An IAF for the Future: Some Considerations - Part-I


-S.P. Tyagi, Senior Fellow, IDSA and Sharat Dixit, Retired IAF Officer



While analysing the requirements of an Indian Air Force (IAF) of the future, we must necessarily restrict ourselves to a period of about two decades, as a longer prognostic duration may well lead us into a world of sci-fi or fantasy. To be able to rationally achieve this, we need to understand the relationship between power, both economic and military, and development. We also need to have a perspective of the changing security environment and the nature of conflict, with specific reference to India. The impact of emerging technologies and their relevance to India during the period under consideration, and doctrinal changes necessary would similarly need to be examined. Viewed within this framework, a reasonable approach to development and acquisitions could be established. For the purposes of convenience, this paper is divided into two parts. The first would deal with the dynamics of power, the security environment and desired technological thrusts, while the second would analyse some doctrinal concepts.

Power and Development

International conflict is endemic the world over, and being intrinsic to the order of things, is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. We live in a world of anarchy, where states tend to honour no authority above them, recognise no priority above their own, and exert their influence with minimal regard for law or morality. In this world of growing aspirations and limited resources, people would continue to vie for tangible and intangible benefits. Territory, resources, security, prestige or influence would continue to fuel differences, and it is a truism that any gains are always at the expense of someone else. The situation degrades further when the distinction between "government" and "state" blurs, engendering intra-state or ethnic conflict.

In this scenario, it is imperative that a nation understands the dynamics of power, and applies it to further its ends. Power, both economic and military, plays the decisive role in inter-state relations. Witness the Indian inability to convince the world at large that millions of East Pakistani refugees constituted a threat to international peace and order, while French intervention on behalf of the Hutus in Rwanda was condoned, and UN intervention subsequently sanctioned. Witness the contrasting British stands on Hong Kong and the Falklands. Singapore may be an economic giant, but its lack of military clout denies it a pivotal place in the international arena. Russia, for all its military might, bows to US pressure at times. No established centre of power would willingly permit a rival to emerge in its area of influence. Bargaining, therefore, has to be done from a position of strength, for which both the elements of power need to be acquired and applied in the essential pre-condition of political stability, to enable successful interaction in the extra-national environment, and overall development.

India has attempted to acquire these elements, initially through protectionism, and more recently by opening up its economy, and through indigenisation of its military hardware. It is now set to develop at a faster rate, provided the necessary internal political and fiscal stability can be ensured, and the image of an exploitative and corrupt financial system can be debunked. It is with this background that India's military requirements, and specifically those of the IAF must be viewed. The prime objective as a nation, that is, the uplift of its teeming millions, is achievable only through comprehensive economic development whose benefits percolate to the common man. Ergo the necessity for political stability and military power.

India's Security Environment

Security threats to a nation arise not only from external military sources, but also from internal problems like ethnic strife, ill health, poverty, starvation, overpopulation, drugs, natural calamities, etc. It is estimated that ethnic strife alone has accounted for over ten million lives between 1945 and 1985, in Burma, Fiji, Rwanda, Sri Lanka and the erstwhile USSR and Yugoslavia (Ethnic Groups in Conflict--Horowitz, 1985). However, it is premised here that the primary role of the defence forces, particularly the Air Force, is to deal with external threats. Internal threats lie within the purview of alternative agencies, though air power may be applied as considered appropriate. Therefore, it is the external security environment which shall be considered.

The single, most significant change in the international security environment in recent years has been the collapse of the bipolar security structure. This has both positive and negative connotations depending on one's perspective. The global nuclear threat has reduced, the Iron Curtain has been demolished, and East-West tensions have reduced. The reduced threat perception has also enabled more unanimity in the functioning of the UN, as confrontationism has reduced.

Conversely, the detente which was in place for 45 years is no longer effective. The multipolar world which is now emerging, albeit with only one superpower, is less stable than a bipolar one, where decision making is spread amongst several states. The disintegration of the Soviet Union and the subsequent loss of control internally and externally also portends possible proliferation.

