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#184, 30 May 2006

USAF-IAF Air Combat Exercises: A Review

Panelists: Dr Peter Lavoy, Director, Center for Contemporary Conflict, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, USA

Maj Peter Fesler (USAF), Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey

The objectives of the discussion, as detailed by Peter Lavoy, were to: understand the process of military innovation through the study of the Indian Air Force; gain a perspective from those directly involved in the IAF's doctrinal shift; and develop a better perspective of the future of Indo-American strategic cooperation. While Peter Lavoy initiated the discussion relating to Indo-US strategic cooperation, Peter Fesler addressed issues of military doctrine and innovation through his presentation on military transformation, with particular reference to the Indian Air Force (IAF).

Fesler observed that military transformation of the IAF was concomitant with the formulation of its doctrine in 1995. Though there was no doctrine prior to that, a study of IAF's role in the earlier wars revealed that the doctrine adopted by the IAF until then was primarily close air support and air defence, with limited offensive counter air-capability. This, however, changed in 1995, when the doctrine placed equal emphasis on offensive and defensive operations. The doctrine also indicated a transition to more strategic uses of air power. The acquisition plans thereafter have matched the plan of force multiplier. Fesler also noted that the doctrine signaled a move from plan to practice, which is exemplified by the new emphasis on large force multinational exercises, such as Garuada and Cope India.

Talking next on the subject of Indo-US strategic cooperation, Peter Lavoy argued that the US and India needed to move beyond their respective cold war and non-aligned foreign policy legacies in order to engage and cooperate with each other. He felt that there was perceptible change in the attitudes of senior US officials who now see the rapid rise of Indian 'soft' power. The nuclear deal, in his opinion, was a consequence of this realization. While indicating the possibility of enhanced military cooperation between both countries, Lavoy also emphasized the need for projections on what US and India can do to cooperate on non-proliferation; strengthen military to military cooperation; enhance cooperation in defence technology, particularly missile technology; and, work towards regional stability that extends beyond South Asia.

The presentation was followed by a lively discussion with senior Indian Air Force Officers including recently retired Officers, which concentrated on four issues: the need and utility of doctrines in military planning and strategizing; joint exercises between the two countries, particularly Cope India 2004; issues relating to interoperability; and the future of Indo-US defence cooperation.


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