Gagan Shakti snippets

After the “surge” in air combat operations on the western front with Pakistan, which saw a staggering 5,000 sorties by fighters alone in just three days last week, the IAF has now switched its forces to the northern borders with China from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.

No, the worst-case scenario of a two-front war has not suddenly hit India. The IAF’s entire war-machinery has been activated for the pan-India exercise ‘Gagan Shakti’. It’s the biggest such exercise in terms of scale since Operation Brasstacks in 1986-1987, or Operation Parakram in 2001-2002.

Despite having just 31 fighter squadrons, when 42 are required to tackle the Pakistan-China threat, the IAF has pulled out all stops to hone its warfighting skills by testing offensive and defensive capabilities on the two fronts.

As many as 1,150 fighters, aircraft, helicopters and drones as well as hundreds of air defence missile, radar, surveillance and other units have been deployed for the high-voltage exercise, which is taking place with active participation from Army and Navy for integrated land-air-sea combat operations. The IAF has systematically worked towards achieving 83% serviceability (operational availability of the number of aircraft at any given time) for the exercise, in conjunction with defence PSUs like Hindustan Aeronautics and base repair depots, from the usual 55%- 60% in peacetime.

If the focus in the western theatre was to generate maximum possible sorties with same number of fighters to overwhelm the enemy, the intent in the eastern one is to operate from dispersed locations to avoid adversary’s rocket forces while undertaking deep strikes with Sukhoi-30MKI fighters being refueled in mid-air by IL-78 aircraft.

The combat manoeuvres along the northern borders will see intensive high altitude operations as also inter-valley troop transfers and logistics sustenance to make up for the lack of roads. Gagan Shakti, in short, reiterates the primacy and flexibility of air power in modern-day battles.

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