Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs held a press conference on Friday.
Heavy on morale-boosting sound bytes and designs, there was little information about how the Indian military was poised to support the government, in addition to carrying out its routine duties, and how prepared it was to take on additional roles in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
The pronouncements were largely focused on celebrating India’s Covid-19 warriors, for which the chiefs announced a host of initiatives — Indian Air Force flypasts (from Srinagar to Thiruvananthapuram and from Dibrugarh to Kutch) with flower petals being showered on hospitals; Indian Army bands playing motivational tunes along hospitals treating Covid-19 patients in every district of the country; and Indian Navy ships showcasing solidarity with a display of lights along the Indian coast.
Reconsider IAF flypast
Activities planned by the Army bands around silent zones like hospitals can be managed, and even be a morale-booster, while the Naval activities do not demand a huge logistical effort either, although very few among the target audience will be able to witness them. But the efficacy of flypasts by the Indian Air Force (IAF) must be reconsidered. There is no doubt that flypasts are great motivators, but it must be assessed if our Covid-19 warriors will really be able to immerse themselves in the experience, or even catch a fleeting glimpse of the aircraft as they pass overhead.
Rather than mobilising fleets across the country, it would make sense to conduct the flypasts over certain concentrated areas as a symbolic gesture, and then share the footage on social media for the benefit of the rest. In fact, a tri-services effort captured in film would be even more impactful.
Moreover, it would be optimum to utilise this latent, spare capacity and deploy it for essential services like transporting stranded people back to their homes safely, efficiently and swiftly, thus supporting other public transport services. This will be a great service, and will be appreciated by our heavily burdened Covid-19 warriors.
If it is about trying to replicate last week’s flypast events carried out by the US Air Force and US Navy, then it must be recalled that those had two purposes — maintaining flying currency and providing sufficient practice for their aerobatic teams because their prior engagements had been cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. And even when the flypast events were conducted, ‘cost-benefit’ analysis ultimately played a role.
Likewise, it may be prudent for the IAF to figure out how to ensure maximum bang for the buck — boosting morale while providing essential services and preserving operational potential.
Finally, it must be kept in mind that flying is inherently expensive and hours need to be conserved for a future emergency. Coming soon after the incident wherein the parents of Colonel NS Bal, who died battling cancer last month, couldn’t be accorded an airlift on the IAF’s precious aircraft and had to travel 2,600 km by road to perform their son’s last rites, we should seriously ponder what counts for morale, and how best it can be displayed.
Squadron Leader Anshuman Mainkar (Retd) served in the Indian Air Force and flew the MiG 21 and MiG 27 aircraft. He tweets at @anshumig. Views are personal.
Why news media is in crisis & How you can fix it
India needs free, fair, non-hyphenated and questioning journalism even more as it faces multiple crises.
But the news media is in a crisis of its own. There have been brutal layoffs and pay-cuts. The best of journalism is shrinking, yielding to crude prime-time spectacle.
ThePrint has the finest young reporters, columnists and editors working for it. Sustaining journalism of this quality needs smart and thinking people like you to pay for it. Whether you live in India or overseas, you can do it here.