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NATO at 70: Anniversary Amid a Crisis

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The NATO countries’ shared decision to extend the current mandate of the organization’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg until September 2022 demonstrates the desire of the North Atlantic Alliance to ensure the continuity of its activities and priorities. The NATO member states expressed their support for Mr. Stoltenberg’s effort aimed at “the adaptation and modernization of NATO.”

Jens Stoltenberg’s term as NATO Secretary General was originally scheduled to run out in the fall of 2018, but in December 2017, the leadership of the Alliance decided to extend his mandate until September 2020.

The decision to extend Mr. Stoltenberg’s term in office until 2022 was reportedly dictated by purely practical considerations, including his forthcoming meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Their planned meeting was initially reported on March 27 by the Turkish news agency Anadolu Ajansi. The information was later confirmed by President Trump’s press service, which said that the two would meet at the White House on April 2 ahead of the upcoming 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. The press service emphasized that Trump and Stoltenberg will discuss NATO’s “unprecedented” successes in world politics, and the distribution of obligations between its members, including the issue of financing the Alliance.

Jens Stoltenberg would apparently hate to meet Donald Trump, the leader of the country which is NATO’s primary financial and military-technical contributor, in the status of an outgoing leader, or, in American political parlance, a lame duck. All the more so now that the relations between the Alliance members on both sides of the Atlantic are the most strained in the organization’s entire 70-year history.

The creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in 1949 signaled the start of the military-political confrontation between the West and the East in addition to the ideological differences that existed between the Soviet Union and the Western nations.

According to Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Jens Stoltenberg’s predecessor as NATO Secretary General, “NATO was born into a dangerous world. As the Soviet shadow deepened across Europe, 12 nations from both sides of the Atlantic committed to individual liberty, democracy, human rights and the rule of law determined to stand together to safeguard their security.”

NATO’s first Secretary General, Ismay Hastings, had a wider view of the tasks facing the alliance though. According to him, the purpose of NATO was to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.”

In keeping with the terms of the North Atlantic Treaty concluded in Washington on April 4, 1949, NATO sought “to promote stability and well-being in the North Atlantic area.”
The document emphasized the organization’s resolve “to unite their efforts for collective defense and for the preservation of peace and security.”

Over the course of the decades that followed, the NATO leadership was often very constructive in dealing with its potential adversary, namely the Soviet Union. As early as in 1954 (following the death of Joseph Stalin), Washington and Brussels reportedly mulled integrating the Soviet Union into the North Atlantic Alliance. Confrontational ideology then prevailed, however, and the creation of the Warsaw Pact Organization in 1955 secured inter-bloc divisions in Europe.

Despite their existing confrontation, the great powers, the USSR and the United States, were still able to come together and find geopolitical ways out of the most difficult moments of world history, most notably the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. A raft of nuclear and conventional arms control accords signed during the 1970s and 1980s also proved the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries’ and their leaders’ ability to agree on key global security issues.

The negative turn in NATO’s behavior in terms of theory and practice occurred during the late-1980s and early-1990s. The breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, as well as the growing instability in and around the former Soviet republics created in Brussels and Washington dangerous illusions about their own exclusiveness and the uselessness of the system of military-political checks and balances. The promise given to the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev regarding NATO’s refusal to deploy its military structures close to the Russian borders in exchange for Moscow’s concessions regarding German unification and other issues was never met. Moreover, NATO’s plans in Eastern Europe and the ex-Soviet republics posed a serious threat to Russia’s strategic interests.

The tragic developments happening in the former Yugoslavia became a crucial point with NATO seeing them as a convenient excuse for “pushing Russia aside,” bolstering its position in a strategically important part of Europe and, simultaneously, working out scenarios of actions (including military) in a new situation of its global dominion. In 1994-1995, NATO aircraft were used for the first time in a major military operation in Europe, namely in Bosnia and Herzegovina, beyond the territorial responsibility of the Alliance. Mass-scale bombings of Bosnian Serb positions by NATO aircraft during the ethnic and civil conflict in Bosnia and Herzegovina were meant to ensure a military victory for the local pro-Western forces, while simultaneously causing maximum damage to the Serbs, viewed by the West as being Russia’s allies.

