The Indian Air Force has recently been thinking about increasing their capabilities to include the targeting of non-state actors. And while there are challenges, the IAF considers itself ready to carry out such operations when required.
A source in the IAF explained the situation to StratPost. “It’s not like we haven’t conducted such operations before. A couple of years back the IAF was deployed for aerial surveillance in naxalite-affected areas. And while it was effective to begin with, the intelligence and operational security situation was so weak that we quietly ended our deployment and withdrew the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs),” he says, adding, “There were leaks in the local security forces about our operations, so our targets were warned of our operations in advance rendering our reconnaissance ineffective.
Base security for the IAF was also an issue. “In the air our assets have little to worry about. But we are base dependant. On the ground, we’re sitting ducks. Base security has to be strong,” he says.
An IAF NCO was killed and a Squadron Leader injured when naxalites fired light automatic weapons on an Mi-8 helicopter as it was taking off from Bijapur in South Bastar last November, while it was transporting (Electronic Voting Machines) EVMs and election officials during the assembly elections.
“The key for effective air operations against non-state actors is good intelligence and security on the ground,” says the officer. “The opposition is well-embedded. After all it’s their home turf.”
Retired Air Vice Marshal Kapil Kak of the Center for Air Power Studies (CAPS) agrees. “The weakest link is the poor intelligence decision cycle. We need to have strong intelligence assessment capabilities, to produce actionable inputs for the application of military force. We need to have a substantial budget for intelligence gathering.”
The IAF source also explains that while the IAF has not operated against such targets in Jammu and Kashmir and the Northeast because of government policy, it is equally capable of conducting these operations in those regions as well. And as far as operations against naxals and non-state actors ‘elsewhere’ are concerned, the IAF is game.
But how far has the IAF gone in planning for such operations? “Our present chief had called for integrated planning and exercises between air, marine and land forces to conduct urban and guerrilla warfare. And the IAF has practiced such operations with other air forces that carry out such operations. We don’t call it inter-operability but that’s pretty much what it is,” he says, adding, “We’re quite ready for it.”
Air Vice Marshal Kak thinks the role expansion is necessary. “The offensive and initiative lies with non-state actors. So the IAF has to plan for dealing with them.”
According to him, the criticality of ‘almost-clear-as-daylight’ situational awareness if unquestionable. “While the IAF has the abilities to deal with non-state actors, it also has a long way to go in developing optimal capabilities. The criticality of reducing the sensor-shooter gap to zero is also without doubt. The sensor will have to be the shooter and the shooter will have to be the sensor. This will provide the fastest possible decision cycle. The only delay will then really be command decisions. This will require high levels of HR skills and network-centricity.”
“It is a question of putting together a range of capabilities and capacities. That will take time. The IAF should be aiming at acquiring these optimum capabilities. For this to happen, what is required is financial support, precision intelligence, large levels of domain awareness specific to areas of interest,” says Kak.