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IAF projects day-night, all-weather combat capability in Ladakh

The Indian Air Force is projecting its capability to carry out day-and-night, all-weather combat missions in the Ladakh sector, with front-line fighter jets, attack helicopters and multi-mission choppers getting airborne for demanding night-time missions from a forward airbase in the area even as the Indian and Chinese armies have kicked off a complex disengagement process to defuse tensions along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), people familiar with the developments said on Tuesday.

The air force’s MiG-29 fighter jets, Sukhoi-30s, Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission helicopters are among the platforms that are undertaking night missions in the mountainous terrain, amid the border row in Ladakh and worst tensions there since the 1962 India-China war, said one of the persons cited above.

The IAF is sending out a message to the adversary that it has exploited the full capabilities of its platforms that can be assigned to undertake “all-weather, all-terrain and day/night missions” in the Ladakh theatre, said former IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Fali H Major (retd).


“The message is that we have the capability and it can be used as and when required,” he said.

Any professional force has to be ready to fight 24x7, said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), additional director general, Centre for Air Power Studies.

“Earlier, there were limitations of aircraft that prevented flying in the hills at night but now they have been mostly overcome. The night flying activity seen in Ladakh is part of IAF training to keep the skills of pilots and other personnel honed,” he said.

“The challenges in those hills are many, especially illusions caused due to hill shadows and faulty depth perception that are overcome with experience,” said Bahadur, a veteran helicopter pilot who has carried out night flying in the area.

While disengagement is underway along the tense and heavily militarised border, the Indian armed forces are keeping their guard up and advancing with maximum caution with the IAF’s forward air bases continuing to be on their highest state of alert to deal with any Chinese provocation, a second official said.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has withdrawn up to 1.5 km from friction areas in Galwan Valley, Hot Springs and Gogra along the LAC, and the Indian Army has pulled back proportionately, acting on an understanding reached last week by top Indian and Chinese military commanders on a phased de-escalation of the ongoing border conflict, as reported by Hindustan Times on Tuesday. Some thinning of PLA soldiers has also been noticed at the sensitive Finger Area near Pangong Tso.

The IAF has played a key role in the Ladakh sector since border tensions began in early May. Its C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft have been used to move soldiers, tanks and infantry combat vehicles to the sector, while C-130J Super Hercules aircraft have undertaken sorties to the advanced landing ground in the strategic Daulat Beg Oldie sector to support the military’s forward deployments, the officials said.

The IAF’s new inductions --- the Apache attack and Chinook multi-mission helicopters --- have significantly enhanced the IAF’s capabilities, the officials said. Armed with fire-and-forget Hellfire missiles, an Apache can track up to 128 targets a minute and prioritise threats. The missiles equip the gunships with anti-armour capabilities. The Chinook’s main roles include transporting troops, artillery and battlefield resupply.

The defence ministry last week approved the purchase of weapons and ammunition worth Rs 38,900 crore, including 33 new fighter jets for the IAF that is grappling with a shortage of warplanes.

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