In much of the Third World, however, a nuclear holocaust was considered a distant possibility, and did not figure significantly in the scheme of things. What has changed is that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has become redundant, and some trade avenues, markets and sources are disrupted. The financial systems have also been upset as the credit lines earlier in place are lost, and a new, more competitive, perhaps harsher system is in place.

India has been similarly affected. The easier credit terms available from the erstwhile Soviet Union have evaporated. The supply of military spares has reduced to a trickle, and importantly, the tacit support expected in the international arena is no longer as reliable. Hence, India could possibly stand isolated in a hostile environment, hemmed in as it is by potential aggressors.

Consider then, the multipolar world that we have hypothesised, in respect of our region. China is already a regional power, and despite some internal dissent and a burgeoning Muslim problem, is rapidly developing its industrial, technological and military capability. It has undoubtedly emerged as one of the power centres in the multipolar world, and is expected to extend its areas of influence. China's preoccupation is presently with its Eastern seaboard, Hong Kong, Macao and most importantly Taiwan, being its focal points. Further expression of national aspirations could be found in the domination of the North Indian Ocean and territories disputed with the Philippines and Indonesia, aimed at the exploration of oil and other natural resources, and the control of maritime routes. Chinese methodology appears to be oriented towards the projection of a politico-military power which would brook no opposition in the region. The military doctrine flows from these political goals. It is belligerent, based on numerical or technological superiority, and advocates the employment of nuclear weapons even in tactical situations. The large size, infrastructure, numerical strength and politico-military will make the absorption of losses possible, and the concept of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is not recognised. Nuclear wars are considered winnable. In the Indian context, the border dispute appears to be on the back burner for the time being, with both nations moderating their approach. Chinese policies, however, have not been India-friendly. They have sold military hardware to Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, breached the insular bastion of Myanmar, and bolstered the Pakistani arsenal, culminating in the provision of nuclear and missile technology. Such policies are clearly dismissive, reflecting the lack of the threat perceived from India. There is, therefore, no room for complacency.

Pakistan presents a more immediate, and more unpredictable threat. It has an Indo-centric policy with a traditionally violatile, pre-emptive mindset. The number of possible flashpoints are numerous and any of them could ignite the national psyche and induce irresponsible action. The enormous resources being pumped into anti-India activities both within and outside the subcontinent are indicative of the ideological aversion to India's continued existence. If accompanied by a less than credible assessment of our national will, it could create a powerful narcotic, which would be highly conducive to military adventurism.

Although Pakistan cannot be termed a world class power, its geo-political orientation and ethnic composition bestow on it certain benefits which enhance its power. Firstly, its perception in the eyes of the US as a relatively stable, pro-Western Islamic state grants it certain privileges. It was initially used as a buffer against the Soviet bear, then as a conduit to Afghanistan, and constantly, as a measure to rein in India, which has a penchant for taking moralistic stands in international fora, often conflicting with US perceptions or interests. Secondly, its Muslim entity grants it the tacit, and often active, support of most Muslim states in any Indo-Pak confrontation. Even Iran, whose Shia identity distances it somewhat from Pakistan, has been known to express pro-Pakistan sentiments on the Kashmir issue. With the sponsored rise in fundamentalism, it is also aligning itself more closely with the hardline states, thus increasing its value as a perceived "moderate" and "reasonable" intermediary for negotiations in the eyes of the US. This is not to say that Pakistan is a major player in US perceptions, but it is definitely more useful, sometimes pliable, and generally discreet in world fora.

Pakistan's Indo-centricity finds expression in the following objectives:

(a) Destabilisation and Balkanisation of India.

(b) Annexation of Kashmir.

(c) Provision of a Muslim leadership to South Asian countries.

(d) Achievement of approximate parity with India till (a) above is achieved.

The above objectives are reinforced by a hurt national psyche which interprets the non-achievement of these aims despite three wars, as a major failure. The outcome of the 1971 war in particular, continues to rankle seriously.

