Even as the IAF prepares for the great leap into the next generation it must be realised that to erect an edifice there is the imperative of foundation. Visions of a powerful modern Air Force are undoubtedly inspiring but can the IAF really fulfill its mandate of ‘Touch The Sky With Glory’ when its flying training infrastructure is languishing without a basic trainer since August 2009 with as yet no new induction in sight.
Obsolete or Obsolescent?
Earth shattering announcements by the top brass of the Indian Air Force (IAF) appear to have become routine during media interactions which are an integral part of the agenda for Air Force anniversary celebrations. And so it was on the 78th anniversary of the IAF in October last year, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, Chief of the Air Staff (CAS), created quite a stir when he told the media that, “50 per cent of the assets of the IAF were obsolete.”
Even though the pathetic state of the IAF inventory has not really been a closely guarded secret for some time now as it has often been a subject of public debate, a candid admission by the CAS of the state of affairs, brought the issue once again to the fore and triggered a fresh wave of concern across the nation. Across our western borders, Pakistani defence analysts dismissed the statement by the CAS as merely a ploy to pressurise the government to hasten the process of acquisition of lethal weapon systems which, as per them, India already possesses well beyond her legitimate needs.
Indias military power must grow in conformity with its rising global economic status to ensure peace, security and stability in the region and safeguard national economic and security interests
Back home, the somewhat embarrassing expose also resulted in the initiation by the establishment of a damage control exercise that was bereft of both conviction and credibility. The public was expected to believe that the assets of the IAF that were purported by the CAS to be obsolete were in fact only “tending towards obsolescence” and were very much “useable”.
It was also stated that the government was taking all necessary and possible steps to ensure that national security was in no way compromised. In essence, the message was that all was well with the IAF and that the organisation was moving in the right direction to be ready to meet with the challenges in the future. But is it?
India – a Regional Power
As widely acknowledged, the 21st century belongs to Asia and given its resurgent economy, India is expected to be a major economic power in the region by the middle of the century, a status that will undoubtedly confer additional responsibilities on the nation. It is important therefore that India’s military power must grow in conformity with its rising global economic status to ensure peace, security and stability in the region and safeguard national economic and security interests that would transcend its land and maritime borders and extend from the Persian Gulf to the Strait of Malacca.
India is already regarded as a nuclear power and in all probability, is moving forward to develop a credible second strike capability in due course. However, its conventional forces that have historically been cast in a defensive mould owing to a legacy of our cultural heritage and moral values, would have to be restructured, reequipped and reoriented for a proactive role with the capability to project military power decisively in areas of interest. The question that ought to agitate the public mind therefore is whether the government is actually “taking all necessary and possible steps” to provide the IAF with the wherewithal in a respectable timeframe so that it is in a position to fulfill national aspirations.
Is the IAF Prepared?
A peek into the mind of the Indian government was available recently during the 13th Asian Security Conference in New Delhi where AK Antony, the Defence Minister said that while China’s growing military strength and their ever increasing expenditure on defence were issues of concern, there was no reason to be unduly worried. However, the Defence Minister did acknowledge the need for the nation to modernise the armed forces so that they are prepared to meet any threat in the future. More recently, addressing the media in Siliguri in the second week of March 2011, the CAS said, “The IAF is well equipped and ready to face any situation as and when it is required.” However, he went on to add that the IAF was in the process of buying weapon systems and equipment that ought to have procured a decade ago.