The IAF is presently in the midst of its biennial exercise, Gagan Shakti (2018). Touted as the biggest ever, the exercise is designed to activate and energise the elements across the spectrum to peak performance, as would be necessitated in war. Every loophole is attempted to be plugged, with critical appraisal sparing no one and accountability enforced. Sustained operations at the limits of their envelope are demanding, to say the least and it proves a veritable test, both for man and machine. Over the years, the man-machine combination has undergone a major change. The combination always required an interface and that was provided by ‘technology’. The rapid advances in technology have set a frenetic pace for man to cope, providing a legion of possibilities and their application in warfare. So, does technology drive warfare? Of course, it does.
The cat and mouse game between adversarial protagonists pivots on technology, its innovation and/or application. Thus, in military parlance, ‘shaping the battlefield’ is more a factor of technology and less of muscle power. Symmetry can be changed and asymmetry can be overcome by the wily war fighter and a sharp leader. The essence of warfighting, or warfare, has had its basis around the mastery or effective management over two major factors, energy and materials. Energy in the human being, his stamina and endurance, energy in the mount he chose, horses or elephants, energy in the machines that evolved, the power that they could generate and finally the energy of the projectile as greater penetration and effect were desired, greater destructive capability. In consonance or in reaction, take it as you will, materials and their associated technology had to keep pace. Greater energy demanded greater strength and high quality of materials, for the instigator in his platforms or the absorber for his defensive mechanism. The race has been going on for long and I guess it will continue.
Innovation and technology possibly got its major push in the Second World War and thereafter. Till a few years before that a military man could expect to retire, still operating the weapons he was weaned on in the service. Today a soldier/ sailor/ airman expects to see not only quantum jumps in technology in the course of his service career but can even expect a generation change in a machine, given the pace of technology development. Alongside, a raging battle to miniaturise, in a bid to stack in more and a corresponding increase in computing speed provides the ‘infrastructure’ to create the systems which will shape the future of mankind, whether in peace or in war. The infinite possibilities of space are just beginning to be probed.
In pursuance of its transformation and modernisation plan, the IAF is keyed up to absorb the technology on offer with a perspective of growth and development in the near future. Presenting its might and existing technology, the IAF in Ex Gagan Shakti 2018 has some very impressive areas to showcase:-
Three dimensional warfare.
Synergised operations by all sections.
Day / Night operations.
24×7 ‘Max Rate’ operations during ‘surge’.
All-terrain operations in real time.
Integrated Air Defence operations.
Seamless integration of sensors.
Joint Ops with Army / Navy.
Long range Maritime Air Operations.
Precision weapon delivery.
Effect based operations.
While the table of contents may look large, the fact that air power is ubiquitous and all-encompassing, it behoves for the IAF to display its speed and agility, as also its flexibility and versatility. Exercises like these not only demonstrate the niche capability of the service, they also act as a deterrent to adversaries, sending a clear message across all frontiers.
In the final analysis a country’s military capability has to be sustained by its indigenous industry. The historically lack-lustre reputation of the Indian defence PSUs has been given a crutch by the Prime Minister in his “Make in India” drive and the opening of the defence arena to the private sector. Hopefully India will not miss this all-important opportunity to imbibe technology but also use it to become an exporter of repute in the future.
An alumnus of NDA and DSSC, Air Mshl Sumit Mukerji has served the IAF as a fighter pilot with distinction He has commanded three units, a MiG-29 Sqn, a MiG-25 SR Sqn and TACDE (considered the ‘Top Gun’ school of the IAF) and also served as the Air Attaché in Washington DC. He retired in 2011 as the AOC-in-C of Southern Air Command.