New Delhi: The changes in technology fuelled the perennial quest for modernisation of the Indian Air Force (IAF) keeping the challenges-to-come in mind, throughout the year 2021. Thus, a plethora of activities spread over a large canvas, were carried out by IAF in the year. Salient activities undertaken by IAF during the year 2021, are listed below in our Flashback 2021 series.
During the Eastern Ladakh contingency IAF moved its sensors, aerial platforms and associate equipment to the region to deal with any and every situation. The limitations and challenges posed by the terrain and weather were addressed with suitable adaptation and preparation. The IAF also provided the Indian Army with logistics and air maintenance support. The requirements of IAF and IA in terms of ISR were also effectively met.
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The IAF added not only aircraft to its arsenal but also various Air Defence Systems and information technology systems. While doing this, it did not lose sight of ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’. Induction of LCA (Tejas), Arudhra and Aslesha Radars, Astra Air to Air missile, Akash Surface to Air missile system, Advance Light Helicopter and Light Combat Helicopter are a testimony of IAF’s commitment to this vision. These systems were added in IAF’s inventory. In order to synergise efforts for make in India, IAF has set up a dedicated Make PMU (Project Management Unit) which would act as an umbrella for ensuring that the projects come to rapid fruition. First Firing Unit of MRSAM was formally inducted into IAF on 09 September 21 at AF Stn Jaisalmer by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh.
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The year 2021 saw the total number of Rafale aircraft go up to 30. 19 Low Level Transportable Radars (LTTR) have also been supplied to IAF wherein BEL benefitted through the Transfer of Technology (ToT) as well.
A contract after approval of CCS was signed to pave way for induction of C-295 transport aircraft. IAF would be inducting 56 of these aircraft as replacement for its Avro fleet. Procurement of a Full Motion Simulator (FMS) for the C-295s is also included as a part of the contract. The year also saw the transfer of ownership, operations and maintenance of the two B777-300 ER aircraft from Air India to IAF for the purpose of VVIP operations.
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Emergency Landing Facilities (ELFs)
The year 2021 witnessed inauguration ceremonies of two new ELFs. The first was along NH-925A (Gandhav-Bhakasar stretch, Rajasthan) which was inaugurated by Rajnath on 09 Sep 21. On 16 Nov 21 successful landings were executed by Mirage-2000, C-130J and An-32 aircraft at ELF Sultanpur in Uttar Pradesh. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chief of Defence Staff and Chief of Air Staff were on board the C-130J aircraft which landed on the ELF as part of the inauguration ceremony.
Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief (HADR)
Afghanistan Evacuation Operations
The situation of Taliban takeover of Afghanistan posed a unique challenge for India. IAF was called upon to evacuate Indians and some other nationals from Afghanistan. Evacuation activities were undertaken, first from Kandahar, then Mazar-e-Sharif and finally from Kabul. Chaotic situation existed in Kabul as a result of the withdrawal of troops belonging to US and its allies. IAF deployed its C-17 and C-130J aircraft for the evacuation. A C-17 each was utilised for evacuation from Kandahar (10 Jul 21) and Mazar-e-Sharif (10 Aug 21). In addition, five aircraft (four C-17s and one C-130J) were utilised between 15 and 28 August, 2021 to rescue 132 government officials, 316 Indian citizens and 126 persons of other nationalities.
Covid Related HADR Operations
IAF was called upon to augment medical oxygen supplies as part of the national effort towards COVID-19 mitigation during the second wave. IAF transport assets were tasked for various domestic and international commitments. This entailed a ‘surge’ type airlift operation (both domestic as well as international) which was sustained for more than 40 days at a stretch. 42 Heavy and medium airlift assets which included C-17, IL-76 and C-130Js were used for these operations. 3757 hrs were flown, airlifting 15306 Tons of COVID related medical equipment and supplies.
Other HADR Operations
The year 2021 saw a spate of natural disasters, namely the floods in Maharashtra and southern parts of the country, West Bengal, Bihar and Gujarat. Landslides due to heavy rains were also witnessed in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. Rains also created havoc in Madhya Pradesh. The IAF flew 855 sorties/776 hours, airlifted over 400 tons of relief material and saved lives of more than 3,000 persons.
In this no war–no peace kind of a situation, IAF trained hard. Several exercises were undertaken nationally and internationally. A few salient ones are:
(a) Ex Zapad-21. A bi-service Indo-Russian exercise took place at Chakalovasky, Russia in Sep 21. IAF participated with one IL-76 aircraft.
(b) Ex Peace Mission. In Sep 21, an IL-76 aircraft of IAF participated in SCO exercise named Peace Mission-21.
(c) Ex Blue Flag and Ex with Egyptian Air Force. Three IL-78 aircraft along with five Mirage 2000 aircraft took part in multilateral exercise ‘Blue Flag’ in Israel during Oct 21. On their return journey, these IAF aircraft participated in an exercise with the Egyptian Air Force.
(d) Ex Yudh Abhyas 21. A C-17 aircraft of IAF participated in bilateral engagements with PACAF after induction of IA troops at Alaska, USA.
IAF’s Contribution Towards Efficient Use of Indian Air Space
The Indian Air Force and Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) have jointly formed a mechanism for efficient use of airspace. To achieve this, airspace management cells at National and regional levels have been created to facilitate transit through restricted airspaces. This has resulted in reduced flying time for civil aircraft accruing savings for the airlines and reduction of carbon footprints. The Airspace Management Cells (AMC) are jointly manned by IAF and Airports Authority of India (AAI) personnel.
Along with the airspace, IAF has also been actively engaged with MoCA for sharing its airports for supporting the increased demands of civil aviation. Accordingly, 39 out of 53 IAF airfields and 08 Advanced Landing Grounds (ALGs) in North Eastern region have been opened for joint use to accommodate civil scheduled flights. This also includes flight operations under Regional Connectivity Scheme – Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik( RCS-UDAN).