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History of the Indian Air Force

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The history of the Indian Air Force began with its establishment in 1932 and continues up to the present day


  • 1 Formation and early pilots
  • 2 World War II 1939–1945
  • 3 Partition of India 1947
  • 4 First Kashmir War 1947
  • 5 Congo Crisis 1961
  • 6 Sino-Indian War 1962
  • 7 Second Kashmir War 1965
  • 8 Bangladesh Liberation War 1971
  • 9 Operation Meghdoot 1984
  • 10 Operation Poomalai 1987
  • 11 Operation Pawan 1987
  • 12 Kargil 1999
  • 13 Atlantique Incident
  • 14 Historical Aircraft
  • 15 See also
  • 16 Notes
  • 17 References

Formation and early pilots

A Westland Wapiti, one of the first aircraft of the Indian Air Force

The Indian Air Force was established in British India as an auxiliary air force of the Royal Air Force with the enactment of the Indian Air Force Act 1932 on 8 October that year and adopted the Royal Air Force uniforms, badges, brevets and insignia On 1 April 1933, the IAF commissioned its first squadron, No1 Squadron, with four Westland Wapiti biplanes and five Indian pilots The Indian pilots were led by RAF Commanding officer Flight Lieutenant later Air Vice Marshal Cecil Bouchier

The first five pilots commissioned into the IAF were Harish Chandra Sircar, Subroto Mukerjee, Bhupendra Singh, Aizad Baksh Awan and Amarjeet Singh A sixth officer, J N Tandon had to revert to logistics duties as he was too short All of them were commissioned as Pilot Officers in 1932 from RAF Cranwell Subroto Mukerjee later went on to become the IAF's first Chief of the Air Staff Subsequent batches inducted before World War II included Aspy Engineer, K K Majumdar, Narendra, Daljit Singh, Henry Runganadhan, R H D Singh, Baba Mehar Singh, S N Goyal, Prithpal Singh and Arjan Singh

World War II 1939–1945

Main article: India in World War II Karun Krishna "Jumbo" Majumdar was the first Indian officer to be awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross

During World War II, the IAF played an instrumental role in blocking the advance of the Japanese army in Burma, where its first air strike was on the Japanese military base in Arakan It also carried out strike missions against the Japanese airbases at Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai in northern Thailand

The IAF was mainly involved in Strike, Close Air Support, Aerial reconnaissance, Bomber Escort and Pathfinding missions for RAF and USAAF Heavy bombers RAF Pilots were embedded in IAF units and vice versa to gain combat experience IAF pilots participated in air operations in Europe as part of the RAF

During the war, the IAF went through a phase of steady expansion New aircraft, including the US built Vultee Vengeance, Douglas DC-3 and the British Hawker Hurricane, Supermarine Spitfire and Westland Lysander, were added to its fleet

Subhas Chandra Bose sent Indian National Army youth cadets to Japan to train as pilots They went on to attend the Imperial Japanese Army Air Force Academy in 1944

In recognition of the services rendered by the IAF, King George VI conferred the prefix "Royal" in 1945 Thereafter the IAF was referred to as Royal Indian Air Force In 1950, when India became a republic, the prefix was dropped and it reverted to Indian Air Force

Post war, No 4 Squadron IAF was sent to Japan as part of the Allied Occupation forces

Partition of India 1947

With the partition of the Indian sub-continent into two separate nations, the Union of India and the Dominion of Pakistan, the military forces were also partitioned This gave a reduced Royal Indian Air Force and a new Royal Pakistan Air Force in 1947

First Kashmir War 1947

Main article: Indo-Pakistani War of 1947

In a bid to gain control of the erstwhile princely state of Jammu and Kashmir, Pathan tribesmen poured into Kashmir on 20 October 1947, aided by the Pakistani Army Incapable of withstanding the armed assault in his province, the Maharaja of Kashmir, Hari Singh, asked India for help The Government of India made its assistance conditional upon Kashmir's accession to India The Instrument of accession was signed on 26 October 1947 and the next day Indian troops were airlifted into Srinagar The agreement was later ratified by the British

