IAF’s Revised Doctrine 2022: An Overview
Air Marshal Diptendu Choudhury (Retd), PVSM, AVSM, VM, VSM, Distinguished Fellow, VIF

The Indian Air Force has very recently published the third iteration of its Doctrine, a document which forges the close connect between India’s national security and its air power. Few are probably aware that the IAF has also been elevated to the third position in the Global Air Power rankings by the World Directory of Modern Military Aircraft; a recognition of professional standing of one of the oldest independent air forces in the world. Since the first doctrine published in 1995, in keeping with the technology driven changes in tactics and concepts of operations, the document was revised in 2007, and in 2012 it was put out in the open domain for greater public awareness and understanding. Considering the turbulent changes in the world and the region, the reviewed 2022 version is timely and relevant. As a nation whose steady growth, power trajectory, with its uniquely independent foreign policy and yet inclusive world view, India’s is definitely a nation of consequence. With Asia having evolved as the crucible of the future, India’s rise comes with its attendant security challenges and given the tough neighbourhood, national security will share the centre stage with economic growth. With much of the security narrative and contemporary discourse in India focussed on the continental and maritime domains, and the recent inclusion of cyber and space domains, India’s approach to air power as merely an arm to support joint operations, significantly limits its strategic options and narrows its security response matrix. With two adversarial neighbours, both with strong Air Forces and military strategies in which air power plays a significant role, the all-enveloping vertical dimension of force needs serious consideration in India’s security strategy. The new doctrine heralds the need for the nation towards a greater understanding of air power and review of its security approach, to enable a more comprehensive leveraging of this important military instrument.

The contemporary yet future relevant document has several significant changes, which in the words of the Chief of Air Staff, elucidates how as a modern aerospace power the IAF provides the capability of ‘controlling and exploiting air and space environments in order to achieve India’s national and security objectives’ while ‘operating in an evolving geo-strategic scenario against varied threats’.[1]It draws on concepts and lessons from its own and international operational experiences of real conflict situations, as well as extensive international exercises with friendly foreign nations. It opens with the redefined characteristics of aerospace power: reach, flexibility and versatility, mobility, responsiveness, offensive lethality, and trans-domain operational capability, blending them with future relevant principles of war.[2] It clearly spells out IAFs objectives gleaned from national security and military objectives, and encapsulates the entire spectrum of conflict from peace to war.[3] A first ever is its largest chapter on air strategy, which structurally flows vertically from the joint military strategy and is laterally connected with the maritime and land strategies.[4] There are also distinct air strategies that are elaborated for peacetime, wartime, and in also a unique first, no-war-no-peace air (NWNP) strategy as well.[5]

Sovereignty protection, deterrence, nation building and air diplomacy are the key constituents of the peacetime strategy.[6] The No War No Peace (NWNP) air strategy is structured for calibrated kinetic and non-kinetic applications to cater for the multi-domain external and internal threats and challenges. It includes information dominance, shaping operations, external and internalsecurity operations.[7] The war time strategy has obviously been reworked taking geo-political and regional realities, future military capabilities of India’s likely adversaries, including enduring truths and new realities of contemporary and likely future conflicts. It has a distinct overarching joint flavor in its overall structure.[8] A critical aspect is the direct linking of joint application of combat power with control of air operations in keeping with the air power capabilities of both of India’s adversaries. The application of combat power holistically encompasses Army and Naval operations, where IAF’s air operations include coordinated operations with the other services.[9] Importantly, IAF’s strategic operations include conventional targeting of the adversary’s capability to wage war, targets which have long term effects on his national capacity, and help create asymmetric pressure for the achievement of desired political end states. This includes key industrial infrastructure, war waging production centres and factories, energy and power facilities, national reserves, major transportation hubs, vital economic targets, data and network centres an leadership, have all been included as strategic targeting, towards the overall application of combat power.[10] India’s last and only unfettered use of offensive air power and strategic targeting wasin the Western front in the 1971 war, where it not only ‘drove home the fury of war to the people of Pakistan’[11], and also contributed significantly to the failure of Pakistan’s military strategy that the ‘defence of East Pakistan rests in West Pakistan’.[12] Given the passage of fifty years since, this important role of air power had in the recent years faded into distant memory, especially in the narrative of short swift wars. The Russo-Ukraine war has brought back the real possibility of a large scale conventional war, however undesirable, and has underscored the need for effective use of offensive air power in a nation’s military strategy, and the doctrine not only provides a much needed reality check, but also incorporates it. Considering the reality of multi-domain threats, the need for an integrated multi-service approach is evident in the way all air operations of the IAF, which include enabling operations, sustaining operations, enhancing operations, and underpinned by air mobility operations, contribute directly and indirectly, to the overall application of combat power along with Army and Navy operations. [13]

