NEW DELHI - Gagan Shakti 2018, the biggest ever military exercise in the history of Indian Air Force is being held nationwide by the Indian Air Force. The exercise began on April 8, and will end on April 22. It’s the biggest such exercise in terms of scale since the Operation Brasstacks in 1986-1987 or Operation Parakram in 2001-2002.
As many as 1,150 fighters, aircraft, helicopters and drones have been deployed for the massive exercise, which is taking place with active participation from the Indian Army and Navy for integrated land-air-sea combat operations.
According to reports in the Indian media, the Indian Air Force launched 5,000 sorties in just three days, simulating attacks on Pakistan.
It was also reported that the IAF has systematically worked towards achieving 83 per cent serviceability (operational availability of the number of aircraft at any given time) for the exercise, in conjunction with Hindustan Aeronautics and base repair depots, from the usual 55pc-60pc in peacetime.
IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa was quoted as saying “The aim of the exercise is to validate our operational capabilities and concepts in a realistic war-like scenario as well as check our ability to sustain high-tempo operations. It’s not aimed at any country.”
However, the Indian Air Force has now switched its forces from the western border with Pakistan to the northern borders with China, from Ladakh to Arunachal Pradesh.
The Indian media has reported that the "game-plan is quite clear. If the focus in the western theatre was to generate the maximum possible sorties with the same number of fighters to overwhelm the enemy forces, the intent in the eastern one is to operate from dispersed locations to avoid the adversary’s rocket forces while undertaking deep strikes with Sukhoi-30MKI fighters being refueled in mid-air by IL-78 aircraft.
Fighters are also practising concentrated weapon releases in realistic attack scenarios all throughout GaganShakti, which includes firing precision-weapons with 'through window’ capabilities.
A simulated battalion-level airborne assault behind enemy lines, which included paradrop of 560 soldiers, combat vehicles and GPS-guided cargo platforms, has also been undertaken with six C-130J Super Hercules and seven AN-32 aircraft launched from multiple airbases."
On the Chinese border, the IAF combat maneuvers will also see intensive high-altitude operations at advanced landing grounds and helipads, some as high as 20,000-feet, as also inter-valley troop transfers and logistics sustenance by heavy-duty helicopters to make up for the lack of roads.
It was also stated that GaganShakti, in short, reiterates the primacy and flexibility of airpower in modern-day battles.
The Sukhoi-30MKIs, which have a combat radius of about 1,500-km without mid-air refueling, for instance, have even got airborne from a eastern coast airbase to strikemultiple targets in the western seaboard at distances beyond 2,200-km before landing at a southern base to cover a total distance of around 4,000-km in single non-stop missions.
According to another report, the Indian Air Force is in the middle of its largest pan-India combat-training exercise ever.
And, this time, the focus is not just on the western front but also on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR), which has always been of immense strategic importance.
This all-encompassing exercise by the Indian Air Force comes in the wake of the Chinese bid to assert its dominance in the South China Sea and its increasing forays into the IOR.
"The Indian Ocean Region which is home to around 36 countries, is also immensely important for 15 other peripheral states in the region. IOR also provides these countries with deep sea minerals and fisheries. Apart from being a resource by itself, the IOR is an apex trade route for both the West and the East.
Today, 40 percent of the world’s oil supply and 64 percent of oil trade, passes through the IOR.
David Michel and Russel Sticklor in their book Natural Resources in the Indian Ocean Region, state how there has been a 13-fold increase in fishing in the IOR and that it now accounts for almost 15 percent of world’s total fishing.
The increasing free passage, choke points, new straits have made IOR a global quest for trade & commerce.
So, today if there is a dominant discourse around IOR, it is that of trade, strategy and security."
From deep strikes to air dominance and long-range maritime strikes off the west coast to air defence, the IAF is practising every manoeuvre in the book in its preparation for a short and intense war.
The Gaganshakti-2018 exercise seeks to test the IAF’s readiness and stamina for a two-front war with China and Pakistan.
Air Chief Marshal Birender Singh Dhanoa has admitted Pakistan was closely watching the operation.