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Posted on | 23 SEP 2015

Essays on Aerospace Power

Gp Capt (Retd) GD Sharma, VSM

Armed Forces are in the midst of modernization process. A concerted effort is seen in three services to enhance their capabilities to match potential adversaries both in conventional and strategic sense. This realization have come about with growing external and internal challenges faced by our armed forces from our dangerous neighborhood, growing Insurgency threat and our enhanced capacity to spend in consonance with our economic growth. In this context, the book titled “Essays on Aerospace power” by Air Marshal Vinod Patney has become more relevant to the time. The Air Marshal is highly experienced and has held top level posts in the IAF echelon in more than 40 years of active service. This is visible from his perceptive writing wherein, he has often quoted from his personal experiences. Contrary to the suggestion of the title, the topics dealt in the book are equally relevant to the sister services. For example Effect Based Operations, enhanced role of UAVs, Space, Net Centric Operations Cyber Warfare are of interest to all sections of the Defence Forces and not to the Indian Air Force alone.

In all, there are 14 chapters in the book with preface by distinguished Defence Expert Air Cmde Jasjit Singh, the former director of IDSA, who pronounces that with expansion of role of Air power further up in the vertical plane into the space the term Air Power would need now to be rechristened to Aerospace Power. He argues that Aerospace power is intrinsically a strategic force which is well beyond the capabilities of the land and naval forces. In the first chapter, the author asserts a universally accepted position that military forces assisted with newer technologies have a distinct advantage. He however, rules out a major war but is convinced that contained conventional wars and asymmetric wars involving terrorism in various forms including Sea piracy are likely to continue.

In the next two chapters, he outlines the pre-eminent role of Air Power in Kosvo conflict and Iraq war. Kosvo conflict was an outright air war where in 78 days of air operation of the Allied Air Forces, attacked selected targets in the entire length and breadth of Yugoslavia forcing the Yugoslavian President to bow to allied forces not because of the military defeat but, by the fact that he could not take any more punishment on economic and infrastructure of Serbia. A major lesson of the Kosvo conflict was that “Air Power operates best when planners are given freedom in its use and there are positive objectives to be fulfilled”. As compared to the Kosvo conflict, the Allied Air Forces fought in Iraq War in co- ordination with the ground.

* Essays on Aerospace Power by Air Marshal Vinod Patney, published by KW Publishers Pvt Ltd in Association with Centre for Air Power Studies, 2009. PP.283, Rs 720 / ISBN 978-81-907431-6-7.forces. Allied Air Forces had supremacy right from the outset while remained unchallenged throughout the war. Technologically allied forces were far superior to the Iraqis hence, it was an unequal battle where prior to the war, western media had exaggerated Iraqi Armed Forces capability whereas, it was only a shade of it.

In chapter four, the role of Air power or Aerospace power in joint operations essentially in the Indian context has been discussed. Author recommends that with enhancement in technology the conventional forces should be down sized to an extent necessary to deter the adversary. In fact, this argument has universal acceptance. For example, recently China has down sized its ground forces but engaged in significant modernization of its Air force and Navy. In Author’s view Indian Air Force should be given priority in modernization and expansion as it provides best deterrence from large scale conventional and nuclear wars. This view may be contested by other services but this argument has a merit in view of the attributes of the Air Force. He makes another valid point that in spite of our emphasis on “jointmanship’’ we still do not have a joint doctrine for the war.

In chapter five to eight, the issues discussed are relevant to all the three services. The Effect Based Operations (EBO) has been defined as conceptual process for obtaining a desired outcome or “effect” on the enemy through synergistic, multiplicative and cumulative application on full range of military and non military capabilities. Kosovo conflict is often quoted as a successful use of the EBO theory applied in classical sense. Application of EBO concept in India is a tall order as our intelligence apparatus is not geared to meet these challenges. In other chapters, the comparative advantage of UAV’s satellites, near space systems (tethered balloons) and manned aircraft are discussed. Each system gives specific advantage. For example, advancement in UAV technology has allowed its use as an potential offensive weapon far removed from it’s established reconnaissance role. Similarly, satellite have enhanced the reconnaissance capabilities and have practically short circuited the concept of observe, orient, decide and act or OODA loop. Space too has extensively aided in reducing the kill chain of “find, fix, track, target, engage and assess.” This was evidently demonstrated when President Saddam Hussein was targeted by a B1 Bomber with intelligence inputs gathered in real time by a satellite. The impact of Space asset is so vast that space systems have graduated from Force Enhancers to Force Enablers. US having appreciated a need to integrate information established a “Combined Air and Space Centre” which received information from different sources including space in real time the staffing of the centre represents personnel from every service . This organization was put in place on the recommendations of US Space Commissions which found no service was assigned the responsibility to organize, train and equip forces for space operations. The commission recommended that USAF be made responsible to organize, equip and train forces which was accepted and implemented. Later, the changes proved worthwhile in Iraq War. This is one area which has lessons for us also. It has also been stressed by the author that UAV’s, manned aircraft and satellites are to used as complimentary to each other to derive full advantage from them.

In chapter nine and ten, existing doctrine of IAF and future challenges are examined. According to the author the term “Strategic” can be defined as tasks that can be best performed by the particular service whereas, the way these are performed are “tactical “in this sense he claims that even dropping of bombs by hand from an open cockpit would have strategic connotation. He thus asserts that air action at Jasalmer and Kargil were also strategic operations. True strategic capability combines country’s inherent strength which should be backed by strong R& D. In this sense, India should pursue self reliance in defence equipment as a policy. One may also agree with the author that IAF’s doctrine which came into being more than ten years ago thus would require review to make it relevant to the present times. The specific areas which need deliberations are our nuclear dimension, emerging technologies, role of Jointness in the war and so on. Further, Network Centric Capabilities discussed in chapter 11 too needs immediate attention of Defence Services to improve situational awareness and facilitate quicker decision making by the commanders.

Next three chapters relate to the future scenarios and what Air Force should do? As air dominance would remain an urgent requirement in future, use of new technologies, near space systems and Space capabilities are required to be exploited. The author recommends that we establish a single agency to deal with ISRO and Department of Space. A space cell performing these functions under Integrated Defence Headquarters already exists. However, there is a need is to have an Independent Space Command.

In the last chapter, author talks of future role and missions of the IAF, The author asserts that in time to come though India could spend much more in real terms towards defence preparedness yet, one doesn’t see any significant enhancement in terms of percentage of GDP. Capability wise IAF is expected to be better placed than now but, it is unlikely that we would be able to match the technological capabilities of the advanced countries.

In his Book, the author has drawn attention to the emerging technologies which have potential to significantly enhance the effectiveness of air operations He has aptly termed the new technologies as Force Enablers, their coverage however, is repetitive. This may be as the book is compilation of his articles. One may also disagree with author’s assertion that all operations by IAF are strategic. This is contrary to the general understanding of the term strategic which is defined as action taken to destroy or disrupt the enemy’s centre of gravity so as to undermine his ability or will to continue the aggression. It is however irrefutably established that aerospace power is intrinsically a strategic force well beyond the capabilities of the land and the naval forces. The author explains various concepts of Air Operations in his own lucid style; the book therefore is useful both for the serious practitioners of Air Power as well as others who have interest in the subject.

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