Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat kicked off a storm recently when he suggested that naval assets could be deployed in support of the army along the China border and navy fighter jets could be deployed over the desert. Military veterans were aghast at the prospect of naval aircraft parked in desert airbases and flying missions in support of the army and air force.
The CDS has been here before. Speaking to the press in February this year, General Rawat cited the 2017 India-China Doklam standoff during which the Indian Navy’s US-built P-8I long range maritime patrol aircraft, used to track Chinese ships and submarines in the Indian Ocean, were deployed to monitor troop movements of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in the Chumbi Valley. General Rawat, who has the task of integrating the three services into joint commands by 2023, used the P-8Is to illustrate how the army, navy and air force were unaware of each other’s capabilities.
However, the Doklam standoff was not the first time a naval platform had been deployed over land. In fact, over the decades, naval aircraft have seen unheralded deployments ‘to influence affairs on land’ as the navy defines one of its primary mission objectives.
In September 1965, Air Headquarters knocked on the navy’s doors asking the latter to loan a French-built Breguet Alize anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft. The Alize, forerunners to the P-8I, carried a belly-mounted radar and an ARAR 11-D Electronic Support Measures (ESM) suite. The radar allowed the aircraft to track tiny objects such as the snort mast of a submarine on the ocean surface.