India missed out on the first industrial revolution and as a result, for centuries, we remained an agrarian society. A large part of our population continued to languish in poverty. Today, India is resurgent. The Indian economy is galloping, growing at the rate of eight to nine percent and possibly at ten percent very soon. India appears to be firmly poised on the road to economic prosperity.
But there are two India’s. One that is the beneficiary of economic progress, and the other India, which is yet to taste the fruits of the economic boom. There is a huge section of our society that has been bypassed by the trickle-down effect. India‘s primary goal today is to lift the teeming millions out of poverty which can only be translated into reality through economic progress.
History is testimony to the fact that no nation has developed economically without the corresponding military strength.
History is testimony to the fact that no nation has developed economically without the corresponding military strength. The two are inexorably linked. Without peace and tranquility, the two essential prerequisites, sustained economic growth cannot be assured without adequate military power.In today‘s world, Aerospace Power is the most critical component of military power. Although there are examples in history such as Japan and Germany that have achieved high rates of economic growth without stated military power, nevertheless these nations were secure under the nuclear umbrella and the military might of the USA and even hosted American forces on their soil. India’s case has, however, been different. Adopting a policy of non-alignment in the post-independence era, we chose to tread an independent path. India, therefore, needed and continues to rely on its own military power to ensure national security to foster economic growth.
In the evolving geo-strategic environment in the world today, the centre of power-play is shifting to Asia. However, there is considerable uncertainty in the security environment around India. The Middle-East is in turmoil with seemingly insurmountable problems in Iraq and Iran. A number of oil-rich Sheikhdoms are politically unstable.
Consider the Indian Ocean region. Every state that has nuclear weapons has abiding interest and presence in this region. Nuclear China is politically stable, economically strong and is governed by a single party communist system. Is this the final political destiny of China? Perhaps not. India‘s political future on the other hand, is assured. It will continue to follow the Westminster model of the democratic system. In spite of our internal differences and other difficulties, India continues to be stable. However, we live in a volatile environment wherein the political future of a number of states continues to be uncertain.
One estimate says that while the global energy demand is rising at 0.5% annually, energy needs of India and China are rising at 8%.
We have long-standing disputes with Pakistan and China. In addition, the region is also threatened by non-state actors. The problem of terrorism is serious. We have in this milieu, a resurgent India, marching on the road to economic prosperity.
We must, therefore, focus on the economic realities. In the context of globalisation, the importance of trade and commerce is growing but is also generating new security concerns. What are the new threats? India has been preoccupied with a subcontinental threat perception emanating from Pakistan and China and had neither the inclination nor the time to look beyond. The time, however, has now come to do so.
We also have fought wars with Pakistan and China. The terrain in Kashmir and on the Chinese front being mountainous inhibits the effective employment of armour. This is a serious limitation in operations by our land forces in the northern regions. I am not for a moment suggesting that our Army is lacking in any manner. Indeed the prowess of our Army has been demonstrated in Kargil. Both the Army and Navy have done us proud in our post-independence history. However, if the conflict is confined to the northern regions, the burden will be carried largely by the Army and the Air Force. The Navy will be in an indirect support role. Over the years, the military situation along the northern borders is trapped in a status quo, which given the terrain, is difficult if not impossible to change. However, if the political leadership desires change in the status quo, it can effectively be achieved by exploiting Aerospace Power. The terrain will not permit otherwise. This is the subcontinental reality.
We need AWACS and more in-flight refueling aircraft. For controlling operations, we need radars, AWACS and extensive networking not only amongst IAF elements but with our maritime and land forces.
In the context of the new economic paradigms, we need to look beyond our boundaries if India‘s primary objective of rapid economic growth is to be realised. There is no alternative to economic progress. We need to look beyond our boundaries and address the various security concerns – economic security, trade security and energy security. On account of the growing economy, India has become an energy-hungry nation. One estimate says that while the global energy demand is rising at 0.5% annually, energy needs of India and China are rising at 8%. In the context of rising energy needs, energy security assumes critical importance. As bulk of our energy requirements are met through imports, our security concerns are no longer confined to our borders.
The redrawn strategic boundaries of resurgent India could extend from the Gulf to the Straits of Malacca and from the Central Asian Republics to the Indian Ocean. The enlarged strategic dimensions necessitate not only a radical change in our strategic thinking but also accentuates the role of Aerospace Power in the new security arena.
A few words on the changed nature of warfare. In the good old days our operational plans were drawn up on the basis of fairly standardised sequence of air operations at the commencement of hostilities. Air Power was expected to first neutralise enemy air power to establish command of the skies and only then undertake missions in support of the land battle which would have already begun. The next war may not conform to the familiar patterns of the past and we may not be able to predict with any degree of certainty as to what the new format would be like.
During the Indo-Pak war of 1965, on September 6, we opened the Lahore front. This is a seminal date in the history of India. Up to this date, conflict with Pakistan was confined to J&K. But through the action on the Lahore front, India made a statement that any attack on J&K would be an attack on India. The war in 1971 was fought with objectives unrelated to J&K and as such was in a different category. The more recent Kargil war was confined to a very small sector of J&K.
Any future, war with Pakistan may be fought at different levels. It may be confined to J&K, may be fought along the LOC, be a conflict on a small scale as in Kargil or even encompass the entire international border. It may be conventional or nuclear. Each level of war will be different from the other and it is difficult to predict the nature and scope of the conflict in the future. Wars will invariably be influenced by international equations. We will have to be prepared to fight internal wars against jehadis and terrorists. The spectrum of conflict is wide, and the demands on the military in a future war will be far more challenging, calling for responses that are swift and varied.