The large-scale military operation against the Bosnian Serb Republic (Republika Srpska), codenamed “Deliberate Force,” was launched on August 30, 1995, continued for two weeks and resulted in numerous civilian casualties.

By the way, coordinating the NATO airstrikes was the commander of the local Muslim forces, Rasim Delic, who showed the NATO command Serbian targets for immediate missile and bomb attacks. Such cooperation characterizes NATO’s actions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (just like its 1999 aggression against Yugoslavia) not as a peacekeeping operation, but rather as powerful military support for one of the parties engaged in a conflict, which flies in the face of the fundamental principles of peacekeeping.

There is another thing indicating that the 1995 Western operation in Bosnia and Herzegovina was a rehearsal of their subsequent actions in Kosovo and other strategically important regions of Europe and the world. Both in 1995, and 1999, incidents with clear signs of being faked were used as a formal reason for the bombings. While in 1999 NATO was quick to show to the world the victims of Serb-organized “ethnic cleansing” in the Kosovo village of Racak, even though reports said that it was the work of Kosovo Liberation Army militants in civilian disguise, in Bosnia and Herzegovina an explosion at the Markale street marketplace in Sarajevo played a similar role. Bosnian Serbs provided documented proof that “Muslims simply planted the bodies of their soldiers killed at the front and gave them up for the victims of the explosion,” and Russian officers at the headquarters of the UN Sector Sarajevo testified that from the Serbian positions it was theoretically impossible to hit the market with mortar fire. This was all in vain though,  because the Bosnian Muslim leaders and Western allies were playing out their own military scenario, apparently prepared well in advance.

The NATO bombings of Yugoslavia, which began 20 years ago, on March 24, 1999, ushered in a new era in international relations. For the first time in the history of post-war Europe, NATO launched, without any UN mandate, a military operation against a sovereign non-member state. Even the Soviet military interventions in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968 look more logical from a legal standpoint, since both these socialist countries were Warsaw Pact members. NATO’s actions in March-June 1999 were precursors of military operations later carried out by both the Alliance per se and a number of its leading members, led by the United States elsewhere in the world – from Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 to their desire to call the shots in Ukraine and other post-Soviet countries. 

The United States was then pursuing a very special goal in the Balkans, a goal which clearly went beyond NATO’s scope. By supporting Bosnian Muslims and Kosovo Albanians, Washington expected to score propaganda points in the Islamic world, which later helped it to at least partially offset the protests over its operations in Muslim countries, primarily in Afghanistan and Iraq. In June 1999, the US commander of NATO’s “Operation Allied Force,” General Wesley Clark, issued a handwritten order to resist Russian peacekeepers who had moved into Kosovo in line with a pertinent decision by the United Nations – a move that was fraught with grave consequences for the entire world.

Therefore, it would hardly be an overstatement to say that NATO’s 20-year-old military campaign helped stoke up tensions in other areas of ethnic and religious conflicts – and not only in terms of encouraging separatist sentiments. It was certainly with those power scenarios earlier implemented in the Balkans in mind that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili ordered his NATO-trained troops to storm Tskhinval in 2008.

Russia is naturally worried by NATO’s desire to play a more active and sometimes even provocative and aggressive role beyond the area of its military-political responsibility. Suffice it to recall the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest that was preceded by titanic efforts by Washington to draw Ukraine and Georgia into the anti-Russian bloc under the pretext of the imaginary “Russian threat.” Even though the plan fell through due to the European members’ lukewarm response to it, it was perfectly clear that the United States and its allies now view NATO not only as a means of countering the Soviet/Russian “threat,” but also as a tool for promoting their own interests in various parts of the globe, including those in the areas of Russia’s historical interests, disregarding the fact that this is destabilizing the existing system of international relations.

NATO’s reluctance to halt its eastward enlargement is a continuation of the “old policy when Russia was perceived at least as an adversary,” Russian President Vladimir Putin then emphasized.

“The inability to change the subject, as [Winston] Churchill said, is a sign of radicalism,” he added.

