Friday, 13 January 2017

Army chief says military must prepare for Cold Start

India's offensive doctrine jittered Pakistan into developing tactical nukes

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 14 Jan 17

Army chief, General Bipin Rawat, who this month became the first senior official to publicly confirm the existence of India’s so-called Cold Start doctrine, explained on Friday why he acknowledged this controversial term publicly.

Cold Start is the Indian operational plan for rapidly mobilising infantry and armour to launch lightning strikes across the plains and deserts of Pakistan. The aim is to break into Pakistani before its defensive formations can prepare and occupy defensive positions along the border.

Indian policymakers and officials have always downplayed Cold Start, partly because it scared Pakistan’s army into relocated defensive formations close to the Indian border, and into developing highly destabilising “tactical nuclear weapons” (TNWs) --- small-yield, nuclear bombs, delivered by short-range ballistic missiles like the Nasr (Hatf-IX) --- to halt a Cold Start strike.

Previous Indian chiefs said there was no Cold Start plan. Instead, they pointed to a “proactive strategy”.

Rawat’s acknowledgment of Cold Start on January 6, in an interview to India Today, was a radical departure. It was sharply criticised by strategic analysts like Vipin Narang and Walter C Ladwig III, who claimed the “[Indian] army simply lacks the material and organisation to implement the more aggressive versions of Cold Start.” They argued that India has too few troops and tanks, it faces critical equipment shortages, and the army and air force do not coordinate air support. “This has put India in the worst possible strategic position: claiming a capability that it does not have, but which provides justification for Pakistan’s aggressive expansion of its conventional and nuclear forces”, Narang and Ladwig wrote in The Hindu.

Today, Rawat, at a press conference in New Delhi, initially downplayed his acknowledgment of Cold Start, arguing that offensive plans are a part of India’s overall defensive strategy, aimed at safeguarding the country’s territorial integrity.

“[W]e know that the future wars will be short and intense and, when short and intense wars are the future forms of combat, you have to be prepared to move fast. Now this is something which you can term in whatever way you want”, said Rawat.

But Rawat also clarified that publicly acknowledging Cold Start was a signal to the army to be prepared for that eventuality. “The other reason for coming out with this was, to communicate to the rank and file and field commanders the kind of preparations they have to carry out for future combat. That is the messaging that was meant to that statement that I made,” said Rawat.

Asked by Business Standard about operational shortcomings that might prevent the success of Cold Start, Rawat stated: “Weaknesses have to be overcome. And these weaknesses can only be overcome if you accept the strategy (Cold Start). If you don’t accept the strategy, then you will let your weaknesses [limit you]. But when you enunciate a strategy you say: these are the weaknesses which I need to overcome to adopt success.”

It is ironic that Rawat, an infantry officer who the government chose because of his expertise in counter-insurgency, has made his first bold statement in the realm of warfighting and mechanised operations.

Cold Start was born of the failure of Operation Parakram in 2001-02, when the military moved into battle stations after Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorists attacked Parliament on December 13, 2001. However, by the time the army’s three mechanised strike corps (which are stationed deep inside India in places like Mathura and Bhopal) were transported to the border and were ready to launch their tanks and infantry combat vehicles (ICVs), Pakistan’s defensive formations were deployed and ready to beat them back.

Thus was Cold Start conceived, a plan to attack Pakistan within 48 hours of any dire provocation traced back to Pakistan --- like a particularly damaging terrorist attack, or the assassination of a top Indian leader. Instead of waiting for the mechanised strike corps to make their long journey to the border, the attack would be launched by 8-10 “integrated battle groups” (IBGs), cobbled together from the large number of tanks and reserve infantry in the defensive corps, already located along the border.

Benefiting from surprise, and with Pakistan’s armoured reserves divided, Cold Start estimates that many of the IBGs would pierce through Pakistan’s forward defences. That would allow the strike corps, as it reaches the border, to stream through those breaches and penetrate towards the large towns and cities in Pakistan’s heartland. This would allow New Delhi to call off the war quickly, in a victorious position.

Western policymakers have been critical of Cold Start, since it alarmed Pakistan into developing TNWs, which are seen as highly insecure and destabilising weapons. Given the Nasr missile’s range of just 60 kilometres, TNWs would per force be physically located with forward commanders, and control over them decentralised early in any conflict.

