Slow but Steady

The IAF’s modernisation process has just begun with major hi-tech deliveries to take place few years later

Prasun K. Sengupta

In doctrinal terms, the five principal underpinnings of the Indian Air Force (IAF) now and for the future are persistence, persuasion, compellence, endurance and jointness. Consequently, in a limited high-intensity warfare scenario, the following will be the 12 mandatory target-sets: Leadership command facilities, electricity production facilities, telecommunications and command/ control and communications nodes, strategic integrated air-defence system, air forces and air bases, WMD research/ production and storage facilities, ballistic/ cruise missiles and their launchers and production/storage facilities, naval forces and port facilities, oil refining and distribution facilities, railroads and bridges, hostile strike corps reserves, and military storage and production sites.

IAF’s Ilyushin Il-78 MKI refueling two Sukhoi Su-30 MKI aircraft

In terms of mission profiles, close-air-support has been further refined into battlefield air-support (BAS) and Battlefield Air-Interdiction (BAI), with the former being of the immediately available type with both combat aircraft and attack helicopters. Moreover, there is added emphasis on Counter-Air Operations (CAO), i.e. achieving air superiority would be the primary objective of an air campaign, which in turn will also ensure air defence over one’s own friendly airspace.

All of these, in turn, have placed a high premium on obtaining real-time information-gathering and analysis across the electromagnetic spectrum, data-processing, plus secure and reliable communications channels. Since the previous decade, the IAF’s Assistant Chief of Air Staff, Operations (Space) has been tasked to interact with the Union Department of Space (DoS) to obtain space-based capabilities in the areas of satellite communications (SATCOM), remote sensing imagery from low-Earth orbiting overhead recce satellites, meteorological data, search-and-rescue of downed pilots through distress signals picked up by satellites, and high-precision navigational/positioning coordinates available from India’s own seven-satellite NAVIC constellation of GPS satellites.

However, the most important space-based asset for the IAF will be the GSAT-7A communications satellite in a geostationary orbit, to be launched later this year by the European Space Agency’s Ariane 5 rocket from Kourou, French Guiana at a cost of Rs 480 crore. It is similar to the Rs 185 crore GSAT-7/INSAT-4F or ‘Rukmini’, which is currently being used exclusively by the Indian Navy since September 2013. The GSAT-7A will enable the IAF to inter-link different ground-based radar stations, air bases and airborne early warning & control aircraft. The GSAT-7, launched on 30 August 2013, is a multi-band satellite carrying payloads in UHF, S-band, C-band and Ku-band. Weighing 2,650kg, the ‘Rukmini’ was the last of Indian Space Research Organisation’s (ISRO’s) seven fourth-generation satellites. Rukmini’s 2.5-tonne antennae, which include the ultra-high-frequency Helix antenna, were deployed before it was stabilised on its three-axis in the orbit.


Comparative Strengths

The IAF today has an authorised strength of 42 combat and 10 transport squadrons (an air force of 35 combat and 10 transport squadrons was sanctioned by the government in 1963 after the conflict with China in which the IAF did not participate in combat, and an additional six combat squadrons were authorised in 1978). In contrast, China’s People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) today comprises 42 Combat Air Brigades (CAB) that operate single-seat combat aircraft, combat-reconnaissance aircraft and ground-attack aircraft. Of these, only 19 CABs operate modern, generally multi-role J-10, J-11, Su-27SK and Su-35 aircraft. These 19 CABs — equivalent to 57 squadrons — are the most important combat aircraft assets of the PLAAF.

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