Showcasing flying skills and pinpoint marksmanship, Indian Air Force (IAF) air warriors pounded and blasted away an array of assorted targets with impunity that included mock enemy radar sites, troops, ammunition dumps, convoys, petrol, oil and lubricant (POL) dumps with rockets, laser-guided bombs, missiles and front guns at the fire power demonstration (FPD) held at the air-to-ground weapons firing range at Pokhran, near Jaisalmer, today. A similar demonstration was last held at the same venue on March 14, 2004.
Defence Minister Shri AK Antony witnessed an hour-long live demonstration of IAF’s preparedness and ability to deliver the lethal punch that is capable of crippling any potential adversary. Among other senior officials present included the IAF Chief, Air Chief Marshal FH Major, Air Marshal KD Singh, Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, South Western Air Command and Defence Secretary Shri Vijay Singh. Also witnessing the event were service personnel from other IAF Commands and various training establishments.
Nearly 50 IAF aircraft that participated in the event were flown from airfields as diverse as Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Agra and Gwalior. They included the Su-30 MKI, Mirage-2000, Mig-27 upgrade, Mig-27 ML, Mig-21 Bisons, Mig-21 (Type-96) in the fighter class; Mi-35 helicopter gunship and Mi-17 IV helicopter and the AN-32 medium-lift tactical transport aircraft. In addition, an ‘unmanned aerial vehicle’ (UAV) maintained a constant vigil of the proceedings transmitting real-time imagery and information of the ‘tactical battle area’ (TBA) enabling correct operational decisions to be taken by the commander.
The sprawling range in the arid Rajasthan desert is home to IAF’s largest air-to-ground weapons firing facility where flying squadrons train in delivery of heavy armament. IAF pilots invariably hone their armament delivery skills at the Pokhran range that incidentally is also minutes flying-time from Longewala, the famed location near the western Indian border where IAF pilots stopped on tracks a regiment of Pakistani T-59 tanks on December 5-6, 1971 with their devastating air-to-ground firing exploits from the Hunter aircraft that continue to inspire generations of IAF pilots even today.
The FPD was conducted in three phases. The first phase showcased the general capability and attributes of fighter aircraft. The second phase included ‘counter-air operations’ against airfield installations by fighter aircraft in their endeavour to suppress the enemy’s air defence capability. The third phase included ‘counter surface force operations’ including ‘battlefield interdiction’ and ‘battlefield air strike’.
A supersonic low-level run by a single Su-30 MKI at a speed of 1,250 kmph, 150 metres above ground level leaving in its trail a thunderous ear-shattering sonic boom set the tempo for an explosive demonstration to follow. This was promptly followed by two Mig-27 fighters carrying out a ‘photo run’ using the VICON-91 pods that are used for gaining vital information about enemy disposition during hostilities.
A single Mirage-2000 dispensing the Infrared (IR) flares demonstrated its use as decoys to divert incoming IR-homing missiles. The IR flares, a pyrotechnical device emits radiations of sufficient intensity in the IR region of the electro-magnetic spectrum in addition to the visible radiation. Almost all the aircraft operating today extensively used these flares for self-protection against any possible missile attack.
While a pair of Mirage-2000 used the laser-guided bombs to annihilate a mock enemy radar site, the pair of Mig-21 Bisons that followed used their TV-guided KAB-500 smart bombs at another radar site for an equally destructive result.
The run-in by three Mig-27 ML with BL-755 cluster bombs against simulated troops in an open area in a ‘lay-down attack’ (LDA) was spectacular to witness but for troops spread over a vast area on ground, can only spell doom. Each BL-755 container comprises seven compartments containing 21 bomblets each making a total of 147 bomblets in all. After the bomb has been released from the aircraft, the 147 bomblets are ejected and fall to the ground, covering a wide area. In addition, the casing of the bomblet disintegrates and hundreds of fragments of shrapnel are dispersed over a wide area, with resultant damage to personnel and soft- skinned vehicles.
