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Sunday, April 14, 2024

90 years of Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force (IAF) is the air arm of the Indian Armed Forces. Its complement of personnel and aircraft assets ranks third amongst the air forces of the world. Its primary mission is to secure Indian airspace and to conduct aerial warfare during armed conflict.

Indian Air force has recently celebrated its 90th anniversary with tremendous splendor, proudly glorifying the contribution of its brave service men and women. Indian President Draupadi Murmu, who also happens to be the Commander-in-chief of the IAF has said that “the observance of the day is a matter of pride for Indians and inspires a patriotic zeal among the citizenry for the air arm of the Indian Armed Forces”. It is beyond any doubt that the Indian Air Force got birth on October 8, 1932, from obscurity with very few vintage aircraft of the Royal British Airforce.

The aircraft inventory consisted of four Westland Wapiti army co-operation biplanes stationed at Drigh Road, Karachi as the flight nucleus of the Royal Indian Airforce. Sir John Miles Steel was first the Air Marshal, who later commanded the distinguished “Bomber Command” as Air Chief Marshal. On eve of partition out of ten existing operational squadrons, three squadrons of obsolete aircraft were given to Pakistan with no logistics and service support aircraft, thus rendering Pakistan Airforce’s capability to zero.

Understanding the matter better

During 90 years of the long journey, the Indian Airforce has seen many good and bad times but its achievements are enormous since by virtue of size it is ranked 4th in the world with more than 1,790 operational aircraft and 1,70,000 serving personnel.  It has five operational commands each headed by Air Officer Commander in chief (AOC). IAF has two additional commands as well, Training and Maintenance Command. During these years Indian air force distinguished itself in the following operations claimed by its official site: the Congo Crisis (1960), the Annexation of Goa (1961), the 1965 Indo – Pak War, the 1971, Indo – Pak war, the Kargil War 1999, and the Balakot airstrike and the India-Pakistan standoff of 2019.

After a humble premise and brief introduction about the achievements of the Indian Airforce, I would like to give a few analyses that why the Indian Air force is still an apparition of good old times and is lagging in technology and training to meet the requirement of the modern era. Again major blame goes to Indian politics and politicians, who corrupted the affairs to such limits that even the lives of their own countrymen including young air force pilots were lost to the behest of the desire of their bank accounts and pockets. Nonetheless, the aim of the article is not to highlight political issues rather it is an effort to highlight the current deplorable condition of IAF.

The Indian Army tops the world’s militaries with the highest suicide rate. More Indian soldiers are killed by themselves than by enemies. In the last four years, 79 defense personnel from the IAF have committed suicide. A number of suicides continue unabated in the armed forces despite the successive government claiming to have taken several measures to reduce the stress level among Indian soldiers. One person on duty from Indian Armed Forces commits suicide every three days. Indian army soldiers are committing suicide after humiliation at the hands of their fellow officers.

Indian army suicides blamed on ‘poor leadership

Former Indian army officers have blamed “lack of discipline” and “poor leadership” in the forces for more than 3,300 suicides by soldiers since 2001. Causes for soldiers committing suicide or fratricide are stress, personal problems and financial problems which are due to the high level of corruption in Indian Army. Maj-Gen Mehta says “suicides and soldiers killing each other is purely a manifestation of a lack of discipline, which goes straight to the leadership – unit level and above”.

The flying coffins of India only give surety about the deaths of Indian Air Force Pilots. Low combatant aircraft Teja’s inclusion in the fleet is also a question mark as Teja has badly failed. The Indian air force is deeply involved in corruption which shows that they are least interested in the deaths of IAF pilots. Indian Air force has become a consistent failure which is evident from the current embarrassment for India in the recent standoff in Balakot Kashmir. Indian jet fighters are better at crash landing rather than dog fights. An Indian Pilot was captured by Pakistan in 1999 when his jet was shot down during a dogfight, same happened in 2019, which means IAF has flying coffins instead of Jets.

The Rafale scam has busted the phenomenon of the Indian Air Force’s best fleet. Indian Air Force has brought a bad name to SU 30 as well. India’s traditional air superiority is now under “threat” as the Chinese Air Force and Pakistan Air Force are rapidly modernizing their air force. Indian Air Force faces daunting logistics, training standardization and force design challenges.