Pakistan has been actively pursuing these objectives through the prosecution of a low intensity conflict via disaffected elements in many parts of India, attempting to create a hostile environment by exploiting religious links, abetting anti-India pockets in Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Maldives and Nepal, and striving for military parity, a credible ballistic missile capability and a nuclear deterrent.

While these two nations present the most serious threats to India, respective approaches to possible conflicts may differ. A Sino-Indian war could be Clausewitzian in nature with specific political, economic or territorial objectives. An Indo-Pak conflict, however, could easily degenerate into an ethnic war, characterised by malevolence, with the ultimate objective being degradation or annihilation of the enemy. In the military context, however, it is necessary to distinguish between capability and intention. While the latter can change overnight, the former takes decades to develop. Hence, doctrines, strategies and the composition of forces must be so designed, as to be adequate to handle most contingencies.

India's other neighbours do not yet hold out a conventional military threat, but anti-India sentiment is rife. Serious problems are being created and exacerbated by the prevalent situations in some states. The Myanmar drug connection and free trans-border movement of various militant groups has severely fractured East Indian society, and enabled the establishment of a parallel government in Nagaland. Bangladeshi refugees have created societal problems in areas as diverse as Assam, Delhi and Bombay. The reverberations of the Sri Lankan conflict are felt in Tamil Nadu, Orissa and contiguous states. However, if India can stave off the major adversaries in conventional military terms, it would also be able to handle these smaller military challenges. Hence, this paper would restrict itself to the two larger neighbours.

The Changing Face of War

Modern warfare evolves continuously and strategies and tactics vary with several factors like terrain, demography, climate and perceived objectives. No war, therefore, can be studied in isolation and its lessons applied directly or totally in another context. The size of the theatre and the forces involved, the technology and the doctrines of the belligerents will all impinge on the nature of the conflict.

However, in the post-Gulf War era, some generalisations vis-a-vis the evolutionary stage of inter-state wars need to be pondered. The first question that comes to mind is, are we approaching an end to limited wars, inter-state conflicts as we know them? Considering the high costs of modern day war, the enormous destruction caused, and the many economic and societal repercussions, one may be tempted to theorise thus. The lure of territory or resources, or economic conflict may no longer justify descent into war, as this would lead to a no-win situation. However, in the multipolar world that we have premised, the clash of interests will be more numerous, and even in technology based economies, depleting resources and increasing demand would create their own compulsions. What is more alarming, however, is the reversal in trend towards ethnic conflict and religious extremism from the Clausewitzian model. Intra-state conflicts with ethnicity at their heart are proliferating. India, for example, is a reasonably homogeneous country, being Sanskritised for the most part. The exceptions are the north-eastern states of Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya, and Kashmir after the ethnic cleansing of 1989-90. All four states have been disturbed for various periods. Ethnic violence is more characterised by irrational hatred. Its aim is not economic or ideological, but is the brutalisation of the enemy simply because of his "being". While purely political violence, including terrorism, is aimed at tangible results and is generally adherent to some norms, ethnic violence is primitive, barbaric and irrational. An inexplicable aspect of such violence is that it is not constrained or mitigated by education, culture or geography. Germany in the Forties was a most educated and culturally advanced society. Similarly Yugoslavia was no tribal state of darkest Africa, yet the carnage in both cases was unbelievable. Therefore, instead of moving towards peace, the world is probably drifting towards more numerous, more brutal and less controllable wars.

