An Ace Speaks
MY YEARS WITH THE AIR FORCE by Air Chief Marshal P.C. Lal Lancer, 1987, 380 pp., 195
Jan-Feb 1987, volume 11, No 1

In the ‘Summing Up’ chapter of his memoirs, Air Chief Marshal Lal pertinently remarks: ‘There are certain psychological factors to consider … in a pilot’s job. An airman fights alone, the soldier and sailor alongside many others’. It is this circumstance that largely shapes the ethos, values and outlook of the combat cadres of the Air Force. In battle the Army or the Naval commander can at all levels lead or direct his force as an entity, maintaining objectivity despite piecemeal crises; but once a pilot takes wing to meet the enemy, he becomes basically a loner—whatever his rank—meeting his foe in one-to-one combat like the old knights-of-chivalry. His view of battle is subjective; however technological and mass-modernized his environment when at base, the very nature of the element he operates indicates that when he fights, he fights on his own. The result is that performance-in-battle and management-of-command (from the ground) become disparate functions: and to the end of his career his make-up and ‘ attitudes are shaped more by the one than by the other. It is perhaps for this reason that few senior airmen have written objective accounts of air force aspects of defence policy and strategy. If they write at all, they write mainly of action and reaction in dog-fights in the air and little about the organization and paper-work that launch fighters and’ bombers into battle.

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