An IAF for the Future: Some Considerations-Part II
-S.P. Tyagi, Senior Fellow, IDSA and Sharat Dixit, retd IAF officer
In Part-1 of this two-part paper, the security environment and the impact of emerging technologies on airpower, with their relevance to India over the next two decades was examined. It was suggested that the current international security scenario is a far from stable one, and the situation is likely to persist in the foreseeable future. Multiple power centres are emerging, with the consequent diversity of interests. Potential conflicts situations are, therefore, also multiplying. Conflict resolution is a function of power, both economic and military, and national interests cannot be served in its absence. Both elements need to be developed, preferably in tandem, as the absence of either reduces one's effectiveness in extra-national interplays.
India has been militarily challenged by two of her neighbours in the recent past, both of whom continue to flaunt their aggression/dismissive attitude. It is necessary, therefore, to build up the requisite ability to resist external pressure in the pursuit of national aspirations.
Airpower is the quickest, most flexible and the decisive element of military power projection. It needs to be optimised in the expected threat scenario. Current trends are based on the concepts of distancing the war from friendly civilian assets, minimising effort and maximising effect. This implies the necessity for stand-off, precision weapons to enhance survivability, economy of effort and the attrition ratio. A corollary is an optimal C5I2 system and a real time bomb damage assessment loop. Target technologies would, therefore, include Aerospace and Information Technology, PGMs and Electronics. Sensors, IFF systems and computer hard and software would have to be developed or acquired. Both manned and unmanned delivery platforms and weapons with specialist warheads would be necessary. A credible nuclear and chemical capacity may also be needed.
In this part, we would look at some doctrinal concepts and possible changes that may be necessitated. We would examine how doctrines evolve, the concept of deterrence, and the increased effectiveness of airpower. Strategic bombing, counter-air and counter-surface operations, and air defence would be briefly analysed to suggest some options.
Some Doctrinal Concepts
A Doctrine and its Limitations
The dictionary meaning of the word doctrine is "what is taught; a body of instruction; beliefs or principles put forward by a group." A doctrine of airpower, therefore, would be an assessment of its capability, and of how best it could be applied. Such a doctrine evolves through analyses of experiences, and of technologies/systems existing, available or necessary. Perforce, the inputs for such analyses are scanty and unreliable. Not all nations assess the conduct of conflicts, or publicise their findings. When they do, it is generally the victor's side of the story which is heard, and even then, shortcomings are rarely highlighted officially. Individual reactions could be biased, or based on limited information. They could also be sensationalist if the aims of the author are commercial. The quantum of attrition is a matter of conjecture, and the ground realities of war can never be totally reconstructed in a later, peaceful environment. Hence, a great deal of extrapolation, modernisation and rationalisation is necessary before tentative conclusions can be arrived at, and field trials under realistic conditions may be necessary before premises can be established. These must then be adapted to suit one's own scenario, political, economic, social and military.
Doctrines can be established at various levels--national, military, of a particular service and further down the ladder, but they must be consonant with national aspirations. Should a doctrine then percolate downwards, or vice-versa? Should it be dictated by national goals or by the availability of resources? The first method, despite its advantages is capital and technology intensive. National goals may be identified and the means stipulated. Military aims may be enunciated and the roles of respective services specified. The services would now need to decide how best these roles may be performed, and the where withal necessary. There is an inherent danger here of over-assessment of required resources by each element, and the development of an unnecessary degree of redundancy, raising overall costs. Also, as technology develops, individual capabilities and, consequently, roles may be expanded, making the aims technology driven. The second is a poor man's solution. We optimise what we have, and limit our aims accordingly. The doctrine (if already established), may then be suitably amended to state what airpower can do and how it must be done in our context. Both approaches have pros and cons. One may become unaffordable unless stringent controls are exercised, but would be linked to economic and technological development, while the second, though pragmatic, may lead to stagnation.
