A-10 Thunderbolt for Indian Air Force
The relationship between US and India has evolved over time, be it in the field of trade, the flourishing computer and Internet industries or the military field. America has termed India as a strategic partner and has looked up to India for countering the Chinese aggression in Asia. India is the key for America’s quest to strike a power balance in the trouble ridden Asian-Pacific region. America has proactively helped India inch forward in every field.
America is currently third biggest supplier for the lucrative Indian defense market that is growing by bounds. America has over time cleared the sale of some of the most strategic platforms to empower India in its arms race against China. The export of Boeing C-17 globe master and the Poseidon's to India have showcased America’s trust of India. A new smoother and prospective way has been carved with the recent visit of Obama, who has opened hot lines to make sure the relationship reaches newer heights and turns out to be a game changer in the race for peace.
India’s plans of acquiring modernized and reliable platforms to arm it’s forces with the most robust and efficient equipment''s is a long way to go. With the regional threats increasing and with China’s aggression to check, the drive for the modernization has taken a front seat in India's development agenda. India is look at every available option to add the most battle proven weapon to its arsenal. There is news in the air, news that has gained credibility with sources close to Janes and LoS partially confirming it. It’s to do with the ‘Guardians of our Skies’, yes it is again from the stables of the Indian Air force.
Reports have now emerged that Boeing has requested the permission of US Congress to offer the battle proven A-10 thunderbolts to foreign nations and it has emerged at a time when a delegation led by CAS (Chief of Air Staff) Air Chief Marshal of Indian Air Force, Anup Raha is in US discussing and review projects for acquiring the most proven weapons from USA. The A-10 thunderbolt has been the mainstay CAS aircraft for the US forces for over three decades. The primary user of the A-10 thunderbolt’s, USAF has now come up with plans to retire the jets from service and to replace them with the more advanced F35’s.
Why should India be looking at acquiring the retiring A-10 Thunderbolt?
The need for a CAS aircraft was strongly felt during the Kargil operations, without any CAS aircraft IAF was forced to use its rotary wing, but they failed to operate in the hostile and high altitudes of the Himalayas. Though IAF pressed its fleet of Jaguar’s and Mirages in to service the kills attained by these jets were extremely minimal. With Pakistan and China lingering around the borders day in and out a repeat of Kargil is never far. Indian Air Force for long has been on the lookout for a proven CAS platform. With very limited options clubbed with financial crunches, IAF was forced to look at acquiring rotary aircraft capable of CAS rather than the costly jets.
With Boeing pitching in for selling the A-10, this may turn out to be the most after-sought jets by IAF. These jets are extremely maneuverable and cost efficient to operate. The jets not only perform as CAS aircraft but can also carry forward air control (FAC), where the jets will mark targets for providing guidance to CAS aircraft. The jets are powered by two GE developed TF34-GE-100 turbofan engines, these engines have proved their capabilities in extreme weather conditions. The jets have seen most of their combat in hot weather conditions and thus proving the engines are highly reliable in Indian conditions.
If added to the depleting arsenal of IAF, these jets can be force multipliers and can help boost the morale of the ground forces to a great extent. The cost concerns can be effectively worked out, costing just over US $ 12 million for a single piece these jets can be the most cost efficient option the IAF may be left with. The deal would not only be cost efficient but would also prove to add to the capabilities of IAF.
Just the thought of these jets circling over head can boost the morale of the ground forces, the jet may not only be used in a war but can also be used in Anti-Naxal operations. CRPF for long has been requesting for a dedicated CAS unit, which can serve as the backbone for any ground offensive against the red forces.
The A 10’s are dedicated CAS (Close-in Air Support Aircraft). Designed around the GAU-8 Avenger rotary cannon and coupled with titanium armours these jets are often referred to as flying tanks. The jet can annihilate the enemies and freeze them in their paths. Though first delivered in 1976, the A-10’s have been the most favored CAS aircraft in the USAF arsenal. A-10 tasted its first piece of battle in the 1991 Gulf war, where the jet was responsible to the most kills in the war. Such was the success rate of the jet that USAF was forced to think twice about replacing them with an advanced version of the F-16.
