Originally established in 1932, the Indian Air Force has become the world’s fourth largest comprised of 170,000 personnel, operating over 500 fixed-wing combat aircraft (down from 850 in 2006), and considered by outside observers to be a competent but ageing force. Until the mid-late 1980s, the role of the IAF was primarily related to ground and tactical support for the army in order to deliver localized air superiority. However since then, the force has expanded its role to have a more strategic function, capable of carrying out strikes deep within enemy territory while also providing the option for nuclear delivery.
The Indian Air Force, like its Army counterpart, is organized around geographical and functional commands but without any reserve component. There are currently five primary operational commands and two support commands all subordinate to Air HQ in New Delhi, where the Chief of Air Staff–assisted by a Vice Chief and Deputy Chief–exercise command and control.
The five operational commands and their associated HQs are:
1) Western Air Command, Subroto Park, New Delhi
2) South Western Air Command, Ghandinagar, Gujarat
3) Central Air Command, Bamrauli, Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh
4) Eastern Air Command, Shillong, Meghtalaya
5) Southern Air Command, Trivandrum, Kerala
(Click here for a detailed Order of Battle from Jane’s)
Of note, the IAF’s nuclear delivery capability has been made subordinate to the Strategic Forces Command, along with other nuclear delivery assets from the Army. This command currently answers directly to the Chief of Staff Committee, although there have been suggestions of creating of Chief of Defense Staff position.