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Did not let tensions with Pakistan dictate our civil aviation: Air Chief

Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa during the Commemorating 20 years of the Kargil War, in Gwalior Air Base on June 24, 2019.

Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa during the Commemorating 20 years of the Kargil War, in Gwalior Air Base on June 24, 2019.   | Photo Credit: PTI

Following the IAF’s air strike on Balakot on February 26, Pakistan closed its airspace for civil traffic

Civil aviation has a major role in the country’s economy and the Indian Air Force (IAF) did not allow tensions with Pakistan to dictate it, Air Chief Marshal (ACM) B.S. Dhanoa said on Monday.

“They have closed their airspace, that is their problem. Our economy is vibrant and air traffic is a very important part. You must have noticed that the Air Force did not stop civil air traffic.” Only on February 27, the Srinagar airspace was closed for 2-3 hours. “We did not allow tensions with Pakistan to dictate our civil aviation… ”

Following the IAF’s air strike on Balakot on February 26, Pakistan closed its airspace for civil traffic. In March, it was partially opened but flights to India are still forced to take longer routes.

The Air Chief was speaking at a commemorative event to mark 20 years of the Kargil conflict and the role of the Mirage fighter jets, at the Gwalior Air Force station, which is the home base for these jets. The Mirages were also used in the Balakot air strike. “Our sword arm is still the Mirages,” he said.

Pakistani fighter jets did not cross the Line of Control (LoC) during the aerial engagement on February 27. “Our objective was to strike terror camps. Their objective was to target Army places. None of them crossed the border. We achieved our military objective. None of them crossed the LoC into our territory,” he stated.

In May 1999, the IAF launched air strikes under ‘Operation Safed Sagar’ to assist the Army in evicting the infiltrators from the icy heights of Kargil. “The purpose of our attacks has been to show our resolve and capability and to give a message,” he said.

Mirages were modified to carry Israeli Litening targeting pods and Paveway Laser Guided Bombs (LGB) in a record 12 days. On 24 June 1999, Mirages used LGBs to neutralise enemy positions on Tiger Hill and that was a defining moment in the conflict.

Air Marshal R. Nambiar, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Air Command, one of the pilots who targeted Tiger Hill, said, “All the modifications were on in parallel in Gwalior, while the Mirages were forward-deployed.” Israeli teams were also in India assisting in the modifications, he added.

However, the IAF suffered some initial setbacks. On May 27, 1999, it lost two fighter jets. While Flt. Lt. K. Nachiketa was taken Prisoner of War by Pakistan after his MiG-27 was shot down, Sqn. Ldr. Ajay Ahuja lost his life on the ground after ejecting from his MiG-21 and was posthumously awarded the Vir Chakra. Sqn. Ldr. Ahuja was at that time the Flight Commander of 17 Squadron and ACM Dhanoa its Commanding Officer.

On May 28, 1999, the IAF lost an Mi-17 after it successfully attacked enemy positions in the Drass sector. Sqn. Ldr. R. Pundhir, Flt. Lt. S. Muhilan, Sgt. R.K. Sahu and Sgt. PVNR Prasad lost their lives in the crash.

In all, the IAF launched 1,200 missions under ‘Operation Safed Sagar’. These include 578 strikes, 462 combat air patrols and escort missions and 159 reconnaissance sorties.

‘AN-32s will continue to fly in the mountains’

The IAF would continue to fly AN-32 transport aircraft in the mountains till new aircraft under procurement are inducted. “We don't have a choice,” the Air Chief said. New aircraft are being procured and once inducted, they would be used in the mountains and AN-32s would be used for training and other purposes. 

Early this month, an AN-32 crashed after it got airborne near the Mechuka Advanced Landing Ground (ALG) in Arunachal Pradesh, killing all 13 personnel onboard. The wreckage was located nine days later after massive search and rescue efforts.

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Printable version | Mar 30, 2020 5:24:21 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/did-not-let-tensions-with-pakistan-dictate-our-civil-aviation-air-chief-bs-dhanoa/article28124276.ece

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