-By Ravi Srivastava
(This article has featured in a National Journal in it’s Oct – Dec 23 Edition)
a 4 mins read.
The speed, reach, flexibility and capacity to manoeuvre are the unmatched characteristics of the Air power. Global realities have also demonstrated that successful employment of airpower has swiftly tilted the balance in favour of those who controlled the airspace. War outcomes have been favourable if airspace was dominated or atleast controlled and for sure it has doomed if doesn’t. It was in 1983 that US firmly pushed to extend it’s military might into space domain. First came ‘Strategic Defence Initiative’ which created a dedicated Aerospace arm within larger ambit of US Armed Forces. US was the first to establish a Space Command (SPACECOM) in 1985 but later in 2002, merged it’s operations with US Strategic Forces Command.
US again revived it’s SPACECOM in Aug 2019, as it firmly identified space as a domain for war fighting. US SPACECOM recognised four critical fundamentals; national security, global all domain war, winning space battle and gaining the ultimate high ground. As a full-fledged command, it carried the responsibilities for national missile defence, global space operations, conduct of space superiority operations and also exercise operational control over intelligence resources in the event of attack on US space assets.
Later Russia and China structured their own aerospace forces in 1992 and 2015 respectively. Russia established Russian Space Force in close cooperation with ROSCOSMOS, the Russian Federal Space Agency. It later transformed into Russian Air & Space Force in 2011 and then into Russian Aerospace Forces in 2015. China continuing from it’s Anti-Satellite Missile programme in 2007 finally setup PLA Strategic Support Force (PLASSF) in 2015 with two dedicated entities Base 26 & Base 37. All the three Aerospace powers mandated handling of cosmodromes, tracking & control of national satellites, monitoring of space interference & hostile space objects and execution of space based kinetic operations. The Aerospace forces were also mandated as fulcrum for air defence (AD) and coordinating hub for all military operations including on ground and sea.
Indian Air Force (IAF) counts among the leading air powers in the world and has made it’s place among the best four. It has been at the forefront of technology evolution, it was first to laid down operational guidelines in 1995 as – “Air Power Doctrine of IAF” which was revised as “Indian Air Force Publication” in 2007. These were further reviewed and in 2012 “Doctrine of the Indian Air Force” was published. Finally in June 2022, IAF formulated a fresh “Doctrine of the Indian Air Force” – amplifying it’s vision to transform itself from an Air Power to an Aerospace Power.
The centrality of success in a war is unmistakably the airpower a country wields. Today space assets forms basis of national security and major enablers for military operations from intelligence, surveillance & reconnaissance; weapon guidance; military data & communication links to tracking and interception of weapons. New generation weapons like long range missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles, high altitude satellites have blurred the distinction between high atmosphere and lower space.
The new doctrine also sheds light on IAF’s plan to address key areas of air strategy and air operations flowing into the new roles, tasks and missions. Thus, IAF has marked – defence of national territory & maritime areas, execution of offensive air operations, achievement of the desired politico-military aims and to maintain credible & visible strategic deterrence as it’s major future objectives. The vision will help IAF exploit the expansive fourth dimension above the surface friction. If successfully executed in well-coordinated manner it will prove a major enabler in achieving national military goals.
Two Front Threat
IAF is presently known to have some voids in it’s operational capabilities. The strength of it’s fighter squadrons has currently fallen from 42 to 31. It also continues to face likely further depletion of Mig squadrons which are due to be decommissioned, as well as the critical need has been felt for additional air to air refuellers. To the credit of IAF it has been innovating in filling operational gaps, fully appreciating the ‘Two Front Threat’ scenarios. It has been effectively trying to boost up it’s AD capabilities to ease out some of the precious fighter squadron resources for offensive role. It has initiated a slew of measures such as new acquisitions of around 183 indigenous LCA MK 1As, also expressing interest in closing the deal for Advance Multi Role Aircrafts (AMRA) and tankers.
These measures along with sustained pace of upgradation, extending airworthiness and operational life of it’s mid aged flying machines are expected to give much needed capability boost in near future. IAF would be fully aware, that any addition in capabilities will only flow from resources available; innovation and imaginativeness can at best be fillers. Even resources cannot guarantee enhance capabilities unless it is backed by the will and hard work. The challenging path ahead would need adequate support from the government and sustained in best possible manner by the IAF itself.
What is presently lacking is indigenous ability to observe, track and identify hostile space objects. IAF is still some distance away from launch-on-demand capabilities. Shifting to this new domain of Aerospace is as much a choice for IAF, as much it is a fait accompli. IAF also stares at the situation of being called out of not moving fast enough or at least matching the steps already taken by India’s civil space organisation.
Aerospace does appear as logical continuum of ‘Air Space’, but it’s a different league altogether. It needs an entirely new set of eco-system closely aligning with a nation’s space resources. Fortunately, IAF can utilise proven capacities and leverage them to speed up it’s journey towards a modern Aerospace power. IAF will be aided by it’s previous blueprint on ‘Defence Space Vision 2020’. It surely will act as a great opportunity for IAF to leapfrog into it’s most modern avatar; from struggling to retain it’s position as a dominant arm over the Indian territory, to one of the highly sophisticated Aerospace Force in the world. This is entirely possible, IAF doesn’t need to shift gears, it would rather have to change the mode of journey. The crude reality of future wars is about aerospace capabilities. The adage needs to be reminded – “Aerospace power may not win a war on its own, however no war can be won without it!”