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No. 1 Squadron (IAF): Second World War

No. 1 Squadron (IAF): Second World War

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No. 1 Squadron (IAF) during the Second World War

Aircraft - Locations - Group and Duty - Books

No.1 Squadron, IAF, was the only squadron of the Indian Air Force to be formed before the outbreak of the Second World War, and served as an army co-operation squadron then as a fighter-bomber squadron over Burma.

The squadron was officially formed on 1 April 1933, at which time there were only enough Indian personnel to form a single flight (most qualified men preferred to join the more prestigious army). A second flight was added in April 1936 and a third in June 1938, but the three flights operated separately until November 1941. During this period the squadron spent most of its time operating on the North West Frontier, although after the outbreak of the war in Europe one flight moved to Karachi to fly coastal patrols.

In August 1941 the Indian Air Force was loaned 48 Westland Lysanders, and in November No.1 Squadron, IAF, came together at Drigh Road, where it officially received the new aircraft (on 7 November they were transferred to the Indian Air Force).

The squadron had just taken its Lysanders to the North West Frontier when the Japanese attacked. Every aircraft was now needed in Malaya and Burma but a shortage of air gunners, who were not needed for policing operations, meant that No.1 SQuadron was not ready for service until 1 February 1942, when it moved to its war station at Toungoo. That night the airfield was bombed, but No.1 SQuadron didn't suffer any losses. Two days later the squadron's commanding officer dropped some bombs on the Japanese airfield at Mae-Haugsuam (Siam), and on 4 February the entire squadron followed. DUring the rest of the campaign in Burma the squadron flew a mix of army co-operation missions and bombing missions, all to support the army retreating towards India.

Eventually the Japanese advance forced the squadron back to Magwe. During the summer of 1942 the Lysanders were replaced with Hawker Hurricanes, and between September 1942 and April 1943 the squadron took part of the fighter defence of the east coast of India.

Between April 1943 and February 1944 the squadron was based on the North West Frontier, where it received Hurricane fighter-bombers. THe squadron returned to Burma just in time to take part in the siege of Imphal. During this battle the inboard starboard cannon was replaced with a camera, and the squadron flew reconnaissance flights over the battle field, directing assaults on Japanese positions.

No.1 SQuadron, IAF, spent the next year operating as a fighter-bomber squadron over Burma, supporting the Allied armies as they began the re-conquest of the country. On 31 March 1945 the squadron was withdrawn from the front line, and transferred to the North West Frontier. In November 1945, after the Japanese surrender, the squadron converted to the Spitfire, which it kept until the summer of 1947 when it received the Hawker Tempest.

After the partition of India No.1 Squadron was to join the Royal Pakistan Air Force, and in preparation for this move it was officially disbanded on 15 August 1947.

April 1933-November 1941: Westland Wapiti IIA
June 1939-November 1941: Hawker Hart
November 1941-September 1942: Westland Lysander II
September 1942-April 1943: Hawker Hurricane I
April 1943-March 1946: Hawker Hurricane IIB and IIC
September 1943-January 1944: Hawker Audax I
November 1945-August 1947: Supermarine Spitfire VIII
March-August 1947: Supermarine Spitfire XIV
July-August 1947: Hawker Tempest II


A Flight
April 1933-April 1936: Drigh Road
April-November 1936: Peshawar
November 1936-February 1937: Chaklala
February 1937: Drigh Road
February-August 1937: Peshawar
August-November 1937: Miranshah
November 1937-January 1938: Peshawar
January-June 1938: Hyderabad
June-July 1938: Miranshah
July 1938-March 1939: Ambala (full squadron to September 1938)
March-June 1939: Miranshah
August 1939-November 1941: Drigh Road

B Flight
April 1933-January 1937: Drigh Road
January-February 1937: Bangalore
February 1937-January 1938: Drigh Road
January-June 1938: Bangalore
June 1938-July 1940: Ambala
July-September 1940: Miranshah

C Flight
June 1938: Drigh Road
June-September 1938: Ambala
September-November 1938: Miranshah
June 1940-November 1941: Fort Sandeman

Combined Squadron
November 1941-February 1942: Calcutta (ground crews)
February 1942: Toungoo
February-March 1942: Mingaladon
March 1942: Magwe
March-April 1942: Secunderabad
April-September 1942: Santa Cruz
September-December 1942: Trichinopoly
December 1942: Arkonam
December 1942-January 1943: Trichinopoly
January-April 1943: Bairagarh
February-March 1943: Chharra
April-June 1943: Risalpur
June 1943-February 1944: Kohat
February 1944: Kan
February 1944-March 1945: Sinthe
March-April 1945: Moving to North West Frontier Province
April 1945-April 1946: Kohat
April 1946-August 1946: Samungli

Squadron Codes: sss

July 1944: No.170 Wing, No.221 Group, Third Tactical Air Force, Eastern Air Command



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Formation and early years Edit

The squadron was originally formed as a day-bomber unit named No 501 (City of Bristol) Squadron [1] as part of the Special Reserve squadrons on 14 June 1929, made up of volunteers and regulars, flying D.H.9As, which were later replaced with Westland Wapitis and later still with Westland Wallaces. In 1936 it became "No 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron", changing the name to embrace a larger area of recruitment. [3] On 1 May 1936 it was transferred to the Auxiliary Air Force and in July of that year the squadron converted to Hawker Harts. In March 1938 these were exchanged for Hawker Hinds, but at the end of 1938 No. 501 squadron was transferred from RAF Bomber Command to RAF Fighter Command, [1] and Hawker Hurricanes began to arrive in March 1939.

Second World War Edit

When war was declared in September 1939, 501 Squadron was based at RAF Filton, near Bristol.

On 10 May 1940, with the attack on France, the Squadron became part of the Advanced Air Striking Force [13] and moved to France where it saw extensive action, stationed at airfields as Bétheniville, Anglure, Le Mans and Dinard. Sgt J.H. "Ginger" Lacey of 501 Squadron shot down three enemy aircraft in a single day to win the Croix de Guerre. (He later returned to England with five victories.) After the retreat from France through Saint Helier, Jersey, its battle-hardened pilots were reorganised at RAF Croydon and then moved on to RAF Middle Wallop and later RAF Gravesend (now Gravesend Airport). It subsequently served at RAF Kenley, south London, commanded by S/L Harry Hogan, until 17 December 1940 by which time the squadron had claimed 149 enemy aircraft destroyed. Success came at a high cost in addition to the heavy losses suffered in France, the squadron lost 19 pilots killed during the Battle of Britain, more than any other squadron.

The squadron re-equipped with the Supermarine Spitfire in April 1941 and the squadron moved to Northern Ireland in October 1942. In April 1943 the squadron returned to Tangmere for bomber escort work – some pilots being issued with the Spitfire Mk IXc. Between November 1943 and October 1944 the squadron formed part of Air Defence of Great Britain (ADGB). For Operation Overlord (the Allied invasion of Normandy) it flew the Spitfire V LF operating from RAF Friston in ADGB, though under the operational control of RAF Second Tactical Air Force. [14]

During August 1944, the squadron began converting to the Tempest Mk.V at RAF Manston, for the purposes of Operation Diver – the interception of V-1 missiles. On 23 August, a Tempest flight from the elite Fighter Interception Unit (FIU) was merged into 501 Squadron and S/L Joe Berry of FIU was appointed commanding officer of the combined unit. [15]

The squadron was disbanded at RAF Hunsdon at the end of the war on 20 April 1945. During World War II the pilots of No. 501 Squadron had flown 11,140 operational sorties, [16] in which they shot down 201 enemy aircraft and at least 84 V-1s. [17]

Notable squadron members Edit

The squadron included several notable pilots of World War II, including Sergeant Pilot Antoni (Toni) Głowacki VM, CV and 3 bars, DFC, DFM, who shot down five German aircraft on 24 August 1940 to become the first of only two pilots to achieve "Ace-in-a-day" status during the Battle of Britain. [19] [20] Among others who achieved fighter ace status were Ken Mackenzie, [21] "Ginger" Lacey, [22] Stanisław Skalski, DSO, DFC and two Bar, [23] Robert Dafforn, [24] Paul Farnes DFM, Kenneth Lee. [25] Lacey was one of the highest scoring pilots in the Battle of Britain. [26] Squadron Leader Joseph Berry, DFC & 2 bars, was the top scoring V-1 (flying bomb) ace of the squadron, though he claimed only 10 of his 61 victories whilst flying 501 squadron [27] In addition to these unmanned missiles he also shot down three enemy aircraft. [28]

Into the jet age Edit

The squadron was reformed on 10 May 1946 as an Auxiliary Air Force fighter squadron at RAF Filton. In February 1957, Flt Lt John Crossley flew Vampire FB.9 jet WR260 beneath the Clifton Suspension Bridge, before a fatal crash into Leigh Woods. [29] [30] This was the last recorded – and only jet aircraft – flight under that bridge. The Squadron was disbanded in March 1957, along with all the other Auxiliary units.

Present role Edit

In June 2001 No. 501 squadron was reformed in the Force Protection role as 501 (Operational Support) Squadron in 2001 at RAF Brize Norton. 501 Squadrons Gunners provide a reserve of trained manpower for 1 Squadron RAF Regiment, No 4 Force Protection Wing. In 2003, its personnel deployed as part of Operation Telic, the liberation of Iraq. The squadron continues to deploy personnel on Force Protection duties in this region. In 2006 the first 501 Squadron Gunners deployed with 2 Squadron RAF Regiment to Afghanistan, carrying out force protection duties of Kandahar airfield and surrounding areas. This has been continued with members of both Regiment and FP roles mobilising with 1 Squadron RAF Regiment tour of the region (8 August to 9 March). Between November 2006 and April 2007 501 Squadron Gunners also deployed with the Queens Colour Squadron, 63 Squadron RAF Regiment to Basra Iraq. Based at RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire, 501 (County of Gloucester) Squadron has been newly re-formed to expand the RAF Reserves Logistics capability, recruiting Logistics Officers, Drivers and Suppliers as part of No 85 Expeditionary Logistics Wing of the RAF A4 Force.

Aircraft operated by no. 501 Squadron RAF, data from [31] [32] [33] [34] [35]
From To Aircraft Version Remark
August 1929 March 1930* Avro 504 N Used for training [36]
March 1930 November 1930 Airco DH.9A
September 1930 March 1933* Westland Wapiti Mk.IIa
January 1933 July 1936 Westland Wallace Mk.I
March 1936 July 1936 Westland Wallace Mk.II
June 1935 March 1937 De Havilland Tiger Moth Mk.I Used for training [36]
January 1936 October 1939 Avro Tutor Mk.I Used for training [36]
July 1936 March 1938* Hawker Hart Mk.I One example used for training till May 1939 [37]
March 1938 March 1939* Hawker Hind Mk.I One example used for training till February 1941 [37]
March 1939 December 1939 Fairey Battle Used for training [36]
March 1939 May 1941 Hawker Hurricane Mks.I, II and X [38]
August 1940 January 1943 Miles Magister Used for training [36]
April 1941 June 1941 Supermarine Spitfire Mk.I
May 1941 September 1941 Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IIa One example (P8799) soldiered on till July 1943 [39]
September 1941 January 1942 Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Va R7334, nicknamed "Perfect" [39]
September 1941 July 1944 Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vb
1942 November 1942 Miles Master Used for training [36]
May 1942 October 1942 Supermarine Spitfire Mk.Vc
November 1943 July 1944 Supermarine Spitfire Mk.IX
July 1944 April 1945 Hawker Tempest Mk.V
August 1946 November 1953 Harvard T.2b Used for training [40]
October 1946 May 1949 Supermarine Spitfire LF.16e
November 1948 June 1951 de Havilland Vampire F.1
September 1949 February 1957 Gloster Meteor T.7 Used for training [40]
March 1951 March 1957 de Havilland Vampire FB.5
February 1955 February 1957 de Havilland Vampire FB.9
September 1955 February 1957 Gloster Meteor F.8 Used for training [40]

*=Remained in service after replacement as main equipment

Location From To
Karachi April 1933 August 1937
Miranshah August 1937 June 1940
Fort Sandeman June 1940 October 1941
Ambala October 1941 Disbanded 1947
Halwara February 1953 September 1953
Palam September 1953 February 1957
Kalaikunda February 1957 October 1962
Halwara October 1962 September 1963
Adampur September 1963 February 1985
Gorakhpur February 1985 June 1985
Hashimara June 1985 January 1986
Gwalior January 1986

No.1 Squadron Air Force was raised on 1 April 1933 at Drigh Road, Karachi and equipped with 04 Westland Wapiti aircraft. The Indian element consisted of 06 officers and 09 technicians then known as Hawai Sepoys.

The early history of 1 Squadron is synonymous with the history of the Indian Air Force. It was formed on the day the Indian Air Force received its first batch of trained pilots from RAF Cranwell. The first batch of Indians at Cranwell were HC Sircar, Subroto Mukherjee (later Air Marshal and the first Indian Chief of the Air Staff), AB Awan, Bhupendra Singh , Amarjit Singh and J N Tandon. They had started training in 1930 and were commissioned in late 1932. Plt Offr Tandon was too short to qualify for flying training and joined as the Equipment officer. Flt Lt CA Bouchier, DFC from the RAF was the first Commanding Officer of the Squadron.

The first batch were later joined by AM Engineer,DFC (later Air Marshal and the Chief of the Air Staff), KK Majumdar, DFC & Bar, Narendra, R H D Singh, Prithipal Singh, "Baba" Mehar Singh , SN Goyal and Arjan Singh (Later Marshal of the Air Force).

