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Momentous milestones, fly high

chandigarh Updated: Aug 07, 2012 10:54 IST
Highlight Story

No. 1 Squadron, the famous Tigers of the Indian Air Force, along with No.7 Squadron (Battle Axes), No. 9 Squadron (Wolf Pack), and TACDE (Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment), forms a part of 40 Wing of the Indian Air Force based at Gwalior. It was raised on April 1, 1933 at Drigh Road, Karachi with four Westland Wapiti aircraft.The journey to the Mirage 2000H, the current type flown by the unit, has been momentous and represents a microcosm of IAF history.

Early pilots included Subroto Mukherjee (the first Indian air chief from 1954-60), AM Engineer (air chief from 1960-64), Jumbo Majumdar, DFC & Bar, "Baba" Mehar Singh, DSO, and Arjan Singh (later air chief (1964-69) and Marshal of the IAF). The initial years (1933-37) were spent in rigorous training for its primary role of army cooperation (now known as close air support).

Later, the squadron went into action against the hostile tribesmen of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP), leading to some hair-raising adventures!

After flying Hawker Harts and Audaxes, the Squadron was issued with Lysanders for tactical reconnaissance missions in August 1941. These were a gift from the citizens of Bombay to the war effort and the unit was thereafter known as the Bombay Squadron.

Inducted into the Burma Campaign, the squadron's pilots used their typical Indian 'jugaad' ingenuity to hang pairs of 250-lb bombs onto their planes and use them effectively against the enemy. After converting to the famous Hawker Hurricane fighters, they went back to the frontline in Burma in January 1944, flying numerous sorties under tremendous pressure and providing close air support as well as flying offensive missions. The squadron's superior performance during the Burma Campaign was acknowledged by all.

No.1 Squadron's assets were transferred to Pakistan during Partition, though the unit never became part of that country's Air Force. The IAF therefore re-raised the Tigers by renumbering No. 15 Squadron on January 26, 1953 at Halwara airbase flying Spitfires. Converting to the transonic Mystere IVA fighter-bombers in 1957, No. 1 Squadron operated against the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) from Adampur during the 1965 war, flying a total of 128 strike missions and 46 combat air patrol sorties.

The Tigers were tasked with air defence of own airbases, offensive strike missions against heavily defended Pakistani airfields and interdiction of major lines of communication. In the first raid against the main enemy base at Sargodha on September 7, Squadron Leader AB Devayya, a gallant native of Kodagu, shot down a F-104 Starfighter but himself failed to return from the mission.

This feat was recognised only in 1988 with a posthumous award of Maha Vir Chakra after a thorough investigation by the IAF, including testimony by Pakistani eyewitnesses. The Tigers' second outing in the defence of their own country (earlier they had taken part in the liberation of Goa in December 1961, flying air superiority and ground support missions) earned kudos and gallantry awards for the squadron and a name as a unit of dedicated professionals.

In July 1966, the squadron converted to the Mach-2 all-weather interceptor, the MiG 21 FL which they operated for nearly 20 years. Still based at Adampur, during the 1971 war they were tasked with the air defence of northern Punjab and providing air cover to our strike formations like I Corps in its offensive in the Shakargarh sector.

That the PAF was only able to make one unsuccessful penetration on December 3 at Amritsar with two Mirage IIIs is a testimony to the Tigers' successful defence of our air space. Strike missions escorted by the Squadron achieved a 100% survival rate. A phenomenal total of 513 sorties, involving different tactical, combat air patrol and strike missions, were done by them.The next big milestone in the squadron's history was the switchover to the hi-tech Mirage 2000 air superiority fighters in 1985 and move to Gwalior.

It was now operating as a multi-role (air superiority, precision strike and electronic warfare) fighter unit. The Tigers redeployed to Ambala in May 1999 for Operation Safed Sagar, the air component of Operation Vijay launched to evict Pakistani intruders from the Kargil-Dras-Batalik area.

A total of 234operational sorties were flown from Ambala, which included electronic intelligence and air defence escort missions for photographic reconnaissance (MiG 25) and Aviation Research Centre (the air element of R&AW, the external intelligence agency) aircraft as well as to strike missions. Once again the Tigers lived up to the true traditions of the IAF and executed the job assigned to them with flawless professionalism.

Not resting on their well-earned laurels, No. 1 Squadron continues to train tirelessly for the next trial. The realisation that there are no prizes for runners-up in war is something that drives them on to even higher operational standards. Their motto "Ekta Main Shakti" (Unity is Strength) serves well to remind the three Services of the need for jointmanship to face up to the challenges of the 21st Century.

Warning to ESM about ISI plot

The Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan's hostile spy agency, is forever looking for new and innovative ways to gather information from Indian sources and harm this country's interests. Their latest targets are ex-servicemen seeking rehabilitation and jobs after retirement/release/coming on pension.

Informed sources tell me that the ISI's cyber-intelligence bureau is picking up names and contacts of officers and JCOs from websites dealing with jobs and career options. These ex-servicemen are then approached using email accounts of Indian portals like indiatimes.com or rediffmail.com or spoofed Indian cell phone numbers.

They are offered lucrative jobs, which are really non-existent. Some money is also paid out as advances or expenses. Having won their target's trust at this stage, innocuous sounding questions like locations of their former units and formations, etc are asked, ultimately leading to the hapless ex-serviceman being compromised. All ex-servicemen are therefore warned in national interest and their own to beware of such an approach.

Promotional incentives to sportsmen

Congratulations to Subedar Vijay Kumar of 16 Dogras (a unit raised in 1949 from the disbanded Sirmaur, Mandi, Suket and Chamba states forces) of Harsour village of Hamirpur district for winning the silver medal in the men's 25m rapid-fire pistol shooting event at the Olympics.

Kudos to the Army Marksmanship Unit located at Mhow. This also brings into focus the incentives or rather lack of them granted to sportsmen from the armed forces bringing laurels to the nation. It's commendable that the army is seen fit to promote him to the rank of subedar at such a young age.

I remember that Milkha Singh, the Flying Sikh, was still a craftsman (Sepoy) in the then Corps of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers in 1962 despite all his achievements at the international level. It was decided in that year that all the medal winners from the Services at the Asian Games held that year would be promoted.

Accordingly, the army proposed to make the Flying Sikh a Lance-Naik! Ultimately, Krishna Menon, the defence minister, prevailed upon the army headquarters to make him a Naib Subedar. MP Ganesh, the charismatic hockey right-winger who played consistently for India in the 1970s, was a Havildar in the Signals.

Finding immediate avenues for promotion unavailable, he managed to persuade the army to relieve him and joined the railways as a gazetted Class 1 officer, a rank which would've been impossible for him to attain in the army. Regarding Vijay Kumar, the question is what next? He can't be promoted to the next rank, that of Subedar Major, he can't be made an officer because of rules regarding educational qualifications.

The army must move with the times. To provide further incentives to aspiring sportsmen and rewards to achievers in sports, why not create a sports category in the existing Special List Regular Commission and promote them to officer rank? That would be in the fitness of things. Similar are the cases of those other ranks (Ors) and junior commissioned officers (JCOs) winning highest gallantry awards. They could very well also be promoted to officer rank.

I'll never see him again, never pull his leg, or hit him. But I don't regret it, for I experienced something only a few get the chance to. Being friends with the enemy!