However no matter how sophisticated or advanced,
in the final analysis platforms remain merely
carrier of weapons. It is the quality and quantity
of weapons that really make the difference. Therefore
to deliver the appropriate bang for the buck,
it is imperative that sufficient quantity of suitable
weapons be inducted in tandem with acquisition
of new platforms.
Modern technology has enhanced the strike potential
of modern fighter aircraft by an order of magnitude.
By the same token, air defence systems have also
become far more lethal. Increasingly dense and
lethal air defence environment makes it necessary
to reduce exposure of expensive platforms to the
very least while maximising mission effectiveness.
Therefore precision and appropriate stand-off
capability has to be key features of all air-to-surface
ordnance. Precision also makes it possible to
miniaturise weapons which in turn offers an opportunity
to put aloft many more shots in every mission
and place just the right amount of ordnance at
the right place to achieve a measured result.
Surface targets list being long, characteristics
and environment of each being different from the
other, weapons repertoire of a modern air force
must include the necessary variety to execute
the entire spectrum of missions. Engagement of
targets lying behind light terminal defences could
be undertaken with smart bombs their guidance,
explosive power and fusing being determined by
target characteristics. Targets in depth, or defended
by strong multi-layered defences would call for
attacks with missiles of appropriate range and
war heads. Dictated by some air defence environments,
supersonic, stealth cruise missiles of the Brahmos
variety may have to be weapons of choice. However,
be that as it may, it is reasonably certain that,
under most environments iron bombs alone would
be insufficient for the task and therefore a significant
part of the inventory would have to consist of
specialist stand-off precision weapons.
Taking into account the uncertainties that characterise
our procurement process, it is hazardous to predict
the precise shape of the IAF at some future date.
For instance, while Indo-Russian 5th Generation
fighter was slated for squadron induction in 2022,
serious delays have already pushed forward delivery
dates by an indeterminate period. Similarly, retirement
of all MiG variants barring the upgraded MiG-29
UPG by 2017 as hoped for by the CAS while addressing
the press on the eve of IAFs 80th anniversary,
may not happen - if for no other reason than to
sustain the IAF Squadron strength at some reasonable
From the existing resources and likely accretions
in the next decade, IAF fighter inventory could
look somewhat as given in a table below.
the envisaged 42 squadrons by 2022, of the approximately
800 aircraft (as per current squadron configuration
of 16 fighters and two trainers) in front line
service, about 70 per cent i.e. around 550 aircraft
are likely to be available for duty. Assuming
the above approximate allocation of roles, 300
to 320 aircraft could be engaged in strike duties
of varying descriptions, producing on an average
of about 600 to 640 sorties per day. Excluding
aborts on account of a variety of operational
and environmental reasons, over a thirty-day period
of conflict, one could expect an effort of the
order of about 15,000 to 16,000 strike aircraft
sorties expending up to 50,000 pieces of ordnance.
Ideally most if not all of them should be of the
smart variety However, considering the expense
and even storage constraints, if just a third
were to be guided munitions, the resulting figure
i.e. some 16,000-17,000 would still pose an immense
challenges in terms of acquisition, storage, servicing
and other housekeeping activities.
Consider storage itself. Iron bombs of yore
required minimal housekeeping to keep them safe
and reliable. Smart munitions on the other hand
incorporate complex and sensitive sensors which
demand carefully controlled storage environment.
Unless matters have improved vastly over the last
few years, ensuring stable climate control of
large storage sites in remote areas experiencing
extreme environments would be quite challenging.
Next consider the financial outlay required
to bring about this transformation.
Mix of PGMs to engage the entire spectrum of
targets would be dictated by target characteristics
and the depth at which they lie. Assuming that
primary aim in any future conflict would be to
deliver a crushing blow to the enemy forces, then
maximum density of targets is likely to lie at
relatively shallow depths from the borders. In
that scenario, 75 per cent of IAFs smart
ordnance inventory (i.e. some 12,000 pieces) could
comprise smart bombs with varying types of guidance
(viz. laser, LLTV, thermal, INS/GPS), explosive
power and penetration capability, etc.
To engage very high value and strategic targets
viz. enemy reserves, heavily defended airfields,
radar and missile sites, shipping etc. IAF should
equip itself with a variety of air-to- surface
missiles with different stand-off ranges and war
heads to defeat all foreseeable target systems
and environmental contingencies. This capability
should reside in the 4,000 odd missiles to make
up the balance 25 per cent PGMs.
Estimating financial outlay required to build
such a capability is hazardous. Besides, infrastructural
and housekeeping costs which are difficult to
forecast, even ball-parking cost of acquisition
is problematic because even similar weapons could
vary substantially in cost depending on the version,
source, quantities in question and a variety of
other factors. However, some back of the envelope
sums with figures available in the public domain
could be indicative of the sort of budget outlays
that would be necessary.
A Pave-way II series LGB which effectively converts
a dumb iron bomb into a smart one is said to cost
around $19,000. A JDAM kit for the same purpose,
but relying on an INS and GPS coupled guidance
which can engage static targets from a stand-off
distance up to 15 miles with a CEP of 10 meters
cost $31,000 (in 2011) per strap-on guidance kit.
To engage mobile targets a data link is incorporated
to up-date the target position at additional cost.
A notable feature related to cost of smart weapons
is the very wide variation between base line model
and later versions emerging with more sophisticated
seekers, anti-jam resistance (in case of GPS guided
weapons) and other refinements Thus the average
cost of a strap on conversion kit may range between
$20,000 to $30,000.
There are more expensive options which offer
more flexibility, wider launch envelope, better
stand-off ranges, man in the loop
capability to achieve near 100 per cent mission
success. Used against high value targets viz surface-to-air
missile sites, radars, command and control centers
in the opening stages of a conflict, the highly
beneficial cost benefit ratio in favour of such
weapons becomes obvious when measured against
risks run in repeat missions. Israeli SPICE, French
AASM and American JSOW-C1 fall in this category.
Cost of a basic AASM (carried by the French Rafale
in Libyan campaign) is said to be around $300,000.
In 2011, Greece awarded Israeli company Rafael
Advanced Defense Systems a contract worth
about €100 million for 300 SPICE 1000 weapons
amounting to almost $480,000 unit cost.
The long range Brahmos cruise missile being adapted
to the Su-30 MKI costs in excess of $2.5 million.
A Variety of PGMs ranging from a basic Laser
Guided Bomb (LGB) to highly sophisticated cruise
missiles are today in the market-place. Each is
designed to accomplish a defined mission. IAF
will choose specific types depending upon perception
of its requirements. Figures above serve only
to highlight that substantial resources will have
to be committed to build a significant stockpile
and that against several other competing
demands. Also not included in the costs above
is the necessity of very high quality ISR assets
without which smart weapons are useless.
The good news is that DRDO has had some success
in its indigenisation efforts in this field. In
2010, IAF appears to have successfully tested
a DRDO produced LGB (Sudarshan) with a stand-off
range of 9 km. That the tests were followed by
an order for 50 units suggests a good beginning.
A next generation smart bomb with a stand-off
range of 50 km now appears to be under development.
There would undoubtedly be teething problems.
But if DRDO persists and rekindles user confidence,
it could help IAF usher in a new era of capability.