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JUNE 2014 ISSUE

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Balancing Act

An extract from Air Cmde Tariq Mahmud Ashraf’s recent book
 
The salient comparative aspect of the Indian and the Pakistan Air Forces are depicted on Table 1 below with an explanation of the same in the subsequent text:

Balancing Act
  IAF PAF Analysis
Manpower 127,200 70,000 1.81:1
Combat aircraft 872 423 1.84:1
Transport aircraft 238 20 11.9:111 IAF has overwhelming edge
Air-to-air refuelling capability Yes Yes Evenly matched
AWACS Yes Yes Evenly matched
BVR air-to-air missile Yes Limited number IAF superior since PAF capability is restricted to usage only on newer/ modified F-16s
UAV Yes Yes IAF enjoy significant superiority
High-tech combat aircraft 244 63 3.78:1 IAF enjoys overwhelming edge

• The IAF enjoys almost a 2:1 advantage purely in numerical terms but its superiority is further accentuated by its possession of BVR weapons in large numbers and their compatibility with most of its combat aircraft along with potent UAV fleet. Purely in terms of numbers, the ratio is not as advantageous to the IAF as it used to be earlier but this comparative reduction in number has more than adequately been made up by qualitative improvement.

• The IAF technological edge is also evidenced by the disproportionately large number of high-technology combat aircraft that it possesses vis-à-vis the PAF. The qualitative edge has shifted to the IAF because it has been able to have unrestricted access to Russian and Israeli technology while Pakistan has been denied any additional aviation asset other than a handful of upgraded F-16 aircraft from USA. China, which has been Pakistan’s main military aircraft provider, does not currently produce any combat aircraft that would be comparable to the western high-technology combat aircraft. Although this ratio might improve slightly after the initial order batch of 24 F-16C/D aircraft enter service (the first two has been delivered), the IAF will again gain the edge with the induction of the additional 126 Rafale combat aircraft that it is in the process of acquiring from France.

• The IAF has a significantly large transport aircraft fleet that bestows significant military aircraft airlift capability on it. The disadvantage of almost 12:1 in this area permits the IAF an almost strategic level of airlift capability while that of the PAF could best be described as one having sub-tactical potential. This enormous air transport potential when looked at from the perspective of the IAF’s substantially greater trained manpower pool, adds significantly to the flexibility of operations mobility in terms of rapid deployment/redeployment. The induction of the C-17 and the latest version of C-130 will further accentuate this imbalance in the IAF favour.

• Other than the area where the IAF enjoys exclusiveness or will soon do so, the most significant disparity lies in the number of high-technology combat platforms that the two air forces possess. Although the IAF has a 2.6:1 advantage in overall numbers, its edge in high-tech aircraft exceeds a factor of 3.78:1 and is expected to continue growing as more Su-30 MKI aircraft and the additional 126 Rafale advanced combat aircraft are inducted into the IAF and enter operational service.

Having illustrated the gross imbalance that exists between the two Air Forces, I will now move on to the implications that imbalance would have during any future conventional war between India and Pakistan:

Modern land warfare, to a great extent, is dependent on the achievement of a favourable air situation over the battlefield. This entails the friendly air force being able to support its own army while simultaneously preventing the adversary air force from interfering with its operations. The IAF vs. PAF comparison indicates that the IAF is much more capable of achieving a favourable air situation over the area of the land battle and as such, it can contribute significantly to the success of the Indian Army’s land offensive.

Moreover, the strong IAF with its superior beyond visual range missiles (BVR) will be able to neutralise the PAF by mounting a concerted counter air operations campaign against the latter. Once the PAF has been adequately neutralised, the path to an Indian victory on the ground would be absolutely open and the offensive formations of the Indian Army would be virtually unstoppable. This could well mean the creation of a state of affairs where, as General Kidwai put it, the very existence of Pakistan as a state is at stake.

Conclusion
An analysis of the comparative strengths of the Indian and Pakistani military clearly indicates that the weakest link in Pakistan’s military is her Air Force — especially when compared directly with the much more powerful and better equipped IAF. The significance of this weakest link must not be underestimated since the destruction of the PAF emerges to be the quickest way to make Pakistan contemplate and undertake the undesirable escalatory step of turning a conventional limited war into a nuclear holocaust.

This conclusion has lessons not only for the Pakistan Government but also for the major global powers. While the Pakistani Government must embark on a crash programme to suitably re-equip its Air Force urgently, the major global powers must also understand the fact that in order to enhance the level of stability in South Asia, it is vital that Pakistan’s nuclear escalation threshold be raised and not allowed to drop any further. As this chapter has indicated, the means of raising Pakistan nuclear escalation threshold lie in strengthening its Air Force since this is currently the weakest link in Pakistan’s military chain.

As was shown by the Kargil conflict, the advent of nuclear weapons in South Asia has not rendered limited conventional wars in the region impossible. In fact, as Michael Krepon argues in his discussion of the Stability-Instability paradox, small-scale limited conventional conflicts might even become more frequent in South Asia. The focus of all measures — international as well as regional — that are aimed at promotion and achieving nuclear stability in South Asia must be to ensure that the nuclear escalation threshold of the militarily weaker country, i.e., Pakistan is not allowed to drop. In order to ensure this, the global community must remain alert of any weakness emerging in Pakistan’s conventional military wherewithal vis-à-vis India and address these immediately lest a limited conventional conflict in South Asia turn into a nuclear holocaust with terrifying consequences not only for the region but also for the entire world.

The aspect to significantly focus on in this context is the serious imbalance between the Air Forces of the two countries since the weak Air Force that Pakistan is currently able to field might well prove to be Pakistan’s Achilles heel by becoming the prime reason for it to escalate a limited conflict to the nuclear dimension. Paradoxically, therefore, it appears to be in India’s national interest to downplay the increasing strength and potential of her Air Force so as to preclude a further lowering of Pakistan’s perceived nuclear escalation threshold.

Evolving Dynamics of Nuclear South Asia
Air Commodore Tariq Mahmud Ashraf (Retd), Pakistan Air Force
Knowledge World Publishers Pvt Ltd,
Rs 980, Pg 381


 
 


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