OPINION | The Role of Air-power and Enhanced Joinery in Indian Defense Forces

OPINION | The Role of Air-power and Enhanced Joinery in Indian Defense Forces

   By Group Captain Murli Menon (Retd.)
 Indian Air Force (IAF)

OPINION | The Role of Air-power and Enhanced Joinery in Indian Defense Forces

The last week announcement by Shri. Manohar Parikkar in Goa that the Government of India (GoI) was about to clear the appointment of a Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) for the Indian armed forces, indeed a very welcome news. Besides this indicating a maturity in our polity regarding the viability and  uncalled for insecurity surrounding this "Five Star" assignment, the CDS would also be a harbinger  for transitioning the Army, Navy and the Air Force into a truly Integrated Defense Force. 

Needless to say, this is surely the way to go in today's era and given India’s unique threat spectra across widely dispersed frontiers on air, land and sea. India already has three single service and a joint doctrine in place. The IAF’s Basic Air Power Doctrine has an updated 2012 version, which incorporates the  constituents of  modern combat power and its several Combat Enabling  Elements.  Also included in this compact  151-page seminal work are some unique aspects such as Information warfare, Aerospace warfare, sub conventional warfare, joint operations, nation building, aerial diplomacy and perception management .The latest "Air Power Doctrine" has also been declassified unlike its fore-bearers in 1995 and 2007. The idea being to improve the understanding of aerial warfare aspects amongst all three services and indeed the discerning public at large.

India is well equipped to foster  jointmanship considering that the major chunk of its officer cadre in all three services train together for three years,  in their budding years, at Khadakvasla’s National Defence Academy. This fosters a natural penchant amongst officer comrades to understand the typicalities of each separate service , something which India can be justifiably proud of , being perhaps the only major power that has such a unique training establishment. It has always been disheartening for the professional or the veteran, therefore, to see age old entrenched misgivings  once again crop up amongst the three services occasionally, at various discussion forum and the media.

A recent editorial piece by an illustrious Army veteran talked of the need for the IAF to be given additional funds by the government so that dedicated Fighter Ground Attack aircraft such as the A-10/ SU-34 and stand off Precision Guided Munitions could be acquired. The author’s argument was that  the Close Air Support mission is paramount to facilitate the Army’s tactical battle palns. Whilst it is condescending of this author to advocate the Air Force’s wish list , it is indeed sad that he does not understand the  difference between   a  "balanced Air Force", that the IAF aspires to be rather than a "tactical Air Force", which it has absolutely no inclination to be. This was precisely the main reason why the Indian Air Force chose to articulate its first Air Power Doctrine, much ahead of the articulation of the Army/ Navy Doctrine Manuals. My worry is that, much like our concern during  earlier Air Force days, the senior Indian Army leadership appears to be still fixated on Close Air Support !

The first Air Power Doctrine Manual IAP 2000, understandably had a first chapter titled “ the need for a doctrine”.  It was meant to provide all air warriors with a “ mission statement “ and for everyone else dealing with the IAF, to understand the uniqueness of a nation’s air power. Suffice to state that air power with its innate speed, reach, lethality, precision and flexibility offers our government a cutting edge option to prosecute war. In any future integrated battle scenario our  military commanders have to understand the unique strengths and vulnerabilities of each combat arm. We cannot have premier service institutions (or its erstwhile leadership for that matter) articulate concepts in the national media displaying an utter lack of understanding of the intricacies of air aspects and air power .I distinctly recall a speech some years ago by a civilian US Secretary for the Air Force,  Ms. Sheila Widnall in fact, indicative of a very deep understanding of air power matters. With the advent of the CDS and perhaps an Integrated Ministry of Defence down the line, the day is not far off when our senior military leadership would be called upon to testify on military matters in Parliament. Top end professionalism and clarity on all elements of national power would be the order of the day.

National security demands two criteria for it to be viable. Firstly, the government of the day has to be prepared in any contingency to use its military in furtherance of national objectives.Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, the military itself needs to be honed and developed during peace  time . As they say , "the more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war". In this context all practitioners of the operational art need to recognize that good joint military operations would revolve around interoperability  amongst constituent forces  and  an atmosphere sans dogmatic approaches to war fighting.

A democratic polity such as ours could well be tempted to adopt a defensive approach to waging war. Especially, in today's terror threat scenarios involving non state actors, air power offers the policy makers uniquely viable options. It has to be in the forefront of  a nation’s options in the counter terror campaign, as has been  amply demonstrated recently in Yemen, Syria, Iraq and  of course in  Sri Lanka a while earlier. Our leaders, both military and civilian, need to be reminded that all air campaigns including combat and combat support, are important for the nation. Air power of a nation is capable of going it alone, leading or following as the nation’s air war strategy dictates.

About the Author:

Group Captain (Retd.) Murli Menon served in Indian Air Force for 32 years, transiting it tactical, operational, strategic and conceptual appointment spectra with credit. He was India’s Air Advisor to Indian High Commission at Islamabad, Pakistan (2000-2004). In his second avatar, he served for 8 years with India’s Cabinet Secretariat, including a stint as Consular at Ankara, Turkey from 2008-2011.

He was one of the pioneers in the IAF’s Doctrine Think Tank – “Air War Strategy Cell” that produced India’s first Air Power Doctrine, the IAP 2000 in 1995. His interests include strategic studies and since post retirement he contributes to various think-tanks based out of New Delhi, India.


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