This “de-centralisation” would render TNWs vulnerable to theft by jihadi groups, or unauthorised use by renegade Pakistani commanders. It is unclear whether Pakistan has fool-proof security protocols for TNWs, like permissive access links (PALs). Nor is it known how early, with a battlefield debacle imminent, would control over nukes be handed over to local commanders --- probably at the level of corps commanders --- who would be presumably more prone to use the weapons. 

Successful Pinaka guided rocket test portends boost to army firepower




By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 13th Jan 17

On Thursday, at Chandipur, Odisha, the successful test firing of a Pinaka guided rocket moves the army closer to having the ability to pulverise terrorist camps or enemy units that are 70 kilometres away.

The Pinaka is an indigenous “multi-barrelled rocket launcher” (MBRL). It consists of 12 tubes mounted on a high-mobility Tatra vehicle, each of which fires a rocket. These can be fired in a salvo, less than four seconds apart. A battery, with six Pinaka launchers, fires 72 rockets in 44 seconds.

The salvo effect is critical, bringing down immense firepower on the target before enemy troops can take cover.

“The test-firing has met all mission objectives. The radars, electro-optical and telemetry systems at Chandipur tracked and monitored the vehicle all through the flight-path”, said the defence ministry after the test.

So far, the unguided version of the Pinaka could engage targets 38 km away. Now, the guided version, called the Pinaka Mark II, almost doubles that range.

The army is keen on inducting the Pinaka quickly and in large numbers, especially after tensions escalated on the Line of Control (LoC) last year. In November, the defence ministry bought two regiments (18 launchers each) of the Pinaka Mark I for Rs 3,230 crore, supplementing two regiments bought earlier.

Now, however, the Pinaka Mark II will take centre stage. In this, each individual guided rocket is guided separately, with an on-board computer calculating its flight path, and a transmitter and receiver on the launcher sending signals to keep it on path. Every 20 microseconds, a navigation device calculates the rocket’s position and sends a path correction message through the radio link.

To correct its flight path, the rocket is shifted through thrust vectors, i.e. gases coming out from the propulsion system through nozzles.

“The Pinaka Rocket Mark-II, which evolved from Pinaka Mark-I is equipped with a navigation, guidance and control kit and has been transformed to a Guided Pinaka.  This conversion has considerably enhanced the range and accuracy of Pinaka”, said a defence ministry release.

The Pinaka Mark II can fire a single rocket, or a specified number of rockets. The launcher can be loaded with a mix of guided and unguided rockets. If the commander wants to fire a single guided rocket at a target, the system will sense which position is loaded with a guided rocket. The firing circuit will automatically select that position.

The Pinaka has been designed and developed by the Armament Research & Development Establishment, Pune (ARDE), the DRDO’s most prolific laboratory, which has already inducted more than Rs 40,000 crore worth of arms and ammunition into service.

The ARDE’s budget is barely one per cent of the DRDO’s annual budget; it has five per cent of the DRDO’s total manpower; but 70 per cent of the equipment the Ordnance Factories (OFs) are manufacturing for the army has been developed by ARDE.

The Pinaka, however, is not built by the OFs, but by two private sector companies: Larsen & Toubro, and Tata Power (Strategic Engineering Division), who are the designated “original equipment manufacturers” (OEMs) for the Pinaka system.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Book review: A spy-eye view of Pakistan



Pakistan: Courting the Abyss
By Tilak Devasher
(HarperCollins India, 2016)
450 Pages, Rs 599/-

In our country, where practically everyone who reads a newspaper regards herself as an expert on Pakistan, and library bookshelves groan under the weight of little-read tomes lamenting the oddities of our neighbour, former spymaster Tilak Devasher has pulled off a coup in presenting a book that will actually be read widely.

That is because Pakistan: Courting the Abyss is more than just a historiographical recounting of Pakistan’s birth and subsequent journey. It is also a pacy, entertaining, anecdote-enlivened account that paints a multi-hued, if depressing, picture of our neighbour. Devasher draws extensively from documented history and primary records, but what sets his book apart from earlier scholarship on Pakistan is his invaluable experience as a “special secretary, in the cabinet secretariat” --- bureaucratic code for the Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) --- during which time he handled the Pakistan folio as well as Kashmir.