Taking off from Safdarjang, then known as Willingdon Airfield, the IAF landed Indian troops at Srinagar airfield at 09:30 hours IST on 27 October This was the most instrumental action of the war as the troops saved the city from the invaders Apart from the airlifting operations and supplying essential commodities to the ground troops, the Indian Air Force had no other major role to play in the conflict On 31 December 1948, both nations agreed to a UN mediated cease-fire proposal marking the end of hostilities A Line of Control has since separated Indian-held Kashmir from Pakistani-held Kashmir

Congo Crisis 1961

Main article: Congo Crisis

Belgium's 75-year colonial rule of the Democratic Republic of the Congo Congo ended abruptly on 30 June 1960 Unable to control the deteriorating situation in its former African colony, Belgium asked for UN assistance In India, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru was quick to respond to the initial appeal for help and sent IAF Canberra aircraft as a part of the UN-led mission in Congo

Sino-Indian War 1962

Main article: Sino-Indian War of 1962

In 1962, border disputes escalated into full-scale war between India and China Indian military and civilian leadership failed to organise and co-ordinate the air assaults efficiently and eventually the Indian Air Force was never used during the conflict apart from occasional supply missions

Second Kashmir War 1965

Main article: Indo-Pakistani Air War of 1965 See also: Aerial warfare in 1965 India Pakistan War

Three years after the Sino-Indian conflict, India went to war with Pakistan again over Kashmir Learning from the experiences of the Sino-Indian war, India decided to use its air force extensively during the war This was the first time the IAF actively engaged an enemy air force However, instead of providing close air support to the Indian Army, the IAF carried out independent raid missions against Pakistani Air Force PAF bases These bases were situated deep inside the Pakistani territory, making IAF fighters vulnerable to anti-aircraft fire conflict

On 1 September 1965, the IAF fighters intervened in an ongoing battle between Indian and Pakistani forces in Chhamb However, it was inadequate in close air support role Initially, IAF had sent the obsolete Vampires and later Mystères to stop Pakistani advance But after incidents of friendly fire, they were not called again for close air support Two days later, IAF Folland Gnat fighters shot down a PAF F-86 Sabre over Chhamb area The Gnats were effective against the F-86 and earned the nickname Sabre Slayer According to one Western source, the Gnats accounted for at least 6 Sabre kills

During the course of the conflict, the PAF enjoyed qualitative superiority over the IAF because most of the jets in IAF's fleet were of World War II-vintage Despite this, the IAF was able to prevent the PAF from gaining air superiority over conflict zones By the time the conflict had ended, Both sides claimed victory in the air war; Pakistan claimed to have destroyed 104 aircraft against its own losses of 19, while India claimed to have destroyed 73 enemy aircraft and lost 35 of its own Despite the intense fighting, the conflict was effectively a stalemate More than 60% of IAF's air combat losses took place during the disastrous battles over Kalaikunda and Pathankot However, the IAF lost most of its aircraft on ground and the attrition rate losses per 100 sorties of the IAF stood at 149 while PAF's attrition rate was 216, because the IAF has larger number of aircraft with higher number of take off and landing sorties

Bangladesh Liberation War 1971

Main article: Bangladesh Liberation War

After the 1965 War, the Indian Air Force went through an intense phase of modernisation and consolidation With newly acquired HF-24, MiG-21 and Sukhoi Su-7BM though the versions of these acquired between 1965 and 1971 did not have night-fight capability aircraft, the IAF was able to measure up to the most powerful air forces in the world

The professional standards, capability and flexibility were soon put to the test in December 1971 when India and Pakistan went to war over then East Pakistan At the time, the IAF was under the command of Air Chief Marshal Pratap Chandra Lal On 22 November, ten days before the start of a full-scale war, four PAF F-86 Sabre jets attacked Indian and Mukti Bahini positions near the Indo-Bangla border in the Battle of Garibpur In what became the first ever Dogfight over East Pakistan skies present day Bangladesh, three of the 4 PAF Sabres were shot down by IAF Gnats, and hostilities commenced 3 December saw the formal declaration of war following massive, but failed preemptive strikes by the Pakistan Air Force against Indian Air Force installations in the west The PAF targets were against Indian bases in Srinagar, Ambala, Sirsa, Halwara and Jodhpur on the lines of Operation Focus But the plan failed miserably as Indians had anticipated such a move and no major losses were suffered The Indian response over Pakistan skies however produced severe blows to the PAF