Over 180 IAF pilots have been killed in MiG-21 accidents since 1970. These accidents have also resulted in the deaths of over 40 civilians. It’s no wonder these jets have assumed grim tags such as the ‘flying coffin’ and the ‘widow maker’. In 2002, a MiG-21 crashed into an office building in Jalandhar, killing 8 and injuring 17. The cause of the accident was a technical error. In 2014, a MiG-21 jet crashed in Jammu and Kashmir’s Anantnag district, killing the pilot. In July 2018, a MiG-21 fighter jet crashed in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh, killing the pilot. In 2021, the Indian Air Force (IAF) lost five MiG-21 fighter aircraft to crashes, killing three Indian pilots.

These are just a few of the instances of this flying machine falling through

And yet, 113 MiG-21s are still known to be in operation in the IAF. Moscow has consistently warned India that purchasing faulty second-hand spares from countries like Israel and Ukraine would lead to accidents. Between 2003 and 2013, 38 MiG 21 fighter jets were lost in crashes. The Russian-built Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21 was included in the Air Force in the early 1960s and is known as the “flying coffin” because of its poor safety record. The Indian media produced the film “Rang De Basanti,” which depicted IAF incompetence and the use of vintage planes, which cost lives.

Flight Lieutenant, Amitesh Harmukh was arrested by the police for sexually assaulting a woman officer, following a complaint from the victim, who approached the department saying IAF authorities did not act on her complaint. A senior Group Captain of IAF posted in the crucial Eastern Command has been removed from his current charge for allegedly harassing two women, one of them being the wife of a fellow officer. The IAF is still inquiring about circumstances in the case of flying officer Anjali Gupta’s sexual harassment charges against three senior officers. An FIR was registered against IAF Officer on the charges of sexual harassment by a female Pilot officer. A complaint has been filed by a woman, a resident of Indirapuram, Gaziabad, against an Air Force Wing Commander for harassment and uttering abusive words which have outraged her modestly.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi boasts his government of being corruption-free. But, his claim has become questionable in light of the recent audit of Rafale purchase in France. French website Media part claimed that Dassault Aviation and French defense electronics firm Thales paid millions of euros to Sushen Gupta, an Indian middleman, to influence the fighter jet Rafale deal.  Coffin scam Corruption in defense deals is a norm rather than an exception in India. They did not spare even aluminum caskets used to bring back dead bodies from Kargil heights. General (retd) S P Murgai was found guilty of receiving a bribe of Rs 70,000 in a defense procurement matter. According to Indian Defense Ministry, the number of corruption cases involving the personnel of the Armed Forces since the year 2010 is as under:

  • Army: 1046
  • Air Force: 29
  • Navy: 05

In 2019, the Central Bureau of Investigation registered a case against unknown officials of the Indian Air Force, ministry of defense, arms dealer Sanjay Bhandari and Switzerland-based Pilatus Aircraft Limited for alleged irregularities in the procurement of 75 basic trainer aircraft. The investigation agency has alleged kickbacks worth Rs 339 crore were paid to ensure the deal. According to the CBI, The role of some senior IAF officials and those from the defense ministry is under the scanner. According to the FIR “It is suspected that the Swiss company paid huge commission to Bhandari and part of which was allegedly paid to influence the officials of the IAF and the MoD associated with the procurement”.

The Agusta Westland VVIP chopper scam is a corruption case where it has been alleged that bribes were paid to “middlemen”, perhaps even politicians, when India agreed to buy 12 Agusta Westland helicopters built by Italian defense manufacturing giant Finmeccanica at an estimated cost of Rs 3,600 crore. Former Air Chief Marshal S P Tyagi was arrested on 9 December 2016 in connection with the case. The CBI has alleged that Tyagi played a role in recommending the reduction in the operational ceiling of the helicopters from 6000 m to 4500 m which brought Agusta Westland into the race. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has claimed that names of highly placed individuals and bureaucrats surfaced during its investigation.

At last, I can only conclude that “everything which shines is not gold”. There is a difference between realities and myths. Recently watched an Indian movie “Gunjan Saxena” a beautifully narrated story of a female Pilot and her family and how she struggled for her existence in the Indian Airforce. Victimized for her abilities as a female, harassed and looked down upon, however, she broke the shackles and performs under odds. I still feel Indian Airforce needs such spirits to lift its flight in the era of technology and skills.


The writer is an MS in Political Science and a Ph.D. Scholar of Middle East History at Islamic International University, Islamabad – Pakistan. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.