The Indian Air Force (IAF) turned 89 on October 8. The world’s fourth-largest air force has come a long way since 1932 when it began with just half a dozen officers, a score of ‘hawai sepoys’ and a couple of Wapiti aircraft. Today, the men and women in blue can proudly look back on years of having taken the challenges of enemy military, the weather, and hostile terrain in their stride.
On October 5, while interacting with the media, Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria highlighted this resilience. “The IAF is prepared for any conflict,” he said when asked about a possible two-front war with China and Pakistan. “There is no question that China can get the better of us… If China decides to use Pakistan for attacking us, it would mean a collusive threat and the IAF is ready to tackle it.”
This confidence would have been misplaced a couple of decades ago when the IAF was struggling to cope with the loss of almost a quarter of its combat jets. It was the Nineties and with the Soviet Union — its key supplier — gone, there were less than 30 of the fighter squadrons operational.
To make matters worse, the induction of the Russian Su-30 MKI frontline fighters was delayed and the indigenously-built Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) refused to leave the drawing board. The spate of air accidents plaguing the IAF also put a question mark on its operational preparedness.
The IAF, however, encounters fair weather now, thanks to a renewed acquisition process of defensive and offensive equipment. These include augmenting the Su-30 MKI fleet, operationalising the LCA and ending the impasse over the French Rafale fighter jets (which was held up by financial issues before New Delhi finally decided to buy 36 Rafales off the shelf).
Aerial refuelling helps the Rafale strike deep into enemy territory and it is considered a potential game-changer in the ongoing India-China stand-off at the LAC.