The Indian Air Force (IAF) conducted an operational exercise over the skies of border areas in Jammu and Kashmir and Punjab on Thursday night to test its combat readiness, said two officials on Friday on condition of anonymity.
Close to 50 fighter planes, drawn from four combat squadrons, took part in the drill, said one of the officials cited above.
“We always test our readiness to respond to any aerial threats,” he said. The fighter planes involved in the exercise included Sukhoi-30s, Mirage 2000s, and upgraded MiG-29 fighters said the second official.
The exercise assumes significance against the backdrop of military tensions between India and Pakistan following the February 26 bombing of a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror base in Balakot by the IAF.
The unprecedented, cross-border aerial strikes by India were in retaliation for the suicide car bombing of a Central Reserve Police Force convoy in Pulwama, in which at least 40 men were killed on February 14.
The IAF has been on high alert following the air strikes on the Balakot terror camp, and is prepared to scramble fighter jets from its forward bases at short notice to tackle any threat, the second official said. Five to six air bases were involved in Thursday’s exercise, he said.
Amritsar residents reported hearing loud bangs or sonic booms caused by IAF fighter jets flying faster than the speed of sound.
“Such exercises are conducted to test our operational preparedness. The drill may draw more attention in the current security environment,” said Air Vice Marshal Manmohan Bahadur (retd), distinguished fellow at the Centre for Air Power Studies.
The air force has conducted two major exercises during the last one year: Gagan Shakti in April 2018 and Vayu Shakti last month. Gagan Shakti-2018 sought to test the IAF’s readiness and stamina for a two-front war with China and Pakistan, and Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa had then said the IAF was “shaking the heavens and splitting the Earth” with the drills. More than 1,100 aircraft — half of them fighter jets — took part in the drills.
Vayu Shakti, a firepower demonstration, involved nearly 140 aircraft, including 81 fighter jets at the Pokhran field firing range, about 100 km from the Pakistan border. It was held on February 16, two days after the Pulwama terror attack.