Military & Aerospace

Strengthen India's Aerospace Power
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Issue Vol 22.1 Jan - Mar 2007 | Date : 01 Oct , 2014

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.

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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.

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Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi

Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi

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