The practitioners of Military Aviation Medicine would be required to deal with newer challenges in the field due to redefined aspirations and strategic needs of the Indian Armed Forces, as per the emerging politico-economic realities of our nation. The integration amongst the three services, formation of an Aerospace or the Strategic Command and the availability of the airborne command and control platforms shall make the tactical pilots in their combat aircraft omni-present to face the enemy and force them on the back foot. There would be unmanned aerial vehicles jostling for operational space with manned aircraft. Integrated operations shall be undertaken on land, at sea and in the air, any time of the day or the night, adding to the workload of the pilots, with frequently changing operational terrain. More importantly, the missions would extend beyond the national boundaries, and Indian warriors shall operate with multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi-cultural groups in the emerging world order. The ever changing location of action and adjustment to newer conflict zones across the world shall affect their adjustment to the varying conditions, both physically and psychologically.
To help the pilots and ground crew cope with changed circumstances, the Aviation Medicine specialist has to be prepared to deliver solely not as a physician but to be the friend, philosopher and guide in their exalted role of Squadron Doc. He should be adequately aware of the geographical location of operations; must have information about the prevalence of communicable disease in that area and must institute preventive measures and disseminate information to the aviators and others. He must be able to understand subtle psychological changes in people under his care and be willing to force intervention if the changes are likely to compromise the performance capabilities of the pilot. He must be willing to take that extra initiative to help facilitate the squadron perform to the best professional abilities of its pilots under varying circumstances. He need not police, but when needed, be able to act, intervene, facilitate and help his squadron colleagues through trying times. Besides, he has an all important task of ensuring that the squadron personnel, both aircrew and ground crew, are made aware of the benefits of healthy lifestyle to ensure a prolonged fructifying military career.
However to be able to mean all things to all people does not mean that this specialist is the joker in the pack of cards. Indeed their training at IAM with adequate exposure to ground realities of squadron and station life helps them prepare in their chosen profession. Yet since all things can not be taught or trained, complexities of operations and the pressures of performance must be understood. They need to take initiative to build rapport, understand each person under their care as individuals, provide care and succor in times of need to their dependents, and become a team-player rather than being a bystander in their military career.
A word of caution here: while providing care to an individual, the dilemma of personal loyalty over official trust must always be resolved; and individual interests must not be allowed to subvert the organisational goals. Another advise is that they, without being obsequious or apologetic, must be able to speak their mind out in the larger interest of the aviation safety as well as the safety and the well-being of the individual.
As it appears the practice of Military Aviation Medicine shall become more complex, and it is here that the technology may come to the rescue of the practitioners of this fascinating specialty.