Within the first two weeks, the IAF had carried out more than 4,000 sorties in East Pakistan and provided successful air cover for the advancing Indian army in East Pakistan IAF also assisted the Indian Navy in sinking several Pakistani naval vessels in the Bay of Bengal In the west, the airforce demolished scores of tanks and armoured vehicles in a single battle - the Battle of Longewala The IAF pursued strategic bombing by destroying oil installations in Karachi, the Mangla Dam and gas plant in Sindh As the IAF achieved complete air superiority over the eastern wing of Pakistan within a few days, the ordnance factories, runways, and other vital areas in East Pakistan were severely crippled In the end, the IAF played a pivotal role in the victory for the Allied Forces leading to the liberation of Bangladesh In addition to the overall strategic victory, the IAF had also claimed 94 Pakistani aircraft destroyed, with some 45 of their own aircraft admitted lost The IAF had however, flown over 7000 combat sorties on both East and West fronts and its overall sortie rate numbered over 15000 Comparatively the PAF was flowing fewer sorties though PAF had qualitative advantage; its Mirage III fighter/bombers could fly at night, where no IAF fighter had that capability—the only aircraft in IAF with this capability was the Canberra bomber by the day fearing loss of planes Towards the end of the war, IAF's transport planes dropped leaflets over Dhaka urging the Pak forces to surrender; East Pakistani sources note that as the leaflets floated down, the morale of the Pakistani troops sunk

Operation Meghdoot 1984

Main article: Operation Meghdoot

The Operation Meghdoot was the name given to the preemptive strike launched by the Indian Military to capture most of the Siachen Glacier, in the disputed Kashmir region Launched on 13 April 1984, this military operation was unique as it was the first assault launched in the world's highest battlefield The IAF played an important role in the Operation Meghdoot The IAF Strategic airlifters like the Il-76s, An 12s transported stores and troops, airdropped supplies to high altitude airfields while transport helicopters like Mi-17s, Chetaks transported men and material The military action was successful as India gained control over all of the Siachen Glacier and all of its tributary glaciers, as well as the three main passes of the Saltoro Ridge According to TIME magazine, India gained more than 1,000 square miles 3,000 km2 of territory because of its military operations in Siachen Pakistan tried in 1987 and in 1989 to re-take the glacier but was unsuccessful

Operation Poomalai 1987

Failing to negotiate an end to the Sri Lankan Civil War, India sent a convoy of unarmed ships to northern Sri Lanka to provide more than 1000 tonnes of humanitarian aid, but it was intercepted by the Sri Lankan Navy and sent back Following this, the Indian Government decided to carry out an airdrop of the humanitarian supplies on the evening of 4 June 1987 designated Operation Poomalai Tamil: Garland or Eagle Mission 4 as a show of force to the Sri Lankan government, of symbolic support to the Tamil rebel and to preserve the credibility of the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi Five An-32s of the Paratroop Training School in Agra, escorted by five Mirage 2000s of the No 7 Squadron were to carry out the supply drop The message was conveyed to the Sri Lankan Ambassador to New Delhi that Indian Air Force would be flying a mission at 1600 Hours to drop supplies over Jaffna The ambassador was told that the aircraft were expected to complete their mission unhindered and any opposition by the Sri Lankan Air Force 'would be met by force' by the escorting Mirage 2000s The air drop was a success and the IAF was unopposed by the Sri Lankan forces Sri Lanka accused India of "blatant violation of sovereignty" India insisted that it was acting only on humanitarian grounds

Operation Pawan 1987

The IAF supported the Indian Peace Keeping Force IPKF in northern and eastern Sri Lanka About 70,000 sorties were flown by the IAF's transport and helicopter force in support of nearly 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces without a single aircraft lost or mission aborted IAF An-32s maintained a continuous air link between air bases in South India and Northern Sri Lanka transporting men, equipment, rations and evacuating casualties Mi-8s supported the ground forces and also provided air transportation to the Sri Lankan civil administration during the elections Mi-25s of No 125 HU were utilised to provide suppressive fire against militant strong points and to interdict coastal and clandestine riverine traffic

