Military & Aerospace

Indian Air Force: 2025
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Issue Vol. 30.4 Oct-Dec 2015 | Date : 05 Oct , 2017

C-17 Globemaster

Six additional Lockheed C-130J Super Hercules Special Operations aircraft are being ordered and will be based in the Eastern region. Acquisition of ten additional Boeing C-17 Globemaster III aircraft will give the IAF significant global strategic capability. Shortlisted 56 medium-transport aircraft EADS CASA C-295 to replace the HS-748 fleet will now be built in India by a consortium of Airbus Defence and Space and Tata Advanced Systems.

The government needs to revamp the DRDO and defence PSUs and free them from bureaucratic clutches…

Beyond the 106 Pilatus PC-7 Mk II trainers, HAL has reportedly been given the go ahead to produce 68 HTT-40 basic trainers along with an international partner. HAL has chosen Honeywell Garrett TPE331-12B turboprop engine for the same. 15 heavy-lift Boeing Chinook CH-47F and 22 Boeing AH-64D Apache Longbow attack helicopters have been selected for acquisition and contracts have been signed on September 27, 2015. Additional ALH Dhruv helicopters are on order and one day, the IAF may have more than 100 aircraft. With the AgustaWestland deal for 12 AW101 VVIP helicopters under arbitration, refurbished Mi-17s will be used for VVIP duties in the interim.

In December 2014, Kamov Ka-226T was selected to be the Light Utility Helicopter for the three services to replace the fleet of Chetak and Cheetah helicopters. Kamov will set up a plant in India to manufacture these. In the long run, around 400 will be required by various users. The IAF has sent out a Request For Information (RFI) to international suppliers for an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) with low radar cross-section, high service ceiling, long range and capability to carry precision-guided weapons in an internal weapons bay.

In August 2008, a deal was signed with Israel to jointly develop an advanced version of the SPYDER Surface-to-Air Missile. 18 units are required by IAF. IAI’s Harop UCAVs have also been ordered. The DRDO has developed the nuclear capable Nirbhay cruise missile which is capable of hitting targets 1,100 km away with an accuracy of two metres.

HAL has not been able to offer a viable indigenous basic trainer…

Strengthen Indian Aviation Production

Of India’s defence requirements, 70 per cent is met through imports, 25 per cent through Defence PSUs and the remaining five per cent through the private sector. For India to become a global power, defence manufacturing has to be strengthened. Many Indian companies are already making aviation grade components. Centum Group makes Thales-cleared components for US Armed Forces. Tata Power’s Strategic Engineering Division (SED) won the Indian Army contract for two electronic warfare systems beating Israeli firm Elta. SED secured orders for Pinaka Multi-Barrel Rocket Launcher, Akash Launcher and Integrated EW System for the Indian Army and the IAF.

Mahindra Group bagged a large aero-components production contract and will supply in excess of a million parts per annum for several Airbus aircraft. Several companies such as Avasarala Technologies, DefSys, Ravilla and Taneja Aerospace have acquired advanced technological capabilities. Dynamatic Technologies makes assemblies of vertical fins for Sukhoi 30 MKI fighters. Samtel electronics makes SU-30 Head-Up Displays and other electronics. Meanwhile, the government needs to revamp the DRDO and defence PSUs and free them from bureaucratic clutches and prepare for market forces.

Accelerate Projects and Procurements

The Rafale was selected after a grueling selection process from among the best on offer in the world. Delays in signing the contract have implications and are best curtailed. Buying additional SU-30s in-lieu, which have had serviceability of mere 50 per cent in place of the Rafale would be akin to putting all eggs back in the Russian basket. The Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) and the twin-engine Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA), both with Russia, are facing delays and seriously disputed cost escalations.

The DRDO is developing a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV named ‘Rustam’ to replace / supplement the Heron UAVs in service…

Meanwhile, additional C-17s and C-130s are awaiting fund allocations. Similar is the status for Boeing Apache attack helicopters and CH-47 Chinook. In view of the new guidelines on blacklisting companies and favourable judgements in Italian courts, the MoD may review cancellation of the AugustaWestland VVIP helicopter deal. Another area of concern is flying training. The Pilatus PC-7 Mk II for basic stage training has proved very good. HAL has not been able to offer a viable indigenous basic trainer. The 45-year old second stage Kiran aircraft is already overstretched and HAL’s Intermediate Jet Trainer (IJT) is far from ready. The IAF is short of nearly 900 pilots. The training capacity at the Air Force Academy needs to be increased. The acquisition process for the Basic and Intermediate trainer needs to be hastened.

