December 14, 2009

INDIA: Army and IAF face off over new war plan

http://indiatoday.intoday.in/site/Story/74898/India/Army+and+IAF+face+off+over+new+war+plan.html

Pinaki Bhattacharya
New Delhi, December 14, 2009


The army and air force are battling it out over how to beat Pakistan in a flash war if and when that happens.

The Indian Air Force is not convinced about its role in the army's "cold start doctrine" for a future Indo-Pak war.

The strategy envisages the air force providing "close air support", which calls for aerial bombing of ground targets to augment the fire power of the advancing troops.

The growing tension between the two services is evident in a statement of air vice-marshal (retd) Kapil Kak, deputy director of the air force's own Centre for Air Power Studies.

"There is no question of the air force fitting itself into a doctrine propounded by the army. That is a concept dead at inception," Kak said.

A senior army officer disputes the notion of a conceptual difference between the two services. "The air force is supposed to launch an offensive under the doctrine by hitting targets deep inside enemy territory," he said. But he admitted the air force was hesitant about 'close air support'. 'Cold Start' is a post-nuclearised doctrine that envisages a "limited war" in which the army intends to inflict substantial damage on Pakistan's armed forces without letting it cross the threshold where it could think of pressing the nuclear button.

The doctrine intends to accomplish the task before the international community led by the US and China could intercede to end hostilities. Kak said, "The air force has the primary task of achieving 'air dominance' by which Pakistan's air force is put out of action allowing the army to act at will."

But he sees little necessity for the air force to divert frontline fighter aircraft for augmenting the army's fire power, a task that, in his opinion, can be achieved by the army's own attack helicopters and multiple rocket launchers that now have a 100-km range.

But he agrees the two services should work according to a joint plan. It means the air force would launch 'battlefield air strikes' to neutralise threats on the ground based on an existing plan. But that would be different from an army commander calling for air support on the basis of a developing war scenario.

That is not the only problem facing the doctrine. In the past few weeks, many have expressed doubts about the army's ability to launch operations on the basis of the new doctrine.

There are also apprehensions about the army's incomplete deployment of forces, lack of mobility and unattended infrastructure development.

But senior officers say the army has identified the units, which would constitute the eight division-strong independent battle groups out of its three strike corps. These battle groups would comprise mechanised infantry, artillery and armour.

"The forces have exercised as constituted battle groups at least six times since 2004. Each of the identified unit knows where they will be deployed," a senior General said.

According to him, the time for deployment has been cut down to "days". "No longer will the movement of troops require three months like it did when Operation Parakram was launched after the attack on Parliament in 2001," he said.

The army also debunks the idea that the troops lack mobility. Some armed forces observers have said only 35 per cent of the army is mobile inside the country.

They have, thus, concluded that even less numbers would be mobile inside the enemy territory.

The army officials, however, pooh pooh the criticism claiming 100 per cent of the Indian troops are mobile.

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