The two pillars of air power, air defence and offensive air power are inexorably and inextricably interlinked, and theIAF’s integrated air defence system (IADS) which is networked by its integrated air command and control system (IACCS), will form the backbone of all air operations in India’s future conflicts. The vital doctrinal role AD plays in offensive missions deep into adversarial spaces, over joint battle-spaces, and equally importantly, in safeguarding India’s sovereignty and territory from the growing range of aerial threats in both peace and war, is extensively elaborated. [14] Present and future realities are evident in the way the air strategy is built on the pillars battlespace transparency, networking, cyber and information warfare, electronic warfare, techno-logistics, administration and human resource management, and training.[15] Key assessments, and precepts, summarise the contents of all the important portions of the doctrine for greater understanding and easy assimilation, and will help serve as broad guidelines for joint planning.[16]

The last two brief chapters on ‘Aerospace power in the Indian context’ and ‘Preparing for the future’ highlights the clarity that the IAF has on the contemporary and future salience of aerospace power in India’s national security and interests, and are a must read for all policymakers, bureaucrats, military practitioners, the strategic, academic and media communities, as well as all concerned citizens. The penultimate chapter is a fairly sophisticated articulation of the intricate connects of the Service with the nation across all levels, ranging from future aspirations of the nation, to the military as ‘whole and vital’ instrument of India’s comprehensive national power. While it elaborates the place aerospace power occupies in national security and the nations’ future, and that its strength lies primarily with the IAF, the doctrine acknowledges that the air arms of the other services, civil aviation and space agencies contribute to this strength. It clarifies that air power has logically expanded to aerospace power due to the multitude of space based applications of the service, and the need to defend space borne assets and their ground based infrastructure, but eschews any service specific ownership of space, unlike many leading nations. It maturely acknowledges that aerospace capabilities, related research and development, along with its associated military industrial capabilities, serve as a national force multiplier. The ability of the IAF to rapidly project military force towards larger political objectives of the nation, assist statecraft and diplomacy through its enormous soft power capabilities and outreach, its inescapable and increasing role in regional security and stability in the government’s larger security and growth for all in the region (SAGAR) strategy, are part of its doctrine.[17] Taking the cue from the PM’s Shangri La speech of 2018 to ‘promote a democratic and rules based international order’, ‘work with others to keep our seas, space, and airways free and open’ and ‘equal access under international law to the use of common spaces on the sea and in the air’.[18] it links the aerospace domain with India’s strategic geo-political and security salience, and connects it to the larger Indo-Pacific construct.

The final chapter which serves as a roadmap and links the doctrine to the future underscores the IAF’s inherent agility in absorbing future technologies, while adopting and adapting its doctrines, strategies, concepts of operations, and tactics to it. It lays out its guideline for capacity and capability enhancements, to transform from a contemporary to a future ready force. Recognising the need for dynamic and flexible restructuring processes, it very significantly signals the shift from a legacy ‘threat based and demanded’ approach to a ‘capability demanded’ approach, which fosters indigenous research and development in niche areas, and also future accretions with a ‘plug and play’ capabilities of the Army and the Navy. It recognises the need to encourage strategic thought in its service education through greater interaction amongst the military, national and international academia.[19] The last line of the doctrinal roadmap is prescient indeed – ‘Establishment of robust joint structures to enable right sizing, joint training and operations, while maintaining service specific core competencies.’[20]

Endnotes :

[1]Doctrine of the IAF, IAP 2000-22, Air HQ Vayu Bhawan, New Delhi, 2022
[2]Ibid, pp.5-10
[3]Ibid, p.18
[4]n.1, p33
[5] Ibid, pp. 31-71
[6]Ibid, pp.34-37
[7]Ibid, p.38-42
[8]Ibid, p.43
[9]Ibid, pp.52-66
[11]SN Prasad Ed. History of Indo-Pakistan War 1971, Nataraj Publishers, Dehra Dun, MOD, GOI, 2014, pp.450-451
[12] Lt General AAK Niazi, The Betrayal of Pakistan, Manohar Publishers, New Delhi, 1998, p.85
[13]n.1, p 43
[14]Ibid, pp.45-58
[15]Ibid, 65-70
[16]Ibid, pp.27-28, p.51, pp.55-57, pp.59-60
[17]n.1, pp.73-79
[19]n.1, pp.81-83
[20]n.1, p.84

(The paper is the author’s individual scholastic articulation. The author certifies that the article/paper is original in content, unpublished and it has not been submitted for publication/web upload elsewhere, and that the facts and figures quoted are duly referenced, as needed, and are believed to be correct). (The paper does not necessarily represent the organisational stance... More >>

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