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Saturday, December 28, 2019

IAF’s MiG-23BN ‘Vijay’ & MiG-27M ‘Bahadur’: Under-Utilised Workhorses

The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) association with ‘swing-wing’ combat aircraft came to an end on December 27, 2019 when the last remaining seven MiG-27UPGs were decommissioned from service. These aircraft, along with the already decommissioned MiG-27Ms and MiG-23BNs, had been procured for serving as all-weather tactical interdiction platforms with eight IAF squadrons.
In all, 95 MiG-23BNs were delivered between late 1980 and late 1982 and they served with No.10 ‘Winged Dagger’. No.220 ‘Desert Tigers’ and No.221 ‘Valiants’ Sqns between January 1981 and March 6, 2009 and having flown more than 154,000 hours), with each carrying a 3-tonne weapons payload. The IAF subsequently began procuring 165 MiG-27Ms (however, only 125 of which were licence-built by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd or HAL between 1986 and 1992) for equipping No.222 ‘Tiger Sharks; No.2 ‘Winged Arrows’, No.18 ‘Flying Bullets’, No.29 ‘Scorpions’, and No.22 ‘Swifts’ Sqns from October 1984 till May 2, 1992. Each MiG-27M could haul a 4-tonne weapons payload. Of these, 40 were subsequently upgraded to MiG-27UPG standard—the upgrade work involving only the mission avionics suite. Latter batches of HAL-built MiG-27Ms had 74% local industrial content.
While the MiG-23BNs all came from Irkutsk Aviation Production Association (IAPA), for the MiG-27M licenced-production programme, a team of specialists from both IAPA and Mikoyan OKB worked in Nashik for the entire second half of 1982. In the first phase, the initial batch of MiG-27Ms were delivered from Irkutsk in semi-knocked-down condition (they were partially dismantled for transportation by sea). In the second phased, fully knocked-down kits were delivered for final assembly by HAL. The first locally-assembled MiG-27M was rolled out in October 1984. And on January 11, 1986, the first MiG-27M-equipped squadron (No.222 ‘Tiger Sharks’) of the IAF had achieved full operational status.
The MiG-27M licenced-production programme was divided into four phases, with Phase-1 involving the final assembly of aircraft that had been delivered in semi-knocked-down condition, Phases-2 and -3 involving the final-assembly of aircraft that had arrived in fully-knocked-down condition, and Phase-4 involving the supply from the USSR of only materials, sheet duralumin, forgings and blanks, which were all machined by HAL with the help of numerically controlled machines procured by HAL from Western European countries.
While the airframes of both the MiG-23BN and MiG-27M had a total technical service life (TTSL) of 3,000 flight-hours, the airframe developer—Mikoyan OKB—had subsequently certified both airframes for an additional 1,200 flight-hour service-life. However, if the airframes were to be subjected to total refurbishment by HAL, then the service-life could be increased by another 3,000 flight-hours based on structural fatigue tests that could have been carried out by the National Aerospace Laboratories (NAL).
However, an engine-change was called for and Mikoyan OKB along with Moscow Machine-building Production Company (MMPP Salyut) had by the late 1990s had proposed that the Tumansky R29-300 and R29B-300 turbofans be replaced with AL-31F turbofans that offered 1-tonne maximum extra thrust-rating. This was accepted in-principle by the IAF.
In parallel, the Defence R & D Organisation’s (DRDO) Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) began a deep-upgrade of the MiG-27M’s avionics suite in 2002. Only 40% of the on-board systems, mainly of the mechanical type, were retained as original factory equipment of Russian design. The first prototype MiG-27UPG flew on March 25, 2004, followed by a second prototype on November 4, 2004. Together, during their flight-trials, they flew more than 300 hours.
In June 2006, came the MiG-27UPG’s Initial Operational Clearance (IOC) certification from IAF HQ. It opened the way for work on aircraft building. After modernization, they equipped two squadrons. Modified cars received the designation MiG-27UPG.
Back in 2003, Vladimir Labazin, MMPP Salyut’s Deputy Chief Designer, described how the re-engining of MiG-23UBK tandem-seat operational conversion trainers, the MiG-23BN and MiG-27M with AL-31F turbofans could have been achieved. “Having taken stock of our capabilities, we realised that we could cough up some funds to invest into the initial-stage assessment of mounting the AL-31F. Our design bureau began looking into this in late 2002. Aircraft and engine dimensional analysis and computerised, visual and assembly coordination showed that minor airframe and engine modifications would make them compatible in terms of size. The aircraft features some room for improvement as far as airflow is concerned and we can reduce the AL-31F’s takeoff airflow a little while maximising airflow at high altitude. Early mechanical problems have already been overcome.”
“For example, the AL-31F used to keep setting against the fuel tank or some other structural elements and we had to modify the positions of some components for the engine to fit in. To keep aircraft systems intact, MMPP Salyut, retained all aircraft accessories mounted on the R29B-300’s reduction gear, with only the accessory gearbox replaced–the gear ratio of the old engine was different, so we had to replace the reduction gear. However, even though we have retained all aircraft accessories, we had to rearrange them to avoid altering the airframe and engine nacelle’s inner mould lines, fuel tanks and heavy frames.
In addition, introduction of advanced engine mounting components, re-arrangement of the accessories, generator and starter unit, and modification of the dimensions of certain engine components enabled us to squeeze the AL-31F into the nacelle without disturbing primary structural and fuel system elements of the aircraft.
During the spring and summer of 2003, MMPP Salyut developed the mock-up of the AL-31F, and after exhaustive tests conducted the final fitting. “We are planning to manufacture the engine by year-end and launch its bench tests in January 2004, and count on doing flight tests in July or August 2004. After this has been completed, we will commence full-scale improvement of the IAF’s MiG-27Ms to begin with.
To avoid redesigning the load-bearing structure of the airframe fuel cells, MMPP Salyut’s designers came up with a new load-bearing element—a longitudinal beam—that mounted the main attach fitting for the AL-31F. In addition, an extra engine attach fitting was introduced to the rear fuselage to fix the AL-31F relative to the axis, thus ensuring necessary thermal movement. Engine mounting procedures too were altered. The R29B-300 comprised two parts. The fore part was first to be mounted, then the aft one, after which both would be put together.
The AL-31F is a single-piece design and therefore it has to be installed into the fuselage mid-section, with the tail section to follow. To this end, a dedicated trolley was made, on which the AL-31F rolled into the fuselage, was then attached to main bracket supports and aligned with the aircraft’s centreline and was then fixed in this position with a dedicated rod on the fore end of the AL-31F.
Then the tail section was rolled on to the AL-31F using the dedicated trolley and linked with the mid-section. The AL-31F was then aligned with the tail bumper and detaching the hoist fitting. Then all systems were assembled. In addition, minor modifications to the aircraft had to be introduced. For example, the starter had to be rotated 200 degrees with a new exhaust shutter made, and new air ducts installed to cool the assemblies. Main modifications were made to the AL-31F. To reduce costs and time, the new accessory gearbox was made of two sections. Aircraft accessory elements were ‘borrowed’ from the previous R29 and the engine’s portion from the AL-31F. Both parts of the gearbox were linked by virtue of the new reduction gear and the casing. The engine oil system was revamped drastically because the oil tank and the oil pump pack had to be positioned where there was room to house them instead of where it was best for the engine.
Fitting the AL-31F on to the IAF’s MiG-23UBKs, MiG-23BNs and MiG-27M would have had another benefit: if those aircraft were to be discarded from service before their engines’ service-life had expired, then 70% of their components could be used for overhauling the AL-31FPs now powering the IAF’s Su-30MKI H-MRCAs. And that is because the core portions of the AL-31F and AL-31FP are identical, with only their outer componentry—casings, oil systems and outer plumbing and wiring— having been modified.
Deliveries of AL-31Fs to power the MiG-23UBKs, MiG-23BNs and MiG-27Ms were scheduled to kick off as early as the first quarter of 2005. However, to everyone’s consternation, the re-engining contract was not inked and the IAF decided not to re-engine the MiG-23UBKs, MiG-23BNs and MiG-27Ms. So, what were the consequences of this decision?
The IAF lost 13 of its MiG-27Ms aircraft between 2001 and 2016. In the last 10 years, 11 MiG-27Ms, have crashed. Subsequent boards of inquiry shockingly revealed that majority of the MiG-27Ms went down because of “engine-related technical defects” like perennial engine oil leaks from ill-serviced fuel-pumps of the R29B-300 turbofans. Nearly 40% of these turbofans and related accessories licence-produced by HAL’s Koraput Division had to be returned by the IAF for some or the other defects. The problems ranged from oil leaks, metallic particles in oil filters and hot-air leaks from rear casings to troubles in compressor-blades and even in the turbines.
Most of the cause factors can be classified as defects during manufacturing or overhauling processes. The MiG-27M suffered Low-Pressure Turbine Rotor (LPTR) failures in at least 11 incidents. HAL in some cases even lied while overhauling the LPTR, saying that it had followed the overhaul manual, but subsequent IAF investigations revealed that the procedure recommended by the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) was not being implemented by HAL. Such lapses had also led to previous crashes of MiG-21 Bisons. The springs installed in the fuel pump of the MiG-21 Bison’s R25-300 turbofans were failing frequently. A MiG-21 Bison crashed in November 2012 in Gujarat, which was attributed to spring failure. Of the five main fuel-pumps fitted with HAL-manufactured springs, at least three springs failed, which is unforgivable as it would have certainly resulted in accidents. Shockingly, the main fuel pumps of the MiG-21 Bison continue to leak fuel, despite four studies conducted and implemented since the 1990s. Despite incorporating changes, fuel leak from the main fuel-pump has continued unabated from throttle-end.
However, another reason behind the poor quality of production and engine repairs is attributed to mass production work in the last leg of a production year in order to achieve the projected target. For example, in the first six months of 2012-2013 production year, HAL finished overhaul work on only four RD-33 turbofans of the MiG-29B-12, but in the last quarter of the year, four RD-33 were completely overhauled within three months. Similarly for the R29B-300s, HAL finished overhauling nine engines in nine months, but interestingly another nine engines were completed within the last three months. The issue was flagged by the IAF, saying that such industrial productivity trends were adversely affecting the quality of overhauled turbofans.
Thus, it appears that HAL was not interested in providing quality turbofans to the IAF and instead was only interested in meeting the production numbers every year. There is also an impression that the workforce in HAL deliberately delayed the production to last three months to earn few extra bucks for ‘overtime’ perks, which is disgusting, given the fact that human lives are at stake. Interestingly, throughout their service-lives, none of the MiG-23BNs, which had come off-the-shelf from IAPA, displayed any engine-related equipment malfunctions!
The end-result: premature decommissioning of the IAF’s MiG-23UBKs, MiG-23BNs and MiG-27Ms, thereby denying the IAF another 10 operational combat squadrons.

