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Eroding combat plane strength compromising national security: Par Panel

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NEW DELHI (PTI): National security is being "compromised" with a "fast-eroding" combat aircraft squadron strength of the Indian Air Force (IAF) vis-a-vis the neighbouring countries, leading to a "very grim" situation, a Parliamentary panel has said.

"With regard to existing squadron strength, it is learnt that we are down to 25 squadrons today even though the authorisation is for 42 combat squadrons. Thus, our capability has already come down," the Standing Committee on Defence said in a report tabled in Parliament on Monday.

The 33-member panel, headed by BJP MP B C Khanduri, said, "It was admitted...that our capability (vis-a-vis) our neighbours is fast eroding" and the country's "security requirements are being compromised by ignoring consistently widening gap between sanctioned and existing strength."

IAF now requires at least 45 fighter squadrons to "counter a two-front collusive threat but the government has authorised a strength of 42 squadrons. This revelation is astonishing ..."

Noting that IAF had only 25 active fighter squadrons with 14 of them equipped with MiG-21 and MiG-27 combat planes which would retire between 2015 and 2024, it said the strength would be reduced to just 11 squadrons by 2024. This "widening gap" has occured primarily due to the rate of retirement of the fighter jet aircraft, it said.

Though IAF has contracted for 272 Sukhoi-30 MKIs planes, delivery of which would be completed by 2020, to form 13 squadrons, the air force would be able to add 13 squadrons in its fleet only by that year, the committee observed.

"Further, the series production of Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) is also awaited to form the first LCA squadron in IAF.

The Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) is at Contract Negotiation Committee stage," it said.

"It is needless to say that an early induction of additional aircraft is crucial for arresting the downward trend in the strength of fighter squadrons.

"The Committee finds the situation to be very grim and it is quintessential for the (Defence) Ministry to ensure a smooth and adequate flow of funds and providing easier induction procedure for attaining the requisite squadron strength," the report said.

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