February 1, 2010, New Delhi -- IAF is all set to conduct a high-voltage firepower exercise to showcase its `shock and awe' capabilities to both domestic as well as international audiences.
Dubbed `Vayu-Shakti', the high-intensity blitzkrieg will culminate in a massive firepower demonstration at the Pokhran range in Thar desert on February 24, with the country's top leadership, military brass and foreign military observers in attendance.
The sheer scale can be gauged from the fact that IAF has kept around 70 top-notch fighters like Sukhoi-30MKIs, Mirage-2000s, Jaguars, MiG-29s, MiG-27s and MiG-21 `Bisons' from several airbases on standby for Vayu-Shakti.
Moreover, IAF will also be deploying Mi-35 attack and Mi-17 medium-lift helicopters, IL-76 heavy-lift and AN-32 medium-lift cargo aircraft for the exercise.
"Vayu-Shakti is being held after a gap of some years. It will be a `maha' (major) one to demonstrate India's aerial firepower and capabilities, both during day and night," said a top IAF officer.
Foreign observers and military attaches are often invited to military exercises in India but this time the number will be much larger. "Vayu-Shakti will send a message that, along with the growing economic power, we also have the requisite military muscle to defend our geo-strategic interests," said another officer.
Yes, IAF is still grappling with the sharp decline in the number of its fighter squadrons, down to just 32 from even the `sanctioned strength' of 39.5. But the force is confident that operational and procurement plans are in place to ensure its capability to operate in India's expanding strategic environment, spreading from the Persian Gulf right up to Malacca Strait.
The fourth largest air force in the world after US, Russia and China, IAF's eventual aim is to transform into an `expeditionary aerospace force', with the wherewithal to rapidly deploy and operate across the globe.
IAF chief, Air Chief Marshal P V Naik, has outlined a three-pronged strategy for his force. One, `to see first and see the farthest', with AWACS (airborne warning and control systems) and satellites.
Two, `to reach first and the farthest', with mid-air refuellers to enhance the radius of operations of its fighters. And three, `to hit hard and accurately', with advanced missiles and PGMs (precision guided munitions).
All this, of course, does not come cheap. India has inked defence deals worth over $50 billion since the 1999 Kargil conflict, and will spend another $30 billion over the next four-five years, as reported by TOI earlier.
IAF, on its part, hopes to induct all 230 Sukhoi-30MKIs so far contracted from Russia for around $8.5 billion by 2014-15, apart from upgrades of its 63 MiG-29s and 52 Mirage-2000s.
Then, even as India is close to tying up with Russia to build and induct around 250 Sukhoi T-50 advanced stealth fifth-generation fighter aircraft, the ongoing trials to select 126 multi-role combat aircraft under the mammoth $10.4 billion programme are at an advanced stage now.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
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