Air Power and Joint Operations : Doctrinal and Organisational Challenges

Author: Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi, PVSM, AVSM, VSM (Retd)

Period: January 2003 - March 2003

Air Power and Joint Operations : Doctrinal and Organisational Challenges

Air Marshal Vinod Patney, SYSM, PVSM, AVSM, VrC (Retd)


The world celebrates the centenary of manned flights in 2003. It has been a momentous century. The massive strides made in aviation could hardly have been imagined a hundred years earlier. Aviation has affected our lives to a very significant degree. From the military point of view, the promise of what air power can do has been fully vindicated and more. The promise of what the future holds is daunting and awesome.

In the early days, aircraft were used for reconnaissance and observation but soon the offensive capability of air power was recognised. Its specialist nature was readily apparent and an independent service – the Royal Air Force – was formed in 1919, a mere 16 years after man first took to the air. Since then the considerable build up of air capability and its exploitation has markedly impacted the strategic and tactical application of force in wars and conflicts. More significantly, air power now plays the prime role as the major deterrent against conventional warfare.

The century of air power could also be described as, probably, the bloodiest century in human history. Innumerable wars and conflicts have occurred including two world wars. The continuous need for better weapon systems and support elements have goaded world scientists and technologists to extraordinary endeavour. Every decade has produced advances in military capability that were considered wild imaginings only a few years earlier. Many of the products of technology are earth or sea bound but their utilisation is largely in the realm of air power or, more correctly aerospace Power. The capabilities of armies and navies has been enhanced manifold but the maximum impact has been in the much higher potency of aerospace power and in favour of its ubiquitous character. Interestingly, the rate of improvement in war fighting capability is increasing rapidly and the time to obsolescence decreasing. This poses a serious dilemma for military planners.

Around the late 1980s, technology ushered in what has been very correctly called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA). The revolution related to greatly enhanced air power capability and its resultant predominance in the calculus of war. The major ingredients of RMA are speed, reach, accuracy and lethality. More targets could now be attacked in geographical areas that covered a major part if not the entire enemy country; and the accuracy of weapon systems and the consequent lethality of weapons implied that for the same tasks, considerably reduced ordnance was needed. Also, the capability compressed the time required for desired results. The pace of war became faster demanding better organisations and decision making. RMA also introduced in telling fashion, the concept and fielding of information warfare systems.

The 1991 Gulf War was the first time RMA was tested and the spectacular results proved that a revolution had indeed occurred. Since then in all skirmishes and conflicts, notably Bosnia, Kosovo Afghanistan and Iraq RMA was clearly discernible. The net result has been the recognition of the increasing importance of air power. 

RMA has had its impact on Joint Warfare as well. With changes in the respective capabilities of the three Armed Forces and their inter-play, major doctrinal changes, formal or de facto, came to pass. The purpose of war is to win, gain objectives at minimal costs – economic, political or diplomatic. Hard nosed practicality demanded that air power be given greater freedom of action and the overall strategy fashioned to permit this. This aspect has to be given due importance in military planning from now onwards. Joint planning still remains the sine qua non for operational success but there has been a veritable sea change in the basic premises for planning and in the establishing of priorities.

Much of this is applicable in full only to a technologically and economically strong country like the USA. In our context RMA is applicable to a limited extent. The basic principles and precepts are valid but the applicability is reduced to the extent of what we can do with the equipment we have. We must equip our Air Force to match the possible potential. It is the cost-effective solution to better military capability.

Our geography is unique and the likely areas of operations cover all types of terrain – mountains, plains, forests, deserts, sea etc. Each type of terrain necessitates the use of some specialist equipment, preparation and training. Few countries in the world can afford to have separate forces for different terrains where combat may occur. Perforce, except in special circumstances, we have to make do with only marginal and incremental additions. Our Army faces this problem to a considerable extent and the Air Force partially. The impact of terrain has relatively little impact on our Navy but operations far from the mainland pose significant difficulties. Even here, the flexibility inherent in air power and its multi-tasking capability becomes important.

In the final analysis our planning for war must take note of equipment and weapon systems that are extant. Such weapon systems face obsolescence relatively early both because of advances in technology but also because of major doctrinal changes that come about because of increased capability, both ours and that of the adversary. Rapid and cost effective re-equiping is often required and an indigenous manufacturing capability has become inescapable. Equally importantly, our analysis of what may be required in the near future in terms of equipment and training has to be both faster and more accurate. We must strive to have equipment we need for optimum conduct of operations rather than have to fashion our operational plans, generally sub-optimally, based on our capabilities as they obtain. This calls for hard work, mutual appreciation, confidence and understanding amongst the different agencies that contribute to the strength of our Armed Forces.

