gfiles magazine

February 9, 2011

Preparedness | china and Pakistan | air marshal narayan menon

Lip Service
While the two neighbouring air forces modernize and upgrade, the IAF has been shrinking in size!
IN the armed forces, dereliction of duty is an offence that could result in a court martial which in turn leads to dismissal in peacetime and a death sentence during war. Apparently, no such retribution is available in our democracy where ruling parties and coalitions can be apathetic and negligent about rising threats across our borders and get away by paying lip service to national security through clever rhetoric. India has an army that is desperate to modernize its artillery, a navy that needs ships and an air force whose combat capability is shrinking. Yet, proposals and needs stated by the armed forces mostly languish in a procedural maze concocted in the name of “transparency in defence deals”.
I made a presentation in early 2001 to the then Defence Minister about the IAF requiring 126 combat aircraft to replace older fighters that were on the verge of being phased out. Today, 10 years later, the contenders are still contending and costs have skyrocketed. The selected fighter will become fully operational or fit for combat duties only after a considerable length of time, perhaps three or four years, as our technicians have to absorb its technology and maintenance aspects while our aircrews master its operational envelope. All this while older aircraft in the IAF’s inventory will be junked for obsolescence and the spectre of a two-front conflict looms in the region. Both China and Pakistan are modernizing their militaries but India’s military capability creation lacks focus and resource commitment.
Pakistan and China have jointly produced the JF-17 Thunder which will become the mainstay of the PAF in coming years.

The armed forces are equally at fault for not yet arriving at a joint approach to capability creation, with each service charting its own course with regard to modernization. This issue was supposed to be addressed by the establishment of an Integrated Defence Staff, under the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), who would have been the single point adviser to the Government of India on military matters, especially threat evaluation and a long-term vision about capability creation. No CDS has been appointed so far, due to politicians’ fear of too much power being vested in one individual and the infighting among the services themselves. The Ministry of Defence has promised to spend the equivalent of $100 billion in the next decade on modernization of the military but no roadmap has emerged as to how these resources will be utilized.
In sharp contrast, China has a clear and time-bound plan and there are obvious indications that implementation is on in full. It laid down a three-step developmental strategy (see box). Its plan to “lay a solid foundation by 2010” appears to have been achieved, as demonstrated by the large-scale exercise, Stride-2009, held to coincide with the celebration of 50 years of communist rule. Fifty thousand troops were moved from western China to a region in the eastern part. The objective of Stride-2009 was to test the ability to move forces on a large scale from the areas they had trained in to areas they were unfamiliar with. Another aim was to subject the massive rail, road and air infrastructure created over the years to heavy military movement pressure and examine if such pressure adversely affected civilian population. The US Navy’s huge flotilla, sailing in Korean waters as a show of strength, was recently unnerved and shocked when a Chinese submarine surfaced right in its midst, displaying sophisticated stealth capabilities.
The current century has seen acceleration of the modernization programme enabled by the remarkable growth of the Chinese economy. By 2005, the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) had acquired 105 Su-30MKKs, 100 upgraded Su-30MKK2s and 126 Su-27SK/UBK. The letter “u” suffixed to an aircraft type denotes a trainer version. Domestic production of J-10 and J-11 air superiority multi-role fighters is in progress with 160 J-10s and 140 J-11s already in service.

In sharp contrast, China has a clear and time-bound plan and there are obvious indications that implementation is on in full.