Generally, for an Air Force, what evolves is a combination of the two. A doctrine of airpower (as against that of an Air Force) may be enunciated and adapted to specific scenarios, leading to the development of strategies. This is what creates the wide diversities in the application of airpower by different nations. The interpretations of doctrines are subjective and personalised, especially at the highest decision making levels, and execution is often contrary to doctrinal percepts. The (mis) conduct of the Battle of Britain by Germany, and of the air war in Vietnam, are cases in point. The non-utilisation of the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1962 is still debated.
Despite the foregoing, an Air Force doctrine is only one of the inputs that contribute to national initiatives, both during peace and war. In most democratic countries, the military is subordinate to civilian authority. Hence, non-military imperatives prevail over purely military ones in most matters, ranging from recruitment and acquisitions to the actual conduct of operations or their cessation. How else does one explain the bitterly resented (by the Indian Army) return of captured territory in Kashmir by Lal Bahadur Shastri at Tashkent, or the cessation of the Gulf War by George Bush when he was informed that all military objectives would be achieved in 48 hours?
The IAF is unlikely to have the luxury of clear directives from the government during peace-time, regarding the extent to which wars may be prosecuted, the levels of escalation which may be expected, or the strategies which may be adopted. Case-to-case decisions at best, are possible--when the IAF seeks them. So, it would have to extrapolate, assume likely scenarios, find its way through the political and bureaucratic maze, and forge for itself an entity which would be armed and trained to meet most contingencies.
Deterrence as a concept has always been intrinsic to inter-state conflict. No nation would ordinarily initiate a war unless it believed that the desired objectives were attainable--at an acceptable human, social and economic cost. The advent of non-conventional weapons to the Indian subcontinent, however, necessitates a re-assessment of this concept.
The stand of the nuclear weapon states is that any kind of nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) attack would warrant a full scale nuclear response. Yet, they also retain biological and chemical capability. What should be India's stand in the context? Biological weapons, due to problems of storage and delivery, and unpredictability in terms of efficacy, persistence, the area affected, the incubation period and victim selection, are unsuitable for employment in fast moving high intensity conflicts. Chemical weapons are more conducive to war-time application, and can afford tremendous military advantage. They may also be perceived as a stage lower in the ladder of escalation than nuclear weapons. However, India being a signatory to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), cannot, as a "civilised" nation, pursue further chemical capability, and is committed to the progressive dismantling of its stated arsenal. Nevertheless, the capability has been demonstrated and would only expand with industrial development. Weaponisation--if required--would largely become a problem of assembly. This in itself constitutes a deterrent.
In nuclear terms, the only deterrent to a capability is a similar capability, both proactive and reactive. This India should develop, despite the international pressures it would face. Assuming that capability would be developed, a second, more important constitutent of deterrence--a demonstrable will to use the weapon--has to be projected. Obviously, this cannot be done through actual application. It has to be achieved through cumulative signalling--political, economic and military. Politically and economically, the unambiguous enunciation of national objectives and their remorseless pursuit would be necessary. Pragmatism rather than moralistic posturing must be the order of the day. Parity in recognition with the nuclear weapon states must be insisted upon in various fora, and second class treatment rejected. This would, of course, lead to enormous political pressure, possibly sanctions and loss of aid. The acceptance of these repercussions would as a corollary be a demonstration of will. Therefore, the development of nuclear weapon capability under pressure, would be a significant contributor to the demonstration of national resolve.
Militarily, the limits of tolerance must be clearly stated and enforced. This is not to suggest that continuous small scale wars with both China and Pakistan must be waged, but concrete proof of interference or aggression must be properly exploited, and any successes publicised. Military recognition must be voluble and psychological operations stepped up. Hot pursuit after appropriate warnings could be another such demonstration, which would boost both conventional and nuclear deterrence. India may, therefore, need to eschew the moral high ground that it generally takes, and establish a credible strategic and tactical deterrence.
