Military & Aerospace

Force Multipliers for Indian Air Force
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Issue Vol. 30.3 Jul-Sep 2015 | Date : 08 Oct , 2015

Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS)

However, as with so many other vital defence acquisitions, what should have been a straightforward proposal, has seen many twists and turns. For over two years, an approved deal for six Airbus twin-engine A330 Multi-Role Tanker Transport (MRTT) aircraft has been meandering through “final negotiations”. The extremely versatile MRTT, a military derivative of the A330-200 airliner, carries 111 tonnes of fuel and 45 tonnes of non-fuel payload. Its cabin can also be modified to carry up to 380 passengers. It is a generation ahead of the IL-78 in technology and has far lower lifecycle costs. An enhanced version, likely to be supplied to customers from 2017 onwards, has more advanced avionics, a higher maximum takeoff weight, improved aerodynamics, reduced fuel consumption and other enhancements.

Air forces everywhere are busy acquiring or enhancing their capability in unmanned platforms…

Running the Gauntlet – Stealth/ECM

An IAF aircraft attempting to strike a target in China or Pakistan would encounter an array of lethal defences that would greatly reduce its ability to deliver its weapons accurately and make a safe getaway. A variety of tactical and technological solutions have been developed over the years to permit the strike aircraft to penetrate the defences. For instance, ECM can significantly degrade the effectiveness of hostile sensors and weapons. The IAF’s Su-30MKI, Mirage 2000 and Jaguar aircraft possess adequate integral ECM capability; besides this, the IAF has a few dedicated ECM aircraft.

A related technique to boost the chances of survival of the attacking force is deception and camouflage. Stealth, the ultimate form of camouflage, can render an aircraft practically invisible to enemy radars and other sensors, thus greatly reducing the probability of detection and interception. At present the IAF lacks stealth capability. However, it is trying to attain this significant force multiplier, perhaps by early in the next decade through the Indo-Russian PMF project.

Hitting the Bull’s Eye – PGMs

Ideal weapon delivery parameters can rarely be achieved under combat conditions and a large number of munitions regularly miss their target. This is especially so since an attacking aircraft must release its weapons at a great distance if it wishes to remain clear of the lethal terminal defences. Enter the PGM that permits a large release envelope in terms of distance, height and speed, yet ensures high accuracy. A variety of guidance systems like Laser, Low-light Television (LLTV), thermal sensors and Inertial Navigation System/Global Positioning System (INS/GPS) devices may be employed to ensure that an air-to-surface weapon will hit its intended target. Even a “dumb” bomb can be turned into a smart weapon by fitting a guidance system on the strike aircraft and strapping another small kit to the bomb. Consequently, the days of attempting to swat a fly with a sledgehammer are over because each aircraft needs carry just enough weapons to deliver the right amount of explosive at the right point. Similarly, Air-to-Air Missiles (AAMs) can be delivered even far Beyond Visual Range (BVR) with very high kill probability. However, smart weapons are practically useless unless an Air Force’s ISR capability is excellent.

MiG-35 Super Fulcrum Raptor Killer

Since PGMs are far cheaper than new aircraft, the punch of an older generation aircraft can also be multiplied by providing it with adequate PGMs. Accordingly, the IAF has ordered large numbers of AAMs and air-to-ground PGMs, essentially for the Mirage 2000 fleet. However, considering the array of targets it may need to engage, at least 40 to 50 per cent of the IAF’s weaponry should have some form of guidance. Another must have is air-to-surface precision long-range missiles that enable the launch aircraft to stay well clear of enemy defences. The Su-30MKI will shortly integrate the 290-km range Brahmos supersonic cruise missile in the ground attack role.

Space is one area in which India has a respectable capability thanks to the committed efforts of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO)…

Another option is the Russian Novotor K-100 missile that can hit a target at a distance of 300 to 400 km. The DRDO too has achieved some success in the indigenisation of smart weapons. So Next Generation-Laser Guided Bombs (NG-LGB) with stand-off ranges of 50 to 100 km, guided by an onboard navigation system, may soon be part of the IAF’s inventory.

Unmanned and Unlimited – UAVs

Air forces everywhere are busy acquiring or enhancing their capability in unmanned platforms. The US military already has more UAVs than manned aircraft and their number is steadily increasing. While the US and Israel currently have a huge lead in UAV development and production, China is fast catching up. According to a Pentagon report released in May, China’s military plans to produce nearly 42,000 land-based and sea-based unmanned weapons and sensor platforms. Four Chinese UAVs, the Xianglong, Yilong, Sky Saber and Lijian especially need to be watched out for. All four can carry precision weapons and hence fall in the category of Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles (UCAV). The Pentagon also believes that China is aggressively pursuing development of stealth UCAVs such as the Lijian along with fifth-generation manned fighters. If China does acquire a formidable UAV capability, as seems most likely, Pakistan is bound to get enough for its needs.