A new version of the JH-7/7A entered service in 2004. This is a strike aircraft with a reported maximum armament load of 9,000 kg. Older fighters like the J-7 and J-8 which have been the mainstay for many years will be gradually phased out and replaced by the newer fourth and fifth generation aircraft. The planned induction of the Su-33, the carrier version of the Su-30, indicates that a carrier group is under formation. The PLAAF is also upgrading its heavy lift and strategic reach capability by the planned induction of 70 Il-76 and 30 Il-78 tanker aircraft. China has also bought large numbers of high-tech air to ground and air-to-air armament from Russia.
THE PLAAF’s aim is to have a primarily fourth generation air force. JH-7/7A will be the backbone of the precision strike force with large numbers of J-10 and J-11 in the air superiority role. The interceptor role will be undertaken by the JF-17 which is under evaluation in China. The transport force will have Il-76, Il-78 and Y-9 aircraft. The KJ- 200 is an AWACS erected on an Il-76 platform and will be in service soon.
China has a variety of helicopters and other aircraft to undertake specialist missions and routine tasks. With a fast developing C4ISR and its shift to joint operations, the Chinese military will be a formidable force to reckon with even for a well prepared adversary. In this process of modernization, the PLAAF has improved exponentially, though it is yet to be tested in actual operations.

China’s roadmap
1st step – lay a solid foundation by 2010.
2nd step – make major progress by 2020.
3rd step – achieve strategic goal of building “informatized” (net-centric warfare enabled) armed forces capable of winning wars by 2050.

Pakistan benefits from both the US and China. The Pakistan Air Force (PAF) has plans to retire several types on its inventory in the next decade. But many inductions are also planned. Pakistan and China have jointly produced the JF-17 Thunder which will become the mainstay of the PAF in coming years. A hundred and fifty of these will replace all A-5, F-7P, Mirage-111 and Mirage-5 fighters. Three hundred JF-17s will be inducted and the F-7PG will also be retired. The PAF will also induct 36 Chengdu J-10 from China, as well as 26 upgraded F-16AM/BM and 18 new F-16C/D Advanced Block 52 from the US. Its Airborne Early Warning & Control force will be replenished with four Saab 2000 Erieye aircraft from Sweden and Chinese AEW&C aircraft based on Shaanxi Y-8F- 600 transport aircraft. Four second-hand Il-78 flight refuellers capable of aerial fuelling of JF-17 and J-10 are being acquired from the Ukraine and 75 K-8 Karkoram Intermediate Jet Trainers will replace the existing fleet of T-37 and FT-5 trainer aircraft.

With a fast-developing C4ISR and its shift to joint operations, the Chinese military will be a power to reckon with even for a well prepared adversary.

While the two neighbouring air forces modernize and upgrade, the IAF has been shrinking in size. An approach paper presented some years ago envisaged 45 combat squadrons for a one-front war and 55 for a two-front conflict. The IAF was built up to a strength of 39.5 squadrons by late 1984. It remained so for some years and then the downslide began. Aircraft types like the Su-7, Mystere, Gnat/Ajeet, variants of MiG-21, MiG-23MF and MiG-23BN began to be phased out without replacements. The induction of the Su-30 was a major boost but still did not meet the overall deficiency in numbers. The logic that one Su-30 was equivalent to 3 MiG- 21 aircraft is fallacious, as one Su-30 cannot be in two places at the same time.
THE IAF has upgraded the MiG-21 Bisons and has plans to upgrade the MiG-29s and Mirage-2000s. But upgrades have limitations and generational improvements are difficult to incorporate in older aircraft. India and Russia are jointly producing a fifth generation fighter but there will be a time lag before it can be inducted into the IAF and become operational. The 126 aircraft deal being finalized will also take time to become operational. Basic flying training needs urgent attention. The DRDO has promised much but delivered little. They must jettison their bureaucratic approach and adopt a professional and result-oriented attitude to make any significant impact on military capability.
The IAF has done well to upgrade air bases and air defences in the Northeast sector so that Su-30/Mirage-class squadrons can be based there to meet any contingency. The induction of modern transport aircraft and flight refueller aircraft has added to the IAF’s strategic lift capability. The helicopter force is also being strengthened and an indigenous “light combat helicopter” is being developed. This will be important as most of our conflict potential is in mountainous terrain where slow moving helicopters are as effective as fighters. It is the fighter force that needs to be expanded at the earliest.
Other areas like cyber warfare, space and jointness will all be critical in any future war. Salvation lies in the political parties, the Ministry of Defence and the armed forces envisioning a capability creation roadmap, committing resources and ensuring implementation within the emerging overarching national security structure.

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