HISTORY OF CENTRAL AIR COMMAND
Indian Air Force had undergone a major expansion process during the 1950s wherein the command and control structure was reorganised. The No.1 Operational Group of 1947 at Calcutta was revived in 1958 and was given the responsibility of organising and supervising the aerial operations of the IAF in the Eastern as well as the Central sector of the country. Post Chinese aggression of 1962, further requirement of change was felt and the area of responsibility of this Operational Group was bifurcated in two separate commands. Accordingly, Central Air Command (CAC) was formed in March 1962 to keep vigil along the Indo-Nepal boundaries at Rani Kutir, Kolkata. But keeping in view the area of responsibility of CAC, the location of Kolkata was found too skewed towards East. Therefore, in February 1966, HQ CAC was shifted to Bamrauli, Allahabad. Presently, the area covered by CAC ranges from the snow peaked mountains in the North to the Gangetic plains and centre highlands.
Central Air Command with its motto of ‘Damniyah Atmashatravah’ (Vanquish The Enemy) has an enviable and exemplary record during war and peace time services to the nation. As one of the premier Commands of the Indian Air Force, Central Air Command has evolved with time and has seen a paradigm shift in the employability of airborne platforms. Vintage and legacy fleets have been replaced with more potent and lethal platforms. Aircraft such as the versatile Canberra, Spitfire, Liberator, Gnat, MiG-25, Packet, AN-32 and Mi-4 have been made way for modern aircraft such as the Mirage 2000, Su-30 MKI, Jaguar, the high performance Airborne Warning and Control System, IL-76, Mi-17 and ALH..
Central Air Command has a rich history of achievements and over the years it has assumed significant importance in safeguarding the skies of the nation. The Command Headquarters is the hub of all operational activities and squadrons under this Command have participated in all major operations since independence. Central Air Command has stood up to all challenges and has brought glory in war as well as in peace.
INDO-CHINA WAR 1962
The Indo China war of 1962 saw transport aircraft and helicopters of Central Air Command operating under extreme weather conditions and challenging terrain in sustaining the morale of our forces. They provided support by carrying out reconnaissance, logistic support, and casualty evacuation and communication missions in the unmapped and un-surveyed Eastern Himalayan region. 106 Canberra Squadron carried out numerous reconnaissance missions deep inside enemy territory collecting vital early inputs during the operations. Sqn Ldr JM Nath, the then Flight Commander of the squadron, flew numerous hazardous missions deep into the mountainous enemy territory of Aksai Chin and Tibet area. His daring reconnaissance missions earned him first Maha Vir Chakra for the Indian Air Force in 1962.
INDO-PAK WAR 1965
During the 1965 war with Pakistan, Canberra aircraft squadrons of Central Air Command swung into action with devastating effect. They carried out a large number of reconnaissance, bombing and close air support missions against Pakistan in the western sector. Pakistan air bases at Chaklala, Mauripur, Multan, Peshawar and Sargodha were raided day and night with precision. On the night of 13th and 14th September, Sqn Ldr Charanjit Singh and Flt Lt Mangat Singh of No. 5 Squadron flew deep into enemy territory and carried out a brilliant raid on a major air base at Peshawar. Three Maha Vir Chakras including the first Bar to MVC were awarded to the members of Canberra Squadrons of Central Air Command.
INDO-PAK WAR 1971
The decisive victory of the Indian Forces in the 1971 war against Pakistan and the liberation of East Pakistan to form a new independent nation called Bangladesh are proud chapters in the history of Central Air Command too. On 3rd December 1971 at 1747 hours, Pakistan Air Force launched a simultaneous attack on a number of forward bases of the Indian Air Force. Canberra aircraft of Central Air Command spearheaded a swift retaliation before midnight on 3rd December striking Pakistan air bases with devastating precision. In a major attack, seven Canberra aircraft of No. 35 Squadron struck the storage area at Drigh road and oil storage tanks at Karachi, destroying about 60 percent of Pakistan’s oil reserves. A fleet of transport aircraft from this Command consisting of AN-12, Dakota and Packet, carried out the historic para battalion drop at Tangail in East Pakistan on 11th and 12th December 1971. This battalion drop, 130 Km inside East Pakistan, surprised the enemy and contributed significantly towards the surrender of Pakistani forces. Personnel of Central Air Command were decorated with numerous gallantry awards.
