Strike Force: The challenges in IAF’s upgrade roadmap

An indigenous LCA Tejas at the Aero India show in Bengaluru on February 21. IAF placed its first order for 20 LCA Tejas fighters in March 2005, of which 13 have been delivered till date. Express Photo.

On February 16, the Pokhran firing range in the deserts of Jaisalmer rumbled with the sound of munition fired by jets of the Indian Air Force (IAF). This was part of Vayu Shakti, an exercise to demonstrate the force’s firepower, and featured all the fighter and transport aircraft, helicopters and missile systems in its inventory.

Coming barely two days after the Pulwama attack in which a Jaish-e-Mohammad recruit rammed an explosive-laden car into a convoy killing 40 CRPF personnel, the symbolism of this exercise was telling. And the speculation ended 10 days later when in the early hours of February 26, IAF fighter aircraft struck Balakot in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, deep inside Pakistan.

Their target was a cluster of four buildings inside a Jaish training camp. The IAF sent 12 Mirage-2000 aircraft, accompanied by four Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets and other supporting aircraft, which fired five precision-guided munition, believed to be the Israeli SPICE 2000 bombs.

Read | From Pulwama to Balakot: A new Line of Control

A day later, the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) attempted a retaliatory strike on military targets in Rajouri sector near the LoC. The IAF promptly scrambled its MiG-21 Bisons and Sukhoi Su-30s. In the engagement, the IAF lost a MiG-21 Bison and Wing…

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