The years 1933 to 1937 were basically the formative years for the Squadron when it trained in its primary role of Army Co-operation from Drigh Road, Peshawar, Chaklala and Sialkot. The rigorous training was to pay handsome dividends in Sep 1937 when the Squadron was inducted into operations against hostile tribesmen in North West Frontier province. Fg Offr AM Engineer was "Mentioned-in-Despatches" for gallantry during this operation. Soon after Fg Offr Subroto Mukherjee was appointed Flight Commander of "A" Flight. By the time "B" Flight was formed and the three flights came together for the first time in Ambala, all three Flight Commanders were Indians. These were Fg Offrs Subroto Mukherjee, AM Engineer and KK Majumdar.

On the historic day of 16 March 1939 Flt Lt Subroto Mukherjee took over the Command of the Squadron from Sqn Ldr CH Smith, thus becoming the first Indian to Command a flight, a Squadron, later a Station and finally, of course, the Indian Air Force itself.

On various ocassions, the Indian pilots were required to carry out operations against the tribesman in the NWFP. Several times the pilots had to face the brunt of hostile fire. In 1937, Fg Offr Mehar Singh was attacking a tribal post at Shaider, when his fuel tank was hit by rifle fire. He had to crashland the Wapiti in rocky terrain and had to evade the hostile tribesman searching for them to make it back to the Army lines. On another ocassion, Fg Offr Arjan Singh had to forceland his Audax in tribal territory. Even he was able to evade the tribesman and make it back to safety. Sqn Ldr Mukherjee on one sortie on learning that a besieged Army post was running out of ammunition, instructed his gunner to stuff thier socks with the ammunition from the lewis guns . He then flew lowe over dropped the ammunition in the post, thus giving them just enough ammunition to hold out long enough to be relieved.This was the beginning of air maintenance in a rather ingenious form.

Second World War and the First Burma Campaign

In June 1939, the Squadron was re-equipped with Hawker Hart aircraft with a few Hawker Audax aircraft on its inventory. In August 1941, the Squadron was re-equipped with 12 Lysander aircraft financed as a gift from the citizens of Bombay. Since then the squadron is considered to have been adopted by Bombay and became known as the Bombay Squadron. The Squadron got into its element straight away. In November 41, the squadron moved enmasse for an air display to Calcutta. When they returned they even picked up a wrecked Lysander of No.28 Sqn RAF and repaired it as thier 13th aircraft!.

December 41 saw the outbreak of the war in the far east. That month, the Squadron lost Pilot Officer Namgyal Paljor who undershot the runway at Peshawar and got killed. Towards the end of December, It was known that the Squadron would soon move to Burma to provide support in Ops against the Japanese. The ground party left for Burma in the middle of January by train. The Squadron flew its Lysanders across the country towards the end of January.

On 01 Feb 42, No.1 Squadron under the Command by Sqn Ldr KK Majumdar was moved to Toungoo in Burma to stem the Japanese offensive. The Lysanders were assigned to fly tactical recce missions. On the day of the induction, the area came under heavy air raids by the Japanese forces. But due to effective dispersal, none of the Squadron's aircraft were lost.

The Squadron personnel immediately swung into action and their courage and ingenuity saw them hanging pairs of 250 lb bombs on the bomb racks slung on the modified Lysanders. On 3 February, Sqn Ldr Majumdar went up in a solitary aircraft escorted by two Buffaloes of 67 Sqn RAF and attacked Mae-Haungsuan airfield. He dropped his bombs on a Hangar containing an aircraft inside and came back safely. The next day, the whole squadron repeated the strike on Mae-Haungsan. On 5th Feb, the Tigers moved to Mingaladon airfield near Rangoon. More retaliatory strikes were launched against the principal Japanese air bases at Mae-Haungsuan, Cheingmai and Chiangrai in Thailand. The missions were flown unescorted at low-level and the results were evident from the reduced air activity the following day. The Lysander was basically an army co-operation aircraft without a bomb sight. However, the squadron pilots perfected the techniques of dive bombing and carried out pin-point attacks. On one occasion, Sqn Ldr Majumdar carried out a 'Touch and Go' over an enemy airfield to prove a point to his passenger, an Intelligence officer, who was refusing to believe it was an enemy airfield!

The Original Burma Pilots S/L KK Majumdar (CO) F/L Prithipal Singh (Flt Cdr) F/L Niranjan Prasad (Flt Cdr) F/L Lala Rupchand (Adj) F/L Syed Haider Raza F/O Henry Runganadhan F/O Rajinder Singh P/O YV Malse P/O HS Ratnagar P/O HS Moolgavkar P/O Satyanarayana P/O Ananthanaryana P/O JK Deuskar (KIA Feb 42) P/O PS Gill P/O Nanda P/O Sk Ibrahim After a few days in Mingaladon, Majumdar led one flight with Flt Lt Prithipal Singh to Lashio to support the Chinese army operations. Flt lt Niranjan Prasad stayed back with his flight in Mingaladon. One solitary aircraft under Flt Lt H Raza went to Toungoo. Throughout the operations, the recce sorties brought important intelligence reports of troop concentrations and movements which were crucial to ground operation. The Squadron performed exceedingly well and so endeared themselves to the Chinese troops, that in appreciation they were presented a "Gold Wing" by the Chinese - a rare honour indeed.

During the entire campaign Sqn Ldr KK Majumdar personally led his pilots on recce missions in adverse weather and over inhospitable terrain. For this exhibition of exceptional courage, leadership and fighting spirit in the face of the enemy he was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross [DFC], the first such award to an Indian officer in World War II. WO Harjinder Singh had improvised a wooden tailwheel that was used on the Lysanders when the spares ran out. He was awarded MBE for his imaginative improvisation and for maintaining very high aircraft serviceability inspite of poor logistic backing.

Throughout its span of operations, the Squadron lost only one Lysander during operations, piloted by Fg Off J K Deuskar, when the aircraft flipped over during a landing. The gunner Sgt Dhora was also killed. Atleast one Lysander was lost in Japanese bombing and another lost during a ferry flight. One of the last missions was flown on 7 March by Fg Offrs Rajinder Singh and Raza. They flew two RAF Pilots to Rangoon airfield to help evacuate two Hurricane fighters left behind at the airfield. The squadron handed over all but three of its Lysanders to the Burma Air Force that was newly raised.

The Squadron had come back to Secunderabad in March 42. On return from the fighting, command was taken over by Sqn Ldr Subroto Mukherjee once again. In June 42 14 Pilots under Sqn Ldr Mukerjee went to Risalpur for conversion to Hurricanes. After conversion the Squadron moved south to Trichy for some time.

Flt Lt Henry Runganadhan was to suceed Sqn Ldr Mukerjee in Oct 42. However just before taking over command, he was killed in a Crash. The Lockheed Hudson in which he was travelling was hit in the tail by a Hurricane which was escorting it.

alt The squadron crest was first approved in Oct 42. The original motto "Ittehad Mein Shakti Hai" was later changed to "Ekta mein Shakti" meaning "In unity there is strength", a motto very aptly chosen. Sqn Ldr S N Goyal, another Cranwell trained officer took over command. However, there was some conflict with the British Station Commander who was ill-treating the Indian Officers. There was a controversy and Goyal was posted out in Aug 43 on promotion to Wg Cdr rank at Air HQ. In September 43, Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh took over command.

On 3 February 1944, after converting onto the Hurricane Mk IIc and mothering the raising of an additional Indian Air Force squadron, it went back to Imphal for operations against the Japanese under the Command of Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh. Equipped with Hurricane IIc aircraft the Squadron was tasked to carry out recce missions to gauge Japanese intentions. They carried out 60 sorties in Feb 44 reconnoitring the upper CHINDWIN area right upto the Mytkyina - Mandalay rail-road. These aerial recces discovered enemy army concentrations and river crossing equipment thus giving away Japanese ground offensive plans. The vital information provided by these missions was later to change the whole course of the war.

During the battle for Imphal, The Tigers were tasked to provide close air support to the 17th Indian division. The squadron provided the much needed close air support and helped the Allied forces to finally break through on 14 Mar 44. In the meanwhile No.1 Squadron continued to launch Counter Air missions to thwart the Japanese advance. The first operational casuality occurred on 8 March, when Fg Offr Kasrani crashed after his engine caught fire due to a Glycol leak.

As the squadron pilots flew dawn to dusk and at times during the night, the technicians slaved to minimise the time any aircraft spent on the ground. As a result the Squadron flew a record 360 sorties/530 hours during the campaign. The month of April was critical to Japanese forces as they were within the Arty fire range of Imphal. The indefatigable Tigers fighting ferociously, flew 450 hrs during this month to attack everything Japanese. This devastating effort sapped the enemy’s strength.

The battle continued through the difficult monsoon month of May and Jun 44 inspite of which the Squadron flew 950 hours providing valuable offensive support for the hard pressed 17th Indian Division and also for the 2nd division fighting its way from Kohima to open the road to Imphal. On 22 Jun 44 the Japanese siege of Imphal was finally lifted.

The Japanese defeat was turned into a rout with the Squadron aircraft pursuing them relentlessly through the jungles of Burma in Jul 44. Advancing Allied armies subsequently found ample evidence of the destruction caused by No.1 Squadron in its raids. Destroyed tanks, bombed transport columns, smashed guns and charred vehicles littered the road to Chindwin. The defeat at Imphal has been chronicled as the worst suffered on land in Japanese history. The stupendous air effort by No.1 Squadron for the defence of Imphal totalled 1034 sorties averaging 1 hr 30 mts per sortie. By Mar 45 the Squadron had been in Burma Ops continuously for 14 months, the longest for any squadron, during which it had flown 4813 sorties totalling 7219 hrs.

alt At the frontline. Last row L to R (Standing on Jeep): K N Kak DFC, A R Pandit DFC. Middle Row L to R (Standing on Jeep): A C Prabhakaran, Rishi, Koko Sen, Major Williams, Arjan Singh DFC, D P , Tutu, R Rajaram DFC, 'Bonzo' (Dog), Pop Rao, Gupta. Front Row L to R (Standing on Ground): Hafeez, Doc Herbert (sitting on step) and Tallu Talwar. [More Pictures here : No.1 Squadron under Arjan Singh]

For his tireless bravery, dedication, valour and unflagging enthusiasm Sqn Ldr Arjan Singh was decorated with the DFC on the field personally by Lord Mountbatten. Five more officers were awarded the coveted DFC. They were Flt Lt R Rajaram, Fg Offr A R Pandit, Fg Offr P S Gupta, Fg Offr B R Rao and Fg Offr Khemendra Nath Kak. However a price was paid too. Atleast fourteen Officers lost their lives in operational losses or accidents, including Fg Offr P S Gupta and Fg Offr Khem Nath Kak, both DFCs.

The Tigers after their return from Burma continued to fly Hurricanes till November 1945 before converting to Spitfires. In a farewell message, Air Marshal SF Vincent, CD, DFC, Air Officer Commanding 221 Group, complimented the pilots and airmen of the squadron about thier reliability as 'second to none in this world'.

The Squadron command was under Sqn Ldr Rajaram when they returned from Burma. The Tigers moved to Peshawar and remained there for the next two years. Towards the beginning of 1947, under the command of Sqn Ldr Ranjan Dutt, the Tigers converted to the Hawker Tempest II fighter bomber.

Click to Enlarge No.1 Squadron posing for thier official photo after converting to the Hawker Tempest II at Peshawar.

In 1947 during partition, the shocking news that the Squadron was to go as the share for the newly partitioned Pakistani Air Force was received. Accordingly the Squadron assets were transferred to the Pakistan Air Force. What was surprising was that there was no No.1 Squadron in the Pakistani Air Force. The assets received by the PAF was used for a No.5 Squadron. Though on paper, No 1 RIAF Squadron was allocated to Pakistan, it ceased to exist on 14 August 1947, as the newly born nation never continued the lineage. Thus the Tigers heritage remained exclusive to India throughout its life.

The premier Squadron of the Air Force could not be kept dormant for too long. The Tigers soon made a fresh beginning. On 26 January 1953, No 15 Squadron was renumbered as No.1 Squadron, IAF at Halwara, with Spitfires on its inventory under the command of Squadron Leader EJ Dhatigara. Dhatighara had earlier raised No.15 Squadron in 1951 on Spitfires. To him went the honour of being the first post Independence Commanding Officer of the Tigers.

In February, 1953 the Tigers entered the jet age with re-equipment onto the De Havilland Vampire. By August 1953, No. 1 Squadron had reached its full unit establishment of 16 Vampire FB.52's.

In September 1953 Tigers moved from Halwara to Palam . With the move came a change in command, with Squadron Leader TS 'Timky' Brar taking over the reins of the squadron . On 3 April 1956 , Squadron Leader GD 'Nobby' Clarke took over the command of the Tigers . The squadron continued to operate from Palam with the Vampires until it was designated to be re-equipped with the Mystere-IV A, an aircraft of French origin.

On 15 February , The aircraft , personnel and CO of No.1 Squadron were designated as No.27 Squadron. and No.1 metamorphised itself away at Kalaikunda as a unit to be equipped with Mystere IVa fighter bombers. Squadron Leader Dilbagh Singh took over the Command of the Squadron on 14 February 1957 and converted the Squadron to Mystere IVa aircraft when they arrived by sea in May 57. Sqn Ldr Dilbagh Singh was given the the honour of carrying out the first Supersonic dive over India on 17 May 1957 in Mystere IVa (IA-950). Kalaikunda was also the base for the newly raised 3 and 8 Squadrons equipped with the Mystere. It was in this aircraft that the Tigers were to participate in the next two operations.

The Squadron took part in the 1961 operation for liberation of Goa. Commanded by Sqn Ldr S Bhattacharya and equipped with Mystere-IVa aircraft, the Sqn operated from Santa Cruz airport. Also known as Op Vijay, this was the first battle for the Tigers after Independence. The Squadron carried out fighter sweeps and strike missions over Goa, Daman and Diu. In the face of relentless offensive air strikes, the Portuguese capitulated. Liberation of Goa was a swift operation. The Squadron not only provided air superiority but also became a deterrent to force the Portuguese for an early surrender. A four aircraft mission against the Daman fort on 10 Dec 61 found the traditional surrender signal fluttering on top. Inspite of the short operation, Tigers had fired 586 Rockets and released 176 Bombs during Op Vijay. Sqn Ldr S Bhattacharya was awarded the VM.