Central Air Command played a key role during ‘Operation Pawan’ in Sri Lanka from 1987 to 89. Mirage 2000 flew to showcase the Indian resolve while IL-76, AN-32 and Mi-17 aircraft of Central Air Command were employed towards reconnaissance, logistic support, casualty evacuation and communication mission of civilians and Indian troops deployed in Sri Lanka.
Maldives, a small island nation in the Indian Ocean Archipelago off the west coast of India, came under sudden attack by heavily armed seaborne raiders on 3rd November 1988. The Indian Government’s decision to render help to the incumbent President, militarily, in response to appeal led to ‘Operation Cactus’ by the Indian Air Force. The very same night, a battalion of the Indian Army’s 50th Parachute Regiment was airlifted to Maldives in two IL-76 aircraft of 44 Squadron. The aircraft flew for over 2000 km nonstop and landed at Hulule airport at 0030 hours on a dark unlit runway without any airfield aids. The squadron then maintained an air bridge between Agra and Hulule, flying five more sorties. Within hours of deploying, by 0230 hours on 4th November 1988, the Indian forces secured the airfield and completed their mission and restored government rule. Mirage 2000 of Central Air Command flew low passes over the scattered islands in a show of strength in support of the government. The swift Indian military response made possible by Indian Air Force strategic lift capability brought to end the mercenary invasion in a brief and bloodless encounter.
OPERATION SAFED SAGAR
‘Operation Safed Sagar’ or the Kargil War in 1999 emphatically established the superiority of the Indian Air Force in terms of capability and professional edge over the Pakistan Air Force. Mirage 2000 of Central Air Command, were at the forefront in carrying out air defence and ground attack missions. The use of precision munitions, like the Laser Guided Bombs on targets at enemy’s supply depot at Manto Dhalo and the strategic posts over Tiger Hill, with lethal accuracy, changed the course of war and was decisive in the eventual outcome of the conflict. Numerous photo reconnaissance missions flown by MiG-25 and Canberra of Central Air Command provided vital intelligence on all targets. On 21th May 1999, prior to commencement of actual operations, a Canberra aircraft of 106 Strategic Reconnaissance Squadron suffered a stinger missile hit during a photo reconnaissance mission. The crippled aircraft landed back safely, thereby providing vital intelligence inputs on enemy locations and intentions. Transport aircraft and helicopters of Central Air Command were extensively used for logistic support roles during the Operation.
HUMANITARIAN AID AND DISASTER RELIEF
Over the years, Transport and Helicopter Squadron of Central Air Command have played a significant role in providing succor to our countrymen in times of natural calamities. They have reached out to people in the most adverse conditions for timely evacuation and provided aid and relief whenever disaster struck. Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief missions during Odisha Super Cyclone Cyclone 1999, Bhuj Earthquake 2001, Tsunami 2004, ‘Op Rahat’ at Kedarnath in 2013, ‘Op Meghrahat’ at Srinagar in 2014, flash floods in Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh during 2017 and 2018 respectively, and the recent Kerala floods of 2018 were carried out in the most professional manner.
‘Op Maitri’ , a massive relief operation in aid of the Nepal earthquake, was launched by Central Air Command at Kathmandu and Pokhra from 25th April till 05th June 2015, making it the longest rescue and relief operation conducted by Indian Air Force on foreign land. Helicopters of Central Air Command are always prepared to handle any natural disaster situations and provide aid to civil administration as and when called for. The ‘Snow Tiger’ of Central Air Command holds a Guinness Book of World Record for landing the highest landing by Cheetah helicopter when they evacuated an Indian Air Force expedition team from an altitude of 23,250 feet on 11th March 2004.