For the IAF to be a strong Aerospace Power, it is necessary to have strategic reach, networking and the capability to exploit space.
Wars have always been multi-dimensional and are increasingly so today. Future wars will require much higher levels of synergy between military power and civil authority. A new role for the military will be ‘military diplomacy‘. There will be a need for increased military exchanges and interactions between friendly nations. Organisational changes would be necessary to facilitate both civilian and military establishments to jointly take on both the internal and external security challenges.
Air Power played a significant role in World War I and matured by World War II. Thereafter, wars fought in Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent witnessed the growing importance of Air Power and its impact on the outcome. With the capability of operating in an expanded envelope, the term Air Power was replaced by the more appropriate expression Aerospace Power with significantly enhanced role in any future war due to profound change in its inherent characteristics of Speed, Reach and Flexibility. In our context, there is a firm belief that the next war will be air led and that the end result will be contingent on what Aerospace Power is able to achieve.
Today, Aerospace Power is the primary tool of deterrence, and punishment if deterrence fails. Aerospace Power provides the capability to undertake graduated action. Earlier on, the pattern was that the land forces initiated action on the ground and Air Power was brought in later. Unlike in the past, in future wars, application of Aerospace Power will not only herald the commencement of war but will degrade considerably the capability of the enemy to fight even before land operations begin. We need to understand this shift in the nature of war and as to how Aerospace Power will impact national security. Technology now provides us the capability to undertake the complete range of operations concurrently with the air campaign to establish command of the skies. In the next war which may be short on account of political compulsions, for speedy results, application of Aerospace Power would be most expedient.
Aerospace Power will be the primary tool for projecting power beyond the shores of the country. So far the Navy has been showing the flag and will continue to do so, however, the IAF is now in a position to share this role.
…all aircraft in the IAF will ultimately have the capability to receive fuel in flight. This does not mean that we have aggressive designs. Our only aim is to protect our interests.
The IAF was established in 1932 to support the British Army which was fighting to subdue the Afghans. Over the years, the IAF has been living with a historical fact and mindset that the primary task of the IAF is to support the land battle. During the Second World War, there were hundreds of bomber aircraft operating from and through India, but none belonged to the IAF. They were all operated by the USAF or the RAF. The IAF was confined to tactical role of supporting the land battle. The mindset continued in the post-independence era and the IAF remained a Tactical Air Force. The strategic role was non-existent in the operational philosophy of the IAF. Now that India is emerging as a global economic power, there is an imperative need to change this historical perception and shift to strategic thought.
Considering the security dimensions, Aerospace Power can no longer remain tactical and by definition, it is not. The criteria for a force to be strategic or tactical is the end result. We now have the capability by way of hardware and we need to sustain the transition from the tactical to the strategic and progressively graduate from ‘continental strategy’ to ‘regional strategy’ and then on to ‘global strategy’. We need to look beyond our boundaries, beyond J&K and China. There is no denying the fact that problems in J&K will continue. Nevertheless we need to move away from the northern fixation and focus on newly emerging security concerns generated by the need to safeguard trade, commerce and sources of energy.
The IAF vision is that as the primary custodian of Aerospace Power, it has to contribute to national security of resurgent India. The IAF needs strategic reach to influence events in the region of interest. We now have SU-30 MKI and in-flight refuelling aircraft that provide extended range to our Jaguar, Mirage 2000 and Su-30 fleets. In fact, all aircraft in the IAF will ultimately have the capability to receive fuel in flight. This does not mean that we have aggressive designs. Our only aim is to protect our interests. We already are a trans-oceanic Air Force having shown our flag in Alaska, Europe, Singapore, Philippines, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Maldives, USA and Pakistan.
Aerospace Power of India requires to be strengthened further. We need more of long range cargo and strike aircraft. We need AWACS and more in-flight refueling aircraft. For controlling operations, we need radars, AWACS and extensive networking not only amongst IAF elements but with our maritime and land forces. For long distance command, control, communication, intelligence and surveillance systems, we need to explore the medium of space. For this we have been articulating the need of an Aerospace Command. Assets in space will have to be protected from enemy action. We should also have the capability to neutralise the enemy‘s network and his assets in space. As all the three Services are users of space, the proposed Aerospace Command must necessarily be a Tri-Service Command.
Aerospace Power needs to grow along with the nation otherwise there would be neither national security nor economic growth.
As we cannot be certain as to when Aerospace Command will be a reality, we cannot delay measures for the exploitation of space to meet new challenges. We therefore, now have a two-star rank heading a ‘core group’ at Air Headquarters that will study ways and means to exploit space as also build up knowledge and expertise.
For the IAF to be a strong Aerospace Power, it is necessary to have strategic reach, networking and the capability to exploit space. For this we need technology intensive hardware, advanced software, organisational structures and human resource. Hardware and software are relatively easy to acquire. Organisational structures can be created without difficulty. The most difficult and crucial aspect is human resource. To meet new challenges we need human resources that are qualitatively superior than we have had in the past. The new incumbent must not only be technologically oriented but must understand military diplomacy, international relations and the changing security paradigms. This new man should be able to exploit hardware, networking and space. To achieve this, we have modified our recruitment and training patterns. But the most important change is in the Trade Structure of airmen. The product of the new system will be equipped with multiple skills to take on the new challenges.
For our new role, we need new organisations, new structures and new level of synergy amongst civil authority, military establishments, defence production agencies, R&D organisations and the academic community. As a nation we are moving along the right path, not only with regard to economic growth but also to find our rightful place in the comity of nations. We as a nation have the strengths to meet the challenges, whether in the field of science & technology, R&D, production or war-fighting. Aerospace Power needs to grow along with the nation otherwise there would be neither national security nor economic growth.