Thursday, 15 November 2012

The Indian Air Force and 24 x 7 Capabilities

A nation of the size, power, responsibilities and stature of India cannot ignore global happenings. Indeed we must anticipate and if possible shape them or risk being overtaken by events. It is a decided advantage to be proactive but we have been far from it. This requires the backing of analysis, determination of national interests and long-term policies. A smaller nation could get away without it but not India in the contemporary world.

Apart from having a volatile neighbourhood and the associated threats and influences, India is faced with the full spectrum of threats. The spectrum itself is increasing in complexity and technological sophistication. With the changing spectrum, its unpredictability, and India being looked upon to play a bigger role in global affairs, we have no choice but to ensure that we have full-spectrum dominance. The Armed Forces are an important component of national power and can help generate options for the Govt. The application of Air Power is intrinsic to the gamut of National Power and we will have to focus in the same direction.

If we have to tread the path of full spectrum dominance, it is prudent that we move away from a threatbased assessment to a capabilitybased approach. A capability can always be tailored or applied to meet the emerging challenge. Capability will also allow us to apply the right force in any form of conflict. Transformation for us will be a continued series of fundamental changes each leading to a better capability. Keeping all this in mind, we need to understand what we need for our capability build-up.


Our National zone of interest and influence stretches from the Gulf of Hormuz in the West, to the Malacca Straits in the East and beyond. Just like other capabilities, strong and comprehensive aerospace capability is required in today’s scenario to meet our country’s aspirations. I envisage that the capability build up of our aerospace power will be based on four pillars. Very simply put, these are SEE, REACH, HIT and PROTECT. We need to SEE farthest and first. This involves utilisation of space based assets, long range radars, aerostats, AWACS and other ISR sensors. We need to collect and process relevant information in real time. Having SEEN, we need to REACH our area of interest. Trans-oceanic reach by long range combat and transport aircraft, along with air to air refuellers, is the next pillar of our capability. Once we reach, we need to HIT the target. Hit the target with precision; hit it hard. And so, modern weapons are required. While doing all this, we need to PROTECT our assets both in war and peace. This involves all aspects of Air Defence, EW (Electronic Warfare), Cyberspace and Information Warfare.


Aerospace power is going to play a major role in all operations in the future. Technologically, aerospace power will definitely seek to enhance its fundamentals. Reach, Accuracy, Lethality, Situational awareness as well as command and control are going to improve manifold. Aerospace power will find increasing application in homeland security as well as in tackling asymmetric forces with faint footprints. The path that we have to tread is influenced by emerging technologies and I can state with confidence that aerospace power’s applicability will only increase in times ahead. Aerospace power will proliferate and find utility with many agencies. In addition to the Armed Forces, the Paramilitary and now the Home Ministry want their integral aircraft and Air Wings. This will raise a host of fundamental questions on organisational structures, management and ownership issues. Undoubtedly, aerospace power will be the ‘preferred tool’ for all conveniences and contingencies, but we need to manage it properly.

In the future, there are many challenges but also opportunities. Some are evolutionary and some are truly revolutionary. On one end, we have 5th generation fighters like F-35 and F-22, PAK-FA or T-50, while on the other end, increasingly capable RPAs (Remotely Piloted Aircraft) are also stealing limelight. Since these RPAs are offering new horizons for air and space operations, they have started playing critical roles in war and conflict zones. From surveillance to delivering ordnance with precision, RPAs will undoubtedly continue to make revolutionary advances. Similarly, precision munitions are getting smaller, more precise and more autonomous while on the other side, weapons using directed energy are beginning to emerge.

There will be a need for specialisation, greater networking and assimilation of space, for any air force that has a reckonable area of interest. Transportability of national power by airlift will be more essential than ever before.


If this be the future of air power then, then the vision and long term perspective of IAF is clear. The underlying objective of the Air Force during the coming 10 to 15 years is to build itself into a credible aerospace power. Always keeping in mind that there is a compelling need to keep the technological level of our equipment at such a pitch, that it is viable for precise and effective force application in all possible types of threat scenarios.

IAF envisions itself to be a networkcentric force. The Aim being to have a common operating picture, reduce the sensor to shooter time and enable successful time critical operations. In fact all this will shortly become “bread and butter” stuff. Capabilities like the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), AWACS and Operational Data Link (ODL) are different aspects of an emerging network-centric environment. Space would be very vital, though largely an invisible component in this mosaic of Network-Centric operations.