This paper discusses the role of air power or aerospace power in joint operations essentially in the Indian context. The expected nature of future conflicts is first analysed from which we can deduce the military requirements, place of joint warfare, need for specialisations, and the role of air power. Thereafter, some doctrinal precepts and organisational challenges are examined.


The days when wars were ‘events’ and it was possible for historians to record the ‘causes, conduct and results’ of each war are possibly over for all time to come. The world has become much smaller and the impact of any war is likely to be felt at considerable distances from the location of the warring countries. This being so, wars are less likely to occur; the international community will intervene to prevent the war from starting. The economic inter-dependence of nations is such that every country has a stake in whatever happens around the globe. The economic inter-dependence brings to surface formation of blocs, areas of influence and diverse diplomatic and political initiatives. The era of sanctions is also an important deterring factor. The situation is somewhat different for a country as powerful as the USA is today. Such countries can make their own rules and start and stop wars without any undermining of their economic or diplomatic clout. Thus wars in the near classical sense, as we refer to them today, are likely only if one of the protagonists is a super power, or is allied to a super power, or starts a war with the tacit approval of a super power. However independent and sovereign nations may be, these are incontrovertible truths. Interestingly, even the super power has no territorial ambitions and hence will not accept such ambitions from any other country but break up of a country or a change in government appears acceptable. In spite of this, with deft diplomacy short and sharp conflicts with very limited objectives are possible, limited in terms of time, cost, geographical area and forces used. The possibility increases if there are no territorial ambitions involved. Also, use of air power though escalatory in nature, is not viewed as seriously as an army offensive again because no capture of territory is envisaged. The basic issue is that nations wishing to act independently are constrained by international opinion and diplomacy, and have only limited leeway available in which to operate. Military threats are, therefore, no longer the only yardstick on which to base the growth and modernisation of our Armed Forces. The situation is made more complicated with the involvement of the media. Media is no longer content to report facts but is far more concerned to mould opinion. Much worse, the power of the media is now so great that media can and is exploited by powers to serve their ends. As diplomacy and international relations are dependent on both self-interest and perceptions, control of the media and the perceived credibility of the media have become critical.

“Conventional Wars” today are very expensive and if only a short duration war is likely, perforce, the war will be bloodier. These are inhibiting factors that make the probability of a full-scale war with well defined territorial ambitions that much more remote. Every country also recognises that the cost of war, making good the weapon systems lost and the rebuilding of damages or losses sustained will be a serious financial burden to bear when the war ends. Therefore, unless there is considerable asymmetry in conventional warfare capability, such wars are unlikely.
Although the probability of a large scale conventional war has become somewhat remote, the causes of conflict have remained constant or even increased. Competition today is much greater and exploitation of the weak is natural. Conflicts are, therefore, more than likely. More importantly, such small scale conflicts do not necessarily have a start or a finish but are a continuum. They are caused because of a desire to change the existing set of circumstances and, will not be restricted to the use of military forces alone. In many cases, armed forces need not face each other in conflict but armed forces can still be used in support of national objectives.

More so than ever before, the multi-disciplinary nature of conflict has come to stay. Before this, economists decided whether war was affordable, the diplomats and politicians buttressed their cases, and the conduct of war was largely left to the military. This can no longer happen. Economics, diplomacy, media, political compulsions and national objectives will have a continuous impact on military operations. Also the strengths and weaknesses of the military will have an important impact on the other disciplines. Joint decisions, based on varied and diverse inputs, must be the norm in the planning, equipping and conduct of operations.

We have to learn to live with the more insidious nature of continuous conflict. By definition, such conflict cannot have an end. The relationship with different countries will remain in a state of flux. A sharp focus on short, mid and long term objectives may or may not obtain but there is greater likelihood of success if we are to adopt a slow and gradual process that aims to progressively contain a problem or slowly but surely further our interests.

