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Monday, August 17, 2015

Indian Air Force in the age of Unmanned, Hypersonic, Inelligent, Stealthy and CPGS world

Indian Air Force celebrates its birthday on 8th October. The following article was written last year on 8th October.

Indian Air Force in the age of Unmanned, Hypersonic, Intelligent, Stealthy, and CPGS world
We would like to wish the Indian Air Force a very happy birthday – the IAF was born in 1932 on 8th October – a good 15 years before India attained independence. Today, one of the finest air force of the world is in dire need of new equipment – as the Chief of Air Staff has been clearly telling everyone. In 2014 and beyond, however, “the equipment” needed for the Air Force need a hard and soft relook in the light of changes that are visible now or discernable for future.
Should IAF think about increasing the number of its fighter aircraft squadrons as a response to increasingly complex and dangerous set of challenges? Below we try to see what “equipment” will be appropriate and may be needed for IAF as it faces near term and long term challenges.
The key changes in the war in the Air
Recent trends indicates that the warfare in the air and space – aerospace – if one may, is seeing following five characteristic trends
1.       Conventional Prompt Global Strike (CPGS) augmenting the nuclear armed Ballistic missiles as a “useable” option as compared to “just threat” but non usable option of nukes
2.       Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicles emerging as a step-change from the conventional piloted aircraft
3.       Hypersonic (speed of 5 times and above of speed of sound) Vehicles, Missiles and Munitions
4.       Intelligent munitions, systems and machines
5.       Stealthy systems and platforms

In August 2014, Amy F. Woolf, Specialist in Nuclear Weapons Policy published a report for US Congressional Research Service (, report number R41464) titled, “Conventional Prompt Global Strike and Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues”. The summary of the report starts with,
“Conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) weapons would allow the United States to strike targets anywhere on Earth in as little as an hour. This capability may bolster U.S. efforts to deter and defeat adversaries by allowing the United States to attack high-value targets or “fleeting targets” at the start of or during a conflict.” {Emphasis not in the original}
The CPGS is an unprecedented capability. As envisaged and being developed through integration of “extreme” limits of technologies – a vision that will give the sole superpower capability beyond anything any adversary can deploy in near future. The report lists following 8 options for US for CPGS – land based ballistic missiles, submarine launched ballistic missiles, submarine launched intermediate range Ballistic missiles, Long range bombers, Tomahawk Cruise Missiles, Hypersonic cruise missiles, Scramjet technologies, and Forward based Global strike. Except for long range bombers and perhaps forward based global strike all other options are unmanned.
Can IAF consider these and perhaps other options for creating a system for conventional prompt regional strike (CPRS)? Even to contemplate this shift, IAF and DRDO will have to work together – can they work to build a new type of force?
In a telling article in 2012, the Economist wrote “the future belongs to Drones”. The article published was titled “The last manned fighter” and it gave a detailed account of F-35 fighter plane costs and defines a future direction that clearly seems to be favoring unmanned combat aircraft. It states, “In many roles, unmanned planes are more efficient: they carry neither a bulky pilot nor the kit that keeps him alive, which means they can both turn faster and be stealthier. And if they are shot down, no one dies. Even the F-35’s champions concede that it will probably be the last manned strike fighter aircraft the West will build.” Given the promise and capability of unmanned aircraft, and increasing cost of training pilots to operate complex fighter aircraft, it is but foolhardy to build a future military capability ignoring the new unmanned and remote lethality.
Is there any thinking in IAF, to increase the unmanned component of its force? Many functions can be carried out by unmanned aircraft – increasingly more and more functions can be given to unmanned platforms. 
India is already on its way to develop BrahMos II – a Mach 7 hypersonic cruise missile. However, due to the MTCR constraint it has to be limited to 290 kms range. IAF should learn and create a future force structure that will utilize more of hypersonic systems – missiles, platforms and munitions.
What are the plans of IAF to incorporate the hypersonic shift that the world is seeing? A roadmap for hypersonic IAF is essential.
Increasing intelligence of combat systems
Law of increasing intelligence of technical systems found that human beings by collectively evolving their technical systems, are trying to make each technical system as close to a human being as possible - or at least a model of human being and its environment based on the current understanding of the world (for example, understanding of laws of physics and chemistry in making an automobile) and the current understanding of the system called the human being. As man understands the world around it as well as its body and its mind, it wants to create an "ideal man" or at least an idealized human of all technical systems it is creating. (One can download the pdf on law of increasing intelligence of technical systems at

As per the law, dumb systems become guided systems, then smart systems, brilliant systems and genius systems. Today, we are already in the era of smart munitions. Brilliant munitions are emerging. Genius munitions will the next stage. What are IAF’s plans to move on increasing intelligence of its platforms, munitions and missiles? Perhaps a UCAV with Genius capabilities will fulfill many requirements of a fifth generation fighter aircraft.
The fifth generation fighter aircraft (FGFA) being developed with Russia is supposed to have stealthy features. US already have F22 and controversial F35 as the fifth gen fighters. Increasing stealth in combination with the BVR combat is already a visible trend.
It will be important for IAF to define the stealth roadmap it should have and means to create it with organizations existing in the country.
Key Messages
Indian Air Force in its 82 years of existence has not faced such technological and strategic challenges that it is going to face in next two decades and beyond.
We have characterized these as 5 dimensional. The air war that we envisage will be more unmanned, more hypersonic, more intelligent, more stealthy and demanding prompt conventional global strike.
A force structure based on only increasing the number of fighter squadrons to meet the above disruptive or revolutionary challenges is a recipe bound to fail. We propose an integrated roadmap on these five dimensions will be of essence for the IAF.
Wishing IAF a wonderful birthday today.
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