IAF showcases its firepower during Vayu Shakti 2019 at Pokhran

Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said that the IAF is always ready to respond to attacks

by Pradip R Sagar

Pokhran, in Rajasthan, reverberated with thunderous explosions on Saturday as the Indian Air Force (IAF) displayed its firepower capability.

Though the exercise—Vayu Shakti 2019—was a planned event, it gained significance as the military is exploring options to retaliate the killing of more than 40 CRPF Jawans in a terror attack by Jaish-e-Mohammad in Pulwama on Thursday.

At the exercise, Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa said that the IAF is always ready to give an appropriate response as assigned by the political leadership.

“While wars are fought few and far between, we have an ever present sub-conventional threat as the enemy knows he cannot defeat us in a conventional conflict. So, today, we show our ability to punish, our ability to insert and extricate troops from hostile territories,” Dhanoa said.

According to the defence establishment, an aerial surgical strike is a feasible option if the government decides to go for a military response to the Pulwama terror attack, but it might cause a warlike situation.

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman skipped the event at the last minute as she left to meet the families of the martyrs of Pulwama attack.

The event was attended by Dhanoa, along with Army Chief Gen Bipin Rawat and defence attaché of various countries.

Overall, 137 aircraft, including fighter planes like MiG-29, Jaguar, Sukhoi Su-30MKI, Mirage-2000, transport aircraft like AN-32, C130, Mi-17 VS and MI-35 helicopters, and others demonstrated their capabilities in the exercise.

For the first time, the upgraded version of MiG-29 was used in an air-to-ground role, while Sukhoi Su-30MKI showcased the drop of indigenously developed High Speed Low Drag (HSLD) bombs. Indigenous Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) showed its swing-roll capability by first engaging aerial targets and then turning around and decimating ground targets in the same sortie. Indigenously designed ALH Mk IV carried out air-to-ground firing using 20mm turret gun. Akash missiles fired on Manoeuvrable Expendable Aerial Target (MEAT).

The exercise was conducted in three phases during the day, dusk and night. This would amply demonstrate the capability of the IAF to operate with the highest levels of competence and precision, in all conditions.

Vice Chief of IAF Staff Air Marshal Anil Khosla called it a “focused capability-based exercise” in which all facets of aerial warfare are exercised.

As night descended, the indigenous surface-to-air guided weapon like Akash missile, knocked out a target flying in the sky above.

The firepower demonstration by the IAF, conducted once in three years, was first held July 21, 1953, at Tilpat range in New Delhi. The last demonstration at Tilpat was conducted on March 18, 1989, and thereafter the event was moved to the Pokhran range in Rajasthan, which is barely 100 km from the international border with Pakistan.