It was then the turn of three Su-30 MKIs to offer a glimpse of their awesome firepower. In a simulated search and strike mission, the trio dropped six 250-kg bombs over an enemy ammunition dump obliterating it. A little later, after the three Mig-21 Bisons completed their successful attack on a simulated enemy convoy with their 80-mm rockets, the Su-30 MKIs returned to target enemy tanks with their 100-kg bombs, delivering 20 of them.
In a maiden appearance of sorts at any FPD, it was now the turn of the Mig-27 upgrade, an entirely indigenous project undertaken by the DRDO and HAL, transforming it into a formidable strike platform of the IAF, to show its mettle. And the two Mig-27 upgrade fighters just did it with aplomb dropping four 1,000-lbs bombs at a POL dump accurately that went up in flames almost instantly. Two other Mig-27 upgraded fighters then followed it up with their distinct staccato of the salvo rounds fired from their front guns that blazed a smoke trail upon the simulated enemy convoy on ground.
Proving that the older versions of the Mig-21 (Type-96) still retain their lethality as an effective aerial platform, two Mig-21 fighters flattened-out enemy hangars in a dive-attack using two S-24 rockets to achieve the desired outcome.
Proving that a gunship is equally capable of accomplishing the task at hand with panache, albeit in a different battlefield scenario, two Mi-35 attack helicopters that participated also fired two S-24 rockets on a tank concentration offering a spectacular view. Not to be outdone, the two Mi-17 IV helicopters that followed fired a barrage of forty 80-mm rockets that was visible to the onlookers from the moment it left the rocket pods till striking the enemy convoy.
The Mi-17 helicopters also demonstrated its multi-tasking capabilities by inserting the IAF’s special forces – Garuds, into a simulated enemy area with a specific mission replete with specialist equipment (including a Gypsy LMV) and the Garud force. The scenario of the TBA was highlighted with the two Mi-35 helicopters undertaking combat air patrol (CAP) over the mission area until the troops were pulled out safely from the TBA.
Shortly after, it was the turn of two Su-30 MKIs to mount a CAP overhead the range. Two Mig-27 ML upgrade fighters, simulating enemy strike aircraft made a vain attempt to sneak-past the formidable Sukhois on prowl. In a visually exciting moment for the onlookers, the Su-30 MKIs could be easily seen manouvevring behind the intruders even as the strike aircraft desperately tried to shake off their nemesis unsuccessfully.
That the Su-30 MKIs carry an array of weaponry attached to its 12 hard points is well known but to get to see it in air replete with as many, is another matter. In a rare display of its kind, two Su-30 MKIs with external armaments of rockets, bombs and missiles attached on its hard points presented an awesome sight when the pair carried out a flypast near the grandstand and turning away to offer a rare glimpse of being armed to teeth to the viewers present.
The FPD also saw the use of the versatile and veritable medium lift tactical transport aircraft, the AN-32, reconfigured for a bombing role. In a role reminiscent of the carpet bombings undertaken by AN-12 transport aircraft during the 1971 conflict, two AN-32s destroyed an enemy logistics camp with six 1,000-lb bombs each. The AN-32s were flown from the distant Agra IAF airbase.
Meanwhile the two Su-30 MKIs orbiting in nearby vicinity were allotted targets of opportunity by the Raksha Mantri that was promptly destructed. A victory roll including a steep ‘vertical charlie’ in front of the grandstand by a Su-30 MKI aptly culminated the brief display of the tactical employment of air power by the IAF.
The Raksha Mantri who was visibly impressed by the awesome display of the IAF’s prowess at the brief FPD was later presented with the photograph of the grand stand taken by the Mig-27 using the VICON pod at the start of the display.
The Defence Minister who was on his maiden visit to the premiere IAF airbase later addressed the air warriors at the Forward Air Base of Jaisalmer. He also went around the static display at the tarmac comprising Su-30 MKIs, Mig-27 upgrade, UAV and other equipment at the airbase. He also visited the ‘Vijay Stambh’ (victory column) erected at the airbase to commemorate the feat and valour of the IAF pilots who destroyed 41 Pakistani tanks at battle of Longewala during the 1971 Indo-Pak conflict.