The course of future wars is likely to be dictated by a graded response. The first stage could be proxy wars or low intensity conflicts, characterised by guerrilla operations, security assistance and psychological operations on the one side, and counter insurgency, counter terrorism, hostage rescue, etc. on the other. Such a situation is prevalent in Kashmir. The Afghan war illustrates an internal war being fought with external help. When the social or economic cost becomes unbearable and the tolerance threshold is reached, such a low intensity conflict could escalate into a limited war as it did during the 1965 and 1971 Indo-Pak conflicts. Whether it is a limited war or not would depend on the perceptions of the protagonists. For East Pakistan, 1971 was a total war, whereas India viewed it as a limited war. The Pakistanis called it a war, while India termed it a conflict. It is a moot point whether Pakistan would have applied nuclear capability had it been available, when the creation of Bangladesh became imminent. Thus, a limited war could degenerate into a total war. This potential for escalation would be inherent in a future Indo-Pak conflict. The level of hysteria whipped up on both sides of the border, the element of ethnicity and religious fervour, and the intense antipathy at the best of times, would all be conducive to degeneration beyond the bounds of rationality and into the realms of "MAD-ness". Irrespective of the level of escalation anticipated, militaries would need to prepare for a worst case scenario, and be visibly capable of handling contingencies.

Technology and Airpower

A primary precept of inter-state war has ever been the protection of friendly civilian population from direct conflict. Hence, the creation of Armies in olden times followed by Navies. Air power was the logical successor, and is presently the quickest, most flexible and perhaps the most effective means of power projection. Progressive introduction of technology has, and is continuing to, enhance the military importance of the third dimension. A word of caution, however. Technology, like all other inputs to the military establishment, is not a directly productive investment, its benefits often lying in non-events, like actions deterred, casualties reduced or escalation pre-empted. It is also expensive.

The present technological charge is led by the US and other developed nations, based on their perceptions of future conflicts and their methods of prosecution which is dictated by respective public opinions and the capitalist industry. The US, for example, sees for itself a world-wide policing function. While this appeals to the public psyche, it does not extend to sacrificing American lives for distasteful Third World causes in remote locations. A premium is placed on US lives. High expenditure on military campaigns at the expense of internal priorities is another dissuasive argument. Body bags and lucre, therefore, constitute a powerful anti-interventionist lobby. US governments attempt to overcome such objections by portraying clinical and moral operations, with minimal expenditure and nil/nominal losses. High technology with stand-off weapons is an essential ingredient of such a projection.

Modern technological trends, therefore, are oriented towards enabling a war with minimal friendly casualties. The corollary is that enemy civilian casualties also must be minimised--a Western concept of a "humane" war--hence, the necessity for precision weapons. An extension of the logic is the requirement for concentration in time and space, leading to the development of all weather/round-the-clock capabilities, employing a high concentration of weapons. The cost, quantum, concentration and accuracy of the weapons existing or conceived, would demand a real time Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) loop, with an effective C5I2 capability (Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Counter-Measures, Intelligence and Inter-Operability). The last and perhaps the most critical area has developed due to the horizontal proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), including ballistic missiles (BMs). The penetrative capability of the platform forebodes cataclysmic possibilities, and massive funds are being sunk into the development of effective counter-measures.

No country can afford to develop or acquire all such technologies dedicated to military purposes independent of its infrastructural and other non-military development. Nor is it necessary. Requirements must be viewed in the context of the nation's politico-military environment and national aspirations.

Target Technologies for India

India can expect to engage in conflicts in terrain as diverse as the Himalayas and the rain forests of the East, to the developed and semi-developed plains and deserts of the West. Campaigns would be mainly ground oriented, with large forces arrayed against each other. Air power could prove to be a decisive factor in any scenario, playing a strategic or tactical role. In conventional terms, it should be possible for India to achieve a credible strategic capability vis-a-vis Pakistan within the time period under consideration. China presents a different set of problems. The large size, the infrastructure, its air power, the intervening terrain of the Himalayas, and the climate are all limiting factors. The ranges of current day strike aircraft and the weapon loads possible, the absence of a genuine bomber, and the numbers required would be other relevant limitations. Even force multipliers like air-to-air refuelling may offer low cost-benefits, and strategic efforts may be too diffuse to be significant. In the event of escalation and the use of BMs and WMD, the scenario would change completely, and must be separately addressed. Some target technologies necessary for the IAF of the future are outlined in the succeeding paragraphs.