Orchestrated and provoked by the West, the 2014 crisis in Ukraine gave NATO another convenient excuse for moving its infrastructure closer to the Russian borders. As General Philip Breedlove, the Supreme Allied Commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, later admitted, it was exactly when the Alliance got seriously hooked on the idea of turning Poland and the Polish Baltic Sea port city of Szczecin into its largest base in Eastern Europe.

The Times quoted General Breedlove as saying that even though possible bases were being discussed, the Polish city and port of Szczecin, located on the Baltic Sea coast, was seen as a favorite choice for setting up a military base. For fairness’ sake, however, it should be noted that Szczecin was returned to Poland after the end of WWII thanks to the constructive position of the Soviet Union: the resolution of the Potsdam Peace Conference redrew the earlier agreed new Polish-German border running along the Oder River (Szczecin is located just west of the river).

Meanwhile, working together, Russia and NATO could have defused a number of real crises that in recent years have emerged in various parts of the world. During his tenure as NATO Secretary General, Anders Fogh Rasmussen emphasized that the North Atlantic Alliance should actively prepare to ward off “future threats,” including the situation in Afghanistan, international terrorism, cyber crime, drug trafficking; and to ensure nuclear missile security. However, Russia’s desire to cooperate with NATO on all these key modern-day threats and challenges has invariably been rejected by the United States and its allies. By announcing America’s withdrawal from existing treaties and arms control arrangements, President Donald Trump is simultaneously twisting the arms of his European allies forcing them to toe Washington’s line from energy to trade, and spend more on defense.

The current crisis of NATO, including domestic problems facing its members ahead of the Alliance’s 70th anniversary, has certainly not been lost on Western analysts and the media. The Times observer Roger Boyes sarcastically remarked that if it were not for Russia, NATO could well have fallen apart by now.

“Consider this: only one in ten Germans currently considers Donald Trump to be a reliable ally. Absurdly, some consider his unpredictability to be the biggest threat to world peace. Little wonder that the birthday party in Brussels is set to be a muted affair,” he wrote.

The differences of opinion that currently exist between the United States and Europe (above all, between Washington and Berlin) are skillfully being used by other world players. And not just by China or Iran, but also by Turkey, which wants to play an increasingly active role in Eurasian affairs.

“Turkey has managed to negotiate itself into a privileged position because its location allows NATO to project influence inside the Middle East,” The Times rightly notes.

Turkish warships are participating in NATO’s “Sea Shield” naval exercises, currently underway in the Black Sea.

The fact that Ukrainian and Georgian warships are also taking part in that drill means that Brussels still thinks in the categories of “containment” and “blockade” of Russia, instead of trying to engage in a dialogue with Moscow on key global issues – including those posing a direct threat to NATO countries themselves.

First published in our partner International Affairs

Peter Iskenderov, senior research assistant at RAS Slavic Studies Institute, candidate of historical sciences

Defense

India’s strategies short of war against a hostile China

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Since India’s independence several peace and border cooperation agreements were signed between the India and China. Prominent among them was the Panchsheel Agreement signed in 1954. A majority of the agreements were signed between 1993 and 2013. Recently genuine efforts were made by PM Narendra Modi by engaging Xi Jinping at the Wuhan and Chennai summits. But China is nowhere near to settling the border dispute despite various agreements and talks at the military and civilian levels.

After the 1962 war peace was largely maintained on the Indo China border. During the Mao and Deng era consensus building was the norm in the communist party. XiJinping appointed himself as chairman of the communist party for life. Today power is centralized with XiJinping and his cabal. Through Doklam and Galwan incidents Xi Jinpinghas disowned the peaceful principles laid down by his predecessors. China’s strategy is to keep India engaged in South Asia as it doesn’t want India to emerge as a super power. After solving a crisis on the border China will create another crisis. Beijing has declining interest in the niceties of diplomacy. Under Xi Jinping China has become more hostile.

China has been infringing on India’s sovereignty through salami tactics by changing the status quo and attempting to own the border territory. At Galwan on Xi Jinping’s birthday the PLA demonstrated hooliganism by assaulting Indian border positions. China violated the 1996 and 2005 bilateral agreements which states that both armies should not carry weapons within 1.24 miles on either side of the border. India’s Foreign Minister S Jaishankar mentioned that the standoff situation with China in Galwan Valley of eastern Ladakh is “surely the most serious situation after 1962.”China is constructing infrastructure, increasing forces and deploying weapon systems on the border.

