Beyond Borders-October 2007
IAF needs to work hard on strategic reach and parallel war
By Pravin Sawhney and Ghazala Wahab
The transformation underway in the Indian Air Force has picked up momentum in its Platinum Jubilee year. This has been possible because of the new air power doctrine that stresses upon two roles: strategic reach and parallel war. The first visualises the IAF to become a global power in the years ahead to eventually emerge as an expeditionary force capable of deploying and operating in far flung areas. For now, the IAF considers its area of interest to be from the Persian Gulf to the Malacca Straits. The second one is specific to Pakistan and is meant to achieve decisive objectives in a conventional war limited in time and space against a nuclear backdrop. Strategic reach implies acquiring a number of assets: superior platforms with air-to-air refuelling capability; network centricity to interlock long ranges, secure and real time communications, command and control and beyond visual range weapons; AWACS for better early warning and assured air defence; Aerospace Command for exploitation of space; and strategic airlift capability. Alongside the assets, strategic reach requires working on three other vital issues: regular and advanced bilateral and multilateral exercises with friendly major power air forces, a firm support from the government, and a change of mindset within the IAF. At present, exercises with friendly air forces are limited to tactical settings for close combat manoeuvres to ensure that our own radars and avionics do not get compromised.

Moreover, with little in writing from the government, the IAF leadership can never be sure of how far it can go with friendly air forces. Seen in a positive light, it is good to proceed in an incremental fashion by making sure that training and capability acquisition for strategic reach progresses alongside. And this is what the IAF is doing. While it is pressing the government for the Aerospace Command, it understands the need to have the other two services onboard as well as to commence early engagement with the department of space (DoS). This is being done by the appointment of Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Operations (Space) under AVM D.C. Kumaria at the Air Headquarters. He interacts with the DoS on passive utilisation of space to include remote sensing, search and rescue of pilots through signals picked up by satellites and on issues relating to position and navigation.
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