By Col Rajinder Singh (Retd)
“The greatest deception men suffer from is their own opinions”
–Leonardo da Vinci
There are emotional outbursts, by veterans, mostly of IAF, on one loose statement of Chief of Defence Staff ( CDS) General Bipin Rawat. As on date, one might see devil in what he had said. It might be total ignorance or a deliberately calculated remark to say that IAF was a supporting arm of Army, like Engineers and Artillery. While self – righteous people have reasons to draw guns on him, but it seems, he might not be entirely wrong. To put it more succinctly, he might be much ahead of his times. Those who are blasting him, might also be suffering from the deception of their own opinions.
In the immediate present context, CDS might be wrong. However, when one talks of a future war, one also thinks of a time line of 10-15 years. Besides, while profiling a future war, one does not think of a conflict between “military unequals”, like Hamas and Israel but “military equals”, as in the context of USA and China or even in case of India and China. Those who are gunning for CDS, might be out of sync with the technological developments and also the consequent blue print of a future war.
Military Equals would not allow intruding aircrafts to enter their “air space”, whether they were 5th generation or 6th generation flying machines. War today is technology – driven. It has transformed itself from “Brute Force” mechanism to “Brain Force” use of weaponry and equipment.
Accordingly, military polemics have entered the era of “ Smart wars” with “Smart weapons” by “Smart Soldiers”. In other words, as technology had developed, war in the past century had transformed itself from “Close contact “ or trench warfare to “ Indirect Contact” or mobile warfare, as was enunciated by Captain Sir Liddell Hart, a brilliant British military thinker of the last century. Thus, German Panzer divisions went past the French Maginot line or “fortress defences” in a menacing manner to make them untenable.
“Indirect Approach” of Liddell Hart was upgraded to “ No Contact wars” as “UAV” or Drones appeared in Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq in the first decade of 21st Century. Technology develops so fast that it becomes a Herculean task for the military strategists to develop appropriate counter doctrines. Most often the loser sides end up fighting the last war.
The Azerbaijan and Armenian conflict, in 2020, showed that unmanned vehicles, UAV, loaded with smart weapons, can play bloody hell with enemy. Armenia, with outdated Russian technology and weapon system was outdone by Azerbaijan. No doubts Turkish Drones, supplied to Azerbaijan, played a defining role. It was the victory of new technology over the old. This was the final qualifying hour of “No Contact War”.
Earlier, on September 14, 2019, Yemen rebels drone attack on Saudi Arabia’s ARAMCO Oil processing facilities at Abqaiq and Khurais, was another demonstration of “No Contact” dimension of the modern war. The Houthi rebels of Yemen had laid claim to this attack. The rebel claimed that they had used 10 drones for this attack. This was in response to Saudi Arabia intervention in the Yemen civil war. The attack had caused extensive damage to facilities, resulting in the rise in the oil prices. Such a drone technology available with Militant groups can play havoc with India too. Drone attack on Jammu Airport’s airforce facilities, on June 27, 2021, is a curtain raiser of the shape of future war in Indian context .
However, as “No Contact Wars” are reaching its zenith , anti-air weapon systems have also begun to appear. They are capable of not only denying intrusion to enemy’s manned and unmanned aircrafts but also be capable of destroying them much before they play havoc with the target . It’s effectiveness was first seen in the second Gulf war, when US predator missiles knocked down Saddam Hussain’s Scud missiles. Anti – Air and Anti – Drone ( AAAD) inventory today includes Russian S-300 and S-400. Israel has its own IRON DOME, which has shown its effectiveness against recent conflict with Hamas. USA and Japan have their own AAAD systems. South Korea is developing its own protective shield against missiles, aircrafts and drones attack by North Korea.
As recent reports suggest, India too is developing its own Anti – Air/ drone defence system. In the interim period, it has sought two or three S-400 from Russia to protect its sensitive assets. However, India’s own Anti -Air denial system, called “Indrajaal” has been developed by a private firm from Hyderabad.
Indrajaal is a wide area drone defence created by Grene Robotics, an Indian company from Hyderabad. It can cover an area upto 1000-2000 sq kms. Half a dozen INDRAJAL can cover the entire Western border. The company claims that within 90-120 days it can create a system with 100-250 sq kms and to cover an area of 1000-2000 sq kms , it would need four months. The company is waiting for a green signal from the Defence Ministry.
Indrajaal is capable of identifying, assessing, deciding, acting and evolving autonomously in real-time, round the clock. Whether the threat is single or multiple or a combination of UAVs, loitering munitions and such, the system is capable of countering all such threats. It can be integrated with the current weapons infrastructure.
It is pertinent to note that with such Air denial systems, both for manned and unmanned aerial vehicles, profiling the advent of a future war, where is the scope for IAF, in manned machines, to claim to perform such tasks as Counter Air operations (CAO); Interdiction, strategic bombing of enemy assets and air defence of own space? In such a pen picture of a future war, IAF, in its present structural shape and size, is irrelevant for the future war, though in the interregnum, it can perform such tasks as envisaged. But the time span of interregnum is not more than 10 years.
IAF of today, ought to reorient itself. It has to reincarnate as part of “ Space and Strategic” Force. It has to equip itself with super long BVR (Beyond Visual Range) weapon systems, along with effective Counter Cyber systems, invisible laser beams, counter EMP radiation guns. It has to start thinking of India’s stratosphere and man the satellites and space ships.The war in the space is beckoning it.
Meanwhile as weapon technology further develops and “Bio -weapons” make headway on the military war front, war is seemingly graduating to “Invisible” mode. This is a new challenge to militaries all over the world. The “Rear” and “Front” of the combat zones have disappeared. Missiles with ranges over 5-10000 miles can deliver nuclear, Bio, Chemical and conventional warheads. They would deliver a death blow anywhere in the world . Wide Area defence and denial systems, are incorporating Satellite spying systems over areas which can be used as platforms for delivery of such lethal warheads. Space would become a key battle zone of the future. This is where IAF must seek its relevance.
IAF, therefore must concentrate itself on its own relevance in the future than be critical of “Theatrisation” of Commands. At best, IAF can perform transportation role for switching forces from one theatre to another theatre. To do so, it can be integrated with the Army, than be a separate force. Genuinely speaking, IAF has no role in border skirmishes, whether it was Kargil-99 or even in Galwan-2020. To say the least, it has never been used in internal conflicts too.
It should, therefore, delink itself from “theatrisation” and concentrate on donning the role of “Space and Strategic Force”. To fulfil that role, it must seek those capabilities which would allow it to operate effectively. Shed its present assets to Army and Navy.
Being critical of CDS, whatever his other faults, IAF and her veterans were skirting the main issue of future relevance of the force. It is a diversionary tactics to preserve itself and its identity, though time is against it. A peep into the future, should tell all these critics that CDS might not be right but his statement is a wakeup call to air force to seek its future relevance. Ducking the issue is endangering its existence. Do not be obsessed with goodness of the past. It’s irrelevance of today must be genuinely brainstormed.
-An ex-NDA and Wellington Staff College graduate, Col Rajinder Singh is a renowned author and security analyst. He has authored four books, two individually and two in collaboration. His best-selling books are Kashmir – A Different Perspective and The ULFA Insurgency. The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda.