely damaged. By the time Pakistani forces surrendered, the IAF claimed that 94 PAF aircraft, including 54 F-86 Sabres had been shot down. The IAF had flown over 6,000 sorties on both East and West fronts; including sorties by transport aircraft and helicopters. Towards the end of the war, IAF's transport planes dropped leaflets over Dhaka urging the Pakistani forces to surrender, demoralising Pakistani troops in East Pakistan.
Incidents before Kargil (1984–1988)
In 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot to capture the Siachen Glacier in the contested Kashmir region. In Op Meghdoot, IAF's Mi-8, Chetak and Cheetah helicopters airlifted hundreds of Indian troops to Siachen. Launched on 13 April 1984, this military operation was unique because of Siachen's inhospitable terrain and climate. The military action was successful, given the fact that under a previous agreement, neither Pakistan nor India had stationed any personnel in the area. The Indian forces, facing no opposition, took control over most of the heights on the glacier.
Following the failure to negotiate an end to the Sri Lankan Civil War, and to provide humanitarian aid through an unarmed convoy of ships, the Indian Government decided to carry out an airdrop of the humanitarian supplies on the evening of 4 June 1987 designated Operation Poomalai (Tamil: Garland) or Eagle Mission 4. Five An-32s escorted by five Mirage 2000s carried out the supply drop which faced no opposition from the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Sri Lanka accused India of "blatant violation of sovereignty". India insisted that it was acting only on humanitarian grounds.
In 1987, the IAF supported the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in northern and eastern Sri Lanka in Operation Pawan. About 70,000 sorties were flown by the IAF's transport and helicopter force in support of nearly 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces without a single aircraft lost or mission aborted. IAF An-32s maintained a continuous air link between air bases in South India and Northern Sri Lanka transporting men, equipment, rations and evacuating casualties. Mi-8s supported the ground forces and also provided air transportation to the Sri Lankan civil administration during the elections. Mi-25s of No. 125 Helicopter Unit were utilised to provide suppressive fire against militant strong points and to interdict coastal and clandestine riverine traffic.
On the night of 3 November 1988, the Indian Air Force mounted special operations to airlift a parachute battalion group from Agra, non-stop over 2000 kilometres to the remote Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives in response to Maldivian president Gayoom's request for military help against a mercenary invasion in Operation Cactus. The IL-76s of No. 44 Squadron landed at Hulhule at 0030 hours and the Indian paratroopers secured the airfield and restored Government rule at Male within hours.
Kargil War (1999)
On 11 May 1999, the Indian Air Force was called in to provide close air support to the Indian Army at the height of the ongoing Kargil conflict with the use of helicopters. The IAF strike was code named Operation Safed Sagar. The first strikes were launched on 26 May, when the Indian Air Force struck infiltrator positions with fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships. The initial strikes saw MiG-27s carrying out offensive sorties, with MiG-21s and later MiG-29s providing fighter cover. The IAF also deployed its radars and the MiG-29 fighters in vast numbers to keep check on Pakistani military movements across the border. Srinagar Airport was at this time closed to civilian air-traffic and dedicated to the Indian Air Force.
On 27 May, the Indian Air Force suffered its first fatality when it lost a MiG-21 and a MiG-27 in quick succession. The following day, while on an offensive sortie, a Mi-17 was shot down by three Stinger missiles and lost its entire crew of four. Following these losses the IAF immediately withdrew helicopters from offensive roles as a measure against the threat of Man-portable air-defense systems (MANPAD). On 30 May, the Mirage 2000s were introduced in offensive capability, as they were deemed better in performance under the high-altitude conditions of the conflict zone. Mirage 2000s were not only better equipped to counter the MANPAD threat compared to the MiGs, but also gave IAF the ability to carry out aerial raids at night. The MiG-29s were used extensively to provide fighter escort to the Mirage 2000. The Mirages successfully targeted enemy camps and logistic bases in Kargil and severely disrupted their supply lines. Mirage 2000s were used for strikes on Muntho Dhalo and the heavily defended Tiger Hill and paved the way for their early recapture. At the height of the conflict, the IAF was conducting over forty sorties daily over the Kargil region. By 26 July, the Indian forces had successfully repulsed the Pakistani forces from Kargil.
