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Last Updated: Tuesday, 18 April 2006, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
India's air force 'needs to grow'
By Sanjeev Srivastava
BBC News, Delhi

Indian Air Chief Marshall SP Tyagi
The IAF cannot match private airlines' salaries, the IAF head says
The Indian Air Force (IAF) says it has ambitious plans to modernise and upgrade its fleet.

IAF chief SP Tyagi told the BBC that, with the growth in India's economy, there was a need for greater security in energy and economic areas.

Last week the BBC found that at least 200 IAF fighter pilots want to resign due to poor conditions.

The IAF chief also defended the use of ageing MiG planes despite their high accident rates.

New jets

The air chief marshal said that given India's economic growth, the need to protect trade routes would grow, increasing the demands placed on the IAF.

Indian Air Force Jaguar fighter aircraft
The IAF says it spends millions of rupees on each pilot's training

"But this reach will be of a strategic and defensive nature," he said.

The Indian government would soon be acquiring 120 new jets, 80 new helicopters and six new flight refuelling aircrafts, he said.

By the year 2020 all the IAF fighter jets would be modified for air-to-air refuelling to increase their reach.

The IAF will also start taking deliveries of 66 advance trainer jets (AJT)-Hawks from next year.

The IAF chief said the chances of a large scale conflict were reducing all over the world but the armed forces could not afford to be complacent.

Commercial lure

Air Chief Marshal Tyagi also put up a strong defence for India's ageing MiG fighters saying the aircraft had served the IAF well despite the high number of them that have crashed.

The IAF can "never even think about making airborne an aircraft which is not safe," he argued.

The wreckage of Indian Air Force MiG-21 jet which crashed near Jullundur, India
The IAF chief says MiG fighter planes are safe

He also spoke candidly on the issue of fighter pilots wanting to quit the IAF for better salaries being offered by private Indian airlines.

He admitted that a few pilots wanted to quit the IAF and had applied to air headquarters in this regard. But their number was in single digits and not in hundreds, he said.

"Everybody knows the Indian aviation sector is booming and there's a shortage of trained pilots. And the private sector offers 10 times the salary we offer.

"So obviously some of my boys would like to leave and I completely understand that," he said.

The air chief marshal said he did not begrudge the high salaries being offered to his pilots by private airlines. But he could not release pilots unless they were not required by the IAF.

"If there's a war how would it sound if I have to tell the government and the people of this country that 'sorry we can't fight as my boys are flying a civilian aircraft'."

He said the government was committed to improving the working conditions of fighter pilots. But he said money and perks could not be the only motivating factor for an air force pilot.

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