In the introduction itself, we observe the author’s knack for the telling anecdote. It starts by contrasting Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s triumphal arrival in Karachi, when he flew in from New Delhi in August 1947; with his lonely flight from Quetta just a year later, when a consumption-ravaged Jinnah, now weighing just 70 pounds and confined to a stretcher, was received by a solitary ambulance at Karachi airport. The ambulance broke down en route, stranding Pakistan’s Qaid-e-Azam for two hours by the roadside until another ambulance could fetch up. Jinnah died the same night.

Devasher asks: “If, indeed, he (Jinnah) could have anticipated the Pakistan that exists today, would he have striven so relentlessly to create it in the first place?”

The author has wisely chosen not to address his topic chronologically (which would have resulted in another potted history), but to devote each chapter to a specific facet of Pakistan. He starts with describing the Muslim League’s agitation for Pakistan, postulating that the creation of that country became inevitable only on June 6, 1946, when the Indian National Congress refused to accept a federalised India with a high degree of autonomy for Muslim-majority states. He highlights British deviousness in fomenting Hindu-Muslim antagonism, quoting Winston Churchill’s infamous comment that Hindu-Muslim antagonism was “a bulwark of British rule in India [without which] the united communities [would join] in showing us the door.”

The author traces how an opportunistic Jinnah induced the British to back the Muslim League against the more unbending Congress, using every trick in the book, including Direct Action (street riots, with mass killings) to get his way. Pakistan’s future leaders like General Ayub Khan would observe the success of Jinnah’s strong-arm tactics and conclude: “As a general rule Hindu morale would not stand more than a couple of blows delivered at the right time and place. Such opportunities should, therefore, be sought and exploited.”

Next, Devasher analyses Pakistan’s creation of an artificial national identity that straddled five pre-existing nationalities --- Bengali, Baluch, Pakhtun, Sindhis and Punjabi --- within the geographical boundaries of the new country. Painting the new nation as the inheritors of the Mughal empire was problematic: the most potent and visible symbols of Islamic power and grandeur remained in India. Furthermore, for the Baluchis, Sindhis and Pakhtuns (inexplicably, the author calls them Pashtuns, an Afghan descriptive) the Mughals symbolised oppression and tyranny. Eventually, as Devasher convincingly explains, a concocted “Nazaria-e-Pakistan” (Pakistani ideology) was arrived at, blending Islam, Urdu, centralised administration and the India-threat. Inevitably, large parts of Pakistan, including its most populous province, East Bengal, felt excluded, with disastrous consequences to follow.

Revealingly, the quest for an identity even ropes in Jinnah, who had never spoken of an ideology for Pakistan. Yet, as the author notes: “the Pakistan school curriculum documents insist that the students be taught the Ideology of Pakistan as enunciated by the Quaid.” So delicate is the subject that the Curriculum Document for primary educations mandates that: “The Ideology of Pakistan be presented as an accepted reality and be never subjected to discussion or dispute.”

Like most studies of Pakistan, Devasher’s volume lavishes attention on the Pakistani military. His task is made easy by the recent publication of several excellent works on the subject, such as Military Inc., by Ayesha Siddiqa; Crossed Swords by Shuja Nawaz; and Fighting to the End, by C Christine Fair. Civil-military relations are dealt with in detail, with praetorian generals having intervened four times to seize political power and directly ruled Pakistan for 34 of its 69 years. Selected writings by Pakistani generals highlight the undisguised contempt in which they hold the political leaders, such as this gem from Field Marshal Ayub Khan, writing in Foreign Affairs magazine: “The former politicians are no problem to us now or in the near future. We have taken good care to spare them the usual tragic fate of those overtaken by revolutionary upheavals. On the contrary, we are content to treat them as a big joke, just as they turned a perfectly sound country into the laughing stock of the world.”

Devasher further cites Ayub: “We must understand that democracy cannot work in a hot climate. To have democracy, we must have a cold climate like Britain.” Another praetorian general, Zia-ul-Haq, wrote: “In Pakistan neither anarchy nor Westernism will work. This country was created in the name of Islam and in Islam there is no provision for Western-type elections.” General Musharraf stated: “I have a belief that democracy has to be modified to an environment; that is the reason for my retaining the power of dismissing an assembly.”