The future of aviation lies in unmanned craft. The USA already has more unmanned than manned airborne platforms. India needs to procure more UAVs and accelerate indigenous development. The IAF is at the lowest ever state with regard to the inventory of SAMs and needs quick replacements. Aerial weapons normally have a shelf life of around ten years. PGMs such as Laser/TV/IR Guided Bombs and missiles are crucial assets. New weapons are planned with SU-30 MKI and Mirage 2000 upgrades. They will also get inducted with Rafale. India’s joint ventures between Israeli firms and DRDO for projects such as Astra, Maitri and Nirbhay missiles and Sudarshan LGB need hastening. Induction of at least four more Israeli Aerostat radar systems has been long pending.

IAF aircraft fleet serviceability has been hovering between 50 to 70 per cent…

High Aircraft Serviceability – Adds Numbers

IAF aircraft fleet serviceability has been hovering between 50 to 70 per cent. Taking into account sub-system unserviceability, effectively nearly half the inventory is operationally unavailable. Military controlled Pakistan maintains serviceability of 85 per cent. A large number of imported systems often mean long supply chains and lead time could be up to 18 months for spares and repairs. Such timeframes are operationally and financially unaffordable. To illustrate, 900 combat aircraft force with 50 per cent serviceability effectively would leave only 450 aircraft for combat. Every five per cent improvement in serviceability would add over two squadrons to the available fleet. The serviceability could be increased by a fraction of the investment required for a new purchase.

The IAF of 2025

In October 2007, India and Russia signed a pact to develop a Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft (FGFA) which is a derivative of the in-development single-seat Russian   T-50 PAK FA. The first squadron may be operational by 2020. The IAF requires 200 twin-seat and 50 single-seat aircraft to replace the MiG-29s and MiG-27s. HAL and ADA have also started design work on a fifth generation stealth multi-role Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA). This is likely to be a 20 tonne-class aircraft. Around 2023, it may begin replacing the Jaguar and Mirage 2000 fighters. The IAF requires around 250 AMCAs.

A330 MRTT Refuelling F-18

Six Airbus A330 tankers are also on order. The DRDO’s Centre for Airborne Systems (CABS) is developing Embraer EMB-145 based Airborne Early Warning and Control (AEW&C). A foreign vendor will initially supply the Active Array Antenna Unit (AAAU) and other sub-systems selected by IAF. The IAF requires 24 such aircraft. HAL and United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) of Russia will jointly develop and build an IL-214 design-based Multirole Transport Aircraft (MTA). Both are investing $300 million each and the aircraft is expected to enter service by 2018. This 18.5-tonne payload and 2,500-km range jet aircraft will also have para-drop role. The IAF plans to acquire 45 MTAs.

On an average, a mid-sized fighter aircraft costs $60 million. To acquire even just 15 squadrons over the next ten years, $18 billion will be required just for new aircraft.

HAL is developing the Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) for the IAF based on the Dhruv platform. 68 are required and are being designed for anti-infantry and anti-armour role operating at altitudes up to 6,500 metres. The DRDO is developing a Medium Altitude Long Endurance (MALE) UAV named ‘Rustam’ to replace/supplement the Heron UAVs in service. DRDO is also developing the Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft (AURA), an Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle (UCAV) which will be a tactical stealth aircraft built largely with composites and capable of delivering laser-guided strike weapons. India and Israel have agreed to expand their missile development cooperation with a longer-range version of their extended-range Barak-8 air defence system for the IAF.

