Multiple challenges continue to face the IAF, particularly its fighter fleet
AVM Manmohan Bahadur (retd)
The 1965 War’s 50th year commemoration this year brought the present generation face to face with the Indian military of yore, consolidating after the 1962 war debacle and building a reputation to measure up to the expectations of the countrymen.
Much has been written about whether or not the Indian Air Force (IAF) came to the assistance of its army in 1965 (it did), but what is for sure is that the IAF came of age in that 22 day conflict. It was deeply involved in carrying the fight to the enemy, and with the diminutive Gnat getting the better of the superior F-86 Sabre, the IAF had a mascot around which its professional reputation started getting built.
The indigenous aircraft industry also started looking up with the entry into Squadron service of the HF-24 Marut twin engine fighter bomber while the induction of the Su-27 ground attack aircraft and improved versions of MiG-21 saw the IAF augmenting its firepower substantially.
The An-12, a formidable airlifter of those years, was inducted in the transport fleet and with the Mi-8s coming in to the rotary wing fleet to buttress the vertical lift being provided by Mi-4s, the combat support capability got a boost. The culmination of this build-up was seen in the decisive victory in the 1971 war, symbolised by the strategic effects of the Tangail drop by the transport fleet, the Meghna crossing using IAF helicopters and of the MiG-21 strike on the Governor’s House in Dhaka on 14 December 1971 that hastened the capitulation of East Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh.
1971 was a long way back and much has happened in the intervening four and a half decades. For sure, the golden jubilee commemoration of the 1971 victory would be an event to look forward to, but it is only right that we take stock of the present capabilities of the IAF and crystal gaze into the next two decades, given the security environment that it would have to operate in.
The security environment that India would have to face in the coming decades would be complex. Our sphere of interest has expanded over the past two decades, as would be apparent from the annual reports of the ministry of defence (MoD) over the years. In 2002-03 the annual report defined India’s area of strategic interest as “…from the Persian Gulf in the west to the Straits of Malacca in the east and from the Central Asian Republics in the north to near the equator in the south...” This underwent an expansion over the years and the 2012-13 report stated that “India’s size and strategic location… links its security environment with the extended neighbourhood particularly with neighbouring countries and the regions of West, Central Asia, South East Asia, East Asia and the Indian Ocean.”
The 2014-15 MoD report has not been specific in terms of geographical area but has left it as, “India’s geo-strategic location makes it sensitive to developments beyond its immediate neighbourhood, in West Asia, Central Asia, in the Indian Ocean Region and the Asia Pacific region. Major geopolitical and geo-economic developments are currently transforming the global security scenario into one of uncertainty and volatility.”
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