On 2 July, the Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat scored a self-goal when he publicly aired his views on the role of air power. Speaking at a webinar, he said: “Do not forget that Air Force continues to remain a supporting arm to the armed forces, just as artillery support or the engineer support the combatant arms in the Army.”
In one sentence, he flew in the face of the experience of over 100 years of application of air power in war fighting, and publicly “endorsed” the reservations of the Indian Air Force (IAF), albeit inadvertently, with respect to his proposed model of tri-Service integration and theatre commands.
Consequently, the Chief of Air Staff was content with a more dignified retort, “It is not a supporting role alone. The air power has a huge role to play. In any of the integrated battle areas, it’s not an issue of support alone.”
The statement of the CDS reflects the long prevailing mindset within the Army. His frustration stems from the perceived stubborn attitude of the IAF in internal parleys on tri-Service integration. It first resisted the appointment of CDS and now wants to indirectly maintain status quo under the pretext of ‘one nation one theatre and one command’ with respect to employment of air power. The IAF has failed to suggest an acceptable alternative model of integration, adapting the experience of other modern militaries tempered with our limitations.
Apart from the flawed process being followed with no national security strategy, or vision document in place, or even the formal political directive or an empowered steering committee and parliamentary oversight, the current integration proposals of the CDS are not conducive for optimum utilisation of air power. There is much more to air power than merely acting as a “supporting arm” of the armed forces in a theatre command set-up or being responsible for air defence of the country through the Air Defence Command.
I analyse the role of air power and suggest an alternative model for its integrated, optimal exploitation.
Role of air power
The role and application of air power in the Indian context, based on the experience since the First World War, has been very lucidly explained in the ‘Basic Doctrine of the Indian Air Force 2012’. Unless this doctrine is read and imbibed, the tri-service integration will remain flawed.
The IAF strategy is defined as the process of coordinating the development, deployment and employment of air power to achieve national security objectives.