Options for India

India led by PM Narendra Modi has implemented a realist foreign policy and a muscular military policy.India ended the age of strategic restraint by launching special operations and air strikes in Pakistan. Since the Galwan incident India has increased the military, diplomatic and economic deterrence against China. India is constructing military infrastructure and deploying weapon systems like SU 30 MKI and T 90 tanks in Ladakh. India banned a total of 224 Chinese apps, barred Chinese companies from government contracts and is on the verge of banning Huawei. Other measures include excluding Chinese companies from private Indian telecommunications networks. Chinese mobile manufacturers can be banned from selling goods in India.

India should offer a grand strategy to China. India has a plethora of options short of war. Future talks should involve an integrated strategy to solve all the bilateral issues and not just an isolated resolution of a localized border incident. All instruments of military and economic power and coercive diplomacy should be on the table.

Foreign Policy

China expects other nations to follow bilateral agreements and international treaties while it conveniently violates them. India should abrogate the Panscheel agreement given China’s intransigence and hostility. China claims 35,000 square miles of territory in India’s northeast, including the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. China occupies 15,000 square miles of India’s territory in the Aksai Chin Plateau in the Himalayas. India’s primary objective is to take back territories like Aksai Chin. While the secondary issue is the resolution of the border issue and China’s support to Pakistan. India can leverage the contemporary geopolitical climate to settle all issues. India can target China’s soft underbelly characterized by issues like Taiwan, Xinjiang and the economy. China raises the Kashmir issue at international organizations. As a countervailing measure India can raise Xinjiang at international organizations and conferences.

China has been militarily and diplomatically supporting Pakistan against India. Pakistan is a rentier and a broken state that sponsors terrorism. India can establish bilateral relations with Taiwan thus superseding China’s reunification sensitivities. China has territorial disputes with 18 countries including Taiwan and Japan. India can hedge against China by establishing strategic partnerships with US, Australia, Japanand Vietnam.

Military policy

An overwhelming military is a deterrence for China’s belligerent foreign and military policy. The 1990Gulf War demonstrated the capabilities of high technology weapon systems. As compared to China’s rudimentary weapons systems India has inducted 4th and 5th generation weapons like the SU 30 MKI, AH 64 Apache and T 90 tanks. The deterrence capacity of fighter aircrafts is reduced as they cannot target China’s coastlines due to their restricted range. Full deterrence can be achieved by ICBMs and nuclear powered submarines. With these weapons India can target centers of gravity like Shanghai and Shenzhen.

China is not a signatory to arms limitations treaties like Start I and Start II. China continues to expand its nuclear weapons stockpile and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) like DF 21 and DF-26B which are banned by the INF Treaty. India is a law abiding stable democracy in an unstable region with two hostile nations on its flanks. US and Russia can relax the arms control mechanism considering India’s’ impeccable record on peace and non proliferation. This will allow India to buy Russian weapon systems like Zircon and Kinzhal hypersonic missiles, Topol and Bulava ICBMs and Yasen and Borey class SSBN submarines. While US can sell SSBN submarines and C4ISR gathering platforms like RC 135 and RQ 4 Global Hawk.

China remains a security threat for Asia. As China foments instability the APAC region from South Asia to South China Sea remains volatile. The Quad can be expanded to include Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines, South Korea and Indonesia and multinational naval exercises can conducted in the South China Sea.

The enemy of my enemy is my friend. China fought small wars with India, Vietnam and Soviet Union. Vietnam defeated the PLA at Lang Son in 1979 with advanced weapon systems and guerilla warfare. India can increase militarily cooperation with Vietnam. China attacked the Soviet Union on the Ussuri river leading to heavy PLA casualties. Historically relations between Russia and India have been close. As a result of the Indo Soviet Friendship Treaty China did not support Pakistan during the 1971 war. India can enhance its military and diplomatic ties with Russia to the next level.