Monday, December 23, 2019

Pakistan Army's SH-15 MGS Package

The Pakistan Navy had last August inducted into service the NORINCO-supplied Sharp Eye tactical UAS for use along the contested Sir Creek area bordering India’s state of Gujarat and Pakistan’s Sindh province.
OFB-Developed Dhanush-52 MGS

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Escalation Dynamics Under Nuclear Overhang

The two rounds of aerial engagements between the air forces of India and Pakistan on February 26/27 after the February 14 Pulwama terror-attack hold important lessons for conventional deterrence as well as answers to the question of whether high-intensity limited war options are possible under a nuclear overhang. India has since the early 1990s accused Pakistan of playing the conflict game at the sub-conventional level, while denying India the justification to retaliate through her superior conventional capabilities by signalling the resolve to introduce nuclear weapons first and early into a conventional conflict. At the same time, after the limited conflict fought at the forbidding heights of northern Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) in mid-1999 and the subsequent 10-month long total military mobilisation (OP Parakram) starting mid-December 2001, has been conceptualising how to punish Pakistan conventionally while remaining below the nuclear threshold. Put simply, India thought that there was a bandwidth limited by time and space within which she could act militarily and punitively while making it extremely difficult for Pakistan to escalate to the nuclear-level because such an escalation would be considered highly disproportionate and would draw international opprobrium. The argument was that the certainty of international diplomatic and economic isolation would force Pakistan to stay its hand and not escalate to the nuclear-level. The banal analogy of this translates into someone punching another person in a crowded bazaar and the victim, instead of keeping himself to the fistfight, chooses to draw and fire a handgun. Not only would such a person lose the sympathy of the crowd, he would also invite the full coercive and normative weight of the law. Corollary: whoever ups the ante in a basic fight ends up as the loser.

However, while India’s military decision-makers have been thinking about this and rehearsing various related scenarios since 2004, until the arrival of the NDA-2 government led by India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi in late May 2014, New Delhi had continued to shy away from actualising a short, sharp military option against Pakistan, focussing instead on exercising strategic restraint while exploiting diplomatic channels by using the country’s diplomatic heft. For instance, had the then NDA-1 government had by May 1998 publicly announced its intention to conduct a comprehensive strategic defence review aimed at restructuring India’s three armed services in order to address the new ground realities associated with the conduct of limited high-intensity conventional warfare under a nuclear overhang, the chances of Pakistan launching OP Koh-e-Paima against India in northern Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) would have been slim. Given the total ratio of land forces of India and Pakistan, which then was about 2.25:1.2 the Pakistan Army’s Military Operations Directorate had then concluded that the initial Indian military reaction would be to rush in more troops inside J & K, thereby further eroding the Indian Army’s offensive capabilities against Pakistan. As a consequence, the MO Directorate concluded that India would not undertake an all-out offensive against Pakistan, since by doing so she would run the risk of ending in a stalemate, which would be viewed as a victory for Pakistan. It is for this reason that the Pakistan Army had then appreciated that an all-out conventional war, let alone nuclear war, was never a possibility. The Pakistan Army’s consequent operational plan envisaged India amassing troops along the Line of Control (LoC) to deal with the threats at Kargil, Drass, Batalik, Kaksar and Turtuk, thereby resulting in a vacuum in the rear areas. By July 1999, the Pakistan-origin Mujahideen were required step up their sabotage activities in the rear areas, thereby threatening the Indian lines of communication at pre-designated targets, which would have helped isolate pre-determined pockets, forcing the Indian troops to react to them. This in turn would have created an opportunity for the Pakistani forces at Kargil, Drass, Batalik, Kaksar and Turtuk to push forward and pose an additional threat. India would, as a consequence, be forced to the negotiating table. While it is useless to speculate on whether it could in fact have succeeded, theoretically the plan for OP Koh-e-Paima was faultless, and the initial execution, tactically brilliant. But at the strategic-level the Pakistan Army was caught totally off-guard by India’s vertical escalation (by involving the Indian Army through OP Vijay, the Indian Air Force through OP Safed Sagar and the Indian Navy through OP Talwar) that lasted from April 29 till August 3, 1999.

However, what totally bemused Pakistan’s military leadership at that time was the totally defensive mindset on the part of India’s then ruling political leadership. This was subsequently articulated by none other than Lt Gen Javed Hassan—who as the then GOC Force Command Northern Areas (FCNA) had played a key role in commanding both the Pakistan Army and the then paramilitary Northern Light Infantry (NLI) forces. He had in the mid-1990s been commissioned by the Pakistan Army’s Faculty of Research & Doctrinal Studies to produce a guide to India for serving officers of the Pakistan Army. In ‘India: A Study in Profile’, published by the military-owned Services Book Club in 1990, Lt Gen Hassan had argued that the ruling Indian ‘baniya’ class is driven by “the incorrigible militarism of the Hindus.” “For those who are weak,” he had gone on, “the Hindu is exploitative and domineering.” A highly intelligent and well-read officer, he was more of an academic than a commander, and bore that reputation. He, therefore, was the best-placed with a point to prove in a subsequent military appreciation of OP Koh-e-Paima—this being that OP Koh-e-Paima had provided India with a splendid opportunity to enact its February 22, 1994 parliamentary resolution by embarking upon a prolonged high-intensity AirLand offensive across the LoC that could eventually have resulted in the capture of almost the entire district of Baltistan (inclusive of Skardu and the Deosai Plains) at a time when both the Pakistan Army and Pakistan Air Force (PAF) were clearly unable to give high-intensity battle for more than a week, since the US, by invoking the Pressler, Glenn-Symington and Solarz Amendments since October 1990 had stopped providing product-support for all US-origin military hardware in service with Pakistan’s military, and also because Pakistan was holding only 48 hours worth of military POL stockpiles at that time.

This inexplicable defensive mindset and timorous posture-cum-conduct of India’s ruling political elite was again in full display during OP Parakram, which was launched in the wake of the December 13, 2001 terrorist attack on India’s Parliament, and was the first full-scale mobilisation since the 1971 India-Pakistan war. It began on December 15, 2001 after receiving the Cabinet Committee on National Security’s (CCNS) authorisation and was completed on January 3, 2002. It finally ended on October 16, 2002 when the CCNS belatedly recognised that the law of diminishing returns had been operative for many months already. In the snow-bound areas of J & K the Indian Army had by then relatively few options to launch offensive operations across the LoC, while in the plains of Punjab and Rajasthan the climatic conditions were ideal, but the nuclear overhang became the inhabiting factor. By that time, approximately 52,000 hectares of land along the International Boundary (IB) and LoC had been mined with about 1 million landmines. Till July 2003, the Indian Army had suffered 798 fatalities due to mishaps in minefields, mishandling of ammunition and explosives, and traffic accidents, and 250 injured during mine-laying operations. The cost of sustaining OP Parakram was pegged by India’s National Security Advisory Board (NSAB) at Rs.7 crore a day. This worked out to approximately Rs.2,100 crore over 10 months and did not include the cost of mobilisation and de-induction.

