Gaganshakti-2018: Historic Air Force exercise 'shakes heavens, splits Earth'
The Indian Air Force (IAF) is in the middle of its largest exercise in three decades, with more than 1,100 aircraft involved in "flying a lot of sorties and dropping a lot of bombs," said Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa. All training activities have been suspended for 'Gaganshakti-2018,' something only done during war. "I'd say we're really shaking the heavens and splitting the Earth."
The prime aim of Gaganshakti, scheduled during April 8-22, is to test IAF's readiness for a two-front war with China and Pakistan, though Dhanoa hasn't officially confirmed it. But he claimed "every single platform in the IAF's inventory is being exercised." Every wartime drill is being practiced - from deep strikes to air dominance and long-range maritime strikes to air defense.
#GaganShakti2018 : Glimpses of Battalion Level Drop...Leap of Faith, Courage Commitment to the Service. Safeguarding the Blue Skies of the Nation.— Indian Air Force (@IAF_MCC) April 15, 2018
Jai Hind!!!@SpokespersonMoD @DefenceMinIndia @adgpi @indiannavy @DrSubhashMoS pic.twitter.com/ko9grElzbz
The massive operations have engaged 1,100 aircraft (half are fighter jets), 300 officers and over 15,000 airmen. Teams of army and navy are also participating in joint drills. Overall, more than 6,000 flight hours have been recorded and more sorties seen in just three days, than fighters would normally conduct in a month, Dhanoa said. The Tejas was also deployed for the first time.
These days have witnessed spectacular shows, an IAF statement said. One exercise involving the Parachute Brigade "included paradrop of 560 paratroopers, combat vehicles and GPS-guided cargo platforms." In evacuation drills, 88 "casualties" were airlifted from Leh to Chandigarh via a modified C-17 Globemaster aircraft. In maritime air operations, Su-30s "engaged multiple targets...and (ended up) covering 4,000km in one mission." The IL-78 aircraft refueled them mid-air.
"India has not witnessed anything at this scale since Operation Brass Tacks in 1987," Dhanoa said. Operation Brass Tacks was till then India's largest peacetime military exercise, and had sent shockwaves through Pakistan.
Barring a few glitches, the overall exercise has been successful so far. In one instance, a Jaguar fighter veered off the runway at Bhuj airbase due to bad weather. A few Tejas aircraft developed snags, but HAL corrected them in less than 12 hours. However, compared to an ideal flight squadron of 42 units, the IAF currently has just 30 (excluding eight Tejas aircraft).
Like in 1987, Pakistan has once again been rattled, Dhanoa said. "We have noticed that (Pakistan) is monitoring Gaganshakti-2018 closely through their airborne sensors" despite being notified earlier, he said, suggesting the sheer scale and complexity of the exercise was unnerving for the western neighbor.