The author points out that, though the days of old-fashioned military coups might be over, the generals retain control over the levers of power through the mechanism of the “soft coup” --- by controlling apex committees that monitor the implementation of the National Action Plan against terrorism. The political leadership has played along, ceding oversight to the army, in exchange for being allowed to continue in power.

This volume also takes a deep dive into Pakistan’s religious and sectarian quagmire, which has birthed a multitude of armed, extremist and ideological groups; going for each other’s throats on a continuing basis. The author ascribes this rising tide of violence to the politicisation of religion by successive rulers, tracing sectarianism back to the anti-Ahmediya protests in 1953, and then the “Sunnification” drive of General Zia-ul-Haq. The author convincingly concludes: “Where Jinnah and [Prime Minister] Liaquat [Ali Khan] erred was to think that religion could be exploited for a secular objective and once that objective was met, religion could be sidelined.”

Another section undertakes a so-called WEEP analysis, surely a tongue-in-cheek acronym, which stands for water, education, economy and population metrics. “Collectively, these issues strongly suggest a looming multi-organ failure in Pakistan”, says the author, concluding that these issues would be primary factors in impelling Pakistan towards the abyss.

In the final section of his book, Devashar examines Pakistan’s relations with India, Afghanistan, the United States and China, with every significant element of these engagements directed towards obtaining or creating parity with India. An early example of that quest for parity was Pakistan’s strenuous efforts, in the run-up to the May 1950 visit of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan to the US, to ensure that Liaquat was received as grandly as Jawaharlal Nehru had been earlier. The author could also have recounted that, when Lord Louis Mountbatten was negotiating the partition of India with Nehru and Jinnah in the summer of 1947 in the Viceregal Lodge in Simla, the Muslim League leader insisted that a second door be knocked into Mountbatten’s office so that he could enter simultaneously with Nehru.

The book, as its title suggests, paints a bleak picture of Pakistan’s future. To be sure, most economic, human development, social and security indicators justify pessimism. One respected international benchmark, the Uppsala Conflict Data Programme, says Pakistan is in a state of war, with more than a thousand conflict-related deaths occurring annually. While the figures, expert analysis and international opinion all support Devasher’s conclusions, a lingering question remains: why do most visitors to Pakistan come away with the impression of a country that is not really falling apart. It would appear that countries like Pakistan, founded on religious or ethnic nationalism are, in fact, not as fragile as one would imagine.

Devasher’s book is recommended as a contemporary, historically grounded primer on Pakistan and what ails that country. Although it comes from an intelligence professional --- a notoriously pessimistic tribe --- it is a relatively detached study, making its points with an interesting combination of history, logic and pithy anecdotes. It will surely be read widely in India. It is hoped that it will attract attention in Pakistan as well.

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Is Pak Army preparing to turn on the Lashkar and Jaish?

No Lal Masjid-style crackdown, new army chief to rely on ISI squeeze

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th Jan 17

In Pakistan, a new year and a new army chief appear to be heralding a new approach towards reining in anti-India jihadis like the Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM).

Business Standard learns from senior Pakistan Army sources that General Qamar Javed Bajwa, who took over as Chief of Army Staff (COAS) from General Raheel Sharif on November 28 has told key advisors that open-ended confrontation with India must be curbed, without compromising Pakistan’s self-respect.

A senior Pakistani officer who held a detailed discussion with Bajwa tells Business Standard the new army chief understands fully that reducing tensions with India would require action against the LeT and JeM.

But Pakistan’s top general believes the LeT and JeM are now more troublesome than useful. He believes the Uri terror strike in September provided India respite in the UN General Assembly, allowing New Delhi to shift the spotlight from unrest in the Kashmir valley to Pakistan-backed terrorism.

Bajwa, unlike his predecessors, has begun setting the stage to act against those groups, says the source. This will not involve an overt military crackdown like former President and army chief, General Pervez Musharraf, unleashed in July 2007 on radical militants in the Lal Masjid in Islamabad.

Instead, there will be a slow squeeze on Punjab-based militant groups, by the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). “The ISI exercises a degree of influence over the leadership of these tanzeems (groups). The top leaders, who are the ideological drivers of their jihad, are beholden to the ISI for patronage, funding and protection from law enforcement agencies”, says a senior Pakistani official.

