When announcing several events to commemorate the birth centenary of the universally- acclaimed military aviator, Arjan Singh, the Indian Air Force hailed the “strategic vision” of its only five-star “general” who had passed away in 2017.
And rightly so, for though Arjan had been the Chief in 1965 (when India first used its combat aircraft), in more recent times he had deprecated the obsession with Pakistan as the primary adversary. And called upon the defence establishment to look to the even greater challenges from China, the stand-off in the South China sea, emerging threats from the aerospace arena and so on.
It was, therefore, disappointing that an IAFsponsored centenary seminar a couple of days back was so very Pakistan-centric, despite being billed as “Aerospace power in the 2040s: Impact of Technology”. For unless the media and the official press release, were terribly off target, the opening address by the present chief, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, focused on the IAFs recent success when striking at a terrorist training camp in Balakot, and the shooting down of a Pak F-16 by one of the IAF’s upgraded MiG-21 Bisons.
Only passing reference was made to assessing the military conditions likely to obtain in the next 20 years: though ACM Dhanoa did highlight how technology was key to air force efficacy, he offered little insight into indigenous essays at developing state-of-the-art technology, and seemed to skirt the thorny issue of the depleting squadonstrength of the IAF.
Sure the Air chief hit the headlines by claiming that the IAF’s technological “edge” was demonstrated by the use of stand-off issiles at Balakot, and then foiling a Pakistani retaliatory aerial attack over Nowshera the next day, yet the impact of that was more “political” than professional ~ particularly his contention that the IAF’s edge would have been honed had the Rafale acquisition not been so horribly protracted, and Russian S-400 Triumf anti-missile defence system had been inducted by now.
The Chief neither saw it fit to comment on moves to acquire another 100-odd fighters from abroad, nor did he comment on the rough weather into which the advanced edition of the home-built Tejas had run and even ignored success- stories on the ATAS or Brahmos front. Pakistan had been given a bloody-nose, that was all that mattered. True professionals cannot buy the line that one Balakot does a summer make.
It is little short of a tragedy that a seminar in honour of the legendary Arjan Singh DFC should eventually boil down to echoing the apprehensions recently expressed by over 150 veterans (and still counting if the “buzz” is correct) over the skewed course the military was taking.
The aura of Jumbo Mazumdar, Nathu Singh, Cariappa, Subroto Mukherjee, Samson, Jacob, Manekshaw, Pereira, Mulla … need not be besmirched. They served the nation, not any political figure, regardless of his/her vote-share.