Military & Aerospace

Secure the Indian Subcontinent with Aerospace Power
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 04 Dec , 2023

On June 7, 1981, Israeli Defence Forces conducted (IDF) ‘Operation Opera’ in which eight F-16 and six F-15 fighter planes along with a Hawkeye AWACS destroyed Iraq’s nuclear power plant completely. After 25 years, on September 5, 2007, the IDF launched ‘Operation Orchard’ to destroy a Syrian nuclear reactor. This is the third time after Japan’s operation code-named ‘Tora Tora Tora’ that destroyed the American Pearl Harbour naval base during the Second World War that such pre-emptive operations have been undertaken.

The harsh reality is that we cannot do things the Chinese way and are still far behind.

In 2021, an Iranian nuclear facility met the same fate when the most advanced fighter the F-35 destroyed it. Even today, it is not clear whether U.S. forces or the Mossad were the mastermind behind this. These operations proved the effectiveness of air power which changed the history of the world.

In the Indian context, whenever the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) fighter jets come too close to the border, the Indian Air Force (IAF) immediately responds by scrambling its combat aircraft to tackle the situation. The Chinese are using these tactics to pressurise India continuously with time intervals. So, India is in dire need of advanced lethal jets to secure its national security.

After Mao’s death, China advanced rapidly in the defence sector, especially in making its own fighter jets. Chinese indigenisation began early in the 1980s by stealing the technology of Soviet fighters and inviting foreign companies. Then the Soviets indulged in the Afghan War and the US was in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Today the situation has reached a point of no return and China successfully tested its J-20 stealth planes.

The harsh reality is that we cannot do things the Chinese way and are still far behind. China’s agenda is clear in its Fourteenth 5-year Plan (2021-25) to become self-reliant in key technologies and a superpower by 2047, the centenary of the Chinese Communist Party. The Indian defence ministry decided to have 42 squadrons in the Air Force. However, to achieve even 35 squadrons by 2035 with its ageing fleet, the IAF will have to induct at least 200 aircraft. Today, the PLAAF inventory has 2500 aircraft in combat-readiness mode. So, there is also a need for long-range stealth strategic bombers, which the IAF lacks.

The present technologies are going to become obsolete when future fighters use multiple technologies including long-range stealth capabilities.

China is fast-moving on making Anti Satellite (ASAT) weapons. Now, the Chinese have set up a Strategic Support Force to assist the combat operations, including land, water, cyber, electronic and psychological warfare in the geopolitical arena. Its programme is mainly against US and India. As our territorial dispute with China still exists. These advanced technologies and Rocket Forces equipped with nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles can create turbulence in the world’s balance of power.

Pakistan is also going to increase its fighter fleet. Now Iran will also have to receive new supplies of SU-35 fighters from Russia which is also a game changer in the Asian Subcontinent. Such a crucial technology plane in the hands of Iran can change the equations in the region. This is also a matter of grave concern for us although our diplomatic relations with Iran are good enough.

Going back to World War-II times countries have thousands of fighter planes and Tanks, especially Germany, America, Russia and Great Britain. But, in today’s world, we will be ready not only for two fronts of war but also be ready for multiple fronts in case of conflicts. The present technologies are going to become obsolete when future fighters use multiple technologies including long-range stealth capabilities.

Now Russia is designing its new stealth bomber to replace its current fleet of bombers, the Tu-95 MS and Tu-160 Blackjack. Russia has now equipped TU-160M (a new variant) with Kh-BD cruise missile which has a range of over 6500 kms. India can take this opportunity to buy from Russia and develop Joint Ventures. To keep up our readiness with the changing geopolitical conditions following, steps should be taken as countermeasures.

In 1988, India took its first ‘Charlie Class’ nuclear submarine ‘INS Chakra’ on lease from the Soviet Union. The experience gained is now useful for India to operate its own submarines.

First, India actually needs the TU-160 type of aircraft. The Chinese have made long strides in their H-20 stealth and their new H-6N long-range maritime strike bombers, which can carry large payloads and travel long distances at subsonic speed to hit ships. So, the Russian Tu-95 or Tu-160 and the US B-2 Spirit or B-21 Raider can be considered or made in India.

Now to plug the gap, the TU-160 Blackjacks on lease from Russia are a good option. In 1988, India took its first ‘Charlie Class’ nuclear submarine ‘INS Chakra’ on lease from the Soviet Union. The experience gained is now useful for India to operate its own submarines. Thus, leasing these bombers is useful for four reasons:

(i) It is a supersonic, fly-by-wire, four-man crew. Published material suggests that the Tu-160 (the equivalent of the American B-1 Lancer strategic bomber) has a 70-meter- per/second climb rate, a maximum speed of 2,200 km/h and a cruising speed of 960 km/h, a range of 12,300 km without refueling, and a combat radius of 7,300 km. It can drop both conventional and nuclear warheads.

