Indias Air Warriors

Alan Warnes, assisted by Simon Watson, visited Air Force Station Hindon on October 8 for this year’s annual Indian Air Force Parade Day.

THIS YEAR the Indian Air Force celebrated its Air Force Parade Day at Hindon, just outside the industrial city of Ghaziabad, some 20 miles (32km) north-west of Delhi. This was the first time Hindon had been selected for this event, having been moved for safety reasons from Delhi-Palaam air base, which is located on the edge of the busy Indira Ghandi International Airport.

Guns and Flares

However, the suburbs of Ghaziabad — a relatively new city designed to take some of the strain off the over-populated Delhi — have now crept up to Hindon. Consequently there are now more slaughterhouses and rubbish tips located around the perimeter of the base and these in turn have increased the population of scavenging birds. During the 1990s the problem had become so bad that the MiG-27s based there were moved out. And so it was, that the sound of bird-scaring flares and the sight of men aiming to shoot down the wildlife provided a backdrop for the Indian Air Force 74th anniversary celebrations. Another hazard facing the occasion was the intense heat, and in order to minimise the problems this can cause, the parade started at 7.45am while temperatures were still bearable. The ceremony was kicked off when the Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief, Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi, who had gained his para wings a year earlier, leapt out of a Mi-8 Hip from about 10,000ft (3,000m). The Chief was intent on making a grand entrance and landed just a few yards away from his designated spot, much to the approval of the invited dignitaries and their families.

Once he had changed into his uniform, ACM Tyagi took the parade’s salute and three Mi-17 Hips flew by, each bearing an IAF ensign. They were followed a few minutes later by three upgraded Mi-35 Hinds (Hindi name: Akbar) which swept through, signalling the end of the march and the beginning of the awards ceremony. This saw over 70 IAF personnel receiving medals for courage shown during the tsunami relief efforts in December 2004 and for other achievements beyond the call of duty.

In the lead-up to Air Force Parade Day speculation had been voiced by the Indian media that the lAF’s airpower capabilities had diminished to the point that it was losing air superiority to Pakistan. A confidential internal memo sent to the Defence Minister from the Air Chiefs Office had been leaked to the media reporting that the IAF’s fighter strength had plunged from an authorised 39.5 squadrons to 33, and by December 2007 it would slump to 29 before starting to climb again.

The IAF Chief chose not to address the leak and instead focussed on the IAF’s vision of ‘Strategic Reach’ and his desire for a transoceanic force capable of protecting and projecting Indian interests. He talked about the IAF’s contribution to UN missions (it currently has an Mi-35 detachment and several hundred personnel in the Congo) and efforts to train operationally and test capabilities, as indeed it was doing during Exercise Indra Dhanush 06 with the RAF at the time.

Next year the IAF Chief hopes to participate in a Red Flag exercise in the USA, while there are also known to be plans to host the IAF at RAF Leuchars, Fife, Scotland during the summer of 2007. ACM Tyagi closed his speech by commending the Western Air Command based at Subroto Park, Delhi, on its efforts during India’s ‘White Tsunami’ in the Himalayas late last year when it airlifted 47,000 people to safety.

CSAR Demo

With the speech concluded, the Nishan Toli flag (air force emblem) was unfurled and the parade eventually marched off. Shortly afterwards, at 09.34am, the flying display commenced with a fighter aircraft flypast.

Five Ambala-based Jaguars, comprising three two-seat and two single-seat versions, flew by in an arrowhead formation at around 1,000ft (300m), followed by similar formations of five MiG-21 Bisons from Ambala, five MiG-23 Floggers (Vijay) from Halwara, five MiC-29 Fulcrums (Baaz) from Adampur and five Mirage 2000 Vajra from Cwalior. Three 30 Sqn Su-30MKIs based at Cwalior then followed them, with the lead aircraft pulling up to perform a ‘Vertical Charlie’ manoeuvre.

However the highlight of the flying display was the Combat Search and Rescue demonstration. Two Mi-35s swooped in at 300ft (100m) and set up a combat air patrol to simulate sanitizing the area (ie eliminating enemy troops) before a Search and Rescue demonstration was inserted. The two Mi-17-1V Hip (Ranvir) helicopters flew in slow and low, while specially-trained IAF Graud special forces troops fast-roped down to the ground displaying ‘Small Team Insertion and Extraction’ techniques. Two Chetak helicopters then demonstrated rescue operations before two more Mi-17-1Vs — each wearing a blue paint scheme along their boom — landed and offloaded a jeep with Grauds who carried out some spectacular explosions and drove back on to the helicopters. While all this was going on, the two Mi-35s continued flying race-track patterns in opposite directions, providing the audience with a great view of these newly upgraded attack helicopters (see Page 22).

At the end of this demonstration, the IAF’s Sarang helicopter team — comprising four Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopters — staged a very impressive ten-minute display. This was followed by a 2,000 feet (600m) flypast of an II-78MK, with a Su-30MKI and Jaguar plugged in to the two hoses and drogues hanging out behind it. After that came another II-78MK with two Mirage 2000s following the two hoses and drogues before they broke off. Two MiG-29s carrying out another combat air patrol then chased two Jaguars around the air base and surrounding area at about 500ft (150m). This was followed by a Su-30MKI demonstration flown by the 30 Sqn Commanding Officer. The finale came from the IAF’s Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (commonly referred to as SKAT) and its nine Kiran Mk IIs.

Something For Everyone

A large static display was assembled at this year’s event with all the fighter aircraft represented, which was never the case when it was held at Delhi-Palam. The highlight was a Su-30MKI carrying four R-77s (AA-12 Adders) — two under the wing and two on the centre-line stations, plus two R-60s (AA-8 Aphids) as well as 10 FAB-250 bombs. A new VIP Embraer ERJ 135 and IAF ALH were also included. Many of the local people who had been bussed into the base walked down to the area and viewed the aircraft that defended their country. Defence is an important issue for many Indian citizens due to the violence in Kashmir and India’s mistrust of neighbours Pakistan and China, and while this was only a low-key affair, the IAF staged a well-drilled Parade Day that was very impressive. It may have lasted only three hours, but during that time the IAF managed to provide India, via its huge media coverage, a glimpse of its inventory as well as the skills and resources of its personnel.

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