Military & Aerospace

LCA Tejas role for IAF – View from a simple sortie rate model
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Jul , 2016

LCA Tejas

Role of Indian Air Force (IAF) in so-called Cold Start Doctrine (CSD)

One extremely important role for Indian Air Force (IAF) will be the Close Air Support (CAS) to Indian Army. This is especially true for the decade old doctrine popularly called the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD) extensively covered in press, although never publicly accepted by Indian Army. Ostensibly this was articulated and developed after the attack on Indian parliament when India could not mobilize its forces at the desired speed to make the counter attack, credible.

IAF will not be able to provide total air-superiority in Indo-Pak scenarios as our doctrine continues to be linear. We have to strive to achieve local air superiority for the time and space we chose.

The CSD called for 8 Independent Battle Groups (IBGs) to move rapidly into Pakistan. Each IBG was to be composed of approximately an equivalent armored division in terms of number of armored vehicles (Tanks, Infantry combat vehicles, Self-propelled artillery, etc) constituting it. The Blitzkrieg envisaged that the 8 IBGs will rapidly move into Pakistan in response to any major terrorist or subversive attack carried out by Pakistan or launched from Pakistan – such as 26/11 or attack on Indian parliament – in 72 hours. With 30 km front and minimum 100 km inter IBG difference such massive and rapid incursions will thin-spread Pakistani armored and air defense resources, thereby paving the way for Indian forces to go deep into Pakistan. The CSD looked menacing – definitely a conventional deterrence to next Pakistani adventure. The feasibility, alas, was not very high. Pakistan used the so-called Indian CSD to develop a counter in the form of the tactical nuclear option engineered into 60 KM range NASR missiles with low KT nukes – which potentially can be launched from the multi-barrel rocket launchers.

Many have rejected the Pak tactical nukes as not capable, read insignificant, yet one cannot discount the threat of NASR. Following the same train of thought India need to consider how to increase the feasibility and effectiveness of CSD – or something similar to CSD – if we need to communicate a credible conventional deterrence to Pak.

The Total Air Superiority Problem

One key problem with CSD is the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) Threat. Even if Indian army is able to mobilize 8 IBGs and start the inward movement across the Indo-Pak border, it will have to contend with the Pakistan Air force – that can create a large impediment for the blitzkrieg. Let us assume that each IBG (assuming it to be an armored division equivalent) moves in what is called 2up formation – where two armored brigade equivalents are ahead in parallel followed by the third armored brigade equivalent. IAF will have to ensure air superiority on all 8 attack routes.

This is tough task – despite IAF having 312 Su-30 MKI Air superiority fighters – 42 of those India will keep for the nuke deterrence against Pak and China. Of the remaining 270, IAF needs to keep about 170 for the conventional war against China if China comes to join hands with Pakistan. IAF will be left with 100 odd SU30 against Pakistan to be utilized as Air Superiority missions including CAP and strike escorts to Jaguars/Mig27s for long range strike missions. For point defence and area defence, Mig 21s and Mig 29s should be utilized along with Mirage 2000.

Indian Army and IAF need to evolve a new doctrine together – especially against Pakistan.

Despite the above capability, IAF would still not be able to achieve total air superiority against PAF. Indo-Pak War scenario – we are more than two decades behind those high tech air war. We still have three main missions – IAF calls them – Long Range Strike Mission, Air Defence (AD) (including Combat Air Patrol and point AD), Close Air Support, Air Defence Escorts to LRSM. We still have not created 1991 air package concept that US used in Iraq. All said and done – IAF will not be able to provide total air-superiority in Indo-Pak scenarios as our doctrine continues to be linear. We have to strive to achieve local air superiority for the time and space we chose.

One of the key missions for IAF will continue to be CAS to Indian Army – whether IAF likes it or not. In fact, if it does not provide a new doctrinal shift for delivering CAS to Indian Army – all the so called CSD type plans will remain low on credibility. Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD) plus CAS with AD Escorts package with SU30MKI CAP controlled by AWACS need to be delivered in support of IBGs. IA will not wait for 40 days of pure air operations before starting the ground operations, what US and allies did in 1991 Desert Storm. Indian Army and IAF need to evolve a new doctrine together – especially against Pak.

An Integrated Cold Start Doctrine is needed

For the 8 IBG achieving their mission of deep penetration in Pakistan in 72 Hours will require local air superiority and heavy close air support. As is known, the blitzkrieg requires integrated high momentum penetration streams, which IA hopes will be provided by the IBGs. It is the high momentum close air support in terms of number of sorties that IAF can deliver to IBGs IAF will have issues with its strike aircraft like Jaguars/Mig27s – which they will keep more for anti-airbase and deep strikes rather than close air support. Similarly, Su30MKI, Mirage 2000 or even Rafale with their multirole high end capabilities will be utilized for CAP, AD Escorts, or local Air Superiority missions. Even then number of sorties these high end aircraft can deliver cannot be more than 1 to 1.5 per day per aircraft.

