Responding to nuclear strikes, chemical warfare and testing the Tejas: What Indian Air Force tried to perfect in Gagan Shakti 2018

IAF sources said they found the performance of the HAL Tejas satisfactory.

Responding to nuclear strikes, chemical warfare and testing the Tejas: What Indian Air Force tried to perfect in Gagan Shakti 2018
The HAL Tejas was put to operational testing for the first time. (Picture: Tejas)

NEW DELHI: The Indian Air Force used the recently-concluded Gagan Shakti 2018 exercises to test its preparation and capabilities with scenarios of nuclear and chemical warfare. The validation of the IAF's procedures and practices to continue operations in these worst-case scenarios.

The IAF's testing of its SOPs entailed measure that would allow it maintain air superiority and operations in a region if one of the airbases in the area has been decapitated by a nuclear strike or a chemical weapons attack. Some of the contingencies that were played out in these exercises included the repairing of runways that have suffered bomb damage, the restoration of essential services and mass casualty evacuation at forward bases.

The 13-day Gagan Shakti 2018 exercises also saw the extensive testing of the newly-inducted homemade HAL Tejas supersonic fighter jet. Check the combat capability of the Tejas and its performance was a key area of focus of the exercises. IAF sources told news agency PTI that the performance of the Tejas was satisfactory.

The source said eight Tejas were deployed during the exercise and some of these had reported minor technical issues, adding each of the six Tejas had flown six sorties daily like any other platforms including the Sukhoi Su-30, Mirage 2000 and MiG-29 jets.

The exercises also helped hone the integration of the nuclear-capable hypersonic BrahMos and anti-ship Harpoon missile platforms into their intended strike roles.

The Gagan Shakti exercises also tested the IAF's capabilities in a possible two-front war scenario involving Pakistan and China. The exercises also saw the use of fighter jets stationed on the eastern part of the country for operations on the western seaboard, over the Arabian Sea. The strategic reach was also tested with area domination around the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which lie at the entry to the Malacca Strait, one of the most important waterways in the world.

The IAF also tested its capabilities at the frontier with China. The region is a challenge because of the high altitudes and capabilities on this front would be critical to any ground operations.

The whole point of the exercises, which are held once in two years, is to test the IAF's combat readiness all at once. That means every single personnel and equipment is put to the test simultaneously, just as it would if the country were at war.

During the exercise, the sources said over 11,000 sorties were flown which included nearly 9,000 sorties by fighter aircraft. The exercise covered all terrains including desert, high altitude areas like Ladakh and maritime sphere.

During combat drills near Sino-India border, the IAF significantly focused on inter valley transfer of troops considering various possible situations of conflict and taking a lesson from the Doklam standoff.

(With inputs from PTI)