In the Indian context, nuclear weapons and capabilities must be factored into our calculations. The first point to recognise is that nuclear weapons are a deterrent. Secondly, the deterrent will remain valid as long as the credibility of the deterrent is maintained. Thirdly, discussions on what constitutes the threshold level for the adversary are really theoretical exercises. Generally it is the weaker country, that formally or informally, suggests some threshold levels in the hope that the threat of a nuclear war will inhibit the stronger country from furthering its legitimate interests. Pakistan is attempting to do so and, on our part, we should overtly ignore the threat. Some pacifists have also argued that an irrational country like Pakistan could irresponsibly start a nuclear war. Our answer should be that it is impossible to deal rationally with irrationality except by ensuring the credibility of our strong second strike capability. That is adequate. Therefore, although possible use of nuclear weapons should remain a consideration in our planning, we should not give too much credence to threats of its use. The nuclear deterrent will work as long as there is no serious asymmetry in capabilities and capacities, and as long as the credibility of the deterrent is maintained. The nuclear deterrent becomes even more pronounced when the conflict, perforce, is limited.

In summary, because of costs involved and international diplomatic and economic pressures, any large scale conventional war is unlikely if there is no serious imbalance or asymmetry in capabilities. Similarly, the nuclear deterrent will remain valid as long as the credibility of our second strike capability is maintained. There will, however, be any number of conflict situations at any one time. Conflict situations are of a permanent nature and require a multi-disciplinary approach. Therefore, military, diplomatic, political and economic initiatives will all play a part, to different degrees at different times dependent on circumstances. For example, although a border conflict may be so termed from the military point of view, in fact the scope of actions we take should be much larger and should envelope at least diplomatic and economic initiatives. The multi-disciplinary responses are required on a continuous basis and there is every likelihood of short periods of escalated military conflict. We should plan accordingly.


Force Structures

The primary requirement is to have adequate conventional warfare capability and a credible nuclear deterrent to reduce the possibility of large scale military adventure. It is paradoxical but true that we need strength to deter war. Therefore, we have to commit ourselves to modernisation and minimum force structure requirements at considerable cost only to increase the probability of their non-use. This is an inescapable reality.

Modernisation costs including upgradation of nuclear weapons, both qualitatively and quantitatively, are becoming prohibitively expensive. We have to be selective and establish priorities. There is little option today except to down-size the armed forces. However, we must retain the ‘total’ capability needed to deter the adversary. For this we need fewer and efficient weapon systems that can fulfill multiple requirements. We have to guard against rapid obsolescence as well. Our weapon systems and those we may induct in the future should be capable of multiple use and rapid upgradation at affordable costs. Air power lends itself to these requirements.

Our Armed Forces have to be prepared for the full spectrum of conflict. Military requirements and capabilities must also extend, in offensive and defensive roles on both sides of the International Boundary/Line of Control (IB/LC), to the more insidious nature of war like terrorism, cross-border terrorism both covert and overt, internal security requirements, serious economic offences and, often, a combination of such threats. The offensive role across the IB/LC is emphasised.

In a world beset with violence, a quaint concept of morality in conflicts has taken root. Agencies like the Human Rights Commission together with the media are insistent that offensive or defensive military actions are accompanied by the very minimum attendant damage or loss, to life or property. An ‘immoral’ war raises strident calls that adversely affect national and international opinion. Therefore, the need is for effective, and very accurate weapon systems whose use will limit attendant damage to acceptable levels. Accurate weapon systems are also very cost-effective.

Speed of action, or reaction for that matter, in military operations was always important but has, lately, become even more a war winning requirement. Readiness levels have to be high and maintained, possibly for considerable periods of time. Once again costs are involved if our forces are to be at operational readiness and deployed for extended periods.

The force structure of all three Armed Forces should be based on requirements as enunciated. The factors stated should be made part of essential Qualitative Requirements (QRs). However, cost-effective solutions are also required and some prioritisation is needed. The deterrence against large scale conventional or nuclear war is best provided by air power. Air power has great flexibility in choice of operating bases, selection of targets and target systems and the geographical area of operations. The time required for readiness is the minimum and offensives can be launched in quick time. The attacks can also be lethal and repeated time and again. The deterrent value is implicit and axiomatic in the potential of air power. Air power is also best suited when accurate attacks are needed. The pictures beamed all over the world showing the impact of air power in the Gulf War and thereafter are proof of the lethality and accuracy of air power. Also, to avoid rapid obsolescence, upgradation of weapons and introduction of different weapon delivery techniques can push back obsolescence of air power weapon systems quite considerably. In short, whereas all round modernisation is inescapable, upgrading the capability of air power is both essential and cost-effective, and should be given greater emphasis, priority and funding.