In 1963, the squadron had moved to Adampur, an airbase that was to remain its home for the next 17 years!. When hostilities broke out in 1965 the unit was under the command of Wg Cdr OP Taneja.

The first mission was flown on the morning of September 6, when a strike of four Mysteres attacked a railway train at Ghakker. The formation was intercepted by an F-104 Starfighter, but the aircraft came back unscathed flying at low level.

A pre-emptive air strike by PAF against our forward air bases was carried out on Sep 6th evening. Adampur happened to be one of them. The next day the squadron was tasked to hit the PAF's main airbase of Sargodha. A target of major importance housing nealry half of the enemy's strength of aircraft. Thus No.1 Squadron had the honour of being the first unit to fly against a PAF Airfield in the war.

The first wave was to consist of twelve aircraft. However due to confusion and technical snags, Six aircraft dropped out and the remaining six were joined by a seventh Mystere which was on standby. The Mysteres led by Wg Cdr Taneja attacked Sargodha at 0550 hours. The Boss destroying a large four engined aircraft with the rest of the formation strafing fighters on ORP. A Starfighter was observed burning furiously as they exited. A patrolling Starfighter tried to intercept the Mysteres and got into a dogfight with Squadron Leader AB Devayya. Tubby managed to shoot down the Starfighter in an amazing feat, but failed to return from the sortie. His gallantry was recognised by the IAF with a posthumous award of the Maha Vir Chakra two decades later.

The second wave against Sargodha was sent in broad daylight. Sqn Ldr Sudarshan Handa led the strike which was quite sucessful. One F-86 was destroyed by Handa on the ground and several targets attacked by his formation members. The Mysteres recovered back to base sucessfully. Sqn Ldr Handa and his Sub Section leader, Flt Lt DMS Kahai, both were awarded the Vir Chakra for this mission. A third strike against Sargodha in the evening was intercepted by Sabres. Fg Offr Babul Guha was lost to a Missile fired by a patrolling Sabre.

Thereafter the Tigers were tasked with the airfield Air Defence, offensive strike missions against heavily defended Pakistani airfields and interdiction of major lines of communication. Several strikes were flwon against ground targets and aircraft recovered damaged due to ground fire. Only one other aircraft was lost on these missions. Sqn Ldr RK Uppal was shot down over the Lahore front on September 11. Targets attacked included the BRB Canal, Sialkot sector, Pasrur airfield and numerous targets of Oppurtunity. When the paratrooper menace was at its hight and the tall sarkanda grass in the airfield was providing good hiding places for the enemy snipers, Sqn Ldr Handa had the privilage of taking off in a Mystere and strafing the grass in the outlying areas with his cannon, thus becoming the only pilot to strafe his own airbase! There were other unique happenings too. Flt Lt JP Singh once came back from a low level strike with telephone wires wrapped around his rocket pods!

Click to Enlarge No.1 Squadron personnel from the 1965 War. Click on the image for larger picture and names.

In the course of the war, the squadron flew a total of 128 strike missions and 46 Combat Air Patrol sorties. In recognition of their outstanding contribution to the war effort the Tigers were awarded 1 MVC(Posthumous), 3 VrCs, 2 VMs and 2 VSMs. The Maha Vir Chakra came over two decades later, based on reports and eyewitness accounts it was firmly established that Sqn Ldr Devayya had in fact shot down the enemy Starfighter in aerial combat before going down himself. The richly deserved MVC was awarded to the gallant officer posthumously on 26 Jan 88. The Vir Chakra awards went to the CO Wg Cdr Taneja, Sqn Ldr Sudarshan Handa and Flt Lt DMS Kahai as narrated earlier. Sqn Ldr PR Earle and Flt Lt VK Verma received the VMs.

In July 1966, still under the Command of Wing Commander OP Taneja, the Tigers were re-equipped with the supersonic Mach-2 class, all weather interceptor- the MiG-21 FL. Even though the squadron had only two Qualified Instructors, the conversion to the FL proceeded with Gusto and at a pace that left even the neighboruing 28 Squadron, the pioneers of the MiG-21 gasping for breath. Wg Cdr Taneja handed over command to Wg Cdr SK Dahar VrC, a well decorated pilot who flew the first sortie of the 1965 War. Dahar, however was lost in a MiG-21 crash immediately after the Republic day flypast of 1968. The command of the squadron was passed onto Wg Cdr Mishra.

18 October 1968 was a red letter day for the squadron. It was singularly honoured on that day, when the President, Dr Zakir Hussain, presented the Tigers, the President's Colours at an impressive ceremony held at Air Force Station, Adampur. The Tigers had clocked another First.

When the 1971 Indo-Pak War , The squadron was under the command of Wg Cdr Upkar Singh and based at Adampur. The squadron was tasked with the Air Defence of Punjab sector and providing air cover to our own attacking formations deep inside enemy territory.

Operating from Adampur, the Tigers defended the air space assigned to them so well that but for one unsuccessful pre-emptive strike on Dec 3rd, not a single enemy aircraft could penetrate into our territory. On that day two MiG-21s were scrambled to intercept PAF Mirages attacking Amritsar's Rajasansi airport, but the enemy aircraft scurried back without giving a fight.

In addition all strike missions escorted by the Tigers achieved their objectives and returned safely. Wg Cdr Upkar Singh led a strike against Chander and Rahwali which went unopposed. On December 6, The MiG-21s escorted Su-7s on a strike in Sialkot. The PAF was not encountered in any of these missions. The first encounter happened on December 8. Two MiG-21s escorting Su-7s were bounced by Mirage IIIs. The MiGs broke into the attackers and were getting onto the tails of the attackers when a confused call resulted in the Mirages going into escape maneuvers and going out of the fight.

The next day on December 9, four Mirage IIIs attacked Pathankot and as they were exiting the area were bounced by the Tigers. Two K-13s were launched and one proximity hit was recorded. The enemy aircraft dissappearing over the horizon and off the radar scope. The Squadron was given a 'probable' kill.

Several night sorties were flown. The only loss occurred on one of these sorties on 11th Dec 71, when Flt Lt Ashok Balwant Dhavle was lost to friendly fire in a case of mistaken identity. The Squadron also operated a detachment of two aircraft that were sent regularly to Pathankot.

The sorties put out by the Tigers was phenomenal, a grand total of 513 sorties! Wg Cdr Upkar Singh was awarded the AVSM. In addition one Vr C was awarded to Sqn Ldr S Subburamu. 3 VMs and 9 Mention-in-Despatches were awarded to the Squadron.

Post 71-85: a period of consolidation

No.1 Squadron continued to be based at Adampur for the next ten years with Wg Cdr Upkar Singh as commanding Officer till 24 Sep 1973 when he handed over the Tigers to Wg Cdr Brijesh Jayal. After Wg Cdr Brijesh Jayal's tenure, the reins of No.1 were assumed by Wg Cdr Keith Lewis on 17 Feb 1976 for over two years, and then by Wg Cdr P R Jaindass from Jan 1981 to May 1983. It was in this tenure that the Tiger's celebrated their Golden Jubilee, the Squadron meanwhile having been relocated at Gorakhpur in Feb 1982, after a record period of stay at Adampur. The Commodore Commandant on 1 April 1983 was Air Marshal TS 'Timky' Brar, who had commanded No.1 Squadron in 1953.

Shortly thereafter, Wg Cdr TJ Master took over and commanded the Squadron till 24 August 1984, when he handed over to Wg Cdr GM Viswanathan, who was at the helm when the Tigers moved further east, to Hashimara, in the eastern Dooars, in 1985.

Tigers And The Mirage-2000

Due to the personal intervention of the CAS, Air Chief Marshal Katre, No.1 was designated as one of the two units to re-equip with the state of the art Mirage-2000 in 1985, its older MiG-21s being operated "transferred" to the newly-raised No. 52 Squadron.

The first seven Mirage -2000s arrived on 21 June 1985. After six months of operations in India, on 1 January 1986 , No. 1 Squadron formally came into being at Gwalior with Wg Cdr PS Ahluwalia taking over as the first CO of the Mirage-2000 equipped Tigers . Normal flying operations were commenced the very next day. The Squadron flew a total of 220 Hrs in the very first month of operations with this new class of fighters. Under the able guidance of Wg Cdr P S Ahluwalia the Squadron played a very active role and was instrumental in development of tactics for the new weapon platform, most of which are in vogue even to this day. He also took up the formidable task of formulating the syllabus and SOPs for this new induction.

Wg Cdr PS Ahluwalia handed over the reins of the Tigers to Wg Cdr SU Apte in May 88. Wg Cdr Apte commanded the Squadron till April 1990 after which Wg Cdr NA Moitra led the Tigers for another two years before handing over to Wg Cdr Anil Chopra in April 1992 in whose able hands the squadron flew into the Diamond Jubilee of its destiny.

The Tigers celebrated their Diamond Jubilee in a grand manner in 1993. Incidentally, the Air Force too celebrated its Diamond Jubilee this year and the Squadron celebrations saw the who's-who of the entire Air Force under one roof. Wg Cdr SS Dhanda took over the command of Tigers in May 94 and he was succeeded by Wg Cdr Daljit Singh in Nov 95 who commanded the Squadron till Dec 97, after which the reins of the Squadron were handed over to Wg Cdr Neelakanthan.

Kargil Operations in May 1999 - Op Safed Sagar

In May 99, the Tigers, now with Mirage-2000's ASF's, were deployed at Ambala for Op Safed Sagar. From Ambala the Tigers were tasked for Elint and AD Escorts missions to PR/ ARC ac and strike missions. A total of 234 operational sorties were flown from Ambala which included a few missions at night.

As a contingency, a few aircraft moved to Jodhpur, where the squadron flew 153 sorties consisting of AD Escorts missions and trials. Air Commodore Ahluwalia, then the Air Officer Commanding of Air Force Station Gwalior under took several trials which went on to pave the path to one of the greatest successes for any Air Force operating in mountainous terrain. Throughout the operations, the Tigers maintained a high serviceability of aircraft and only one mission was aborted during the entire duration of Op Safed Sagar, which lasted for more than two months. Once again the Tigers lived up to the true traditions of the Air Force and executed the job with flawless professionalism. Wg Cdr S Neelakantan, VM was awarded the YSM for Op Safed Sagar. In addition seven Mention-in-Despatches were awarded to the squadron.

Not allowing their recent achievements to slow them, the Tigers tirelessly continue to train for even higher operational standards. Presently under the command of Wg Cdr Neeraj Yadav the squadron personnel relentlessly work to attain higher standards of professional excellence. The Tigers performed exceptionally well in Exercise VAYUSPRADHA and were declared the "Best Fighter Sqn" for the year 1999-2000. Thus the Tigers continue to carry the baton well into the Twenty First Century


The IAF's mission is defined by the Armed Forces Act of 1947, the Constitution of India, and the Air Force Act of 1950. [17] It decrees that in the aerial battlespace:

Defence of India and every part there of including preparation for defence and all such acts as may be conducive in times of war to its prosecution and after its termination to effective demobilisation.

In practice, this is taken as a directive meaning the IAF bears the responsibility of safeguarding Indian airspace and thus furthering national interests in conjunction with the other branches of the armed forces. The IAF provides close air support to the Indian Army troops on the battlefield as well as strategic and tactical airlift capabilities. The Integrated Space Cell is operated by the Indian Armed Forces, the civilian Department of Space, and the Indian Space Research Organisation. By uniting the civilian run space exploration organisations and the military faculty under a single Integrated Space Cell the military is able to efficiently benefit from innovation in the civilian sector of space exploration, and the civilian departments benefit as well. [ clarification needed ] [18] [19]

The Indian Air Force, with highly trained crews, pilots, and access to modern military assets provides India with the capacity to provide rapid response evacuation, search-and-rescue (SAR) operations, and delivery of relief supplies to affected areas via cargo aircraft. [20] The IAF provided extensive assistance to relief operations during natural calamities such as the Gujarat cyclone in 1998, the tsunami in 2004, and North India floods in 2013. [20] The IAF has also undertaken relief missions such as Operation Rainbow in Sri Lanka. [20]

Formation and early pilots

The Indian Air Force was established on 8 October 1932 in British India as an auxiliary air force [21] of the Royal Air Force. The enactment of the Indian Air Force Act 1932 [22] [23] stipulated out their auxiliary status and enforced the adoption of the Royal Air Force uniforms, badges, brevets and insignia. [24] On 1 April 1933, the IAF commissioned its first squadron, No.1 Squadron, with four Westland Wapiti biplanes and five Indian pilots. The Indian pilots were led by British RAF Commanding officer Flight Lieutenant (later Air Vice Marshal) Cecil Bouchier. [25]

World War II (1939–1945)

During World War II, the IAF played an instrumental role in halting the advance of the Japanese army in Burma, where the first IAF air strike was executed. The target for this first mission was the Japanese military base in Arakan, after which IAF strike missions continued against the Japanese airbases at Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand.

