Armed Forces Overviews

Indian Air Force - Bharatiya Vayu Sena

Other Forces

By Hans van Herk



The former British colony of India was divided into present-day India and Pakistan. India became an independent republic on 26th January 1950. It consists of 22 states and 9 union territories. A neutralist policy has been traditionally followed, although there have been several instances of military action, mostly against Pakistan, but also against the former Portuguese India (Goa) and against intruding forces on the Kashmir and Tibet borders. The President is the nominal Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, but control is exercised through the Minister of Defence.

Bharatiya Vayu Sena / Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force is a young service. The oldest of its units is only 60 years old. Its birth in 1932 and its growth to date can be conveniently divided into four 15-year periods: 1932 - 1947 - 1962 - 1977 - 1992. By a coincidence these dates correspond to the major changes in the structure, composition and the capability of the Air Force. The 1990s started on a very unfortunate note for the Indian Air Force in particular. Economic difficulties along with the collapse of the Soviet Union severely affected expansion and modernisation plans, and various key programmes were pushed back by at least half a decade. Major problems with the availability of spares and support from the ex-USSR affected operations severely during 1991-1994, and serviceability rates declined heavily. Recovery started in the mid 1990s, when India learned from tense lessons. Much needed overhaul facilities were established and where possible, equipment and spares were saved through the widespread use of simulators. The average pilot flight hours are back to the standard 180-200 figure. The formulation in 1997 of India's first ever Air Power Doctrine (APD) provided the main map to modernisation and ensures that the Indian Air Force remains a viable deterrent against its principal potential adversaries.

The Indian Air Force has accepted that the increased costs of maintaining a modern and effective air force in the future would necessitate a reduction in quantitative levels. The MiG-21bis-UPG (or MiG-21 Bison as they are called by the IAF) upgrade programme is finally well underway. IAF's second-generation fighter types - the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 - will see an intensive avionics upgrade as well as the ability for some of the MiG-29s being equipped for air refuelling. The multi-role capability and very high serviceability of the Mirage 2000 (close to 90%), has led the Indian Air Force placing an order for an additional ten aircraft to be delivered by 2004. The Sukhoi Su-30MK/MKI is the most important combat aircraft programme currently underway. The licence production of this combat aircraft started in 2004 and will be completed by 2017. The first eighteen Su-30MKs were not converted to MKI configuration, but were withdrawn from use. They finally were returned to Russia, but the aircraft emerged in Belarus.

As far as training is concerned the Indian Air Force finally agreed on the choice for the Advanced Jet Trainer (AJT) programme. The contract for a total of 66 Hawk Mk132 was officially signed in Delhi on March 26, 2004. All BAE built Hawks were delivered between November 2007 and October 2009. The locally assembled Hawks started delivery in August 2008. In the meantime, the HJT-36 Sitara (Intermediate Jet Trainer) is under full-scale development and was expected to enter service in 2004 to replace the HJT-16 Kiran. However, the project faces several delays and the first aircraft will not be delivered before 2013.

The HQ of the Indian Air Force Command is located at Delhi and is commanded by the Chief of Air Staff. The Indian AF currently has five operational commands, each of which is under an AOC-in-C (Air Officer Commander-in-Chief) with the rank of Air Marshal. The IAF also has two additional commands - Training Command and Maintenance Command - to maintain a uniform standard in training and maintenance.

Western Air Command

With its headquarters located at Delhi -Palam AFS-, it is the most important of the five regional commands. It controls air operations north of Jaipur, including the capital and Punjab, from Kashmir south to Rajasthan. There is an Air Operations Group at the Udhampur AFS, formed in 1982, which is dedicated to the defence of Jammu & Kashmir and also includes Ladakh. There is a forward headquarters located near the Army's Western Command at Chandigarh. Western Air Command features mostly air defence squadrons and ground attack squadrons.

South Western Air Command

South Western Air Command (SWAC) was established in 1980 at Jodhpur. Headquarters are now located at Ghandinagar AFS (Gujarat). Previously the area currently covered by SWAC was under the operational control of the Western Air Command. SWAC controls air operations in the south western air sector, which includes most of Rajasthan, and south through Gujarat to Saurashtra, and Kutch to Pune. Because SWAC has no sensitive adjacent areas, its task has been largely air defence, however, it is now reported to have a strike mission.

Central Air Command

Headquarters of Central Air Command are located at Allahabad AFS (Uttar Pradesh). CAC controls air operations in all of central India, from Delhi to Bengal. This command was reduced in size with the establishment of the Southern Air Command. It is the main transport command with aircraft like the IAF's workhorse - the An-32 -, the long-range heavy lift Il-76MD and the Dornier Do228 used in the utility role. CAC also has helicopter squadrons like the Mi-8 Hip & Mi-17 Hip and the heavy lift, Mi-26 Halo.

Eastern Air Command

Eastern Air Command controls air operations in the eastern sector, which includes West Bengal, Assam, Mizoram and the other eastern states bordering Bangladesh, Myanmar and Tibet. With its headquarters located at Shillong AFS (Meghalaya), it features -as with Western Air Command- mostly air defence squadrons and ground attack squadrons.

Southern Air Command

With its headquarters located at Trivandrum AFS (Kerala), it controls air operations in the southern sector which includes all the southern states, the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman & Nicobar Islands and Lakshwadeep. Some of the airbases located in the responsible area also have training and support units. SAC features no combat aircraft squadrons, but could do so in an emergency.

Training Command

Prospective military pilots come from three sources: the National Defence Academy (NDA) in Pune, the National Cadet Corps (NCC) and the various universities. The NCC, which has facilities all over India, operates types as the Zenith CH-701. Students from the National Defence Academy, who are able to fly the eight HK-36TC Super Dimona motor gliders during their time at Pune, can go straight to the Air Force Academy. Other trainees have to undergo six months training at the IAF's Pre-Flying Training School at Begumpet, near Hyderabad. Although the headquarters of Training Command is located at Yelahanka AFB, Bangalore (Karnataka) most of the flying and ground training establishments are located in central and southern India.

Maintenance Command

With its headquarters located at Nagpur (Madhya Pradesh), it handles the repair, overhaul and maintenance of all aircraft, helicopters and other equipment. Official website of the IAF's Maintenance Command.