In fact, the ISI has the ability to influence the LeT and JeM only up to a point. Over the last decade, leaders like the LeT’s Hafeez Saeed, have developed larger-than-life individual profiles. According to jihadi lore, Saeed’s immediate family alone includes 23 widows of “mujahideen” who were killed fighting in J&K.

Besides, LeT front organisations like the Jamaat-ud-Daawa have won public favour by providing humanitarian aid, especially after the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 and devastating floods in 2008 and 2010.

New Delhi will be justifiably sceptical of such expressions of intent from Pakistan, after repeated disappointments in the past. On January 11, 2002, with the Indian Army mobilised for war after the JeM terrorist strike on Parliament the month before, General Pervez Musharraf proscribed five militant groups, including the LeT and JeM. But, most resurfaced quickly under changed names.

Similarly, in January 2004, Pakistan solemnly committed to “not allow its soil or territory under its control to be used for terrorism against India.” That promise too was violated repeatedly, including in the Mumbai train bombings in 2006 and the armed LeT terrorist strikes in 2008.

Over preceding years, the Pakistan Army has battled terrorist groups along the Afghanistan border, notably the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), which vows jihad against Islamabad. But it soft-pedalled against “strategic assets” like the Haqqani Network and the Afghan Taliban; and left the Punjabi groups like the LeT and JeM unaddressed.

Islamabad claimed it was overstretched with battling the TTP. However, nobody considered it a coincidence that the groups that were spared happened to be useful proxies to wield influence in Afghanistan, and to strike at India.

Although New Delhi has good reason to be sceptical, a new confluence of factors makes it worth watching unfolding events in Pakistan with guarded optimism.

The first is General Qamar Bajwa himself, reputedly a bold mover. Soon after taking over charge, Geo News quoted him as stating: “The situation on the LoC (Line of Control with India) will improve soon”. That has proved correct.

In his initial visits to military establishments, Bajwa has reportedly been telling his officers: “Aap mulk ko chalaane ke baarey na sochein, aap apni nazar fauj ko theek se chalaane par hi rakhein” (don’t preoccupy yourself with how the country is being run, focus your attention on running the army properly).

The tone of Rawalpindi’s statements against India has moderated noticeably. In October, the Pakistan army “rejected absurd Indian claims of hoax surgical strikes as attempt to divert world’s attention from brutalities by Indian Army against innocent Kashmiris.”

In contrast, an official tweet last week declared: “Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa rejects self defeating claims by Indian COAS about ‘so called surg[ical] strikes’ and its possible recurrence.”

Bajwa has been ruthless is creating the space to act. Within days of taking command, he dismantled the core team of his hawkish predecessor, General Raheel Sharif, with a decisiveness that a senior Pakistani journalist described to Business Standard as “brutal”.

Raheel’s ISI chief, Lieutenant General Rizwan Akhtar, was shunted out to the National Defence University, a non-operational appointment. He was replaced by Lieutenant General Naveed Mukhtar, whose views mirror those of Bajwa and Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

Already while appointing Bajwa as COAS, Nawaz Sharif side-lined the hawkish Lieutenant General Zubair Mahmood Hayat, the powerful Chief of General Staff (CGS) who was a front-runner for the army chief post. Hayat was potentially a dangerous power centre also because he is one of three brothers, who are all serving generals. Hayat was kicked upstairs to the toothless, four-star appointment of Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee.

Zubair Hayat’s younger brother, Major General Ahmed Hayat, a pivotal officer in the ISI, was marginalised and superseded.

Simultaneously, Raheel’s activist media chief, Lieutenant General Asim Saleem Bajwa (no relation to the army chief), was moved out to the inconsequential post of “Inspector General Arms”. In his place has come Major General Asif Ghafoor.

The new chief also, as is customary, switched a number of corps commanders and other posts, replacing Raheel’s appointees with trusted officers of his own. With Raheel himself moving to Saudi Arabia to command the 39-nation Islamic Military Alliance to Fight Terrorism (IMAFT), the decks are clear for Bajwa.

At the apex level, there is agreement between the key decision-makers who would face the brunt of campaign against the LeT and JeM --- Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his brother Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, and Generals Qamar Bajwa and Naved.

