In October 1962, Wing Commander Dilbagh Singh (later Air Chief from 1981 to 1984), Squadron Leaders MSD Wollen (later Air Marshal) and SK Mehra (Air Chief from 1988 to 1991) and Flight Lieutenants AK Mukherjee (later Wing Commander), HS Gill (later Wing Commander), AK Sen, Denzil Keelor (later Air Marshal) and BD Jayal (later Air Marshal) set off to do the conversion course on the newly purchased Mig 21 fighter. This was at the Soviet facility for training pilots and engineers from friendly countries at Lugovaya in what is now Kazakhstan.
The airbase had frugal infrastructure, living being pretty primitive. The Indians were so cut off from the outside world that they only heard about the war with China in passing!
The first six weeks of the course were dedicated to learning basics of the Russian language and the complete systems of the aircraft in well-equipped class rooms. Denzil Keelor, not being deemed qualified to fly under Russian rules because of an earlier surgery was sent back.
Difficulties with flying training because of the Soviet systems surmounted, the pioneer Mig pilots returned in February 1963. They came back with distinct lessons learned. Firstly, that the Russian system of ground training was very thorough and should be emulated. Second, their approach to flying training being very different from ours, no further pilots should be sent to the Soviet Union for training. These were both accepted by the IAF. On their return these pilots formed the cadre for the raising of 28 Squadron, the IAF's first unit flying supersonic aircraft, which celebrated its golden jubilee last month.
Mechanisation of the horsed cavalry
The 1st of May marked 75 years of the mechanisation of the Indian cavalry with its proud operational history and traditions. The First World War saw new advances in warfare - the machine gun, barbed wire, massed artillery, trench warfare - sound the death knell of horsed cavalry as the classic arm of manoeuvre. However the strong horse lobby and diehard traditionalists kept cavalry regiments on the order of battle albeit much reduced in numbers.
The Indian Army's 39 old cavalry regiments were reduced to 21 through amalgamations of 36 of them with 3 units remaining unchanged. Regiments were also reduced to three sabre squadrons from four. Changes in tactics eschewed the classic cavalry charge in favour of a more realistic employment as mounted infantry.
By the late 30s, however, reality was dawning upon the military brass and it was decided to embark upon mechanisation in a small way. Scinde Horse was the first regiment to convert, holding their last parade mounted on horses at Rawalpindi on 14th April 1938. Shortage of armoured fighting vehicles and low priority accorded to the Indian Army ensured that we entered World War 2 with obsolete equipment mostly armoured cars and trucks. Apprehensions voiced by British officers about the suitability of Indian soldiers for mechanised warfare were belied.
The famous adaptability of Jawans and the good old fashioned Indian 'Jugaad' asserted themselves and they had no difficulty in imbibing the technical skills necessary to make efficient drivers, gunners, mechanics and radio operators.
The middle of the war saw Indian armour getting modern tanks and armoured cars at last - Shermans, Lee-Grants and Stuarts. Reconnaissance regiments in Italy - Skinner's Horse, 6th Lancers and Central India Horse performed very well. So did armoured regiments in Burma, 7th Light Cavalry, winning no less than six battle and theatre honours. From such humble beginnings, the Armoured Corps with its state-of-the-art equipment, rigorous training and dedicated professionalism is now truly an arm of decision.
Chinese appreciation of Indian intentions in DBO
A Chinese army exercise carried out in 2004 appreciated that there was a threat of an Indian mechanised thrust into the Depsang Plains in order to interdict the all-important Xinjiang-Tibet Highway, the reason for the Chinese presence in Aksai Chin.
This view has been reinforced since by the upgradation of Indian infrastructure in the area - revival of airfields, construction of new roads and plans to increase force levels in the mountains. This is the reason for the Chinese intrusion in this particular area. The aim is to contain and block further addition to both infrastructure as well as troops.
Gangnam Style in Fauji Ishtyle!
In less politically incorrect times, students at the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington in the Nilgiris in their leisure time rode to hounds, now they make music videos. Student-officers of the 68th Course which got over recently along with their lady-wives have made their own version of the sensational video by Korean singer Psy, produced and directed by RAF Wing Commander Neil Jones, a fellow student. It can be accessed on YouTube at: -
Experience shows that such creativity is always a sign of high morale.
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