The Effectiveness of Airpower
The degree of dominance that airpower can exercise in armed conflicts has increased progressively with technology. Humble beginnings in the pre-World War I era led to mammoth strikes later. Five raids between July 24 and August 2, 1943, dropped 8,621 tons of high explosive (HE) and hundreds of thousands of incendiaries on Hamburg; 6,000 acres of the city were razed, and over 50,000 casualties reported. Albert Speer commented that similar attacks on five or six other cities would have ended the war in 1943. The effort increased in 1944. On October 14, the Royal Air Force (RAF) flew 2,000 sorties, dropping 4,500 tons of HE and countless incendiaries. The week February 19-25, 1944, saw 16,500 tons of bombs and incendiaries targetting Germany's aircraft industry. The RAF alone dropped 2.7 million tons of HE during the war, and about 1.1 million casualties were estimated. Vietnam was similarly subjected to intense attacks, albeit intermittently, and more in accordance with political perceptions than purely military ones. Each conflict subsequently has emphasised one or the other aspect of airpower, culminating, of course, in the awesome display during the Gulf War. Airpower, however, has had (and continues to have), problems of sustainability over long periods of time. The high costs of platforms and munitions, the long periods of training necessary, the limited quantum of assets available and attrition, can ruin any economy. Weapon loads possible are also low when compared with surface forces, and weather and light conditions continue to be inhibiting factors.
Nevertheless, there is no doubt that airpower can play a decisive role in a war. In conditions of air superiority, mass and precision applied unceasingly can greatly reduce the military capability of the adversary, to the extent that it may lead to his capitulation. It gains paramount importance, when the battlefield becomes saturated with forces and natural or man-made obstacles. In fact, with accurate target-relevant modern day weapons a "Desert Storm" type operation may become the norm. Time and capability permitting, a holding war on the ground may be prosecuted initially, till airpower achieves a degree of air superiority, suppresses enemy air defences (SEAD), neutralises significant strategic targets and attrits enemy surface forces sufficiently to facilitate a major ground offensive. This would be possible if stand-off PGMs, with appropriate warheads, real time intelligence and anti-personnel weapons can be applied synergetically, and in adequate concentrations. The objectives of airpower, therefore would be, firstly, the attainment of air supremacy followed by the exploitation of enemy vulnerabilities, and attrition of their war-making capability. This would need to be done with speed and precision, to minimise friendly war waging costs, both civil and military.
The Efficacy of Strategic Bombing
Strategic bombing is aimed at the war waging potential of the enemy, including military infrastructure, industry, non-conventional capability, etc., and civilian infrastructure like electricity, water, fuel and the electronic media. The effect has often been debated, especially in short wars. It is argued that strategic bombing would be wasteful effort in short wars, as results take a long time to materialise. Civilian destruction too, is believed to have less direct effect on the war waging potential. But how is it to be ensured that a war would be short, except by winning it? The Iran-Iraq War was localised, a "limited war". Yet missiles and chemical weapons were used and it persisted for years. Who can India depend on to broker a quick cessation of hostilities? Are we to commence fighting at a tactical level, and to target strategic objectives as a last resort, when attrition, fatigue and war waging costs have taken their toll? Airpower is the spearhead of a nation's forces. Its reach and potential dictate that the mantle of strategic action must fall on it. Therefore, it would be doctrinally incorrect to limit its capability to tactical functions. It would also be incorrect to aim for strategic objectives when tactical ones have been stymied, the initial shock of war has worn off, initiatives have been blunted, and respective forces have settled into their operational routines. Strategic action from the outset would ensure optimisation of effect, dilution of enemy defences as forces are rapidly diverted to the hinterland, and progressive, cumulative, long-term erosion of his war waging potential, reinforcing deterrence.
