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Vivek Maniyath asked: Does India need a strategic bomber?

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  • Gp Capt Kishore Kumar Khera VM (Retd.) replies: A combat aircraft with medium to long range and heavy weapon delivery capability can be classified as a strategic bomber. In the aftermath of World War II and seeing the efficacy of bombing missions, a large number of countries with adequate resources developed or procured aerial platforms in this class. However, currently, only the US, Russia and China have credible strategic bombers and that too in limited numbers. A marked reduction in the number of operators is a result of reduced salience of strategic bombers for states that do not have an expansionist ambition.

    Induction of strategic bombers will allow more kinetic options for Indian military planners specifically when looking at India’s northern borders or the Indian Ocean. However, large size and resultant large Radar Cross Section (unless stealth incorporated), limited speed and manoeuvrability reduce survivability and freedom of action of such aerial platforms in the current intense air defence environment. Moreover, the hot and humid environment in India restricts the operational capability of strategic bombers with a relatively low thrust-to-weight ratio.

    On the other hand, with greater freedom of operation, current-generation combat aircraft like Su-30 and Rafale in combination with long-range weapons like BrahMos can undertake some tasks within limited range and with limited weight of attack that were executed exclusively by strategic bombers.

    In the last three decades, aerial combat platforms have almost halved worldwide indicating a transformation of airpower owing to advancement in technology, longer ranges and greater accuracy of weapons and induction of unmanned systems. Thus, the current need for Indian air power is to develop capabilities that harness emerging technologies suitable for evolving operational environments rather than invest in high-cost platforms like strategic bombers with limited additional operational benefits.

    In the Indian operational environment, therefore, the cost-benefit analysis is tilted against the induction of strategic bombers.

    Posted on December 22, 2023

    Views expressed are of the expert and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Manohar Parrikar IDSA or the Government of India.