Thursday, Oct 09, 2003
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By Our Special Correspondent
In the morning, the IAF put up an aerial display of technological advancement, the show stealers being the mid-air refuellers to enable fighters stay in the air for up to 10 hours, the sky-diving team and unmanned aerial vehicles acquired from Israel to enhance surveillance capabilities.
It was also the occasion for remembering its top performers. Three guards of the Defence Security Corps and two IAF personnel were decorated for repelling a terrorist attack on the Avantipora Air Force base in Srinagar. All the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants were killed before they could gain entry into the complex housing fighter aircraft and missiles.The commanding officer of a Mirage squadron, Rajesh Kumar, was awarded for precision firing that cleared temporary occupation of territory in Jammu and Kashmir by terrorists. The Army had called in the Air Force after an assault bid by its troops failed due to bad weather and practically inaccessible terrain. MiG-21 instructor Tariq Saleem Khan was honoured posthumously. His body, along with that of a trainee pilot, lies unrecovered in the jungles of Bhutan along with the wreckage of a MiG-21 trainer as Thimpu is sensitive to Indian troops entering the jungles for a ground search due to the presence of ULFA and Bodo extremists. The flawless aerial acrobatics, mid-air fuelling of two Sukhois by the recently acquired giant Iluyshin-78 tanker and prospects of adding advanced jet trainers (AJTs) and aircraft mounted advanced air warning radars (AWACS) moved the IAF chief to declare: "We are already a professional force and now we are in the process of turning into an elite one. We are a strong and professional combat force but we need to be careful while choosing what suits us as it should also be cost effective.''This was the day when the frustration caused by frequent crashes of MiG variants, collapse of an indigenous AWACS programme, delay in the production of its replacement, slow promotional avenues and missed time schedules for receiving new technology were pushed to the background. The much delayed modernisation of 125 MiG-21 BiS variants is now progressing smoothly and several of them have been upgraded to the "Bison'' type which are "more potent'', according to Air Chief Marshal Krishnaswamy.
Over a dozen simulators for different types of aircraft will improve initial training and the helicopter will soon be overhauled and strengthened.
The best fighter squadron award was bagged by the Gwalior-based Number 7 `Battleaxes' which flies Mirages and the Number 44 transport squadron, whose giant transporter, IL-76, flew to Alaska for an Indo-U.S. exercise, was adjudged the best among transporters and the best Helicopter squadron award went to Number 104 `Pioneer Rotarians'.
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