Post Kargil incidents (1999–present)
On 10 August 1999, IAF MiG-21s intercepted a Pakistan Navy Breguet Atlantic which was flying over the disputed region of Sir Creek. The aircraft was shot down killing all 16 Pakistani Navy personnel on board. India claimed that the Atlantic was on a mission to gather information on IAF air defence, a charge emphatically rejected by Pakistan which argued that the unarmed aircraft was on a training mission. Since the late 1990s, the Indian Air Force has been modernising its fleet to counter challenges in the new century. The fleet size of the IAF has decreased to 33 squadrons during this period because of the retirement of older aircraft. Still, India maintains the fourth largest air force in the world. The squadron strength is being raised to 42 squadrons.
The President of India is the Supreme Commander of all Indian armed forces and by virtue of that fact is the notional Commander-in-chief of the Air Force. Chief of the Air Staff with the rank of Air Chief Marshal is the Commander of the Indian Air Force. He is assisted by six officers: a Vice Chief of the Air Staff, a Deputy Chief of the Air Staff, the Air Officer in Charge of Administration, the Air Officer in Charge of Personnel, the Air Officer in Charge of Maintenance, and the Inspector General of Flight Safety. In January 2002, the government conferred the rank of Marshal of the Air Force on Arjan Singh making him the first and only Five-star officer with the Indian Air Force and ceremonial chief of the air force.
Commands and structure
The Indian Air Force is divided into five operational and two functional commands. Each Command is headed by an Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief with the rank of Air Marshal. The purpose of an operational command is to conduct military operations using aircraft within its area of responsibility, whereas the responsibility of functional commands is to maintain combat readiness. Aside from the Training Command at Bangalore, the centre for primary flight training is located at the Air Force Academy in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, followed by operational training at various other schools. Advanced officer training for command positions is also conducted at the Defence Services Staff College; specialised advanced flight training schools are located at Bidar, Karnataka, and Hakimpet, Andhra Pradesh (also the location for helicopter training). Technical schools are found at a number of other locations.
Central Air Command (CAC), headquartered at Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh
Eastern Air Command (EAC), headquartered at Shillong, Meghalaya
Southern Air Command (SAC), headquartered at Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala
South Western Air Command (SWAC), headquartered at Gandhinagar, Gujarat
Western Air Command (WAC), headquartered at Subroto Park, New Delhi
Training Command (TC), headquartered at Bangalore, Karnataka
Maintenance Command (MC), headquartered at Nagpur, Maharashtra
The IAF operates over sixty air bases, with more being built or planned. Western Air Command is the largest Air Command. It operates sixteen air bases from Punjab to Uttar Pradesh. Eastern Air Command operates fifteen Air bases in Eastern and North-eastern India. Central Air Command operates seven Air Bases in Madhya Pradesh and surrounding states of central India. Southern Air Command, a strategically important Air command, in line with India's latest doctrine of protecting the vital shipping routes. It operates nine Air bases in Southern India and two in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. South Western Air Command is the front line of defence against Pakistan, this important Command operates twelve air bases in Gujarat, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. India also operates the Farkhor Air Base in Tajikistan. Depending on size, a base is typically commanded by a Group Captain or Air Commodore.
A Wing is a formation intermediate between a Command and a Squadron. It generally consists of two or three IAF Squadrons and Helicopter Units, along with Forward Base Support Units (FBSU). FBSUs do not have or host any Squadrons or Helicopter units but act as transit airbases for routine operations. In times of war, they can become fully fledged air bases playing host to various Squadrons. In all, about 47 Wings and 19 FBSUs make up the IAF. Wings are typically commanded by a Group Captain.
Squadrons are the field units and formations attached to static locations. Thus, a Flying Squadron is a sub-unit of an air force station which carries out the primary task of the IAF. All fighter squadrons are headed by a Commanding Officer with the rank of Wing Commander. Some Transport squadrons and Helicopter Units are headed by a Commanding Officer with the rank of Group Captain.
Flights are sub-divisions of Squadrons, commanded by a Squadron Leader.
