Guest Column - Force Magazine
Custodian of the Skies
After an eventful year, the IAF must look at embracing futuristic technologies and becoming a force to reckon with
AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)By AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)
On 8 October 2013, as the Indian Air Force (IAF) celebrates its 81st anniversary, a look at the past year would show it to be very eventful. While Exercise Live Fist in Pokharan demonstrated to our countrymen, and others, the operational preparedness and the punch that the IAF can deliver, Exercise Live Wire exercised all elements of the IAF for a sustained period of three weeks in a networked environment.

Operation Triveni, the air support being given to ministry of home affairs in the naxal affected areas remained a task in continuum and one which is likely to grow even further with induction of night capability in the support operations being conducted there. The year gone by also stood out as one where the IAF’s operational capability got additional boost with new inductions of potent weapon systems, opening up and demonstration of the IAF’s capability to air maintain Indian Army posts right at the border and coming to the relief of our countrymen in Uttarakhand in a manner which can only be termed tres magnifique.

Where does the IAF go from here in terms of training and doctrine as it zooms towards its centenary in 2032 — a mere 19 years away? But first let us begin with a stock taking of the year just past.

Enhanced Operational Capability
C-17 Globemaster: The induction of the C-17 Globemaster proclaimed the arrival of the IAF as the nation’s force projection arm. With its superlative load carrying capability (70 tonnes at sea level); short-field performance (landing at 3,500 feet); unprepared field operations (capability to operate from gravel and dirt strips); flexibility to perform varied roles from the traditional troop carrying to heavy cargo like bulldozers; moving aviation assets like helicopters with the minimum dismantling of aggregates like rotors and gearboxes — it has opened out limitless possibilities.

The C-17s unrefueled range, which is of the order of 2,400 nautical miles (with a full load of 72 tonnes) enabled it to recently transport equipment and personnel of the Indian Army to Rwanda who were deploying to South Sudan as part of the UN mission there. What a relief — literally, for as the writer knows first-hand, having operated in Sudan and handled airlift operations as assistant chief of air staff, the headaches and problems of getting transit clearances from en route countries for IL-76s were immense, to say the least!

If we add a slight twist, like the presence of an inimical neighbour like Pakistan, then a trans-shipment to any of the Central Asian republics like Tajikistan or Uzbekistan is comparatively a piece of cake, as the C-17 can go around Pakistan, overflying Iran without having to land anywhere to refuel. Our Look East Policy, too, has got an added boost for similar reasons and India can resolutely come to the help of any South-east Asian nation in quick time. The strategic reach of the Indian state has, thus, expanded manifold with this one acquisition and would surely be having operational planners of our adversaries taking a re-look at the region and distances Indian power would now be available within hours of an emergency.

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