The Indian Air Force envisages a role for itself and others in the anti-piracy operations currently restricted to patrols by naval ships of various countries in the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates continue to pose a threat.

“If (piracy) becomes bigger and considering that the Navy with its speed and men is not able to cover the area, the Air Force may be called up to cover the area (of the threat),” the Vice-Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal P.K. Barbora told a press conference here.

Interacting with the media ahead of the week-long bilateral “Eastern Bridge” exercise with the Royal Air Force of Oman (RAFO) at Thumrait, Oman, between October 22-29, the Vice-Chief said just as different navies were patrolling the area, air force could also join the anti-pirate task.

The exercise in the Gulf region, he said, would enhance understanding of operational, maintenance and administrative procedures between the RAFO and the IAF. Besides, the exercise would be cost-effective in terms of benefit realisation of operational and tactical preparedness over an unknown mixed terrain of land and desert. The exercises, did not have any sea-ward operations.

Referring to anti-piracy role, he said the mission need not necessarily mean that the air force will use its fire power but could be deployed to carrying out surveillance including through fighter aircraft.

However, he clarified that there was no proposal on the table but the scenario was based on informal interactions that the IAF officials have had with personnel of countries currently engaged in counter-piracy missions.

He said, “this depends on a decision among the comity of nations. The IAF visualises a role and that it has the capability what with force multipliers in the form of air-to-air refuel tankers.”

Pointing to the changing environment, he said, during the past few years pirates captured and attempted to hijack ships carrying merchandise, oil and other commercial goods.

The Indian Navy has been maintaining a presence in the region as do the navies of other countries. Besides escorting merchant ships and oil tankers, the Indian Navy ships have carried out rescue operations.

On anti-naxalite operations, he said, the IAF forwarded rules of engagement to the government and was awaiting its clearance to fire in self-defence.

Defence Minister A.K. Antony said last week that the IAF would have to put safeguards in place. The IAF reiterated that the option to open retaliatory fire would be the last resort.

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