While Gagan Shakti took place from April 1-10, Tarang Shakti is scheduled for August. The Vayu Shakti exercise took place earlier this year

The Indian Air Force (IAF) completed its Vayu Shakti exercise on February 17, where it showcased its offensive capabilities through an enthralling and formidable display of firepower. They are planning another one, Tarang Shakti, for later in 2024.

Meanwhile, from April 1-10, the IAF showcased its might and capabilities through another exercise, Gagan Shakti, a large-scale drill “simulating a life-like environment” involving all the air force bases and assets scattered throughout the country.

Exercises like these often involve the participation of not just the other arms of the military, but the armed forces of other nations. They thus help fine-tune coordination at the domestic level as well as on a global canvas, while facilitating an exchange of crucial knowledge

Such drills also help the military sharpen its abilities and learn how to effectively use their forces.

During Vayu Shakti, the IAF showed how well it could hit targets accurately and powerfully — all at the right time and place — across a specific area, against chosen targets. It was conducted at the Pokhran air-to-ground range, close to the city of Jaisalmer, where the IAF deployed its frontline assets, including Mirage-2000s, Rafale fighter jets, Sukhoi-30 MKIs, Tejas light combat aircraft (LCA), Jaguars, Apache attack helicopters, Chinook heavy-lift helicopters, surface-to-air missile systems, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Gagan Shakti was a non-stop exercise that ran for 24 hours through each of its 10 days.

With Gagan Shakti, the IAF wanted to check its readiness for threats of conflicts on two fronts — Pakistan and China. Gagan Shakti spanned the entire air force and aimed to assess joint combat strategies and methods in coordination with the Army and the Navy.

Air traffic control (ATC), which utilised radar to monitor air traffic, played a crucial role in preventing accidents in the sky. The system provided pilots with the aircraft’s position in the sky and weather information via radio communication.

On April 6 and 7, Gagan Shakti took place along a 3.5-kilometre stretch of the 302-kilometre-long Lucknow-Agra Expressway. The IAF deployed an IL-76 aircraft housing an Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS), as well as an anti-missile system, for this purpose. The aim was to ensure the safety of the participating aircraft and test the preparedness and operational efficiency of the airstrip, by deploying a wide range of aircraft.

These included the Mirage-2000, Sukhoi, Jaguar and TEJAS jets, besides the Globemaster C-17 transport aircraft, and Chinook, Apache, Hercules, and Prachand helicopters. As a result, traffic on the Agra-Lucknow Expressway was redirected to service roads temporarily.

The last such drill was in 2018, where the IAF conducted over 11,000 sorties to gear up for a hypothetical two-front conflict scenario. Since that time, there have been significant updates, such as the IAF’s acquisition of new equipment, the ongoing border tensions with China over the past four years, and the need for practice and training in environments that closely mirror real-life conditions.

According to Air Vice-Marshal (AVM) Anil Golani (Retd), Director-General, Centre for Air Power Studies, this exercise aimed to bring every airbase and every piece of equipment into action. It also aimed to test important air force skills — such as precision, managing many aircraft, being adaptable, reacting quickly, moving rapidly, doing multiple tasks at once, and operating across long distances.

(With Agency Inputs)