Indigenous Research and Development (R&D)

With existing technology, a number of very effective weapon systems can and are being fashioned. State of art equipment can be a war winning factor particularly in a short duration war. Fielding of even a single capability that is not available to the other side can have positive operational benefits that go beyond mere surprise. This has been borne out in military history; the introduction of radar, Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS), Electronic Counter Measures (ECM) equipment, weapon systems for specialised tasks etc are good examples. It is emphasised that with the accelerated pace in the growth of technology, the impact of newer weapon systems is likely to be much greater. Recognising this fact, it will be well nigh impossible for us to import state of art equipment that can be a war winning system. Equally importantly, even if perchance such equipment is given to us, for its success, it must be denied to the adversary. In our case that is an unlikely possibility. Therefore, for economic considerations and to promote self-sufficiency, a fillip must be given to indigenous technology.

The increasing part played by science and technology in the outcome of a conflict demands creation of required infrastructure for R&D along designated lines. Miniaturisation, biotechnology, and what are today termed as emergent technologies are needed for cost-effective and superior systems. Such research should be encouraged to produce weapons and equipment that will, in turn, permit downsizing of the Armed Forces. Enhancing the potential of air power must be given due priority.

Terrorism and internal security problems are likely to continue to afflict us for some more time. Some special equipment designed to meet specific requirements for weapon systems or combat support elements should be developed. Again our R&D needs to be specifically tasked for the purpose.

In modern conflicts, it is becoming increasingly important to use the electro-magnetic spectrum to advantage. The uses are many and varied. Information warfare is an important tool and we need to give it much greater impetus both in terms of equipment and training. EM spectrum can also play a part in ‘attacks’ on non military targets like railway and electricity grid control systems, banks and commercial organisations besides the complete ambit of military and civilian communications and command and control systems. We also need to develop products using the EM spectrum to facilitate counter-terrorism operations and in fact against any target where a short duration ‘electronic attack’ would be beneficial. The other side of the coin is that we need defensive systems to ward off similar attacks on us by the enemy. The subject is so important that it is very likely that the first requirement in war could well be the near unhindered use of the EM spectrum whilst denying its effective use by the enemy. It is a capability that warrants funding and tasking of R&D on priority.

Space Technology

The importance of space technology and the military and civilian use of space cannot be over-emphasised. Space technology is today needed for communications; navigation; reconnaissance, in terms of imaging sensors, radars, Electronic Intelligence (ELINT) and Signal Intelligence (SIGINT); etc. In the Kosovo war, the allies were using as many as 50 satellites. Our present capability for exploitation of space and availability of space assets is far more modest but the need is as great. Due prioritisation is essential. Space technology also has many civilian applications and the dual use systems will amortise costs sooner. With time, the need to use space assets in everyday life and in military conflicts will increase. Although, at present, international treaties prohibit attacks on earth bound targets by using space assets, and attacks on space assets, it is on the cards that protagonists would like to deny or reduce the degree of space exploitation by the adversary. Therefore, space warfare will become acceptable even if ‘illegal’, whatever the term means in international relations. We would do well to start work in creating a capability for space warfare.


Intelligence has always played an important part in conflicts. Given today’s lethality of weapons and likely short duration military conflicts, timely intelligence has taken on added significance. The need for intelligence is that much more when we are dealing with terrorism. It is a cliché that for effective intelligence, there should be more than one input for corroboration but, above all, we must have good analytical capability to make timely sense out of the mass of data.

There should normally be many sensors used regularly to provide not only information but changes in patterns. The changes are probably more important. Again, mere military intelligence is inadequate. Diplomatic, economic, commercial, political and technological intelligence are all necessary and in full measure. The sensors to be used would be different and diverse but, possibly, the best source of intelligence still remains human intelligence (HUMINT) wherever possible. Furthermore, intelligence, particularly HUMINT is not a stop and start function but has to be continuous with reporting systems, sleepers and active informants etc. All this requires an organisation to task and oversee the different intelligence gathering, and the means for information collection and collation, and equipment needed for rapid, accurate analysis, validation and revalidation. The task is as difficult as it is necessary.


In this paper, the need for a multi-disciplinary approach to conflicts has been often mooted. However, the discussion and recommendations in this section pertain to the three armed forces only.

It is universally recognised that each of the Armed Forces has an individual role, and a role in conjunction with one of the other Services or with both other Services. This is unexceptionable. It should also be recognised that the Armed Forces have to plan and operate collectively even if the collective decision is to give a particular service greater responsibility and more difficult tasks. Tasking and assigning responsibilities is not a function of size but the capabilities vis-à-vis the circumstances that obtain. 

