With the induction of large numbers of class leading Sukhoi-30 MKI fighters, the Indian Air Force (IAF) has not only made a huge technological transition from a MiG-21 dominated fleet, its war fighting doctrine has also changed, focusing on long-range and strategic missions.
Aggressiveness is a fundamental requirement of air combat, and the IAF has traditionally been an attack orientated force. For instance, on December 3, 1971 in response to Pakistan Air Force (PAF) raids on 11 Indian airbases, the IAF responded with initial air strikes the same night, which were expanded to massive retaliatory air strikes the next morning.
In previous wars, it didn’t matter if their opponents had better aircraft and radars, IAF pilots compensated for it with their superior training and ingenuity. IAF pilots truly internalised what Sergei Dolgushin, a Russian Air Force ace with 24 victories in WWII, said is a prerequisite to be a successful fighter pilot: “a love of hunting, a great desire to be the top dog”.
Long range and two fronts
It was with the MiG-29 Fulcrum that the IAF for the very first time acquired a superior aircraft compared with those operated by the PAF. However, the qualitative edge was marginal. On the other hand the Sukhoi-30 MKI is an “air dominance fighter” that is allowing the IAF to perform a multiplicity of missions required to keep in step with India’s rising global stature. The Sukhoi’s versatility – owing to its extended range, speed, firepower and super-manoeuvrability – has given the IAF considerable leeway in deploying the aircraft in offensive missions.
In April 2013 the IAF held its largest-ever combat exercise involving as many as 400 combat aircraft plus 200 transport planes and helicopters. The exercise was aimed at testing the IAF’s capability for a two-front war against China and Pakistan, by deploying “swing forces” from the western theatre right across to the east.
As part of the war games, Sukhoi-30MKIs flew 1800 km bombing missions from Chabua in Assam to the western front, with mid-air refuelling. This is possible because the Sukhoi has a range of 4.5 hours on internal fuel, and IAF pilots are known to lead missions over 10 hours.