Strategic bombing is a function independent of the counter-air or counter-surface force campaigns, and needs to run concurrently with them. It follows that dedicated specialist forces must be created for the function. The Maldives imbroglio of 1988 highlighted the lack of such forces. No fighter-bomber had adequate range to project airpower except the ancient Canberra, which would have been very vulnerable had defences existed. Similarly, effective defence of our island territories cannot be ensured by a land based air element. Assets positioned in Car Nicobar or Port Blair would be severely restricted operationally, and would present lucrative targets themselves.
India has been ignoring this aspect of air capability. The last three aircraft acquisitions have been air superiority fighters or multi-role aircraft, in the MiG-29, the Mirage-2000 and the SU-30. The Prithvi may be considered a non-weapon if used with conventional warheads. The Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) too would be a tactical aircraft when available. It is often stated that air defence cannot win a war. If India is to project military power as an instrument of national strategy, it must develop the most proactive, offensive element at its command, not only in terms of weapon delivery, but also for reconnaissance and Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA). Punitive strategic capability is, therefore, a prime element of airpower, which must be achieved, and employed maximally when deterrence fails, to enable the "short war" desired.
The Counter-Air Campaign
The aim of the counter-air campaign is to achieve air superiority, that is, the freedom to use the medium of air effectively oneself, while denying it to the enemy. The awesome power that can be brought to bear through this medium, the speed, flexibility and precision with which it can be applied, and the distances over which it can be effected imply that this is the first capability which must be denied to the enemy. No operations, either surface or air based can be prosecuted successfully if enemy airpower is free to interfere with them. Hence, this becomes a prime target of friendly forces, be they surface, air or space based. This is not to suggest that the air campaign is distinct from the rest of the war. Other campaigns should continue as deemed fit, but diversion of assets will dilute the counter-air effort applied, and hence the speed and efficacy with which enemy teeth can be drawn.
To put the primacy of the campaign in perspective, it is not an end in itself, but a means. It aims at reducing friendly attrition, and enemy capability. The ground realities, however, would determine how the flexibility of airpower can best be exploited. It would be desirable to have separate forces to execute the offensive counter-air and the counter-surface force campaigns, but this would rarely be possible, and the similarity of tasks would decree that duplication be avoided and the flexibility of the platform be exploited.
The campaign must ideally be pre-emptive, when maximum force can be applied, enemy defences are less prepared, and their assets are more vulnerable. Centralised control must be exercised to ensure concentration, appropriate weight of attack and flexibility as necessary. Survivability of friendly forces must be improved through the Suppression of Enemy Air Defences (SEAD), use of stealth aircraft, ECM, AD escorts, RPVs and stand-off weapons. Accuracy must be ensured through the employment of suitable navigation and target acquisition systems, precision weapons and target-weapon matching. Force multipliers like AWACS and air-to-air refuelling must be optimally used, such that round the clock operations are enabled. While all this may be a lot to ask, it is emphasised that the effectiveness of these operations reduces overall effort and exposure, and hence friendly war waging costs. The support structure and maintainability must be optimised to ensure sustained high sortie rates. Role related equipment must be acquired in totality with weapons and avionics to ensure efficacy. Another factor that needs attention is the replacement upgradation of weapon systems. Systems are retained in service long after their technical life is over, due to financial constraints. Entire fleets become absolescent simultaneously, creating problems of maintenance and of reliability. Therefore, a great deal of planning must go into the proper rotation and induction of systems. Theatre oriented training is a major aspect that needs attention. Pilots cannot move from the hills and rain forests of the East to the Western deserts or plains, or vice-versa and expect to operate optimally. Modern aids notwithstanding, familiarity with local conditions and phenomena is a positive asset to air operations. Resources permitting, the lead-up time to an anticipated conflict must be optimally utilised for realistic training, with operational weapon loads and configurations, in the weather (if possible), and light conditions expected. This would reinforce operational capability and optimise human performance.
