Adding mil­i­tary mus­cle – Ad­dress foot sol­dier too

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In a boost to the In­dian Navy comes the news that In­dia has signed a $1.1-bil­lion deal to pro­cure four more Po­sei­don-8I long-range mar­itime pa­trol air­craft from the US, with the first to be de­liv­ered in 50 months. The In­dian Navy al­ready has eight PI air­craft that were signed for in a $2.1-bil­lion deal dur­ing 2009 and in­ducted be­tween May 2013 and Oc­to­ber 2015. Two P-81 air­craft are presently de­ployed as part of the search and res­cue op­er­a­tion for the An-32 that went miss­ing over the Bay of Ben­gal on July 22. P-8I air­craft have a range of 1,200 nau­ti­cal miles and are armed with Har­poon Block-II mis­siles, MK-54 light­weight tor­pe­does, rock­ets and depth charges. The US Navy has been us­ing the P-81 for anti-sub­ma­rine war­fare (ASW), anti-sur­face war­fare (ASUW) and ship in­ter­dic­tion, elec­tronic sig­nals in­tel­li­gence (ELINT), and is de­signed to op­er­ate with the MQ-4C Tri­ton Broad Area Mar­itime Sur­veil­lance UAV de­vel­oped by Northrop Grum­man.

Navies of UK and Aus­tralia are also ac­quir­ing the P-81 air­craft. ASW, ASUW and long-range sur­veil­lance air­craft vi­tal to the In­dian Navy in the light of the In­dian Ocean fast emerg­ing as the cen­tre of grav­ity of con­flict, Chi­nese strate­gic de­signs on the In­dian Ocean re­gion (IOR), Chi­nese nu­clear sub­marines al­ready prowl­ing the In­dia Ocean, Gwadar be­ing de­vel­oped as a Chi­nese SSBN base and Pak­istani plans to de­ploy her nu­clear de­ter­rent at her sur­face ves­sels and un­der­wa­ter on Chi­nese sub­marines. The com­bined China-Pak­istan threat at sea in­creases the sig­nif­i­cance of the P-81 air­craft.

The good news for the In­dian Air Force (IAF) is that the Ministry of De­fence (MoD) is look­ing at procur­ing 4 x Tu-22M3 bombers from Rus­sia. The Tu-22M3 has an op­er­a­tional range of 7,000 km with cruise speed of 900 km per hour and max­i­mum speed of 2,300 km per hour, and climb at the rate of 15 me­tres per sec­ond. The op­er­a­tional range can be en­hanced with in-flight re­fu­elling, and In­dia is con­sid­er­ing di­rect pur­chase of six flight re­fu­elling air­craft (FRA) to en­hance the reach of fighter, bomber and sur­veil­lance air­craft.

Tu-22M3 has hard points to carry Kh-22 stand-off mis­siles, Kh-15 nu­clear or Kh-15P anti-radar mis­siles and FAB-250 or FAB-1500 free fall bombs. The wing and fuse­lage py­lons and in­ter­nal weapons bay are pro­vided with a ca­pac­ity to carry 24,000 kg weapons pay­load. The air­craft is also armed with a dou­ble-bar­rel GSH-23 (23mm) gun in the re­motely con­trolled tail tur­ret. Ac­qui­si­tion of the Tu-22M3 strate­gic bombers will be big boost to the IAF’s air de­fence ca­pa­bil­ity, es­pe­cially when In­dia is also keen to pro­cure 12 x S-400 ‘Tri­umf’ anti-air­craft mis­sile sys­tems, also from Rus­sia.

In ad­di­tion to the Tu-22M3 su­per­sonic bombers, the IAF is also keen to pur­chase 80 Mi-17 he­li­copters and six Il-76 air­craft that can be fit­ted with Is­raeli ‘Fal­con’ radars. Presently, the IAF has four squadrons of Mi-17IV (bal­ance squadrons hav­ing been con­verted to Mi-17V), most of which are grounded be­ing due for over­haul. The IAF ex­pects to strike a deal with the man­u­fac­turer to es­tab­lish over­haul fa­cil­i­ties in In­dia. The Mi-17V too would have to be phased out in due course un­less over­haul fa­cil­i­ties are es­tab­lished in In­dia, pro­vided it is cost ef­fec­tive. Pro­cure­ment of 80 Mi-17 he­li­copters would there­fore boost our he­li­copter-borne as­sault ca­pa­bil­ity.

As for AWACS, in Jan­uary 2004, In­dia and Is­rael signed a $1.1-bil­lion con­tract for three Phal­con air­borne warn­ing and con­trol sys­tem (AWACS) air­craft, as part of a $1.5-bil­lion tri­par­tite agree­ment with Rus­sia. With the ar­rival of its first IL-76 Phal­con, In­dia joined the global ranks of AWACS op­er­a­tors. The air­craft has to mon­i­tor huge swathes of In­dian airspace, in­ter­cept com­mu­ni­ca­tions and log radar fre­quen­cies, add some ground sur­veil­lance, and help com­mand IAF re­sponses. Presently the IAF hold only th­ese three AWACS and the IAF is look­ing to pro­cure an­other six Il-76 to aug­ment this ca­pa­bil­ity. AWACS are ma­jor force-mul­ti­pli­ers in pro­vid­ing early warn­ing about hos­tile threats at ranges over 400 km in all-weather con­di­tions, also act­ing as au­ton­o­mous com­mand and con­trol cen­tres. There has also been talk in the past of an indige­nous project to de­velop AWACS but this has re­port­edly not gone be­yond the draw­ing board stage.

In­dia is also look­ing at leas­ing two nu­clear sub­marines of the Akula-2 class from Rus­sia, with the op­tion to pur­chase them af­ter com­ple­tion of the lease term. This is over and above Rus­sia soon de­liv­er­ing a sec­ond Shchuka-B nu­clear sub­ma­rine un­der Project 971 to In­dia af­ter the con­tract is signed; fol­low up to the first such sub­ma­rine ‘Chakra’ de­liv­ered to the In­dian Navy un­der lease in 2012. In­dia also plans to pro­duce over 1,000 x T-90S tanks and 200 Ka-226 he­li­copters in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Rus­sia un­der the ‘Make in In­dia’ pro­gramme.

All this will give a big boost to our mil­i­tary but the mil­lion-dol­lar ques­tion still re­mains un­ad­dressed – why are we so com­pla­cent about arm­ing the foot sol­dier?

Boe­ing P-8I air­craft

LT GEN­ERAL P.C. KA­TOCH (RETD)

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