Strategic partnership with US

Its time for a partnership between the world’s largest and the world’s biggest democracies. India and the US have a common objective to preserve peace, maintain stability and enhance security in Asia. India’s reiteration at leaders’ level and international forums that both countries see each other as allies for stability in the APAC region is not enough. India has to go beyond the clichés of the need for closer ties.

Due to the China threat the US is shifting its military from Europe and Middle East to the APAC region.US and India can establish an Asian equivalent of NATO as China’s destructive policy frameworks and threatening postures remain a strategic threat. India should enhance and deepen cooperation with the US intelligence community in the fields of MASINT, SIGINT, GEOINT, TECHINT and CYBINT. Both countries can form an alliance of democracies. If China militarily or economically targets one of the member country then the alliance can retaliate under a framework similar to Article 5 of NATO. Thus power will be distributed in the APAC region instead of being concentrated with China. A scorpion strategy will ensure that China does not harass its neighbors. The strategy involves a military pincer movement by India from the west and US from the East against a hostile China. India can conduct joint military exercises with the US in Ladakh. China cannot challenge Japan and Taiwan due to the US security agreements with these countries.

Conclusion

The world has entered the age of instability and uncertainty. The 21st century is characterized by hybrid warfare through military and coercive diplomacy. South Asia is not a friendly neighborhood where peaceful overtures lead to harmonious relations. China is a threat to India even in the context of a friendly relationship. Diplomatic niceties have no place in India’s relations with China. India can impose costs on China which can be more than the benefits offered by normalizing relations. The application of measures short of war without engaging the PLA will reap benefits. India can fulfill its national security requirements and global responsibilities through a grand strategy.

A policy of engagement and deterrence is crucial against an antagonistic China. While India attempts to develop cooperative ties with China it will need to continue to enhance and implement its military and coercive diplomatic strategies. China does not represent a direct military threat to India but at the same time one cannot deny that challenges remain.

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COVID-19 and Challenges to the Indian Defence Establishment

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain situation all over the world. It is defined as the greatest challenge faced by the world since World War II. At a certain point, the pandemic had forced world governments to announce lockdowns in their respective countries that led to more than half of the human population being home quarantined. Since then, social distancing, travel bans, and cancellation of international summits have become a routine exercise. Most sectors such as agriculture, health, education, economy, manufacturing have been severely hit across the globe. One such sector which is vital to national security that has been impacted due to the pandemic is defence.

The effect of influenza and pneumonia during WWI on the US military was huge. The necessity to mobilise troops across the Atlantic made it even ideal for the diseases to spread rapidly among the defence personnel and civilians. Between mid-1917 and 1919, the fatalities were more so due to the disease than getting killed in action. Due to COVID-19, there have been many implications within the defence sector. Amid the ongoing transgressions in Ladakh, it becomes imperative to analyse the preparedness of the Indian defence establishment to tackle the challenges at hand.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Many personnel in the Indian armed forces have been tested positive for COVID-19. This puts the operational capabilities at risk. In one isolated incident, 26 personnel of the Navy had been placed in quarantine after being tested positive for COVID-19. The French and the Americans had a great challenge ahead of them as hundreds of soldiers were getting infected onboard their Naval vessels. Furthermore, the Army saw some cases being tested positive as well. In one such incident, the headquarters of the Indian Army had to be temporarily shut down because of a soldier contracting the virus. These uncalled disruptions are very dangerous for our armed forces. These disruptions challenge the recruitment process and training exercises.

Since the Indian Army has been involved in quarantining tasks, this exposes the personnel to the virus. As a result of this, the first soldier was tested positive on March 20 in Leh. Among them, those who work as medical personnel are even more exposed to the virus. In order to enforce damage control to the operational capabilities, the Army made sure that the non-essential training, travel, and attending conferences remained cancelled. They called off any foreign assignments and postings for the time being. The Army also made it a point to extend leaves for that personnel who were already on absence. This was a major preventive measure adopted to prevent further infection.