The DRDO is also likely to develop the Maitri Low Level Quick Reaction Missile (LLQRM) with MBDA. In the meanwhile, the indigenous Rohini and Reporter ground-based radars need to grow in numbers. After induction of 19 Israeli Elta 2284 Medium Powered Radars (MPR), the IAF awaits DRDO’s ‘Anudhra’ MPR. The indigenous Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) system based on the Swordfish radar derived from the Israeli Green Pine radar, and the Prithvi Advanced Air Defence (AAD) missiles should be in place in next eight to ten years. The indigenous Astra Beyond Visual Range (BVR) air-to-air missile has already been tested successfully on the Su-30 MKI and the induction process is on.

To replace the overdue for phasing out squadrons and to make up for the shortfall of nine squadrons would require very large numbers of aircraft. On an average, a mid-sized fighter aircraft costs $60 million. To acquire even just 15 squadrons over the next ten years, $18 billion will be required just for new aircraft. Weapons and ground infrastructure will add up to much more. The Union Budget 2015-2016 had $40 billion earmarked for defence. 90 per cent of the $19 billion earmarked for new acquisitions this year would be required for committed liabilities of payments for earlier procurements. A conscious national commitment is required to make good the numbers.

The state of the IAF in the year 2025 can be summed up by the graphic. If all goes well, in the year 2025, the IAF would have two squadrons each of Mirage-2000 and MiG-29, three of Jaguars, 14 of SU-30 MKI, six LCA Mk I, four LCA Mk II, four MMRCA (Rafale), three FGFA and one of AMCA, totalling at best 38 Squadrons. Clearly, India has miles to go before the combat fleet achieves the required number of 42 squadrons.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Air Marshal Anil Chopra

Air Marshal Anil Chopra, commanded a Mirage Squadron, two operational air bases and the IAF’s Flight Test Centre ASTE

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32 thoughts on “Indian Air Force: 2025

  1. Mirage 2000 is a good fighter plane and was very useful in the Kargil war. At that time there was an offer for India from France to manufacture Mirage 2000 under license in HAL but the NDA government ignore this offer. We purchased Jaguar, assemble it in HAL, having a limited role in the war. 150 to 200 Mirage 2000 could fill our replacement against Mig-21 and Mig-27.

  2. I think author is not aware about many deals and programs
    1) not a single word on single engine fighter competition, which is between gripen and f-16.
    2) fgfa deal is uncertain and many other authors stated that IAF isn’t interested in the bird.
    3) mta program, indo- Russian jv has cancelled by government of India on engine issues.
    4) mrtt tender will be reissue by current government, a-330 has selected but cancelled on price issues.
    5) s-400 is also not discussed in the article.
    This article has not many current infos.

  3. Sir,

    That number of 42 squadron strength for IAF was set in 1995. At that time the planes were not as capable they were today or in next five years. Today’s fighter are twice as capable as they were twenty years back, hence my question to you is that – why does IAF need 42 squadrons.

    All the airforces of the world are less squadrons today than before and the logic is same I.e. That fighters today are a lot more capable.

    Look into that angle and as a retired Airforce senior officer just do not become a critic because that is the name if the game today. Just become an honest analyst.

    • Well, you have a point. But what about the enemy- aren’t their air force better capable to intercept and neutralize IAF in the battle field today? So inevitably, IAF will have to absorb lol of attrition in the event it flares up on the Himalayan border. And without a viable domestic manufacturing base for military aircraft, it will be prudent to have as many more units in the stock as possible. Also, in the event of supply of spare parts from overseas sources dries up in an emergency, for the present stock it will be better to have more since one can always cobble from the surplus ones.

  4. Could you please factor in the f16 fighters as well as dorne’s being bought from US.

    Also some overall advancement in the technology of fighter upgrades in a graphic for 2025-2030 period.

    Twitter: @remellasuman

  5. Yes of course. We are much better of today to take-on China. They are certainly much better of militarily and economically but India too is a force to recon with. PLAAF:IAF edge is not too significant (Yet)