Eventually, India’s Parliament was informed in October 2002 that OP Parakram had cost Rs.6,500 crore (almost US$3 billion), excluding the Rs.350 crore paid as compensation to people residing in border states where Indian troops were deployed. The Indian Army was the biggest contributor to the expenses. Figures collated by Army HQ indicated that the cost of mobilisation of 500,000 troops, including pay and allowances, field allowance for one year and transfer grant alone was Rs.700 crore. The wear-and-tear cost of equipment added up to Rs.1,300 crore, while the depletion of mines, ammunition and warlike stores was around Rs.550 crore. Transport and fuel costs together added up to Rs.850 crore. The total figure for the Army stood at Rs.3,860 crore and did not include the cost of withdrawal of troops (estimated at around Rs.500 crore) and the cost of demining 1 million mines for which new demining equipment had to be bought from Denmark. Nor did this figure include the cost of deploying (and redeploying) the Indian Navy, the IAF and the Coast Guard, which was estimated to be another Rs.1,000 crore.

The first one to voice the Indian armed forces’ intense frustration over the continued myopia of India’s then ruling elite was none other than Gen. Sundararajan ‘Paddy’ Padmanabhan, who had served as the Indian Army’s Chief of the Army Staff from September 30, 2000 till December 31, 2002. Going on-the-record on February 6, 2004 (see:, he explicitly stated that problems with India’s then prevailing (or obsolete) military doctrine and a lack of clarity within the then Union Cabinet on its war objectives had undermined OP Parakram at the very outset. Gen. Padmanabhan argued that significant military gains could have been achieved in the first quarter of January 2002, had India’s rulers made the decision to undertake a high-intensity limited conventional war. These objectives, he said, could have included the “degradation of the enemy’s forces, and perhaps the capture of some chunks of disputed territories in J & K. They were more achievable in January, less achievable in February, and even less achievable in March. By then, the balance of forces had gradually changed.” Pakistan, the Indian Army planners had then believed, had an interest in taking the conflict towards a nuclear flash-point as soon as possible. The Indian Army on the other hand believed that the best prospects of avoiding such a situation was having forces in place that could rapidly secure limited war objectives across the LoC. “If you really want to punish someone for something very terrible he has done,” Gen Padmanabhan said, “you smash him. You destroy his weapons and capture his territory.” “War is a serious business,” he continued, “and you don’t go just like that.” Doctrinal baggage, he accepted, had thus crippled India’s early options in 2002. “You could certainly question why we are so dependent on our three Strike Corps,” he said, and “and why my Holding Corps (since renamed as Pivot Corps) formations don’t have the capability to do the same tasks from a cold start. This is something I have worked on while in office. Perhaps, in time, it will be our military doctrine.”

From India’s perspective, the most important lesson that emerged from this standoff was that political and military instruments of national power must work together in a synchronised manner. Deciding to adopt a pronounced forward and aggressive military posture to coerce/compel Pakistan was basically a political decision, and India’s armed forces, excluded from the decision loop, could not immediately adopt the posture its political masters desired. Admiral Sushil Kumar, the Indian Navy’s Chief of the Naval Staff till December 30, 2001, later opined that OP Parakram was the most punishing mistake for India’s armed forces because the government of the day then lacked any political aim or objective for deploying the Army along the IB and LoC. “There was no spelt-out aim or military objective for OP Parakram. I don’t mind admitting that OP Parakram was the most punishing mistake for the armed forces. When the Parliament attack took place, in the (CCNS) board-room it was a super-charged atmosphere. As you are aware in the CCNS board-room, the three Service Chiefs sit opposite the Union Cabinet. In the end, PM (Atal Bihari) Vajpayee turned to me and said ‘aap khush nahi lag rahe hain Admiral Sahab’ (You don’t seem to be happy). I said I beg your pardon, Sir, can you give us what is your political aim? We need to derive a military aim from it. That is the whole principle of war. What is the aim, you need an aim and military objective.”  He was then told by PM Vajpayee: “Woh hum baad mein batayengey” (we will tell you later). Referring to nuclear versus conventional warfighting capabilities, Admiral Kumar explained that nuclear deterrence should not be considered as the replacement for conventional warfighting capabilities of the country. “The problem is that the nuclear mindset we have is a false sense of security. Nuclear deterrence is required but it does not replace conventional deterrence. Conventional deterrence is the real deterrence, it gives you a credible response capability,” he said.

In the armed forces, there was seething anger against the then government having achieved so little with so much. Hollow now sounded Vajpayee’s rhetoric of “aar paar ki ladhaai” and several such allusions to a decisive battle. Those with a sense of history had then asked: is 2002 to Vajpayee what the 1962 debacle with China was to Nehru? Vertical escalation, if calibrated and maintained, would not have spiralled out of control. But after the initial weeks, the strategic surprise was lost by early February 2002. Matters were imprecisely conceived, and that there was no clear political objective to the mass military mobilisation. The subsequent military deployment became a losing gamble of meaningless brinkmanship. No informed cost-benefit analysis about the contours of the available military responses was undertaken. Nor were they preceded by politico-military war-gaming. It came about suddenly, and reeked of ad hocism. In developed countries, such war-gaming is a continuous process, enabling military planners to factor in the strains the political system could come under during wartime, and ways in which it could affect the operation. Of what use then was New Delhi's bluster and sabre-rattling?

The verdict: the 2001-2002 total military mobilisation was a disaster, perhaps the biggest since 1962. Political masters of that time never issued orders to realise any tactical objective, thereby underlining that the military mobilisation was never intended to launch attacks against Pakistan. But this inactivity ultimately extracted a tremendous price. Firstly, it bolstered the assiduously-cultivated Pakistani myth that deterrence has worked for it.  Secondly, India’s armed forces seriously degraded their operational reserve of combat hours. What would have happened if India was faced with a repeat requirement in three months? New orders for weapons had to be placed, with consequent lag-times in terms of delivery schedules. Thirdly, as a consequence, India would have had to open herself to new strategic vulnerabilities, thereby getting squeezed in the process. Fourthly, since all combat and support equipment, especially air-defence hardware and precision-guided munitions, have a defined storage life that is measured in terms of hours, once taken out to the field and exposed to uncontrolled environment, such hardware quickly begins to degrade and become useless for combat purposes. This applies across the board, which if kept revved up for 10 months in the desert, would have had their functional abilities impaired.

This was the beginning of India’s ‘Cold Start’ warfighting doctrine, which was vaguely explained by the then COAS of the Indian Army, Gen Nirmal Chander Vij, on April 28, 2004. According to him, the reconfigured ground combat formations at each level will be task-oriented in terms of varying composition of armour and infantry elements, with integral attack helicopters of the Army Aviation Corps and the Indian Air Force (IAF), besides battlefield air interdiction (BAI) support coming from the Air Force. Also, there was then much hype about integrated Army Aviation surveillance helicopters, plus command-and-control helicopters.  As per Army HQ at that time, the future battlefields along India’s western borders would involve the use of eight permanently forward-deployed ‘integrated battle groups’, meaning Brigade-sized integrated armoured/mechanised infantry forces with varying composition of armour, field/rocket artillery, infantry and combat air-support that are available to the Army’s Pivot Corps-level formations. These ‘integrated battle groups’ would be mobilised within 48 hours and will be operating independently and will thus have the potential to disrupt or incapacitate the Pakistani leadership’s decision-making cycle. As per this school of thought, when faced with offensive thrusts in as many as eight different sectors, the Pakistan Army would be hard-pressed to determine where to concentrate its forces and which lines of advance to oppose. In addition, having eight ‘integrated battle groups’ capable of offensive action will significantly increase the challenge for Pakistani military intelligence’s limited exploration/exploitation assets to monitor the status of all the tactical battle areas, thereby improving the chance of achieving surprise. Furthermore, in a limited war, India’s overall politico-military goals would be less predictable than in a total war, where the intent would almost certainly be to destroy Pakistan as a functional state. As a result, Pakistan’s defensive ripostes against Indian attacks would be more difficult because the military objectives would be less obvious. Lastly, if Pakistan were to use nuclear weapons against the advancing Indian ‘integrated battle groups’, such dispersed formations operating over narrow frontages would present a significantly smaller target than would Corps-level formations.

In reality, the Indian Army’s declared cold-starting of the forward-deployed ‘integrated battle groups’ WRONGLY PRESUPPOSES that in the next round of military hostilities with Pakistan, the politico-military objectives will be clearly spelt out far in advance. And there was no credible evidence on the ground about this being the case either during the dastardly 26/11 Mumbai terror-strikes, of after any subsequent Pakistan-origin terror-attacks inside India since then. Any military offensive strategy hinging on high-intensity limited war can only be successful if India’s political leadership at the given time of operational execution of this strategy has: the political will to use offensive military power; the political will to use pre-emptive military strategies; the political sagacity to view strategic military objectives with clarity; the political determination to pursue military operations to their ultimate conclusion without succumbing to external pressures; the political determination to cross nuclear thresholds if Pakistan seems so inclined’ and the determination to not shy away from enunciating India’s national interests from which flows all military planning. If any of the above are missing, as they have been from 1947 to till now, the Indian Army’s ‘Cold Start’ doctrine will not add up to anything. Interestingly, while India for long denied that such a doctrine existed—despite conducting several field exercises at the Divisional-/Corps-levels to validate it—the present-day COAS of the Indian Army, Gen Bipin Rawat, acknowledged its existence barely three weeks after taking office on December 31, 2016. The ‘Cold Start’ doctrine assumes that:

1) There is a time-/space-limited bandwidth within which India can exercise her conventional military options;
2) That bandwidth can be further exploited diplomatically;
3) India has the conventional superiority to make it work;
4) If India does so in response to an attack she can pin on Pakistan through undeniable corroborative evidence, she then has enough diplomatic leverage to exercise in order to have the world opinion on her side for a limited but high-intensity military campaign;
5) India can make it work through a military surprise which can achieve the desired military objectives;
6) Pakistan, having suffered a setback, will be hard-pressed to retaliate because it will have to climb up the escalation ladder—a costly proposition both for reasons of the earlier military setback as well as international diplomatic pressure;
7) Given India’s upper hand, both militarily and diplomatically, Pakistan will choose to not escalate;
8) If, however, Pakistan did choose to escalate, India will still enjoy escalation dominance because of her superior capabilities and because she will have international diplomatic support; and
9) India, given her diplomatic and military heft, will be able to raise the costs for Pakistan in an escalation spiral.

