Air Force in fine fettle and combat ready, says Air Chief Marshal N.A.K Browne

The skies of Pokhran came alive on Friday with the Indian Air Force’s first ever day-night full combat and fire demonstration, named “Iron Fist.” President Pranab Mukherjee, the supreme commander of the armed forces, was the chief guest at the event at Chandan Range near Jaisalmer. He was accompanied by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Anthony, Air Chief N.A.K. Browne, Naval Chief Devendra Joshi, Rajasthan Governor Margaret Alva and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot.

More than 200 fighter and transport aircraft, including Sukhoi 30, Mirage 2000, Jaguar, MiG 27, MIG 21, MIG 29, unmanned aerial vehicles and the Awacs, participated in the demonstration.

Indigenous aircraft like Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Light Combat Helicopter Rudra also proved their calibre at the show. The other aircraft displayed were the C130J, the AN-32, the Embraer and the IL-76. The chopper fleet included Mi-8, Mi-17 1V, and the newly inducted Mi-17 V5 and Mi-35. Another new entrant, the Swiss Pilatus PC-7 Mk II basic trainer, also graced the sky.

In his speech, Air Chief Marshal Browne said: “The Air Force is in fine fettle and is combat ready to give a befitting response to any future national security contingency.” He added that though this display was over a limited area, viewers would be able to estimate the full extent of air power, which during conflict “would involve the employment of long range standoff munitions, highly capable air-to-air weapons, a wide array of force enhancers, all operating synergistically in a fully networked environment with real time exchange of operational information at different levels of war.”

During the demonstration, fighter planes destroyed mock ground targets with bombs and laser guided missiles. The targets included mock radar sites, battle tanks, marshalling yards, terrorist camps, a runway, a communication hub and military convoys. On a couple of occasions pilots had to abort their targets, citing “operational difficulties.”

Garud commandos of the IAF and the National Security Guards also stormed a mock terrorist camp. The IAF also showcased its surface-to-air missile systems for the first time.

Spectators, among them military attaches of more than 50 countries, were entertained by aerobatics displays by IAF’s Saarang team, led by Wing Commander R.C. Pathak. They performed daring manoeuvres such as the Dolphin’s Leap and the Double Aerocross.

The IAF’s Akashganga parachute team skydived in a Tricolour formation. Its first trainer aircraft, the Tiger Moth, also made sorties during the exercises. Another first was the demonstration with Hawk aircraft by young flying officers. The spectators were awestruck by the earth shattering sonic boom of the MiG 27, which ascends softly but shatters the sound barrier like no other.

The show progressed into the night with Russian Pechora SAM3 missiles lighting up the starry sky above and the Thar below.