Due to its long gestation period, infrastructure needs advance and integrated planning amongst the three services and civil agencies to ensure that the end result is cost-effective without duplication of effort and investment. Some of the measures suggested may be somewhat radical, but after over six decades since Independence, the nation expects results. A sound and secure infrastructure will enable the IAF to undertake its tasks in the most effective manner and thus become a force multiplier in the days to come.
What constitutes infrastructure for an Air Force? Is it only runways and buildings or more than that? As interpreted by the United States Air Force (USAF), defence infrastructure includes defence industrial base, financial services, logistics, a networked information grid, transportation, personnel, health affairs, space, public works, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Considering this vast canvas and its effect on warfare, one needs to analyse the present state of infrastructure in The Indian Air Force (IAF) and its impact as a game changer. Some examples should illustrate the impact of infrastructure on warfare.
During the 1967 Arab-Israeli conflict, of the total Arab losses of 450 aircraft, most were destroyed or damaged on the ground. This brought home the vulnerability of parking aircraft in the open, a lesson put to good effect by the IAF in the Indo-Pak conflict of 1971. Secure bases and hardened shelters for parking of aircraft preserve precious assets and in effect serve as force multipliers. Besides the fact that in a dynamic world, the situation is ever changing, the IAF has taken some comprehensive measures to enhance infrastructure over its area of responsibility, which will be described in the succeeding paragraphs.
The IAF is likely to be the primary means for the country to respond swiftly and decisively…
Infrastructure in the IAF
The first consideration is to ascertain the IAF’s vision of itself in the future. The IAF strives to transform itself into a capability-based force, rather than an adversary-centric one. In future, the Service would have a critical role to play, especially in situations demanding rapid response. The IAF’s focus is also shifting from the tactical to the strategic. Its peace-time missions would include humanitarian assistance, disaster management, deployment of peace keeping forces in distant trouble spots or even pre-emptive military intervention in conflict zones. Such contingencies require the capability of power projection through rapid transportation and deployment of adequate force levels. The IAF is likely to be the primary means for the country to respond swiftly and decisively to a variety of crises situations that may develop across the globe thus necessitating its requirement to possess adequate strategic airlift and long-range strike capability.
Based on this capability and the need for the IAF to work along with the sister services as well as other internal security services, the analyses will commence with Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), Space, Logistics and Transportation, Airfield Infrastructure, Health Affairs and Financial Services, a Networked Information Grid, Public Works, Personnel and finally, the Defence Industrial base.
Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance and Space
The intention is to look at areas that need attention. These can be in preparation of a long range, say 15 to 20 year plan covering all the three services. These include space-based, aircraft based, UAV based systems, HUMINT, exchange of information between the services and civil agencies both external and internal and finally, a communication network that transfers Data, Video as well as Voice, to the user in as close to real-time as possible. The other area is for all stakeholders, including civil agencies to synergise their efforts with the services so that the final picture is as complete as possible. A fine example of this synergy is the US strategy to deal with Osama Bin Laden!
Logistics and Transportation
Logistics requires the IAF to record the consumption and make a forecast of its requirements. It also needs to arrange the transportation of aircraft and weapon systems spares, rations, petrol, oil and lubricants, clothing and even armament stores to the user. The project Integrated Material Management On Line System (IMMOLS), the software of which was developed by Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), has allowed prompt action by Air HQ to order, to reduce inventories and to respond faster to users. What was needed was a networking of all logistics functions, so that the current consumption of spares is known in real-time, of practically over 500,000 items of spares and equipment.
There is a plan to have a Defence Communication Network that will allow the three Services and the Ministry of Defence to interact with each other…
The IMMOLS solution has not only obviated the concerns of the IAF on stock outs, delays, dependencies on individuals and inaccurate communications but has also brought in a host of beneﬁts such as effective materials management, assets visibility for better utilisation of available resources, reduction in inventory levels and higher rates of serviceability of weapons and equipment. Transportation of these items is most cost-effective when it is undertaken by road. However, transportation by air is preferred in inhospitable terrain or where it is required urgently. There needs to be a synergised effort by all the three services to use the available air effort. This can be best done when their representatives sit together, draw out a plan for the year to use these air resources. Is it being done? That question needs to be asked of the logistics department of the three services.
Financial Services and Health Affairs
Amongst the three services, the IAF is the only service to that has its own Accounts branch to provide pay and accounts services for its personnel. The charter of the Accounts Branch needs to include cost and works accounting. There is a large organisation of Base Repair Depots whose responsibilities include the overhaul and repair of aircraft such as the An-32, HS-748, Dornier, Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters, all SAM systems and even heavy vehicles like the crash and fire tenders and runway sweepers. If all the repair and overhaul functions are correctly costed, there would be two benefits. One is that the entire processes can be made more efficient and the other, wherever Defence PSUs are also doing the same job then a comparison can be done for the benefit of the IAF. For example, Dorniers and HS-748s are overhauled by both the IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
The charter of the Accounts branch needs to be expanded to include all aspects of financial management. Audit should be the charter of the Ministry of Defence (Finance) whereas the costing of all IAF projects can be handled by the Accounts branch. Health Affairs in the IAF are being managed by the Medical Branch, one that is rendering yeoman service. Both these functions will be immensely benefitted by the use of a network grid, which will enable a quick and effective response to any contingency.