  6. The author needs to be given respect for his views considering the fact that he has served for several years in the IAF. People like Mr. Govindan should not be even allowed to comment, irrespective of the merits, if any, in their comments. There are quite a few observations which needs to be made: (And it is not being made for the first time by me). India lacks foresight when it comes to strategic planning; our government may talk big and make grandiose plans. Ultimately very little gets achieved. Secondly, India has become overly Pak-centric in their approach. With the rapidly changing environment in the neighbourhood, India will have to face twin threats from Pak as well as China and that too all across its northern, western and north-eastern frontiers. Thirdly, India needs to invest in R&D in money terms and in terms of human resources to take the first steps to become self-reliant in defence. India is lackadaisical in procurement of its defence needs from abroad; the delay in procuring the aircraft carrier is a case in point. Fourthly, the RM needs to understand that the IAF has a fast ageing fleet which needs to be replaced and enhanced both quantitatively and qualitatively. IAF cannot be expected to go shopping for aircraft after a war has commenced. Looking to the threat in view of the CPEC, we may have to aim for 56 squadrons.

    • I have not discussed war strategy in my comment. I discussed a larger geopolitical issue, in case you have not understood my comment. Please do not assume that those who write and comment are ignorant and that you are the only wise man among the readers on this forum. Your comments are garbled and gibberish. I do not want to state any further about your comments or personalised attacks on our senior officers. And if you know war strategy express your thoughts in the form of a column or article and get it reviewed instead of indulging in the nonsense that you have done.

      • You do not know what are you writing?. You only wrote the issue of CPEC and suggested 56 Squadrons. That means you want 56 squadrons. Where did you get the figure of 56 number? So the English words used against me and the suggestion are applicable to you and not to me. There are many people like you in the defence who have no control over expenditure and procure unwanted defence equipment. This is one of the reasons this country remains poor even after 70 years of Independence Navy wants Aircraft carriers and IAF wants AWACS. The result is Army is suffering.

        • I have to agree with you @Govindan,
          First keep in mind we’re poor country.

          Few Q’s
          1) Why IAF still using 3-4 decades old Aircraft, so we keep edge over PAF in numbers, its complete waste of time & resources (fuel + maintanance), I mean we’re not gonna use MiG’s or Jaguar in futureWars, Instead train our future Pilots with modern 4G++ / 5G aircrafts.

          2) We don’t need 40-50 squarden, max 35 sqaurdens will do fine, with futuristic aircrafts loaded with advanced technologies & weapons.

          3) All we should focus on 5G aircrafts with 10 squadens.

          4) WE MUST SELL OR DUMP THOSE #MIGS #JAGUARS #MIRAGES, they are like squaden of sheeps only even 2-3 F22Raptor (5G) could beat whole squarden easily.

          5) NOW F16 deal is the biggest MISTAKE for us, our defence ministry is lul, we can’t even question them, PAF using F16 since 80s , they have 4 decades of experience, why the hell we’re producing 100 of F16S for IAF.

  7. IAF will never get 42 squadrons. Why are you thinking about the equipment developed when there is no rockets and missiles. You will still think about 20th-century war equipment. Why should India invest money on fighter plane if the cost of maintaining fighter plane is 10 times more than missiles. Su-30 Mki costs 50 to 55 million dollars. Agni-II missiles cost 5 .4 million dollars. It can be manufactured in thousands. No extra fuel cost. No runway required. It can be kept safely in Silos. India has got 36 types of missiles. India can produce 5000 Pinaka missiles per year. The majority of Pakistan and PAF installations are within 300 Km range. So why should the Govt increase the number of fighter planes? You may tell about stealth fighter planes. China is claiming that they have developed a radar which can detect the movement of stealth planes. The USA has developed miniature missile. No radar will be able to detect the miniature missile. The 21st century is the age of missile. Russia developed hypersonic missiles. You people do not know what is management. You fought the 1971 war with 34 squadrons. Out of 34 squadrons, 20 used in the west and 14 in the east. Now there is no East Pakistan. IAF conducted 4000 sorties in the West. and able to achieve Air Superiority. In 1971 there was no helicopter. Now Army will be getting Helicopters, Then the fighter plane sorties will come down. Mig 21 plane has already been replaced by 272 SU-30 Mki. So do not try to fool the public and the Govt any more.

    • Firstly all the major powers of the world, USA, Russia and China have 5th and 6th Generation fighter aircraft under development. So fighter aircraft are very much in. You are obviously sounding Pakistan centric which is history now.
      Need to focus on China. Missiles will compliment the aircraft fleet undoubtedly and separate investments are planned for that. having a view doesn’t mean fooling the public. Kindly show grace in your comments.

