IAF not “Support Arm’’ says the new chief; Bats for joint ops and integration

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October 06, 2021 4:07 PM

On June 2, in a television interaction, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Bipin Rawat had stated "... the IAF continues to remain a supporting arm, just as artillery support or engineers support the combatant arm within the army."

IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram ChaudhariIAF chief Air Chief Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari speaks during a press conference, ahead of the 89th Air Force Day on October 8. (PTI Image)

Indian Air Force (IAF) is not a support arm, Chief of IAF, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari, has said. Backing the idea of joint planning and operations among the three services, ahead of the 89th Air Force day on October 8, responding to media questions, “No service can go into any battle on its own. At times the Army needs to support the IAF in its operations.”

Three services – Army, Navy and Air Force are having discussions related to the structure of the Theatre Commands which are being created. And differences came up during a high level meeting under the chairmanship of the Defence minister Rajnath Singh in June.

Also, on June 2, in a television interaction, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) Bipin Rawat had stated “… the IAF continues to remain a supporting arm, just as artillery support or engineers support the combatant arm within the army.”

“The IAF is committed to integration and jointmanship. Individual doctrines and strengths of each service have to be considered and taken into account when decisions related to processes and structures of theatreisation are being taken,” the chief said.

“The IAF has multiple roles to play. Each role varies from offensive strike and air transportation in support of the army and also of maritime forces,” the chief said in response to a question related to the CDS’s comment that IAF was a “support arm’’, the new chief

Underlining that no service can go alone in a battle, according to the chief the air forces have different roles to play and the same is true for IAF. “Each service needs to support each other. Not only does the IAF provide support, sometimes the Army has to support the Air Force when it carries out air operations.”

The new structures and processes needed for future warfare were also highlighted by the former chief ACM RKS Bhadauria (Retd) during discussions.

Why is the IAF not a ”support arm” ?

To start, the very basic issue is poor understanding of the military. It’s a nation which fights war and the three services army, navy and air force are the military instruments which are available to fight the war.

Sharing his views with Financial Express Online, Brig Kuldip Singh, former Principal Director (Defence), National Security Council Secretariat, “Modern wars are industrial in nature and can be sustained only by a huge amount of industrial production and logistics movement from the hinterland to the forward/combat zone. It is preferable to cripple an adversary’s war-waging capability as opposed to killing a few troops or destroying a few weapons on a battlefield through a support role. In other words, support actions cannot end a war as swiftly as will depriving him of his reserves, re-supply, resources and replenishment. Without logistics and supplies, even the bravest of soldiers cannot continue a fight.

“Modern fighter aircraft squadrons bestow extreme flexibility – they can take off from a base in the hinterland, refuel mid-air, attack a target in the enemy’s depth area, and land at a forward airfield, refuel and be back to its parent base. Alternately, its support & sustenance structures can be transported to forward bases in aircraft like the C-17,” he explains.

According to the Indian Army veteran, “Modern fighter aircraft equipped with precision or autonomous munitions permit pinpoint targeting, allowing degradation of a target with just one appropriate weapon / bomb / missile. Modern fighter aircraft are technology-intensive – and therefore, very expensive. Further: it takes time, money and a huge amount of practice to train Pilots to operate such aircraft to their optimal efficiencies.”

“Therefore, it is not right to commit such an expensive plane and a highly trained aircraft to a battlefield support task – it’s neither cost-effective nor the best utilization of a highly evolved flexible combat platform,” Brig Kuldip Singh opines.

Bottom-line: No war is Army led. It is an integrated warfighting, in which no one is bigger than the other. And in the 21st century without the centrality of air power and aerospace power, there cannot be any war. This means: without air power no army or navy can survive in the future wars.

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