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Air Force Special - Global Trends

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The First Gulf War of 1991 gave a glimpse of war fighting in the future. From the management of logistics to mobilisation of troops and then to the actual conduct of combat operations.
Everything portended that war had now entered an entirely different era, the greatest quantum change in the nature of operations since World War Two. None of this was more apparent than in the use of air power, where mass was replaced by stealth and precision. Gone were the days, or nights, of a skyline filled with masses of aircraft carrying iron bombs to be dropped at random and hoping they struck the intended targets. Granted that rocketry had greatly improved the accuracy of weapons during the Indo-Pak Wars of 1965 and 1971, the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1967 and 1973 and the Vietnam War with its limited utility of air power. But on the whole mass still prevailed over precision.

The First Gulf War changed all that, with the advent of precision guided munitions, beyond visual range weapons and the radar evading capability of stealth combat aircraft. The future had indeed arrived and people were able to see it live on television sitting in the comfort and safety of their drawing rooms. The beam that carried the missile to its targets also relayed the visual to television sets worldwide. Science Fiction was no more fictional but a new dawning reality. And all countries with a stake in the military aviation sector followed suit. Some aping, some stealing and some innovating. But there was no going back to the era of mass, or more, is better. The frankly suicidal tendency of mass is better had now given way to a concept worked around more accuracy by lesser numbers. The need to be precise paved the way for opening more doors of invention and innovation. And a yet another quantum leap in the evolution of global air power trends.

Highly motivated and imaginative, school children have always played ever more daring games involving aircraft and flight. Ever since the first human took to the air, it has been a schoolchild's fantasy to fly. Some take the actual steps to physically become pilots, others live out their fantasy by their obsession with aero-modelling. It is a bizarre truth but the global pursuit of aero-modelling as a hobby opened yet another horizon of war in the air. So thus was born the unmanned aerial vehicle, the UAV for some, or the remotely piloted vehicle, the RPV, for others. Professional militaries were dismissive at first, slotting these machines to be nothing more than glorified aero-modelling trophies. There was a marked reluctance to accept the concept, let alone the utility of the platform. Giddy as they were with the success of precision weapons and stealth aircraft, professional militaries assumed the inviolability of manned combat aircraft. But the development of UAVs was at a feverish pace worldwide and each improvement another compelling argument against conventional wisdom. More frontiers were breached when the first missile, essentially a modified anti-tank one, was fired from an armed UAV and struck its target. Since then armed UAVs have successfully targeted hundreds of armed militants and terrorists and are now an essential part of the global air power inventories.

This development has to have a far reaching impact on the structures, shapes and sizes of global military aviation. Every service now demands its own air arm, or at least one that can perform heli lift and fixed wing transport roles. Naval aviation has its own combat aircraft element, owing to the peculiarities of maritime aviation. The Indian Air Force has always chaffed at the bit about parallel air forces appearing in the country. But these are global trends and similar sentiments cannot be prevented from seeping into India. Army Aviation has grown as a corps, just as Naval Aviation is poised to enter the supersonic age when MiG-29s launch from the refurbished INS Vikramaditya. It is better to adapt to the future rather than deny its evolutionary trends. After all the Air Force too was born as an air arm of the Army in a different era. The sooner India adapts and adopts global trends the better for its military aviation capabilities, in all spheres and all services. Denying trends is like denying evolution and change, terrible for walking upright.


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