The end-result: Pakistan will weigh the consequences as a rational-choice actor and prefer to climb down.

The interesting assumption in all of the above, and one that should not be missed, is this: the first-round result. Every subsequent assumption flows from what India could achieve militarily in the opening round. Somehow, most of the available literature to date on this subject has taken for granted that the first round would obviously go in favour of India. And therefore, Pakistan’s costs for retaliation would increase both militarily and diplomatically. In fact, this does make sense if it can be guaranteed that India’s gambit will work. Except, the opening round success could be guaranteed only if India were applying force on an inanimate object or if her conventional war-waging capabilities and capacities were far superior to those of Pakistan. The second crucial point in assessing these assumptions is the limited nature of the engagement. It should be noted that India’s politico-military strategy post-OP Parakram has looked at any punitive military action in a limited, not full-scale, mode: military action below the nuclear threshold. Pakistan, on the other hand, has never drawn clear red-lines, thereby choosing instead to managing risks through ambiguity. The only time a former—and longest-serving—Director-General of the Strategic Plans Division of Pakistan’s National Nuclear Command Authority, Lt Gen Khalid Kidwai, enunciated four parameters for resorting to nuclear weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was during an interview to two visiting Italian physicists:

1) India attacks Pakistan and conquers a large part of its territory (geographic/territorial threshold);
2) India destroys a large part of Pakistan’s military forces/assets (military threshold);
3) India strangulates Pakistan economically (economic threshold);
4) India destabilises Pakistan politically or through internal subversion (domestic political threshold).

Lt Gen Kidwai was thus using hypothetical scenarios, and his four thresholds were not red-lines defined and understood by the adversary or other parties, because clearly defined red-lines dilute deterrence and provide room for conventional force-manoeuvring. The point about the limited nature of India’s military plans is important because, while a case can be made for India possibly overwhelming Pakistan in a limited AirLand military campaign—if there is not a huge differential in war-waging capabilities/capacities—may not necessarily play to the stronger adversary’s advantage. In other words, if the presumably weaker side denies the stronger side success in the opening round and draws its own blood successfully while showing restraint, it can raise the costs for the militarily stronger side by up-ending the latter’s assumptions based on the success of the opening round.

And this is exactly what transpired on February 27, which has been been explained by Pakistan as: deterrence was upheld because the initiator of military kinetic operations (India) had to factor in the nuclear dimension and keep her military options (that were thus labelled as ‘non-military, pre-emptive, counter-terror strikes) below that threshold. The defender (Pakistan), having defended successfully and then drawn blood, opted to show restraint. Third parties (like the US, China, the UK, Saudi Arabia and the UAE) got involved in no time knowing and realising that any attempt by one or both sides at escalation dominance could spiral. It can have both the conventional and the nuclear dimensions. Essentially, deterrence is the ability to discourage an actor from undertaking an unwanted action, including an armed attack. It is, in other words, about forestalling/prevention, i.e. convincingly stopping an actor from an action. The sister concept, known as compellence, is about forcing an actor to do something in line with what the compeller (adversary) wants it to do. By India’s reasoning, her limited military options are about deterring Pakistan to undertake actions at the sub-conventional level and to deter India from making use of her conventional strength because of the existence of nuclear WMDs. This is where the problem begins.

Deterrence is not just about threatening an adversary with punitive action. In order for it to be successful, it must also shape the adversary’s perceptions, i.e., force the adversary to change its behaviour by estimating that it has options other than aggression and which are more cost-effective. Shaping perceptions of the adversary that needs to be deterred would then require the deterrer to understand the motives of the actor who has to be deterred. Without that exercise, any limited action, even if it were temporarily successful, would fail to induce a behaviour change or incentivise a state actor to do something different. Also, deterrence by denial—the ability to deter an action by making it infeasible—is a far better strategy than deterrence by punishment which, as the term implies, promises the resolve and the capability to take punitive action(s) and inflict severe punishment. So, in the case of the February 27 IAF/PAF aerial engagements, deterrence for Pakistan has been perceived to have worked at two levels: First, the overall, umbrella deterrence that flows from the possession of nuclear WMDs on both sides. This level ensures that even if one or the other side decides to initiate military hostilities, it must keep it limited. The second level is about conventional deterrence. If India has undertaken a military action, Pakistan can prevent her from achieving her objective, and by successfully undertaking its own action, can force India to rethink her use of any military option. The rethink is important because, in such a play, if Pakistan has prevented India’s action and successfully undertaken its own, India cannot simply retaliate to a reprisal. India will have to climb up the escalation ladder, i.e., she has to scale-up by using an escalatory option to defend her commitment to moral/military ascendancy. Escalation is about a higher cost and the rethink is a function of forcing India into that cost-benefit analysis. It is precisely for this reason that the opening round is so crucial for the initiator of kinetic operations, in this case India.

To recap, as noted above in the list of assumptions, every subsequent assumption flows from the success of the opening round. At this point it would be instructive to view all this from the perspective of the NDA-2 government, which is of the view that the previous Indian governments did not make use of available conventional military options because they were myopic and indecisive. After all, from India’s unilateral undertaking of “no first use” of nuclear WMDs to declarations that “war is not an option” after 26/11, India seemed to have conveyed an unintentional guarantee of immunity to those contemplating inimical actions against her. In sharp contrast, the NDA-2 government had resolved from the outset to teach Pakistan a lesson and create a “new normal”. On the morning of September 29, 2016, the Indian Army’s Director-General Military Operations announced to a packed press conference that India had conducted ‘low-intensity, counter-terror shallow cross-LoC raids’ against terrorist launch pads along the LoC. Target-1 was at Dudhnial, Neelum Valley (34 42 09.97 N, 74 06 28.75 E), target-2 was at Mundakal, Leepa Bulge (34 17 21.1 N, 73 55 25.7 E), target-3 was at Athmuqam, Keran Sector (34 34 48.65 N, 73 57 01.09 E), while targets 4, 5 and 6 along India’s Rajouri sector/Pakistan’s Battal sector were diversionary in nature. Pakistan did not retaliate because India did not admit to crossing the LoC into Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK). But by hyping these raids, the NDA-2 government locked itself further into a commitment trap. On February 14, therefore, when a suicide-bomber mounted the deadliest attack at Pulwama, J & K, against Central Reserve Police Force personnel in recent times, the NDA-2 government was left with no option but to exercise a limited military option. Only this time it had to be more than just a fire-raid across the LoC. Delhi jumped a few rungs on the escalation ladder by deciding to use the IAF. The important and crucial point was that India had challenged Pakistan and the latter needed to put an end to the “new normal” talk. Pakistan chose its targets (all lying within southern J & K) and struck with alacrity to demonstrate resolve and capability.

At the same time, in order to conserve its force-capacities and discourage India from climbing the escalation ladder, Islamabad internationalised the conflict by claiming on February 27 that since India was preparing to launch long-range cruise missiles (land-launched BrahMos-1s) for hitting nine targets inside Pakistan, the latter too had readied its cruise missiles for counter-strikes and had informed India that it will retaliate against any further kinetic actions initiated by the former. That, as per claims made by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Ahmed Khan Niazi, forced India to back off due to increasing international pressure. Of course, there is no way of knowing now whether this is true or false. Thus, the two sides are back to the ‘old normal’, i.e. cross-LoC fire-assaults. However, Pakistan must not underestimate India based on these limited aerial engagements. While India cannot not coerce Pakistan militarily at this moment, if the growth differential between the two countries continues to grow, the technological asymmetry will increase to the point where India’s strategies of coercion would kick into play, which could well spawn very different results on the ground. For instance, after the IAF starts inducting its anti-access, area-denial S-400 LR-SAMs into service by next year, such weapons will be used not just for defensive missions, but also in support of for pre-emptive offensive air operations undertaken by mixed formations of the IAF’s Su-30MKI H-MRCAs and Rafale M-MRCAs. Typically, anti-access, area-denial systems ensure that they can deny a mission to incoming hostiles (anti-access) and ensure safety of their own area against any hostile action (area denial mode). And that would be an entirely different ballgame altogether.

