Significance of Exercise ‘Gagan Shakti-2018’
Arvind Gupta, Director, VIF

The Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a massive pan-India Exercise ‘Gagan Shakti 2018’ from 08-22 Apr 2018 involving practically the entire operational and logistic component of the IAF. What is the significance of the exercise?

India faces formidable security challenges on the Northern and Western borders. China is rapidly modernising its air force. It has significantly improved its military infrastructure in Tibet. Pakistan has stepped up its defence budget (19.6 percent growth in 2018). It gets substantial military assistance from China. It is introducing new fighter aircraft, JF-10, into its air force. Thus Indian military, including the IAF, have to be ready to meet these challenges. The IAF should have the necessary assets to create a deterrent against adversaries. Exercise Gagan Shakti-2018 was aimed to test the IAF’s preparedness to meet the potential threats to the country.

The scale of Exercise was impressive. 11,000 sorties were carried out of which 9,000 were by fighter aircraft. It was conducted over land and sea covering the entire Western and Northern Borders. An important element of this Exercise was to conduct joint operations with the Indian Navy and the Indian Army as per the joint military doctrine announced last year.

There are many aspects of the IAF which are not well understood by the public. It goes to the credit of the Government that the details of the two-week long Exercise were published. This has created a positive image in the public.

The entire Exercise was carried out in a network centric mode. In Phase -1 of the Exercise, the Western, South-Western and Southern Air Commands, along with the Army and Navy components, were activated. In Phase II, forces were redeployed at new locations within a short period of 48 hours.

The scope of Gagan Shakti was impressive. Some of the key features of the exercise were as follows:-

• Diverse range of air combat mission were undertaken.
• Air defence umbrella to help ground forces was created.
• Long range maritime strikes with the help of maritime reconnaissance support from the Indian Navy aircraft were tested.
• AWACS, air to air refueling, battalion group para drop, special operations with Garud Commandos, search-and-rescue of ground-air crew behind enemy lines, sea rescue and operations from advance landing grounds were conducted.
• All qualified and medically fit crew upto 48 years of age were employed during the exercise.
• Close cooperation with Airport Authority of India for airspace coordination was established.
• Reliability of communication, network air defence system and software was tested.
• Combat assets, including aircraft, missile systems and radar, were tested.
• ‘Surge operations’ in which fighter aircrafts did maximum number of sorties in a 24 hour cycle were carried out. All air-to-ground ranges in India were made active.
• The efficacy and integration of the recently inducted indigenous Light Combat Fighter Aircraft (LCA) Tejas was tested.
• Round the clock operations of aircrafts like C-17 and IL-76 as well as tactical air-lift with C-130 and AN-32 were tested.

The exercise seems to have been flawlessly executed. Highlights of the Exercise were:-

• The IAF was able to achieve 80 percent serviceability of aircraft and 97 percent serviceability of radars, surface- to-air guided weapons. This was a big plus for the IAF.
• The dispatch rate of combat assets was achieved up to 95 percent.
• Combat support system were available upto 100 percent.
• Excellent support was received from HAL, BEL and DRDO.
• Different techniques for repairing runways after bomb damage were practiced.
• Synergy with the Railways in mobilisation operations was achieved.

The interesting part was that the Exercise Gagan Shakti was carried out in the context of the joint operational doctrine of the Indian Armed Forces. IAF and Indian Army together undertook Inter-Valley Troop Transfer (IVTT) in the Northern and North-East Sectors. Repositioning of troops which would normally take a couple of days was done within a couple of hours. IAF also engaged targets in the maritime domain in conjunction with Indian Navy’s P8I Maritime reconnaissance aircraft.

Speaking at the Vivekananda International Foundation (VIF) on 26th April, 2018, Air Chief Marshal B. S. Dhanoa, said that the entire Exercise was completed without a mishap. Operational doctrines of the IAF and the Joint Military Doctrine of the Indian Military was fully tested during the exercise. The Exercise must have been monitored by the Chinese and the Pakistanis with great interest. They must have drawn appropriate lessons from it.

Exercise Gagan Shakti-2018 assumes a great importance in the context of the role of IAF in the changing security environment. The Air Chief pointed out that the IAF operates 32 diverse platforms from 19 countries. The Exercise tested all of them and also the synergy amongst them. According to him, the IAF has acquired dynamic targeting capability and stand-off precision targeting. The IAF has also taken steps to address the shortages in its fighter aircraft squadrons. Miraj-2000, MiG-29, and Jaguar fighter aircrafts have been upgraded while the Tejas LCA has been included. In future, the IAF will also receive French made Rafale fighter aircraft for which a contract has already been signed. Airborne Warning and Control Systems (AWACS) and Flight Refuelling Aircrafts (FRA) were also made operational. The induction of transport aircraft like C-130J and C-17 has greatly improved the air-lift capability of the Indian Air Force.

Exercise Gagan Shakti has helped boost the confidence of the IAF and that of the nation.

(Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the VIF)

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