- More to come?
Why did Pakistan not or perhaps could not shoot down Indian air force intruders on the night of February 26, 2019? I am among those scholars and strategists who are constantly warning about the dangers emanating from Indian conventional military power and the manifestation of that capability i.e. Cold Start Doctrine – especially relating to Pakistan. I also published a detailed research paper entitled “A Comparative Study of Blitzkrieg and Cold Start Doctrine: Lessons and Countermeasures for Pakistan” (IPRI Journal, 2018) to highlight my views on the matter, since, Cold Start is a punitive military instrument that is still relevant – even in the presence of nuclear weapons.
The history of military operations in the post Second World War and post-Cold War makes one thing clear that the true theatre of war is the conventional realm which provides flexibility and a wide choice of weapon employment against a variety of targets. The operations conducted by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and Warsaw Pact during the Cold War and their respective military doctrines also reflected this very basic thing. A state’s power is ultimately reflected and manifested in its military power; however, conventional weapons provide means and ways to assert and implement that power. While conventional power acts as a bridge; the lacquer remains the airpower. Airpower though provides support to advancing ground troops, it also acts as an independent force capable of inflicting symbolic and considerable damage on the enemy. For instance, NATO-led Operation Allied Force in 1999 to force President Slobodan Milosevic in resigning was an all-air operation and it succeeded. Interestingly, the air campaign made John Keegan conclude that the Kosovo Campaign was the first all-air war.
Indian armed forces apart from their psychological vulnerabilities and mental shortcomings – are still a credible fighting force armed with a variety of weapons for multi-vectored operations. The recent New York Times article calling Indian military equipment as ‘vintage’ has two possible dimensions. First, it is true that more than a quarter of Indian Air Force (IAF) equipment is old; however, Soviet-built Mig-21s were upgraded to Bison standards. In this connection, former IAF Air Commodore Ramesh V. Phadke in its book “Air Power and National Security: Indian Air Force: Evolution, Growth and Future” (IDSA, New Delhi, 2015) acknowledged this very fact. Second, American military industrial complex i.e. Lockheed Martin lost its bid for IAF’s Medium Multirole Combat Aircraft (MMCA) competition in favour of French Dassault Rafale omni-role aircraft and I argue that it is a deliberate stimulation to generate that need.
The recent Indian airstrike unveils an important aspect that now surely IAF has gained a relative level of independence in conducting operations
The recent Indian airstrike unveils an important aspect that now surely IAF has gained a relative level of independence in conducting operations. Since, in the past, the true face of Indian conventional power persisted to be Indian army and it remained reluctant to allow IAF to have a strategic role. This dependence or perhaps structural element was highlighted by Walter C. Ladwig III in its article “A Cold Start for Hot Wars? The Indian Army’s New Limited War Doctrine” (International Security, Winter 2007-08). On the other hand, the counter-airstrike by Pakistan Air Force (PAF) revealed vulnerabilities in Indian air defence. PAF claims, though, that it did not cross line of control and probably dropped precision guided munitions while remaining in Pakistani airspace. Conversely, I believe that PAF successfully penetrated the Indian airspace undetected and struck military targets – it is and will remain a question mark on Indian air defence. IAF responded by scrambling MiG-21 interceptors, which again revealed vulnerability in terms of tactics and were shot down by PAF in air to air combat. The evidence of destruction of Indian military installations can be observed by IAF’s subsequent plan to attack PAF air bases and radar stations. There is absolutely no doubt that PAF maintained its historical superiority in air and on ground and again plundered IAF of its nascent pride.
While concluding the debate, I believe that the Indian airstrike, though, could not achieve desired objectives and failed to destroy the said targets – it remains a worrisome incident. Nevertheless, had such a strike planned and executed from a military standpoint instead of a political one – the outcome would have been entirely different. Arguably, the airstrikes conducted by IAF and PAF and incursions into hostile territories underscored and attested the space for a possible war between India and Pakistan under the nuclear umbrella. Those who still think of Indian military instrument being a failed concept must understand that it was just a trailer of Cold Start Doctrine.