‘It is witnessing an unprecedented phase of modernisation and capability enhancement’

As the Indian Air Force (IAF) completes 80 years on October 8, it finds itself confronting many challenges and transforming itself into a modern, capability-driven force.

In the words of Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne: “The IAF is witnessing an unprecedented phase of modernisation and capability enhancement and can effectively respond to any attempt at undermining India’s national security. The transformational change can be witnessed across the capability spectrum that includes not only combat platforms but also induction of force multipliers and air mobility platforms to provide strategic reach and operational flexibility.’’

To mark the 80th anniversary, the IAF will showcase its latest acquisitions at this year’s Air Force Day parade. These include an indigenous airborne radar plane and a Russian-origin cargo helicopter.

“The IAF will showcase the indigenous Airborne Early Warning and Control [AEW&C] aircraft and the Mi-17V5 helicopter at the Air Force Day parade at Hindon Air Base on the outskirts of the Capital,’’ a senior Air Force official said.

Air Chief Marshal Browne will take the salute of the air warriors and address them.

The AEW&C radar on a modified Brazilian Embraer plane will be on static display at the parade, while three Mi-17V5 will fly over the parade ground in a Vic formation carrying the national flag and the Air Force ensign. The AEW&C plane was inducted into the IAF last month in Bangalore. Two more such planes will come from Brazil by next year-end and their full integration with the IAF will take about two years.

The parade will also witness a flying display of other air assets such as the Mi-25 and Mi-35 attack helicopters, C-130J plane for special forces, and MiG-21, MiG-29, Mirage-2000 and Su-30MKI fighter jets.

The Mi-17V5 helicopter is the IAF's latest purchase from Russia. It will facilitate the ferrying of troops and supplies to remote and mountainous areas. As many as 80 helicopters were ordered in 2008 for $1.34 billion and their delivery started in September 2011. Russia has delivered nearly half of the 80 helicopters so far.

Apart from fighter jets, force multipliers such as AWACS, electronic warfare systems, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and space-based systems will help the IAF to focus on the strategic needs, analysts say.

Fourth largest

The IAF had taken off as a tiny fleet with four Westland Wapiti army cooperative by-planes, six RAF trained officers and 19 Hawai Sepoys. Today, it is the fourth largest air force in the world. It came into being on October 8, 1932 and on April 1, 1954 Air Marshal Subroto Mukherjee, one of the founding members of the Air Force, took over as the first Indian Chief of the Air Staff.

Besides massive upgrade of its aircraft and equipment, the IAF is also overhauling its three-stage training programme that would get a boost once Swiss made Pilatus PC-7 joins the fleet as basic trainer aircraft. The IAF has ordered 75 of them and their delivery is scheduled to begin from next year.

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