Air Power is a relatively recent addition to military power. Born in the early twentieth century it has matured in just some eighty years, a relatively short time, and come to occupy a central position in the mustering of a nation’s military might. India’s Air Power has made great progress from its humble beginnings in 1932. The past 74 years bear testimony to the country’s growing prowess in air operations. Understanding the evolution of the IAF to see how we have come to where we are is vital to chart the future course of the IAF. This understanding of the evolution also gives an indication of the effectiveness of policies and strategies used in the past and in force on date, further projection and refinement of which, would yield tomorrow’s strategy, and required capabilities along with the required force structure. The aim of this paper is to trace the evolution of the IAF in the past 74 years and derive useful inputs for further development and transformation of the IAF in the years ahead. In the course of the paper I will first cover : -
a)The formation of the IAF and its growth from 1932 till 1941, moving on to, b)World War-II, 1941 to 1946.
c)I will next cover the period from 1947 till 1960. followed by, d)The period from 1961 till 1971
e)Development from 1971 till date including Operation Cactus.
IAF from Formation till 1941
Before the IAF itself was formed there were Indians who were pioneers in Military Aviation. Three of these early Indian military aviators were Sardar H.S. Malik, Lt Indra Lal Roy, DFC and Lt S.G. Welingkar, MC who served in the Royal Flying Corps during World War-I. A military flying school was set up in India at Sitapur in Uttar Pradesh in Dec 1913. Civil flying clubs were set up in the metropolitan cities of India at Delhi, Bombay, Calcutta and Lucknow in the late 1920s. These civil flying clubs allowed adventurous young men to learn flying as a sport. Many of them later joined the volunteer reserve and later several accepted absorption into the Air Force. With growth of the nationalist movement demand for Indianisation of the armed forces gained ground. A committee was formed in 1925 under chairmanship of the Chief of General Staff, Lt Gen Sir Andrew Skeene, KCB, KCIE, CMG, to study the proposal. Regarding the Air Force the committee recommended that selected, deserving Indians should be given King’s Commission to form an air arm of the Indian Army and be sent to the Royal Air Force training college at Cranwell. The Indian Air Force Act became effective from 8 October 1932. Six young Indian cadets (Subroto Mukherjee, H.C. Sirkar, A.B. Awan, Bhupendra Singh, Amarjeet Singh and J.N. Tandon were sent to England in 1930 for two years’ training. The first five qualified as pilots and J.N. Tandon as an equipment officer. Twenty nine men were recruited from railway workshops and trained for a year as “Apprentice Aircraft Hand”. Of these twenty two qualified and were later called “Hawai Sepoys”. On 01 Apr 1933 ‘A’ Flight of No.1 Squadron of the IAF was formed at Karachi with four Westland Wapiti aircraft. The Sqn was commander by Flt Lt C.A. Bouchier, DFC of the RAF and initially had just five Indian pilots. The Sqn consisted of a squadron headquarters and one flight of four Westland Wapiti aircraft. During subsequent years further batches of recruits were sent to Cranwell and post training swelled the ranks of 1 Sqn. Some of the other IAF officers to be later trained at Cranwell were A.M. Engineer, K.K. Majumdar, H. Ranganathan, Narendra, Habibullah Khan, Prithipal Singh, Mehar Singh, R.H.D. Singh, S.N. Goyal and Arjan Singh. Of these A.M. Engineer and Arjan Singh rose to serve as Chief of the IAF and the post of the Marshal of the Indian Air Force is today held by Marshal Arjan Singh. After three years of training ‘A’ Flight of No.1 Sqn of the IAF moved to Peshawar on 01 Apr 1936, the day ‘B’ Flight was formed. At Peshawar it was attached to No.20 Sqn...