Jointmanship must begin with an impartial, unbiased, non-parochial analysis of the current and expected circumstances and the optimum means of meeting the requirements, offensive and defensive, that the analysis suggests. Joint planning should also look into the force structure and the needs for the future. It should be relatively easy to prioritise expenditure when ‘Armed Forces’ capability is the yardstick as opposed to individually perceived requirements of each service. Similarly the direction that our R&D should take can be prioritised. The recommendation is somewhat simplistic and does not refer to R&D capabilities, time frames, changing intelligence inputs, international diplomatic and economic considerations and a host of other imponderables. However, the suggested structure and modalities for planning are sound and should be adopted. Planning is a continuing, dynamic activity and should be based on well defined and agreed norms. A word of caution is necessary. Under no circumstances should we allow any military capability to atrophy or make major changes in force structures too rapidly. Even though air power is likely to have a central role to play, the build up should be gradual to permit absorption and training needed for operationalisation. Similarly, the winding down must be equally gradual and in step with introduction of greater capability elsewhere.

It has been argued that air power can best provide the deterrent from large scale conventional war and nuclear war and, therefore, must be given priority in modernisation and expansion. If downsizing of the Armed Forces has to come about at minimal cost, without losing the required edge, improved Air Force capability can permit marked reduction in the size and complexity of offensive forces in the Army. The size of our Navy needs to be enhanced over time and its integral air power capability should also keep pace with the operational scenarios envisaged. The basic point is that our forces must become less unwieldy and cumbersome, more mobile and fast reacting, and able to tackle likely scenarios. We can never cater to all contingencies but must be able to effectively deal with the more likely happenings, and adequately with the others.

If war is to be taken into enemy territory, the Air Force should be the instrument of choice because of its reach, accuracy, destructive capability and speed of action. It is only air power that can cover considerable area of enemy territory and attack targets where damage can have the desired impact not only on the enemy’s military but also on civilian life and public services. The air power capability for effective interdiction in the larger meaning of the word ought to be given a free hand. This could include use of air power against economic targets and weapons to be used could be varied and diverse. 

In the maritime dimension, the force structures and responsibilities have been well defined and need to be merely refined with time. The Navy does require integral air power when it has to operate out of range of shore based aircraft and the requirement must be met as necessitated by the envisaged operational tasking. Within the range of shore based aircraft, the Air Force must exercise control and tasking of all air assets. This does not imply that decentralisation is not recommended, but the leeway to be given should have been decided earlier. The concept of unity of control of air power should never be compromised.

Air power also has a part to play in limited conventional wars, in counter-terrorism operations and in quelling internal disturbances. Such conflicts are more likely to occur and, possibly, a re-think is needed in the capabilities needed for effective use of air power in such contingencies. The operations require quick action and reaction, flexibility of deployment, accurate weapon delivery and a system that lends itself to, if needed, a graduated escalation at times and places of our choosing. All these needed requirements are intrinsic attributes of air power and must be exploited. We now have considerable experience in the conduct of such operations and the capabilities needed for effective use of air power should be made available at the earliest. There is also no gainsaying that single service and joint training will be needed to translate potential into capability.

To combat terrorism and cross border terrorism, mere action at the border or LC is inadequate and certainly not cost-effective. There is a defined operational need to carry the conflict across the border or LC and for this, there can be no doubt that air power must be the instrument of choice, particularly if the needed specialist capabilities have been operationalised.

Technological developments have become so varied that every war or sustained conflict heralds the introduction of a capability of far reaching consequences. The ‘surprise’ can have a serious debilitating effect particularly in a short duration war. Also, the damage causing capability of weapon systems has improved manifold. Under these circumstances, the party that takes the initiative to start combat has many and significant advantages. Therefore, as a corollary, pre-emptive and preventive attacks have become valid operations of war. Once again, with its capability for rapid readiness, air power is best suited for such actions and contingency planning along these lines is strongly recommended.


In spite of the increasing importance of air power in the modern context, the need for joint planning has remained valid but the emphasis has shifted. Therefore, today, the term ‘Planning for Joint Operations’ should give way to ‘Joint Planning for Operations’. The change may appear to be merely semantic but it is essential for an understanding of the changed concept in the conduct of war.

