As India's military establishment mulls options to avenge the Pulwama attack by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group, Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa on Saturday said the IAF was ever prepared to deliver "appropriate response" as assigned by India's political leadership. Speaking at the inauguration of the Vayu Shakti exercise, a massive day and night drill here, he did not mention Pakistan or the Pulwama attack but it was clear that he was referring to cross border terror supported by Islamabad.
"The IAF is ever prepared to deliver appropriate response as assigned by our political leadership and will always remain at the forefront in executing its missions," he said in presence of Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat and defence attach’s of several countries.
"I wish to assure the nation of the IAF's capability and commitment in meeting national security challenges and defending sovereignty of our country," he said.
Around 140 fighter jets and attack helicopters as well as a large range of missiles were used by the IAF in the fire power demonstration close to the border with Pakistan that came two days after the Pulwama attack.
Top IAF sources said though the Vayu Shakti exercise was planned in advance, the drill was a demonstration of the force's capability to hit targets with "pinpoint accuracy".
Forty CRPF personnel were killed in the suicide attack on Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said security forces have been given full freedom to retaliate against the attack. India has also said it will ensure "complete isolation" of Pakistan internationally for its support to terror groups.
"While wars are fought few and far between, we have an ever present sub-conventional threat as enemy knows it cannot defeat us in a conventional conflict," the IAF chief said, in a clear reference to Pakistan.
"So, today we showcase our ability to punish, our ability to insert and extricate troops from hostile territories," Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said.
In the Vayu Shakti exercise, the IAF showcased fire power capability of indigenously-developed platforms like Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and efficacy of Akash surface-to-air missile and Astra air-to-air missile.
"We are showcasing our ability to hit hard, hit fast and hit with precision, hit during day, hit during night and hit under adverse weather conditions," the IAF chief said.
Fighter jets and helicopters hit targets during day and night. It was for the first time, the ALH and the Akash were deployed in a military exercise.
The IAF also deployed the upgraded MiG-29 fighter jet in an air-to-ground role during the exercise. A total of 137 aircraft including Su-30s, Mirage 2000s, Jaguars, Mig-21 Bison, Mig-27, Mig-29, IL78, Hercules, AN-32 aircraft participated.
Earlier, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa arrived directly at Pokhran by a C-130 J Hercules aircraft displaying its short field landing capabilities.
As a precursor to the fire power display, three Mi-17 helicopters, flying the national flag, Air Force ensign and the South Western Air Command ensign, flew past the grand stand.
These were followed by a Jaguar aircraft at low level taking images of the grand stand, and an exciting supersonic run by a Mig-29 fighter aircraft, which left a loud sonic boom in its wake. Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, who is an honorary group captain of the IAF, was also present.
The Chief of the Air Staff, in his opening address, also gave an overview of the display and assured the nation of the Indian Air Force's commitment to national defence and of its capability to thwart any external aggression.
During the fire power display, various simulated enemy targets on ground and in air were targeted and destroyed employing a variety of missiles, precision guided munitions, unguided bombs and rockets by various fighter aircraft of the Indian Air Force that included the Su-30, Mig-27, Mig-29 upgrade, LCA-Tejas, Mirage-2000, Mig-21 Bison and Hawk and also the weaponised version of the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopter.
There were also precision strikes to destroy Tractor Erector Launchers of enemy surface-to-surface missiles and the swing role capability of the indigenously built Tejas aircraft demonstrated through destruction of an aerial target with bombs, in the same sortie.
The setting sun was the harbinger of special heliborne operations that included Bambi bucket ops to put out large fires, and troop insertion by low hover jump and rappelling. Garud Special Forces thereafter gave a scintillating display of anti-insurgency operations in an urban area.
This was followed by the Airborne Early Warning & Control (AEW&C) aircraft, which concluded the day segment of the display.
As dusk fell, the desertscape witnessed paradrop of Garud Special Forces on to the venue from an An-32 aircraft flying high above. During a short break, the Air Warrior Symphony Orchestra (AWSO) enthralled the audience with its catchy musical performance. As night descended, the indigenous Surface-to-Air Guided weapon: the Akash missile, knocked out a target flying in the sky above.
This was followed by Mi-17V5 and Mi-35 helicopters raining rockets and shells on simulated enemy targets.S-30, Jaguar and Mig-27 upgrade aircraft resumed operational and destroyed the remaining targets with accuracy, displaying the IAF's operational capability by night.
The demonstration was capped with a scintillating display of flare dispensation by an An-32 and a C-132J Hercules aircraft that lit up the night sky.