Aerospace Technology

Aerospace technology is an extension of the policy of distancing the war from one's own territory, population and assets. It has the advantage of lower vulnerability (presently) and a larger footprint. Satellites are commonly used for reconnaissance, surveillance and communications. The American Global Positioning System (GPS) is an invaluable aid to navigation on land, at sea or in the air. Satellites may also be used for weather prognosis and a multitude of other military applications. Trajectories of most BMs are exo-atmospheric. Their interception before re-entry, both surface and space based, with nuclear, kinetic energy and other warheads is being examined. The use of satellite based energy beams to neutralise such weapons is also under development. India's programme should be initiated through satellite based reconnaissance and communications capability. Surveillance would require a much larger number of satellites if emplaced in a polar orbit, and these would need to be replaced every three years or so. Geo-stationary satellites are more difficult to emplace and their use could be interpreted as an unwarranted degree of provocation in peace time. Considering the likely predominance of ground operations, two to three reconnaissance reports in a day may be initially adequate. The communication links would need to be voluminous considering the size of the forces, be secure and must extend down to the field level. Equipment with all forces would need to be standardised, and selective calling of subscribers enabled. Research must be commenced to develop satellite based laser/high energy technology to counter BMs in the boost phase itself. This would be a most effective Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) measure, destroying the platform over enemy territory, minimising the effects on friendly assets. While development may not be possible in the time period under consideration, research must be commenced to keep pace with global trends. It may be further extended to counter other airborne platforms as well.

Information Technology

Information Technology (IT) could be developed along two distinct but interlinked channels. One could be dedicated to support functions like logistics and administration, while the operational channel could concentrate on the actual conduct of combat. The latter would need to perform/coordinate all functions from reconnaissance and search, through acquisition, detection, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), tracking and designation, to Damage Assessment (DA) and redesignation if necessary, of targets to appropriate weapon systems. The sophistication of the system would need to increase as more sensors like RPVs, AWACS/AEW aircraft, Joint Services Tactical Acquisition and Reconnaissance System (J-STARS), and satellites as also ground based sensors become available. It would also depend on the type and number of enemy targets to be handled, and the strength and capability of own forces. Computer software is one of India's strengths, hence, designing the system should be indigenously possible. However, the relative isolation of the military from all other specialisations would mean that necessary strategic, tactical and technological inputs would have to be repeatedly upgraded and field tested before a system could be operationalised. Information Technology is essentially an extension of electronics technology, hence, principles of Electronic Warfare (EW) would apply to Information Warfare as well, with appropriate modifications. Hard and soft kill measures to counter enemy IT systems would need to be developed. The capability of existing systems can be gauged from the fact that Russian mobile theatre C5I2 systems can cater for thousands of friendly and hostile weapon systems over areas in excess of several thousand kilometres. The US also coordinated the assets of 29 countries during the Gulf War almost flawlessly as far as pre-planned operations were concerned. That glitches appeared in terms of real time information dissemination may be attributed to factors as diverse as non-standardisation of equipment, training and procedures, and the language barrier. The pay-offs of an effective system were demonstrated in the Bekka Valley operations, where an attrition ratio of 83 aircraft to 1 was achieved.

Precision Guided Munitions (PGMs)

For a long period there was an imbalance between the development of airborne platforms and the weapons they carried. While great emphasis was laid on developing better aircraft and missiles, tactical munitions received scant attention, perhaps due to the developed nations' preoccupation with the nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) threat. India was predominantly dependent on iron bombs even during 1971. It was the Vietnam experience which accentuated the necessity for developing precision weapons. The Gulf War once again, was the technology demonstrator which highlighted the benefits that can accrue from precision weapons. Six thousand, two hundred and fifty tonnes of guided munitions were dropped during the war, of which 90 per cent were assessed to have struck their targets, while 25 per cent of the 82,250 tonnes of iron bombs reached theirs. The air campaign was launched with a strike by eight Apache attack helicopters, at two major surveillance radars and command and control centres. Seventeen Hellfire missiles were fired, and a wide corridor to Baghdad lay open. Five thousand and five hundred IR guided Maverick missiles were launched against tanks, and 8,000 laser guided bombs (LBGs) against various targets including bridges--to devastating effect.