It is surprising that in spite of the emphasis we place on ‘Jointmanship’, we do not have a joint doctrine for war. Even more surprising is that it is only the Air Force that put out a doctrine in 1995 and the other Services are yet to publish their own official doctrine. The chicken/egg story as to whether we should first have a joint doctrine from which single service doctrines will flow, or the other way round is an esoteric consideration that can be endlessly debated. What is important is that a joint doctrine is needed.

A joint doctrine must be the result of an incisive examination of the military capabilities in being and others that are needed. Our plans for introduction/upgradation of equipment should be based on this. With ever increasing complexity of conflict, and the overpowering need for quick, effective and efficient actions, we need a doctrine on the basis of which training is effected and our capabilities tested. In the past, with a slow pace of change, a military doctrine could have a life span of many years. This is not true any longer and doctrinal changes will be needed more often; the changes themselves can be significant. Interestingly, the Air Force doctrine was published only seven years ago and a revision is already overdue.

A joint doctrine must be based on clear concept of jointmanship. The first essential for effective jointmanship is trust and confidence. This can come about only through an understanding and respect for the capabilities, limitations, strengths and weaknesses of the other partners. Intra competition is definitely avoidable. Individual requirements must give pride of place to what is operationally needed. Most importantly, a give and take attitude must prevail and operational needs, howsoever implausible, should not be advanced with the intention of seeking pre-dominance amongst equal partners in a common endeavour.

If competition and one-upmanship is obviated, jointmanship will be automatic and operational dictates much easier to formulate and implement. Towards this end, two prescriptions are offered. Firstly, as far as possible, each service should confine itself to its own media—the raison d’etre of three independent services. Secondly, joint planning has perforce to be centralised but the execution should be as decentralised as possible. The need for quick decisions is applicable at all levels of command, and authority to take those decisions must be devolved and not concentrated. Again, it is often felt that as one grows senior and assumes higher levels of command, the basic capability and intrinsic specialist knowledge also improves. This is not necessarily true and, time and again, history and our individual experiences prove the point. The exercise of optimum effectiveness requires decision making at the level best suited for the task and, specially where speed is of the essence, the senior or senior most commander is not always the most suitable person. Therefore, of greatest importance is the formulation and dissemination of a joint doctrine, duly updated regularly, so that the thinking of the Higher Defence Organisation is well understood. Thereafter, much time and effort is required for contingency and operational planning. A large standing team of planners is needed. After planning and acceptance of plans, strategic and tactical. the implementation should be decentralized to the maximum possible extent. With information systems available today, senior echelons in military hierarchy can remain updated and hence in a position to lend support and advise as and when required but must refrain from unnecessary interference. Good, effective planning based on practical reality will reduce the temptation to interfere quite considerably. Also, the propensity to concentrate power and authority for strategic thought and action should be studiously resisted. Combined, multi-disciplinary and inter service expertise is needed for effective joint planning and plan implementation. In an age of increasing specialisation, generalists certainly need specialist advice but such advice cannot be a substitute for specialist expertise both theoretical and practical.

The ‘under command’ syndrome has little meaning today. The complexities are too numerous and the imponderables too many. At best, a co-ordinating organisation is needed. When this is appreciated, good concerted planning involving all disciplines can come about. Planning should also involve distribution of funds and the preparation of a time table for re-equipment and build up of specific capabilities. Indigenous R&D must be encouraged and tasked. We should aim to have equipment and weapon systems to match operational requirements rather than always have to make do with what is available even if it implies accepting sub-optimal solutions. We must plan for operations with what we have but planning must include what we should and can have. Above all, the doctrine should include the concept of responsibility, authority and accountability and how to assess and enforce it.

The doctrine should also take note of the all pervasive and near continuous nature of war that obtains today. Hence, it should include what would otherwise be included under ‘peacetime’ activities. Intelligence collation and analysis, information warfare, psywar, economic and commercial war, diplomacy, and media management are as much if not more important during periods of relative peace when the ‘hot’ war is less active. Similarly, use of space assets and patrolling of our frontiers should find a place in the doctrine. All these are aspects that are currently relevant; the doctrine must change whenever some other issues become important and /or some others lose some relevance.


The organisation required should be based on the joint doctrine for war and conflicts. If the doctrine is clear, and unambiguous, the organisation needed will automatically follow as long as parochial interests are not involved.

There are three important considerations that the organisation to be fashioned must satisfy. They are the continuous ongoing nature of conflict, the multi-dimensional nature of future wars and the increasing role of air power in the full spectrum of conflict.