The importance of the opening move in a war has been demonstrated often in recent years, and is invariably linked to the beginning of the counter-air campaign. The intensity of the campaign is high initially, but tapers off as the assets are diverted to deal with contingencies, or diluted due to attrition. Although results may be the quickest in a successful campaign, attrition also is likely to be the highest, as exposure to enemy weapons would be maximum. Since complete success in counter-air campaigns can only be achieved when there is gross disparity between the technologies, quantum or training levels of rival forces, or occasionally through surprise, it is difficult to assess the stage at which emphasis must be shifted to other roles. This is particularly so when BDA is inconclusive and pre-conflict intelligence scanty. Often, the trends are dictated by the progress of the land battle.
The horizontal proliferation of ballistic missiles (BMs) has added a new dimension to the counter-air campaign. Entire forces can be wiped out in minutes if chemical or nuclear warheads are used, and there is no proven defence yet against these platforms. However, the penetrative capability is offset by lack of accuracy presently. In counter-force operations, BMs with conventional warheads would have little but nuisance value. Cruise missile though accurate are of little use against mobile targets in the absence of real time intelligence. Hence, they would be more appropriately used strategically. Aircraft, therefore, must remain the platform of choice for tactical and mobile targets, and missiles for strategic or relatively static ones, and for non-conventional levels of combat.
Active Air Defence
Air defence aims to neutralise enemy airborne threats. It may be active or passive, with anti-ballistic missile (ABM) defences now gaining critical importance as a part of active air defence. Air defence (AD) depends on the effective integration of weapon systems and the C5I2 systems. The requirements in respect of the latter have already been highlighted in Part-I of this paper, but those in respect of the former need some analysis.
The surface based air defence weapon is seen essentially as a point defence weapon limited by line of sight, while the aircraft, due to its range and flexibility, and the decision making capabilities of the pilot, is considered an area weapon. It is argued that the number of targets to be defended will continue to increase with national development. They cannot all be provided with dedicated defences, and large areas cannot be effectively defended by less mobile SAGW systems, whereas aircraft can do so. The counter-arguments are as follows. Firstly, only military targets and civilian targets of major importance need to be defended. Considering the worldwide resource crunch for matters military, few nations will dilute their air effort to indulge in strategic or counter-value targetting of lesser targets. Secondly, a strike package would ordinarily consist of about 24-30 aircraft, of which the air superiority fighter component cannot be identified on radar till a late stage. The low reaction time available to AD aircraft implies that the numerical ratio would be adverse. Thirdly, the adverse numerical ratio would mean that weapon delivery by the strike cannot be pre-empted and the attrition ratio would also be adverse. Fourthly, the quantum of aircraft tied up for defence would detract from the essentially offensive function of air power. Fifthly, the number of engagements possible using SAGW systems is greater than those possible using aircraft. Both sets of arguments hold water. The aircraft is an area defence weapon, and must be used as such. Targets defendable by ground based systems must be so defended. This would offer the following benefits. The essential advantage of flexibility of aircraft would be retained, and we would be progressing towards the ultimate aim of area defence when technology resources so permit, defences would be optimised subject to resource constraints, and the release of aircraft from conventional AD functions would enhance their availability for other tactical or strategic roles.
Passive Air Defence (PAD) and Civil Defence
PAD and civil defence are gaining importance, as the distance and distinction between defence and civilian infrastructure erodes. It is increasingly becoming a cost effective method of damage containment. Some passive measures which need to be effected include the dispersal and hardening of high value targets. It has been observed that hardened targets at depths greater than 10 m underground are virtually immune to conventional air attacks. Camouflage and concealment are, of course, essential ingredients of PAD. Civil defence is an aspect that needs a lot of attention. Organisation and training of civilians and defence personnel in disaster handling and crisis management must be implemented. Adequate stocks of vaccines and neutralising agents against known biological and chemical threats must be acquired. Training in effective and expeditious use must be imparted. There are many functions of civil defence which are handled by independent agencies. These include attack warning and all clear signals, detection and identification of hits, fire fighting, medical aid, evacuation, emergency repairs, temporary accommodation for those affected, public education and information dissemination, the provision and maintenance of protective gear, crowd control, etc. Generally, in times of natural disaster, the Army is called out, and performs most of the functions. It will not be available in times of war. Nor can these demanding tasks be handled by infirm or aging ex-servicemen or reservists. A unified organisation to perform these functions manned by fit personnel needs to be created.