Within this formation structure, IAF has several service branches for day-to-day operations. They are:
Logistics Administration Accounts Education Medical & Dental Meteorological
Garud Commando Force
In September 2004, the IAF established its own special operation unit called the Garud Commando Force, consisting of approximately 1500 personnel. The unit derives its name from Garuda, a divine bird-like creature of Hindu Mythology, but more commonly the word for eagle in Sanskrit. Garud is tasked with the protection of critical installations; search and rescue during peace and hostilities and disaster relief during calamities.
Integrated Space Cell
An Integrated Space Cell, which will be jointly operated by all the three services of the Indian armed forces, the civilian Department of Space and the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) has been set up to utilise more effectively the country's space-based assets for military purposes and to look into threats to these assets. This command will leverage space technology including satellites. Unlike an aerospace command, where the air force controls most of its activities, the Integrated Space Cell envisages cooperation and coordination between the three services as well as civilian agencies dealing with space.
India currently has 10 remote sensing satellites in orbit. Though most are not meant to be dedicated military satellites, some have a spacial resolution of 1 metre or below which can be also used for military applications. Noteworthy satellites include the Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) which has a panchromatic camera (PAN) with a resolution of 1 metre, the RISAT-2 which is capable of imaging in all-weather conditions and has a resolution of one metre, the CARTOSAT-2, CARTOSAT-2A (a dedicated military satellite) and CARTOSAT-2B which carries a panchromatic camera which has a resolution of 80 centimetres (black and white only).
Anyone holding Indian citizenship can apply to be an officer in the Air Force as long as they satisfy the eligibility criteria. There are four entry points to become an officer. Male applicants, who are between the ages of 16½ and 19 and have passed high school graduation, can apply at the Intermediate level. Men and women applicants, who have graduated from college (three year course) and are between the ages of 18 and 28, can apply at the Graduate level entry. Graduates of engineering colleges can apply at the Engineer level if they are between the ages of 18 and 28 years. The age limit for the flying and ground duty branch is 23 years of age and for technical branch is 28 years of age. After completing a master's degree, men and women between the ages of 18 and 28 years can apply at the Post Graduate level. Post graduate applicants do not qualify for the flying branch. For the technical branch the age limit is 28 years and for the ground duty branch it is 25. At the time of application, all applicants must be single. The IAF selects candidates for officer training from these applicants. After completion of training, a candidate is commissioned as a Flying Officer.
The duty of an airman in the Indian Air Force is to make sure that all the air and ground operations run smoothly. From operating Air Defence systems to fitting missiles, they are involved in all activities of an air base and give support to various technical and non-technical jobs. The recruitment of personnel below officer rank is conducted through All India Selection Tests and Recruitment Rallies. All India Selection Tests are conducted among 14 Airmen Selection Centres (ASCs) located all over India. These centres are under the direct functional control of Central Airmen Selection Board (CASB), with administrative control and support by respective commands. The role of CASB is to carry out selection and enrolment of airmen from the Airmen Selection Centres for their respective commands. Candidates initially take a written test at the time of application. Those passing the written test undergo a physical fitness test, an interview conducted in English, and medical examination. Candidates for training are selected from individuals passing the battery of tests, on the basis of their performance. Upon completion of training, an individual becomes an Airman. Some MWOs and WOs are granted honorary commission in the last year of their service as an honorary Flying Officer or Flight Lieutenant before retiring from the service.
Training and education
The Indian Armed Forces has set up numerous military academies across India for training its personnel. Military schools, Sainik Schools, and the Rashtriya Indian Military College were founded to broaden the recruitment base of the Defence Forces. The three branches of the Indian Armed Forces jointly operate several institutions such as the National Defence Academy (NDA), Defence Services Staff College (DSSC), National Defence College (NDC) and the College of Defence Management (CDM) for training its officers. The Armed Forces Medical College (AFMC) at Pune is responsible for providing the entire pool of medical staff to the Armed Forces by giving them in service training.
