If refueling is a luxury not accorded to India, then why put those draggy, heavy, RCS increasing probes on the fighters? We even got them on our C-130s for special-ops!
With IFR, you can stage your aircraft further inland. In combat sorties, especially in strike roles, an aircraft uses up a significant amount of its fuel in TO and reaching altitude. You could have your refuelers 100 km from the borders where they top off the fighters and let them play. You could strike 500 km inside Pakistan using Tejas. Also, imagine point defence or CAP roles. The fighters will be in our territory and the ideal configuration is a loadout of only A2A missiles and only internal fuel. IFR can help you reach this config, or as close to it as possible (small DTs) without sacrificing endurance.
I am dead against "F-35 for India". But, that is my opinion and OT for this thread.
I will stick to fighters initially and talk about C-130s later
In fact I am also asking why we are putting those heavy refuelling probes on all fighters. I do agree that for oversea roles and for overseas deployment refuelling is useful.
I have myself made the "takeoff with half fuel and full bomb load and top up" argument but I am questioning the utility of that in the India-Pakistan context and in the India China context for several reasons and I want to know the rationale.
Pakistan radars are watching India all the time. Refuelling is typically done at high altitude, in good weather. Refuellers cannot really be hovering around 30-40 km from the border - at least for long periods flying steadily at 20-25000 feet suckling fighters. That refuelling has to be done maybe 100km+ inside. They will still be visible clearly to Paki radar and any attacks will be met by a welcoming committee.
The situation over Tibet/China is not much better. But I do agree that refuelling can be done on the Indian side to give maximum range to Indian fighters. But the fact is that targets in Tibet are mostly in South Tibet - within 500 km. Chinese targets in the east are 2000 km away - out of reach without having refuellers flying over Tibet.
I would have thought that an aircraft loaded with dumb bombs going to dump on a target is not what the future is looking like. I see the future as a plane with a medium load of 2-4 smart munitions or stand off munitions and not a "full load" of 8-20 dumb bombs requiring overflying the target. Flying out with drop tanks is perfectly acceptable for this. Every single image of Gripens over Libya or F-16s over Iraq, despite having access to refuellers typicaly carried 2 drop tanks and 4 AAMs (maybe 6 depending on the aircraft). I do not believe that there is any point sending up fighters with 8 or 12 AAM for so many reasons. A combat air patrol even as escort would be 4 -6 AAMs - + 2 drop tanks. Drop the tanks and you have better agility and if there is no engagement you don't have to return with a huge load of AAMs whose carriage life you have used up in a fruitless flight. There is nothing wrong in doing a top-up refuel for a plane with drop tanks. It is done all the time AFAIK
The C-130 case is different. We (India) have had several instances where we have transported men and special forces over long distances for overseas ops or humanitarian work. Refuellers for that role should not be forgotten in our eagerness to talk combat combat combat