(ii) The other version of the bomber runs on hydrogen fuel, which may be right up to Prime Minister Modi’s plan for converting the country to a hydrogen economy. Therefore, there is a need for preparatory plans for targeting the most distant Chinese targets along with its military bases in the so-called ‘string of pearls’ around India.

(iii) The need for stealth bombers is so crucial because the Chinese have deployed S-400s on the border.

(iv) The experience gained from it will be critical when we ultimately make our own. The IAF desperately needs such stealth, all-weather long-range strike aircrafts that can operate anywhere in the world to protect our geopolitical interests.

IAF war planners should talk about the feasibility of fuel tankers for aircrafts to be set up in space for emergency conditions or in a state of war.

Secondly, A fighter jet is the deadliest weapon in existence – in the sky. However, on the ground, it is utterly defenceless. So, without a full-fledged military space doctrine and space militarisation, we cannot deter China. So, the IAF must create a ‘Space Command’ and start developing space weapons. This is because future wars might very well be decided on space technology. The command can be operational by pooling the resources of ISRO, IAF, and DRDO along with the newly set up Defence Space Agency (DSA).

Thirdly, IAF war planners should talk about the feasibility of fuel tankers for aircrafts to be set up in space for emergency conditions or in a state of war.

Fourthly, with only five in its inventory, the IAF lacks AWACS planes (three Israeli Phalcons and two indigenously developed Netras). It can be acquired from foreign vendors, or India can make more Netra AEW&C planes indigenously. It should be noted that China has around 30.

Fifthly, the Reagan Administration’s Strategic Defence Initiative (Star Wars) was a long-term plan in the 1980s during the Cold War Planned; when the US was facing less weaponry vis-a-vis the Soviet Union. However, after some years the U.S. Air Force showed its air superiority around the world. It is time to defend our country with technological advancement unitedly. Space is the future and we can secure the future for India. Dragon is fast advancing in space war technologies and conducting experiments in space medicine, life sciences, microgravity, combustion, astronomy and emerging technologies. China is also planning to send a manned mission to space, its space budget for 2023 is $12.77 billion, compared to India’s $1.52 billion and its commitment is clear, constant, and determined. Ours must be equally deserved.

While the US and Britain are heading towards the Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) and Generation Fighter aircraft programs like Tempest to edge over their adversaries and retire their fleet of obsolete aircraft, even now, the US has been working on the concept of airborne aircraft carriers (AACs). For India, the time has finally arrived to go for new options in space because our prime adversary, China, now has a powerful air force and a powerful blue-water navy.

End notes:

(1) Air Commodore Jasjit Singh, “Defence from the Skies Indian Air Force through 80 years” New Delhi: KW Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Year, 2013.

(2) “IAF scrambles fighter jets in response to Chinese action in LAC; IAF Chief on PLAAF provocation just before military talks”, The Economic Time, July 17, 2022.

(3) “Explainer what is Air Defence command and why Indian air force chief opposed this,” NavBharatTimes,July16,2022.

(4) Group Captain Murli Menon, “Prospect of CAATSA waiver reveals US designs,” The Tribune,July29,2022.

(5) Sakshi Tiwari, “Knock of US B-2 Spirit? Russia’s 1st stealth Bomber design surfaces online; Experts decode Tupolev PAK DA.” The Eurasian Times August 8, 2022.

(6) “Air Defence command may be counterproductive says, IAF Chief,” The Hindu, July 16,2022.

(7) “Warfare changing with technology, India’s security dynamics will require multi-domain capabilities: Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari,” The Hindu, May 30, 2022.

(8) Khyati Singh, “Dragon Taking over Tiger after 30 years: Trade deficit and technology race,” CAPS, August11,2022,

(9) “Would Russia Really Sell the SU-35 to Iran?”, Indian Defence News September 24, 2022.

(10) Sakshi Tiwari, “China Claims Inducting World’s First Unmanned Drone Carrier That Can Function Completely on its own”, Eurasian Times, January 14, 2023.

(11) Bryan Frederick, et.al. Managing the Escalation Risks of U.S. Military Activities in the Indo-Pacific,” RAND Corporation, January 17, 2023,÷ https://www.rand.org/pubs/research_briefs/RBA972-1.html. Accessed on January 28, 2023

(12) Amit Mishra, “India’s Hydrogen Economy: The Storey in Mission Mode” Swarajya Magazine, February 9, 2023.

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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

Rahul Dev

is a Senior Assistant in the Guru Nanak Dev University, Amritsar.

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