Guest Column - Force Magazine
Air Power
An evaluation of the threats and challenges before the IAF
AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)By AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is into its eighth decade and as it closes in on its centenary, a mere two decades away, many a treatise has been propounded on the challenges ahead for the youngest armed service of independent India. What started as a mere flight of Wapitis at Drigh Road, Karachi, has grown into a potent power projection arm of the state.

The IAF derives its fortitude from its motto, Nabha Sparsham Deeptam (Touch the Sky with Glory). But there is perhaps a limitation in the coining of this motto as there is a hint of conclusiveness in the envelope of operation of Air Power. A more intuitive and farsighted approach may well have resulted in its coining to include space, the final frontier. But is space the final frontier? One better be careful lest a scribe writing about the IAF a few decades from now also questions this writer’s perceptive ability!

Limiting the horizon to a manageable timeframe makes the future ‘realistically’ transparent. So, considering a timespan of 20 years, when the IAF turns 100, let’s evaluate how the anticipated threats and challenges are to be addressed based on the IAF doctrine.

A military strategy flows out from the national defence strategy and is but one cog (albeit a very important one) among the security issues that a nation has to deal with. The threats are those to be faced by the country as a whole, with the three services working in cohesion to achieve national aims. In this endeavour, the IAF works to accomplish its mission statement given in its published doctrine (Basic Doctrine of the Indian Air Force) which states it as, ‘To be a modern, flexible and professional aerospace power with full-spectrum capability to protect and further national interests and objectives.’

This is a succinct enunciation which will stay constant with time. What will also stay permanent is the prima donna status of Air Power, as most technological breakthroughs take place in aviation and space technology research; it is an onus accepted by the IAF as the vision of the IAF states that it aims “to acquire strategic reach and capabilities across the spectrum of conflict that serves the ends of military diplomacy, nation building and enable force projection within India’s strategic area of influence.” This lofty vision encompasses the dreams of the IAF as well as the threats and challenge it would face as it goes about its task in service of the nation.

Conventional Threats: Nation states or a group of states in cohesion constitute the traditional adversarial threats for which the IAF needs to be prepared. Considering our non-expansionist foreign policy, these would be from among nations contiguous to India. It doesn’t require a soothsayer to divine that they are our Western and Northern neighbours. Would other states like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Sri Lanka and Myanmar turn their backs on us and transform into threats for which force has to be kept aside in the security calculus? This would indeed be farfetched for though there could be pin pricks (a la the bad blood with Bhutan on the fuel subsidy issue) the traditional friendship, cultural ties and India’s power asymmetry would obviate the possibility. But there would be, for sure, new type of threats, unconventional ones one may add, that would emerge.

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