Indian Air Force at 85
As the Indian Air Force celebrates its 85th raising day one can only remark that it has come a long way from the time it was raised on 8 October 1932 and a six months later equipped with Westland Wapiti II-A biplanes. The IAF which saw action under the British flag prior to Independence has since participated in all the four wars with Pakistan as also the Sino- India conflict of 1962 and acquitted itself creditably. From taking part in counter-insurgency in its early years and army cooperation during WW-II, when it was a small tactical force, it has gone on to become a strategic force which is manned by professionally competent officers and men.
Though equipment of Soviet origin which has been inducted from the sixties onwards forms the back bone of the Air Force even today, it was towards the end of seventies that the IAF also started acquiring equipment from Western nations, with the Jaguars arriving in Jul 1979, and through the years it has evolved into a mature and modern force in spite of several constraints. A force which had only four aircraft in its arsenal to begin with, is today equipped with a variety of fighter and transport aircrafts and helicopters besides having a robust inventory of ground based AD and other support systems and with the state of the art French Rafale and the indigenous Tejas on their way into the fighter fleet, our Air Force seems to be well geared for the roles assigned to it, which include taking part in counter insurgency operations-case in point is the participation in the anti Naxal operations -and HADR. Trans-continental reach has also facilitated exercises with friendly Air Forces of several nations including the US, this is an excellent way to train, imbibe best practices and strengthen the bonds of friendship. The IAF has also contributed in a fair measure to UN peace keeping operations in countries like Congo and Sierra Leone etc.
As territorial disputes with China and the Kashmir issue continue to prevail the external threats that the IAF is faced with are ones from Pakistan, China and the threat of a two front war with both of them on account of their proximity to each other. Though the possibility of a long drawn out conventional conflict may have reduced because of globalisation and the economic factor having become a key driver of national interests, the Air Force needs to be ready for the same in view of a troubled neighbourhood and nuclear power play in the region by our Western adversary. The Air Force must also hone its skills further for participation in asymmetrical wars and be ever prepared for out of area contingencies. With the ever increasing focus on cyber wars, the Air Force, which is already seized of the threat, must continue to train and develop skills so that these threats can be appropriately mitigated.
With regard to the modernisation, the force has been faced with several challenges imposed by economic factors, lack of indigenous capabilities in the field of aeronautics and long drawn out procurement procedures; an example of which is the MMRCA programme wherein 126 aircraft were originally tendered in 2007 and the procurement went through the usual procedural wrangles and only a greatly reduced number i.e.36 Rafale aircraft are being eventually acquired. It is to Air Force’s credit that it has kept the show going despite these challenges through several well planned and executed upgrades and well thought through modernisation programmes, which helped maintain capability.
The IAF today is a fairly balanced force the shortages and voids in the inventory notwithstanding. With the indigenous technology base improving and the Make in India initiative of the Indian Government giving a positive boost to the defence sector the IAF must continue to build its capacity. Capacity building must aim to sustain and enhance the force’s operational capabilities through replacements, which fit the budgetary parameters and judicious and thoughtful upgradation of existing resources.
The IAF has done us proud right from the time of its inception and had been a proud pillar of the Indian Republic. Here is wishing good luck to Air Warriors on their 85th anniversary and may they grow from strength to strength, touching the skies with glory.