The Indian Air Force is trying out a variety of new tactics and operational strategies during its ongoing exercise, Gaganshakti, in which over 1,100 aircraft are taking part. The exercise began on April 8 and will conclude on April 22. The Air Force and the Army’s Parachute Brigade undertook a battalion-level airborne assault operation in the desert sector. “This assault included paradrop of 560 paratroopers, combat vehicles and GPS-guided cargo platforms. The landing force was dropped behind the simulated enemy lines to soften up the likely resistance to our own armoured offensive,” the IAF spokesperson said. Six C-130J transport aircraft and seven An-32 transport aircraft launched from multiple IAF bases for the operation. AWACS (airborne warning and control system) provided aerial surveillance and a fleet of Su-30 air-superiority fighters gave protection.
Gaganshakti covers real-time coordination, deployment and employment of air power in a short and intense battle scenario, and joint operations with other services, the IAF said. “Concepts of accelerated operations, network-centric operations, long-range missions with concentrated weapon releases across all air-to-ground ranges in India, inter-valley troop transfer, flexible use of airspace, joint maritime air operations with the Navy, joint operations with the Army, simulated combat search and rescue for effective extraction of downed aircrew behind enemy lines, special operations with Garuds, mass casualty evacuation from highway and ALG (advance landing ground) operations, to name a few, would be tested,” an Air Force press statement said. For the first time in IAF history, the indigenously made light combat aircraft has been deployed to test its efficacy and integration in the operational matrix of the IAF.
Apart from wartime drills, the IAF is carrying out exercises to test its ability to carry out mass casualty evacuation in the northern sector. The press statement said that in a simulation earlier this week, 88 “casualties” were airlifted from Leh to Chandigarh. A C-17 Globemaster aircraft was converted for this role by fixing support structures for stretchers in the main cabin. “An indigenously developed patient transfer unit (PTU), capable of providing in-flight critical care to patients, was demonstrated during the exercise,” the IAF said. After landing in Chandigarh, a green corridor was made available, in liaison with Chandigarh civil authorities, to transfer the “patients” swiftly to the Command Hospital in Chandimandir, the Air Force said. For the first time, the IAF formalised the concept of a forward surgical centre (FSC). It is set up in a remote forward location to enhance the medical capabilities of a forward base away from a service hospital, thus providing medical facility to IAF and Army personnel in remote areas. Naliya is the first Air Force Station where such a centre has been operationalised, using men and material of the IAF, the statement added. The IAF conducted maritime air operations on the western seaboard, to validate its capabilities over the extended area of interest in the Indian Ocean region. “In the long-range strike concept validation, the Su-30s, airborne from a base on the eastern coast, engaged multiple targets, in the western seaboard, at distances beyond 2,500 km and landed in a southern base, thus covering a total distance of 4,000 km in a single mission,” the IAF statement said. During this operation, the IL-78 flight refuelling aircraft provided mid-air refuelling to the Su-30 fighters.