Besides these Tri-service institutions, the Indian Air Force has a Training Command and several training establishments. While technical and other support staff are trained at various Ground Training Schools, the pilots are trained at the Air Force Academy located at Dindigul. The Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad, the Air Force Administrative College at Coimbatore, the School of Aviation Medicine at Bangalore, the Air Force Technical College, Bangalore at Jalahalli and the Paratrooper's Training School at Agra are some of the other training establishments of the IAF.
The Indian Air Force has aircraft and equipment of Russian (erstwhile Soviet Union), British, French, Israeli, U.S. and Indian origins with Russian aircraft dominating its inventory. HAL produces some of the Russian and British aircraft in India under licence. The exact number of aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force cannot be determined with precision from open sources. Various reliable sources provide notably divergent estimates for a variety of high-visibility aircraft.
Fighter and multi-role combat aircraft
The primary role of the fighter aircraft in the Indian Air Force inventory is to achieve and maintain air supremacy over the battle field. Air superiority fighters are fast and manoeuvrable aircraft designed primarily for air-to-air combat with limited capability to strike ground targets. Multi-role aircraft on the other hand are capable of conducting air-to air combat and ground attack with equal ease; sometimes within the same mission. This ability of combining different operational tasks offers considerable cost-of-ownership benefits to the operators.
The Sukhoi Su-30MKI is the IAF's primary air superiority fighter with the capability to conduct strike missions. The IAF have placed an order for a total of 272 Su-30MKIs of which 146 are in service as of 2011.
The Mikoyan MiG-29 known as Baaz (Hindi for Hawk) is the IAF's dedicated air superiority fighter and forms the second line of defence for the IAF after the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. The IAF operates 68 MiG-29s, all of which are currently being upgraded to the MiG-29UPG standard.
The Dassault Mirage 2000, known as Vajra (Sanskrit for Thunderbolt) in Indian service, is the IAF's primary multirole fighter. The IAF currently operates 51 Mirage 2000Hs which are currently being upgraded to the Mirage 2000-5 MK2 standard.
The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 serves as an Interceptor aircraft in the IAF. The IAF have phased out most of its MiG-21s and plans to keep only 125 that have been upgraded to MiG-21 Bison standard. These aircraft will be phased out between 2014 and 2017. The MiG-21s are planned to be replaced by the indigenously built HAL Tejas.
Strike, attack and close support aircraft
These are military aircraft designed to attack targets on the ground. They are often deployed as close air support for, and in proximity to, their own ground forces, requiring precision strikes from these aircraft.
The SEPECAT Jaguar known as Shamsher and the Mikoyan MiG-27 known as Bahadur (Hindi for Valiant) serve as the IAF's primary ground attack force. The IAF currently operates 139 Jaguars and over 100 MiG-27s.
Airborne early warning aircraft
These aircraft are designed to detect and distinguish hostile aircraft. The system can be used to direct fighters and strike aircraft to their targets and warn them of hostile enemy aircraft in the area.
The IAF currently operates the EL/W-2090 Phalcon AEW&C. A total of 3 such systems are currently in service, with possible orders for 2 more.
These aircraft are used for aerial refuelling which allows IAF aircraft to remain airborne for longer periods, hence enhancing their effective range. Aerial refuelling also allows aircraft to take-off with greater payload (by carrying less fuel during take-off). The IAF currently operates 6 Ilyushin Il-78MKIs for aerial refuelling roles.
Transport aircraft are typically used to deliver troops, weapons, supplies and other military equipment to the IAF field of operations. The IAF currently operate different types of transport aircraft for different roles.
The IAF operates Ilyushin Il-76s known as Gajraj (Hindi for King Elephant) for military transportroles such as strategic or heavy lift at all operational levels. The IAF currently operates 17 Il-76s. The Il-76s are to be replaced by C-17 Globemaster IIIs.
The C-130J of the IAF is used by special forces for combined Army-Air Force operations. There are currently 6 C-130Js in service.
The Antonov An-32 known as Sutlej (name of an Indian river) serves as medium transport aircraft in the IAF. The aircraft is also used in bombing roles and para-dropping operations. The IAF currently operates 105 An-32s, all of which are being upgraded.