The IAF was mainly involved in strike, close air support, aerial reconnaissance, bomber escort and pathfinding missions for RAF and USAAF heavy bombers. RAF and IAF pilots would train by flying with their non-native air wings to gain combat experience and communication proficiency. Besides operations in the Burma Theatre IAF pilots participated in air operations in North Africa and Europe. [26]

In addition to the IAF, many native Indians and some 200 Indians resident in Britain volunteered to join the RAF and Women's Auxiliary Air Force. One such volunteer was Sergeant Shailendra Eknath Sukthankar, who served as a navigator with No. 83 Squadron. Sukthankar was commissioned as an officer, and on 14 September 1943, received the DFC. Squadron Leader Sukthankar eventually completed 45 operations, 14 of them on board the RAF Museum’s Avro Lancaster R5868. Another volunteer was Assistant Section Officer Noor Inayat Khan a Muslim pacifist and Indian nationalist who joined the WAAF, in November 1940, to fight against Nazism. Noor Khan served bravely as a secret agent with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in France, but was eventually betrayed and captured. [26] Many of these Indian airmen were seconded or transferred to the expanding IAF such as Squadron Leader Mohinder Singh Pujji DFC who led No. 4 Squadron IAF in Burma.

During the war, the IAF experienced a phase of steady expansion. New aircraft added to the fleet included the US-built Vultee Vengeance, Douglas Dakota, the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire, and Westland Lysander.

In recognition of the valiant service by the IAF, King George VI conferred the prefix "Royal" in 1945. Thereafter the IAF was referred to as the Royal Indian Air Force. In 1950, when India became a republic, the prefix was dropped and it reverted to being the Indian Air Force. [27]

First years of independence (1947–1950)

After it became independent from the British Empire in 1947, British India was partitioned into the new states of the Dominion of India and the Dominion of Pakistan. Along the lines of the geographical partition, the assets of the air force were divided between the new countries. India's air force retained the name of the Royal Indian Air Force, but three of the ten operational squadrons and facilities, located within the borders of Pakistan, were transferred to the Royal Pakistan Air Force. [28] The RIAF Roundel was changed to an interim 'Chakra' roundel derived from the Ashoka Chakra. [16]

Around the same time, conflict broke out between them over the control of the princely state of Jammu & Kashmir. With Pakistani forces moving into the state, its Maharaja decided to accede to India in order to receive military help. [29] The day after, the Instrument of Accession was signed, the RIAF was called upon to transport troops into the war zone. And this was when a good management of logistics came into help. [29] This led to the eruption of full-scale war between India and Pakistan, though there was no formal declaration of war. [30] During the war, the RIAF did not engage the Pakistan Air Force in air-to-air combat however, it did provide effective transport and close air support to the Indian troops. [31]

When India became a republic in 1950, the prefix 'Royal' was dropped from the Indian Air Force. [32] At the same time, the current IAF roundel was adopted. [16]

Congo crisis and Annexation of Goa (1960–1961)

The IAF saw significant conflict in 1960, when Belgium's 75-year rule over Congo ended abruptly, engulfing the nation in widespread violence and rebellion. [33] The IAF activated No. 5 Squadron, equipped with English Electric Canberra, to support the United Nations Operation in the Congo. The squadron started undertaking operational missions in November. [34] The unit remained there until 1966, when the UN mission ended. [34] Operating from Leopoldville and Kamina, the Canberras soon destroyed the rebel Air Force and provided the UN ground forces with its only long-range air support force. [35]

In late 1961, the Indian government decided to attack the Portuguese colony of Goa after years of disagreement between New Delhi and Lisbon. [36] The Indian Air Force was requested to provide support elements to the ground force in what was called Operation Vijay. Probing flights by some fighters and bombers were carried out from 8–18 December to draw out the Portuguese Air Force, but to no avail. [36] On 18 December, two waves of Canberra bombers bombed the runway of Dabolim airfield taking care not to bomb the Terminals and the ATC tower. Two Portuguese transport aircraft (a Super Constellation and a DC-6) found on the airfield were left alone so that they could be captured intact. However the Portuguese pilots managed to take off the aircraft from the still damaged airfield and made their getaway to Portugal. [36] Hunters attacked the wireless station at Bambolim. Vampires were used to provide air support to the ground forces. [36] In Daman, Mystères were used to strike Portuguese gun positions. [36] Ouragans (called Toofanis in the IAF) bombed the runways at Diu and destroyed the control tower, wireless station and the meteorological station. After the Portuguese surrendered the former colony was integrated into India. [36]

Border disputes and changes in the IAF (1962–1971)

In 1962, border disagreements between China and India escalated to a war when China mobilised its troops across the Indian border. [37] During the Sino-Indian War, India's military planners failed to deploy and effectively use the IAF against the invading Chinese forces. This resulted in India losing a significant amount of advantage to the Chinese especially in Jammu and Kashmir. [37]

On 24 April 1965, an Indian Ouragan strayed over the Pakistani border and was forced to land by a Pakistani Lockheed F-104 Starfighter, the pilot was returned to India however, the captured aircraft would be kept by the Pakistan Air Force and ended up being displayed at the PAF museum in Peshawar. [38]

Three years after the Sino-Indian conflict, in 1965, Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar, strategy of Pakistan to infiltrate Jammu and Kashmir, and start a rebellion against Indian rule. This came to be known as the Second Kashmir War. [39] This was the first time the IAF actively engaged an enemy air force. [40] However, instead of providing close air support to the Indian Army, [41] the IAF carried out independent raids against PAF bases. [42] These bases were situated deep inside Pakistani territory, making IAF fighters vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire. [43] During the course of the conflict, the PAF enjoyed technological superiority over the IAF and had achieved substantial strategic and tactical advantage due to the suddenness of the attack and advanced state of their air force. [39] The IAF was restrained by the government from retaliating to PAF attacks in the eastern sector while a substantive part of its combat force was deployed there and could not be transferred to the western sector, against the possibility of Chinese intervention. Moreover, international (UN) stipulations and norms did not permit military force to be introduced into the Indian state of J&K beyond what was agreed during the 1949 ceasefire. [39] Despite this, the IAF was able to prevent the PAF from gaining air superiority over conflict zones. [44] The small and nimble IAF Folland Gnats proved effective against the F-86 Sabres of the PAF earning it the nickname "Sabre Slayers". [ citation needed ] By the time the conflict had ended, the IAF lost 60–70 aircraft, while the PAF lost 43 aircraft. [39] More than 60% of IAF's aircraft losses took place in Ground Attack missions to enemy ground-fire, since fighter-bomber aircraft would carry out repeated dive attacks on the same target. According to, Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh of the Indian Air Force, despite having been qualitatively inferior, IAF achieved air superiority in three days in the 1965 War. [45]

After the 1965 war, the IAF underwent a series of changes to improve its capabilities. In 1966, the Para Commandos regiment was created. [46] To increase its logistics supply and rescue operations ability, the IAF inducted 72 HS 748s which were built by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) under licence from Avro. [47] India started to put more stress on indigenous manufacture of fighter aircraft. As a result, HAL HF-24 Marut, designed by the famed German aerospace engineer Kurt Tank, [48] were inducted into the air force. HAL also started developing an improved version of the Folland Gnat, known as HAL Ajeet. [49] At the same time, the IAF also started inducting Mach 2 capable Soviet MiG-21 and Sukhoi Su-7 fighters. [50]

Bangladesh Liberation War (1971)

By late 1971, the intensification of the independence movement in East Pakistan lead to the Bangladesh Liberation War between India and Pakistan. [51] On 22 November 1971, 10 days before the start of a full-scale war, four PAF F-86 Sabre jets attacked Indian and Mukti Bahini positions at Garibpur, near the international border. Two of the four PAF Sabres were shot down and one damaged by the IAF's Folland Gnats. [52] On 3 December, India formally declared war against Pakistan following massive preemptive strikes by the PAF against Indian Air Force installations in Srinagar, Ambala, Sirsa, Halwara and Jodhpur. However, the IAF did not suffer significantly because the leadership had anticipated such a move and precautions were taken. [53] The Indian Air Force was quick to respond to Pakistani air strikes, following which the PAF carried out mostly defensive sorties. [54]

Within the first two weeks, the IAF had carried out almost 12,000 sorties over East Pakistan and also provided close air support to the advancing Indian Army. [55] IAF also assisted the Indian Navy in its operations against the Pakistani Navy and Maritime Security Agency in the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea. On the western front, the IAF destroyed more than 20 Pakistani tanks, [56] 4 APCs and a supply train during the Battle of Longewala. [57] The IAF undertook strategic bombing of West Pakistan by carrying out raids on oil installations in Karachi, the Mangla Dam and a gas plant in Sindh. [58] Similar strategy was also deployed in East Pakistan and as the IAF achieved complete air superiority on the eastern front, the ordnance factories, runways, and other vital areas of East Pakistan were severely damaged. [59] By the time Pakistani forces surrendered, the IAF destroyed 94 PAF Aircraft [60] The IAF was able to conduct a wide range of missions – troop support air combat deep penetration strikes para-dropping behind enemy lines feints to draw enemy fighters away from the actual target bombing and reconnaissance. In contrast, the Pakistan Air Force, which was solely focused on air combat, was blown out of the subcontinent's skies within the first week of the war. Those PAF aircraft that survived took refuge at Iranian air bases or in concrete bunkers, refusing to offer a fight. [61] Hostilities officially ended at 14:30 GMT on 17 December, after the fall of Dacca on 15 December. India claimed large gains of territory in West Pakistan (although pre-war boundaries were recognised after the war), and the independence of Pakistan's East wing as Bangladesh was confirmed. The IAF had flown over 16,000 sorties [55] on both East and West fronts including sorties by transport aircraft and helicopters. [55] while the PAF flew about 30 and 2,840. More than 80 per cent of the IAF's sorties were close-support and interdiction, and according to neutral assessments about 45 IAF Aircraft were lost while, Pakistan lost 75 aircraft. [62] Not including any F-6s, Mirage IIIs, or the six Jordanian F-104s which failed to return to their donors. But the imbalance in air losses was explained by the IAF's considerably higher sortie rate, and its emphasis on ground-attack missions. On the ground Pakistan suffered most, with 9,000 killed and 25,000 wounded while India lost 3,000 dead and 12,000 wounded. The loss of armoured vehicles was similarly imbalanced. This represented a major defeat for Pakistan. [63] Towards the end of the war, IAF's transport planes dropped leaflets over Dhaka urging the Pakistani forces to surrender, demoralising Pakistani troops in East Pakistan. [64]

Incidents before Kargil (1984–1988)

In 1984, India launched Operation Meghdoot to capture the Siachen Glacier in the contested Kashmir region. [65] In Op Meghdoot, IAF's Mi-8, Chetak and Cheetah helicopters airlifted hundreds of Indian troops to Siachen. [66] Launched on 13 April 1984, this military operation was unique because of Siachen's inhospitable terrain and climate. The military action was successful, given the fact that under a previous agreement, neither Pakistan nor India had stationed any personnel in the area. With India's successful Operation Meghdoot, it gained control of the Siachen Glacier. India has established control over all of the 70 kilometres (43 mi) long Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge immediately west of the glacier—Sia La, Bilafond La, and Gyong La. Pakistan controls the glacial valleys immediately west of the Saltoro Ridge. [67] [68] According to TIME magazine, India gained more than 3,000 square kilometres (1,000 sq mi) of territory because of its military operations in Siachen. [69]

Following the inability to negotiate an end to the Sri Lankan Civil War, and to provide humanitarian aid through an unarmed convoy of ships, [70] the Indian Government decided to carry out an airdrop of the humanitarian supplies on the evening of 4 June 1987 designated Operation Poomalai (Tamil: Garland) or Eagle Mission 4. [70] Five An-32s escorted by four Mirage 2000 of 7 Sqn AF, 'The Battleaxes', carried out the supply drop which faced no opposition from the Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Another Mirage 2000 orbited 150 km away, acting as an airborne relay of messages to the entire fleet since they would be outside radio range once they descended to low levels. The Mirage 2000 escort formation was led by Wg Cdr Ajit Bhavnani, with Sqn Ldrs Bakshi, NA Moitra and JS Panesar as his team members and Sqn Ldr KG Bewoor as the relay pilot. [70] [71] Sri Lanka accused India of "blatant violation of sovereignty". [70] India insisted that it was acting only on humanitarian grounds. [70]

In 1987, the IAF supported the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in northern and eastern Sri Lanka in Operation Pawan. About 70,000 sorties were flown by the IAF's transport and helicopter force in support of nearly 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces without a single aircraft lost or mission aborted. [72] IAF An-32s maintained a continuous air link between air bases in South India and Northern Sri Lanka transporting men, equipment, rations and evacuating casualties. [72] Mi-8s supported the ground forces and also provided air transportation to the Sri Lankan civil administration during the elections. [72] Mi-25s of No. 125 Helicopter Unit were utilised to provide suppressive fire against militant strong points and to interdict coastal and clandestine riverine traffic. [72]

On the night of 3 November 1988, the Indian Air Force mounted special operations to airlift a parachute battalion group from Agra, non-stop over 2,000 kilometres (1,200 mi) to the remote Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives in response to Maldivian president Gayoom's request for military help against a mercenary invasion in Operation Cactus. The IL-76s of No. 44 Squadron landed at Hulhule at 0030 hours and the Indian paratroopers secured the airfield and restored Government rule at Male within hours. [73] Four Mirage 2000 aircraft of 7 Sqn, led by Wg Cdr AV 'Doc' Vaidya, carried out a show of force early that morning, making low-level passes over the islands.

