MONUC was the third major contribution of the IAF under UN flag. As the situation in North-East Congo was turning grave with repeated massacres and killings of innocent civilians; international community decided to strengthen its military presence. India contributed armed helicopters and utility helicopters in the Congolese provinces of North Kivu and Ituri. The IAF unit in Goma/Bunia was called the Indian Aviation Contingent (IAC-I) and the major lodger units included one Mi-25 Squadron and one Mi-17 squadron. These squadrons were equipped with four Mi-25 aircraft and five Mi-17 helicopters respectively along with aircrew and ground support personnel. This invaluable asset increased the MONUC's sphere of influence in the Eastern DRC and UN forces were been able to reach areas that had hitherto been outside its sphere of influence. In addition to this enhancement of sphere of operation, the arrival of IAC 1, followed by IAC2 and 3 also conferred upon MONUC a high degree of firepower both in North Kivu and Ituri province. This firepower in turn conferred upon MONUC an ability to deter various rebel groups who now feared retribution from the skies.
The first time when an IAF squadron was led in the volatile situation of Congo was in the sixties. The unit had six Canberra B (I) MK-58 fighter aircraft with aircrew and ground support personnel. The Squadron was commanded by Wing Commander AIK Suares. India inducted these aircraft through a long haul over the Gulf countries and Africa commencing their long flights from Agra on 09 Oct 1961.
After arriving at Congo, the Canberra team started their mission by adopting an intensive flying programme. The Squadron was given its area of responsibility over southern Katanga province aligned with the Indian forces. The Canberras practiced low level (500 feet) and night flying over the area of operations. This also enabled the UN to show their robust presence with a show of UN flag.
In August 1961, the Indian Brigade Group had launched 'Operation RUMPUNCH' against the foreign mercenaries creating law and order problems in Katanga province. These mercenaries were instrumental in declaration of secession of this province and creating an impasse in the peace process. The Canberras started their operations in 1961 by attacking and destroying certain mercenary position in strategically significant town of Kolwezi. The rebels had a substantial air element comprised of old aircraft which posed a great danger to UN freedom of movement in the area. The Squadron was given the task to locate and destroy this element. IAF operations commenced in Leopoldville and Kamina and within a short time rebel air forces were incapacitated. The Canberras repeatedly raided Katangan targets and were instrumental in providing much needed long range fire support to the UN ground forces. At times the targets were at a distance of 1000 km with an intense cloud cover over the way points. The Indian pilots used many ingenious methods to lead themselves to the targets. They intensively used a lake, which was a prominent mark to the west of Kolwezi and then used good old map reading over the final leg to the airfield, using the Green Satin airborne navigation aid.
Wing Commander Suares was the first to carry out the daring yet risky engagement profile using 20 mm cannon. This was followed by another attack by Flight Lieutenant Gautam, thus destroying the Fouga Magister aircraft. By the efforts of these two officers, the IAF was able to establish a near air supremacy over the skies of Elizabethville and Kamina.
Wing Commander Suares and his team persisted with their offensive air support over Kolwezi, based on the requirements of UN forces in the area. After locating rebel positions, the Squadron carried out a show of force by low level flying over the main target area and also engaged the rebels with cannon fire. After testing rebel reaction capability, a deliberate offensive action was taken by Flight Lieutenant Dushyant Singh, who raided the rebel hideout in a post office area. The Canberras were welcomed by a strong anti-aircraft firing from the rebels. The distraction by the leading aircraft allowed other Canberras in the same attack to destroy road convoys, ammunition dumps and other key locations captured by the rebel forces. In the weeks following these attacks, the Squadron made many such operational sorties around Elizabethville. In the next few weeks, the Canberras also carried out armed reconnaissance sorties, engaging rebel lines of communications. The Squadron had an added capacity of photo reconnaissance, which was made full use of by the ground forces. This included both photographic and visual reports on the conditions of bridges in rebel held territory; movement of the rebel forces and their concentrations.
