Limitations in such conflicts can be in terms of:
- Limitations in Space (localisation of conflict).
- Limitations in Time (these are very much likely in our context).
- Limitations in terms of Weapon Usage. The first of these is non-use of nuclear weapons. In many conflicts (e.g. Vietnam 1979) the Chinese made a virtue of necessity by not using their Air Force.
- Limitations in War Aims.
By 1978 the Chinese paramount leader Deng Xiaoping had come to the clear cut conclusion that General Wars (like World War I and II) were a thing of the past. The future decades would witness only Local or Limited Wars and accordingly the Chinese armed forces would prepare to fight them. This contrasts sharply with our treatment of Limited War as a lesser contingency rather than the norm in a nuclear setting. The Indian MoD continues to insist that our armed forces must prepare to fight a full fledged war and such preparation can take care of any lesser contingency.
The Soviet Union suffered an economic collapse in 1990. Thereafter the Americans exploited the Aerospace generated RMA to resume decisive Conventional Conflicts. These were Limited but Intense Conflicts localised in space. They used air power to virtually destroy the enemy and all the ground forces had to do was to mop up in the wake of the air offensive. In Yugoslavia and recently in Libya, air power by itself proved adequate to cause a country to capitulate. Swift and decisive campaigns that led to a march on the enemy capital and regime change were made possible by generating a complete asymmetry in Aerospace power. The Libyan model has emulated the earlier Afghan model of 2001 wherein Special Forces embedded with local militias, vectored accurate Air Strikes. However the tragic lesson from Afghanistan has been the need for boots on the ground to control and retain the areas won by the application of air power. The primary requisite for victory in surface operations is Air superiority bordering on air supremacy. To generate this we have to field overmatching forces — especially in terms of air power.
India will have to evolve and enunciate a Limited War Doctrine that exploits the current RMA by giving primacy to Air Power to be the first responders and if needed, set the stage for a wider Air-Land Battle designed to sharply escalate costs for the enemy. There was considerable discussion on the concept of Limited War in the wake of the Kargil operations. This debate was initiated by Air Cmde Jasjit Singh (then the Director IDSA). Significant contributions were made by the then Army Chief Gen Ved Malik and the then Raksha Mantri Mr George Fernandez. Surprisingly within three years this debate had died out altogether and this very welcome initiative was not taken forward
Air power in India
Post the 1962 war with China a need was felt for a 64 Squadron Air Force to deal with a two front threat. This was never actualised. We reached at best a 45 squadron level. With the introduction of PGMs and Third and Fourth Generation fighters it was felt that a lesser number of aircraft would now be needed to carry out tasks formerly executed by much larger number of aircraft. A single Su-30 today can carry almost as much ordnance as a Mig-21 squadron. It does not work out that way in practice however. Given the vast size of our country — theatre specific forces have to be deployed to deal with a two-front threat. We now need a combination of quality with quantity to achieve overmatching capabilities and generate a marked asymmetry of air power. Today the IAF has graduated from a Secord Generation Air Force to one which has a rising component of Third and Fourth Generation fighters. It has AWACS and Aerostats for over the horizon surveillance and target acquisition. It has Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles and has perfected their employment tactics in numerous exercises with Front Line Western Air Forces. It has force multipliers like AWACS and midair refuelling to enhance range and reach and PGMs to enhance lethality manifold.
We need to switch now entirely to a combat fleet of 4th and 5th Generation Aircraft. These must be inducted rapidly to balance the rise of Chinese and Pakistani Aerospace capabilities and strive for a visible edge in deployable forces even over such a combination. We must retain our qualitative advantage over the PLAAF even as we are not able to match it quantitatively. High Altitude Airfields in Tibet impose a takeoff load penalty on the Chinese Air Force. We can generate viable options for Limited War only if we can assure air superiority over the Theatre of operations (and not just a favourable air situation). To do this we must speed up induction of MMRCA and LCA as also our Fifth Generation fighter. It is now a race against time (because China has a head start of almost two decades in economic and military modernisation).
Air power in limited war
- Air power is far more responsive and flexible than land power.
- Hence any response to asymmetric provocation — especially in terms of mass casualty terrorist strikes must be initiated by air power.
- We must carefully ascertain the groups which have initiated the strike and target them in a precise and focused manner.
- Partial mobilisation would be essential prior to such a response to cater for enemy reactions.
- Should the enemy choose to escalate we must seek to destroy his air power and thereby set the stage for the employment of surface forces.
- Surface action could go up the escalation ladder in terms of graduated attacks possibly in the mountains — extending to the plains and semi-deserts depending upon how the adversary responds.
- Air power must set the stage for a punitive air-land battle to raise the costs for the aggressor and seriously degrade his operational and strategic reserve.
- The terror infrastructure of the ISI and training camps must be specifically targeted in such a campaign for imposing salutary attrition.
- Precise escalation ladders must be drawn up and war gamed. We must cater for a series of escalation plateaus to retain escalation dominance and provide scope to the political authority to escalate vertically or horizontally or even de-escalate depending upon the situation.
- Limited wars need not mean just tactical level engagement. The Chinese concept of Local Wars, as seen in Korea and Vietnam, encompasses the level of operational area and may well envisage the employment of 20–30 divisions or more.
- To inflict meaningful punishment air-land battles will have to be orchestrated to this level.
- Air Power will have to lead the way, initiate our response and set the stage, if needed, for a Limited War designed to significantly raise the costs for the aggressor.
About the Author:
Maj Gen (Dr) G D Bakshi SM, VSM (retd)
The writer is a combat veteran of many skirmishes on the Line of Control and counter-terrorist operations in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab. He subsequently commanded the reputed Romeo Force during intensive counter-terrorist operations in the Rajouri-Poonch districts. He has served two tenures at the highly prestigious Directorate General of Military Operations. He is a prolific writer on matters military and non-military and has published 24 books and over 100 papers in many prestigious research journals. He is also Executive Editor of Defence and Security Alert (DSA) magazine.
Defence and Security Alert (DSA)
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