Despite the high cost of PGMs, a look at a modern strike package of aircraft would indicate their relative economy. Consider a strike force of six to eight aircraft. Heavily laden, manoeuvrability restricted, self-defence limited by the need to carry strike weaponry, these would prove highly vulnerable to enemy forces. Therefore, they would need to be provided with an escort force to protect them from enemy aircraft. This entire package would also need Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) cover for protection from Surface-to-Air Missiles (SAMs). They may additionally need mid-air refuelling, AWACS cover, reconnaissance and Bomb Damage Assessment (BDA) efforts, etc. There is also a higher probability of iron bombs necessitating repeat attacks, wherein there would be repeated exposure to attrition. If the enemy's Air Defence (AD) is effective, then the necessity for stand-off precision weapons further increases. The high cost of the mission, reinforcement of the surprise/pre-emption element and the greater probability of success afforded by precision weapons dictate that PGMs must rate as a very high priority for an IAF of the future.

The Electronic Medium

Use of the electronic medium pervades all aspects of military activity. Applications range from communications to radars, IR, lasers, lidars (light radars), sonars, computers, weapon systems and anything one can think of. Effective use of one's own systems, while denying the spectrum to the enemy is the essence of EW. The availability or otherwise of EW ascendancy has left its impact on every major conflict since Vietnam. Bekaa Valley and the Gulf War were, of course, extreme examples of absolute technological superiority, but the lesson learnt by British Tornadoes during the latter best illustrates the effects of successful EW. Eight Tornadoes were shot down by Iraqi ground defences on the opening day of the war. The aircraft were attempting low level penetration followed by laydown attacks. The losses were unacceptable. The British immediately had a re-think, and switched to medium level attacks (above 12,000 ft), supported by dense ECM cover. The losses reduced dramatically.

A characteristic of EW is that it is totally dependent on the availability of intelligence--both technical and tactical. Such intelligence is not easily forthcoming, and nations jealously guard their systems against exposure and consequent development of counters. However, generalised information regarding operational systems can be obtained, and generic or specific counters can be designed depending on the depth of information available. Indigenisation could extend several benefits. Firstly, the systems could be optimised for the subcontinental scenario. Foreign systems are designed to counter specific threats perceived by the nations concerned. These may not obtain in the Indian environment, in which case the response would be sub-optimal. Secondly, indigenous equipment and tactics would be based on each other, and would complement each other. Thirdly, the security factor would be higher. Fourthly, the costs of acquisition and maintenance would be lower, and upgradation, or the installation of add-on kits would be easier. Importantly, the element of surprise would be great, when the unexpected or unknown factor emerged in a high speed war. Even rudimentary systems would require analysis and confirmation of capability before an effective counter could be designed, buying valuable time and improving the attrition ratio.

New Systems

The material component of air power could be broadly be classified into two parts--those performing the C5I2 functions, and the weapon system itself, comprising the platform, the delivery system and the warhead. The C5I2 functions would need to effectively implement reconnaissance, surveillance and detection, Identification Friend or Foe (IFF), tracking and prioritisation, designation, Damage Assessment (DA) and redesignation if necessary.

Reconnaissance and DA have been suggested through satellites. Additional sensors, essentially airborne, would also be necessary for both physical and electronic reconnaissance. Photographic and infra-red sensors are used to detect elements of infrastructure and the order of battle, while electronic surveillance provides additional system information. Bomb damage assessment is a particularly difficult but essential exercise as it can help direct costly effort optimally.