However, not everyone believes Nawaz Sharif has the stomach for the fight. Pakistani journalist, Cyril Almeida, wrote in Dawn recently: “The boys (army) want to go in to clean up the sectarian mess and the anti-Pakistan stuff. But Nawaz can’t let them… [He] can’t have troops stomping around Punjab doing counterterrorism stuff.”

Pakistan’s National Action Plan (NAP) on countering terrorism, which was agreed to in an all-party meeting in December 2014 after terrorists rampaged through an army school in Peshawar, provides a comprehensive framework for tackling terrorism. However, the potential repercussions of confronting jihadis in the Punjab heartland demands political will to fully implement the NAP.

Pakistani leaders remember the suicide attacks in the Punjab heartland that followed the storming of the Lal Masjid. “From every brick of the Lal Masjid, a suicide attacker seemed to have been born”, recalls a senior Pakistani official.

A tight-wire act for Pakistan’s army chief will be to take on the LeT and JeM without being seen to be acting under pressure from India. A senior Pakistan Army officer warns that triumphalism from New Delhi could derail Bajwa far more effectively than jihadi reprisals would. The response from South Block, and from the Indian media, would therefore be crucial.

Wednesday, 4 January 2017

Shrinking fleet poses tough choices for IAF: light, medium or heavy fighters?

IAF demands more medium fighters, but shortfall is in light fighters, with MiG fleet soon retiring

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 4th Jan 2017

Last Wednesday, the retiring Indian Air Force (IAF) chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, declared in New Delhi that the IAF requires about 200-250 medium fighters in addition to 36 Rafale multi-role fighters that were contracted with French vendor, Dassault, earlier this year.

The 36-Rafale contract was signed for Euro 7.8 billion (Rs 55,600 crore). Another 200 Rafales, or comparable fighters, would require Euro 43.3 billion (Rs 310,000 crore), far beyond India’s means, given current defence spending.

But Raha did not hesitate to put the requirement on the table. “We have just ordered 36 aircraft and we require more aircraft in the medium weight category to give [the IAF an] entire spectrum of capability,” he said.

The IAF currently operates just 33 squadrons against an assessed requirement of 42 squadrons needed to tackle China and Pakistan together. Of these, 11 squadrons of MiG-21 and MiG-27s are operationally suspect, being long overdue for retirement.

Referring to this, Raha stated: “We have already used them for four decades plus. It is time to retire them and get new aircraft… Over the next 10 years, we must have 200-250 aircraft. It has to be balanced out. In the heavy weight spectrum, we have enough. But in the medium weight category, we need to have more. Yes, about 200 will be very good”.

An analysis of the IAF's "force mix" reveals that the shortfall in fighters is actually in the light fighter segment, not in medium fighters. By 2022, when 11 squadrons of MiG-21s and MiG-27s would have to be phased out, there would be a dire shortfall of light fighters. At best, 103 Tejas Light Combat Aircraft would have come in, leaving the light fighter segment with just 5 squadrons. In contrast, there would be 14 squadrons (266 aircraft) in the medium fighter segment and another 14 squadrons (272 aircraft) of heavy fighters.

“The IAF’s needs to replace 11 squadrons of obsolescent MiGs. The replacement, therefore, must be a cheap-to-buy, cheap-to-operate, light-to-medium fighter. Since we cannot afford 200 Rafale-class fighters, and the Tejas production line is building too slowly, the IAF is left with just one option: setting up a second fighter line to build fighters in the 20-tonne class in large numbers for the IAF”, says Pushpinder Singh, combat aviation analyst and the publisher of Vayu magazine.

The government is already moving down that path. On October 7, the IAF wrote to several global aerospace giants, including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Saab, and Russia’s Rosoboronexport, soliciting interest in setting up a production line in India to build single-engine, medium fighters.

US firm, Lockheed Martin, which is offering the F-16 Block 70 and Saab, which is introducing a new fighter, the Gripen E, are the current front runners, with both being marketed aggressively in New Delhi.

Over the last 15 years, the IAF has been framing its fighter aircraft requirements in terms of light, medium and heavy fighters. In the year 2000, Air Headquarters stated that an ideal “force mix” would be 200 fighters each in the light, medium and heavy categories. The rationale for this was never made clear.