Kargil War (1999)

On 11 May 1999, the Indian Air Force was called in to provide close air support to the Indian Army at the height of the ongoing Kargil conflict with the use of helicopters. [73] The IAF strike was code named Operation Safed Sagar. [73] The first strikes were launched on 26 May, when the Indian Air Force struck infiltrator positions with fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships. [74] The initial strikes saw MiG-27s carrying out offensive sorties, with MiG-21s and later MiG-29s providing fighter cover. [75] The IAF also deployed its radars and the MiG-29 fighters in vast numbers to keep check on Pakistani military movements across the border. [76] Srinagar Airport was at this time closed to civilian air-traffic and dedicated to the Indian Air Force. [74]

On 27 May, the Indian Air Force suffered its first fatality when it lost a MiG-21 and a MiG-27 in quick succession. [77] [78] The following day, while on an offensive sortie, a Mi-17 was shot down by three Stinger missiles and lost its entire crew of four. [75] Following these losses the IAF immediately withdrew helicopters from offensive roles as a measure against the threat of Man-portable air-defence systems (MANPAD). On 30 May, the Mirage 2000s were introduced in offensive capability, as they were deemed better in performance under the high-altitude conditions of the conflict zone. Mirage 2000s were not only better equipped to counter the MANPAD threat compared to the MiGs, but also gave IAF the ability to carry out aerial raids at night. [79] The MiG-29s were used extensively to provide fighter escort to the Mirage 2000. [80] Radar transmissions of Pakistani F-16s were picked up repeatedly, but these aircraft stayed away. The Mirages successfully targeted enemy camps and logistic bases in Kargil and severely disrupted their supply lines. [81] Mirage 2000s were used for strikes on Muntho Dhalo and the heavily defended Tiger Hill and paved the way for their early recapture. [75] At the height of the conflict, the IAF was conducting over forty sorties daily over the Kargil region. [80] By 26 July, the Indian forces had successfully repulsed the Pakistani forces from Kargil. [82]

Post Kargil incidents (1999–present)

Since the late 1990s, the Indian Air Force has been modernising its fleet to counter challenges in the new century. The fleet size of the IAF has decreased to 33 squadrons during this period because of the retirement of older aircraft. Still, India maintains the fourth largest air force in the world. The IAF plans to raise its strength to 42 squadrons. [83] Self-reliance is the main aim that is being pursued by the defence research and manufacturing agencies.

On 10 August 1999, IAF MiG-21s intercepted a Pakistan Navy Breguet Atlantique which was flying over Sir Creek, a disputed territory. The aircraft was shot down killing all 16 Pakistani Navy personnel on board. [84] India claimed that the Atlantic was on a mission to gather information on IAF air defence, [85] a charge emphatically rejected by Pakistan which argued that the unarmed aircraft was on a training mission. [86]

On 2 August 2002, the Indian Air Force bombed Pakistani posts along the Line of Control in the Kel sector, following inputs about Pakistani military buildup near the sector. [87]

On 20 August 2013, the Indian Air Force created a world record by performing the highest landing of a C-130J at the Daulat Beg Oldi airstrip in Ladakh at the height of 5,065 metres (16,617 ft). [88] [89] The medium-lift aircraft will be used to deliver troops, supplies and improve communication networks. The aircraft belonged to the Veiled Vipers squadron based at Hindon Air Force Station. [90]

On 13 July 2014, two MiG-21s were sent from Jodhpur Air Base to investigate a Turkish Airlines aircraft over Jaisalmer when it repeated an identification code, provided by another commercial passenger plane that had already entered Indian airspace before it. The flights were on their way to Mumbai and Delhi, and the planes were later allowed to proceed after their credentials were verified. [91]

2019 Balakot airstrike

Following heightened tensions between India and Pakistan after the 2019 Pulwama attack that was carried out by Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) which killed forty-six servicemen of the Central Reserve Police Force, [92] [93] a group of twelve Mirage 2000 fighter planes from the Indian Air Force carried out air strikes on alleged JeM bases in Chakothi and Muzaffarabad in the Pakistan-administered Kashmir. Furthermore, the Mirage 2000s targeted an alleged JeM training camp in Balakot, a town in the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistan claimed that the Indian aircraft had only dropped bombs in the forest area demolishing pine trees near the Jaba village which is 19 kilometres (12 mi) away from Balakot [94] and Indian officials claimed to bomb and kill a large number of terrorists in the airstrike. [95]

2019 India–Pakistan standoff

On 27 February 2019, in retaliation for the IAF bombing of an alleged terrorist hideout in Balakot, a group of PAF Mirage-5 and JF-17 fighters allegedly conducted an airstrike against certain ground targets across the Line of Control. They were intercepted by a group of IAF fighters consisting of Su-30MKI and MiG-21 jets. An ensuing dogfight began. According to India, one PAF F-16 was shot down by an IAF MIG-21 piloted by Abhinandan Varthaman, while Pakistan denied use of F-16s in the operation. According to Pakistan, a MiG-21 and a Su30MKI were shot down, while India claims that only the MiG-21 was shot down. While the downed MiG-21's pilot had ejected successfully, he landed in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, and was captured by the Pakistan military. Before his capture he was assaulted by a few locals. After a couple of days of captivity, the captured pilot was released by Pakistan per Third Geneva convention [96] obligations. While Pakistan denied involvement of any of its F-16 aircraft in the strike, the IAF presented remnants of AMRAAM missiles that are only carried by the F-16s within the PAF as proof of their involvement. [97] The US-based ''Foreign Policy'' magazine, quoting unnamed US officials, reported in April 2019 that an audit didn't find any Pakistani F-16s missing. [98] However, the same has not been confirmed by US Official citing it as bilateral matter between US and Pakistan [99]

The President of India is the Supreme Commander of all Indian armed forces and by virtue of that fact is the national Commander-in-chief of the Air Force. The Chief of the Air Staff with the rank of Air chief marshal is the Commander

Post Current Holder
Chief of the Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria, PVSM, AVSM, VM, ADC [100]
Vice Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Harjit Singh Arora, PVSM, AVSM, ADC [101]
Deputy Chief of the Air Staff Air Marshal Suraj Kumar Jha [102]
Air Officer in Charge of Administration Air Marshal Vijay Pal Singh Rana, VSM [103]
Air Officer in Charge of Personnel Air Marshal Richard John Duckworth, AVSM, VSM [104]
Air Officer in Charge of Maintenance Air Marshal Vibhas Pande, VSM [105]
Director General of Inspection and Flight Safety Air Marshal Gurcharan Singh Bedi, AVSM, VM, VSM [106]
Director General of Medical Services (Air) Air Marshal Prashant Bharadwaj, VSM, [107]

In January 2002, the government conferred the rank of Marshal of the Indian Air Force on Arjan Singh making him the first and only Five-star officer with the Indian Air Force and ceremonial chief of the air force. [108]


The Indian Air Force is divided into five operational and two functional commands. Each Command is headed by an Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief with the rank of Air Marshal. The purpose of an operational command is to conduct military operations using aircraft within its area of responsibility, whereas the responsibility of functional commands is to maintain combat readiness. Aside from the Training Command at Bangalore, the primary flight training is done at the Air Force Academy (located in Hyderabad), followed by operational training at various other schools. Advanced officer training for command positions is also conducted at the Defence Services Staff College specialised advanced flight training schools are located at Bidar, Karnataka and Hakimpet, Telangana (also the location for helicopter training). Technical schools are found at a number of other locations. [109]

Name Headquarters Commander
Central Air Command (CAC) Prayagraj, Uttar Pradesh Air Marshal Richard John Duckworth, AVSM, VSM [110] [111]
Eastern Air Command (EAC) Shillong, Meghalaya Air Marshal Amit Dev, AVSM, VM [112]
Southern Air Command (SAC) Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala Air Marshal Manavendra Singh, AVSM, VrC, VSM [113]
South Western Air Command (SWAC) Gandhinagar, Gujarat Air Marshal Sandeep Singh, AVSM, VM [114]
Western Air Command (WAC) New Delhi Air Marshal Vivek Ram Chaudhari, PSVM, AVSM, VM [115]
Training Command (TC)+ Bengaluru, Karnataka Air Marshal Rajiv Dayal Mathur, PVSM, AVSM, VSM [116]
Maintenance Command (MC)+ Nagpur, Maharashtra Air Marshal Shashiker Choudhary, VSM [117]

Note: + = Functional Command


A wing is a formation intermediate between a command and a squadron. It generally consists of two or three IAF squadrons and helicopter units, along with forward base support units (FBSU). FBSUs do not have or host any squadrons or helicopter units but act as transit airbases for routine operations. In times of war, they can become fully fledged air bases playing host to various squadrons. In all, about 47 wings and 19 FBSUs make up the IAF. [118] [119] Wings are typically commanded by an air commodore. [120]


Within each operational command are anywhere from nine to sixteen bases or stations. Smaller than wings, but similarly organised, stations are static units commanded by a group captain. [120] A station typically has one wing and one or two squadrons assigned to it.

Squadrons and units

Squadrons are the field units and formations attached to static locations. Thus, a flying squadron or unit is a sub-unit of an air force station which carries out the primary task of the IAF. A fighter squadron consists of 18 aircraft all fighter squadrons are headed by a commanding officer with the rank of wing commander. [121] Some transport squadrons and helicopter units are headed by a commanding officer with the rank of group captain.


Flights are sub-divisions of squadrons, commanded by a squadron leader. Each flight consists of two sections. [122]


The smallest unit is the section, led by a flight lieutenant. Each section consists of three aircraft.

Within this formation structure, IAF has several service branches for day-to-day operations. They are: [123]

  • Flying
  • Engineering
  • Logistics
  • Administration
  • Accounts
  • Education
  • Medical & Dental
  • Meteorological

Garud Commando Force

The Garud commandos are the special forces of the Indian Air Force (IAF). Their tasks include counter-terrorism, hostage rescue, providing security to IAF's vulnerably located assets and various air force-specific special operations. First conceived in 2002, this unit was officially established on February 6, 2004. [124]

All Garuds are volunteers who are imparted a 52-week basic training, which includes a three-month probation followed by special operations training, basic airborne training and other warfare and survival skills. The last phase of basic training sees Garuds been deployed to get combat experience. Advanced training follows, which includes specialised weapons training. [124] [125]

The mandated tasks of the Garuds include direct action, special reconnaissance, rescuing downed pilots in hostile territory, establishing airbases in hostile territory and providing air-traffic control to these airbases. [126] The Garuds also undertake suppression of enemy air defences and the destruction of other enemy assets such as radars, evaluation of the outcomes of Indian airstrikes and use laser designators to guide Indian airstrikes. [127]

The security of IAF installations and assets are usually performed by the Air Force Police and the Defence Security Corps even though some critical assets are protected by the Garuds. [124]

Integrated Space Cell

An Integrated Space Cell, which will be jointly operated by all the three services of the Indian armed forces, the civilian Department of Space and the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) has been set up to utilise more effectively the country's space-based assets for military purposes. [18] [19] This command will leverage space technology including satellites. Unlike an aerospace command, where the air force controls most of its activities, the Integrated Space Cell envisages co-operation and co-ordination between the three services as well as civilian agencies dealing with space. [128]

India currently has 10 [129] remote sensing satellites in orbit. Though most are not meant to be dedicated military satellites, some have a spatial resolution of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in) or below which can be also used for military applications. Noteworthy satellites include the Technology Experiment Satellite (TES) which has a panchromatic camera (PAN) with a resolution of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in), [130] the RISAT-2 which is capable of imaging in all-weather conditions and has a resolution of 1 metre (3 ft 3 in), [131] the CARTOSAT-2, CARTOSAT-2A [132] [133] and CARTOSAT-2B [134] which carries a panchromatic camera which has a resolution of 800 millimetres or 31 inches (black and white only).

Display teams

The Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) (Surya Kiran is Sanskrit for Sun Rays) is an aerobatics demonstration team of the Indian Air Force. They were formed in 1996 and are successors to the Thunderbolts. [135] The team has a total of 13 pilots (selected from the fighter stream of the IAF) and operate 9 HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 trainer aircraft [135] painted in a "day-glo orange" and white colour scheme. The Surya Kiran team were conferred squadron status in 2006, and presently have the designation of 52 Squadron ("The Sharks"). [136] The team is based at the Indian Air Force Station at Bidar. [135] The IAF has begun the process of converting Surya Kirans to BAE Hawks. [137]

Sarang (Sanskrit for Peacock) is the Helicopter Display Team of the Indian Air Force. The team was formed in October 2003 and their first public performance was at the Asian Aerospace Show, Singapore, 2004. [138] The team flies four HAL Dhruvs [139] painted in red and white with a peacock figure at each side of the fuselage. The team is based at the Sulur Air Force Station, Coimbatore.

Over the years reliable sources provided notably divergent estimates of the personnel strength of the Indian Air Force after analysing open-source intelligence. The public policy organisation had estimated that the IAF had an estimated strength of 110,000 active personnel in 1994. [109] In 2006, Anthony Cordesman estimated that strength to be 170,000 in the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) publication "The Asian Conventional Military Balance in 2006". [140] In 2010, James Hackett revised that estimate to an approximate strength of 127,000 active personnel in the IISS publication "Military Balance 2010". [141]

As of 1 July 2017 [update] , the Indian Air Force has a sanctioned strength of 12,550 officers (12,404 serving with 146 under strength), and 142,529 airmen (127,172 serving with 15,357 under strength). [142] [143]

Rank structure

The rank structure of the Indian Air Force is based on that of the Royal Air Force. The highest rank attainable in the IAF is Marshal of the Indian Air Force, conferred by the President of India after exceptional service during wartime. MIAF Arjan Singh is the only officer to have achieved this rank. The head of the Indian Air Force is the Chief of the Air Staff, who holds the rank of Air Chief Marshal.


Anyone holding Indian citizenship can apply to be an officer in the Air Force as long as they satisfy the eligibility criteria. There are four entry points to become an officer. Male applicants, who are between the ages of 16 1 / 2 and 19 and have passed high school graduation, can apply at the Intermediate level. [144] Men and women applicants, who have graduated from college (three-year course) and are between the ages of 18 and 28, can apply at the Graduate level entry. [145] Graduates of engineering colleges can apply at the Engineer level if they are between the ages of 18 and 28 years. The age limit for the flying and ground duty branch is 23 years of age and for technical branch is 28 years of age. [146] After completing a master's degree, men and women between the ages of 18 and 28 years can apply at the Post Graduate level. Post graduate applicants do not qualify for the flying branch. For the technical branch the age limit is 28 years and for the ground duty branch it is 25. [147] At the time of application, all applicants below 25 years of age must be single. [148] The IAF selects candidates for officer training from these applicants. After completion of training, a candidate is commissioned as a Flying Officer. [149]

  1. ^Risaldar major in cavalry and armoured regiments
  2. ^Risaldar in cavalry and armoured regiments
  3. ^Naib risaldar in cavalry and armoured regiments.
    Called jemadar until 1965.


