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SOURCE: PTI

The Indian Air Force will display its full spectrum of combat and fire capabilities during Exercise Vayu Shakti-2024 at the Pokharan range close to the India-Pakistan border in Rajasthan on February 17. Fighter jet Rafale, Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) Prachand and Apache attack helicopters will be among the assets taking part in the exercise for the first time, Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal A P Singh told reporters here.

The triennial exercise will take place for 2.15 hours during the day, dusk and night, he said.

“We plan to conduct this Exercise Vayu Shakti 2024 to showcase the full spectrum of operations that Indian aerospace power can undertake. And, it is going to be conducted in a near-realistic scenario,” Air Marshal Singh said.

More than 100 aircraft will participate in the exercise this year including support aircraft and stand-by assets on ground, he said.

These will include all the new, indigenously manufactured or designed aircraft, such as ‘Tejas’, Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv, ‘Prachand’, and aircraft from other fleet such as Rafale, Jaguar, Mirage-2000, Su-30 MKI, MiG-29 and Hawk.

“Obviously, there will be some changes so that things are visible to the people who have come to see. So, you may see changes from what are actual ways of firing.

“But what we are ensuring is that not only we are practising and showcasing our assets and equipment and the capabilities of the crew which is operating those equipment, we are also showcasing how we can take on task in a coordinated manner in a short time-frame to be able to deliver close to 40-50 tonnes of ammo in a radius of 1.5 km. It is something which is going to be shown there,” he said.

The first firepower demonstration exercise was done way back in 1954 at the Tipat range in Haryana. The exercise was conducted there till 1989.

Thereafter, it was moved to Pokharan given the IAF’s logistical needs, restrictions and increased bird activity at Tilpat, the Vice Chief of Air Staff said.

The 2024 exercise carries the tagline ‘lightning strike from the sky’ (translation from Sanskrit phrase).

“It will demonstrate air-to-air refuelling going on somewhere, AWACS (Airborne Warning & Control System) control going on somewhere, keeping track of all the formation. All exercise will be done in an integrated command and control environment,” he added.

The exercise will be carried out under the Gandhinagar-based South Western Air Command (SWAC).

The objective is to highlight the operational preparedness of the IAF and its resolve and strength towards ensuring national security while fostering a “sense of pride” among people, a senior IAF official from SWAC said here.

It will display both modern and legacy platforms and home-grown LCH, ALH and other assets, he said, adding, schoolchildren will also be invited.

When asked which assets will take part in the triennial exercise for the first time, Air Marshal Singh said, “Rafale is (taking part for the) very first time, since it wasn’t with us earlier. Prachand will take part for the first time. Rudra will fire two weapons, earlier it had fired one weapon. C17 aircraft will drop… for the first time. Besides, Apache will also take part for the first time.” A surface-to-air platform will also be showcased for the first time. Some radars which were not deployed earlier will also take part but not directly, he said.

After Exercise Vayu Shakti-2019, the next edition was planned in 2022. However, it did not take place in 2022, the year that saw intensified Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Transport aircraft C17 and C130, helicopters Chinook and Apache, amon others will take part in actual demonstrations. Apart from that Avro, AN-32, which have been part of earlier exercises, will be in supporting role, Air Marshal Singh said.

The exercise will have air-to-air, air-to-ground, unguided weapons, guided weapons, long-range weapons, though they will be released at short-range.

“We will also have surface-to-air weapon firing at aerial targets. We have integrated Army into the exercise, and their guns will be airlifted (then fired),” he said.

It showcases “our capabilities at all times and in all weather”, officials said.

The senior IAF officer said the exercise also lays emphasis on weapon delivery and its accurate delivery, and shows that “different wings and IAF’s own wings, can work in a coordinated manner”.

In response to a query, he said, the Navy will play a role in backstage controlling and the integrated command and control but no weapon from their side will be taking part in it.

Various missiles using Rafale and Tejas platforms will also be showcased, officials said, adding Akash will also be fired during the exercise.

Asked if the NOTAM (notice to airmen) has been issued, Air Marshal Singh said NOTAMs are standard procedures, and it has already been issued, and practice will start from Saturday. The neighbouring country also gets to know about any exercise, he said.

Aircraft will be launched from bases in Jodhpur, Jaisalmler, Phalodi, Nal, Uttarlai, and also Hindon and Agra, he said.

Asked if UAVs will take part in it, he said, they will. “In a support role”.