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Friday , January 24 , 2014
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Left, right, right, left… Military out of step

Ground control to air force control: Delay by 10 minutes.

Ground control to air force control: Sorry. Delay by three minutes.

Ground control to air force control: Sorry again. Delay by four minutes.

Too… whoosh… late!

Thank god, it was a parade dress rehearsal and not a bombing run. Over and out.

New Delhi, Jan. 23: The army is too slow and the air force too fast on Rajpath.

Father Time sired a spat between the army and the air force at the full dress rehearsal today for the final show of the Republic Day parade slated for Sunday, January 26.

The Indian Air Force aircraft for the flypast flew over Rajpath even before the last of the contingents in the parade had marched down. In the precision drill, the main flypast is expected to unfold in the sky after the last soldier had marched past the salute podium on the ground.

In a comedy of errors that marked the rehearsal, the army has blamed the air force, the air force has blamed the army, and the army has in turn blamed the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) that, it said, was tardy with its tableaux (as with its projects).

All of this is happening at a time when “synergisation” and “joint operations” are the buzzwords for the Indian military forces. The army’s directorate of ceremonies and welfare is the nodal agency for the Republic Day parade.

The air force chief, Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, has now called for the audio-visual footage to find out what went wrong.

“Thank God for the full dress rehearsal. Now we know what to do and what not to do,” said an army officer. But he admitted that the full dress rehearsal, to which many are invited, was usually much better than what it was today.

The army’s Delhi Area chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Rajbir Singh, said after the rehearsal that the air force aircraft for the flypast flew in too quickly over Rajpath.

Singh is the deputy to the parade commander, Lt Gen. Subroto Mitra, the general-officer-commanding Delhi Area.

But sources in the Western Air Command of the Indian Air Force said the army was too slow and that its ground-controller, who would communicate with the operations room of the air force, “had lost his cool and did not seem to know what instructions to relay”.

The logistics of the annual Republic Day parade are complex but with the year-on-year show, the armed forces have standard operating procedures. The procedures call for precision in timing that begin with the departure of the President from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the saluting base for the 90-minute ceremony that climaxes with the flypast by the Indian Air Force’s aircraft.

Like the contingents on the ground, the IAF also involves aircraft based in Ambala, Jodhpur and even as far as Pune. The aircraft are varied and fly at different speeds —from the slow Mi-17 helicopters to the large C-17 Globemaster III to the supersonic combat planes such as the Sukhoi 30Mki. (They fly subsonic in the flypast.)

At the rehearsal today, the ground-controller told air force control that the parade was delayed by 10 minutes because some of the contingents had not kept the pace. The IAF fleet that was “orbiting” west of Delhi was asked to therefore slow down and fly over Rajpath 10 minutes later than the time given to them in the original schedule.

Air force sources said a second message from the control was relayed. This time they were told that the delay was just three minutes. The aircraft went out of orbit and set course for Rajpath with three Dhruv helicopters of the Army Aviation Corps in ‘Vic’ formation in the lead and a Su-30Mki at the tail for the enthralling ‘Vertical Charlie’ (a steep climb upwards).

Air force control got a third message to delay by four minutes, the sources said. This was impossible because the aircraft had already set course. As a result, the aircraft flew over Rajpath even as the last of the marching contingents had not gone past the saluting base. The result was that the commentators and the viewing public and the media that are to telecast the event live were confused.

Air Chief Marshal Raha asked for the audio-visual footage later in the day. An army officer said the DRDO contingent had caused the confusion because its tableaux were not being driven at the speed that had been determined for the parade. The DRDO is displaying the Tejas light combat aircraft (30 years in the making), an improved version of the Arjun Main Battle Tank (25 years in the making) and tableaux of the “Astra” (likely to be test-fired next month) and “Helina” missiles and unmanned aerial systems (none of which has been inducted in the armed forces or is operational). The army is now considering asking the DRDO to reduce the number of its exhibits.