Aerospace Power: Pivot to future battlespace operations

By Air Chief Marshal V. R. Chaudhari

The foremost lesson that can be drawn from the twentieth century and indeed the early twenty-first century is that no war can be successfully prosecuted without aerospace power and in the words of Field Marshal Montgomery, ‘If we lose the war in the air, we lose the war and lose it quickly’.

There are a few very pertinent words, which need a bit more study. The first is “Pivot”. Pivot translates to ‘Fulcrum‘, which is defined as a thing that plays a central or essential role in an activity, event, or situation.

The other words that need more study are “Future Battlespace Operations“. Over the last few decades, the understanding of a military operational environment has significantly transformed from primarily a force, time, and space-driven linear battlefield to a system of systems capable of simultaneous, parallel, and independent operations across multiple domains.

The traditional battlefield has long left the lexicon of modern strategists and what is increasingly being used is battlespace in the land, sea, air, cyber, and space domains.

When we bring all these words together, it broadly gives a contour of things to come in the next few decades. Call it a reveille bugle or a heralding trumpet, we must acknowledge that the wars of the future will be fought differently. Adversaries will use lethal as well as non-lethal weapons, wars will be fought across multiple domains, and will not distinguish between combatants and non-combatants.

File Photo: India’s Chief of Air Staff V. R. Chaudhari.

The future battlespace will be increasingly complex characterised by heavy dependence on technology, asymmetric nature of threats, increased fog and friction, expanded battlespaces, high tempo of operations, enhanced lethality, compressed sensor-to-shooter cycles, and media scrutiny.

If the world is increasingly becoming volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous, it is high time that we develop counters. We must evolve to counter the volatility with stability and calmness that comes from good strategy formulation and training in an environment of denial.

We must reduce the uncertainty by developing better multispectral sensors across domains, simplify the complex by use of modern computing and technology and reveal the ambiguity by shortening our own OODA loop, keeping the adversary in the observe and orient phase thereby forcing him to commit when not fully prepared.

So, what does aerospace power bring to the table in order to be labelled as a Pivot? Attributes of high speed, reduced response time, long reach, increased mobility, technological intensity, precision firepower, shock effect, ability to operate across domains, and network-centric operations have made aerospace power a formidable component of our nation’s military might.

Operations like Balakot have also demonstrated that given the political will, aerospace power can be effectively used in a no-war, no-peace scenario, under a nuclear overhang without escalating into a full-blown conflict.

This is very important given the nature of our adversaries. The response options available to the leadership have suddenly increased and increasingly, air power has become an option of choice due to inherent flexibility and unmatched precision strike capability.

Photo: Air Chief Marshal V. R. Chaudhari (Centre) at the CAPS Seminar today.

Considering the advantages that aerospace power offers, aerospace control, and dominance will become crucial factors in future battlespace operations. To be able to control the airspace across domains will prove vital in the future and in order to achieve that, we must harness technology.

Technology like CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductors) sensors, AI-enabled decision support matrix, manned-unmanned teaming, redundant C2 structures, cyberspace dominance, and next-generation fighter aircraft will prove to be deciding factors when fighting tomorrow’s wars.

One aspect that deserves special mention is the humans in the chain. Any amount of automation will not be effective unless we have well-trained, situationally aware, and technologically sound professionals handling our systems.

To see first and see clearly, to reach first and reach farthest and to strike first and strike with precision will be the mantra for fighting modern wars. Battlespace transparency enhanced rapid mobility, and pinpoint precision capability will be the key to success and our capability development plans must address these issues.

India’s security concerns necessitate that it puts in place adequate military power that has the ability to achieve deterrence, ensure information dominance, coerce when needed, and provide multiple response options. Attributes of aerospace power enable the leadership to formulate an appropriate strategy with due cognizance given to the desired end state, conflict termination criteria, and escalation matrix.

(Excerpted from India’s Chief of Air Staff‘s Lecture at the Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh Memorial Seminar organised by New Delhi-based Centre for Air Power Studies on Apr. 18, 2023)

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