The Unsung Hero

The IAF’s transport fleet has always played an exemplary role in HADR missions in India and abroad

Mihir Paul

Over the years, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has evolved to adroitly manage its transport fleet and make it available for both defence support and Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR) missions.

Rescued civilians on-board an IAF C-17 Globemaster aircraft during a HADR missions

The IAF’s transport fleet has always played a silent but pivotal role — from being deployed to a myriad of regions to transport supplies and troops to HADR missions, the transport fleet has always been adequate and accessible to armed forces.

The fixed-wing and rotary-wing transport assets of the IAF at present are in adequate numbers and bring with them a substantial and strategically significant airlift and heli-lift capability. These capabilities are imperative for air maintenance of border army posts, for HADR, within the country and internationally, and aid to civil power. While the transport fleet’s traditional role has been ‘Air Maintenance’ of Indian troops in the western borders and maintaining troops and civilian population in the eastern borders, it has always been deployed for HADR missions successfully.

The IAF launched ‘Operation Karuna’ during the recent Kerala floods with 288 sorties from 24 IAF choppers which transported aid and rescued thousands of stranded civilians. This was one of the IAF’s largest HADR missions till date with its An-32 Transport aircraft dropping a total of 2.47 lakh kg of relief material. The IAF’s C-17 Globe Master flew 11 sorties, bringing in disaster teams and amphibious troops. The C-130s, AN-32s and IL-76s played a significant role in the HADR missions.

The IAF deployed two Mi-17 V5 helicopters and an Advanced Light Helicopter for relief operations. Five An-32s along with some IL-76, C-17 Globemaster and C-130J transport aircraft were also deployed to transport National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) teams and their equipment to various locations in Kerala. Additionally, 119 doctors with 63 tonnes of medicine and equipment were airlifted to Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram for further positioning at various medical camps.

Air Marshal B. Suresh, AOC-in-C, Southern Air Command, explaining the phases of HADR missions, said that the four phases of the air force’s Kerala flood rescue operation were the induction of material, rescue missions, relief operations and rehabilitation work. The fixed wing and rotary-wing transport fleets of the IAF are the always the first pick when it comes to disaster relief and humanitarian assistance. The IAF has its own emergency response teams co-located with major transport bases at Hindon, Palam, Bengaluru, Guwahati and Chandigarh. It also has Rapid Aero Medical Teams (RAMT) positioned at important locations.

Other than the recent national-level HADR missions, the IAF also deployed the C-17 Globemaster during the evacuation of Indian nationals from Yemen in 2016 and during the Rohingya crisis in 2017 among several other instances of deployment outside the country. The IAF deployed its C-130Js and An-32s along with light helicopters near the Northeastern border for war game exercises in 2018. Moreover, the IAF’s II-76 transport fleet has been a dependable source of support for the Indian army in the Northwestern region of the country.


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