The duty of an airman is to make sure that all the air and ground operations run smoothly. From operating Air Defence systems to fitting missiles, they are involved in all activities of an air base and give support to various technical and non-technical jobs. [150] The airmen of Technical trades are responsible for maintenance, repair and prepare for use the propulsion system of aircraft and other airborne weapon delivery system, Radar, Voice/Data transmission and reception equipment, latest airborne weapon delivery systems, all types of light, mechanical, hydraulic, pneumatic systems of airborne missiles, aero engines, aircraft fuelling equipment and heavy duty mechanical vehicles, cranes and loading equipment etc. [151] The competent and qualified Airmen from Technical trades also participate in flying as Flight Engineers, Flight Signallers and Flight Gunners. The recruitment of personnel below officer rank is conducted through All India Selection Tests and Recruitment Rallies. All India Selection Tests are conducted among 15 Airmen Selection Centres (ASCs) located all over India. These centres are under the direct functional control of Central Airmen Selection Board (CASB), with administrative control and support by respective commands. The role of CASB is to carry out selection and enrolment of airmen from the Airmen Selection Centres for their respective commands. [150] Candidates initially take a written test at the time of application. Those passing the written test undergo a physical fitness test, an interview conducted in English, and medical examination. Candidates for training are selected from individuals passing the battery of tests, on the basis of their performance. Upon completion of training, an individual becomes an Airman. [150] Some MWOs and WOs are granted honorary commission in the last year of their service as an honorary Flying Officer or Flight Lieutenant before retiring from the service. [150]

Honorary officers

    was the first sportsperson and the first civilian without an aviation background to be awarded the honorary rank of group captain by the Indian Air Force. [152]

Non combatants enrolled and civilians

Non combatants enrolled (NCs(E)) were established in British India as personal assistants to the officer class, and are equivalent to the orderly or sahayak of the Indian Army. [153]

Almost all the commands have some percentage of civilian strength which are central government employees. These are regular ranks which are prevalent in ministries. They are usually not posted outside their stations and are employed in administrative and non-technical work. [154] [155]

Training and education

The Indian Armed Forces have set up numerous military academies across India for training its personnel, such as the National Defence Academy (NDA). Besides the tri-service institutions, the Indian Air Force has a Training Command and several training establishments. While technical and other support staff are trained at various Ground Training Schools, the pilots are trained at the Air Force Academy, Dundigul (located in Hyderabad). The Pilot Training Establishment at Allahabad, the Air Force Administrative College at Coimbatore, the Institute of Aerospace Medicine at Bangalore, the Air Force Technical College, Bangalore at Jalahalli, the Tactics and Air Combat and Defence Establishment at Gwalior, and the Paratrooper's Training School at Agra are some of the other training establishments of the IAF.

Current Inventory

Aircraft Origin Type Variant In service Notes
Combat Aircraft
Dassault Rafale France Multirole EH/DH [156] 23 [157] [158] 13 on order.
Sukhoi Su-30 Russia Multirole Su-30MKI 272 [159] [160] [161]
HAL Tejas India Multirole Mark 1 22 [162] 18 on order. [163]
Mark 1A 83 on order. [164] [165]
MiG-29 Russia Multirole MiG-29UPG [166] 66 [167] [168] [161]
Mirage 2000 France Multirole 2000 H/I 49 [167]
SEPECAT Jaguar United Kingdom Ground attack IM/IS [169] 120 60 to be upgraded to DARIN 3 std. To be armed with Swarm Drones under Jaguar Max upgrade.[1]
MiG-21 Soviet Union Interceptor Bison 107 [170] [171] Will be retired by 2025
Embraer EMB-145 Brazil AEW&C 3 Equipped with a DRDO-developed AEW&C system [172]
Beriev A-50 Soviet Union AEW&C A-50EI 3 Equipped with the EL/W-2090 radar – 2 on order [173]
Boeing 707 United States Surveillance 1 [173]
Global 5000 United States ELINT 2 [173]
Gulfstream G100 Israel Surveillance 1125 Astra 2 [173]
Electronic Warfare
Gulfstream III United States EW / ELINT SRA [174] 3 [173]
Ilyushin Il-78 Soviet Union Aerial refueling Il-78MKI 6 [173] Equipped with Israeli fuel-transfer system [175]
Ilyushin Il-76 Soviet Union Strategic airlifter Il-76MD 17 [167]
Boeing C-17 United States Strategic airlifter 11 [167]
C-130J Super Hercules United States Tactical airlifter C-130J-30 [176] 12 [167]
Antonov An-32 Ukraine Transport An-32/32RE 104 [167] 53 are 32RE variant. [177]
Hawker Siddeley HS 748 United Kingdom Transport 57 [167] To be replaced by Airbus C-295 transport aircraft. [178] [179]
Dornier 228 Germany Utility 228–201 [180] 50 4 on order. [167]
Boeing 777 United States VIP transport 777-300ER 2 [181] Used as Air India One for presidential flight.
Boeing 737 United States VIP transport 737–700 3 [182]
Embraer Legacy 600 Brazil VIP transport 4 [183]
HAL Light Combat Helicopter India Attack 2 [184] 65 planned. [167]
Boeing AH-64 Apache United States Attack AH-64E 22 [167]
Mil Mi-24 Russia Attack Mi-24/25/35 15 [167]
HAL Rudra India Armed 16 [185]
CH-47 Chinook United States Heavy transport CH-47F 15 [167]
Mil Mi-26 Russia Heavy transport 3 [186] Flown to Russia for overhaul
Mil Mi-17 Russia Utility transport Mi-17V-5 223 [167]
HAL Light Utility Helicopter India Utility helicopter 6 on order. [187]
HAL Dhruv India Utility 123 12 on order. [167]
HAL Chetak France / India Light utility 77 [167] License-built version of the Alouette III.
HAL Cheetah France / India Light utility 17 [167] License-built version of the SA315B Lama.
Trainer Aircraft
Pilatus PC-7 Switzerland Basic trainer Mk II 75 [173]
HAL Kiran India Intermediate Trainer 78 [173]
BAE Hawk United Kingdom Advanced jet trainer Hawk 132 104 [173]
SEPECAT Jaguar United Kingdom / France Conversion trainer IB [169] 30
Mikoyan MiG-21 Soviet Union Conversion trainer U/UM 39 [170]
Mirage 2000 France Conversion trainer 2000 H/I 12
IAI Eitan Israel Surveillance Unknown 10 on order for Indian Military.
IAI Harop [188] Israel Loitering munition 110 IAF decided to add another 54 Harop drones to its fleet of around 110.
IAI Heron Israel Surveillance Heron 1 49 [189] [190]
IAI Searcher Israel Surveillance Mk. I / II Unknown Total 108 drones operated by Indian Military.
DRDO Lakshya India Target drone 15 [191]
Historical Aircraft
Douglas Dakota DC 3 United States Transport aircraft 1 Named as "Parshurama" [192]
de Havilland DH82 Tiger Moth United Kingdom Trainer 1
North American T-6 Texan United States Trainer aircraft 1 [193]

The Indian Air Force has aircraft and equipment of Russian (erstwhile Soviet Union), British, French, Israeli, US and Indian origins with Russian aircraft dominating its inventory. HAL produces some of the Russian and British aircraft in India under licence. The exact number of aircraft in service with the Indian Air Force cannot be determined with precision from open sources. Various reliable sources provide notably divergent estimates for a variety of high-visibility aircraft. [194] Flight International estimates there to be around 1,750 aircraft in service with the IAF, [3] while the International Institute for Strategic Studies provides a similar estimate of 1,750 aircraft. [4] Both sources agree there are approximately 900 combat capable (fighter, attack etc.) aircraft in the IAF. [3] [4]

Multi-role fighters and strike aircraft

    : The latest addition to India's aircraft arsenal, India has signed a deal for 36 Dassault Rafale multirolefighter aircraft. The first five aircraft including three single-seater and two twin-seater aircraft arrived on 29 July 2020, at the Air Force Station, Ambala. No 17 Squadron, the “Golden Arrows”, is being raised at this base equipped with Rafale aircraft. [195] : The IAF's primary air superiority fighter with the additional capability to conduct air-ground (strike) missions is Sukhoi Su-30MKI. 272 Su-30MKIs are in service as of January 2020 [update] with 12 more on order with HAL. [159] : The Mikoyan MiG-29 known as Baaz (Hindi for Hawk) is a dedicated air superiority fighter and constitutes the second line of defence after the Sukhoi Su-30MKI. 69 MiG-29s are in service, all of which have been recently upgraded to the MiG-29UPG standard. An additional 21 MiG 29s have been ordered recently with upgraded UPG standard. [196] : The Dassault Mirage 2000, known as Vajra (Sanskrit for Diamond or thunderbolt) in Indian service, is the primary multirole fighter, the IAF currently operates 49 Mirage 2000Hs and 8 Mirage 2000 TH all of which are currently being upgraded to the Mirage 2000-5 MK2 standard with Indian specific modifications and 2 Mirage 2000-5 MK2 are in service as of March 2015 [update] . [197][198] The IAF's Mirage 2000 are scheduled to be phased out by 2030. [199] : The MiG-21s are planned to be replaced by the indigenously built HAL Tejas. [200][201] The first Tejas IAF unit, No. 45 Squadron IAFFlying Daggers was formed on 1 July 2016 followed by No. 18 Squadron IAF "Flying Bullets" on 27 May 2020. [202] Initially being stationed at Bangalore, the first squadron will be placed at its home base at Sulur, Tamil Nadu. [203] The Tejas will be inducted as 40 aircraft of the Mark 1 variant and 83 of the Mark 1A variant. The latter will have an AESA radar, improved EW fit and internal changes for ease of maintenance.
    : The SEPECAT Jaguar known as Shamsher serves as the IAF's primary ground attack force. [204] The IAF currently operates 139 Jaguars. [205] The first batch of DARIN-1 Jaguars are now going through a DARIN-3 upgrade being equipped with EL/M-2052 AESA radars, and an improved jamming suite plus new avionics. These aircraft are scheduled to be phased out by 2030. [199] : The Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 serves as an Interceptor aircraft in the IAF. The IAF have phased out most of its MiG-21s and plans to keep only 125 that have been upgraded to MiG-21 Bison standard. [206] The phase-out date for these aircraft has been postponed several times. Initially set for 2014–2017, [207] it was later postponed to 2019. [208] Currently phase-out is scheduled for 2021–2022. [199]

Airborne early warning and control system

The IAF is currently training the crew in operating the indigenously developed DRDO AEW&CS flying on the Embraer ERJ 145 aircraft. The IAF also operates the EL/W-2090 Phalcon AEW&C incorporated in a Beriev A-50 platform. A total of 3 such systems are currently in service, with possible orders for 2 more. [209] [210] [211] The two extra Phalcons are currently in negotiation over price differences between Russia and India. India is also going ahead with Project India, an inhouse AWACS program to develop and deliver 6 Phalcon class AWACS, based on DRDO work on the smaller AEW&CS.

Aerial refuelling

The IAF currently operates 6 Ilyushin Il-78MKIs in the aerial refuelling (tanker) role. [212] [213]

Transport aircraft

For strategic airlift operations the IAF uses the Ilyushin Il-76, known as Gajraj (Hindi for King Elephant) in Indian service. [214] The IAF operated 17 Il-76s in 2010, [215] which are in the process of being replaced by C-17 Globemaster IIIs. [216] [217]

The IAF C-130Js are used by special forces for combined Army-Air Force operations. [218] India purchased six C-130Js however one crashed at Gwalior on 28 March 2014 while on a training mission, killing all 5 on board and destroying the aircraft. [219] [220] The Antonov An-32, known in Indian service as the Sutlej (named after Sutlej River), serves as a medium transport aircraft in the IAF. The aircraft is also used in bombing roles and para-dropping operations. [221] The IAF currently operates 105 An-32s, all of which are being upgraded. [221] The Dornier 228 serves as light transport aircraft in the IAF. [222] The IAF also operates Boeing 737s [223] and Embraer ECJ-135 Legacy aircraft [224] as VIP transports and passenger airliners for troops. Other VIP transport aircraft are used for both the President of India and the Prime Minister of India under the call sign Air India One. [225]

The Hawker Siddeley HS 748 once formed the backbone of the IAF's transport fleet, but are now used mainly for training and communication duties. [226] A replacement is under consideration. [227]

Trainer aircraft

The HAL HPT-32 Deepak is IAF's basic flight training aircraft for cadets. [228] The HPT-32 was grounded in July 2009 following a crash that killed two senior flight instructors, [229] but was revived in May 2010 [229] and is to be fitted with a parachute recovery system (PRS) to enhance survivability during an emergency in the air and to bring the trainer down safely. [229] The HPT-32 is to be phased out soon. [229] The HPT 32 has been replaced by Pilatus, a Swiss aircraft. The IAF uses the HAL HJT-16 Kiran mk.I for intermediate flight training of cadets, while the HJT-16 Kiran mk.II provides advanced flight and weapons training. [230] [231] The HAL HJT-16 Kiran Mk.2 is also operated by the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team (SKAT) of the IAF. [232] The Kiran is to be replaced by the HAL HJT-36 Sitara. [233] The BAE Hawk Mk 132 serves as an advanced jet trainer in the IAF and is progressively replacing the Kiran Mk.II. The IAF has begun the process of converting the Surya Kiran display team to Hawks. [137] A total of 106 BAE Hawk trainers have been ordered by the IAF of which 39 have entered service as of July 2010 [update] . [234] IAF also ordered 72 Pipistrel Virus SW 80 microlight aircraft for basic training purpose. [235] [236]


