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INDIAN AIR FORCE
Divided by Space-June 2005
At tactical level, the air force and the army will have to wage their own battles
 
The single important factor that sets the IAF apart from the army is the concept of space. An army commander’s (General Officer Commanding-in-Chief) theatre is no more than a sector for the IAF. For example, a corps commander’s (the highest level tactical commander) depth is that of his longest-range weapon system, which, at present, is 40km. An IAF pilot, on the other hand, can straddle three missions, each in the army’s northern, western and southern commands in about 12hours. With the continuing inflow of modern technology, both the army and the IAF want to exploit their respective operational depths to the fullest. Having grasped the unique perspective of the two services, there will be a need to keep four factors in mind when planning a conventional war winning strategy against Pakistan. One, a conventional war, whether limited in space or an all-out war, will certainly be limited in duration. There will be enormous international pressure on India to diffuse a crisis from escalating, and if a war does break out to end it earliest. The military is unlikely to get more than two weeks to achieve its aims, which implies that it will need to fight with assets in hand, the first week of war will be crucial and will go in favour of the side which resorts to pre-emption and surprise, and synergy both within a service and between services will be crucial. Two, India’s military leadership will need to take Pakistan’s nuclear weapons declaratory policy seriously and carefully assess the nuclear threshold sector-by-sector. This is particularly relevant for the Indian Army, which will also require to dovetail the facts that, one, the Pakistan Army has a variety of and relatively accurate ballistic missiles in its armoury that it will employ to relieve its air force of its offensive battlefield air interdiction role, and two, the Pakistan Army is suspected to have tactical nuclear weapons which will curtail Indian Army’s options. Three, with both sides vying for modern technology, the battlefield will be more transparent, non-linear and multi-dimensional implying the need for better co-ordination between the army and the air force for the land war.

And four, at the strategic level, Pakistan scores heavily over India. On the one hand, decision-making will be speedier in Pakistan. Considering that the Pakistani armed forces have displayed an aggressive and offensive stance in previous wars, this factor will assume importance. On the other hand, the Pakistan Army exercises excellent command and control over all military and paramilitary forces. The Pakistan Army has always made brilliant plans; it is only at the execution level that things come apart. In addition, Indian military planners will need to consider some home truths; the first is that, the Pakistan Army matches the Indian Army at the operational level of war. A tactical level refers to a single battle, while the operational level implies a war that is a series of battles. The operational level for an army can be successful because of good firepower, co-ordination, training and surprise despite fewer overall numbers in terms of manpower and equipment. In the case of the Indian Army, the operational level for a conventional war is assessed to be an army command comprising of a few corps. In Pakistan, the General Headquarters controls the field forces through nine corps headquarters. Considering that Pakistan army has a habit of taking over the nation, it was felt prudent to not create an army command (akin to India’s similar formation) as its boss, exercising power over a few corps commanders, could challenge the army chief. Because the arrangement of a monolith General Headquarters controlling vast forces is unwieldy, the Pakistan Army has created an intermediate headquarters of army reserves called Army Reserve North and Army Reserve South in 1989 centred around its armoured formations. Apart from being a good arrangement, it provides a unique operational advantage to the Pakistan Army: an ability to easily switch forces between corps boundaries, something still difficult in the Indian Army.
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