Aerospace Lead­er­ship in the IAF: Fu­ture Chal­lenges

Aerospace Lead­er­ship in the IAF

India Strategic - - CONTENTS - By Air Chief Mar­shal FH Ma­jor (Retd)

THE IN­DIAN Air Force has grown and evolved from a very hum­ble be­gin­ning in 1932, to emerge as one of the finest Air Forces in the world. To­day, it is a cred­i­ble, ca­pa­ble and a strate­gic Air Force able to project aerospace power well be­yond our sov­er­eign bound­aries. The core com­pe­tency of the IAF Air War­riors to con­vert its aerospace as­sets into a po­tent aerospace power pro­jec­tion ca­pa­bil­ity has earned it in­ter­na­tional peer ac­claim, and has be­come a force to reckon with! The fine foun­da­tion laid in the form­ing years of the IAF by its found­ing lead­er­ship, and ably car­ried for­ward ever since then by a fine band of pro­fes­sional Air War­riors, great work ethos, courage and im­pec­ca­ble lead­er­ship has trans­formed the fledg­ling IAF into the fourth largest Air Force in the world! In­dia’s strate­gic foot­print is ex­pand­ing rapidly to­day and in con­so­nance with Na­tional as­pi­ra­tions, aerospace power is a very im­por­tant and pre­ferred op­tion to project Na­tional power. The fu­ture IAF lead­er­ship has a very prom­i­nent role to play in achiev­ing these Na­tional as­pi­ra­tions.


Anal­y­sis and study in the trend of re­cent con­flict sit­u­a­tions, cou­pled with the unique geopo­lit­i­cal com­pul­sions in our im­me­di­ate and ex­tended neigh­bour­hood are clear indicators that fu­ture con­flict sit­u­a­tions, that the IAF is likely to ad­dress will be more in the sub- con­ven­tional do­main and per­haps not that much in the clas­si­cal con­ven­tional do­main, for which air forces are struc­tured, trained and equipped for tra­di­tion­ally. The chal­lenge there­fore, is to keep pace with the con­tin­u­ous trans- mu­ta­tion of the con­flict cal­cu­lus, while at the same time hon­ing com­bat skills and ca­pa­bil­ity to fight an air war in the con­ven­tional/nu­clear spec­trum of con­flict too! With this ever-chang­ing con­flict sce­nario, new play­grounds of con­flict will emerge; cre­ate new vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties and new rules of en­gage­ment, which de­mand an ab­so­lutely new genre of air war fight­ing where­withal. These new bat­tle­fields from un­charted ter­ri­tory will add to the con­ven­tional ones, fur­ther de­mand­ing new sets of skills, tac­tics, smart weapons and training to project aerospace power. While the IAF has, al­beit, in a be­nign way ad­dressed many sub- con­ven­tional con­flict sit­u­a­tions in the past, there is a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­ity for launch­ing ‘of­fen­sive’ air op­er­a­tions at short no­tice in the ‘win­dow of op­por­tu­nity’ time frame in any Uri type cross- LOC oper­a­tion, lo­calised bor­der skir­mishes or even sur­gi­cal strikes in ur­ban ar­eas in the fore­see­able fu­ture. Com­bat plat­forms, weapon pro­files, tac­tics and training in these emerg­ing con­flict sit­u­a­tions will

de­mand spe­cific em­ploy­ment philoso­phies and de­ploy­ment and may not fit neatly into con­ve­nient cat­e­gories and tem­plates - the reg­u­lar will merge with the ir­reg­u­lar, the en­emy will be dif­fused or face­less and the ter­rain will stretch from snowy moun­tain peaks to ur­ban clus­ters. While IAF is more than ca­pa­ble of ad­dress­ing these emerg­ing threats and con­flict sit­u­a­tions as an or­gan­i­sa­tion, it is the lead­er­ship which will have to con­cep­tu­alise and plan for ef­fec­tive ex­e­cu­tion!


To­day, the IAF is in the midst of an al­most to­tal trans­for­ma­tion of its ca­pa­bil­i­ties. A very fo­cused and com­pre­hen­sive mod­erni­sa­tion pro­gramme has been set in mo­tion to achieve the de­sired ca­pa­bil­ity lev­els. A large por­tion of IAF’s com­bat as­sets are be­ing phased out at the end of their use­ful lives or be­ing up­graded. On­go­ing projects for the de­vel­op­ment/man­u­fac­ture of com­bat/com­bat sup­port plat­forms, sen­sors, other weapon sys­tems and in­fra­struc­ture de­vel­op­ment have crossed time­lines and most im­por­tantly, the new com­bat as­sets that are be­ing im­ported or in­dige­nously pro­duced will have their own ges­ta­tion pe­ri­ods re­sult­ing in de­layed in­duc­tion time lines. The most cru­cial chal­lenge that the IAF lead­er­ship will face for the next 10 to 15 years is the rapid de­ple­tion of its Squadron strength and other com­bat as­sets, re­sult­ing in the IAF los­ing a con­sid­er­able amount of its com­bat edge against our likely ad­ver­saries. How well this short­fall and gap in pro­jec­tion of our aerospace power dur­ing this pe­riod will be com­pen­sated by tan­gi­ble and in­tan­gi­ble force mul­ti­pli­ca­tion, will be a huge chal­lenge for the lead­er­ship. While main­tain­ing the com­bat edge and full spec­trum ca­pa­bil­ity of the IAF will al­ways be a ‘whole-of-Govt’ re­spon­si­bil­ity, but if an air war is thrust upon the IAF dur­ing the worst-case and ad­verse phase out/in­duc­tion stage of com­bat as­sets in the mod­erni­sa­tion cy­cle, the onus of fight­ing with what it has will rest with the lead­er­ship and it needs to be pre­pared for it - a huge chal­lenge in­deed!


