IS TSA replacing RMA?

Lessons From Fighter Conference

By Ranjit Rai


New Delhi, 12 December 2004

The Internet has become the all pervasive driver of tomorrow’s activities be it governance, banking, health, trade, entertainment, security, command and control or dissemination of information. Hence the oft repeated and hackneyed phrase Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which the Americans coined over a decade ago based on the Russian General Ogarov’s, Military Technological Revolution (MTR).

The Russians were the first to recognize the march of technology for transmission of data and accepted the fact that NATO forces were becoming technologically superior to their overwhelming nuclear capable Warsaw Pact forces. RMA became the mantra but it may be passé now that the technology has settled for the time being till another leap appears in the years ahead. C4I has come to stay. This trend is now evident at most security conferences.

The “IQPC Asian Fighter Conference”, chaired by our representative from India was held in Singapore in the last week of October. The credit for selecting an Indian to be the Chairman, goes to the Indian Air Force. They made their mark in many air combat exercises at Gwalior in 2004, with the French, Singapore and US Air Forces and abroad in Alaska and South Africa, with NATO nations participating. Labelled as the first and most impressive peacetime display of the IAF’s professionalism to foreign aviators, though several accidents have plagued India’s Air Force.

There is now a healthy respect for the Indian pilots and their flying machines (the older MiG 21s, 27s and Jaguars) and (newer MiG 29s, Mirage 2000 and SU 30 MKI). But the coup de grace of the Fighter Conference and others that have followed in India including the recent National Security Seminar at the USI, was the coining of a new term TSA –– Transformation in Security Affairs.

TSA now keeps cropping up every so often from the lips of the senior military officers, defence analysts, foreign policy makers and speakers at conferences, because relationships between nations are no longer dictated by groupings, but are based on national interests, with all the strains of cooperation and competition. In the future nations will have to live with these two disparate features simultaneously. Today even Europe and USA are in that scenario, and the battle between Airbus and Boeing is a glaring example. TSA therefore appears to be the new mantra at a time when the scourge of terrorism is plagues the world with no signs of letting up, and the world is discussing Bush’s second term with great introspection.

Interaction and discussions with analysts, reps of military industrial complexes, security and government representatives from ten countries including USA, Australia, France, UK, Korea, India and host Singapore, witnessed the term TSA come up in their presentations ad nauseam. The explanation was the same –– that cooperation and sharing of intelligence is a must to achieve stability, and even those sharing intelligence could see competition.

This means that technology for net centric warfare as the lynch pin for RMA has settled down in most modern militaries, but TSA is possibly the byword for the change in security relations and how nations will deal with each other, in this new changing world. TSA also dictates how nations purchase and their sell their military hardware, and the recent visits of Russia’s Defence Minister Sergiy Ivanov, President Putin, France’s Foreign Minister, Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to India, also depict how all security leaders wish to collaborate and offer their spheres of influence and technology, and sell their hardware in the most favourable manner to India.

India’s own initiative to bury the past and make peace with Pakistan in a genuine manner by offering the LoC as the IBL in a guarded manner and other concessions, is also a thread in this direction. India is also busy forging closer military relations with South and West Asia (Iran) and neighbours like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, with Defence Agreements, to ensure stability and look to energy security, another vital ingredient for the future.

The fighter conference was held in Singapore just when the full range of Indian fighter jets minus the MiG 25s were battling the Republic of Singapore’s F-16’s in Exercise ANKUSH over the skies in Madhya Pradesh. Some Singapore reps had just returned from Gwalior with hands on experience of Exercise Ankush and were present at the conference and offered comments. Exercise Cope India and Garuda held at Gwalior with US F-15Cs (30 year old planes) and French Mirage 2000’s were also dissected.

The fighter conference attracted more than normal attention because some $10 billion worth of fighter jets are to be ordered in the next two years by Singapore, Australia, India, Taiwan, Malaysia, Canada and West Asia. The JSF F-35, F-16, F-22 (Raptor), Rafale (Dassault), Eurofighter (EADS), Grippen (SAAB) and Mirages are variously in the running. The Arabic word “bakshish” was brought up by a Middle Eastern delegate and the Chairman was asked to explain it in the Indian context!

The IAF was lobbying to buy Mirage 2000Vs to replace the MiG 21/23 in 2008 or else their squadron strength will deplete. The Chief of Air Staff ACM S Krishnaswamy had recently declared that there was no middleman in the deal for purchase of 10 Mirages. A company called Keyser had gone to court in France to demand its due commission (bakshish) for the deal. The original order for these aircraft was placed by Jordan, and financed by Saudi Arabia. However, on commencement of the 1990 Iraq war, the Saudis did not appreciate Jordan’s cosying up to Sadam Hussen and withdrew the funding. Dassault desperately looked for alternate solvent buyers and India signed for them with an advance payment. 

No big aircraft manufacturer or ancillary supplier can afford to miss the nuances or exposure to decision makers that are available at such conferences. It was interesting to learn that the UAE Air Force had bought and was flying the more modern F-16 Block 60 not available to the USA, like IAF is flying the Su 30 MKI’s of the variety not available to the Russian Air Force. These are Transformations in Security Affairs, explained Maj Gen Dave, Deputy Director Air and Space Operations from US Pacific Air Command. He changed the title of his speech from “Power Projection in the Pacific “ to “Transforming Air Deployment in Air Space and US power in the Pacific’. He heightened the importance of trade and security relations, possibly goaded by his diplomatic adviser.

The Australians explained their F-15 operations and upgrades in tandem with USAF and Canada. China was repeatedly projected as a power shrouded in the Sun Tzu edict of secrecy but a super power in the making. Regional Air Force capabilities were covered in depth and the Indian Air Force came out as a Trojan horse to be watched. The capabilities of the Su-30 MKI to take on the modern Mirages and F-18s were speculated by professionals.

Yet the most important lessons of the landmark conference which military intelligence agencies, practicing diplomats, security advisers and hardware sellers need to heed, were that there is now a transformation in security affairs and so the acronym TSA could well replace RMA as an apt one for the coming decade. Change is a constant and even in India many of our military doctrines and MEA policies including those towards Pakistan are undergoing healthy transformations, which is reassuring. It was hoped that Pakistan also releases this. Another speaker explained the need for interdependence. India was now viewed as a strategic partner and could assist in ballistic missile defence and cooperation to deal with terrorism. He went on to say how the security approach must transform, to accept the new multilateral era, where even some non NATO members were to be treated like partners for which renewed diplomatic efforts have to instituted by nations. Need for interoperability of forces and how Indian Navy patrolled for USA in Malacca straits and how Air Forces can to cooperate came in for mention.

The need to ensure stability in the Middle East (Iraq and Iran) and South Asia (India, Pakistan and Afghanistan) came up from speaker after speaker repeating the big worry that could be destabilization. There was a fear that North Korea could again sell nuclear technology to Iran, a future independent Iraq and other Middle Eastern countries who aspire to acquire the bomb. Mr Lee Kwan Yew also highlighted this by saying that these countries felt, if Pakistan and Israel have it why can’t we?

Uttering this thought mildly was another transformation not earlier articulated, because it is the future that was being discussed not so much the present. Colin Powell’s statement from Beijing on Taiwan’s reconciliation with China some day also came in for discussion. Some very interesting themes were developed on conflicts with air and space operations linked with net centric warfare. This was another hot topic. An American general who commands the largest airbase in the world, Kadena in Okinhawa with 23,000 personnel, explained it simply by saying, “A pilot or a fighter going into battle without net centric facilities would be like a corporate executive having no Internet or Email in his office. He would be doomed.

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