The air force will “critically evaluate” this week why it missed two targets during a much-touted combat exercise at Rajasthan’s Pokhran test facility on March 18, said a top IAF officer familiar with the drills.
A US-made Paveway laser-guided bomb (LGB) dropped by a Mirage 2000 warplane at night failed to hit a predetermined, stationary target at the Chandan firing range — the IAF’s biggest air-to-ground range where fighter pilots train on delivering heavy weapons.
The French-origin fighter’s target was an “enemy” radar site, designated as “3N”.
The detailed analysis of Iron Fist, an exercise held every three years to deter a conflict, will look into why the accuracy of the air-to-ground precision weapon was degraded, said another officer.
The Soviet-origin OSA AK-M surface-to-air missile system also failed to hit its mark. The missile’s design is such that it does not need direct contact with the target to explode. A “proximity fuse” automatically blows it up when it gets to a certain distance from the target.
“One of the two missiles could not engage its target. It appears the fuse did not function as the missile may not have been close to the target,” the officer said.
Weapons not striking targets under controlled conditions are a cause of concern, but an IAF source said the possibility of 10% of weapons not functioning was built into the tactical planning process.
IAF spokesperson wing commander Rochelle D’Silva told HT on Sunday the ammunition and weapons had performed as expected. She added that in a combat scenario, the air force would increase the number of assault platforms depending on the nature of the threat.
The 181 aircraft, including 103 fighter planes, other weapons systems and air warriors involved in Iron Fist will de-induct by March 22 after which the IAF will analyse the hits and misses in detail.
“It will involve feedback from pilots, footage from unmanned aerial vehicles, radar images and inputs from the South Western Air Command that conducted Iron Fist,” said a senior officer at the air force headquarters in the Capital.
On the positive side, the IAF said the light combat aircraft scored hits with its LGB and R-73E air-to-air-missile in the first public display of the indigenous fighter’s capabilities during the exercise. Attacking in a dive mode, two Mirage 2000s destroyed another radar site – designated as target 5 — with five 250-kg Spanish bombs.
A Sukhoi-30 fighter jet dropped four 450-kg high-speed low-drag bombs to render an “enemy” runway unfit for combat operations, while another destroyed a bridge with an Israeli Griffin LGB.
Upgraded MiG-29 and MiG-27 fighters, Jaguars, MiG-21s, Hawks and Mi-35 helicopter gunships struck their targets at the exercise during which 572 rockets, 81 bombs and nine missiles were fired, including the indigenous Astra beyond-visual-range missile and the Akash missile.