Russia Ukraine conflict reflection of complete multi domain operations IAF Chief

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New Delhi, April 12

The ongoing Russia and Ukraine conflict is a reflection of complete multi-domain operations that are taking place, Indian Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal V.R. Chaudhari said on Tuesday.

He said, "This is the first time we are witnessing the unfolding of a truly hybrid warfare…We are witnessing the use of drones, hypersonic weapons, aircraft of all sizes and types and ground forces all working in unison against the backdrop of economic sanctions and diplomatic heft."

Speaking at the All India Management Association event, the IAF Chief further stated that there is a lot to learn from the Russia and Ukraine conflict.

"Is it only in hardware? Is it going to be through soft power? Is it going to be a multitude of all this? Primarily what it amounts to is to be able to re-imagine, to re-invent, to be able to re-dedicate and retrain ourselves for future conflicts," he said.

He was speaking on the topic, "The Future of Air Warfare: Securing the Skies and Beyond" organised by All India Management Association.

The Indian Air Force Chief said, "In the last 20 years, we have seen unprecedented developments in technology which have totally changed the way we live, socialise and work."

"Our social media followers are as much a part of our life as are our immediate family. Our increasing reliance on technology has reached such a stage where the modern generation is more likely to ask Siri if it is daylight rather than opening the windows to see if it is," he said.

With the advent of the Internet and social media platforms, the world has become a very small place sans borders.

Traditionally, wars have been fought on the land, at sea, in the air and to some extent, in space. In the past two decades, this spectrum has increased to encompass cyber and information domains.

The first four domains are classically physical and the other two are virtual. The overarching effect of cyber and information on the conduct of conventional wars has created a new, hybrid and multi domain spectrum of conflict resulting in older tactics and strategies becoming passe.

"Therefore, to secure our borders, there is a definite imperative to Reimagine, Reform, Redesign and Rebuild our traditional war fighting machinery and adapt to this new emerging paradigm," he said.

"As we become more and more interconnected, a cyber-attack on our networks can cripple command and control structures. What I am trying to get at is that in the next war, the enemy might not be a country or an organisation. We may never know the perpetrators of a Distributed Denial of Services attack and we will not know when and from where the attack will take place."

"In the future, we could be attacked on all fronts, ranging from economic strangulation to diplomatic isolation and military standoffs to information black outs in the form of attacks by Distributed Denial of Services. All this will happen well before the first bullet is fired or the first aircraft goes across the border."

Future warfare is likely to be hybrid in nature and the spectrum of conflict will be spread across all domains spanning from conventional to sub-conventional, kinetic to non-kinetic and lethal to non-lethal, all under a nuclear overhang.

The weapons we are looking at would be ranging from a small computer virus to hypersonic missiles.

Challenges in last two years

The Indian Air Force, during the last two years, have also had a set of challenges. During the peak of the pandemic, the situation in Eastern Ladakh also unfolded.

The IAF was on high alert while simultaneously providing full support to the nation's fight against Covid.

"Our transport aircraft fleet flew to 18 countries clocking 4800+ flying hours in around 2,900 sorties distributing aid to our friends across the globe," he said.

Additionally, over 2,600 hours were flown within the country for transportation and positioning of oxygen and medical supplies wherever they were required.

The total distance covered was over 27 lakh kilometres, which is like flying to the moon and back – 4 times over.

"All this was in addition to the threat on our northern borders and while maintaining a 24×7 readiness to cater for any eventuality," he said.

During the recently concluded Op-Ganga, the Indian Air Force flew 240 hours to four countries and flew back 2,826 Indians from the war-torn region.

Way ahead

What are the plans of the IAF to be ready to fight and win tomorrow's wars? Conflicts in the last few decades have clearly established without doubt, the pre-eminence of Air Power as the Instrument of Choice for almost all operational contingencies.

The tactical advantage that 'high ground' offers is a must-achieve criteria even today.

In this aspect, air power provides that high ground and ability to bypass the fielded forces to hit targets in great depths with speed and precision.

In more recent times, Space has been increasingly exploited as it provides the ultimate high ground where nation's forces can operate with near impunity.

In the fog of war, there is a need to get as clear a picture as possible of the battle space and intentions of the adversary. This would give a high degree of flexibility to the commander at the operational level to make dynamic changes and shape the battlefield.

"We are actively pursuing development of niche technologies in the field of space-based capabilities, Data Linking and AI based Decision Support Systems to shorten the sensor to shooter loop and for making the targeting cycle highly responsive," he said.

Access to high end technology

Easy accessibility of high end technology is also posing new challenges to the conventional forces.

Harassment through the use of drones in the Yemeni-Saudi tussle, use of drones alongside fighter aircraft in Azerbaijan-Armenia conflict and unconfirmed reports of Ukrainians using drones against Russian forces are all indicative of the equipment of future wars.

"We have also doctrinally included drone usage in our scheme of operations to benefit from some of the exclusive attributes of these platforms. At the same time, we are pursuing unmanned combat systems and their integration with manned fighter platforms in what is known as man-machine teaming concept," he added.

At the other end of the spectrum are hypersonic weapons and there are reports of some of these being used in the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Due to very high speeds, these missiles are difficult to intercept making existing air defence systems redundant. The Air Force is actively involved in research and development for such weapons and in developing countermeasures.

"We have laid out a roadmap to add new capabilities and harness modern technology, making technological innovation an integral part of our security apparatus.

"This thought has initiated a process of re-equipping, retraining and remodelling of our security infrastructure," said the IAF Chief.


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