The HAL Dhruv serves primarily as a light utility helicopter in the IAF. In addition to transport and utility roles, newer Dhruvs are also used as attack helicopters. [237] Four Dhruvs are also operated by the Indian Air Force Sarang Helicopter Display Team. [139] The HAL Chetak is a light utility helicopter and is used primarily for training, rescue and light transport roles in the IAF. [238] The HAL Chetak is being gradually replaced by HAL Dhruv. [238] The HAL Cheetah is a light utility helicopter used for high altitude operations. It is used for both transport and search-and-rescue missions in the IAF. [239]

The Mil Mi-8 and the Mil Mi-17, Mi-17 1V and Mi-17V 5 are operated by the IAF for medium lift strategic and utility roles. The Mi-8 is being progressively replaced by the Mi-17 series of helicopters. [240] [241] The IAF has ordered 22 Boeing AH-64E Apache attack helicopters, 68 HAL Light Combat Helicopters (LCH), 35 HAL Rudra attack helicopters, 15 CH-47F Chinook heavy lift helicopters and 150 Mi-17V-5s to replace and augment its existing fleet of Mi-8s, Mi-17s, and Mi-24s. [242] The Mil Mi-26 serves as a heavy lift helicopter in the IAF. It can also be used to transport troops or as a flying ambulance. The IAF currently operates three Mi-26s. [243]

The Mil Mi-35 serves primarily as an attack helicopter in the IAF. The Mil Mi-35 can also act as a low-capacity troop transport. The IAF currently operates two squadrons (No. 104 Firebirds and No. 125 Gladiators) of Mi-25/35s. [244]

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

The IAF currently uses the IAI Searcher II [245] and IAI Heron [246] for reconnaissance and surveillance purposes. The IAI Harpy serves as an Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) which is designed to attack radar systems. [247] The IAF also operates the DRDO Lakshya which serves as realistic towed aerial sub-targets for live fire training. [248]

Surface-To Air Missiles

The air force operates twenty-five squadrons of S-125 Pechora, six squadrons of 9K33 Osa-AK, ten flights of 9K38 Igla-1, eight squadrons of Akash [249] along with a single squadron of SPYDER for air defence. [250] [251] Six squadrons of Akash were ordered in 2010 and an order for seven more squadrons is planned. [252] An order for eighteen SPYDER systems was placed in 2008, which is expected to be organised into a total of four squadrons. [253] [251]

Ballistic missiles

The IAF currently operates the Prithvi-II short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). The Prithvi-II is an IAF-specific variant of the Prithvi ballistic missile. [254]

The number of aircraft in the IAF has been decreasing from the late 1990s due to the retirement of older aircraft and several crashes. To deal with the depletion of force levels, the IAF has started to modernise its fleet. This includes both the upgrade of existing aircraft, equipment and infrastructure as well as induction of new aircraft and equipment, both indigenous and imported. As new aircraft enter service and numbers recover, the IAF plans to have a fleet of 42 squadrons. [255]

Expected future acquisitions

Single-engined fighter

On 3 January 2017, Minister of Defence Manohar Parrikar addressed a media conference and announced plans for a competition to select a Strategic Partner to deliver ". 200 new single engine fighters to be made in India, which will easily cost around (USD)$45 million apiece without weaponry" with an expectation that Lockheed Martin (USA) and Saab (Sweden) will pitch the F-16 Block 70 and Gripen, respectively. An MoD official said that a global tender will be put to market in the first quarter of 2018, [256] [257] with a private company nominated as the strategic partners production agency followed by a two or more year process to evaluate technical and financial bids and conduct trials, before the final government-to-government deal in 2021. This represents 11 squadrons of aircraft plus several 'attrition' aircraft. [258] India is also planning to set up an assembly line of American Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon Block 70 in Bengaluru. It is not yet confirmed whether IAF will induct these aircraft or not.

In 2018, the defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman gave the go ahead to scale up the manufacturing of Tejas at HAL and also to export Tejas. She is quoted saying "We are not ditching the LCA. We have not gone for anything instead of Tejas. We are very confident that Tejas Mark II will be a big leap forward to fulfil the single engine fighter requirement of the forces.". [259] IAF committed to buy 201 Mark-II variant of the Tejas taking the total order of Tejas to 324. [260] The government also scrapped the plan to import single engine fighters leading to reduction in reliance on imports thereby strengthening the domestic defence industry. [261]

The IAF also submitted a request for information to international suppliers for a stealth unmanned combat air vehicle (UCAV) [262]

Current acquisitions

The IAF has placed orders for 123 HAL Tejas 40 Mark 1 and 83 Mark 1A fighters, [263] 36 Dassault Rafale multi-role fighters, [264] 106 basic trainer aircraft HAL HTT-40, 112 Pilatus PC-7MkII basic trainers, [265] [266] 72 HAL HJT-36 Sitara trainers, [137] 72 Pipistrel Virus SW 80 microlight aircraft, [156] 65 HAL Light Combat Helicopters, [267] 139 Mi-17V-5 helicopters, [242] [268] 18 Israeli SPYDER Surface to Air Missile (SAM) units, [269] 6 Airbus A330 MRTT, [270] 22 AH-64E Apache Longbow heavy attack helicopters, [271] 15 CH-47F medium lift helicopters [272] [273] and IAI Harop UCAVs. [247] [274]

DRDO and HAL projects

Indian defence companies such as HAL and DRDO are developing several aircraft for the IAF such as the HAL Tejas Mk2, [200] [201] HAL TEDBF, [275] Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA), [276] DRDO AEW&CS (revived from the Airavat Project), [277] NAL Saras, [278] HAL HJT-36 Sitara, [279] HAL HTT-40, HAL Light Combat Helicopter (LCH), [280] HAL Light Utility Helicopter (LUH), [281] DRDO Rustom [282] and AURA (Autonomous Unmanned Research Aircraft) UCAV. [ citation needed ] DRDO has developed the Akash missile system for the IAF [283] [284] and is developing the Maitri SAM with MBDA. [ citation needed ] DRDO is also developing the Prithvi II ballistic missile. [285]

HAL has undertaken the joint development of the Sukhoi/HAL FGFA (Fifth Generation Fighter Aircraft) [286] (a derivative project of the Sukhoi Su-57) with Russia's United Aircraft Corporation (UAC). HAL is also close to develop its own fifth generation fighter aircraft HAL Amca which will be inducted by 2028. DRDO has entered in a joint venture with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to develop the Barak 8 SAM. [287] DRDO is developing the air-launched version of the BrahMos cruise missile in a joint venture with Russia's NPO Mashinostroeyenia. DRDO has now successfully developed the nuclear capable Nirbhay cruise missile. [288]

Network-centric warfare

The Air Force Network (AFNET), a robust digital information grid that enabled quick and accurate threat responses, was launched in 2010, helping the IAF become a truly network-centric air force. AFNET is a secure communication network linking command and control centres with offensive aircraft, sensor platforms and ground missile batteries. Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), an automated system for Air Defence operations will ride the AFNet backbone integrating ground and airborne sensors, weapon systems and command and control nodes. Subsequent integration with civil radar and other networks shall provide an integrated Air Situation Picture, and reportedly acts as a force multiplier for intelligence analysis, mission control, and support activities like maintenance and logistics. The design features multiple layers of security measures, including encryption and intrusion prevention technologies, to hinder and deter espionage efforts. [289]

Air Squadron No.1

Chennai: 09/08/2014: The Hindu: oeb: Book Review Column: Title: Comfort Lore, Indian Air Force. Author: Somnath Sarpu. Publisher:KW publishers release.

April 1, 1954: Air Marshal Subrato Mukerjee (left) with Air Marshal G.E. Gibbs after taking over command of the IAF. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

At the Technical Training Establishment of the IAF at Tambaram near Chennai. A file pciture. The book provides an insight into the evolution of the ground crew. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

APRIL 1951: The "Big Six" of the IAF (seated from left) Air Vice Marshal Subrato Mukerjee, Deputy Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal R. Ivelaw-Chapman Commander-in-Chief of the IAF and Air Commodore Narendra, Air Officer In-charge, Technical and Equipment Services. (Standing, from left) Air Commodore R.H.D. Singh, Air Officer Commanding Training Command Air Commodore Arjun Singh, Air Officer Commanding, Operational Command and Air Commodore D.A.R. Nanda, Air Officer in-Charge, Personnel and Organisation. Photo: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

ONE has heard inspiring stories about the Indian Army and its colourful generals. The dare-devilry of Indian soldiers is the stuff of legends. The Army’s famous battles have been celebrated in books and movies. The Indian Navy, though not so well-celebrated, has got its fair share of public attention. Although there have been not-so-charitable accounts of the Navy, occasionally it has media attention, whether it is about naval mishaps, the tug-of-war between its chiefs and the political establishment or the Navy Queen beauty pageant conducted as part of Navy Day celebrations.

In comparison, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had its glory in the mass memory thanks to “Thunderbolts”, the first aerobatics team that displayed its prowess in 1982 on the occasion of its golden jubilee, and to Hindi films such as Sangam, Hindustan Ki Kasam, Aradhana, Vijeta and Silsila, which depicted dogfights and made heroes of the men in blue.

There are not too many battle lores about the IAF, except the one during the 1971 India-Pakistan war when the young pilot Nirmaljit Singh Sekhon, flying the tiny Gnat fighter plane, shot down two of the six Sabres of the Pakistani Air Force that were chasing him before his plane was shot down. He was awarded India’s highest gallantry award, the Param Vir Chakra (PVC), posthumously. Sekhon, to date, remains the only member of the IAF to have received the PVC. Not much is known about the history of the IAF and its evolution. Somnath Sapru’s well-researched book Combat Lore: Indian Air Force 1930-45 seeks to fill the gap.

The book literally hand-holds the reader through the birth pangs of the IAF and provides a riveting account of its “growing-up” years. The IAF, Sapru says, began with just five pilots, one equipment officer and one aeroplane called Wapiti (the British called this aircraft “what a pity”) on October 8, 1932, when the IAF Act came into force. (Wapitis were open-cockpit planes in which the pilot was exposed to the elements. The plane was started by a hand-turning gear, which the pilot had to turn with full vigour. The occupant in the rear seat was tied down to the floor of the plane with a monkey chain attached to the harness at the bottom, between the legs. There were no wheel brakes and while taxiing the pilot had to depend on two airmen on the wingtips holding on to the outer struts to bring the plane to a halt.)

After persistent demand for a bigger role for Indians in the armed forces, the British set up the Indian Sandhurst Committee, which recommended recruiting a few Indians as officers in the armed forces. As a result, a few vacancies were reserved for Indians in the Royal Air Force too. Through the first all-India competitive examination to fill the vacancies, held by the Federal Service Commission in 1930, six candidates (Harish Chandra Sircar, Subroto Mukherjee, Amarjit Singh, Bhupendra Singh, Aizad Baksh Awan and T.N. Tandon) were selected for training at the RAF Flying College at Cranwell in the United Kingdom.

There is a beautiful description of flying cadet Subroto Mukherjee taking off on his first solo flight “with a song in his heart” and making what his flight instructor described as a “perfect landing”. This made him the senior-most in his batch. Mukherjee went on to become the first chief of the Indian Air Staff on April 1, 1954. Interestingly, of the six, Tandon passed out from Cranwell not as a pilot but as an equipment officer. He was withdrawn from flying as during his first flying class, the instructor discovered that at 4 feet 10 inches, he was too short to operate the rudders in the aircraft. In fact, a minimum height requirement for recruits in air forces across the world was introduced after this.

The author portrays with poignancy how the Cranwell-trained officers, who joined duty at the RAF Depot at Drigh Road in Karachi, were subjected to indignities by their British counterparts. The RAF pilots put humiliating conditions on the Indian pilots. One condition was that they should fly with streamers on their wings so that the RAF pilots could keep their distance from them. The Indian pilots were not allowed to stay in the RAF mess. They were allotted separate quarters. Unlike the British airmen, Indians were not provided uniforms. They were made to wear the Army uniform with puttee. It was in 1937 that the Indian pilots, who had by then familiarised themselves with flying rules and regulations, were sent on their first field operation in the North-West Frontier Province, where they proved their worth. “A baptism of fire” as the author describes it. And one truly worthy of praise, as is evident from a glowing tribute to the grit and imagination of this first batch of six officers by their first commanding officer Flight Lieutenant Cecil Bouchier.

After 26 years, Bouchier was to recall: “The Indian Air Force is what it is today because of one thing only—the imagination, the courage, the loyalty of the first little pioneer band of Indian officers and airmen for they were the salt of the earth…. They have built up a great fighting service and I am terribly proud to have been associated in this wonderful achievement if only for a little while.”

But there were initial setbacks as well. For example, on March 8, 1934, the fledgling IAF came close to being disbanded when the Air Commander-in-Chief, Air Marshal Sir John Steel, addressing the Indian officers and airmen at Drigh, told them: “We knew fully well that Indian will not be able to fly and maintain military aeroplanes. It is a man’s job and all you have done is to bring the greatest disgrace on yourself, you are incapable of paying attention to details, a most essential feature of military aviation. I, therefore, intend to disband the so-called Indian Air Force. So be prepared for the shock.” This came in the wake of two mishaps: one in which pilot officers Amarjit Singh and Bhupendra Singh, brothers and from the first batch of officers, were killed in a crash while Bhupendra Singh was piloting the aircraft, and the other in which the plane flown by Sircar crashed into a column of soldiers on the ground, killing 14 of them. But despite those harsh words, the leadership of Subroto Mukherjee then saved the day for the infant IAF.