The IAF has Israeli Searcher Mk II and Heron UAVs for surveillance and reconnaissance and is in the process of inducting the Harop UCAV. The Harop can loiter for long periods before homing on to a selected enemy radar emitter and in the process destroy both itself and the target. However, the IAF’s total UAV holdings are extremely low, quite unrelated to its requirements. Some analysts estimate that the IAF needs over 300 UAVs of various sizes, roles and types including combat, micro and rotary platforms.


The DRDO produces the Rustom-1, an all-weather, Medium-Altitude, Long-Endurance (MALE) UAV that can gather near real-time high-quality imagery and radio signals. Attempts to give it rudimentary weapons capability are underway. The DRDO is also developing the indigenous Rustom-2, a more advanced UCAV on the lines of the US Predator. Its first flight is expected this year. Rustom-2, weighing 1.8 tonnes, will have a capacity payload of 350 kg, a wingspan of 21 metres and an endurance of over 24 hours. Apart from weapon delivery, it will be capable of other missions of reconnaissance and surveillance, target acquisition, target designation, communications relay, battle damage assessment and signal intelligence. Further into the future is the Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft (AURA), a stealthy flying-wing UCAV armed with laser-guided air-to-surface weapons and other internally carried ordnance.

The Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) is progressing and all seven satellites should be in orbit early next year…

Eye in Space – Military Satellites

Space is one area in which India has a respectable capability thanks to the committed efforts of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO). However, the military story is again one of missed opportunities. China already has perhaps 25 satellites in operation exclusively for military use. India on the other hand has just one. The GSAT-7, launched in 2013, is an indigenous multi-band communications satellite that helps the Indian Navy to maintain surveillance over the Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The IAF was expected to get its own satellite known as GSAT-7A in 2011, but the date of launch is still uncertain due to the delayed development of the Geosynchronous Satellite Launch Vehicle (GSLV). The GSAT-7A will enable the IAF to interlink ground radar stations, airbases, and AWACS, thus fortifying its C4ISR and Network Centric Warfare (NCW) capabilities.

Later this year, ISRO plans to launch a Multi-Object Tracking Radar (MOTR) that is likely to have some military applications. A satellite-based dedicated Defence Communications Network (DCN) is also planned to provide secure and reliable inter-service communications. In the meantime, the Indian Regional Navigation Satellite System (IRNSS) is progressing and all seven satellites should be in orbit early next year. This will provide military-grade accuracy to the navigation and targeting capabilities of airborne platforms of all three services, thus multiplying their effectiveness.

Intangibles Also Multiply

With so many force multipliers available and more on the way, surely the IAF should have an advantage over its opponents. However, the struggle to retain technological advantage is constant and grim. That’s because force multipliers work best in a situation of asymmetry, where one side has force multipliers and the opponent either does not or has less advanced ones. This is starkly evident in the use of UAVs and UCAVs by the US and Israel against their adversaries.

The PLAAF is pursuing modernisation on a scale unprecedented in its history…

The People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) of China is already well endowed with all varieties of force multipliers and the IAF must continuously strive not to lag too far behind. According to the Pentagon, the PLAAF is pursuing modernisation on a scale unprecedented in its history. In a recent report it says, “The PLAAF is rapidly closing the gap with Western air forces across a broad spectrum of capabilities from aircraft, C2, to jammers, to Electronic Warfare (EW), to data links.” At the same time the IAF must keep a wary eye on the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) that is feverishly trying to play catch-up.

This is why intangibles also assume importance in enhancing the military effectiveness of any force. A technological force multiplier can be evaluated and matched, countered or even exceeded. However, intangibles like leadership, morale and motivation, superior training, innovative tactics, competent maintenance and a host of others can be kept under the wraps to greatly intensify performance and surprise the enemy when it counts most. Such force multipliers need not cost much. An oft-quoted example is that of the Israeli Air Force during the 1967 war, which was able to neutralise the numerical superiority of the Arab Air Forces by the simple expedient of reducing the turnaround time between sorties to the bare minimum, thus seeming to have the ability to stay airborne continuously! It served as a cheap yet highly effective force multiplier.

Whatever the type of force multiplier employed, the aim is to get more out of an existing force or even one diminishing size. This is something the IAF will increasingly need to do in order to remain ahead of its potential adversaries.

