A controversy has been raging for the last few days after Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat’s statement that the Indian Air Force (IAF was a supporting arm of the army. There is much ado about nothing. He might have said that IAF is a Close Air Support (CAS) arm of land and naval forces. What is wrong with this? Whether you call ‘CAS Arm’ or just ‘supporting Arm’, it is one and the same thing.
If one does not agree, then, one should closely monitor the functional roles of the Air Force. There are four primary tasks, such as Counter Air Operations (CAO), Interdiction of Enemy assets (IOE), independent strategic Missions (ISM), and finally CAS. If one closely monitors these functions, other than CAO, all other three are either in close support or indirect support of the land forces. Even CAO tasks are not in isolation. They, too, are in close unison of ground forces to prevent enemy Air Force interfering with own land forces operation.
History of 3.5 wars fought by India with Pakistan would show that 85-90 % of the tasks performed by IAF were in support of land forces. It has hardly carried out any independent mission of interdiction and strategic bombing. In the 1971 war, it did carry out CAO in East Pakistan (Bangla Desh) but Pakistan had hardly any fighters there. It took only 4-5 days of the war to neutralise the Pakistan Air Force in East Pakistan. No such operation was carried out in West Pakistan.
During the 1962 war, IAF was not utilised. On account of this, Govt of the day, then, is being blamed. But who had advised Govt not to use the air force; if not the air force? Probably, the reason was that it could escalate the conflict. What rubbish, when own army was being routed! IAF was better equipped, then, to do strategic bombing and interdiction of Chinese assets in Tibet. It could have countered the Chinese Air Force and cut off its ground forces. But this advice was not given to Govt of JL Nehru by the then IAF chief.
Therefore, from the functional point of view, Air Force does not exist in a vacuum. It functions in support of the Army and Navy. In doing so, the statement of General Bipin Rawat is not widely off the mark. There is an element of truth in this. If it is not a ‘Whole Truth,’ it is undeniably, at least a ‘Half Truth’. CDS might have made this statement unintentionally or in a different context, but not to denigrate the IAF. It could be one ‘off the cuff’ remark by him. Heavens had not fallen!
One is aghast to see so much noise is being made on one such irrelevant statement. Is the IAF so insecure that one half-truth has rattled the whole edifice? If CDS was wrong, then, IAF chief was equally wrong to take this matter to the press and make a media statement. He could have walked up to CDS Office and sought clarifications. He is equally responsible for this unwanted controversy, leading to an inter-service rift.
IAF going to the media was probably due to other reasons. Most of my Air Force friends shout hoarse that the CDS has demoralised the rank and file of the Air Force by this statement. This is why the IAF chief had to publicly counter this statement. What a show of Jointmanship by two Ex NDA alumni, the institution, which was created to have inter-service harmony?
One wonders, if one ‘off the cuff’ statement by CDS has rankled the entire rank and file of the air force, then there is something seriously wrong with India’s armed forces. The media has leapt on to this controversy to enhance its TRP. Known India baiters, India Today, The Wire, The Print, The Scroll etc. have latched on to this to show armed forces in a poor light. And veterans ( Army and Air Force) were delightfully indulging in fuelling the controversy further. It was shocking to see, the other day, Air Marshal NV Tyagi (my Coursemate and squadron mate from NDA) getting on to ‘India Today’ platform to drumbeat the same stale points. Instead of dousing the fire, they are fuelling the inter-service rivalry.
The main issue is of the Theatre commands, which are strongly opposed by IAF. Incidentally, it must be noted that the appointment of CDS had been in suspended animation for many decades because of serious objections by IAF. One would ask why?
The reason is that in the future war scenario of “ NO CONTACT AND INVISIBLE WARS” of the future, fought by “ smart soldiers” with “smart weapons” of BVR (Beyond Visual Range) type, the IAF stands to lose, while Army and Navy would be primary forces of military conflicts though in a new look. Therefore the post of CDS would go to mostly the Army and the Navy. Airforce would rarely get it because of the nature of the job.
In the next one to two decades, expenditure on all these modern aircraft like Rafale would look like a white elephant. They would be replaced by long-range drones, Missiles, Laser Beams, EMP guns, Bio and A -Sat weapons. Air Force role would be reduced to transportation or the switching of forces from one theatre to another – this may also be done by the concerned arm. The IAF will have to come in a new Avatar of “ Strategic and Space Force.” In so doing, it would have a new role assigned to it. But this is still far into the future.
Theaterisation of the armed forces would further reduce the IAF to an insignificant role. As of today, the IAF has five operational and two Maintenance commands. This means the IAF has seven officers of the rank of Air Marshal. With the implementation of Theatre Commands, the air force would have only one or two Commands a straight reduction of 5-6 Air Marshals. At the same time, the Army and the Navy are gainers. This is the real cause of the Air Force’s objection and it is not demoralisation of rank and file.
One should see this as a reason for media noise by the IAF chief and some other such veterans. And those army veterans who see the devil in CDS statement is not because of the understanding of a future war, but for sheer hatred of the present CDS because of whatever reasons. They cannot see beyond their nose.
By the way, it is not to say that one would approve the present Plan of Theatrisation. There are many lacunae, which do not suit the Indian conditions. Attempt to ape the USA and China is not correct. It must be modified according to Indian conditions and needs. Anyway, it is a different subject, it needs to be discussed separately.
Therefore, in conclusion, one would say that a mountain was being made out of a molehill. A loose statement by CDS is being blown out of proportion. All those who are giving airs to it are allowing the bureaucracy to make fun of the armed forces. It is such polemic views of Generals and Air Marshals that Bureaucracy and Govt do not take them seriously. Services matters must be sorted out within the house and children type “one-upmanship” attempts must be avoided. Remember Helen Keeler, who had said of such armed Chair critics: The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision. Show vision, but not your blinded hatred.