The Tribune - Spectrum


Sunday, November 24, 2002

Need for Air Force and Army to work together
Rakesh Datta

Air Land Battle—the Indian Dichotomy
by Lt Col Thakur Kuldip S. Ludra (retd). Published privately. Pages 131. Rs 650.

EVER since India attained freedom, it has fought nearly five wars. However, there has been lack of cooperation between the Army and the Air Force during such wars. The Air Force was conspicuous by its absence in support to troops on the frontline. The Battle of Longewal proves the contention.

The Air Force accepts the importance of the air-delivered firepower in the land battle, but the Army must know that air support is not the only role of the Air Force. These were the expert comments made by Major-General Rajendra Nath and Air Marshal M. M. Singh in the un-commissioned report submitted to the Joint Chiefs of Staff Committee under review.

The other two umpires to this report are Air Marshal R. S. Bedi and Lt-Gen K. S. Khajuria. The latter has even questioned the author’s erudition on the subject. The report deals with various patterns of operations, both offensive and defensive, and the need for air support to ground troops.

In the "Preamble," the author stresses on the Air Force resistance to any attempt by the Indian Army for close integration of air support with ground operations. For instance, citing 1965 and 71 wars, the Indian offensive had to retreat from the Ichogil canal and the Shakargarh area because the Air Force was bidding for air supremacy elsewhere and fighting its own war. In Kargil, too, the Air Force never integrated into ground battle.

Earlier, frustrated by the Air Force’s lack of support in the land battles, the Army even considered strengthening its Aviation Corps when it projected a case for Mi-35 gunships to be made part of the Army’s inventory.

According to the author, there are inherent shortcomings in the Air Force command and organisation structure when it is integrated with the Army in terms of preparing action plan, training, target acquisition, guidance system and inadequate munitions and weapon systems.


The present system envisages that the Advanced Air Headquarters must be told 48 hours in advance for any air support. At the same time, though the Air Force has strategic pretensions it is primarily a tactical force. The end result is that it has developed a schizophrenic attitude ignoring the fact that as a tactical force its role is mainly supportive to the other two services.

In a chapter "Air Support: Planning for Attack," the author suggests a two-way sequence for air-land planning, one from corps downward to the battalion level and the other from battalion upwards. After reading the report one gets bewildered that while the three services are pushing for integrating battle doctrines, including a post for the Chief of Defence Staff, there is no semblance of even basic realities confirming to it, instead the focus is on empire building. Indeed a sorry state of defence planning with overdose of bureaucratic control.

In his final analysis, the author brings out an urgent need to streamline the country’s defence organisation at the highest level. The best solution the author offers is to do away with the Defence Ministry and replace it with a single specialist from the armed forces who would advise the government on national security matters and organises the basic structure to meet the external threats.

It is of vital significance, as the author opines that the Air Force undergoes a doctrinal rethink. It has the capability of winning a war, provided it is used as a force multiplier and works in conjunction with the other two services. No war can be won without the Air Force, but it must not be forgotten that the ground troops would always have the final bet and only the Air Force can help achieve that.