The Guardians of India’s Skies

Updated: Nov 16, 2020


“Airpower is like oxygen. When you have enough, you don’t think about it. When you don’t have enough, it’s all you can think of.”

-Gen. Frank Gorenc , USAFE-AFAFRICA


The Indian Air Force has played an instrumental role in not only keeping the Indian airspace secure from all foreign threats but also launching strategic offensive raids as required. In its glorious 88 year-old legacy, the IAF outshone itself every single time. With constantly evolving challenges and technology, it becomes imminent for our air warriors to constantly update and upgrade themselves with modern assets and infrastructure in order to secure India’s skies as well as her territorial integrity. While all aspects of the Air Force are equally important for the upkeep of an omnipotent line of Defence, this article aims to focus on the Fighter stream of the IAF and provide an insight into each of these mighty fighters.


Sukhoi Su-30MKI


The Su-30MKI joined the IAF fleet in 2002. This Russian beauty is the mainstay of the Indian Air Force with about 260 of these in service. The MKI version is tailor-made by Sukhoi to suit the needs of the IAF. It is an air superiority fighter, which means that it is capable of entering and seizing control of enemy airspace in times of war. It can carry a wide array of weapons. The Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) attained the contract to domestically produce 272 Su-30MKI in India and all of the aircrafts in service are made in India. The MKI has been commended by many foreign pilots, during exercises, on its agility in combat and its masterful dogfighting skills. It is consistently evolving and keeping up with the technological advancements. While it has not been seen in any major direct combat engagement yet, it certainly is a huge deterrent to any threats that our country faces.

The Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter


Dassault Rafale

The Rafale has been in the news for a multitude of reasons lately. India entered into a contract with the French government to procure 36 of these. These 36 jets are the first major acquisition by the IAF in about 23 years since the deal for the Su-30MKI was signed. The Rafale is a high-end, modern fighter jet that can engage several targets at once. With its multi-role capabilities, such as air defence, ground support and reconnaissance, the Rafale gives air superiority to the Indian Air Force. Unlike the MKI, Rafale has proven itself in combat many times in the past in Afghanistan, Libya and Mali among other countries. Rafale comes with the unique ability to carry the METEOR missile. The METEOR has an air to air engagement capability of over 150 kms, with a no escape distance (the zone within which the probability of the target being hit is very high) of 120 kms. Along with the Meteor, Rafale can also carry the SCALP long range stand-off missile- weighing over 1300 kilograms, 5.1 metres long with a precision killing range of 600 kilometres. Weapon systems, therefore, are a prominent feature of the Rafale and even the current 36 ordered by the Indian Defence establishment could be a nightmare for her adversaries.

The Dassault Rafale fighter jet


HAL Tejas

In the 1980s, as the MiG-21 reliant IAF fleet started to age, considerations to develop an indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) began. The Tejas has been a long delayed project with the initial scheduled service entry planned for 1995. The platform however, does justice to all the hype it created. It is one of the smallest combat aircrafts in service, has state of art technology like Fly by Wire (FBW) and superior electronic warfare capabilities which make it a good contender for deep penetration operations in enemy territory. The Tejas entered operational service recently with the 45th Squadron and will soon replace the MiG-21 Fleet entirely. A naval version of Tejas is planned and will soon see the light of day. Tejas has impressed Air Force establishments worldwide and countries like Singapore, Malaysia and Turkmenistan have shown interest in the platform.

