It’s Been a Busy Year

A look at the IAF Exercises in 2019

Yunus Dar

The Indian Air Force (IAF) has been on their toes throughout 2019. The February 2019 Pulwama suicide attack gave rise to a bitter rivalry between India and Pakistan, beginning with the Balakot strikes in the wee hours of February 16. The IAF conducted some high-powered exercises to keep its personnel and aircraft war-ready in an increasingly hostile environment.

Indian aircraft during Exercise Vayu Shakti

The first exercise was conducted this year by the IAF, Vayu Shakti, at the Pokhran Firing Range, which is India’s international border with Pakistan. Conducted once in three years, Vayu Shakti was a major exercise and involved the participation of 138 aircraft, including 81 fighter jets, to attack simulated enemy air and ground targets. The mega exercise included almost all of the IAF’s aircraft inventory which included Su-30, Mig-27, Mig-29 upgrade, LCA-Tejas, Mirage-2000, Mig-21 Bison and Hawk.

Just about a month later, on 14 March 2019, the IAF conducted an operational exercise along the border areas in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab to test its combat readiness. The exercise saw about 50 fighter planes, from four combat squadrons, take part in the backdrop of the rising tensions between the two neighbouring nations. The fighter planes involved in the exercise included Sukhoi-30s, Mirage 2000s and upgraded MiG-29 fighters. Though such exercises are conducted regularly to test operational preparedness, the prevailing circumstances drew unprecedented attention to the exercise.

Another major exercise by the IAF in 2019 was the Exercise Garuda, a bilateral Indo-French large force employment warfare exercise held from 1-12 July 2019 at Mont-de-Marsan France. Garuda-VI was the largest international air training exercise for the year 2019. The IAF contingent consisted of 134 air-warriors. The participating aircraft included four Su-30 MKI fighters besides one IL-78 and two C-17 aircraft that provided logistic support during induction and de-induction.

IAF also took part in the Langkawi International Maritime Aero Expo (LIMA-19), which was held at Langkawi, Malaysia from 26-30 March 2019. The IAF participated in the Aero Expo for the first time during which it showcased its indigenously developed Light Combat Aircraft (LCA). Participation of the IAF in LIMA-19 provided air-warriors an opportunity to interact with their Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) counterparts.

Besides the above, the IAF, along with the Indian Army, conducted a number of exercises this year, mainly along the border with Pakistan. The exercise, Kharga Prahar, was conducted in Punjab in June, which saw both the army and air force train together as a joint force against the adversary.


Exercise Vayu Shakti

A year after India witnessed the biggest military exercise in decades, the IAF carried out another mega exercise involving 140 fighter aircraft and attack helicopters in the backdrop of rising military tensions in February 2019. The exercise carried out in Pokhran, Rajasthan, was a full-scale firepower demonstration, which in a way, signalled the military might of India to the neighbouring nation. The IAF said the drill was a demonstration of the force’s capability to hit targets with pinpoint accuracy and carry out missions at short notice.

The exercise Vayu Shakti involved the participation of India’s indigenously-developed platforms, such as the LCA Tejas, Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH), as well as the firing of Akash surface-to-air missile and Astra air-to-air missile. The upgraded MiG-29 fighter jet was involved by the IAF in an air-to-ground role during the exercise. The other aircraft included Sukhoi-30s, Mirage 2000s, Jaguars, Mig-21 Bison, Mig-27, Mig-29, IL78, Hercules and AN-32 aircraft.

The relentless barrage of missiles, precision guided munitions, unguided bombs and rockets by fighter aircraft pierced the targets on the ground. The weaponised Advanced Light Helicopter also participated in the exercise, attacking simulated enemy troop concentrations.

The aircraft engaged in precision strikes to destroy Transporter Erector Launchers of enemy surface-to-surface missiles. The Tejas aircraft demonstrated its ‘swing role’ capability of through the destruction of an aerial target with a missile and then a ground target with bombs, in the same sortie.

The exercise witnessed the Garud commandos rappelling down from a helicopter on to a building infested with the enemies. The indigenous surface-to-air guided weapon, the Akash missile was used to knock out a flying target during night operations. The helicopters, Mi-17V5 and Mi-35, engaged simulated enemy targets through firing of rockets.

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