, NEW DELHI: Declaring that the Indian Air Force has obtained strategic depth operational capability with the induction of mid-air refuellers and more of advanced SU-30 MKI fighters, Air Chief S Krishnaswamy on Monday said work has started on an aerospace command to have weapon platforms in space.

“Any country on the fringe of space technology like India has to work towards such a command as advanced countries are already moving towards laser weapon platforms in space and killer satellites,” he said.

Asserting that such futuristic weapons systems were no longer in the realms of science fiction, the Air Chief said, “IAF has started work on conceptualising such a weapons systems and its operational command system”.

On the strategic forces command, raised recently to operate and command country's nuclear arsenal, Krishnaswamy told newsmen on the 71st anniversary of the IAF falling on Wednesday that the command has become “operational”.

“Elements that are supposed to be there are there along with a newly set up chain of command and operational manuals,” he said.

While conceding that there were some 'hiccups” in the efforts to build an indigenous air attack defence missile systems like Akash and Trishul, Krishnaswamy said the slippages were temporary.

In the meantime the IAF as an interim measure could go in for import of limited surface to air missiles besides upgrading the existing Russian plethora missiles, he said.

The Bagdogra airbase trains the 'inexperienced' pilots to fly MIG-21. While the operational role of the Indian Air Force is carried out by all its combat squadrons, the training role is entrusted to a select few.

The AOC, nevertheless, admitted that both the squadrons were equipped with 'earlier version' of MIG-21. “We lay a great deal of stress on realistic training in grooming both our operational air and ground crew to be thorough professionals so as to develop a sound team spirit. I can proudly say that our pilots are very competent and comparable with the best in the world,” Air commodore john said.

Asked how a pilot trained in 'earlier version' is capable of handling the modified MIGs, the AOC cited the example of 'ambassador' cars.

“The basic system of the MIGs is same. Only the avionics are improved in later versions which make those flying easy.”

Dwelling on the training part, the Air Commodore explained how the young pilots go through a very 'demanding course' of general military service training and ground studies programme in their respective training schools and academics where they 'know' the aircraft they will fly.

After the initial training here, the young fighter pilots get posted to Tezpur station to undergo phase I of MIG 21 operational flying training. Following its successful completion, they comeback at Bagdogra for their phase II training.

Flying officer Prithvi Ponnappa echoed his senior officer. “It is really thrilling when one sits in the cockpit of an aircraft that flies double the speed of sound. The training provides for strength of character and develops qualities of good leadership of the Air war,” he said.

The standards laid down for pilots to successfully attain their flying wings were very high. Taking a round of different sections of its training squadrons and seeing the hardship the young pilots were put into, it could safely be said in today's aerial combat environment, it is the 'survival of the fittest'.

Not only the operation, Bagdogra has also done maintenance of the MIGS. After every 50 hours of flying, the aircraft are subject to 'second line' of servicing at the base. However, it required a 'fourth line' overhauling in Bangalore following 85 hours of flying.

A MIG-21 consumes 200 litres of aviation turbine fuel from the time of starting at the bay till it takes off. When it gets airborne, the consumption of fuel varies between 40 and 80 litres per minute depending upon height and power settings.

The fighter aircraft can carry 32 rockets and two bombs with an option for either of the two. It can also take 245 rounds of cartridges for 23-mm cannon to destroy an enemy target.

Not only the fighter aircraft, Bagdogra airbase has an elite helicopter unit equipped with 'Chetak' and 'Cheetah' choppers.

The 'Chetaks' with two pilots and five passengers are used for communication duties and can land at 10,000 ft height, while 'Cheetahs' for high altitude race, communication and casualty evacuation assignments. It is the only copter India has produced to land in Siachen glacier.

In its MI-8/MI-17 'Tettra' (technical type training) school, both aircrew and ground crew were trained for these two Russian copters. It conducts courses both theory and practical with the help of a simulator for all technical trades and this training is recognised by the director general of civil aviation.

For IAF, therefore, Bagdogra is an important transit base leading to the east. Established in the wake of Sino-Indian border conflict in 1962, the Air Force station here is located in the apex vital Siliguri corridor connecting the north-eastern states with the rest of the country and also has close proximity to China, Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan.

The base provides transit and air traffic services (ATS) facilities to all the service and civil aircraft when flying over the narrow corridor. Bagdogra is also on ATS route for domestic and international air traffic between Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.

With the Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Pawan Hans operating daily for Delhi, Kolkata and Gangtok to cater to the hill traffic, the air traffic in this sector is fairly congested.

In its casualty evacuation duty, the helicopter flight of the base is constantly asked to undertake rescue operations from remote corners in the hills often affected by landslides and snowfall. A number of missions for rescue of mountaineering expedition team members from the country and abroad have been undertaken by this unit in the recent past.

Supplying Air logistics to the troops in Sikkim and North Bengal was one of the main jobs of this airbase. Due to vagaries of weather, the armed forces depend much on this station for air dropping essentials.

Free air courier facilities have been provided by the Centre to troops in the forward areas from north eastern states to Delhi/Bangalore and back.

Bagdogra, therefore, although primarily a fighter training base but ever-increasing tourism potential and boost in trade with neighbours enhanced the tactical and strategic importance of the base.

In the course of a 90-minute interaction with the media, the Air Chief said on the induction programme that two of the six IL-78 refuellers had arrived from Uzbekistan and made operational. The rest of the four would be inducted by the year end.

He said the SU-30MKI and deep penetration strike aircraft Jaguars had become mid-air refuelling operational, while work was on to procure the refuelling nozzles for the French made Mirage 2000.

“We have already conducted exercises with refuellers between Pune and Car Nicobar and the deployment capability had been proven with aircraft remaining in the air for over ten hours without landing,” Krishnaswamy said.

He said two squadrons of the upgraded MI-21 Bisons had become operational in the frontier Punjab province and the third was in the process of going through final flying and training tests in Ozar in Nasik in Maharashtra.

The Air Chief said three more Bison squadrons would become operational by the March next year and said for the first time the MIG-21 in the shape of Bisons would take part in this year Air Force Day flypast.

Asserting that IAF has taken up a major modernisation drive, Krishnaswamy said final approval was given to have 17 kinds of simulators for the IAF including simulators for fighters like mig-27, jaguars, mirage 2000 as well as for transport aircraft like AN-32 and IL-76.

Besides this, he said IAF would also import simulators for electronic warfare systems and for Air traffic control.

Source: PTI