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Force Magazine

IAF’s Two-Front Dilemma
Both China and Pakistan are modernising at a frenetic pace

By Air Marshal K.K. Nohwar (retd)

Is it only India that faces a two-front dilemma? Ask your friendly neighbours and they will tell you that you are not alone. While Pakistan faces a two-front dilemma (on its western border, more of its own making though), the Chinese would be hard pressed to admit that there are several ‘fronts’ open at any given time for them to deal with — most notably due internal strife.

While Pakistan has made the most of the post-9/11 imbroglio in Afghanistan to whet its appetite for military arms from the US unashamedly, riding piggy-back on being a trusted ally in US’ Global War on Terrorism, we have not been so fortunate during the same period. As a matter of fact, apart from the induction of the Su-30 MKI, AWACS, C-130J, C-17 and the Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA), there were no major acquisitions that fructified for the IAF in the last decade or so. The force levels on the Indian side have dipped significantly as a result of the over-cautious approach adopted towards defence acquisitions at large. We need to examine the current state of affairs and see how prepared we are to deal with a worst-case scenario of a simultaneous opening up of both fronts and see how we can remedy the situation.

During the two Persian Gulf wars, the US had demonstrated its ability to carry out a sustained air campaign thousands of miles from continental US, made possible largely on account of the absolute air dominance established by the US-led coalition forces in the early stages of each war, and a well-orchestrated air campaign involving use of force multipliers such as AWACS, AEW&C aircraft, JSTARS, FRA, EF-111s and ISR assets, that were used in support of the fighters.

Most air forces learnt valuable lessons on employment of air power based on the performance of the coalition air forces during the Gulf Wars. The PLAAF, for one, began its modernisation in earnest soon after Operation Desert Storm and, today, is on the path towards structuring itself as a ‘balanced’ air force. India is today faced with a dilemma of an increasingly belligerent adversary on its eastern (and northern) borders and an opportunist neighbour to the west.

The Eastern Front
The 1991 Persian Gulf War spawned the PLA’s new war zone campaign doctrine. It articulated the situation wherein China as a technologically inferior entity, is faced with a war against a (technologically) superior force (Russia or the US), and spelt out how efforts be made to ensure that future wars are limited wars (rather than ‘total’) and that the military be prepared to fight the war under high-tech conditions. Towards successful outcome of this engagement, the PLA spelt out three strategies that would help them overcome an adversary that may be technologically superior, without drawing him into a total, long, drawn-out war. These were identified as ‘Gaining Initiative by Striking First’, using ‘Elite Forces and Sharp Arms’ to ensure a ‘Quick Battle for a Quick Resolution’.

Their strategic thought, as articulated by Col Xiao Jingmin and Major Bao Bin, both from the strategy department at the Academy of Military Science — a revered institution in China — encompassed the following philosophy for PLA actions in the 21st century, based on lessons learnt from the Gulf War of 1991:


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