The rate of obsolescence or change is becoming faster in terms of both equipment and tactical application of force in all its forms and manifestations including economic, diplomatic, industrial, disinformation, military etc. The organisational framework should, therefore, be designed to facilitate forecasts, and, if necessary, re-plan, re-equip, train and react in time as applicable. A dynamic organisation is needed and capability for rapid co-operative analyses and appreciation should be inbuilt. A multi-disciplinary team is recommended tasked with a clear responsibility to assess changing scenarios and needs. This task could well be entrusted to a composite intelligence organisation. Good and active intelligence is the key to understand the present and prepare for the future. The ability to forecast is of critical importance and the needed forecasts should be based on military dispositions, economic, industrial and technological inputs as well as political and diplomatic developments in the target countries. The term ‘intelligence’ should cover the entire ambit of needed knowledge and the organisation manned by professionals who are able to forecast trends, affiliations, capabilities etc. Equipment, sensors and mechanical means to gather intelligence are needed but emphasis must continue to be placed on HUMINT. This factor cannot be over-emphasised. However, counter-intelligence, similarly in all its pervasive nature, is deserving of at least as much if not greater importance.

With effective intelligence, implying timely, complete and accurate intelligence, specific to requirement weapon systems can be listed. Given the ever-present financial constraints, prioritisations are then possible based on analysis with desired inputs. This is an important consideration as all the different agencies involved are bound to project competing requirements.

With sufficient intelligence and funding decisions arrived at, the next step is the formulation of a national security plan. Security does not necessarily mean only a defensive attitude but, with constant conflict as the norm, the offensive application of ‘force’, military or non- military is far more important. To facilitate the required security plan a standing multi-disciplinary team should be established. When the conflict is ongoing, planning cannot be done by the military and other agencies in isolation. The general approaches and tasking should be jointly arrived at, timetables accepted, and responsibility and accountability well recognised, accepted and respected. Detailed planning can thereafter be left to the individual agencies.

The intelligence set up, organisation for distribution and prioritisation of funds, and joint planning and review, involving all aspects pertaining to national security, demand centralised, full time organisations. We could create another centralised organisation to oversee detailed planning and the execution of plans. However, although with modern communications it is feasible to do so, it is not recommended. At the plan implementation level, decentralisation is the preferred option. Highly centralised planning and co-ordination is not only essential but also inescapable. The system lends itself to joint planning and contingency planning. Also, it facilitates rapid reviews and changes desired in execution. Again, the system permits co-ordinated or controlled escalation or de-escalation as warranted. However, the need for rapid decision making and better appreciation of impact of our actions at field level militate against a centralized execution set up. Conflicts are far more fluid and the need to alter tactical or sub-strategic plans is likely. We must also expect the unexpected and recognise that uncertainties will occur in the fog of war specially when war has become far more complex and unpredictable. These uncertainties are best recognised and dealt with at first hand. Therefore, decentralisation in execution should be the byword at each successive level of command and responsibility. The term ‘unambiguous chain of command’ should also imply ‘unambiguous chain of responsibility and accountability’.

As air power is the major theme of this paper, it bears repetition that the indivisible nature of air power cannot be over-emphasised. Unity of control of air power is axiomatic and does not require any elucidation. The organisation fashioned to deal with conflict situations today should permit this and a system of decentralised execution of plans will ensure that the requirement is met.

Another organisational challenge is to bring about greater and closer interaction between R&D and industry on one hand and the users on the other. The users could well demand control on R&D activities and this will be strongly resisted by the R&D. This factor takes on considerable significance today as R&D activities will increasingly impact on operational capability. Common sense suggests that mutually accepted responsibilities on both sides is needed. A line diagram or plan can be readily made, but, on this issue, what is most needed is understanding and awareness that there is a distinct mutuality of interests. Unfortunately, such sentiments cannot be transferred onto organisational charts. Possibly, the best we can do is introduce the concept of accountability as far as possible.

The organisation created or modified must cater to the continuing need for preparation, constant evaluation and review of a national security doctrine. This will not be a very difficult task as long as individual agencies work out their own doctrine and amendments and accommodations are made wherever needed. A small centralised team working under the Joint Planning and Review Organisation will suffice.

Special mention must be made of two other areas. First, there is a distinct need for dedicated effort towards information warfare, psywar, and media management. These aspects merit priority and continued concern. Trained expertise is called for and so is continuity. Secondly, with increasing specialisation, build up of expertise by formal and informal training has acquired considerable significance. Unless this is introduced with urgency, our personnel will continue to lag behind in acquisition of knowledge and the exploitation of such knowledge. The concept of ‘training’ has now acquired a new and fuller meaning.

