The Pakistan Air Force is stronger than ever. Since the last Indo-Pak air war of 1971, the Pakistan Air Force has with steely determination built up numbers, lethal capabilities and a combat force now counted as one of the most disciplined and well-trained air forces in the world.
Headlines Today has a disturbing proof that all this has made India worried. A recent presentation by the defence intelligence establishment paints a morbid picture of how the numbers and capability advantage that the Indian Air Force has always found comfort in is rapidly slipping away.
Headlines Today has accessed the recent presentation made to the Ministry of Defence. The document makes singularly ominous projections. The most glaring warning is about combat force ratio.
The presentation says that the ratio of 1:1.7 is likely to progressively dip to 1:1.2 by the end of 2012. It describes this as a "historic low". It also says that the traditional hi-tech advantage is almost equal now with 9.5:11 squadron ratio.
With Pakistan rapidly acquiring early warning aircraft, mid-air refuellers and long-range missiles, the technology gap is at a historic low.
It is a wake-up call to India's military planners. The decisions taken now could forever doom the crucial advantage that the Indian Air Force has always enjoyed against an adversary that can never be underestimated.
A formidable adversary
The last time the air forces of India and Pakistan fought a full-blown war was forty years ago.
But if the Pakistan Air Force of 1971 was an enemy to be reckoned with, circumstances have made it an even more formidable adversary today.
The internal assessment by the Indian defence establishment makes some grimly practical projections in the light of an adversary emboldened by an unfettered modernisation spree.
The government has been warned that with the Indian Air Force's edge slipping fast, the Pakistan Air Force's assertiveness is likely to increase.
Once seen as a primarily defensive force, the Pakistan Air Force will use its new strength to employ offensive and defensive operations in equal measure.
With new precision weapons, the Pakistan Air Force will conduct limited strikes to achieve strategic effects.
The one thing that won't change -- high-value targets in J&K will be high-priority targets for the PAF.
There's a deeper threat at play than just fighter numbers. Consider these newly inducted force multiplers that all but kill the Indian air advantage. Pakistan is inducting four Swedish Saab Erieye and four Chinese Y-8 airborne early warning aircraft, while India, currently, has three.
India no longer has the mid-air refueller advantage. Pakistan is inducting four identical IL-78M aircraft.
The Indian Air Force's UAV advantage is also disappearing. Pakistan is acquiring 25 European UAVs, with more in the pipeline.
Despite the ominous projections of the presentation, there are those who believe the Indian Air Force will always remain on top. Among them, Air Marshal Denzil Keelor, one half of the legendary Keelor brothers, who scored independent India's first air-to-air kill against Pakistan in 1965.
But for the IAF to remain ahead, and stem the swiftly dwindling capability advantage over Pakistan, it needs to make some hard decisions across the board.
Rapid inductions of new generation fighters give the Pakistan Air Force significantly enhanced fighting potential.
The air superiority fighter advantage that the IAF once enjoyed is progressively disappearing.
A determined plugging of air defence gaps with radars and missiles has starkly reduced the Indian Air Force's freedom of action in the event of war.
There are several reasons why the situation has been allowed to get so grim for the Indian Air Force.
Delays in the Tejas have forced the Air Force to grapple with stop-gap arrangements that don't quite cut it.
The Indian mother of all deals for 126 new fighters is still incomplete more than ten years after the IAF said it needed the aircraft urgently.
Finally, with an ageing Soviet fleet of aircraft (MIGs) that are troublesome and facing retirement, the Air Force looks at an even greater dip in the numbers advantage.
The message to the Defence Ministry and the government is simple. Cut your losses and plan hard for the future. If you don't, the Indian Air Force will lose the one thing you've always counted on: its combat edge.