But as of now, a robust and sustained punitive Indian response to cross-border terrorism still remains a distant dream, since India has only so far demonstrated her professional competence and the will to go deep inside and strike at targets located in a country with a horizontal width of only 427.52km. Enhancement of mission-optimised force-capacities, on the other hand, are sorely lacking. In addition, at the strategic-level, India needs to urgently revise and introduce a degree of ambiguity in her nuclear weapons employment doctrine. At the operational-level, India must convey clarity and resolve by openly declaring: a “no negotiations” policy vis-a-vis terrorists and hijackers; her right to respond in self-defence to cross-border terrorist attacks at their sources and three, that while the response may not be instant it will be certain. In order to implement this policy, quick-reaction conventional and sub-conventional military forces-on-hand with suitable capabilities should be earmarked and kept in the requisite state of readiness at all times.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Key Takeaways From The IAF-PAF February 27 Aerial Engagements

South Asia’s first aerial engagement in 48 years, which took place on the morning of February 27 this year, was noteworthy for two reasons. Firstly, the engagements between the two opposing air forces saw the successful usage of both beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) and short-range air-to-air missiles (SRAAM), with the former being a first for the skies of South Asia. Secondly, both opposing air forces engaged one another not only with their respective multi-role combat aircraft (MRCA) fleets, but also with combat-support platforms like airborne early warning & control (AEW & CS) aircraft—the world’s first -ever such engagement in the history of aerial warfare. And it is in these two areas that witnessed outcomes that were not entirely surprising when analysed in detail, and which will have a profound impact on both future force modernization projects of both air forces, but also on the employment of offensive airpower in the next round of limited hostilities in South Asia.
In the arena of air combat with BVRAAMs, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had an appreciable head-start over the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) when in the 1980s it had procured Vympel R-23R and Matra Super 530D missiles along with its MiG-23MF and Mirage-2000H/TH combat aircraft, whereas the PAF could procure its first BVRAAMs—the Raytheon-built AIM-120C-5 AMRAAMs—only in the previous decade. Consequently, the IAF was expected to have acquired a very degree of proficiency in putting its present holdings of BVRAAMs to good use by applying innovative tactics. But surprisingly, this did not turn out to be the case, with the PAF ending up scoring the first air combat kill with a BVRAAM. On the other hand, the IAF’s successful employment of the Vympel R-73E SRAAM with the help of the Sura-1 helmet-mounted display system (HMDS) once again proved that even third-generation legacy-MRCAs—when suitably upgraded—can be lethal tools in the hands of experienced air warriors. But if the ‘deep upgrade’ efforts are half-hearted, then a heavy price will have to be paid, which is exactly what the IAF seems to have now discovered.
Take, for instance, the MiG-21 Bison upgrade project, which in the late 1990s was meant to give a new lease of life to 125 of the IAF’s 225 those MiG-21 Bis light-MRCAs that were scheduled to be phased out on the expiry of their total technical service-life (TTSL) of 20 years/2,400 flight-hours. Known as the MiG-21-93 project, it involved the following: extending the TTSL of the airframe and its Tumansky R-25-300 turbofan (producing 97.1kN thrust with afterburning) for up to 40 years and 4,000 flying hours; installing the Phazotron NIIR-developed Kopyo (Spear) multi-mode airborne pulse-Doppler X-band radar (MMR), and a new navigation-and-attack system developed by THALES of France that included a TOTEM ring laser gyro-based inertial navigation system (RLG-INS) coupled to a NSS-100P GPS receiver, ELBIT/El-Op Type 967 heads-up display, a MFD-55 active-matrix liquid-crystal display (AMLCD), locally-developed Tarang Mk.1 radar warning receiver (RWR), radar altimeter, hands-on-throttle and stick (HOTAS) controls, digital flight data recorder, autopilot, and a stores management system. The entire project was co-developed by RAC MiG, Phazotron-NIIR, GosNIIAS and Sokol Joint-Stock Company. Thus, the MiG-21 Bison was made capable of airborne target detection and lock-on range both in look-up and look-down while using R-27R and R-77/RVV-AE BVRAAMs; ground and sea-surface target detection and improved communications and navigation aids; airborne target detection and engagement range in action in the front hemisphere; improved PGM guidance and engagement capabilities in action against ground targets of any type; track-while-scan mode with the capability of tracking up to 10 targets and engaging two of them concurrently; and self-protection through the usage of the ELTA Systems-built EL/L-8222 high-band self-protection pod, plus newly-installed chaff/flare countermeasures dispensers. And yet, on the morning of February 27, one such MiG-21 Bison (armed with two Vympel R-77/RVV-AE BVRAAMs and two R-73E SRAAMs) of the IAF’s 1 Wing’s No.51 ‘Sword Arms’ Sqn operating out of  Avantipora air base in Jammu & Kashmir (J & K) was lost to enemy fire. So what went wrong?