The Hawker Siddeley HS 748 once formed the backbone of the IAF's transport fleet, but are now used mainly for transport training and communication duties. The Dornier Do 228 serves as light transport aircraft in the IAF. The IAF also operates Boeing 737s and Embraer ECJ-135 Legacy aircraft as VIP Transports. The IAF operates aircraft for the President of India as well as the Prime Minister of India under the call sign Air India One.
Training aircraft are used to develop piloting and nagivational skills in pilots and air crew.
The HAL HPT-32 Deepak is IAF's basic flight training aircraft for cadets. The HPT-32 was grounded in July 2009 following a crash that killed two senior flight instructors, but was revived in May 2010 and is to be fitted with a parachute recovery system (PRS) to enhance survivability during an emergency in the air and to bring the trainer down safely. The HPT-32 is to be phased out soon.
The IAF uses the HAL HJT-16 Kiran mk.I for intermediate flight training of cadets, while the HJT-16 Kiran mk.II provides advanced flight and weapons training. The HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 is also operated by the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) of the IAF. The Kiran is to be replaced by the HAL HJT-36 Sitara.
The BAE Hawk Mk 132 serves as an advanced jet trainer in the IAF and is progressively replacing the Kiran Mk.II. The IAF has begun the process of converting the Surya Kiran display team to Hawks. A total of 106 BAE Hawk trainers have been ordered by the IAF of which 39 have entered service as of July 2010. The purchase of 75 Pilatus PC-7 Mk-II aircraft has been cleared by the Cabinet Committee. The decision has been made in the wake of acute shortage of basic trainer aircrafts. On 24 May 2012, IAF signed a Rs 2800 crore deal with the Swiss company to purchase 75 Pilatus Planes. The delivery of 75 Pilatus Planes is expected in January 2013 and the first course of training would begin in July 2013.
An important objective of the IAF is to support ground troops by providing air cover and by transporting men and essential commodities across the battlefield. For this purpose the Air Force maintains a fleet of helicopters.
The HAL Dhruv serves primarily as a light utility helicopter in the IAF. In addition to transport and utility roles, Dhruvs are also used as attack helicopters. 4 Dhruvs are also operated by the Indian Air Force Sarang Helicopter Display Team.
The HAL Chetak is a light utility helicopter and is used primarily for training, rescue and light transport roles in the IAF. The HAL Chetak is scheduled to be replaced by HAL's Advanced Light Helicopter.
The HAL Cheetah is a light utility helicopter used for high altitude operations. It is used for both transport and search-and-rescue missions in the IAF.
The Mil Mi-8 and the Mil Mi-17 are operated by the IAF for medium utility roles. The Mi-8 is being progressively replaced by the Mi-17. The IAF has ordered 80 Mi-17V-5s to replace and augment its existing fleet of Mi-8s and Mi-17s, with an order for 59 additional helicopters to follow soon.
The Mil Mi-26 serves as a heavy lift helicopter in the IAF. It can also be used to transport troops or as a flying ambulance. The IAF currently operates 4 Mi-26s.
The Mil Mi-35 serves primarily as an attack helicopter in the IAF. The Mil Mi-35 can also act as a low-capacity troop transport. The IAF currently operates 2 squadrons (No.104 Firebirds and No.125 Gladiators) of Mi-25/35s.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles
The primary role of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) is to provide aerial surveillance and reconnaissance. UAVs can also be used as unmanned combat aircraft or pilotless target aircraft.
The IAF currently uses the IAI Searcher II and IAI Heron for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. The IAI Harpy serves as an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) which is designed to attack radar systems. The IAF also operates the DRDO Lakshya which serves as realistic towed aerial sub-targets for live fire training.
Land-based air defence
Surface-to-air missile systems
The IAF currently operates the S-125 Pechora and the 9K33 Osa as Surface-to-air missile systems. The IAF is also currently inducting the Akash medium range surface-to-air missile system. A total of 8 squadrons has been ordered so far.
The IAF currently operates the Prithvi-II short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). The Prithvi-II is an IAF-specific variant of the Prithvi ballistic missile.
Anti-ballistic missile systems
The S-300 SAM serves as an Anti-Tactical Ballistic Missile (ATBM) system in the IAF. The S-300 is also able to detect, track, and destroy incoming cruise missiles and low-flying aircraft.