The IAF has paid French aerospace firms Dassault and Thales about Euro 350 million for 'performance-based logistics'.
This requires the vendors to ensure that 75 per cent of the Rafale fleet is combat-ready at all times, notes Ajai Shukla.
In a radical move, the US Navy is looking to commercial airlines for ideas and procedures to get more of its combat fighter aircraft off the ground.
US Navy aviation maintenance engineers have begun examining the maintenance and stocking practices of Delta Airlines and Southwest Airlines, which routinely ensure significantly higher aircraft availability rates than the US military.
The US Navy's primary fighter -- the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet -- has an availability rate of just 53 per cent. The US Navy's reserve fighter -- the F-18C Hornet -- has an even lower availability rate: Just about 44 per cent.
Much like the Super Hornet, the Indian Air Force's frontline Sukhoi-30MKI fighter has an availability rate of about 55 per cent. That means, of the IAF's fleet of 240 Sukhoi-30MKIs, about 108 fighters -- the equivalent of five squadrons -- remain unavailable for combat at any given time.
To prevent this in the Rafale, the IAF has paid French aerospace firms Dassault and Thales about Euro 350 million for 'performance-based logistics'. This requires the vendors to ensure that 75 per cent of the Rafale fleet is combat-ready at all times.
The US Pentagon, however, is taking the path of improving its own procedures. US Secretary of Defense James Mattis ordered the US navy, marine corps and air force in writing to ensure a 'mission capable rate' of 80 per cent by end-2019.
That requires four out of five fighters -- including the F-35 Lightning II, F-22 Raptor, F-16 and F-18 fleets -- to be ready to discharge combat missions at all times.
'Our aviation inventory and supporting infrastructure suffer from systemic underperformance, overcapitalization and unrealized capability,' wrote Mattis in a September 17 memo.
'[Implementing this] involves adopting commercial best practices to modernize maintenance depots and streamline supply chain management. By adopting these proven practices, we will rapidly attain the ability to sustain increased numbers of full mission capable aircraft and achieve [Mattis'] readiness vision,' said US naval air forces spokesperson Commander Ron Flanders.
'When you look at the F-18s, this is the same size of fleet as Southwest Airlines has. It's not a super-large fleet, they're all basically the same. So how do we put in place, you know, the support practices and the parts so that people aren't working as hard?' US Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan told the trade journal Defense News.
An earlier Indian defence ministry analysis of why 45 per cent of the Sukhoi-30MKI fleet remained non-available, it was found that, at any given time, 20 per cent of the fleet was undergoing 'first line' and 'second line' maintenance, which is the IAF's responsibility.
Another 11 to 12 per cent was undergoing major repair or overhaul by Hindustan Aeronautics, and 13 to 14 per cent of the fleet was grounded, awaiting major systems or spares -- the technical terms is: 'Aircraft on the ground'.
HAL has repeatedly advised the IAF to stock more spares in its repair establishments, based on a study of consumption patterns over the years. That is a lesson commercial airlines learned long ago to reduce 'aircraft on ground' time.
However, aviation analysts point out that keeping commercial airliners flying is simpler, since they have less mission-critical avionics.
Fighter aircraft are not just flying machines but also fighting machines. If their airborne radar or weapon systems or radar jammer is non-functional, the fighter is unavailable for combat missions.