Lessons From The ‘Furball’
At around 9:30am on February 27, IAF flight controllers noticed a large package of 24 PAF combat aircraft taking off in a matter of 15 minutes from three different air bases. These included at least 12 F-16C/Ds. As they approached the Line of Control (LoC), they split up into two different formations, with airborne battle management cues being provided by a Saab 2000 AEW & CS platform. The formations included four Mirage-VPAs, four Mirage-IIIEAs and four JF-17s headed for the Sundarbani-Rajouri-Naushera sub-sectors; and eight F-16s headed for the Rajouri-Mendhar sub-sector and Nangi Tekri in Karmara. Pitted against them were two of the IAF’s upgraded Mirage-2000INs and four MiG-21 Bisons flying north of the Pir Panjal Range, and four Su-30MKIs to the south of the Range. The main PAF strike force comprised four F-16C/Ds armed with DENEL Dynamics-supplied Raptor-IID TV-guided gliding munition, while the remaining four F-16C/Ds and four JF-17s were tasked with the protection of the strike package while remaining in a rear area over the Mangla Dam near the PoK-Pakistan Punjab border. Targets selected by the PAF for the air-strikes were the Indian Army posts at Bhimber Gali (elevation of 5,479 feet), Krishna Ghati Top (Nangi Tekri) at a height of 4,665 feet, Potha at an elevation of 4,073 feet, and an ammunition storage area in Narian (belonging to the 25 Infantry Division of the Indian Army) at an elevation of 2,000 feet. These targets, falling in India’s Rajouri sector, were deliberately selected for the sake of establishing Pakistan’s ‘moral; ascendancy’ along this portion of the LoC—given the fact that it is from these areas that the Indian Army dominates its opposing adversary’s Battal sector, which is located at lower altitudes.
However, the moment the intruding PAF F-16s gained altitude for crossing into the areas southeast of the Pir Panjal Range and approached their designated targets in Jammu at altitudes varying from 5,000 feet to 10,000 feet in order to launch the Raptor-IIDs, they were detected by the A-50I PHALCON by 10.25am, which in turn vectored the airborne MiG-21 Bisons towards their respective intercept courses. Since these MiG-21 Bisons climbed in the shadow of the Pir Panjal Range, the PAF’s Saab 2000 AEW & CS platform failed to detect them. This proved to be a blessing for the IAF, since the PAF’s attacking F-16C/Ds were taken aback and were forced to launch their Raptor-IIDs in great hurry. The Su-30MKIs carrying EL/L-8222 airborne self-protection jammer (ASPJ) pods were kept on standby further down south to engage the four PAF F-16s that were still orbiting 162km further to the west. It subsequently became evident that the PAF had no intention of creating a ‘furball’ either over PoK or over southern Jammu and all it wanted to achieve was to drive home a ‘point’ about the PAF demonstrating its will, means and capability to stage a ‘retaliatory sneak attack’ inside Indian territory.
By most accounts, while cruising at 15,000 feet altitude, the MiG-21 Bison flown by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman engaged a PAF F-16D of 19 ‘Sherdils’ Sqn that had approached the Indian Army’s ammunition depot at Narian in southern Jammu and was exiting that location at an altitude of 9,000 feet. While the MiG-21 Bison made a shallow dive to get within R-73E firing range of the F-16, the latter’s pilot was alerted by his wingman about the impending attack and so he took an evasive measure by going into a steep climb to about 26,000 feet. By this time Wg Cdr Abhinandan had skillfully manoeuvred his MiG-21 Bison behind the fleeing F-16 and had positioned himself at a 60-degree angle of elevation below the F-16 for maximum head-on impact. He then fired an R-73E, which effortlessly struck the nose-section of the F-16D. However, even as the R-73E was closing on to its target, the wingman of the F-16 (Wing Commander Nauman Ali Khan) moved in from behind and fired an AIM-120C-5 AMRAAM from a distance of less than 12km, hitting the centre-fuselage of the MiG-21 Bison. A second AIM-120C-5 that was probably fired against Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s wingman (who had gotten separated from him) failed to hit its target and consequently it slammed into Mamankote Mallas village, Reasi, and caused an explosion that spread splinters and missile parts within a radius of 100 metres.
The entire aerial engagement lasted for some 90 seconds and ended at around 10:45am. The PAF F-16D was shot down over the Jhangar area of J & K, but its wreckage fell in Khuiratta inside Pakistan-occuiped-Kashmir (PoK), opposite the Lam Valley. The MiG-21 Bison, on the other hand, went down near Horra’n Kotla village, located 7km west of the LoC in PoK’s Bhimber district.
There are two probable reasons why Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s MiG-21 Bison was hit by the AIM-120C-5, while that of his wingman survived the aerial engagement: the former’s aircraft was not equipped with either a missile approach warning system, or MAWS (which provides advance warning on inbound guided-missiles of all types), or the EL/L-8222 high-band self-protection pod, while the latter had the EL/L-8222 and hence was able to jam the AMRAAM’s Ku-band active radar seeker. It needs to be noted here that universal air combat rules call for using one high-band self-protection pod for every two combat aircraft (comprising the flight leader and his/her wingman). However, since it is impossible to maintain formation during air combat, it is now preferable to have internally-mounted high-band self-protection jammers that can provide assured self-defence.
There are only three plausible reasons why the PAF preferred to use BVRAAMs instead of SRAAMs for this aerial engagement: 1) The PAF was unsure whether or not the IAF’s Su-30MKIs equipped with OLS-30 infra-red search-and-track (IRST) sensors would join the battle (if they were to, then they would have easily had the upper hand since they can cruise at higher altitudes from where the R-73E SRAAM/Sura-1 HMDS combination can be used with devastating effect); 2) The PAF, devoid of all-aspect SRAAMs that can be guided wide off-boresight by the Boeing-built Joint Helmet-Mounted Cueing System (JHMCS), was extremely vary of initiating within-visual-range engagements due to the guaranteed and combat-proven lethality and superior engagement envelope of the R-73E SRAAM/Sura-1 HMDS combination found in the MiG-21 Bison. Thus, even though equipped with either ITT Corp-built ALQ-211V4 or Northrop Grumman-built ALQ-131V jamming pods, the pilots of the PAF’s F-16s and JF-17 ‘Thunders’ on February 27 morning knew only too well that once the ‘furball’ started within a hemispheric air combat ‘bowl’ measuring 10 nautical miles in diameter, MRCAs like the Mirage-2000N and Su-30MKI (that were airborne at that time) were the perfect ones to fly. In fact, it is universally acknowledged that thanks to their superb aerodynamics and all-aspect SRAAM/HMDS combination, both the Mirage-2000N and Su-30MKI are exceptional platforms for close-in combat. 3) In the BVR arena, the IAF had a unique edge over the PAF through the incorporation of a radar finger-printing avionics suite (which is interfaced with the on-boasrd radar warning receiver sensors) on its fleet of Su-30MKIs that allows the H-MRCAs to operate in an all-passive non-cooperative target recognition (NCTR) mode (which none the PAF’s frontline MRCAs possess till today).
NCTR Mode: A Vital Force-Multiplier
In essence, the NCTR mode enables a combat aircraft to approach its opponent/s in all-passive mode while at the same time maintaining total situational awareness about the range and bearing of the opposing aircraft whose on-board MMR is operating in the track-while-scan mode and the subsequent target lock-on mode when firing a BVRAAM. However, the laws of physics dictate that when the MMR is activated, the ASPJs have to be switched off for preventing electromagnetic interference (EMI). This is when the NCTR mode enables an aircraft like the Su-30MKI to passively lock-on to its opponent and fire BVRAAMs like the R-77 or even IIR-guided SRAAMs like the R-73E while at the same time keeping its EL/L-8222 ASPJ activated for completely neutralising hostile BVRAAMs like the AIM-120 AMRAAM. The hostile MRCA, on the other hand, remains unaware of the approaching BVRAAM or SRAAM (until it is too late to take evasive action) because it is illuminating the AMRAAM while at the same time being forced to de-activate its own integral ASPJ pod.
On the other hand, the sleek MiG-21 Bison in combination with the R-73E SRAAM/Sura-1 HMDS in sensor-lock mode proved to be a sure-killer. The R-73E hosts a very capable infra-red heat-seeker with a greater range and wider off-boresight sensor cueing capability than the PAF’s Raytheon-supplied AIM-9M-8 Sidewinder. A simple monocular lens in front of Wg Cdr Abhinandan’s right eye enabled him to slew the R-73E’s seeker onto his adversary at a high angle off target and achieve lock-on even though his MiG-21 Bison’s nose was pointed far away from its target. The Sura-1 comes mounted via a spring-loaded clip to a modified HGU-55P helmet. The pilot then connects the HMDS to a tester and adjusts the symbology so that it is centered in the monocle. Once in the aircraft, the simple act of plugging in the power cord means it is ready for use. There is no alignment process required with the Joint Helmet-Mounted Cuing System. It just worked. Being on the shooting end of the equation, one sees shot opportunities that he/she would never have dreamed of with SRAAMs like the AIM-9M-8 Sidewinder used by the PAF. Those on the receiving end are equally less enthused about being shot from angles they could not otherwise train to.
IAF’s MSWS Shortcomings
Where the IAF’s MRCAs came short of their PAF counterparts was in the arena of self-protection suites—a situation similar to the one in mid-1999 when only after Operation Safed Sagar did the IAF decide to equip the bulk of its USSR-origin aircraft and helicopters with the hitherto-absent chaff/flare countermeasures dispensers. In the MiG-21 Bison’s case, the lack of conformally-mounted high-band self-protection hammers and MAWS is hard to explain, since such fitments have been available to the IAF from Sweden’s SaabTech, South Africa’s Avitronics and Grintek, and from Denmark’s TERMA since the mid-1990s. In case of the MiG-29UPG and Su-30MKis too, such mission-critical fitments have not yet been specified by the IAF, even though the PAF’s F-16s and JF-17s have had these since the previous decade! It was in March 1999 that Celsius of Sweden, which also owns SaabTech, bought a 49% share in Grintek Avitronics, South Africa's biggest passive electronic warfare development house, for US$4.8 million. And in March 2011 Cassidian Optronics, part of the defence and security division of EADS, acquired the majority shareholding in South Africa-based Grintek Ewation (GEW) Technologies. In October 2014 Cassidian Optronics became part of Airbus Defence & Space Optronics Airbus Group, which in March 2017 became HENSOLDT Optronics GmbH. Interestingly, on July 17, 2006, the then EADS and India’s state-owned Defence R & D Organisation’s (DRDO) Bengaluru-based Defence Avionics Research Establishment (DARE) had inked a Memorandum of Understanding on the joint development of a MAWS suite (using MILDS-F AN/AAR-60V2 dual-color IR/UV sensors) for three of the locally-developed EMB-135I AEW & CS platforms as well as other IAF combat and combat-support aircraft. Achieving initial operational capability for this suite was planned for 2011, while state-owned Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) was nominated for producing 36 MAWS suites, which were to be a part of the multi-sensor/multi-spectral warning system (MSWS) that also included RWRs and laser warning receivers.
However, as of today, only the three EMB-145Is have the MSWS, while none of the existing IAF combat aircraft fleets have them. While they have been specified for the projected Super Su-30MKI mid-life deep upgrade programme, what remains unanswered is why was the MSWS not incorporated into the Su-30MKI procurement project early in the previous decade itself, and on the 63-unit MiG-29UPG upgrade project (whose DARE-developed D-29 suite includes only the DARE-developed and BEL-built R-118 ‘Dhruti’ RWRs and high-band active transmit/receive units with Vivaldi-type antenna arrays) that commenced in 2010. In comparison, when Malaysia in 2005 ordered 18 Su-30MKMs, it specified the fitment of Saab-Grintek Avitronics-supplied MAW-300 MAWS and LWS-310 laser warners along with the Russia-supplied Pastel L-140-30 RWRs. Incidentally, the MAW-300, LWS-310 and the RWS-300 RWR from Saab-Grintek Avitronics were specified early this decade for installation on the ‘Rudra’ helicopter gunships that were ordered for the IAF and Indian Army’s Aviation Corps from state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Lack of SDR & TDLs Affected Airborne Battle Management
The introduction of AEW & CS platforms into the subcontinent by the PAF (four Saab 2000s of the Kamra-based No.3 Sqn and four CETC of China-supplied ZDK-03 Karakoram Eagle KE-3s of the Masroor-based No.4 Sqn) in the previous decade, and followed by the IAF’s procurement of three A-50I PHALCONs from Israel and three locally-developed EMB-145Is earlier this decade) has seen aircrew of both air forces act like air-traffic controllers for military aircraft on operations. Due to this, the AEW & CS platforms have become as proficient in an offensive role as in a defensive role. In the former, the aircrew on board the AEW & CS platforms can now guide both combat and combat-support aircraft on to targets during offensive engagements, be they on land, in the air or at sea. While doing this, the platforms still maintain their defensive roles by informing friendly pilots what other aircraft are within their area of operations, be they friend or foe. The A-50I, for instance, can detect low-flying targets within a diameter of 400km or 215nm. At medium-altitude, it can detect targets within 520km or 280nm. Thus, one A-50I cruising at 9,150 metres (30,000 feet) has a radar coverage of 312,000 square kilometres.
On February 27 morning, in the world’s first-ever aerial engagement in the history of aerial warfare that involved AEW & CS platforms by both sides, the IAF maintained a defensive posture, while the PAF went on an offensive limited in time and depth. While the PAF had two of its Saab 2000 AEW & CS platforms airborne at that time (with each capable of controlling three combat air patrol [CAP] interceptions and managing one tactical strike mission at the same time) over an area south of Islamabad and east of Sargodha, the IAF had one A-50I from the Agra-based No.50 Sqn (capable of controlling six CAP interceptions and managing three tactical strike missions at the same time) over Himachal Pradesh and one EMB-145I from the Bhisiana-based No.200 ‘Netra’ Sqn (capable of controlling three CAP interceptions and managing one tactical strike mission at the same time) airborne near Pathankot at the same time.
But why did the IAF not mount barrier-CAPs aimed in-strength against the F-16s and JF-17s? One plausible reason appears to be the IAF’s laid-down rules of engagement (emerging from the political directives issued), which discouraged the initiation of air combat inside PoK’s airspace. And this in turn is most probably due to the lack of UHF-/L-band two-way tactical data-links (TDL) on-board the IAF’s fleet of combat aircraft, which prevents the AEW & CS platforms from providing real-time airborne battle management cues to airborne IAF combat aircraft while operating inside contested/hostile airspace. Instead, the AEW & CS platforms are presently transmitting the air situation picture via VHF bands to ground exploitation centres from where ground-controlled intercept cues are transmitted within line-of-sight (and consequently over a very limited distance) to the defending IAF combat aircraft deployed on CAPs. TDLs required for offensive air operations inside hostile airspace include: the L-band data-link for two-way line-of-sight communications with AEW & CS platforms; and a UHF-band SATCOM-based data-link for communicating with ground-based tactical air-controllers. The TDL thus forms part of the airborne software-defined radio (SDR) suite, which the IAF had specified for procurement in the previous decade. While the HAL-developed SDR-2010 has been available since 2011, it was only last year that the IAF commenced efforts on procuring 473 + 3,125 SDRs worth Rs.630 crore (including the integral TDL component) TDLs for achieving real-time connectivity between all IAF aircraft/helicopters and the Integrated Aerospace Command, Control & Communications System’s (IACCCS) terrestrial and airborne elements, especially via the GSAT-7A satellite’s on-board SATCOM transponders. For its 83 projected Tejas Mk.1A L-MRCAs, the IAF has specified RAFAEL of Israel’s BNET-AR SDR for installation.
During future hostilities, there are two possible ways of severely degrading the effectiveness of the PAF’s AEW & CS platforms: 1) investing in LR-SAMs like the Almaz-Antey S-400 Triumf ADMS; and 2) acquiring at least four aircraft equipped with high-power wideband jamming hardware. Following the signature of a contract on October 5, 2018 that is valued at US$5.43 billion, the IAF is all set to receive its initial five squadrons of S-400 Triumf ADMS, with deliveries commencing in late 2020. Plans call for eventually expanding this LR-SAM network into five Brigades in the following decade, and deploying them for the air-defence (against hostile AEW & CS platforms and ballistic missiles) of major cities and industrial corridors located in western and central India. The sector-wise command-and-control posts of each of these Brigades will be integrated with the IAF’s already-operational five nodes of the Integrated Air Command, Control & Communications System (IACCCS) at Barnala (Punjab), Wadsar (Gujarat), Aya Nagar (Delhi), Jodhpur (Rajasthan) and Ambala (Haryana). Initially, the S-400 ADMS will come equipped with only the 380km-range 40N6E LR-SAMs, which were declared by Russia as being ready for series-production following a series of user-assisted successful test-firings last August. In the following decade, the 40N6E LR-SAMs will be joined by the 77N6-N and the 77N6-NI LR-SAMs, having top speeds of 7km/second and using Ka band millimeter-wave active phased-array radar seekers required for fire-control and guidance of hit-to-kill interceptors.
Airborne wideband high-power jammers (with the low-bandwidth jamming taking care of hostile medium-power/high-power airspace surveillance radars; the  mid-band jamming countering the engagement/target illumination radars used by ground-based surface-to-air defence systems; and the high-band jamming neutralizing the active seekers of BVRAAMs and SAMs) using active phased-array transmit-receive modules with microprocessors made of gallium nitride can generate around ten times the isotropic radiated power of existing airborne jammers. In addition, the signal itself is cleaner, which means less accidental interference. Such new-generation jammers can also handle quadruple the number of assignments and can switch from target to target almost instantaneously. Also built-in is the ability to collect, analyse and jam new hostile signals as they emanate, enabling the system to adjust in-flight to evolving threat profiles, and apply appropriate countermeasures as the situation develops. Furthermore, its agile jamming flexibility is further extended by the deliberate choice of open-architecture, solid-state electronics, which enables quick and easy updates to be made to its on-board threat library as and when required, to meet new hostile capabilities as they appear. Such jammers also have the potential ability to launch a cyber-attack, involving inserting rogue data packets into hostile ground-based air-defence networks in a so-called “network invasion.” As effective, broad spectrum jamming increasingly becomes key to survival in the modern contested airspace, it is therefore imperative that the IAF acquire such new-generation wideband high-power jammers to help meet the growing capability demand.

