Not in Defence of the Chief of Defence Staff, but heavens have not fallen

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Col. Rajinder Singh Kushwaha (Retd.)
Col. Rajinder Singh Kushwaha (Retd.)
An ex-NDA, Col. Rajinder Singh Kushwaha, is an author and Defence and Strategic Affairs analyst, and ex Commanding Officer of 3 Bihar Regiment. He led the regiment in insurgency environs in Assam in 1990-93. He has vast experience in CI Ops from Northeast to Punjab and J&K. He has authored the book, ‘Kashmir: A Different Perspective’. His second book on Assam is scheduled for release soon. He has held prestigious appointments in the army, including as an instructor at a premier army institute, Col GS, Col Adm of an Infantry Division, and Col "Q" works at a Command HQ. * Views are personal.

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.


  1. A. There is a lot of difference between a supporting arm and being a Force with Close Air Support (CAS) as a role. One of the main roles of the Air Force, Air Defence has been missed out. The roles of the IAF are all interlinked and most of them can be executed by the same aircraft.

    Military aviation started with supporting the Army in a CAS role. Soon the enemy aircraft started interfering, so Interceptors were born and Air Defence became a role. Enemy aircraft had to be intercepted before they reached the battlefield. Just like battle ships are best in their medium, the sea and vulnerable in harbour, aircraft are most vulnerable at their bases. So attack the bases to ensure that they don’t get airborne easing out the task of Air Defence. So bombers were born and the role of Counter Air came up. Further Bombers were used to decimate the war making potential of the enemy. All this had nothing to do directly with the foot soldier except CAS. The medium is different, employment philosophies are different so the powers that be converted the Royal Flying Corps to Royal Air Force and the US Army Air Force into USAF because air power had the capability well beyond CAS. They changed from support to the Army to support to the Nation as separate Forces than under the Army. Essentially characteristics of air power evolved into.
    1. Whoever controls the air generally controls the surface.
    2. Air Power is an inherently strategic force.
    3. Air Power is primarily an offensive weapon.
    4. In essence, Air Power is targeting, targeting is intelligence, and intelligence is analyzing the effects of air operations.
    5. Air Power produces physical and psychological shock by dominating the fourth dimension-time.
    6. Air Power can conduct parallel operations at all levels of war, simultaneously .
    7. Precision air weapons have redefined the meaning of mass.
    8. Air Power’s unique characteristics necessitate that it be centrally controlled by airmen.
    9. Technology and air power are integrally and synergistically related.
    10. Air Power includes not only military assets, but an aerospace industry and commercial aviation.
    We will be going back inn history if we reverse any evolutionary process.
    B. Widespraed CAO operations took place inn 65 and 71 whether it was the bombing of Peshawar airfield in which a crew room with 32 pilots and portion of PAF HQ crumbled, attack on Sui gas plant, destruction of radars just to mention a few. Destruction of the crew room ensured that there was no military air activity from Peshawar for the rest of the war. These had nothing to do with the foot soldier. Achieving air dominance in East Pakistan in 71 cannot be dismissed as insignificant. Without that the Meghna crossing or the Tangail Para drop could not have been achieved.
    C. It is true that the IAF does not function in a vacuum. It is not true that IAF functions only to support the Army and Navy. IAF functions to support the Nation. Some roles are in support of the Army and Navy. Sinking a ship in Malacca sraits one day and the strait of Hormuz the next day using the same aircraft is but one role in support of the Navy. That is the reach of the IAF and for IAF there should be only one India theater. How can we disperse such assets in penny packets especially with a strength of just 30 Sqns.
    D. I think as the CDS and a General for many years he should chose his words correctly when interacting with the media. If one hears the interview with the IAF Chief, he clearly states that he has has not heard the interview byf the media with CDS which happened an hour before and he will not be able to comment on what he said. He has only stated that IAF is not a supporting arm of the Army. It so happened that impressions were created by wrong use of terminology by the CDS.Iif it was unintentional he should give a denial.
    E. The opposition by the IAF is due to reasons of conscience borne out of the principles of employment of air power rather than consequences mentioned such as losing Air Marshal posts.
    F. No one can predict what the future hold for the Armed Forces. IAF is the fastest to react and provides deterrence. In 65 it swung into action within an hour when asked to do so. Air Power escalates the conflict and it needs Govt sanction. No Chief can privately decide to use it just because the Army want it. A a youngster, when the orders came, our Sqn deployed at three different locations in 3.5 hrs and sent a signal to the C in C that we were ready for our first mission, for the second mission we need our technicians. Army moves at 2 knots, Navy at 20 knots and I have flown at 2000 knots. Flexibility, mind sets and decision making ability varies accordingly.
    G. This is essentially a management issue of restructuring the Armed Forces to deliver a bigger bang for the buck by synergising force application. Miilitary force applied should be greater that the sum of individual Armed Forces. There needs to be an Act passed by parliament to over ride individual Army, Navy and Air Force Act in case of a joint command. What Command will be exercised if the Commander does not have judicial powers over those he commands. Is the CDS subject to the Army Act when the COAS is junior to him. The end states need to be defined on what we intend to achieve. What will be the percentage of enhancement of integration with the Theater Commands in place? Will the CDS control all operations? There are more questions to be answered than what meets the eye. The need of the hour is integration not disintegration.

  2. Col kushwaha,why do you think CDS is most hated chief in the history and now as CDS? What has he given to army ,and now the armed forces? List of things he snatched from armed forces is too long. Leave aside veterans for whom he has nothing but contempt,ask the youngsters why is he hated. He has branded entire army as thief who exchange brief cases in hotels. Why does he have foot in mouth disease perpetually? What qualifications he had to be chief and then by default CDS? Answer is political manipulation and nothing else. He is the one if you know, who was relegated in NDA for lack of courage, and courage can not be created overnight. In his tenure army has been politicised totally and let’s see what future holds for us. He had no business to supersede Bakshi. He should have resigned and would have become a hero,but no,it was ultimate achievement for him. Kindly do post what he has done for army and armed forces.
    His own unit disown him.
    You are suggesting IAF chief should have not gone public,what about same logic applied to him. But no he is close to power that be.
    You will better not defend him.


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