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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

Gp Capt Joseph Noronha

Former MiG-21 Pilot and experienced IAF instructor before he turned to writing articles on aviation.

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4 thoughts on “Force Multipliers for Indian Air Force

  1. Anoop,
    Why do we require Rafael planes?By purchasing 36 planes, Govt is violating the age old practice not to purchase similar equipments that Pakistan is likely to get from Arab countries. Now two Arab countries ( Qatar&Egypt) have purchased Rafael planes. IAF had by passed the F-16 plane saying that Pakistan has got similar planes. Pakistan pilots are flying Qatar planes. F-16 is a better plane than Rafael. Recently F-16 performed better than F-35. IAF top ranking officers have no hesitation to change the old practice to support arms agents. Gp Capt Joseph Noronha wrote in another article that.IAF’s Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) that recently threw up the Dassault Rafale as the winner. Yet these aircraft, important as they are, will not make a dramatic difference. All these shows IAF is purchasing foreign equipments not for the country but for somebody else.
    Expert view
    Indian LCA is not claiming it is the best multi role aircraft in the world in all respect but its air frame is of composite material which makes the aircraft light & fly long distance, fast with little fuel which makes it similar to F15 Eagle, Eurojet fighters, Su 27MKII & Su-30MKI . The engine F404-IN20 of LCA Tejas jetfighter is manufacturered by General Electric, currenrly used by European figter jets. Tejas employs C-FC materials for up to 45% of its airframe by weight, including in the fuselage (doors and skins), wings (skin, spars and ribs), elevons, tailfin, rudder, air brakes and landing gear doors. Composites are used to make an aircraft both lighter and stronger at the same time compared to an all-metal design, LCA Tejas is the world’s smallest, light weight, multi-role combat aircraft. Use of composites in the LCA resulted in a 40% reduction in the total number of parts compared to using a metallic frame. Furthermore, the number of fasteners has been reduced by half in the composite structure from the 10,000 that would have been required in a metallic frame design. The composite design also helped to avoid about 2,000 holes being drilled into the air frame. You just imagine how many thousands of holes drilled to JF17 metal Air-frame which will result in fatigue in addition to Chinese WS Engines !! It will be ideal for them to get upgraded F-16s & Mirage IIIs instead of going for JF-17’s. Life of skilled PAF pilot is valuable for their wife & children. IAF cannot fool the civilian

  2. The superiority that we are currently enjoying over PAF is slowly deteriorating. Except Sukhoi 30 MKI all fighters and bombers are outdated. Canceling of Rafael deal left a huge vacuum in our fighter fleet. While PAF is updating thier fleet with JF-17 and other Chinese fighters,we are struggling to meet the sanctioned squadron strength. LCA program is not giving any favorable results,AMCA is still on drawing boards,PAK FA is still under trails and cost would be more higher than anticipated,Then how come AF will meet the sanctioned squadron strength by 2022?,It seems impossible. We need to urgently purchase more fighters to maintain the dominance. We need to urgently purchase more fighters to maintain the dominance.

  3. First of all he should clarify how did the IAF arrived a figure of 42 squadrons. I say this is an inflated figure and it is not based on any realistic study.Why do we require 42 squadrons, If India can achieve air superiority in 1971 war with 34 squadrons using fighter jets like Gnat and other far inferior planes. Fighter Planes, Warships , Aircraft carriers and submarines are weapon carrying vessels. Now we have power full missiles far better than the bombs used in 1971. Even PAF admitted that the bombs used by them were not effective and. IAF was able to repair the run ways in short time . and takeoff the fighter planes. The requirement of the fighter planes should be based on the effectiveness of the weapon used to destroy enemy installations. We know the enemy installations and their approximate areas in Pakistan and China. We know the destructive power of our weapons and its accuracy . From this we can easily calculate the number of sorties required to destroy one particular installation. if we use a a particular fighter plane.and weapon. The best thing is to develop computer program to know the number of sorties. In 1971 war Helicopter was not used to give Air support to the Army. Now Army will be using helicopters. Army installations of Pakistan and towns are all within the striking distance of our missiles with pin point accuracy. It is better to use missiles than fighter planes. In the case of China , their cities/towns are far away from LOC. You are all bad managers. The important thing is to consider the number of planes, not the squadrons. This is the kind of tricks they play against the civilian Govt. with the help of foreign agents. When ever I raise this question the IAF officers will tell China as got more number of planes. Chinese cities/towns are far away from border. That is the reason Smt Indira Gandhi gave preference to missile development than fighter planes. It is very difficult for China to maintain uninterrupted supply for the army in case of war.

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