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Balakot airstrike on Pakistan most significant air action by IAF in over 4 decades: IAF chief Bhadauria

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Balakot Airstrike Anniversary: February 26th marks a year since the Indian Air Force (IAF) penetrated into Pakistani territory and launched precise airstrikes on terror training centres in Balakot. Speaking to IE, Air Chief Marshal Rakesh Kumar Singh Bhadauria said the Balakot airstrikes were the most significant air action undertaken by the IAF in over four decades when its fighters ventured into Pakistan’s airspace, conducted an airstrike on the terror camp with pin-point accuracy and returned home unchallenged.

Talking about how Balakot was a watershed moment in redefining how airpower could be utilised towards meeting national objectives, IAF Chief RKS Bhadauria said the airstrike has changed the paradigm of sub-conventional action and response in the Indian subcontinent. The narrative of Balokot airstrike and the subsequential air operation that took place on February 27 last year were disseminated by all forms of media, and have remained etched in the minds of Indian masses, he said.

Also Read: Balakot airstrikes: How IAF carried out 'Operation Bander' and destroyed JeM terror camps in Pakistan

Bhadauria added that in the past one year, the IAF has continued to focus on readiness and operational training, secure communications upgradation, inducting enhanced Beyond Visual Range (BVR) missiles, and on standoff weapon capability. In line with the changing threat scenario, he said the IAF has looked closely at plans of modernisation and acquisition.

Mentioning the big lesson learned from Balakot, and its impact on future missions, the Air Chief Marshal said the airstrike demonstrated IAF’s capability and level of operational preparedness. He stated that the airstrikes were conducted with precision, the package was perfectly coordinated and the operation comprised of combat aircraft and enablers from multiple airbases across the country. The Balakot airstrike was a testimony to the planning and training of all those involved as they performed their tasks admirably under challenging conditions, he said.

He stated that the complex mission was conceived and executed in complete secrecy and it went unchallenged at a time when the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) was on full alert. Several lessons have been learned from the Balakot airstrike, he said, and added that the IAF has instituted measures covering induction of new capability and operational training and tactics, which will further enhance IAF’s operational capability to undertake any similar mission in the future.

Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said the IAF was aware of the reducing strengths of the combat platforms, and measures have been put in place to overcome the shortfalls by a combination of capability and capacity enhancements. Midlife upgrades and a series of weapons integration on legacy platforms have been instituted, he said, and added that the Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Mk1A and MRFA would help halt the reducing trend. He opined that once the upgraded platforms come to the end of their life cycles, the LCA Mk2 will thereafter boost the numbers, and added that, as alluded by the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), these inductions will be spread over the coming years so as to help spread out the funding.

Regarding the IAF’s future plans, ACM Bhadauria stated there were plans for more Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) via both development and acquisition routes, and the enhancement of refuelling capability was also being looked at. On priority was the upgradation of Sukhoi-30 (Su-30) and that the S-400 missile system’s delivery schedule was being optimised in coordination with the Russian side, he added.

On the topic of IAF’s challenges on the northern borders, the Air Chief Marshal said the IAF, like any armed force, was monitoring the threats and challenges across their geographical and strategic spaces of operation. Though northern borders posed a difficult proposition, the IAF was adequately prepared, he avered.

Talking about the news around integrated theatre commands, Air Chief Marshal Bhadauria said that the air power of the country is highly inadequate to allow fragmentation into smaller theatres of operation, but the IAF is studying methods to create joint theatres while retaining the capability to bear the maximum possible firepower from air at the desired point of delivery across the entire national Area of Responsibility (AOR) in the shortest possible time.