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The present holdings of force multipliers are enough for limited engagements such as the Balakot airstrike, while a wider conflict would reveal the paucity of these assets in pitiless detail
An aerial strike against a high-value target is a precisely tailored and carefully choreographed affair with every element assigned a crucial role. For instance, during the Balakot airstrike conducted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) in the early hours of February 26, 2019, twelve Mirage 2000 jets forming the strike element were naturally the stars of the show. But the heavily laden aircraft could count on agile Sukhoi Su-30MKI aircraft for air defence cover. They were also supported by several force multipliers during their mission.
First, the Ilyushin Il-78M Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA) that replenished the jets, enabled them to follow a circuitous route to the target and thereby achieve surprise. Second, a Phalcon Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) mounted on an Ilyushin Il-76TD aircraft as well as a smaller indigenous Netra AEW&C (Airborne Early Warning and Control) system mounted on an Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft were invaluable to vector the strike force towards the target as well as to track possible threats from Pakistani interceptor jets. Third, an IAI Heron unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) provided additional surveillance. Fourth, satellites were probably involved to facilitate secure communications. And finally, it was the Rafael SPICE (Smart, Precise Impact, Cost-Effective) EO/GPS guidance kit that converted the Mirage’s unguided bombs into Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) to hit the target with deadly accuracy.
Force multipliers are a means to dramatically increase the effectiveness of a military force of given size and capability. There are several different types of force multipliers and no modern air force can afford to go to war without these. Although the IAF is striving to boost its assets, the results have been rather dismal so far. Let us take a closer look at the current state of these five elements.
Force multipliers are a means to dramatically increase the effectiveness of a military force of given size and capability
LONG ROAD AHEAD
Without the use of effective force multipliers, the story of Balakot might have been very different. The strength of combat squadrons in the IAF will soon drop below 30 and induction of new fighter jets should of course be given top priority. But force multipliers too are essential. The gap with China is large and growing and Pakistan is not far behind.
At the very least, the two additional Phalcon AWACS and six new FRA, which are already much delayed, need to be inducted immediately. And the strength of UAVs should be doubled. The present holdings of force multipliers are enough only for very limited engagements such as the Balakot airstrike, while a wider conflict would reveal the paucity of these assets in pitiless detail.