Traditionally an air force’s “force mix” has been based on aircraft’s roles, not their weight or size. Air forces have calculated their need for “air superiority fighters” that shot down enemy aircraft to gain ascendency in the air; “strike aircraft” that bombed enemy targets, including airfields, roads and railways and even strategic targets; and “close air support fighters” that struck enemy targets in the tactical battle area and carried out battlefield interdiction to prevents different components of the enemy’s fighting force from coming together. Separately, they calculate their need for specialist aircraft for photoreconnaissance and electronic warfare, or jamming enemy radars to facilitate a mission.

Large air forces like the US Air Force still have super-specialist aircraft for each role. The F-22 Raptor and the F-15 Eagle perform the air superiority role; while the strike role falls to the F-35 Lightning II (called the Joint Strike Fighter because it is a common strike aircraft for the USAF, navy and Marine Corps). The US Navy has a separate fighter aircraft for combat operations off aircraft carriers, the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, which operates in tandem with an electronic warfare fighter variant, the F/A-18G Growler.

Smaller (and lower-budget) militaries increasingly use multirole fighters that are capable of performing most roles, albeit slightly less proficiently than specialist aircraft. Digital avionics allow pilots to switch from one role to another (e.g. anti-air to ground strike), while higher weapons payloads allow aircraft to carry air-to-air missiles as well as surface attack bombs. Consequently, equipping an air force with multi-role combat aircraft like the Rafale, Eurofighter Typhoon, F-16 and Gripen reduces the need for multiple types of aircraft in the fleet.

What does this mean in practical terms? In earlier days, a “mission package”, say for striking an oil refinery deep inside enemy territory might have required nine aircraft: four ground strike aircraft, another four air superiority fighters to protect them en route from enemy fighters, as well as an electronic warfare aircraft to jam enemy radars on the way. Now, with multirole aircraft carrying bombs, missiles as well as jammers, four to six multi-role fighters could bomb the refinery, tackle enemy fighters and jam radars en route.

What is catered for separately are “force multipliers” like air-to-air refuellers and airborne warning and control system (AWACS) aircraft. These facilitate rapid turnaround of fighters, and greater airspace awareness, allowing air forces to do more with fewer fighters. While a Sukhoi-30MKI can do a three-and-a-half hour mission on internal fuel, the mission time can be doubled with air-to-air refuelling.

The IAF, however, is still transitioning from mission-specific to multirole fighters. Its vintage MiG-21 fleet consists of air superiority fighters, except for the MiG-21 BISON, which has been upgraded with multirole capability. The MiG-27 is a pure ground strike fighter, as is the Jaguar, though there are plans to upgrade Jaguars with air-to-air capability. The MiG-29 was an air superiority fighter, but its on-going upgrade is providing it ground strike capability, making it a multirole fighter for what remains of its service life. Meanwhile, the Sukhoi-30MKI, Mirage 2000 and Tejas Mark I are multirole fighters, as will be the Rafale.

With seven types of fighters already in the fleet (five types after the MiG-21 and MiG-27 retire), the IAF’s most worrying problem in a future war would be the logistics nightmare of maintaining and repairing all these different aircraft. This problem would be complicated further if the F-16 or Gripen are built in India.


Nor has there been a hardnosed reassessment of how many fighter squadrons the IAF really needs. The figure of 42 squadrons was arrived at years ago, but has not been revised after the advent of high-performance, multirole aircraft and a range of force multipliers. Given the cost of modern fighters and the existing pressures on India’s defence allocations, this issue will inevitably be revisited in the future.


Fighter mix in the IAF

Category
Present numbers
Fighter type
Changes
Future strength






Light fighters
8 squadrons, 130 aircraft
MiG-21M, Bis, BISON
11 MiG squadrons retire by 2022, replaced by 5 Tejas squadrons (103 fighters)

5 squadrons, 103 fighters

3 squadrons, 35 aircraft

MiG-27 UPG






Medium fighters
3 squadrons, 50 aircraft
Mirage 2000

36 Rafale fighters being additionally inducted by 2021-22

14 squadrons, 266 fighters
3 squadrons, 60 aircraft
MiG-29 UPG
6 squadrons, 120 aircraft
Jaguar





Heavy fighters
11 squadrons, 210 aircraft
Sukhoi-30MKI
Total 272 Su-30 MKI by 2019-20
14 squadrons, 272 fighters