ABM defences constitute a major problem due to the characteristics of ballistic missiles. The very high speeds, in excess of 2km/sec, the trajectory which is for the most part exo-atmospheric, the low radar signature (.1-.3m2), the lack of warning—4 to 5 minutes over a range of 500 km provided satellite based surveillance is available, otherwise 1-1.5 minutes—and the possibility of NBC warheads, all contribute to making it a major weapon of international terror. Sandwiched as India is, between two nations with known BM, and possible NBC capability (in respect of Pakistan), it would be naive to believe that peaceful resolution of problems can be achieved without credible defences and deterrence.
China can strike all parts of the Indian subcontinent and it would be impossible to provide defences for the whole country. Therefore, the answer lies in developing a deterrent second strike capability. The scenario painted (in Part-I) hypothecates a Clausewitzian conflict with China. In such a case, the use of NBC warheads has a lower probability. Therefore, while India may not be able to match China quantitatively, qualitative parity must initially be achieved, and capability developed to make NBC adventurism prohibitively expensive.
The Pakistani threat is different, with the element of ethnicity inherent to it. Hence, mere deterrence may prove inadequate. Defences must be emplaced to minimise damage. The M-11 missiles known to be with Pakistan, can strike Delhi with a reduced warhead, while with the M-9 (or the Hatf-III), Bombay also could be attacked. It is unlikely that Pakistan can indigenously produce and append nuclear warheads commensurate with the missile capabilities at present, but acquisition within the time-frame under consideration is a distinct possibility.
Therefore, in view of the financial constraints, targets which could have a direct effect on India's war waging capability, major population centres and sensitive targets like atomic energy establishments within 600-800 km from the border must be protected to the extent possible and damage minimised. The rest of the country would need to be dependent on the policy of deterrence and the threat of punitive retaliation, for its defence.
No ABM system has yet been proven in combat, although the Russian SA-10c and SA-12, and the US Patriot Advanced Capability -2 (PAC-2) are claimed to have the capability. Several systems for endo- and exo-atmospheric interception and boost phase interception are under development. India could hasten the development of a system through collaboration with other countries. The cost would be a major factor, and financing is not feasible with present levels of the defence budget. Hard decisions would be necessary to raise the resources. Innovative cost reduction strategies like the combination of the Missile Guidance Radar with two separate types of sensors and missiles dedicated to BM threats and conventional air breathing ones respectively may be adapted. This should be workable in our environment.
The Indian approach against the BM threat, therefore, must constitute limited active defence, complemented by passive defence, a credible deterrence posture and counter-force capability. Surveillance satellites would be essential to provide increased warning. Specialised airborne and ground based forces to destroy launchers could also be considered. As the offence-defence battle continues, new systems develop to counter existing ones. A degree of redundancy in the performance of each operation is, therefore, necessary. R&D must be progressed along diverse routes, such that multiplicity of types at a future date makes neutralisation more difficult.
The Counter-Surface Force Campaign
The counter-surface force campaign is often relegated to a secondary priority due to assorted reasons. The prime one may be the limitation of resources available. The importance attached to the counter-air campaign by Air Forces leads to the concentration of effort in that direction, such that separate wars appear to be in progress on land, at sea and in the air. Another reason may be the narrow attitude of "let the Army/Navy fight its own war." A third may be the want of suitable weapons to inflict significant attrition. A fourth may be the difficulty in distinguishing friend from foe once battle is joined.
