The IAF Chief expressed commitment to the ‘Make in India’ agenda with the acknowledgement that “to achieve true strategic autonomy, we need to focus on indigenous design and manufacturing”
The Indian Air Force (IAF) celebrated its post-Balakot emergence as a cross-border counter-insurgency strike force and the premier instrument of hard national power in a no war no peace scenario at its 87th Raising Day Parade and Flypast at the Hindon airbase on the outskirts of Delhi.
In over three-decades of the unrelenting proxy war against India, the IAF was kept on the margins, restricted to passive air maintenance for ground troops waging largely defensive operations. The February 26 air strike on the Jaish-e-Mohammad terrorist training camp at Balakot in Pakistan changed all that, and the IAF has grabbed the opportunity with alacrity and intent to deliver the coup de gras.
The new Chief of Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal R.K.S. Bhadauria shared the elation of his force but was quick to acknowledge that this turning point also places exceptional responsibility and expectation on the IAF to dominate the escalation ladder.
“The strategic relevance of this (the Balakot strike) is the resolve of the political leadership to punish the perpetrators of terrorism and the capability of IAF to execute a strike inside Pakistan. This has been a major shift in the Govt’s way of handling terrorist attacks. We must always be ready to respond to any contingency. To ensure operational success in all future operations, we need a high serviceability of combat equipment and exceptional training standards,” he stated in his written message for Air Force Day.
The message was replicated in his address at the Air Force Day Parade. “It is extremely important that we are always vigilant and alert to the existing sub-conventional threat. In the year gone by, the Indian Air Force has demonstrated its resolve and capability in punching the perpetrators of terrorism and we need to be ever prepared to meet any contingency that challenges the defence of our country,” Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria remarked.
“We acknowledge the contributions of all personnel of the commands involved, the stations and units, who silently and professionally contributed to the success of air strikes on the terrorist camp at Balakot earlier this year,” he added.
The IAF wore the Balakot operation, and the thwarting of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) retaliatory attack as a badge of pride. The flypast featured a new ‘Avenger’ formation comprising three Mirage 2000 and two Sukhoi-30MKI fighters which participated in the Balakot strike. The aircraft included the Su-30MKI with the call sign Avenger 1, which the PAF falsely claimed to have shot down in the post-Balakot aerial confrontation above the Naushera stretch of the Line of Control on February 27.
The IAF sprung a surprise by announcing that the MiG-21 Vic formation in the flypast – at the moment it was overhead – was led by Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, the intrepid fighter pilot who captured national imagination by first shooting down a PAF F-16 in the LoC dogfight and then showing exceptional courage in Pakistani captivity. Wing Commander Varthaman figures on the Independence Day gallantry medal awardees list with a Vir Chakra against his name.
Abhinandan’s unit, 51 Squadron (MiG-21 Bisons) also received a Unit Citation by the Chief of Air Staff for its role in thwarting PAF’s massive retaliatory attack with 30 aircraft. Wing Commander Varthaman’s shooting down of an F-16 is the IAF’s first kill of an enemy fighter pilot after the 1971 War. It is also the first kill of an F-16 by a vintage MiG-21.
601 Signal Unit, which played a stellar fighter controller role in the skirmish, was also awarded a Unit citation.
The IAF’s star ‘Wolfpack’ 9 Squadron of Mirage 2000 fighters which crossed into heavily defended enemy airspace and dropped bombs on the Jaish terror camp with stunning precision in the wee hours of February 26 to signal the nation’s strategic shift in combat of terrorism was the most prominent Unit Citation awardee.
The Air Chief also gave away 18 Vayu Sena Medals - five for gallantry - to cap a year of unprecedented limelight for the IAF.
Newly inducted helicopters Apache and Chinook featured in the flypast and static display for the first time. The other maiden appearance was that of the Spyder Quick Reaction Surface-to-Air Missile imported from Israel to beef up defence of key air bases.
Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria also made a mention of the IAF’S bold foray into the future with game changing new acquisitions of the Rafale fighter and the S-400 missile system. He also expressed commitment to the ‘Make in India’ agenda with the acknowledgement that “to achieve true strategic autonomy, we need to focus on indigenous design and manufacturing”.
The impressive parade was commanded by Group Captain Atul Pathania, an AWACS pilot with 6,500 hours of flying to his credit.