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Breaching Holy Cow status of IAF
Brig (Retd) G B Reddy
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Posted in Publishaletter.com By :
Brig (Retd) G B Reddy
Letter to the Editor Sent to :
Breaching Holy Cow status of IAF
Dear Editor: Understanding perspective plans of the armed forces is incredibly complex due to excessive secrecy with the IAF being no exception. General V K Singh has aroused the nation from its decade old slumber on the current status of the Armed Forces particularly the Army. It does not mean that Air Force and Navy are in a better position to wage wars. The need for breaching the ‘holy cow’ status of the Air Force is inescapable in the light of huge expenditures of public funds. It is better to over watch modernization initiatives with a “Hawkish Eye” now instead of crying foul later. The key variables that govern defense policies, plans and budget allocations are regional and international security environment perspectives, threat perspectives and likely roles. How the regional security environment will unfold in post downsizing of the International Security Force from Afghanistan by 2014 is any ones guess. Similarly, the outcomes of Arab Spring particularly the Syrian crisis and the Western confrontation with Iran over nuclear issue are equally shrouded in ambiguity. Furthermore, significance of Central Asiatic Region and Turkey’s assertiveness to assume a vital role in the region are real. Even the Indian Ocean Region’s security and Chinese security interests in keeping sea lanes secure to ensure oil supplies are critical. India’s threat perspectives mostly remain Pak-centric. Hawks want China-centric orientation. A region-centric may be more appropriate. 22 squadrons PAF is qualitatively and quantitatively inferior. In contrast, PLA Air Force with 1617 combat aircraft poses an awesome challenge. The Chinese juggernaut is unstoppable. It is naïve to nurture dreams of catching up with China. India can at best deter China from misconceived adventures. Perforce, political leadership needs first to carry out a comprehensive reevaluation of national interests and role (s) that the IAF may be compelled to play in securing national interests. It may be to safeguard economic and diplomatic opportunities and commitments in the Middle East, Central Asiatic Region, South East Asia and Africa. Political leadership should follow up by resizing –balancing - force levels to deter potential adversaries. The Defense Parliamentary Standing Committee has suggested 42 squadrons for 2022. “Hawks” may grudgingly accept 42 squadrons force level. “Doves” could suggest less than 42 highlighting that the IAF is superior to 22 squadrons PAF and deter China with less numbers. No blank cheques would be available for the IAF. So, they must resize and restructure within incremental financial allocations annually. Commonsense dictates that reduction in capacities does not mean reduction in operational capabilities. Since Gen 5 systems provide awesome capabilities, the IAF may sagaciously reduce the size of their tail. More importantly, future wars will be aero-space and aero-sea centric dominant. Technologically, the IAF is better equipped to exploit opportunities in air and space control, global intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, command and control of air, space and cyber systems and integrate these capabilities across the spectrum of operations besides retaining strategic and tactical mobility. In sum, need is total systems transformation; most radical. In reality, the current force levels are adequate to address localized battles. As of 2011, nearly 630 fighters of all types are in service - just about adequate for 35 squadrons including reserves: in attack class 139 Jaguars, 100 MiG-27, Harpy; in fighter class 146 Su-30 MKI in service (out of 272 contracted), 69 MiG-29s, 50 Mirage 2000 H; and 125 upgraded MIG 21s to serve up to 2016. Reconnaissance Searcher II, Heron squadron also may be added to it. Finally, the existing trainer fleet is over 13 different aircraft – total 21 types. Furthermore, there are 12 plus transport squadrons (11 types) and 29 helicopter squadrons (9 types) in service. For VVIP travel, 12 VVIP-configured AgustaWestland AW101 helicopters are under procurement. In sum, size wise 75 plus squadrons is impressive - 33.5 fighter squadrons and the rest of 42 mostly for tactical mobility, command, recce, liaison and VVIP roles. Fighters mostly belong to Gen 3 & 4 class. Even layman would suggest review of ‘teeth to tail ratio’. Furthermore, the mix is frightening – almost 41 types. Costs of sustaining such technology complexity must be very high. Viewed from all dimensions, standardization is also an imperative. Let me briefly provide key facts of Chinese and US air forces. China may claim to have 1617 combat fighters, but its Gen 4.5 and 4 arsenal number only 419 to include: 190 J-10s, 100 Su 30s, 120 J 11s and 69 Su 27s with MiG 21 equivalents mostly constituting the remainder. J 20 Gen 5 category stealth fighter was displayed in 2011. The US AF has the benchmark at 52 squadrons, which was based on plans to buy 750 F-22 Raptors (curtailed to 187 in 2011 and production terminated). Now, 2,443 F-35s for an estimated US$382 bn - $156 million each (63 so far) has been planned. In contrast, that there are three important initiatives for the IAF. One, 42 SU-30MKI “Super 30s”, 126 Dassault Rafael’s - a $10.4 billion contract – commencing with 18 aircraft to be delivered by 2016 and 48 HAL Tejas by 2013, besides Harpy’s (UACV) are part of the acquisition programs. Two, the upgrade programs of Gen 4 fighters to Gen 4.5 status include: 69 MiG-29s at a cost of $964 million by 2016; 139 Jaguars at a cost of $700 million by 2017; 40 Su-30MKIs at a cost of over Rs 20,000 crores with the first delivery to commence in 2014 and the last by 2018; and 50 Mirage-2000 at a cost of US $ 4 bn to be completed by 2022. Finally, India is joining the Gen 5 fighter’s league in collaboration with Russia. The plan is to induct 250-300 PAK-FA fighters at a cost of around $35 billion dollars by 2022. Add to it, the indigenous Advanced Multi Role Combat Aircraft (AMRCA) stealth fighter under development with GTX Kaveri engine giving super cruise capabilities and fitted with all Gen 5 systems package and induction scheduled in 2018. With plans to acquire nearly 300 T 50 (Gen 5), 272 Su 30s upgraded to Gen 4.5 status and indigenous AMRCAs entering service, the IAF capabilities will be enhanced with around 750-800 combat aircraft. With up gradations of Jaguars, Mirage 2000s, MiG 27s and Tejas acquisition plans, numbers may exceed 1000. Unarmed remotely piloted vehicles (UAV or UACV) essentially have been in battles where the USAF had total aerospace dominance. Their effectiveness in contested battle space is a grey area. They are bound to play a vital role in short and mid term scenarios. Not to forget is the need for ASAT systems. The IAF needs to exploit the opportunities that are beckoning them to manage complex range of roles - space operations (ASAT systems), information operations/Cyber Warfare, missile defense, global C4ISR, strike and strategic deterrence and combating weapons of mass destruction. Each role needs a separate structure which needs to be integrated. IAF needs to review abandonment of lower end side roles of Gen 3 or 4 wars. It is both a challenge and an opportunity. The IAF needs to take on board the GoI, DRDO, HAL, Space Commission and others to prepare for future. In sum, the IAF needs to make hard choices of what force levels, type of mixes and in what time frame should meet its requirements by 2022. Abandonment of Tejas program, besides Mirage 2000 and Jaguar upgrades needs review in the context of Super Su 30 upgrades soon. Even induction of Rafael fighters, which is commencing with 18 in 2016, by which time even Gen 5 T 50 PAK FA fighters may start entering service needs relook. Finally, the IAF needs to downsize transport and helicopter fleets to bare minimum for integral use only – cut the tail ruthlessly. Finally, resizing and restructuring must conjointly take place to optimize deterrence capability. It is only possible with radical mindset shift - from air warriors to aero space and sea warriors.
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