In the beginning of the last decade, a plan to upgrade the airfield infrastructure was conceived and so was born the Project Modernisation of Airfield Infrastructure (MAFI) which includes extension/resurfacing of runways and installation of modern radio and navigational aids. On March 16, 2011, the Ministry of Defence signed a Rs 1,094-crore contract with Tata Power’s Strategic Electronics Division (Tata Power SED) for modernising 30 IAF airbases across the country. Tata Power SED was given 42 months to execute this strategically vital contract.
This upgradation will enable all categories of military aircraft to take-off and land both by day and night as well as in all types of weather. The Navigational Aids (NAVAIDs) will guide all fighter, transport, helicopter and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) to approach the selected airfield and then proceed to make a safe landing. There will be parking space for these aircraft, and shelters to cater to the vagaries of weather. This should apply to the runways and Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) in the mountains of the North and North-East as well as the island territories. These runways will also be available to civil aircraft.
As the situation in the Northern sector is under control, there is a need to bring the runways and ALGs in the North-East as well as the Island territories, up to standard. This is an ongoing exercise, but needs attention before using aircraft for aid to civil authority, a fact that was highlighted by the present Chief of the Air Staff during the anti-naxal operations. Expressing concern over the safety of IAF helicopters deployed in these areas, he said, “Our request has been to the Chief Secretaries of these states to get the infrastructure up because right now, in the middle of monsoon, our helicopters are parked outside, and our crew do not have place to rest.” This will therefore, affect their readiness to respond to rapidly developing situations.
Another fact is the long gestation period of civil works, a necessity as it will reduce corrupt practices…
A Networked Information Grid
Information superiority assumes great importance in today’s digitized battlefield. In network-centric warfare, the coverage extends from Air HQ to all Commands and their bases. The communication bandwidth should be adequate to cater for Data, Video as well as Voice transfer. While space communications is overarching, it is also susceptible to jamming or even destruction by adversaries and hence there is a need to build in redundancies by means of wireless and even underground Optical Fibre Cable (OFC) which will provide greater security. This network will permit exchange of voice, data and video between all commanders so that planning, execution and interaction can be conducted in real time prior to and during the battle.
The planning of an integrated air campaign or even a localised air effort can be made speedier and safer by software programs. The execution of such a campaign and its results can be monitored in real time as in the IAF Mirage attacks over Kargil. This channel of communication will also permit exchange of information relating to logistics, personnel, medical and financial. It is understood that there is a plan to have a Defence Communication Network that will allow the three Services and the Ministry of Defence to interact with each other during contingencies. It is hoped that interfaces are built between the three services communication protocols for speedier and secure communication.
Public works is as important as operations for it is the foundation on which a sound and secure operational task can progress. Presently, this is being done by the Military Engineer Services (MES).The two areas that need attention are expertise in public works does not exist within the IAF, and hence reliance on the MES for specialist advice, and next, financial powers that need to be given to Base Commanders to disburse funds for works services, in tune with the progress of that work. An alternative is to make a project into a turnkey one, something which has found favour with the government in the case of the MAFI given to Tata SED and others.
Another fact is the long gestation period of civil works, a necessity as it will reduce corrupt practices. Defence works, due to their inherent nature, have to be more hardened to withstand direct hits by bombs and rockets of the enemy. A good example is the location of North American Air Defence (NORAD) HQ in the US which is located deep within the Cheyenne mountains. Reports indicate that both Iran and the China have also located their Operations Centres deep underground. It goes without saying that India too ought to do the same.
The most critical factor in all aerial operations and to which the IAF has given due importance through the philosophy “People first, mission always” as enunciated by Air Chief Marshal N.A.K Browne, the serving Chief of the Air Staff when he donned the mantle over two years ago. There are areas where the IAF can take further steps to make it more inclusive or in other words to train and expose personnel of non-flying branches to operational settings and subject them to regular scrutiny by the Directorate of Air Staff Inspection as also open for them Personnel Staff positions, diplomatic assignments and Intelligence posts, among others subject to record of their performance.
Within the IAF, some introspection also needs to be done as to right size the service especially due to the availability of computers as also to train and hold accountable the Warrant Ranks i.e. the personnel immediately below the officer cadre to handle higher levels of responsibility and even take decisions in routine matters that are currently the responsibility of the officer cadre and finally, to reduce dependency on civilians.
Defense Industrial Base
This not only includes Defense Public Sector Undertakings (DPSUs) but also the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). DPSUs in India, specifically the HAL, apart from possessing efficient repair and overhaul capabilities, needs to develop the expertise and infrastructural wherewithal to design and develop new platforms as China has done. The management of DPSUs needs to be freed from the shackles of crippling government control and the private sector needs to be encouraged to compete on a level playing field.
The DRDO needs to be made accountable to the service concerned and project management be headed by individuals in uniform with the appropriate qualification and experience as is the practice in the leading nations of the developed world. Air HQ needs to emulate the Indian Navy model wherein the Directorate of War Ship Design functions under Naval HQ. The IAF also needs to depute serving officers of the technical branch to DRDO and DPSUs in larger numbers to foster better mutual understanding. These measures will, with time, enable India to progress on indigenous development of the aviation industry with greater vigour, commitment and chances of success.
The preceding has been a broad overview of infrastructure in the IAF and measures have been suggested for its upgrade to respectable standards. Due to its long gestation period, infrastructure needs advance and integrated planning amongst the three services and civil agencies to ensure that the end result is cost-effective without duplication of effort and investment. Some of the measures suggested may be somewhat radical, but after over six decades since Independence, the nation expects results. A sound and secure infrastructure will enable the IAF to undertake its tasks in the most effective manner and thus become a force multiplier in the days to come.