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Corps of Air Defence:CRUCIAL COMBAT ARM IN MISSILE AGE,by B.K. Mathur,3 April 2006 Print E-mail


New Delhi, 3 April 2006

Corps of Air Defence


By B.K. Mathur

When the Corps of Air Defence, the Indian Army’s youngest arm, celebrated its 13th Raising Day recently, mind went back to some years after independence.  It was then believed that only “condemned” Officers of the Regiment of Artillery were sent to its Air Defence units.  Only the gunners were considered to be true fighting personnel.  But today things have totally changed because of the changed operational requirements and dynamics of modern warfare.  Once the operation of missiles was made the responsibility of air defence units which have been increasingly provided with sophisticated, state-of-the-art equipment, the bifurcation of the Regiment of Artillery was necessitated and a separate Corps of Army Air Defence created on 10 January 1994, headed a Lt-General.  Allotment of this Corps to the newly-Commissioned Officers is now considered to be a matter of prestige.

Although, the overall responsibility of air defence lies with the Indian Air Force, it is executed jointly by the three Services. The Corps of Air Defence is tasked to perform the critical battlefield mission of preserving the combat power and freedom of manoeuvre of our combat forces as well as causing maximum destruction of enemy aircraft and helicopters. It is also organized and equipped to provide close air defence to strategic key installations of the nation.  Rapid strides in development and proliferation of missiles, UAVs, coupled with improvement in avionics, visionics, weapon delivery capabilities, guided munitions, have made it imperative to continuously review technology of air defence weapons and tactics to employ them in both the rear  areas and the combat zone.  Air Defence has thus emerged as one of the principal battlefield function areas.

Effectiveness of Air Defence guns and missiles against aircraft in the combat zone has been demonstrated repeatedly in recent wars between various countries. In future too, conduct of air defence will be a critical parameter in deciding the winner in any conflict.   A vibrant and effective air defence environment backed up with low and medium level surveillance and automated control and reporting system is essential to preserve the key strategic installations as well as the combat potential and freedom of manoeuvre of the fighting force. There is, therefore, the need for the Corps to be a truly professional, motivated and trained force, capable of meeting the challenges. To carry out the assigned task, the Air Defence units have been equipped with state-of-the-art radars, guns and missile systems. 

This takes to my oft-repeated point made in this column and elsewhere that while talking about the all-spectrum modernization programme for the Army, one needs to understand the importance of men behind the machines. Great effort needs to be made to ensure quality in-take into the forces, which is concernedly not happening at present.   Emphasis today is on procuring sophisticated machines for every arm of the Army. That should be, but sophisticated machines need sophisticated manpower and training – and, importantly, thorough professionalism.  Remember, Gen. N.C. Vij had stated as the Chief of the Army Staff in his message on the occasion of the Army Day in 2004 “….our priorities have been primarily aimed at creating well-boned war fighting machine and facing any eventuality with a vigour and through professionalism…”

The General had also emphasized in that message that “care of our ex-Servicemen is also very high on my agenda.”  Indeed, Vij had very rightly diagnosed the basic problems which have today made the Indian Army different from the one we knew during the early years of independence.  At present there is lack of interest among the youth for joining the armed forces, and more unfortunately, lack of “izzat” of the men in olive green. Above all, there is little care of the soldiers who retire comparative early and need a second career.  Given the professional satisfaction, we can certainly hope for a better in-take, well-trained soldiers and commanders.

The induction of sophisticated machines along with reorganization and bifurcation of the fighting arms, such as the creating of the Corps of the Army Air Defence will certainly make the Indian Army a true modern force. But plans to achieve such a goal require to be implemented, and should not remain on paper only.  This requires civil-military cooperation and, importantly, genuine integration of the Service headquarters with the Defence Ministry.  The latter is necessary to eliminate vested interests and to avoid delays in decision-making in view of increasing bureaucratic hassles. Such lacunae tackled, the third largest Army of the world could be made the most powerful force globally.

The three Service Chiefs too have a lot of responsibility in making the armed forces a globally powerful force, that it used to be in olden days.  In the Indian army, Officers lead to the troops in an operation and play a major part in shaping soldiers who are now educated unlike in the past. The commander must therefore ensure that the forces deployment is restricted to professional duties, and such engagements as in aid to the civil authority, must be restricted to the minimum.  In this context, it must be remembered that the Armyman is trained to kill or be killed. Such directions to the forces, as the present Chief has given to those deployed for counter-insurgency operations, to be soft and considerate is not the military ethos.  Nor is a military man expected to cry on seeing ruthless action against any enemy.

The opposition to too much use of the Army for civil duties (nearly one-third of the Army is presently deployed for civil duties or counter-insurgency operations) is bad for the forces for several reasons, most significant among them being the loss of adequate training which the soldier presently requires to use state-of-the-art equipment and weapon systems in today’s strategic warfare. Instead of freeing the troops of civil deployment, the Army Headquarters has reportedly worked another plan for “farming”. The plan is believed to have been worked out to cultivate plants from which oil can be produced.  According to sources, one-third of the gas presently used by Army transport is proposed to be produced from the fields through better farming methods on its land.

How far is it advisable to put the soldiers to farming and civil duties at the cost of their training and updating knowledge in latest operational studies and machines?   The recent Gulf war, and even other military confrontations across the world have shown that future wars are to be fought through all kinds of missiles – surface to surface, surface to air and air to surface. Their control and operation is now in the hands of the Army Air Defence in collaboration with the air force.  The personnel of this new Corps of the Indian Army are to be highly skilled in handling the machines in modern operations.   That perhaps is the reason why high-grade Gentlemen Cadets at the Indian Military Academy opt for the new Corps of Army Air Defence. ---INFA

(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


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