According to Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief Air Chief Marshal (ACM) V. R. Chaudhari, the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is the first time we are witnessing the unfolding of “truly hybrid warfare” and is a reflection of complete multi-domain operations that are taking place, and there is a lot to learn from it.
In response to a question at the All India Management Association’s 7th national leadership conclave, ACM Chaudhari said, “We are witnessing the use of drones, hypersonic weapons, aircraft of all sizes and types, and ground forces all working in unison against the backdrop of economic sanctions and diplomatic heft.”
“Is it solely in hardware?” he was asked when asked where the focus should be. Is it going to be a soft power strategy? Is it going to be a jumble of everything? It essentially boils down to being able to rethink, reinvent, rededicate, and retrain ourselves for future battles.”
The Air Chief, speaking on the topic of ‘The Future of Air Warfare: Securing the Sky and Beyond,’ noted that traditionally, wars were fought on land, at sea, in the air, and to some extent, in space, but that this spectrum had expanded in the last two decades to include cyber and information domains.
“The overall impact of cyber and information on the conduct of conventional battles has resulted in the emergence of a new, hybrid, and multi-domain spectrum of conflict, with previous tactics and plans becoming obsolete.”
ACM Chaudhari emphasised the importance of adapting to this new emergent paradigm, saying cyber and information had become modern tools for influencing the fight. He predicted that future warfare will be hybrid in nature, with the spectrum of combat ranging “conventional to sub-conventional, kinetic to non-kinetic, and lethal to non-lethal, all under a nuclear overhang.”
ACM Chaudhari stated that the weapons would range from a simple computer virus to hypersonic missiles, emphasising the importance of developing capabilities throughout the complete spectrum of combat and focusing on multi-domain operations.
In response to accusations that hypersonic weapons were employed in the “ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict,” ACM Chaudhari remarked that due to their extremely high speeds, these missiles were difficult to intercept, rendering existing air defence systems obsolete. “The IAF is actively involved in research and development for such weapons, as well as developing countermeasures,” he said, adding that producing them domestically rather than through collaborations was preferable.
ACM Chaudhari explained the difficulty the IAF encountered by stating that during the zenith of the COVID-19 outbreak, the scenario in Eastern Ladakh was also unfolding.
He added the IAF’s transport aircraft fleet travelled to 18 nations, logging 4800+ flight hours in roughly 2900 sorties, sending relief to friendly countries throughout the world, while also being on high alert while supporting the country’s fight against COVID-19.
Furthermore, over 2600 hours of flight time were logged within the country for the transfer and placing of oxygen and medical supplies as needed. “The entire distance traversed was almost 27 lakh kilometres, which is the equivalent of travelling to the moon and back four times,” he explained.
“The importance of aerospace power in the larger security framework has grown manifold and would be increasingly critical to handle future security challenges,” the Air Chief said, adding, “The tactical advantage that ‘high ground’ offers was a must-achieve criteria even today, and air power provided that high ground and the ability to bypass the fielded forces to hit targets in great depths with speed and precision.”