Keywords:Indian Air Force, Vayu Shakti, firepower, and IAF’s combat readiness
CAPS Faculties (Left to Right): Gp Capt Amitabh Mathur (Retd), Dr Joshy M Paul, Ms Anu Sharma, Dr Silky Kaur, Dr Poonam Mann, Mr Mohit Sharma and Ms Mahima Duggal
The Indian Air Force (IAF) conducts ‘Vayu Shakti’, its firepower demonstration, triennially at Pokhran, Rajasthan. It started in 1954 at Tilpat, near Delhi, but shifted to Pokhran in 1988 due to excessive all-around construction and bird activity. The Commander in Chief of the armed forces, the President of India, had been attending the events. However, since 2013, the Prime Minister has been the chief guest of Vayu Shakti. The event is usually planned as a day and night event, but this year it was decided as a day event only. The 2022 edition was to be held on March 7 but has been postponed due to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. However, Vayu Shakti 2022’s full dress rehearsal was held on March 4, in which senior officers from the three services, foreign military attaches, and a large number of civilians, including a delegation of research scholars from CAPS, attended, whereas as many as 148 aircraft – including 109 fighter jets, 24 helicopters, seven transport aircraft, and four remotely-piloted aerial vehicles – participated. Vayu Shakti is the IAF’s biggest flagship exercise event, demonstrating its collective firepower skills in a compact and precise manner, displaying precision weapons delivery, manoeuvring skills, aerial refuelling, transportation of troops and weapons, and the proficiency of air warriors. Vayu Shakti also displays the IAF’s combat readiness, boosting the confidence of the nation and demonstrating its combat capability as political signalling to the enemy of its firepower prowess.
Airpower is unique and has always been transforming with new technology and systems such as unmanned aerial vehicles, improved sensors and radars, precision weapons, and a new generation of fighter aircraft. Such exercises focus on experimenting with the readiness of new systems and weapons, effectiveness of command and control systems, capability of air warriors, and targeting philosophies. The combined effect of Vayu Shakti has been dramatic. Firstly, the ability to achieve air superiority on a theatre-wide scale offers commanders a valuable asymmetric ‘sanctuary’ to be exploited by targeting the enemy’s command and control centres, interdiction of ground offensive elements, and supply lines. Secondly, by exploiting air superiority, airborne sensor platforms can provide an unprecedented level of situational awareness to commanders and thus detect, delay, disrupt, and destroy follow-on forces. Thirdly, the rapid dissemination of accurate target information enhances the precision of airstrikes and enables the engagement of small and mobile targets. Fourthly, it cultivates jointness of forces in real-time operations and plugs the gap between the forces as well as within the Air Force. And finally, they provide new options for coercive diplomacy for the government.
A major significance of Vayu Shakthi is that the Air Force can jointly operate different types of aircraft together to hit the enemy target. Since all major systems are deployed, which include fighters, helicopters, transport fleet, and UAVs for reconnaissance, targeting various platforms jointly showcases the IAF’s ability to operate effectively. In the air exercise, various simulated enemy targets on the ground and in the air are being targeted and destroyed by employing a variety of missiles, precision-guided munitions, bombs, and rockets from various fighter aircraft of the IAF.
Vayu Shakti 2022-Full Dress Rehearsal
The event took place at the Pokhran firing range, which came into the limelight after the ‘Smiling Buddha’ nuclear test of 1974, spread over 100s of Sq Kms in the Thar desert, a distance of 200 km from the Indo-Pak border. Since the full dress rehearsal is identical to the official event, it had been prepared with a large number of dummy structures simulating a variety of enemy targets. A comprehensive briefing was carried out to familiarise the audience with these targets placed at 2-3 km distance from the audience, as well as the airframes being used to hit the targets. Two huge screens in front were updating us on the events, helping the participants to an understanding with a long view and a close view. The participation of Rafale, India’s latest inventory into the IAF, distinguished the event from the previous editions of Vayu Shakti.
The event started with 17 Jaguars’ fly-past commemorating the 75th anniversary of Indian independence, Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, followed by a supersonic run by two Rafales, which generated ‘shockwaves’ in the atmosphere. The impressive display of the IAF’s airpower prowess began with firing missiles from Tejas fighter jets, destroying the enemy’s command and control from two sides, crippling the enemy’s ability to launch a counter-attack. SU 30 MKI dismantled the enemy’s arms depot with precision-guided rockets. Other fighters used in the display were: Rafale fighters targeting military barracks of the enemy; Jaguars targeting ammunition depot; Mirages targeting army bunkers; SU 30 MKI dismantling bridges and communication facilities with thousand-pound ammunition; and MiG-29 showcased air-to-air combat. Other systems that demonstrated their capability at the event were Mi-35 helicopters targeting army convoys and Apache helicopters dismantling the enemy’s logistic supply chains. Mi-35 showed continuous heavy firing to obliterate various enemy troop camps. SU 30 MKI and Jaguars participated in an aerial refuelling demonstration. Major fighter jets demonstrated stunning aerobatic manoeuvring, showcasing the skills, agility, and fighting spirits of air warriors.
Demonstrating the deterrent capability of the IAF, the surface-to-air missile Akash was launched from a mobile-launcher and hit a para-dropped object from an IL-76 transport aircraft, and a Spyder missile hit an incoming drone expectedly from the enemy territory. Besides, the IAF demonstrated how to capture key enemy locations deep inside the enemy territory and neutralise the threat for follow-up ‘men in boots’, a key ingredient of capturing enemy territory. Two Chinook heavy lifter helicopters dropped heavy cannons, which were promptly taken over by the Indian army troops. A C-17 Globemaster dropped paratroopers, and a C–130JHercules landed with Special Operation Team ‘Garuda’, and after it took off, it conducted a recce and fired rockets at the enemy troops. The event made the IAF proud of its training, skills, systems, and combat readiness. The program ended with another fly-past by Jaguar and Rafale aircraft.
Centre for Air Power Studies (CAPS) was established in 2001 as an autonomous defence research and analysis body for research and focused analyses on issues related to national security, defence, and aerospace issues in the evolving strategic and international security environment. Its objective is to facilitate greater understanding of these issues amongst the Armed Forces, the strategic community and the public besides contributing to policy generation and decision-making.
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