The major organisational challenge is to effect only essential, and inescapable changes that will permit the better prosecution of conflict. Major or drastic changes should be avoided. In this rapidly changing scenario of conflicts, changes should be deliberate and incremental. The recommendations suggested in this paper will create a set up that has at least a fair probability of meeting the demands of the moment. The actual functioning will depend on the perceptions and capabilities of personnel in the organisation. The suggestions are designed to bring in the very necessary synergy amongst all those involved in national security. Synergy is essential for success unless we are faced with very poor opposition and Lady Luck is continuously on our side. We will always require bold and brilliant initiatives but such initiatives must be the result of deep analysis and co-ordinated planning.


The last 100 years have seen prodigious growth in the potential of air power. The 20th century could well be titled the ‘Century of Air Power’. Its specialist nature and overpowering impact in conflict situations across the entire spectrum of conflict is well accepted. More recently, the term air power has justifiably been altered to aero space power. 

The growth in aerospace capability has been brought about by spectacular breakthroughs in scientific knowledge and growth of technology. As a result, technology driven ‘Revolution in Military Affairs’ has occurred. RMA relates essentially to the utililsation of air power particularly as a result of its decisive impact in conflict situations. Indications are that RMA will become even more important as technology continues to improve the potential of air power. Growth of air power capability must, therefore, be given the increased importance it deserves.

With rapid advances in technology, the rate of obsolescence of military equipment and military precepts in the conduct of war has also increased. This very important element has to be factored into our planning processes both in terms of development and procurement of weapon systems as well as in the manner of their use.

RMA, increasingly higher costs, international opinion and the far reaching consequences of a war or conflict, have altered the nature of war that we can expect. As long as we have a credible deterrence, nuclear war or large-scale conventional war is unlikely. On the other hand, conflict situations abound and will continue to do so. Conflict is, therefore, of a permanent continuous nature. A multi-disciplinary approach is needed and ‘limited’ wars in all meanings of the word are not only possible but likely. We need to be prepared. This should be viewed as a strategic consideration. Resolution of conflict situations necessitates a well considered and planned orchestration of the capabilities of all agencies that have a bearing on national security, in the full meaning of the word, encompassing the responsibilities of Armed Forces but not limited to that. Military threats are no longer the only yardstick to establish national threats and, by extension, control the growth and modernisation of the armed forces.

Wars or conflicts have become far more complex. This necessitates a joint approach to co-ordinated planning of responses and changes in responses. Preventive and pre-emptive attacks have become more important and should be assessed in the formulation of plans. The very significant position of air power and the need for its application in most cases where force is to be used has become axiomatic.

Indigenous R&D has a major part to play and must be given funding, and encouragement. However, the basis of national security is good and timely intelligence in all fields. The requirement cannot be overstated. The intelligence set up must grow as required and HUMINT should continue to be viewed as essential and growing in importance. Above all, our counter-intelligence systems and effective security measures must be in place.

Joint planning amongst the three armed forces and in consonance with other agencies continues to be inescapable. A Joint Doctrine will establish roles and missions and make each agency more accountable and responsible. Also, the hitherto used phrase ‘Planning for Joint Operations’ should be altered to ‘Joint Planning for Operations’. The case being made is that centralised systems are needed for intelligence and counter-intelligence; budgeting and allocation of funds; and for planning and review but the execution of plans should be strictly decentralised. Some broad principles to cater for doctrinal and organisational challenges have been postulated in the paper. The recommendations are, therefore, simplistic but indicative of the direction we should adopt. Much will depend on our ability and desire to make required changes.

The ever present conflict situations call for well considered pro-active actions and fast paced quick reactions. Increased professionalism and well developed instincts are needed. Mental mobility, mental agility, and mental acuity could well be the difference between success and failure. Most importantly, not only a stated desire but the will to use force—in whatsoever form or shape is needed, must remain the central theme of our planning for favourable resolution of conflict situations. The term ‘favourable’ has been used with care. With limited conflicts, it would be naïve to expect spectacular results; our aims and objectives should also be limited and directed towards containing the problem and/or slowly moulding the situation to our advantage.


Air Marshal Vinod Patney, SYSM, PVSM, AVSM, VrC is a former Vice Chief of the Air Staff. Presently he is a member of the National Security Advisory Board (NSAB).


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