Kargil 1999

Main article: Kargil War IAF MiG-21s were used extensively in the Kargil war

On 11 May 1999, the Indian Air Force was called in to provide close air support to the Indian Army at the height of the ongoing Kargil conflict with the use of helicopters The IAF strike was code named Operation Safed Sagar The first strikes were launched on 26 May, when the Indian Air Force struck infiltrator positions with fighter aircraft and helicopter gunships The initial strikes saw MiG-27s carrying out offensive sorties, with MiG-21s and later MiG-29s providing fighter cover The IAF also deployed its radars and the MiG-29 fighters in vast numbers to keep check on Pakistani military movements across the border Srinagar Airport was at this time closed to civilian air-traffic and dedicated to the Indian Air Force

On 27 May, the first fatalities were suffered when a MiG-21 and a MiG-27 jets were lost over Batalik Sector to enemy action and mechanical failure, respectively The following day, a Mi-17 was lost- with the loss of all four of the crew- when it was hit by three Stingers while on an offensive sortie These losses forced the Indian Air Force to reassess its strategy The helicopters were immediately withdrawn from offensive roles as a measure against the man-portable missiles in possession of the infiltrators On 30 May, the Indian Air Force called into operation the Mirage 2000 which was deemed the best aircraft capable of optimum performance under the conditions of high-altitude seen in the zone of conflict Mirage 2000s not only had better defence equipment compared to the MiGs, but also gave IAF the ability to carry out aerial raids at night The MiG-29s were used extensively to provide fighter escort to the Mirage 2000 The Mirages successfully targeted enemy camps and logistic bases in Kargil and within days, their supply lines were severely disrupted Mirage 2000s were used for strikes on Muntho Dhalo and the heavily defended Tiger Hill and paved the way for their early recapture At the height of the conflict, the IAF was conducting over forty sorties daily over the Kargil region By 26 July, the Indian forces had successfully liberated Kargil from Pakistani forces

Atlantique Incident

Main article: Atlantique incident

On 10 August 1999, a Pakistan Navy French-built naval Breguet Atlantic was flying over the Rann of Kutch area and was shot down by two IAF MiG-21 jets killing all 16 aboard