Surveillance and detection is a major problem in fast, modern day wars. Conventional ground based systems are largely limited to Line-of Sight (LOS). This would imply limited range and warning even in the deserts. A warning of 150 km, which would be available if a strike approaches at roughly 2 km height, would translate into a reaction time of less than five minutes at closing speeds in excess of 30 km/min. This is not enough to prevent weapon delivery, if the defences comprise aircraft on the ground. Keeping even two aircraft airborne, would imply the necessity for two aircraft to remain on standby on the ground. When coupled with aircraft being turned around and an optimistic estimate of 75 per cent serviceability, only 25 per cent of available assets can be pressed into battle. Hence, new systems to enhance ranges, like very low frequency phased array radars with ranges of the order of 1,000 km, Over the Horizon (OTH) radars, airborne sensors like balloon based radars, airborne early warning and AWACS, J-STARS etc., would need to be developed acquired and emplaced. Remotely Piloted Vehicles (RPVs) and drones could also be put to effective use. J-STARS and RPVs were particularly effective in the Gulf War, both for damage assessment and target acquisition; 90 per cent first pass acquisition of moving targets was achieved by them, enabling attacks by airborne aircraft within minutes.

The next area of IFF is a particularly vexing one. Based on the responder or secondary radar principle, it is prone to enemy interference. Power available and unserviceabilities could create ambiguities, and fratricide is hardly the best way to wage a war. The West is particularly sensitive to this aspect, while the erstwhile Soviet Union took a more pragmatic view. It weighed the loss of an aircraft against the possibility of delivery of a WMD and advocated destruction of the aircraft.

India would perhaps need to take the Western route, firstly due to paucity of resources, and, secondly, because a more effective delivery system for NBC warheads in the form of BMs is available on the subcontinent.

Tracking, prioritisation and reprioritisation would be computer functions, and would need immense technological and tactical inputs, and field trials as mentioned earlier.

Designation and other communications functions are vital, but virtually impossible to attain because of problems in standardisation, inter-operability and security. It would need massive effort and resources to achieve reliable and secure operational communications on the scale required.

As far as the weapon systems are concerned, the optimal platform is the subject of a raging controversy. The aircraft-vs-missile debate has been in progress for decades. The aircraft lobby quotes flexibility, re-usability, higher accuracy and the feasibility of target selection in the battlefield in its favour. The missile lobby claims that better penetration, higher weapon load, range, reaction time, cost benefits and lower manpower losses grant it superiority. Offensively, India would need both the elements--aircraft for tactical requirements and mobile targets, and missiles for strategic or relatively static targets, adequately distanced from friendly assets. Defensively too, a judicious mix of aircraft for area defence and missiles for point defence would be necessary.

The delivery system (missiles, rockets, etc.) and warheads must be target related. While precision weapons have their benefits which have already been emphasised, iron bombs continue to be useful against larger, less hardened targets. They would also be cheaper if used against built-up areas or population concentrations. Carpet bombing using conventional bombs can also have a debilitating effect on the morale of massed troops. Hence, both types of weapons would be needed for varying applications.

Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

WMDs are mainly nuclear, biological and chemical. India and Pakistan have a treaty pledging non-attack on each other's nuclear installations. China has a self-proclaimed policy of non-first use of nuclear weapons (NWs). However, the honouring of treaties during war is a function of expedience, and as stated earlier, policies are subject to change. A 20 kt nuclear warhead airburst at about 2,700 ft. would have a lethal area of about 50 sq. km.

Biological warheads, employing pathogens (living organisms) are much more potent than chemical agents on a weight-to-weight basis, and can inflict casualties over a much wider area, but they pose problems of storage and delivery. Dissemination is difficult, and the agents are susceptible to environmental factors. The effectiveness cannot be predicted, as it would vary with local conditions of health and sanitation, climate and a host of other factors. The spreading of epidemics once started cannot be easily controlled, and they may well prove hazardous to the initial perpetrator. The agents may require large incubation periods, which would hardly be suitable in a fast moving war.