By the end of the war A-10’s had flown about 8100 sorties and enjoyed a 95.8 % mission capable rate. By the time US involved in combats across Iraq and Afghanistan, A-10’s had become the most after sought support machinery. About 60 A-10 were flown to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom to support the ground forces inch forward in the hostile environment. Though slow moving, these jets can spell havoc when the doorway to the canon’s are opened. These jets have been the most successful CAS aircraft, time and again they have proved their might by supporting the cause taken by US.
US had offered India with Scorpion jets which if inducted would have formed the CAS wing and would also help in the light bombing missions. But the Scorpions have never tasted battle and inducting such an aircraft can be a costly mistake. The Scorpions are expected cost over US $15 million, rather the Indian government may look at negotiating for the battle proven A-10’s.
The Saab JAS 39 Gripen is one more aircraft the IAF is believed to have shown interest in. Gripen was even fielded in the now stalled MMRCA deal, but had lost out in the initial rounds of testing. Saab had drawn up an agreement with Tata, to jointly develop the Gripen NG (New Generation) in India. Gripen though developed by EU nations, mainly depends on components developed and manufactured by US companies and this was one of the main reason, IAF turned down Gripen. The idea of co-developing a jet is a welcome move for the Indian industries, but at a time when IAF squadrons are depleting it may not be the best option. A single unit of Gripen NG is estimated at around US $70 million, even though developing in India may reduce the cost it still won’t turn out to be the most cost efficient option for IAF.
Why should IAF be acquiring an aircraft the USAF is retiring from active service?
The aircraft’s India will not be sent just off the shelf. Boeing has clearly mentioned that the aircraft which will be on offer to foreign countries will be refurbished and will be overhauled. The jets will also receive major upgrades to its avionics and weapon stations, thereby enhancing the capabilities significantly. USAF is actively pitching to field the F-35 Lightning aircraft which will serve as a multi-mission aircraft. The move to retire the A-10’s is aimed towards cutting operational costs.
A-10’s are proven CAS and FAC operators but cannot engage aerial targets. Deploying additional fighter squadrons to escort these machines is extremely demanding and with the threat theatres in which USAF is involved increasing, it is time USAF looks at aircrafts that can attack at the same time defend when attacked. But IAF has a limited operational range and is currently charged with protecting the borders of its nation.
A-10’s weren’t scheduled to be retired from service until 2035, it was even planned to develop unmanned A-10 but was later dropped considering the operational range. These jets have evolved to effective piece machinery because of the constant updates these jets have received since their induction. The whole basic layout of A-10 have been transformed over the years LASTE, IFFCC and laser receiver pods are some of the key changes that have been imparted aboard the jets.
In 2005, A-10 was provided with precision engagement upgrades and improved fire control system and ECM systems were clubbed to the aircraft. The very notable upgrade was when USAF came up with the decision to provide new wing sets to the entire A-10 fleet. With this upgrade the jets can serve till 2035. If inducted by the IAF by 2018, the jets can serve for nearly two decades and with a few upgrades, the jets service life can be increased substantially at least till an dedicated CAS platform is developed by India.
If the US congress clears Boeing plans to sell upgraded A-10’s to foreign countries, India will top the priority list. On the lookout for a dedicated CAS platform there wouldn’t be another best available option for the IAF. With India and US enjoying a warm relationship a G-G deal should guarantee these jets to be flying in IAF colours in the least possible time.
These jets will not only serve in the frontlines but can also serve in securing the internal interests by supporting CAS to the Anti-Naxal operations. If acquired by IAF, these jets will be a priced possession. Any Adventurous moves by any hostile forces can turn out to be disastrous with the flick of a few buttons. Be warned hostiles IAF may soon be armed with the “Warthog”.