LCA Tejas actually may be bringing in a platform that can be utilized in sufficient numbers to carry out sufficient Close Air Support missions.

LCA-Tejas– Sortie Maximization solution for IAF

The integrated Cold Start will require about 100+ pure close air support sorties per day sustained for 3-5 days for the 8 IBGs. We need a light aircraft with rapid sortie generation capability which delivers very high load per sortie. With 8 hard points and mirage 2000 type capability the LCA Tejas fits the bill. With 40 Tejas IAF can provide 2.5 to 3 sorties per day per aircraft. 100+ sorties of LCA sustained for 5 days will be crucial component of the integrated CSD. This enables one dimension of making CSD feasible and hence credible. Today we simply cannot do CSD type pincer attack. Our MIGs and Jaguars simply cannot do this support.

LCA can deliver 3 sorties per day for 3-5 days per day provided pilots are available to rotate the aircraft. Mirage 2000 and SU30 can deliver around 1 or max 1.5 sortie a day remaining Jaguars/Migs if we get 1 sortie per day – it will be great. However for CAS for 8 IBGs we need 100+ LCA sorties per day which is potentially possible. But with current aircraft – we cannot give air support. In the absence of Self Propelled Artillery, we will not have successful “CSD type” doctrine. The complete premise, on which IA has been creating its armored and mechanized force for last decade or so, will be futile. LCA is the real sortie maximization solution in air war.

Of course can IA and IAF work together becomes the key question. If they cannot, may be IA would like to operate LCA in squadron strength on its own. A possible scenario of reorganization of armed forces with army has its own close air support aircraft, say a 4 x LCA troop running CAS for each of the 8 IBGs. Since we do not have an integrated armed force structure such as US Marines, we should create an integrated doctrine through close collaboration between Air Force and Indian Army. IAF should realize that it cannot win an Indo-Pak war on its own. It has to build in its doctrine a close air support component to Indian Army.

LCA Tejas actually may be bringing in a platform that can be utilized in sufficient numbers to carry out sufficient CAS missions. In this way, an integrated credible cold start type doctrine will be made feasible. However, the Integrated CSD with LCA in CAS will be a test case of joint operations ability of Indian Army and Indian Air Force.

Sortie rate is defined as the number of sorties an aircraft can achieve in a day on a sustained manner.

A Simple Sortie-Rate Model for Indian Air Force

(Note: Data used in this article is from open sources and with many assumptions/approximations. The key message of the article is not the data, but the model. This simple model can be expanded and developed with fine grained assessment of various parameters to estimate number of sorties per aircraft in various roles. The Sortie Rate is the key to evaluate combat effectiveness of an aircraft in multiple roles. )

Sortie Rates

To assess combat capability of an air force sortie-rate is a better indicator of the combat capability rather than number of fighter aircraft possessed by the air force.

An aircraft sortie is defined as one flight of the aircraft for a specific mission. It starts with the aircraft starting from its airbase, reaching the combat zone – target for a strike aircraft; vulnerable area, vulnerable point for combat air patrol (CAP) or Air Defence (AD) roles and reaching back to the airbase after performing its mission.

Sortie rate is defined as the number of sorties an aircraft can achieve in a day on a sustained manner. It depends upon many factors in practice. Some of these factors are non-deterministic. However, an informed estimate can be made for those parameters. Below we modify/update a basic sortie-rate calculation model described in a report by Rand Corporation (see Rand Report MR1080 titled Airbase vulnerability to conventional cruise-missile and ballistic missile attacks : technology, scenarios, and U.S. Air Force responses /John Stillion and David T. Orletsky.)

The Sortie-Rate Model

The Sortie Rate (SR) is defined as

SR = 24 Hours/ (FT + GT)

FT is the flight time and GT is the ground time. The GT is further composed of Turnaround time (TAT) and Maintenance time (MT). TAT is composed of those activities that an aircraft has to undergo before embarking on a mission (please see Turnaround Time Table). MT is the time taken for repair, refurbishing or replacing broken subsystems of the aircraft after it has performed its sortie. The TAT time consists of rearming, refueling etc. In the Rand model it is taken to be a constant of 180 minutes (3 hours).

The TAT time is based on empirically determined time for US aircraft in 1998. The MT is composed of two parts – a constant component of time and a variable component based on how long the aircraft was in air – the Flight Time (FT).

In fact, an empirical/expert judgment based relationship proposed is

MT = 3.4 Hours + 0.68 x FT

The FT (flight time) is calculated as

With the induction of LCA – Tejas in Indian Air Force (IAF) a crucial capability has been added especially against Pakistan.