CSAR Deficiencies
The results of the Board of Inquiry (BoI) looking into the IAF Mi-17V-5 helicopter crash that took place in an open field near Garend Kalaan village in Budgam on February 27 at 10.10am (merely 10 minutes after it took off from Awantipora, resulting in seven fatalities, including six IAF personnel), are likely to result in an overhaul of the IAF’s current standard operating protocols regarding combat search-and-rescue (CSAR) missions. The BoI, which is looking into all possible angles (inclusive of friendly surface-to-air fire due to mistaken friend-or-foe identification actions) due to local eyewitness accounts of hearing a loud explosion in the air just before the ill-fated Mi-17V-5 went down, indicating the possibility of some external event causing the crash. Traditionally, personnel recovery (PR) and CSAR missions have never been considered as one of the core mission functions of the IAF and it was due to this that the IAF began procuring SARBE hand-held personal locator beacons from the UK only from the mid-1990s, followed a decade later by the raising of ‘Garud’ special forces units tasked with conducting PR/CSAR missions within highly contested operating environments. As per a RAND Corp study, if the downed aircrew cannot be recovered in the first 2 hours or so, the recovery probability drops to about 25%, but the probability declines only slowly thereafter with increasing time on the ground. However, the IASF till this day does not possess the kind of specially-equipped helicopters required for CSAR missions. Despite the requirement being specified a decade ago, the IAF only last year began developing a prototype Mi-17V-5 for the CSAR role (which made its debut as a static exhibit at the Aero India 2019 expo in Bengaluru last February) by equipping it with an ELBIT Systems-supplied COMPASS optronic sensor turret and BEL-developed miniature SATCOM antenna and secure modems. Other elements, like the MSWS suite, GPS receiver, VOL/ILS receiver, Doppler-based terrain navigation system, IFF transponder, radar altimeter, attitude heading reference system, and a traffic collision avoidance system, have yet to be selected.
Overcoming The Damning Shortfalls
When it comes to airpower projection, the gaping holes are not just limited to the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) depleting combat aircraft squadron strength, but they also extend to vital support infrastructure, as well as block obsolescence of guided air-combat missiles and ground-based air-defence systems of both the IAF and Indian Army. Three proposals are now awaiting financial clearance in the current fiscal year: an order for 18 additional licence-assembled Su-30MKI from state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL); the procurement of up to 50 upgraded MiG-29UPGs from Russia off-the-shelf; and commencement of the Super Su-30MKI deep-upgrade project. The first was confirmed at the Aero India 2019 expo in Bengaluru last February by Anatoly G Punchuk, Deputy Director of the Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation, when he said: “We have received an official request from the IAF for 18 more (semi-knocked-down) kits just in January this year. We are preparing a commercial offer,” Although. Punchuk did not confirm the cost of this projected order, it is estimated that the figure would be a third of the last order for Su-30MKIs from Russia, which was placed in 2012 and was valued at. Rs.17,246 crore order for an additional 42 Su-30MKIs in semi-knocked-down condition that HAL subsequently had licence-assembled.
Earlier, in November 2018, Russia had made an unsolicited offer for the off-the-shelf supply of up to 34 upgraded MiG-29UBGs, each powered by Klimov RD-33MK turbofans and using the Phazotron NIIR-supplied Zhuk-M2E multi-mode fire-control radars. While the IAF has been invited to buy them at a unit-cost of US$25 million or Rs.175 crore (since they are already substantially upgraded to the MiG-29SMT standard and have not been flown ever since they were built in 2008), each of them will cost Rs.285 crore after being upgraded to the IAF’s specifications. An IAF technical inspection team visited Russia last January and has since submitted a favourable report to India’s Ministry of Defence (MoD). The IAF’s existing 69 MiG-29B-12s are presently being upgraded to the MiG-29UPG-standard under a 2008 contract worth $900 million (Rs.3,850 crore). These are in service with the Adampur-based 8 Wing’s 47 Black Archers and 223 Tridents squadrons and the Jamnagar-based 33 Wing’s 28 First Supersonics squadron.
In 2010, the IAF had issued a Rs.10,200 crore Request for Proposals (RFP) for the deep-upgrade of 84 of its Su-30MKIs into the Super Su-30MKI configuration. Negotiations subsequently went into a limbo since Russia’s asking price had then exceeded the IAF’s estimated budget. The upgrade offer was resurrected last year during the summit-level talks between Indian PM Narendra Modi and Russian President Vladimir Putin and a contract is due to be inked later this year. Meanwhile, Alpha-Tocol has bagged a contracted under the IAF’s ‘Eagle Eye’ project for installing six fifth-generation R-118 digital radar warning receivers on each of the IAF’s 148 Su-30MKIs currently based in Lohegaon (Maharashtra), Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), Tejpur and Chabua (Assam), Jodhpur (Rajasthan), Bhisiana and Halwara (Punjab), Bhuj (Gujarat), Sirsa (Haryana), Kalaikunda and Hashimara (West Bengal) and Thanjavur (Tamil Nadu).
NG-HAS Unavailability
The IAF had initiated efforts for constructing 108 new generation hardened aircraft shelters (NG-HAS) for housing its Su-30MKI heavy-/medium-multi-role combat aircraft (H-/M-MRCA) back in 2012, the cost of which was then pegged at Rs.5,400 crore. Acceptance of Necessity (AoN) was accorded by the MoD to its Defence R & D Organisation (DRDO) in December 2012 for evolving the NG-HAS’s detailed engineering design. SAubsequently, a proposal to rework the project in three phases by categorising air bases within a distance of 100km, 200km and beyond 200km from the border, respectively, with a gap of two years in each phase, came under consideration. The first phase was to involve the construction of 36 NG-HAS requiring a cash outflow of Rs.270 crore. Under this, the air bases at Pathankot, Srinagar, Udhampur, Bagdogra, Naliya, Hasimara, Jaisalmer and Uttarlai were to receive top-priority. However, the Cabinet Committee on National Security (CCNS) approved financial sanctions only at the end of 2017, while the Union Finance Ministry released the funds only on January 7, 2019. Consequently, the project will now be completed only by 2023. The IAF’s existing HAS, built to house smaller combat aircraft like the MiG-21 Bison, Jaguar IS, Mirage-2000IN and MiG-29UPG, are tunnel-shaped concrete structures covered with a layer of earth and protective walls near their openings, which are supposed to protect aircraft from the effects of blasts in case of hostile aerial attacks.
The DRDO-developed Akash-1 extended short-range air-defence system (E-SHORADS), whose development began back in 1983, cleared its user-trials only in 2007, following which the IAF ordered 1,000 missiles and the Indian Army 2,000 missiles. The IAF service-inducted its first Akash-1 Flight in March 2012 upon completion of nine successful rounds of user-trials, with service commissioning following in July 2015. Eight Akash-1 squadrons are now in service, with 125 missiles in each squadron. Another six squadrons, worth around Rs.3,500 crore, are now in delivery and these will use Akash-1S missiles fitted with the same indigenously-developed Ku-band active terminal seeker as that on the indigenous Astra-1 BVRAAM. The Indian Army expressed its desire to order the Akash-1 in June 2010, but it was only in 2017 that the order for two regiments (each comprising 288 launchers and 750 missiles) worth Rs.6,000 crore ($2.8 billion) was placed. In terms of hardware content, the Akash-1 is 96% indigenous and sources its components from 330 Indian public-sector and private-sector industries.
The IAF’s medium-range surface-to-air missile (MR-SAM) contract that was signed in 2009 had a project cost of Rs.10,076 crore. Of this, the DRDO’s share, which constituted the developmental costs, added up to Rs.1,680 crore, while the remaining amount of Rs.8,396 crore was committed by the IAF towards the guaranteed purchase of the Barak-8 missiles and other related ground-based fire-control systems. It is only this year that the IAF will begin inducting an initial nine squadrons of this land-mobile MR-SAM. On April 6, 2017 Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) and the MoD signed a contract worth $1.6 billion for the supply of two Regiments of Barak-8 MR-SAMs for the Indian Army. Delivery of the first system will begin within 72 months and will be deployed for operations by 2023. The order for each MR-SAM regiment or Group, has been pegged at Rs.14,000 crore, or Rs.6 crore per missile round.
Both the IAF and Indian Army also have a pressing need for up to 72 land-mobile quick-reaction SAM (QR-SAM) systems, for which the DRDO has since the earlier part of this decade been working on developing a QR-SAM variant of the Astra-1 BVRAAM. Production deliveries by the MoD-owned Bharat Dynamics Ltd and Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) are expected to commence only by 2022. The requirement for manportable very short-range air-defence systems (VSHORADS) for the Indian Army and Navy, is worth $5.2 billion and involves the procurement of 5,175 missiles and 1,276 single and multi-launchers with stipulated industrial technology transfers. There have been three contenders over the past nine year—SAABTech of Sweden (offering the RBS-70), MBDA of France (offering the Mistral) and Rosoboronexport State Corp of Russia (offering the Igla-S). User-trials began in May 2012 and were completed only last year, with the Igla-S emerging as the winner.
As for S-125 Pechoras, 30 Sqns were acquired in all, of which 16 are being upgraded and fully digitised. The $272 million RFP to upgrade 16 IAF S-125 Sqns was issued in May 2016 to Tata Power SED, Larsen & Toubro, Reliance Defence, Offset India Solutions and a partnership of BDL and BEL. The contract was awarded in 2017 to BDL/BEL, with first deliveries to commence within 42 months of contract signature. As for SpyDer-SR, the Indian Army has acquired four Regiments worth $250 million to replace all its OSA-AK and Strella-10Ms. The IAF has acquired 18 Firing Units of Spyder-SR LL-QRMs worth $260 million that were contracted for in September 2009. RFPs for both requirements were issued in mid-2005 to OEMs based in France, Israel, Poland, Russia, South Africa, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

