The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mock battle, proud memories

Pokhran, Dec. 8: Invisible to the enemy, two Mirage-2000 warplanes zipped across the sky dropping laser-guided bombs that exploded with deafening booms, catching the enemy radar unawares.

The smoke had not settled down when three Sukhoi-30s dived and then soared away after pounding an enemy column of armoured vehicles with 20 bombs of 100kg each.

Almost exactly 36 years ago, Indian Air Force Hunters had destroyed over 40 Pakistani T-59 tanks and armoured vehicles at the Longewala border, barely five minutes’ flying time from here.

Relations between India and Pakistan may have improved since that battle of December 5 and 6, 1971, but those two days are still fresh in the air force’s memory.

As the IAF displayed its firepower at a military range here, the battle of Longewala found frequent mention.

“The IAF Hunters from the Jaisalmer base had blown up a column of Pakistani armoured vehicles. It is still a source of inspiration for young fighter pilots,” said the official commentator as a squadron leader in his thirties nodded.

Nearly 50 IAF aircraft, flown from airfields at Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Barmer, Bikaner, Agra and Gwalior, took part in the exercise watched by defence minister A.K. Antony.

The Sukhoi-30s and the Mirage-2000s were accompanied by MiG-21 and MiG-27 planes, including some MiG-27s that have been indigenously upgraded from MiG-23.

An Mi-35 helicopter gunship, an Mi-17 IV chopper — called the Sea Eagle — and the AN-32 medium-lift tactical support aircraft also did their bit, dropping bombs and shooting missiles at targets.

The AN-32 also carpet-bombed a make-believe petrol and oil-lubricating depot. An unmanned aerial vehicle, with its distinct hum, kept “watch” across the “enemy lines”.

Even as the UAV demonstrated the growing use of technology in modern warfare, some combat troops showed why there can be no substitute for old-fashioned human bravery.

An enemy depot and a nearby radar needed to be taken over manually. Under the watchful eyes of two Sukhoi-30 planes, a group of half-a-dozen Garuds slithered down a rope from another aircraft.

Named after the mythological superbird which could fight both on land and in the air, the Garuds are combat troops trained in “short-term insertion and extraction”, the commentator informed.

The strategy became crystal clear over the next few minutes — drop men down at a precise, pre-decided place, give them just enough time to take control of the radar and dismantle it, and then pick them up.

The six troopers hung below the aircraft as it raced away from the enemy positions, back to safety.

It was time to celebrate victory with the Vertical Charlie, a move where a Sukhoi-30 changes direction suddenly — from horizontal to vertical, shooting you straight into the sky.

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