New Delhi: In keeping with changing military needs, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been asked by its chief to maintain a state of combat readiness for a possible 10-day war with Pakistan. The force has also been told to be ready for a possible 15-day conflict with China.
The direction and necessary instructions were issued during an IAF commanders’ conference held in New Delhi during April 19-21.
“Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa has directed the IAF commanders to prepare for short duration but intense wars of 10 days in case of Pakistan and 15 days with respect to China to maintain razor-sharp operational preparedness and enhanced combat effectiveness,” a high-level source familiar with the developments told this newspaper.
Accordingly, the Directorate of Air Staff Inspection (DASI) has been asked to ascertain preparedness of all operational units to keep personnel and aircraft combat-ready with fully stocked-up weapons, missiles and alert radar systems.
DASI is the IAF’s inspecting body that assesses the tactical and operational level of IAF aircraft to ascertain if they are capable of meeting wartime requirements besides also rating the performance of IAF pilots and squadrons.
Besides the traditional IAF role of counter-air, strategic-air (including space) and counter-surface operations that formed the three elements of air strategy, combat-enabling operations have now come to form the fourth pillar of air operations.
It is well accepted that possible future wars between India and its neigbours won’t be long and protracted because of the looming nuclear threat and the possibility that more countries will be sucked into such a war in case it is prolonged.
The“Joint Doctrine of the Armed Forces — 2017”, a document released by the Indian military on Tuesday, also says that the character of future wars is likely to be “ambiguous, uncertain, short, swift, lethal, intense, precise, non-linear, unstructured, unpredictable, and hybrid”.
As a result, the IAF’s role too is changing due to the availability and deadly potential of cruise missiles like the Brahmos, long operational endurance of its combat fleet and much faster aircraft like the Su-30s, MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s.
For example, the Su-30 flies at about 2,100 kmph, with a range of 3,000 km and a capability to be airborne for more than 3.5 hours, making it technically possible to fly deep into Tibet, then to Pakistan, curve along the Arabian Sea seeking naval targets before touching down in airbases in central India or in Northeast India.
The IAF role has changed also because modern aerial platforms and weapons allow a commander to conduct independent, parallel operations with, or in support of surface and maritime operations both within and outside the battle space.
But certain factors also cramp the IAF’s capability. The current fleet strength of about 33 fighter squadrons or about 600 aircraft is far less than the required strength of at least 42 squadrons or about 790 fighter aircraft. The IAF is the world’s fourth largest air force in terms of personnel and aircraft and it operates in an air space spanning more than 40 million cubic km.