      • Where did you get the figure of 42 Squadrons? Can you justify the number? It is only an imaginary number not based on any studies. If you cannot justify the number you are fooling the public. China is claiming that they have developed radar to detect movement of stealth planes. So what is the use of developing the fifth generation fighter planes? So why do you want to follow major powers? The majority of western powers are reduced there inventory. They maintain a maximum three types of the fighter plane. But you want to increase the inventory. IAF service availability has come down to 55 %. Nobody can supply spares if a company keeps five or six types of fighter planes. The first duty of a manager is inventory control. In IAF nobody does this. They are only worried about squadrons. Within ten tears Army will ask iAF help only to escort planes carrying soldiers and war equipment to the battlefield like fighter planes were protecting bombers. The 21st century is the age of missiles. You have not answered my questions. Why are you asking replacement of Mig 21? You have already got 272 SU-30 Mki. Why don’t give a correct figure? You require Tejas to replace Mig 27, and not Mig 21. Anyway, this Govt is not worried about even the number of squadrons goes below 24.

  8. India is still stuck in 1921 The Indian Constitution that was plagiarized by Nehru G and Ambedkar G from the Government of India Act (1935) (A House of Lords Confection) modified for the “Constituent Assembly” by Sir Maurice Gwyer, the then Chief Justice of Delhi, by adding notions such as “All animals are equal but some are more equal than others”, and “Four legs good, two legs bad” borrowed from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” and the laws that have flowed therefrom to condemn India to a perpetual State of Civil War is sufficient evidence of this
    A nation locked in the iron maiden of the British Judiciary, Bureaucracy, Police and raised on the gibbet of the Reservations-Extortion Constitution and laws.

    India is too busy at war with itself to plunder from the many for the benefit of some to look over its shoulders. It is now some seventy years too late to really do so.

  9. Air Marshal a couple of questions
    1. 42 Squadrons was the requirement when the Chinese Airforce hardly existed. Can you manage both China and Pakistan with 42 – it’s a highly flawed figure – don’t you think we should be talking about 60 squadrons at least.
    2. The DRDO also has plans to develop indigenous Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar ‘Uttam’ and a development partner is under selection. By the time this happens the cows and cocks would have roosted long back.
    3. The C-17 assembly line is closed – why have we bought a dead horse?
    4. The air force fixation of having attack helicopters hasn’t gone – leave it to the army – what’s the deal there. You all don’t own everything that flies in the air. Look at the National interest before parochial interests.
    5. The Avro and the An -32 should be replaced by the same kind of aircraft. An-32 was unfit for Para trooping but it was the Airforce recommendation which weighed more that the Army’s requirement. Again the Airforce shouldn’t play one up games – keep the national interest at large. I am a Paratrooper and can give you many reasons why the aircraft is unsuitable.
    6. Tejas is like the INSAS of the army – why are you all standing by it – its outdated technology by 20 years. Stand up and say no to it.
    7. Your inventory for 2025 lowers my morale – you didn’t bring out a comparison of what the Chinese will be in 2025. Why do you hesitate to bring out the realities?

    • Very valid points you have highlighted Col saab. The C-17 assembly line has been closed because all the planes on order have been built and delivered. There is no point in keeping the assembly open when there are no new orders. This doesn’t mean the planes in service will be left high and dry. They will be fully supported by the manufacturer with spares and other needs till the end of their life cycle. So, no worries.

    • This is another proof the Army officers are very weak in management. particularly old people. They cannot think beyond the 20th century and Second world war. They think about field gun, Tanks, Fighter Planes, warships and submarines. It is unsafe to use field guns on the battlefield if the enemy has got Weapon locating radar. (WLR). Similarly, it is very difficult to escape any armoured regiment from missile attacks. This we have seen in Longewala battle. IAF destroyed many Pakistani tanks. using missiles. The 21st century is the age of missiles, radars and connected avionics. No fighter planes, helicopters, warships will be able to escape multiple missiles attacks. But you want more than 42 squadrons. Fighter plane will be required only to escort planes used for carrying troops and weapons. in the future. Otherwise no use in the future wars. So the inventory will come down. Do you know how many types of missiles and rockets India has got? So your knowledge is limited to AN-32 and parachutes. Can you tell me how many soldiers lost the life using INSAS rifles? Do you know the reason for the failure of INSAS? You know only to blame others. The mindset of the defense officers. should change then only this country will progress.

