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Bengal boy takes over as IAF chief

Raha after he took over from NAK Browne. (PTI)

New Delhi, Dec. 31: A boy from Baidyabati in Hooghly district today took over as the 24th head of the Indian Air Force.

Air Chief Marshal Raha is the first head of the IAF to have been commissioned into the service after the 1971 war. The air chief grew up in Baidyabati and Calcutta — the city that also gave the Indian Air Force its first Indian chief: Air Chief Marshal Subroto Mukherjee.

He studied at Sainik School, Purulia, before being selected for the National Defence Academy. He won the President’s gold medal in 1973 and was commissioned in 1974.

A no-nonsense fighter pilot, the Air Chief Marshal walks into the Vayusena Bhavan office that overlooks South and North Blocks when the Indian Air Force is coping with a falling combat strength and is desperate for new acquisitions.

“Accretion through new acquisitions, replacement of obsolete equipment with state-of-the-art inductions and upgrade of the vintage weapon platforms would bolster our capabilities,” Raha said in his first message after taking over from N.A.K. Browne to the men and women he commands. Browne retired today.

“IAF is on a trajectory of modernisation and is transforming into a strategic aerospace power with full spectrum capability,” the new chief said.

Raha, who was the vice-chief of the IAF and headed the central and western air commands in the past, is acutely aware of the force’s changing technological profile.

“In this strategic transformation process I expect sustained effort and special attention from all air warriors to maintain high operational status of the legacy equipment, while operationalising the new inductions in a time bound manner,” he said.

Among his top priorities is the biggest military acquisition that has been in the pipeline for more than a year: 126 medium multi-role combat aircraft for which the French plane, Rafale, has been shortlisted. Price negotiations with the manufacturer, Dassault Aviation, began in February this year.