The Tejas


Mikoyan MiG-29

The MiG-29, fondly called ‘Baaz’ by the Indian Air Force is another potent weapon of war employed. First inking a deal in 1982, India became the first customer to buy the MiG 29, a privilege reserved for the Communist allies of the USSR. The inductions continued from 1986 to 1991. The strength of this platform lies in its extreme 9G maneuvers. A 9G turn is one where you feel as if gravity is 9 times higher than normal- if the gravitational pull of the earth that one feels on a daily basis is 1G, the maneuvers performed by these jets is at 9 times that force. India entered into a multimillion dollar deal with Russia to upgrade its MiG-29 fleet to the current UPG standards with enhanced BVR capabilities and air to air refuelling capability among a wide array of other upgrades. The UPG’s cousin MiG-29K, the naval version, is in service with the Indian Navy as a carrier based fighter. The MiG-29 has proved itself in combat on many occasions. The MiG-29 was used extensively during the Kargil War and also in the Combat Air Patrol (CAP) role during the recent standoff in Ladakh. Combat air patrol (CAP) is a type of flying mission for fighter aircraft. A combat air patrol is an aircraft patrol provided over an objective area, over the force protected, over the critical area of a combat zone, or over an air defence area, for the purpose of intercepting and destroying hostile aircraft before they reach their target.

The Mikoyan MiG 29


Dassault Mirage 2000

After India learnt of its neighbor, Pakistan’s successful attempt to procure F-16A/B aircrafts from the USA in the early 1980s, India swung into action to look for a superior or at least comparable aircraft. India entered into talks with France to procure the Mirage F1 but became aware that a vastly superior design was in testing phase. An internal assessment revealed that the Mirage 2000 was vastly superior to the F-16 procured by Pakistan. India entered into an agreement with Dassault to buy 36 single seat and 4 twin seater versions of the jet with a possibility to procure 9 more as war reserve. With the outbreak of Kargil War, Mirage was called to execute operations with the Jaguar as the latter faced severe thrust issues at high altitudes. By the end of Operation Safed Sagar, the IAF’s operation in Kargil, the two Mirage squadrons would fly 514 sorties and drop over 55,000 kg of ordnance. The morale boosting performance led to the acquisition of 10 more Mirages in 2004 by the Indian Government bringing the total to 50.


The Mirage 2000


SEPECAT Jaguar

Fondly called “Shamsher” by the IAF fraternity, India was approached by Britain and France as a potential customer as early as 1968 but declined the offer as it was a possibility that the two might not operate the platform themselves. In 1978, however, India entered into a $1 Billion deal after the Jaguar was chosen over the Saab Viggen and Mirage F.1. The order involved 40 UK built Jaguars and a further 120 license built aircrafts from HAL. As an interim measure 18 RAF Jaguars were loaned and became operational in 1979. It was used to carry out reconnaissance missions for the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in Sri Lanka between 1987 and 1990. It was employed again in Kargil in 1999 to drop guided and unguided ordnance. The platform has aged and IAF is the sole Air Force operating the platform. It has seen its golden days and will probably be phased out soon.

The Jaguar


Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21

The MiG-21 is perhaps the oldest, most battle hardened, widely produced and prolific fighter on this list. India first inked a deal in 1961 to purchase this aircraft and the USSR offered full technology and production rights. In 1964, the MiG 21 became the first supersonic aircraft to enter service with the IAF. Due to limited numbers in service and lack of pilot training, it played a negligible role in the 1965 war. However, over the next 6 years, IAF gained valuable experience in operating it and it went on to play an instrumental role in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War on both fronts, with supremacy over its enemies. The Indian pilots displayed so much skill in 1971 that many countries that operated the jets like Iraq, approached the IAF for pilot training and over 120 Iraqi Pilots were trained by IAF in the 1970s. Since 1964, the IAF has operated over 1200 of these across variants. The highly upgraded MiG-21 Bison is still in service numbering over 100 spread across the country and squadrons. It played an instrumental role in the Kargil War as an interceptor and reconnaissance aircraft. In 2019, it scored a kill of the highly superior Pakistani F-16 but was lost in the process too. However, the MiG has run into trouble lately and its glory days seem to have passed as better equipped aircrafts have come in. We don’t know how much longer it will stay with us but in the past 60 years, the MiG 21 has given the countrymen many memorable victories and opportunities to rejoice its existence.


The MiG 21

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