      • Once again, with due respect. You have right to your views but don’t generalize and say “Army officers are very weak in management. particularly old people. They cannot think beyond the 20th century and Second world war”.

    • Yes I think 50 should be good, and affordable. But it will take 20 years to reach 42 itself. Yes DRDO is developing AESA. Past record is not good. We already have an interim AESA from Israel. Just wait and watch. I disagree on C-17. Yes assembly has stopped. we bought the last one. Many operators. Spares won’t be a problem. Commonality with some other Boeings. Yes Armies and Navies want to have more and more air power. This tussle is old and will go on. Led the Leadership of the day take these calls. In any case Indian Army will soon have more helicopters than Air Force. An-32 and Avro replacements can’t be and will not be same. Different requirements. Your comments are too Army centric. I thought jointmenship is the essence. We have all been talking all this while. Yes Tejas has problems. In fact we have been very critical on some issues and even I have written articles. Yet we have to promote some India based Weapon platforms. You and I are retired, yet genuinely concerned. Trust the very capable current leadership is taking appropriate calls. regards

      • Air Marshal Chopra retirement doesnt mean we close our books, after all its the years of experience we carry on our shoulders. I am not being Army centric, the methodology of waging war has changed over the last decade. Our own focus has finally shifted off from the Pakistanis and thank God for that. We have to factor on China and Pakistan gets taken care of. When I talk of the Army’s requirement I look at how operations will be carried out in the Northern Theatre of Operations. We have a 4000+ km frontier with the Chinese and if we just look at how the Chinese are preparing for war in that theater we will get the answer. The Close Air Support or Offensive Air Support will be a major requirement of the Army from the word go. Interdiction of logistics will be another major task for the Air force, for logistics is a battle winning factor in that theater. So thats how we should look at our requirements. And obviously jointmanship has to be the order of the day. Regards.

  10. Hahah Indian Air Force: 2025, The way our soldiers being beheaded by pakistan i think we will be destroyed in 2017. Please understand that Pakistan has knocked us out and war has started.

    Pakistan deliberately started this war before india gets S-400 & Rafale fighter jets

  11. Today again 3 Indian were killed by Pakistan. Gandhi said if Pakistan slaps at your lift cheek then offer your other right so but Gandhi did not say that if Pakistan has been engaged in a rough anal sex with India and India should keep crying. India must remember 1947,1965, 1971 and 1999 every time India thrashed Pakistan but now why India is not coming to war.

    Afghanistan ready for your help

  12. Air Marshall, you also harping on 42 squadron strength, knowing fully well that 42 squadron strength was established in 1992. Aircrafts and fighters of today are far more capable than that of 1992 era. There is absolutely no need to reach the numbers as stated by you, if your aircraft collection is much more capable. All the airforces of the world have reduced the numbers as more capable aircrafts are in their possession. India is on way to introduce more capable aircrafts after 20 years delay.

    The only argument which holds good is that if there is a two front war, simultaneously then the 42 squadron number is not enough. Instead you need allies. That is why LEOMA has been signed. A lot more such agreements will be signed. The whole idea to keep one or the other enemy at bay to come cuncurrently at India.


  14. Complain less, spend money allocated wisely.

    Get out of that feeling that Government should do this and Government should that. IAF is getting fair share of the defence money. Be happy with it.

    Key negative example of IAF stupidity in stalling LCA is the IAF top brass, who got over excited with highly pricey Rafale. LCA in Indian skies will do much better than what airforce is giving credit to it.

    Last of all ask yourself – who are we fighting. Is it United States Airforce or not so well armed Pakistan or poorly equipped with copies the Chinese Air Force over the 300 miles mountain chain? Chinese have disadvantage from the very start, their fighters are inferior (forget their claims) and they cannot take off with full load and a tank full from Tibetan plateau.

    What are you arguing Air Marshal?

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