In the last three years, IAF has modernised itself

For the last three years, Pakistan-backed terror outfits have not been able to carry out any major attack on Indian soil, claims a top defence ministry official while talking about the outcome of the Indian air force's Balakot strike.

Exactly three years ago, a formation of 12 Mirage-2000 fighter bombers entered Pakistan airspace, dropped bombs on pre-designated targets at the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) facility in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa region in Balakot. Codenamed Operation Bandar, the precision strike lasted 21 minutes and eliminated more than 300 terrorists.

After the 1971 war, this was the first operation in which Indian warplanes crossed the LoC and flew inside Pakistani airspace. Even during the 1999 Kargil operation, the Indian side did not cross over the Pakistan side, as the then prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee did not permit IAF for any cross border operation.

Officials in South Block, which houses the ministry of defence, maintain that the airstrike was proof that India can retaliate against any dreadful actions towards its nation. "Balakot airstrike was a message to the world that it (India) will take decisive and aggressive action against threats to its sovereignty and peace," an MoD official said while adding that the airstrike may not have ended terrorism from Pakistan, but has delivered a thundering message across the world that India will not be a helpless victim to proxy warfare.

Balakot airstrike was India's revenge for the killing of its 40 CRPF Jawans in an attack carried out Pak-based terror outfit in Pulwama on February 14, 2019. Acting on specific intelligence inputs, Mirage 2000 fighter jets used laser-guided bombs to target terror camps. The Mirage 2000 was chosen to carry out the mission because of its capability in the precision strike role. Around 3:30 am, the jets took off from their respective airbases in Gwalior and Agra, and were loaded with the SPICE ‘smart bombs’ made by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defence Systems. The bombs are precision-guided—one that can automatically match the target and destroy it even from a distance of 100 km.

IAF believes that the Balakot airstrike marked a major paradigm shift in the way India has responded to cross-border terror attacks on its soil. "Pakistan has now realised that India can hit them any time. And now with the induction of Rafale, IAF's beyond-visual-range combat will reach a new level. Pakistan will not have any answer to that," said an IAF official.

Since the Balakot airstrike, a lot has changed. IAF, the world's fourth strongest air force, has taken several measures to further modernise itself.

In the last three years, the Indian air force has modernised itself with Rafale omni role-fighter jets, S-400 air defence systems, Chinook heavy-lift helicopters and Apache attack helicopters. Additional Spice-2000 missiles (popularly known as 'building blaster') was also approved to boost IAF's firepower.

A day after Balakot, Pakistan fighters retaliated. And the absence of an adequate Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) was realised and it is believed that it gave Pakistani fighter jets a window of opportunity to enter the Indian airspace. The need for more eyes in the sky was needed, as IAF only has three such platforms, which play a role of force-multipliers in such situations.