FT = 2 x distance to the target/ average speed

Thus FT for an aircraft flying on a strike mission to say 500 KM and average cruising speed at 900 KM/Hour the FT = 2 x 500/900 = 0.56 hours.

If the aircraft can fly day and night, i.e., 24 hours operations, the MT is

MT = 3.4+0.68*FT = 3.4+0.68*0.56 = 3.78 hours

Taking the TAT to be 3 hours

We get the Sortie Rate to be

SR = 24/(FT+TAT+MT) = 24/(0.56+3+3.78) = 3.27 ~ 3 sorties per day per aircraft

However, if the aircraft cannot perform night missions – then instead of 24 hours, we need to consider total time available per day to be 14 hours. The sortie rate for such an aircraft comes out to be

SR = 14/(FT+TAT+MT) = 14/(0.56+3+3.78) = 1.91 ~ 2 sorties per day per aircraft.

For Combat Air Patrol and AD missions we just added the CAP time to the model and hence the SR equation becomes


And MT = 0.68(FT+CAP)

Sortie Rates of IAF aircraft in Strike and AD/CAP missions

In the Strike/CAS/BI role – various existing aircraft of IAF (under specific assumptions of only day flying versus the full 24 hours operational availability) the sortie rates are computed in Table 1 below:-


In Table 2 below the same model has been applied for AD/CAP roles:-


The model above is generic and can be utilized for calculating sortie rate values for different missions for various aircraft. The specific parameters used in this model are high level guesstimates and model can be recalibrated and used using real data that the interested user may have.

Key message

With the induction of LCA – Tejas in Indian Air Force (IAF) a crucial capability has been added especially against Pakistan. Due to its night flying capability (24 hours operations) and its lightness in maintainability LCA-Tejas can give 3 sorties per day per aircraft for CAS and AD roles. LCA Tejas with its high sortie rate will be a great value adds to scenarios such as Cold Start Doctrine or similar ones.

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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

Navneet Bhushan

worked as a Defence Scientist from 1990-2000. He is the founder director of CRAFITTI CONSULTING ( – an Innovation and Intellectual Property Consulting firm focused on co-crafting Innovation in global enterprises. He is the winner of Indira India Innovation award for Entrepreneurship and Innovation Leadership for 2012. He is the principal author of Strategic Decision Making- Applying the Analytic Hierarchy Process published by Springer-Verlag, UK, as part of the Decision Engineering Series. Navneet Blogs at He can be contacted at He is currently working on his next book titled Crafting New Choices.

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6 thoughts on “LCA Tejas role for IAF – View from a simple sortie rate model

  1. I hope the author will try to make a computer program as suggested by me. This will help to reduce inventory and expenditure. I am suggesting this because we know, enemy installations.
    First, find out the vulnerable area like Chamb. We fought the toughest war in 1971 at Chamb and we lost a few territory . IAF and Army can practically try in Rajasthan desert on dinmmies.

  2. Very good study not like many other articles. This is the kind of study we require. I am studying about defense requirements last six years. The fighter planes, bombers, helicopters, Warships ,Aircraft carriers,and submarines are only weapon carrying vehicles/vessels. The number of sorties a fighter or bombers required to be performed is based on the destructive power of the weapon used. After 1971 war PAF reported that India achieved Air superiority mainly because the bombs used by PAF were not effective to destroy the runways of the IAF Airports near the border. I AF was able to repair the runways in a short time and able to use the fighter planes against the enemy. This is a vital point. But except me, nobody is giving any importance to it. IAF is increasing the requirements of the plane without a proper study. Now you started a beginning. Your calculation regarding the number of sorties LCA is excellent. But it will be better if you can develop a computer program in- corporating my suggestions to make it perfect. We know the Pakistan Army installations and PAF installations. We know the war Zones and war front
    Army and IAF will be knowing the destructive power of our weapons ( how much area it can destroy ). Approximate area of each installation may be able to find out using GPS. Using the computer program we can find out the number of sorties required , by the fighters planes, the number of various types of smart bombs. and missiles.

    • Yes The Over Target Requirement (OTR) is a separate model and will definitely require much more complicated computations. As an ex DRDO scientist till year 2000 I was doing those type of computations.

      The article above however, was just to highlight the sortie generation capability of LCA Tejas vs the existing aircraft in our Orbat.

      Thanks for your comments and suggestions.

      • The main aim of the present defence minister is to reduce expenditure. So I am sure he will appreciate you effort. I have sent many suggestions to the defence minister and he has implemented many of my suggestions .
        Misconception created about Tejas to purchase Rafale. by IAF and UPA with the help of foreign suppliers.
        Now Rafale will remain a dream to IAF and many others. who wanted to purchase Rafale. I will be forwarding your article with my comments to Defense minister for necessary action about one year back I sent the same suggestion to him. about one year back.

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