"The authorisation is for 42 fighter squardons. Presently, we have much less than that. In the 12th and 13th Plan periods (2012-2022), we have to maintain a certain force level because that is where the maximum draw down is taking place," the IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal N.A.K. Browne, said at a press conference here ahead of IAF Day on Oct 8.
He said in case the proposed medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) is not procured by the end of the 12th Plan (2012-2017), then force levels will rapidly go down.
"That we have to prevent," he said, adding that force levels need to be maintained to keep up the country's deterrent capabilities," Browne said.
French firm Dassault Aviation had bagged the MMRCA deal for 126 planes last year after being declared the lowest bidder. Eighteen aircraft are to be purchased in a fly-away condition, while Hindustan Aeronatics Limited (HAL) is to manufacture the 108 under licence. Price negotiations are currently underway.
Asked about recent passing away of a joint secretary, A.K. Bal, who was dealing with acquisitions, Browne said it was a big setback.
"We have lost a big player. It is a setback for everything the air force is procuring," he said adding that the new person on the job will take about 3-4 months to settle down.
Bal passed away on Tuesday after suffering a heart attack.
Asked if the MMRCA negotiations will be completed this year, he said it was difficult to put a timeline.
He said if the deal is signed next year, the first aircraft will arrive in 2017.
"We cannot delay any further beyond that," he said.
"It is very important for IAF because of declining force levels. It is a complex project in terms of negotiations," Browne said.
Answering a query on the fifth generation fighter aircraft, he said it was a development project and discussions were being held on its design parameters.
He said to maintain force levels in the 12th and 13th Plans, the IAF will need to give life extensions to some of its aircraft and also induct the indegenous light combat aircraft (LCA) at the earliest.
--IANS (Posted on 04-10-2013)