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Aerospace power in South Asia - An Overview

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Air warriors are firm in their belief that wars can be won through the effective use of airpower. Their confidence is laudable, for even if that claim, belief, is exaggerated by certain degrees, there is a case for believing in the efficacy of airpower. It does tend to produce results disproportionate to its usage. There is, therefore, every reason to believe in its effectiveness during war. Amongst the key examples of the application of airpower in the Indian context is destruction of Pakistan Army’s logistics base at Muntho Dhalo during the campaign to remove intrusions in the Kargil sector. While air attacks had been launched prior to that, on pickets of troops occupying the heights, it was the destruction at Muntho Dhalo that had the desired effect on Pakistan’s ability to wage the war. It was as decisive an example as ever existed.

Air power is not a static phenomenon and ever evolving as knowledge brings changes to humankind. Evolution of human thought, through natural progression, to growth from greater experience and the resultant technological advances, have all resulted in changing the nature of airpower. It is no more the sum total seen at an awesome flypast during Republic Day parade. In fact there are many aspects of airpower that are not to be seen at all and shouldn’t be seen if it is to remain a potent game changer. The efficacy of unmanned aerial vehicles has been widely reported and documented. It is but one example how effective an air platform can be, even if it is remotely piloted from thousands of miles away. There is now a development in that direction that challenges the conventional wisdom on air deliveries of supplies. Remotely piloted helicopters are in existence that can drop supplies to troops in isolated posts, positions, or even in covert operations. This is as much a game changer as armed UAVs are. The ability to deliver firepower and food without risking the lives of pilots is an airpower revolution that begets many a question.   

The principal amongst which is – where is India headed when it comes to the role and development of its airpower?

There are certain myths that tend to get promoted in India and which need to be deconstructed if national military might is to grow further. Airpower, for starters, is not service specific, in that it cannot be monopolised by one arm of the state. This is the lesson learnt from 20th century history of war, across the world. Each service needs its assets and each asset assists in the national application of force. Which then means that air assets in India have to be trained jointly, operated jointly and most importantly, developed jointly.

For India to become a global player it has to develop its own airpower assets. There are no shortcuts to this fundamental rule of the game. Throughout history no country has ever become a world leader by importing equipment land, sea or air. Local requirements can only be accurately met by local research and development. Imported equipment undermines one basic principle of leadership – strategic autonomy. Unless that autonomy exists there is no scope for growing into a world leader. That autonomy has to be in thought, as well as technology. Which is also why Defence and Security Alert was born, to develop an autonomous Indian thought in matters of national security. Now it is for the Ministry of Defence and its apparatus to develop that technological autonomy. Only then will India get to be a world player. Unless the desire is to keep the country merely a spectator.

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