Contemporary capabilities like AWACS and some others in the pipeline are already changing and transforming the way we are likely to fly and fight. The demands on the aerospace leadership of the future are also going to change. Leaders will also have to transform themselves. A change of mindset is mandatory to meet the challenges of the future.

Technological advances will continue to revolutionise military affairs in future too. Despite the unpredictabilities, it is certain that the need for application and transportability of national power – hard and soft – and thus for aerospace power, with enhanced fundamentals, would remain. We expect aerospace power to permeate the fabric of national security more completely, including homeland security. IAF foresees greater specialisation; tailored capabilities for each occasion; an increased dependence on Remotely Piloted Vehicles and a greater accent on force enhancers; particularly the intangible ones, such as quality of people and their skills. Hardware is important but it is converted into capabilities by people. Aerospace power requires highly-skilled and trained personnel. Attracting quality youth, training and retaining them is another of IAF’s challenges. Inculcating qualities of leadership and innovativeness will be vital on IAF’s agenda.

Networking and assimilation of space, both interdependent, are already the way forward and can tilt the balance considerably. Perhaps more than others, it is air power that is most significantly enhanced by the integration of space-enabled capabilities. Evolving into a potent aerospace force is thus a logical progression in the scheme of things. But then, the vulnerability of satellites to anti-satellite weapons becomes an issue, due to risk of attack from adversaries. Development of ASAT technologies is taking place in our neighbourhood. In order to ensure that our increased dependence on space does not become our vulnerability, defending space based assets would assume vital importance within the 21st Century.


With all this in mind the Indian Air Force also has a major transformation plan in place. This is three-pronged. The first is to preserve and maintain what they have. This is achieved with a well-conceived product and maintenance support plan.

Secondly, they plan to selectively upgrade and improve the lethality of their assets that have adequate residual life left. Some of the fl eets and assets that are being upgraded are:

Upgrade of the MiG-29 series by 2014. Upgraded aircraft will be available by 2017.
Technical upgrades of Mi-17 upgrade.
In fact, upgrades of Su-30 are already in the pipeline and in various phases.
In parallel, MAFI (Modernisation of Air Fields Infrastructure) programme for upgradation of airfield and maintenance infrastructure is also being progressed.

The third prong of the transformation is to progress the acquisitions and replacements where no residual life is left:

The final round of the procurement of 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat aircraft is on with Rafale.
Procurement of additional Su-30 is under progress. Our total numbers are going to be in excess of 270 Su-30s.

The LCA (Light Combat Aircraft) IOC certification was done in Jan 2011.There are delays. Induction is expected in this year, by which time all teething issues should hopefully be sorted out.
RFP for six additional Flight Refuelling aircraft was re-issued in Sep 10. FETs (Field Evaluation Trials) have been completed.
10 C-17 Globemaster III Heavy Lift Aircraft.
Induction of new Medium Lift Helicopters (Mi-17 V5) has already commenced.
Induction of Combat helicopters and Heavy Lift Helicopters is being progressed.
Contract for Spyder LLQRMs has been signed and the first squadron is expected soon.
All the three AWACS aircraft have been delivered. Contract for Medium Power Radars, Low Level Transportable Radars and Low Level Light Weight Radars has been signed and delivery has commenced.
MTA (Multirole Transport Aircraft) and FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) programmes are being progressed with Russia. FGFAs will be available around or just after 2017. The requirement is for about 200 to 250 aircraft.


In the end, there is no escaping the fact that the IAF must be equipped to be a long-reach, all-weather, precise, networked and space-enabled force. Only then can we have the requisite capabilities. Capabilities which will Deter, Punish and Project wherever, whenever and to the extent required.

Editor's Note: The author is a former Chief of the Air Staff of the Indian Air Force. Notably, most of the IAF's transformation programmes have evolved and progressed under Air Chief Marshal SP Tyagi, Air Chief Marshal FH Major, Air Chief Marshal PV Naik, and the current Chief, Air Chief Marshal NAK Browne who played a key role as the Deputy Chief and Vice Chief in drawing and enforcing the Air Staff Qualitative Requirements.

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