Historical Aircraft

Main article: List of historical aircraft of the Indian Air Force

See also

  • Royal Air Force mutiny


  1. ^ "CLAUSE 4—Relations between Royal Air Force and Indian Air Force, and attachment of personnel" HC Deb 3 April 1933 vol 276 cc1473-501 Hansard Parliament of the United Kingdom Retrieved 8 April 2009 
  2. ^ "History of the IAF" Official Website Webmaster IAF – Air Headquarters Retrieved 7 April 2009 
  3. ^ Bedi, Sanjeev Summer 2008 "Strategic Role of Air Power" PDF Air Power Journal Center for Air Power Studies 3 2: 27–45 Retrieved 8 April 2009 
  4. ^ "INDIAN AIR FORCE MUSEUM - Heraldry Badges and Insignia" Bharat Rakshak Archived from the original on 29 March 2010 
  5. ^ Goyal, SN October 1993 "1939–45 Second World War: Air Force Reminiscences" Sainik Samachar Indian Air Force Archived from the original on 6 October 2009 Retrieved 8 April 2009 
  6. ^ "Archived copy" Archived from the original on 21 October 2012 Retrieved 15 October 2013 
  7. ^ http://wwwmgtrustorg/w2htm
  8. ^ BURMA to JAPAN with Azad Hind: A War Memoir 1941–1945 Air Cmde R S Benegal MVC AVSM
  9. ^ http://indianairforcenicin/show_unitphpch=7
  10. ^ a b c Pradhan & Chavan 2007, p xiv
  11. ^ a b Sisodia & Bhaskar 2005, p 82
  12. ^ Gupta 1997, p 43
  13. ^ Raju 1996, p 11
  14. ^ a b c Barua 2005, p 193
  15. ^ a b Coggins 2000, p 164
  16. ^ Staff Reporter 16 October 2008 "Remembering the lethal 'Sabre Slayers'" The Hindu Retrieved 2009-04-08 
  17. ^ Dixit 2002, p 149
  18. ^ Van Creveld, 2012, pp 286–287
  19. ^ Coggins 2000, pp 163–164
  20. ^ Khan 2004, p 185
  21. ^ Bangladesh: Out of War, a Nation Is Born 20 December 1971 TIME
  22. ^ An airforce Intelligence Unit of SI Directorate,commanded by then Flt Lt M L BALA while listening to a coded telephone call,after decoding it leart that a high level meeting chaired by the then Governor of East Pakistan,was going to be held in dhaka Governor houseHe passed the information to the concerned authoritiesBased on this information,the Governor House was bombedPak army surrendered the next day IAF Combat Kills, 1971 war Archived 11 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Air aspect of the Liberation War 1971 by Air Cdre Ishfaq Ilahi Choudhury Retd
  25. ^ Wirsing, Robert Pakistan's security under Zia, 1977–1988: the policy imperatives of a peripheral Asian state Palgrave Macmillan, 1991 ISBN 9780312060671 
  26. ^ Child, Greg Thin air: encounters in the Himalayas The Mountaineers Books, 1998 ISBN 9780898865882 
  27. ^ Desmond/Kashmir, Edward W July 31, 1989 "The Himalayas War at the Top Of the World" Timecom 
  28. ^ Kapur, S Paul Dangerous Deterrent: Nuclear Weapons Proliferation and Conflict in South Asia Stanford University Press p 118 ISBN 978-0804755504 
  29. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Indian Air Force in Sri LankaOperation Poomalai - The Jaffna Food drop" Bharat-rakshakcom Archived from the original on 9 June 2011 
  30. ^ Weisman, Steven R 5 June 1987 "India Airlifts Aid to Tamil Rebels" The New York Times 
  31. ^ a b c d "OP PAWAN" Retrieved 24 July 2010 
  32. ^ a b "Official website of Indian Air Force" Retrieved 28 July 2010 
  33. ^ a b India launches Kashmir air attack BBC News May 26 1999
  34. ^ "The Kargil Operations The Mirage-2000 at Kargil" Bharat-rakshakcom Archived from the original on 7 August 2011 
  35. ^ Bammi 2002
  36. ^ India loses two jets BBC News May 27 1999
  37. ^ "Flyer pushes frontier again - Nachiketa returns to area where his plane was shot down" Telegraph India Retrieved 2006-09-18 
  38. ^ a b Ganguly & Kapur 2008, p 105
  39. ^ Jones 2003, p 97
  40. ^ Kapur 2007, p 122
  41. ^ Pictures of shot down Atlantique


  • Coggins, Ed 2000 Wings That Stay on Illustrated ed Turner Publishing Company iii; 244 ISBN 978-1-56311-568-4 
  • Pradhan, R D; Chavan, Yashwantrao Balwantrao 2007 1965 War, the Inside Story: Defence Minister YB Chavan's Diary of India-Pakistan War Atlantic Publishers & Distributors xviii; 141 ISBN 978-81-269-0762-5 
  • Sisodia, NS; Bhaskar, Chitrapu Uday 2005 Emerging India: security and foreign policy perspectives Bibliophile South Asia xx; 376 ISBN 978-81-86019-51-1 
  • Gupta, Amit 1997 Building an arsenal: the evolution of regional power force structures Illustrated ed Greenwood Publishing Group xi; 217 ISBN 978-0-275-95787-2 
  • Thomas, Raju GC 1996 India's Security Environment: Towards the Year 2000 DIANE Publishing iv; 33 ISBN 978-1-4289-1389-9 
  • Barua, Pradeep 2005 The State at War in South Asia University of Nebraska Press xvi; 437 ISBN 978-0-8032-1344-9 
  • Dixit, Jyotindra Nath 2002 India-Pakistan in War & Peace Routledge 501 ISBN 978-0-415-30472-6 
  • Khan, JA 2004 Air Power and Challenges to IAF APH Publishing xxxii; 361 ISBN 978-81-7648-593-7 

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