An­other ma­jor chal­lenge is to man­age the IAF when a ma­jor por­tion of its in­ven­tory is un­der­go­ing some form of trans­for­ma­tion or the other. As­sets are ei­ther be­ing in­ducted, up­dated, re­placed or be­ing put to use in an en­tirely new en­vi­ron­ment. Ab­sorb­ing new tech­nolo­gies while manag­ing the ex­ist­ing in­ven­tory in its en­tire cy­cle of main­te­nance and op­er­a­tions, present their unique set of chal­lenges. Tra­di­tional meth­ods of em­ploy­ment and main­te­nance of legacy equip­ment will have to co-ex­ist with mod­ern equip­ment be­ing in­ducted. Pro­cesses that work at vary­ing de­grees of tech­nol­ogy and speed cre­ate mu­tual fric­tion and in­ter­fer­ence, which de­mand man­age­ment skills of a very dif­fer­ent kind. And it must al­ways be re­mem­bered that new gen­er­a­tion com­bat as­sets do not au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late them­selves into ca­pa­bil­i­ties - it is only the trained and tech­no­log­i­cally sound air war­riors, cou­pled with doc­tri­nal en­hance­ments that will turn them into ca­pa­bil­i­ties. This tran­si­tion needs to be mon­i­tored very care­fully if the IAF’s mod­erni­sa­tion has to be a suc­cess story.


Lead­er­ship fun­da­men­tally is all about lead­ing and manag­ing peo­ple. The pre­vail­ing so­cioe­co­nomic en­vi­ron­ment in the Coun­try ex­erts its in­flu­ence on the air war­riors of the IAF. Given the eco­nomic, so­cial and

tech­no­log­i­cal resur­gence in the re­cent past and the preva­lent so­cial mores, pro­lif­er­a­tion of the so­cial/ elec­tronic me­dia and the ac­ces­si­bil­ity to le­gal/ RTI av­enues, have in re­al­ity dra­mat­i­cally al­tered the very con­ven­tional and closed en­vi­ron­ment within which the Armed Forces had tra­di­tion­ally and his­tor­i­cally func­tioned. This change is a harsh truth and must be ac­cepted. Manag­ing the IAF in this new en­vi­ron­ment will re­quire im­mense ma­tu­rity and un­der­stand­ing. An­other im­por­tant lead­er­ship trait which per­haps doesn’t ex­ist and needs to be thought of, is to cre­ate a right bal­ance be­tween au­ton­omy, hon­our and ben­e­fit to the Ser­vice. There­fore, groom­ing an Air War­rior to func­tion ef­fec­tively with the con­trast­ing work­ing styles of other Govern­ment Agen­cies/Min­istries, and yet be able to achieve his Ser­vice ob­jec­tives will not only pay rich div­i­dends, but will bring about a sea change in Air Force/Civil re­la­tions. This in turn will help in speed­ing up de­ci­sion mak­ing at the higher ech­e­lons in Govern­ment Agen­cies/Min­istries, re­duc­ing time lines and im­ped­i­ments con­sid­er­ably.


The re­quire­ments of Lead­er­ship at the fun­da­men­tal level will al­ways re­main the same, notwith­stand­ing the seem­ingly au­thor­i­ta­tive lists of mil­i­tary traits & qual­i­ties which keep get­ting added as new man­age­ment and lead­er­ship philoso­phies emerge. His­tory is re­plete with in­stances where seem­ingly weaker sides have tri­umphed, hav­ing been taken to an­other level by in­spired lead­er­ship! In my opin­ion, a leader is a unique com­bi­na­tion of qual­i­ties, tem­pered by his ex­pe­ri­ence and cir­cum­stances - and not just a com­bi­na­tion of some qual­i­ties. The In­dian Air Force re­spon­si­bil­ity of groom­ing its fu­ture lead­er­ship has been nur­tured over the past 84 years, and has evolved within the sys­tem. The fu­ture lead­er­ship too, will emerge from the cru­cible of tough training, Ser­vice ethos, tra­di­tion and the ex­pe­ri­ence they will gain, over time. De­mands on the IAF Lead­er­ship will no doubt in­crease in the com­plex geo-po­lit­i­cal and se­cu­rity sce­nario which ob­tains in our im­me­di­ate and ex­tended neigh­bour­hood, but the mo­ment will pro­duce the right man and the IAF will keep touch­ing the sky with glory as it has done, al­ways and ev­ery­time!

Mis­sion, In­tegrity, Ex­cel­lence

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