The finalisation of the Rafale deal was big news in military circles till the announcement that Indian Army’s Special Forces units have carried out at least eight successful strikes across the Line of Control on terrorist camps and launch pads in POK. This is clearly a turning point in Indo-Pak relations, as for the first time there has been a formal acknowledgement from India, of such attacks on targets in POK. This is a legitimate operation, acceptable internationally as ‘hot pursuit’ operations. However, the question that many experts are asking is whether India has the capacity to do go even beyond such raids into Pakistan militarily, if required?
Will having state of the art fighter aircrafts serve such a purpose, whether with the Rafale or with any of its rival contenders? Critics say that the IAF has been for too long, obsessed with only making up its squadron deficiencies. With its squadron number pitched originally at 42 several decades ago, that today stands at 32 squadrons, notwithstanding the force multiplication ability of the new generation aircrafts, or even that of the two decade old Sukhoi-30 MKI.
It is now public knowledge that following the Pakistani attack on the Indian parliament in 2001, the government of the day was willing to authorise surgical air strikes on terror camps in POK (that in any case is Indian territory, as stated in the Constitution of India), but these weren’t initiated due to the lack of specific and accurate information of the location of terror camps. Then again in 2008, this was the similar lament, as is perhaps the case now. Moreover, even if air strikes are ruled out – as some would say that these could be an act of war – what India’s Special Forces most certainly needed then as they do now, especially as India has decided to take this line of action, are not just fighter jets, but radar evading and night flying helicopters (like the U.S. used to get at Osama bin Laden). The question is why haven’t such helicopters been purchased despite their need being felt for at least 15 years – as long as the search for a new fighter for the IAF took. Money certainly wasn’t the issue, as the Rafale fighter jets deal has shown.
Our service chief’s need to insist on not only fulfilling conventional weapon deficiencies– and yes, there are some critical shortages- when the nation expects much more, and that at least one vertical of India’s military capability must be to comprehensively address the threat of cross border terror attacks. This has been our biggest challenge for over two decades and we still are only ready with troops, not the air arm, to deal with them. For that, India needs an inter-services special services command- under the Chief’s of Staff Committee – that must include all the special forces units of the three services, with adequate intelligence and technical staff, so that they can be launched swiftly after the next terror strike, without too much time being wasted on deliberations either politically or militarily. Moreover, setting up such a command headquarter would cost about the same as one Rafale fighter jet!
So we must get on with it. As of now, every service is shamelessly guarding its turf of operations, with each ready to go to war on its own! There is neither a national security doctrine that enunciates a combined operations philosophy nor is there much integration between the three services. And while it is good to keep raising the demand for a CDS or its equivalent and for greater civil-military cooperation, our services would do well to address this crying need, to begin with.
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