Aerospace Leadership in the IAF: Future Challenges
Aerospace Leadership in the IAF
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.
EMERGING CONFLICT SCENARIOS
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!
MODERNISATION & CAPABILITY BUILDING
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!
MANAGING THE CHANGE
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.
THE PERSONNEL & SOCIOECONOMIC CHALLENGES
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
Marching with pride: Air Warriors at Air Force Day parade