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Tuesday, July 05, 2022

Explained: The meaning and context of the Air Chief’s remarks on short, intense conflicts

In the Indian context, a short, intense conflict is often related to any potential military action which may take place between India and Pakistan.

Written by Man Aman Singh Chhina , Edited by Explained Desk | Chandigarh |
Updated: April 29, 2022 12:42:58 pm
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhary (3rd from Right) at the inauguration of a national level logistics seminar of the Indian Air Force (IAF) named LOGISEM VAYU-2022 in New Delhi on Thursday. (Express photo)

Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal V R Chaudhary has flagged the need for the Indian Air Force (IAF) to remain prepared for intense conflicts of short duration as well as long drawn out stand-offs.

In what context did the Air Chief make these remarks?

The Air Chief was speaking at the inauguration of a national level logistics seminar of the Indian Air Force (IAF) named LOGISEM VAYU-2022 in New Delhi on Thursday.

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhary was highlighting the importance of logistics in modern warfare, and the fact that Military Commanders need a foolproof logistical back up in the shape of supplies of various kinds, including war stores, which are needed to plan and execute successful operations.

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The Air Chief was making a special reference to the needs of the IAF when it has to be prepared to operate over a wide spectrum of conflict, ranging from short duration intense conventional warfare to long-drawn strategic standoffs which may or may not culminate in actual hostilities.

What is meant by a short, intense conflict?

In the Indian context, a short, intense conflict is often related to any potential military action which may take place between India and Pakistan. Given the fact that this potential conflict will take place with a nuclear overhang, with both India and Pakistan possessing nuclear weapons, strategic planners foresee that the war will be short, and of very high intensity in order to achieve the war goals before the nuclear threshold of either country is reached. This period of short, intense conflict could take place in a window of one week only.

Earlier wars that have been fought between the two countries have been much longer in comparison.

The 1947-48 Kashmir war carried on for several months, while the 1965 war took place in a three-week period. The 1971 war officially took place for only about two weeks, but skirmishes had started on the eastern front a month previously.

The Kargil conflict in 1999 carried on for several weeks too but the fact that it remained localised and did not spread to other fronts makes it a unique one.

However, with lessons learnt from Kargil as well as the mass mobilisation ordered under Operation Parakram in December 2001 after the attack on Parliament, Indian military planners have come to the conclusion that a long drawn-out military conflict is not possible without the threat of potential use of a tactical nuclear device by Pakistan after facing severe reverses in the field through conventional battle.

The Balakot strike by the IAF in Pakistan in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack in 2019 and the subsequent retaliation by Pakistan using air power also strengthened the understanding that short and fast-paced conventional sparring can take place without it snowballing into a bigger conflict.

What lessons did the Air Chief refer to in his speech?

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhary cited the IAF’s experiences in recent times in “evolving geo-political scenario”. He went on to specify the long drawn standoff in Eastern Ladakh. While he did not name China, the Army and the IAF have been in a state of alert ever since the standoff with Chinese military forces began in May 2020.

The Air Chief specified that “in the force, space and time continuum, there is a need for the IAF to prepare for short swift wars as well as be ready for a long drawn standoff akin to what we are seeing in Eastern Ladakh”.

It can be surmised that the IAF has imbibed certain lessons from the February 2019 Balakot strike and the Eastern Ladakh force build-up, and that the Air Chief was referring to these while asking for major changes in operational logistics. Unlike the wars in the past when there was the luxury of building up forces in the theatre of conflict over time, a sudden build-up in a minimum timeframe is the need of the hour now.

Did the Air Chief give any pointers for the way ahead?

Air Chief Marshal Chaudhary underlined the need to be self-reliant and to incorporate a high degree of indigenisation of equipment and spares in the spirit of “Atmanirbharta”.

The IAF has a fairly large and diverse inventory of equipment which involves complex stocking and servicing methods. He cautioned that in a short, intense conflict there will be a lot of pressure to stock up fuel, spare parts, armaments etc in the shortest possible time, and that while the IAF will use its aviation assets for quick movement of Squadrons to forward areas, the road and rail networks will also be catering to the Army’s movement towards the theatre of operations.

He emphasised that to avoid choking these lines of supply, the IAF must look at utilising civilian wide-body aircraft for its logistical requirements.

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