The personnel of this contingent were rotated every 12 months. A total of five rotations were made. The contingent undertook simultaneous operations from two bases i.e. ex Goma for 2 x Mi 25 and 5 x Mi 17 while a permanent detachment operated ex Bunia for 2 x Mi 25 aircraft. During its deployment IAC-I had achieved an elderly status among the various contingents deployed in Goma, being the oldest and most battle hardy. It saw the conflict moving in its characteristic sine curve manner wherein the fighting and peace alternated almost every month. The environment for operating in such a complex scenario called for a range of innovative operational SOPs and survival strategies. In fact, majority of validation of helicopter combat tactics against ground threats were achieved through the lessons learnt in this foreign theatre. IAC-I was successfully led by the following Contingent Commanders:
|Gp Capt KS Gill VM||13 Jul 03||12 Aug 04|
|Gp Capt DS Ahluwalia||13 Aug 04||25 Sep 05|
|Gp Capt Ajith Kumar VM||26 Sep 05||28 Apr 06|
|Gp Capt A Guru VrC||29 Apr 06||15 Sep 06|
|Gp Capt S Neelkantan YSM VM||26 Sep 06||17 Oct 07|
|Gp Capt NJS Dhillon||18 Oct 07||24 Oct 08|
|Gp Capt Ravi Bhate||25 Oct 08||02 Dec 09|
|Gp Capt AK Nabh VM||02 Dec 09||04 Oct 10|
Mi-17 Squadron formed the utility helicopter component of IAC-I and its tasking included troop insertion/extraction, casualty evacuation, disarmament, demobilization and resettlement (DDR) support, logistics supply, search and rescue, observation and reconnaissance. Their span of control passed over the Equator and they flew more than 13000 sorties and 8000 flight hours during their operations. These helicopters were also exclusively responsible for the induction and extraction of UN troops. The IAC also assisted various DRC/foreign troops including troops from Pakistan, Bangladesh, South Africa, Uruguay, and Guatemala in their ground operations. On 26 Oct 08, One Mi 17 mission of IAC was involved in a daring Casevac of a Portuguese lady from Rutshuru in the face of heavy enemy firing all around the helipad area without the basic support of ATS services at either of the locations. This act was well appreciated by the SRSG of MONUC, Mr. Alan Doss. Workhorses of IAC-I have been led by the following Commanding officers:
|Wg Cdr R Isser VM||13 Jul 03||12 Aug 04|
|Wg Cdr SS Kothari VM||13 Aug 04||25 Sep 05|
|Wg Cdr N Santosh||26 Sep 05||04 Sep 06|
|Wg Cdr RK Chauhan VM||05 Sep 06||17 Oct 07|
|Gp Capt RA Maslekar||18 Oct 07||26 Oct 08|
|Wg Cdr HS Kulkarni||27 Oct 07||02 Ded 09|
|Wg Cdr S Srivastava||02 Dec 09||04 Oct 10|
The MI 25 sqadron formed the cutting edge of IAC-I and was instrumental in restoring peace and stability in North Kivu and Ituri regions of DRC. The roles of Vipers included Armed recce and surveillance, Fire support to heliborne forces during critical phases of flight and Armed escort to UN aircraft and ground forces. The span of operations of Vipers spread across the jungles and inaccessible regions of eastern DRC. During their deployment the unit clocked more than 5000 flight hours. This bunch of aggressive professional have been led by the following commanding officers over the years:
|Wg Cdr Sunil Kumar||01 Aug 03||12 Aug 04|
|Wg Cdr TS Sareen||13 Aug 04||21 Sep 05|
|Wg Cdr MC Mishra||22 Sep 05||04 Sep 06|
|Gp Capt J James||05 Sep 06||01 Oct 07|
|Wg Cdr P Maheshwar||02 Oct 07||26 Oct 08|
|Gp Capt NN Reddy||27 Oct 08||02 Ded 09|
|Gp Capt AS Pathania||02 Dec 09||04 Oct 10|
IAC-I was at the forefront of all the offensive support and humanitarian tasks of MONUC during its deployment. The number of operations undertaken to handle battlehardy rebels exceeded more than 30. The following are the indicators of the professional performance of the IAC-I over the years:
|Arrival of Rot-V at Goma||Welcome party to Rot-V||Handing over taking over parade on 25 Oct 08|
|Rum punch for Rot- IV on 24 Oct 08||First aid lecture on 08 Oct 08||SEA lecture by SMO on 17 Oct 08|
|COE Inspection on 10 Nov 08||7 Surrender on 14 Nov 08||Visit of Def Min Uganda on 21 Nov 08|
|Tambola on 30 Nov 08||Volley ball match on 28 Nov 08||Chief Air TPT Visit on 04 Dec 08|
|Id Barakhana on 08 Dec 08||Rum punch on 13 Dec 08||Volley ball match on 23 Dec 08|
|Congolese boys performing on Christmas Eve||Beautiful decoration on Christmas Eve celebration||Carol singing on Christmas Eve celebration|
|Cdr and Santa cutting cake on Christmas Eve celebration||URUBAT performing on Christmas Eve celebration||Cdr and Santa with participants on Christmas Eve celebration|
|Accts Sec COE inspection||Cdr meeting the teams before cricket match on 21 Dec 08 celebration||Cricket match on 21 Dec 08|