As a result of the lockdown that had been imposed nationwide, the defence services were forced to temporarily stall all the activities that relate to soldiering during peacetime. These activities include training, pursuing professional qualification, fitness tests and regimes, equipment maintenance such as unit assets and stores, up-gradation of the cadres among others. Since the Indian Army boasts of a force that has signed up voluntarily to guard the borders, most of the troops are away from their families, which makes it even more difficult during the times of crises. The mega biennial naval exercises scheduled to be held in Vizag were cancelled due to COVID-19. A total of 41 navies were planned to be a part of the joint exercises called MILAN. The Service Selection Board (SSB) training and the recruitment process have been put to a halt as well. This will severely impact the intake process for this year.

Handling Biohazards

The Army’s capable of operating in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment and has sufficient equipment like infantry vehicles, helicopters and tanks which can operate without any hassles. Since instances of chemical warfare have been witnessed in West Asia and other regions in the last two decades, the focus of the Army has been on that and not on biological warfare. Most Armies believe that bio-weaponry is still fictional and won’t come into play any time soon. Naturally, due to this mindset, most Armies are not capable of handling biohazards. This is a major setback in the time of COVID-19 and has to be addressed.

Riding Down the Slope

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Indian economy has been nose-diving day by day. This is some bad news for the defence sector since the military spending will possibly be reduced as a result of the slowdown. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP will grow at 1.9 per cent. This is one of the lowest in the history of post-independent India. Allocations and spendings will naturally take a hit and will take a long time to revive again. Defence manufacturing will also face a setback and discourage indigenous players who are looking at getting involved in the manufacturing and innovation sector. MoD has already received the Ministry of Finance’s circular that called for the defence spending to be limited to 15-20 per cent of the total amount allocated. This will ensure that the defence budget is not the priority for the finance ministry. A gap of Rs. 1,03,000 crore has been highlighted between the requirement and the allocated money. More than 60 per cent of this allocated amount anyway goes towards paying salaries and pensions. This means that the modernisation efforts will face a major slowdown in the next two years. Defence procurement is already difficult due to the bureaucratic hurdles, now the monetary crunch only adds more woes.

Moreover, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had announced earlier that more than 9,000 posts belonging to the Military Engineering Services (MES) will be abolished in the said industrial division. The reason cited was that this would bring about a balance to the expenditure. Due to the lockdown, the military development has taken a hit and has seen a decline in the production of freights. As of now, there is no manufacturing that is ongoing as far as fighter planes or aircraft, in general, is concerned. Some of the signed defence deals and contracts are said to be reviewed due to the financial crunch. India’s defence budget is expected to see some cuts due to the economy slowing down. The pandemic has worsened this even further. There is already an existing order to cap the spending for the first quarter of this fiscal year. Most of the payments that are being disbursed is largely that of paying for the existing contracts. This will diminish any scope for procurement of newer defence equipment that helps in modernising the armed forces in the long run. According to a report, it says that the Ministry of Defence is looking at a savings of anywhere between Rs. 400 and 800 billion in the 2020-21 financial year. To quote Yuval Noah Harari from his recent article in the Financial Times would seem relevant in this case, “Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours.”  India has displayed the significant political will to make impactful decisions during the pandemic. The question is, how far and how soon can we push ourselves to be prepared on all fronts?

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Defense

Rafale deal: A change in aerial balance in South Asia?

Shaheer Ahmad

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The induction of the first consignment of five Rafale jets in the Indian Air Force inventory is considered to be a game-changer in the aerial balance of the South Asian region. A multi-billion-dollar package will be beneficial to increase the air prowess of Indian Airforce. While equipped with weapons of tangible accuracy including long-range SCALP and Meteor missiles, it will be able to hunt any target with accurate precision.  The arrival of French-made engines has concerned neighboring Pakistan and China due to its high accuracy of conducting sea and ground attacks.

The experience of operation ‘Swift Retort’ and Chinese intrusion in Ladakh, compelled New Delhi to introspect the efficiency of IAF in any major or minor engagement in the future. The deal to acquire Rafale fighting jets to plug the loopholes in the aerial power of IAF was inked in September 2016.  This induction is meant to enhance the Indian Air force’s operational capabilities and will also assist it to overcome the technological disparity with the US manufactured Pakistan’s F-16 and Chinese Chengdu JF-17 thunder. However, the task for PAF to restrict IAF moves in the future has become more challenging. Despite its competence and better training of its personals as compared to IAF the air superiority is still not guaranteed if the technological gap between IAF and PAF gets wider. Notably, it’s hard to assess the proficiencies of one jet over another because the ‘man behind the machine is more critical’. 