With technological development and the advent of accurate, stand-off, target related weapons, the pay-offs available from the counter-surface force campaign have multiplied. Stealth aircraft and attack helicopters can play significant roles against surface forces. Air-to-surface and cruise missiles, Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs), Anti-Radiation Missiles (ARMs) and anti-personnel weapons have greatly enhanced air delivered capability, while conventional iron bombs continue to be effective against massed troops, and in targetting morale. Concentrated, precision attacks on surface forces, disruption of supply lines, destruction of armour, artillery or naval assets and severance of communication links greatly facilitates subsequent operations. The battle of Longewala was a classic defensive story. The larger capability of airpower in this role was demonstrated vividly in the Gulf War, although in conditions of gross asymmetry. More weapon systems--1,685 tanks and 1,400 artillery pieces--were destroyed from the air than in the land campaign--1,323 tanks and 700 artillery pieces. Anti-naval capability of the speedier aircraft was similarly highlighted in the Falklands.
Some problems, however, continue to dog such operations. BDA for example, needs to be real time (or at least quick and accurate) as the high cost of effort and munitions demands utmost care in application and confirmation of efficacy. Hence, damage assessment and redesignation, if necessary, is essential. Deeply buried targets are difficult both to identify, and to destroy, even with specialist weapons. Considerable effort is required to target mobile systems or heavily dug in troops, and weather continues to be a major constraint. The IAF, therefore, needs to give serious thought to this aspect of operations.
A doctrine of airpower is a set of guiding principles stating the capabilities of the power, and how it must be applied. It needs to evolve continuously, as new inputs in terms of technology, threats and concepts become available. The problem is that comprehensive and accurate information rarely is, and a great many assumptions have to be made. Each Air Force must adapt such a doctrine according to the role assigned to it, and its capabilities, and devise strategies in synergy with the national effort. Unfortunately, peace-time policies are often nebulous militarily. Therefore, Air Forces need to continuously assess their environment and prepare as best as they can.
Deterrence as a concept has always been valid, but with the proliferation of BMs and non-conventional weapons, a new dimension has been added. It now needs to be addressed at two levels, as neither level would be effective in the alternative scenario. India has a demonstrated chemical capability and an ambiguous nuclear one. It may be worthwhile heightening the ambiguity in the face of international pressure, to establish the second element of deterrence--national resolve. Deterrence cannot be built up overnight and continuous signalling--political, economic and military—over a period would be necessary to suppress military inclinations.
Airpower has long had the potential for being the decisive factor in military conflicts. It is now being realised as the effectiveness multiplies with technology. The options of significantly degrading enemy surface based capabilities and neutralising major strategic targets before commencement of the ground offensive must be seriously considered.
The value of strategic bombing has often been debated, essentially due to erstwhile inaccuracies and inappropriate application. It was also perceived to be unsuitable to "limited" wars. The cost of strategic weapons was another dissuasive factor. The increasing accuracy and firepower, however, is making this a very potent, punitive element of airpower. Its application not only has prohibitive effects on an adversary, but dilutes his defences, increases friendly effectiveness, and is a singular contributor to cumulative deterrence.
The counter-air campaign is viewed as a primary one by Air Forces, and no operations, surface or air based, can be pursued unless it is at least partly successful. It must preferably be pre-emptive, with meticulous planning and execution. The importance of training and force multipliers cannot be overstated and a judicious combination of aircraft and missiles should be employed.
Active air defence (including ABM defences) is a difficult proposition considering India's size and resource constraints. The ultimate aim would be area defence, since each asset of value cannot be provided with dedicated defences. This is presently not possible with available assets, and a combination of point and area defence would need to be persisted with. Defences would need to comprise limited active defence, PAD, a credible deterrence posture and counter-force capability.
The efficacy of the counter-surface force campaign is also increasing, although a cluttered battlefield and a confused scenario pose some problems. The IAF needs to address these, and if successful, it could lead to far-reaching changes in the order of battle.
An IAF of the future should, therefore, be designed not only to deter or avert war, but to win it if deterrence fails. As a potent element of military power projection, it is essential to optimise it to enable negotiation from a position of strength, and consequent furtherance of national aspirations.