In the aftermath of the February 26 Balakot air-strikes, the IAF has asked the MoD to urgently purchase new stockpiles of beyond-visual-range air-to-air missiles (BVRAAM) and short-range air-to-air missiles (SRAAM) due to the prevailing extended levels of combat preparedness being experienced against Pakistan. The hectic flying activity by both day and night for ensuring high-levels of operational alert have led to an increasing number of BVRAAMs and SRAAMs being used in fully-armed mode, which has reduced their shelf-life from eight years (in case they are stored in cannisters) to only four sorties of service-life, following which they have to be zero-lifed by their original equipment manufacturers (OEM). The IAF is authorised to stockpile up to 4,000 BVRAAMs and 6,000 SRAAMs and its present inventory holdings include the Vympel R-27ER1/ET1 and R-77/RVV-AE BVRAAMs from both Russia and Ukraine, and Mica-EM BVRAAMs from MBDA; plus Vympel R-73E SRAAMs from Russia and MBDA-supplied Mica-IR and AIM-132 ASRAAMs.
Anti-Aircraft Artillery Backlogs
Though the IAF requires 430 new-generation anti-aircraft cannons and related fire-control systems worth $400 million for close-in base air-defence, it plans to initially procure 244 cannons, 228 target acquisition/fire-control radars and 204,000 programmable bullets for 61 Flights—only 18 of which can be delivered directly from a foreign OEM. Five Indian companies, including Bharat Forge/Kalyani Defence teamed with BAE Systems, Reliance Defence teamed with Hanwha Defense Systems of South Korea , Tata Aerospace & Defence, Larsen & Toubro and the MoD-owned Ordnance Factory Board (OFB) teamed up with BEL and THALES of France have put in their bids. On the other hand, the Indian Army requires 938 cannons to replace in-service Bofors L-70 and Russian ZU-23MM-2B systems, plus 5,05,920 rounds of ammunition, including 1,63,200 smart 3P rounds—all valued at $1.7 billion (Rs.17,000 crore).
The Indian Army also has a requirement for five Regiments (or 104 units) of self-propelled cannon-missile systems, 97 ammunition carriers, 39 command vehicles, 4,928 missiles and 172,260 rounds of ammunition, costing a total of $1.6 billion. The bidding process took off in 2013, and the candidate weapons were evaluated throughout 2015 and field-tested in 2017. Contenders included the Hanwha Defense Systems’ Hybrid K-30 Biho (paired with the Chiron SAM developed by aerospace manufacturer LIG Nex1), and Russian companies Almaz-Antey, which offered its upgraded Tunguska system, and KBP Tula, which offered its Pantsyr system. In October 2018, the Army officially declared Hanwha Defense Systems as the only qualified company for i8mplementing the project.
Another requirement that has acquired greater urgency (due to the Pakistan Army’s intentions for attacking the Indian Army’s dominating outposts south of the Pir Panjal Range along the LoC in southern Jammu with remotely-operated quadcopters armed with improvised explosive devices) is the need for drone countermeasures systems capable of jamming the two-way data-links of such ‘kamikaze’ quadcopters. Expected to be ordered are a BEL-developed, manportable, remotely-operated anti-drone jammer that can be coupled with an OFB-developed, vehicle-mounted 12.7mm remote-control weapon station.
In the deep-upgrade category, on June 30, 2015 Punj Lloyd and BEL were shortlisted for upgrading the Army’s 468 ZU-23MM-2B cannons under a $100 million (Rs.670 crore) project. While Punj Lloyd has partnered with Slovakian defence company EVPU Defence Punj, BEL has teamed up with OFB. However, no final winner has been announced as yet. Meanwhile, following a March 2011 contract award, BEL on November 28, 2014 delivered the first of 48 modernised ZSU-23-4 Schilka self-propelled air-defence weapon systems to the Army.