Chemical warheads are relatively stable and conducive to various methods of delivery. Chemical agents include nerve gases, poisons and toxins which permeate through pores and clothing. These could be lethal, and could persist for weeks. They could be absorbed by the environment, and even man-made structures, and effectively deny an area to personnel for protracted periods. Weather conditions also determine the concentration and persistence of delivered chemicals. Under strong wind conditions, effects may be felt up to 100 km down wind, whereas in a stable atmosphere, when inversion occurs (dusk to dawn in India during winters), dispersion is reduced and the concentration remains high. Rain could make the chemicals permeate into the ground. Terrain too plays a part. Low lying areas and valleys would be more amenable to concentration than peaks. Persistence is higher in wooded and urban areas than in deserts or rural areas. A major defensive problem is the prediction of the type of chemical used. This is not possible till the effects are analysed, hence some casualties cannot be avoided. Even if protective clothing is worn, human mobility, reactions, perception, resistance, perseverance and decision making skills are impaired. Coupled with the reduced long-term effects and physical damage as compared to nuclear weapons, these features often make chemical weapons an attractive alternative. The declared stance of nuclear weapon states has been that a chemical attack justifies a total nuclear reaction. All the three powers in the subcontinent possess chemical capability. It remains to be seen whether the chemical weapon threat reduces if more nations (and Pakistan in particular) become signatories to the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).


The power equation is the decisive factor in bi or multinational interplays. Power--both economic and military--is essential for the furtherance of national aspirations. As wealth begets wealth, so does power beget power. Hence, economic and military growth is not a linear, but an exponential process, and bargaining can only be successful when conducted from a position of strength. India is at the cross-roads from where it can grow rapidly, or get permanently relegated to a subordinate status for want of judicious developments and application of power. The primary role of the IAF as an instrument of military power is premised to deal with external threats, hence, it is this environment which needs to be examined.

The multipolar world is less stable than the bipolar one, due to the multiplicity of interests and consequently, conflict situations. India is hemmed in by two possible centres of power. While China has already established itself, Pakistan enjoys certain advantages by virtue of her geography, politics and religion. Both nations evince adversarial tendencies. China displays a certain disdain towards India's will, and Pakistan is positively Indo-centric in its approach. There is an element of hysteria and radicalism in bilateral perceptions, which is consonant with the global tendency towards manic ethnic conflict. This aggravates the immediacy of problem addressal, but militarily it should make little difference. This is because military power must be designed to counter capability and not intent.

Military technology largely evolves in developed nations, or those involved in combative situations. It also seeks to address respective threats perceived. India would need to identify technologies relevant to its scenario, and adapt them suitably. Considering the diversity of the possible theatres of war and the functions, both strategic and tactical, that the IAF would need to perform, certain target technologies are identified.

Dedicated military applications of space technology could be initiated through the establishment of reconnaissance and communications capabilities. Information Technology could be developed along two distinct but interlinked channels, to perform routine and operational functions respectively. PGMs are great force multipliers which enable concentration of force and economy of effort. These must be developed. Exploitation of the electronic medium is another area demanding serious attention, and the indigenisation of certain operational capabilities is essential. Systems for performing the C5I2 functions, and for actual transport and delivery of weapon loads would need to be developed/upgraded. Special attention needs to be paid to warheads and target-weapon matching. WMDs are here to stay. These are mainly nuclear, biological or chemical. The effects of nuclear weapons are well documented. Chemical warheads are also devastating, with effects sometimes less perceivable in material terms than the nuclear ones. Biological weapons create problems of storage and delivery, and their effects are unpredictable in terms of area, persistence, efficacy and the selection of victims. Hence, they are less suitable for application in modern, fast moving wars.

Air Forces are necessarily capital and technology intensive. Most governments find it very difficult to justify such expenditure when pressing social problems demand major investment the world over. What is often overlooked is that many modern civilian applications are spin-offs from military research. Growth, being an exponential process, cannot be achieved without investment, or overnight. Hence, hard decisions become necessary in the light of the potential of the environment (and not perceived intent), and a considered balance between military and non-military expenditure needs to be engineered.