Military & Aerospace

Indian Air Force 2020
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 30 Oct , 2010

Planning for Modernisation of the IAF

Festivity during the 73rd anniversary of the Indian Air Force in October 2005 was overshadowed by the concern over its depleting combat power. Obsolescence appears to be overtaking the IAF as several components of its combat and supporting assets are reaching the end of technical or calendar life and need replacement very soon. The Government appeared to be seized of the problem as a few days later at a Combined Commanders` Conference held in South Block, came the assurance from the highest level that modernisation of the armed forces was a matter of high priority and that the required resources would be made available.

Indian_air_forceModernisation of the IAF involves acquisition of expensive capital equipment that has a life span of three to four decades. Acquisition of equipment for the IAF in the past has generally been characterised by slow decision making and complex procurement procedures leading to delays in the operational integration of the equipment with the organisation.

The procurement process is long drawn and in the best case may take seven to ten years to fructify. As such, plans drawn up today must remain valid in the decade of the twenties by which time changes in the operating environment could well render decisions of today irrelevant.

Modernisation plans must therefore take in to account the challenges of the evolving scenario in the geo-political, geo-strategic, technological and operational environment in the region and the world as these would impact on the role and responsibility of the IAF as also its shape and size.

It is therefore necessary to reflect on the historical perspective of regional equations and visualise the scenario that is likely to prevail in the twenties before undertaking plans for modernisation of the IAF.

Conflict and the Developing World

In the first half of the 20th century the world went through the convulsions of two major wars that apart from wreaking widespread death and destruction, divided the world in to two distinct camps hostile to each other and ushered in an era of cold war and global peace, essentially on account of a balance of power arising out of superpower rivalry. While the two superpowers maintained a balance of terror, conventional proxy wars continued to rage and were confined largely to the developing world. These wars served the political and economic interests of the superpowers as they helped perpetuate strategic relationships and turn the wheels of the military industrial complex of the developed world.

Sino Indian Relations

Emerging as a dismembered but independent nation in the middle of the 20th century, India inherited several thousand kilometres of land borders that had a potential for conflict whose origins lay in the flawed policies of the British Government. The border between India and Tibet had been defined unilaterally by the British Government during their reign in India without any formal agreement with China who constantly maintained that in the first place, there was no need for a redefinition of borders as the traditional boundaries were well known and that there was no need to indulge in the exercise at all. At no stage did the Chinese endorse or accept the British action with regard to the delineation of the border with Tibet. The alignment of the traditional boundaries perceived by China were also not universally known except perhaps to the Chinese themselves.

The unresolved legacy inherited from the past left an unwary nation traumatised in 1962. More than four decades later, efforts are now on to resolve the fundamental dispute and notwithstanding the inspiring rhetoric emanating from the political establishment of both India and China and the somewhat regimented bonhomie at the military outpost at Nathu La beamed on the visual media occasionally, the ground situation has not changed in favour of India. In fact, in some ways it has indeed worsened as in the intervening years, the Chinese have only consolidated their gains of 1962 in Ladakh and are continuing to develop regions bordering Arunachal on a scale that cannot be justified for economic reasons alone.

China has played a key role in transforming Pakistan in to a nuclear weapon state, a step that has only accentuated the tension and served to complicate the security equations in the sub-continent.

It would be imprudent to believe that it is possible only through dialogue to alter the age old position held by China regarding the alignment of international borders between India and Tibet. But in the absence of any other option, the dialogue must continue. We ought not to ignore the fact that it is more important for us to come to an amicable settlement of the border dispute than it is for China. As per a renowned Chinese leader, it may be desirable to shelve the problem for now and leave it to the future generations who may be wiser to find a solution. A politically weak position combined with a visibly weak military posture on our part therefore could seriously undermine the process of the ongoing dialogue as also impinge on the fragile relationship that we believe to have succeeded in building in the recent past.

Apart from the ongoing border dispute, the economic rivalry that is building up slowly but surely between the two of the fastest growing economies in the region, has the potential for conflict arising out of clash of vital interests. While India aspires to emerge as a regional power, China is emerging as a global economic power house and her sights are set on superpower status. China would not have failed to notice the shift in India`s foreign policy aimed at strengthening the strategic relationship between the two largest democracies in the world. China acquired nuclear power status several years ahead of India to achieve a credible deterrent against a perceived threat from a superpower.

China has also successfully completed her second space mission and in the next decade and a half, is planning to despatch a manned mission to moon as also build a space station. Clearly, China is ahead in the race with India. Then there is the long standing relationship with Pakistan wherein apart from supply of conventional military equipment, China has played a key role in transforming Pakistan in to a nuclear weapon state, a step that has only accentuated the tension and served to complicate the security equations in the sub-continent.

Indo-Pak Confrontation

On the western front, the status of Jammu and Kashmir, truly the only cause of conflict, is a legacy of the colonial past. In the wake of super-power rivalry, Britain was replaced in the region by the USA, and while Pakistan was drawn quite readily in to the American camp, India adopted a philosophy of non alignment opting for a diverse inventory of military equipment i.e. British and French. However for strategic, economic and political reasons India had to subsequently lean heavily on the Soviet Union for military hardware to meet with the demands of national security. Even though formally not allied with the USSR, India was seen by the USA as being squarely in the Soviet camp and was treated with extreme suspicion and unconcealed disdain.

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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

Air Marshal BK Pandey

Former AOC-in-C Training Command, IAF.

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