The first real accolades came when the Second World War broke out, and the British, who were outwitted by the Japanese on the eastern war front, were left with no alternative but to draft the No.1 Squadron of the IAF into Burma (now Myanmar) to counter the invading Japanese forces. The IAF performed brilliantly, with the Indian pilots winning 22 Distinguished Flying Crosses and one Distinguished Service Order. In recognition of the services rendered by the IAF, the King of England prefixed “Royal” to the service. Thus, the IAF was known as RIAF until January 26, 1950, when India became a republic and the RIAF was reconverted to IAF.

But in spite of the brilliant performance by the Indian flyers and airmen, the British remained sceptical. In November 1946, Air Marshal Wamsey wrote to the defence consultative committee: “If the RAF is withdrawn out of India, Indians will not be able to maintain the existing 10 squadrons. Actually they cannot even maintain one squadron in the air technically.” The RAF withdrew and the IAF not only survived but thrived. From six officers and 11 airmen at the beginning, the force has more than 1,27,000 personnel (according to the International Institute for Strategic Studies) and 1,499 aircraft (according to the Flight Global estimates). It is the only air force in the world to have set up an aircraft manufacturing depot.

The author, a senior journalist who is considered an expert in the history of military aviation in the country, has enlivened the book with first-person accounts, anecdotal references and newspaper reports. Many incidents have been described in lucid detail such as the jubilation that followed when Subroto Mukherjee became Squadron Leader. It was on September 3, 1939, that the IAF’s No.1 Squadron got its first Indian Commanding Officer, Subroto Mukherjee. All British officers were withdrawn making it an all-Indian squadron. Another landmark event was on July 12, 1942, when the IAF got its true identity when it got its badge and colours from the Duke of Gloucester. Another big day was April 1, 1954, when Subroto Mukherjee took over as the first Chief of Air Staff. President Rajendra Prasad presented the colours to the IAF then.

The book not only provides a glimpse into the lives and minds of IAF personnel, but the flying machines as well. How the IAF has travelled a long way from Wapitis to the era of Jaguars, Sukhois, Mirages, and MI-17 is an interesting study. The book, courtesy the memoirs of late Air Vice Marshal Harjinder Singh, AOC-in-C Maintenance Command (who is considered the Father of the Maintenance Command of the IAF), gives an insight into the evolution of the ground crew.

Initially, 11 people were selected for training in Karachi. The recruits encountered a lot of hardships but they were determined to slug it out. The book pays tribute to the untiring efforts of an English gentleman, Warrant Officer H.E. Newing, who was the technical instructor of this first group of airmen. He boosted the morale of the demoralised boys, saying, “staying the course here will be your chance to prove that Indians can face it and learn to defend their own country if you fail now, there will never be an Indian squadron”.

Sapru has chronicled some of the revolutionary feats carried out by the IAF at that time such as having a common mess for officers and airmen. Similarly, he provides interesting details about how the Army uniform was discarded and the new, blue RAF-type uniform was introduced in July 1940.

The IAF's Tigers roar into the 80s

T he first large formation of strike aircraft to hit Sargodha during the 1965 war with Pakistan comprised 12 Mystere jets from 1 Squadron operating from Adampur and led by the CO, Wing Commander O P Taneja.

It was during this mission that Squadron Leader Devayya shot down an F-104 Starfighter as he manoeuvred a crippled fighter in combat against a superior adversary before going down himself.

He was posthumously awarded the Mahavir Chakra decades later when the Pakistan Air Force pilot he shot down acknowledged his feat.

The 1971 war with Pakistan saw the Tigers in their MiG-21s back in action over Punjab as they carried out extensive combat air patrols and escorted Sukhoi-7 strikes against enemy armour in Shakargarh and other sectors.

The squadron was much decorated during the two wars with Pakistan, winning one Mahavir Chakra and four Vir Chakras.

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Know Your Air Force: IAF Fighter Jet Squadrons

Indian Air force currently operates 6 types of fighter jets and solo fighter bomber type. They are divided between 33 squadrons with 2 more to come.

Lets understand each fighter jet and squadron strength.

1- Mig 21: The oldest in the fleet, this aircraft has served IAF for more than a half-century and still continues to contribute to the rich history of IAF. From shooting down F-86 Sabre, F-104 Starfighter in 1971 to bringing down Breguet Atlantic in 1999 to the recent shooting down of F-16D of PAF on 27th Feb 2019, Mig 21 has come a long way. These heavily upgraded Interceptors known as Bisons are divided into 7 squadrons and will still serve a couple of years in IAF. Let’s have a quick overview of each squadron:

(i) Squdron no. 3 Cobras – based at Pathankot Air Force Station

(ii) Squadron no. 4 Oorials – based at Uttarlai Air Force Station

(iii) Squadron no. 21 Ankush – based at Sirsa Air Force Station

(iv) Squadron no. 23 Panthers – based at Suratgarh Air Force Station

(v) Squadron no. 26 Warriors – based at Pathankot Air Force Station

(vi) Squadron no. 32 Thunderbirds – based at Jodhpur Air Force Station

(vii) Squadron no. 51 Sword Arms – based at Srinagar Air Force Station

2- Jaguar: Indian Air Force remains the sole operator of twin-engine Jaguar fighter-bombers. These aircraft were produced as late as 2009 by HAL. Although highly upgraded and now feature EL/M 2052 AESA radar in the latest Darin III upgrade, they desperately need a new engine. Let’s see if the HTFE-25 reheat version will come on time to power the Jaguar or not, after all, Jaguars are an important part of India’s nuclear triad. here is the list of all Jaguar squadrons currently in service:

(i) Squadron no. 5 Tuskers – based at Ambala Air Force Station

(ii) Squadron no. 6 Dragons – based at Jamnagar Air Force Station

(iii) Squadron no. 14 Bulls – based at Ambala Air Force Station

(iv) Squadron no. 16 Black Cobras – based at Gorakhpur Air Force Station

(v) Squadron no. 27 Flaming Arrows – based at Gorakhpur Air Force Station

(vi) Squadron no. 224 Warlords – based at Jamnagar Air Force Station

3- Mig 29 UPG: The legendary fighter perform the air superiority role for Indian Air force. These are upgraded to latest UPG standard and feature powerful Zhuk-ME PESA radar and D-29 EW suite including a digital RWR. Mig 29s are popular for getting locks on PAF F-16 multiple times during Kargil war. Indian Air Force operate 3 Squadrons of Mig 29UPG:

(i) Squadron no. 28 First Supersonics- based at Jamnagar Air Force Station

(ii) Squadron no. 47 Black Archers – based at Adampur Air Force Station

(iii) Squadron no. 223 Tridents – based at Adampur Air Force Station

4- Mirage 2000I: Arguably the favorite aircraft of IAF, Mirage 2000I in Indian service are upgraded to latest Mirage 2000-5 mk2 standards. Mirage 2000 have always been preferred choice of IAF when it comes to ground strike missions. Be it Kargil or Balakot, Mirage has always come out in flying colors. Fear of Mirage in enemies is such that, 2 Mirages flying over Northern Kashmir kept 4 PAF JF-17 at bay, who preferred to stay out of range of IAF Mirage 2000 rather than engaging them. IAF operates 3 squadrons of Mirage 2000:

(i) Squadron no. 1 The Tigers – based at Maharajpur Air Force Station

(ii) Squadron no. 7 Battle Axes – based at Maharajpur Air Force Station

(iii) Squadron no. 9 Wolfpack – based at Maharajpur Air Force Station

5- Sukhoi 30 MKI: The backbone of IAF, Su-30MKI forms the bulk of IAF squadrons. An air superiority fighter with multirole capability comes with a very powerful N011M BARS hybrid PESA radars and OLS 30 IRST. Su-30MKI were escorts to Mirage 2000 which bombed terrorist facility in Balakot, and also probably the only aircraft in the world to evade 5-6 AIM-120 fired at it. IAF operates 12 Su-30MKI squadrons with atleast another squadron strength aircrafts being used by Tactical and Air Combat Development Establishment(TACDE):

(i) Squadron no. 2 Winged Arrows – based at Tezpur Air Force Station

(ii) Squadron no. 8 Eight Pursoots – based at Bareilly Air Force Station

(iii) Squadron no. 15 Flying Lancers – based at Sirsa Air Force Station

(iv) Squadron no. 20 Lightnings – based at Lohegaon Air Force Station

(v) Squadron no. 24 Hawks – based at Bareilly Air Force Station

(vi) Squadron no. 30 Rhinos – based at Lohegaon Air Force Station

(vii) Squadron no. 31 Lions – based at Jodhpur Air Force Station

(viii) Squadron no. 102 Trisonics -based at Chabua Air Force Station

(ix) Squadron no. 106 Lynxes – based at Tezpur Air Force Station

(x) Squadron no. 220 Desert Tigers – based at Halwara Air Force Station

(xi) Squadron no. 221 Valiants – based at Halwara Air Force Station

(xii) Squadron no. 222 Tigersharks – based at Thanjavur Air Force Station

6- HAL Tejas MK1: The desi bird and pride of all Indians, HAL Tejas has seen slow inductions, both on part of delays by HAL and frequent requirement changes by IAF. The aircraft comes with extremely reliable and comfortable fly by wire system, which all pilots have praised with a quote, ‘pleasure to fly’. Tejas is currently being integrated with Astra MK1 and will become 2nd IAF jet to carry indigenous missile after Su-30MKI. With low RCS and long range missile like Astra mk1 and I-Derby ER, Tejas will be a merciless foe. IAF has inducted 1 squadron of Tejas and is in process of inducting the second one, while deal for 4 more squadrons of mk1A variant is expected to be signed by end of this month i.e. dec 2020:

(i) Squadron no. 45 Flying Daggers – based at Sulur Air Force Station

(ii) Squadron no. 18 Flying Bullets – based at Sulur Air Force Station

7- Rafale F3R: The latest addition to Indian Air Force, Rafale is considered to be the true Omni-role fighter jet. Armed with Meteor BVR missiles, Rafale features an AESA radar i.e. RBE2AA, and a very powerfull Spectra EW suite. The Rafale has a very low RCS along with ability to supercruise. Indian rafales are hard wired for nuclear delivery roles too. IAF as of now has ordered 36 aircrafts divided into 2 squadrons :

(i) Squadron no. 17 Golden Arrows – based at Ambala Air Force Station

(ii) Squadron no. 101 Falcons – will be based at Hasimara Air Force Station

IAF chief mentioned a 1965 legend: Here’s the story of Squadron Leader Devayya

Squadron Leader Ajjamada Boppayya Devayya | Commons

New Delhi: Amid the continuing India-Pakistan tensions, Indian Air Force (IAF) Chief B.S. Dhanoa Monday said the vintage MiG-21 Bison did shoot down an F-16 fighter aircraft of the Pakistan Air Force last week. Pakistan continues to deny the incident.

Speaking to reporters in Coimbatore, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa mentioned a 1965 Indo-Pakistan War legend of a heavy and slow-moving IAF Mystere that shot down a Pakistani F-104 Starfighter in a dogfight.

“Something similar has happened over the past five days,” said Dhanoa.

In IAF’s history, the 1965 dogfight mentioned by the IAF chief is counted as among the finest.

The hero of that dogfight, Squadron Leader Ajjamada Boppayya Devayya, was the first IAF officer to be posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra (MVC).

He was awarded the MVC in 1988, 23 years after the war and only after a British writer, commissioned by the Pakistan military, revealed the details.

Sargodha dogfight

Details of the dogfight, as enumerated here, were also written by a military historian, P.V.S. Jagan Mohan, and a philosophy professor at Brooklyn College, Samir Chopra, in The India-Pakistan Air War of 1965.

On 7 September, 1965, the IAF planned an air strike on PAF base at Sargodha in a bid to neutralise its air assets.

Squadron Leader Devayya was part of the mission that went in, but was on standby. When he joined the air battle, he was intercepted by an enemy F-104 Starfighter flown by Pakistani Flight Lieutenant Amjad Hussain.

In the ensuing combat, the faster and more modern enemy aircraft caught up with him and damaged the aircraft.

Devayya was faced with an unenviable choice — he could take the Starfighter head on and fight it out, in which case, even if he survived, he would have had no fuel to fly back to the border, or he could just fly on hoping to evade the pursuing enemy aircraft.

“But Devayya, ‘an unusual type of character and one of those Second World War types’, unsurprisingly, chose to stand and fight,” write Mohan and Chopra.

Devayya shot at the enemy aircraft, and Hussain bailed out.

What happened to the IAF hero remains a mystery. He is believed to have perished when either his Mystere went out of control and crashed or during an unsuccessful ejection at a low level.

True to its history, though, Pakistan denied that Hussain’s Starfighter was shot down and claimed it crashed “because of flying through the debris of an exploding Mystere”.

Hussain was shot down again in the 1971 Bangladesh Liberation War while attempting a strike on Amritsar airfield and spent more than a year as a prisoner of war. He went on to become an Air Vice Marshal in Pakistan.

How Devayya’s bravery was revealed

In 1979, British writer John Fricker brought out Battle for Pakistan: The Air War of 1965 — it was the only book dedicated to telling the story of the air war of 1965.

The IAF neither brought out its own account nor denied any of the extravagant claims in the book, which was an ode to the PAF.

However, Fricker’s book made an important contribution to the IAF’s legacy.

As it explained, PAF officials told Fricker in 1972 that a Mystere did shoot the Starfighter down and it was not the accident as was claimed earlier. Fricker reported the incident as a “loss to a Mystere”.

However, this subsequently led to Indian government taking a relook at the incident, and it came to the conclusion that Hussain was indeed shot down by Devayya, who himself crashed soon after.

This paved way for the Maha Vir Chakra to Squadron Leader Devayya, 23 years after his heroic death.

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