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Sayan Chowdhury asked: As PAF doctrine primarily relies upon large force engagement (LFE) in small area battlespace – visible in February 2019 Op Swift Retort – what doctrinal change should IAF make?

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  • Kishore Kumar Khera replies: Operation Swift Retort does not indicate any doctrinal assertion. It was a plan to undertake a limited offensive operation at shallow depth using long-range guided munitions to minimise exposure of mother aircraft from any possible reaction. To ensure the safety of weapon delivering aircraft, a number of support aircraft undertake simultaneous operations with specific missions. Any strike package invariably has aircraft armed with air to air missiles for air defence of the strike, aircraft equipped with electronic warfare equipment to degrade performance of hostile radars, aircraft equipped with airborne warning and control systems (AWACS) for early warning and control of airspace around the strike aircraft, and flight refuelling aircraft (FRA) for in-flight refuelling should a need arise.  Additionally, to deceive and conceal real intent about the target, a number of aircraft join the mission as decoys. Therefore, the mission with all its airborne components becomes a large force and is invariably opposed by a large defending package and thus the terminology Large Force Engagement (LFE). This is a norm in the current operational environment and any attempt to undertake a strike mission without all attendant components has a very high probability of failure.

    Pakistan Air Force (PAF), since inception, has been subservient to Pakistan Army and therefore objectives defined by the Army have been its doctrinal drivers. Consequently, PAF has been equipped and trained for air defence and close air support with the negligible offensive role. However, PAF's defensive doctrine has indeed undergone some changes in the last decade or so. This has been a result of its analyses of recent use of airpower in various conflicts around the world.  PAF has realised that gains from precision targeting far outweigh the effort and now has decided to enhance the share of offensive missions in its role. However, with limited assets that are capable of undertaking offensive missions, it now trains to enhance utilisation rate of its aircraft and thereby increase the air effort available.

    Evolution of doctrine is a continuous process based on emerging security scenarios, military objectives, equipment profile and lessons on airpower employment. Indian Air Force (IAF) doctrine is based on its role defined by the National Military Objectives. Accordingly, IAF is equipped and trained. Induction of new weapons systems like Rafale and S400 will considerably alter the operational environment and force doctrinal changes. Balakot strike and Swift Retort did provide significant lessons and a first-hand experience and will gradually fit in the IAF doctrinal evolution process for offensive and, more importantly, defensive operations.

    Posted on November 29, 2019

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the IDSA or of the Government of India.