Rafale is a twin-engine Medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRC) whose design instigate from Dassault Mirage with an up to date frame of the 1990s, already used by the French Navy and air force as well as by Egypt and Qatar. Furthermore, these jets were also engaged in combat missions in Afghanistan and Libya where they demonstrated a high proficiency. Whilst JF-17 thunder holds a conventional design originating from Mig 33 having an airframe of 1980s and it also demonstrated its capabilities in PAF’s Operation “Swift Retort”.

In an overall assessment, JF17 is a lightweight, conventional, fuel-economical, and cost-effective jet aircraft. The most momentous factor in JF17 thunder is it’s beyond visual range capabilities and integration of AESA radar that will not only allow detecting the wide-ranged targets but also to detect and lock multiple targets instantaneously. Meanwhile, it is less disposed to jamming and leaves a low sign to radar that makes the detection of fighter difficult hence increasing its reliability. Moreover, a crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform and its cost-effectiveness makes itself a suitable aircraft for the Pakistan air force. Similarly, the ability of any up-gradation domestically for JF-17 also increases the feasibility of this aircraft, while Rafale lacks this opportunity because Indians lack the platform that can guarantee any domestic up-gradation for Rafale. Generally, Dassault Rafale is advanced in airframe, delta wing Canard design, semi stealth specter to counter threats as well as MBDA meteor that makes it a very affluent fighter with a high operational cost.

Rafales are considered superior over existing fighter jets present in PAF inventory and with the advanced technology they will relish an edge over Pakistani jets. But in case of any aerial engagement on Pakistani soil, Experts orate that in such a scenario Pakistani fighters will enjoy an edge due to its enhanced Air defense ground environment (ADGE) and also a window will remain open for PAF that when and where to carry out a counter strike as it did during operation ‘Swift Retort’. In such case, Indian numerical advantage and war resilience will be of less significance because these factors are relished by the party having a counter-strike option and that party will decide that how much allocation of resources is needed to engage for a mission after having a careful assessment of adversary’s air defense capabilities.

It’s also important to know that PAF and IAF can carry out surprise air raids nearby to the international border in peacetime without the probability of interception by adversary radars. Neither sides have the strength and capabilities to maintain 24/7 air surveillance across a 3323-kilometer long international border. Hence it’s also necessary for Pakistan to counter or deter any kind of surgical or tactical strike in the future. But the concern is still there that after the Balakot experience will India be deterred for conducting similar strikes in the future?

While viewing this scenario and having an experience of Balakot episode, PAF efforts to enhance its capabilities of airborne intercept radar and BVR missiles in JF-17 thunder’s fleet are noteworthy.  However, PAF should pursue an up-gradation on its existing F16 squadron. The presence of Rafale and S-400 air defense system will be challenging for PAF to retaliate, but the Indian S-400 and Rafale jets can’t shield the whole international border so the PAF needs a careful assessment to choose the targets that are not under the umbrella of S-400 or the access of Rafales while keeping in mind not to carry out an action that can trigger the adversary towards any escalation.

In a nutshell, the arrival of French-made engines equipped with long-range SCALP and meteor missiles having high precision is not only beneficial for Indian air prowess but it has also concerned its neighbors notably Pakistan for countermeasures. The experience of Operation Swift Retort and the recent military standoff in Ladakh has compelled New Delhi to modernize its Soviet-era air force by the induction of Dassault Rafales that will provide IAF an edge over the existing fighter jets in PAF’s inventory. However, the crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform increases the feasibility of JF-17 thunder in PAF’s inventory. Hence in case of any aerial engagement in future the numerical advantage will be of more concern as 100+ JF-17 thunders will relish an edge over 36 Rafales and PAF will have the option of counterstrike that when and where to carry out a retaliation after carefully assessing the adversary capabilities in light of S-400 air defense system and Dassault Rafales. Hence Rafale jets have air superiority over existing Pakistani fighter jets but it can’t alter the aerial balance in South Asian region unilaterally.

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