Pokhran is the same place where India conducted its nuclear tests in 1974 and later in 1998.
The aim of the exercise is to demonstrate India’s readiness to conduct full spectrum operations and fire capabilities. The drill will see the participation of newly inducted French Rafale fighter jets for the very first time.
IAF started inducting the Dassault Rafale fighter jets in the wake of the June 2020 Galwan clash with China’s PLA, in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives.
The most striking feature of Rafale is its capability to carry nuclear warheads, making it a strategic asset for India. Apart from Rafale, the Anglo-French Jaguar, Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30, the backbone of the Indian Air Force, will also participate in the aerial drills. All three fighters are nuclear-capable.
In January 2020, it was reported that India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) began receiving 42 Su-30MKI fighters modified to carry nuclear BrahMos missiles.
Su-30 MKI and BrahMos supersonic missile are a deadly combination together, as EurAsian Times had reported earlier. When one of the most supermanoeuvrable fighters jets is outfitted with a supersonic, super destructive cruise missile-like BrahMos, it’s bad news for enemies, an expert had commented.
The MIG-29, indigenous Tejas light combat aircraft, MIG-21 Bison, Hawk 32, M200, Globe Master C-17 and C-130J Hercules, Chinoque and Mi 17 V5, Mi 35, and Apache attack helicopters will also participate in the exercise.
An IAF Su-30MKI launches a BrahMos supersonic cruise missile.
In total, this exercise will see the participation of 148 aircraft from seven air bases spread across the country. This is the largest-ever participation of IAF platforms. In 2019, a total of 137 aircraft, including 81 fighter jets had participated in the drills.
Indian Air force will also demonstrate its Jaguar nuclear-capable, ground-attack aircraft that entered service in 1979. The IAF currently has about 118 aircraft which are expected to be replaced by the Indian AMCA fighters.
Earlier, as EurAsian Times reported, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had signed a deal with HAL to purchase two simulators for the Jaguar aircraft. This move spells a departure from its 2019 statement that said the Jaguar aircraft will be phased out from 2023.
Rafales and Jaguars of the Indian Air Force
The exercise Vayu Shakti will also showcase made-in-India defense equipment and military hardware in line with the “Atmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) initiative. “Our weapons demonstration, large numbers of weapons are made in India and some are even designed in India,” IAF Vice Chief, Air Marshal Sandeep Singh, told reporters.
The Akash missile, India’s indigenously developed medium-range, surface-to-air missile that can engage multiple targets from multiple directions will be showcased during the exercise.
Another Made in India product and the pride of the Indian Air Force, LCA Tejas will showcase its prowess in the sky of Jaisalmer in the upcoming drills.
The Indian Air Force Tejas performs at the opening ceremony of the Singapore Air Show on February 15, 2022.
Earlier as EurAsian Times had reported, India’s Tejas fighters demonstrated ‘exceptional flying capabilities’ at the Singapore Air Show 2022. Tejas, which had mesmerized the audience at the Dubai Air Show, made a stunning display at the airshow and the Indian Air Force tweeted and called it ‘A Diamond In The Sky’.
Tejas fighter pilot Group Captain Manish Tolani described the Tejas as a 4.5-Gen aircraft with proven capabilities across various conditions including the subcontinent’s harsh northern regions and the southern regions’ tropical weather.
IAF Exercise At Nuclear Test Site
Vayu Shakti is held once in three years to showcase India’s air power. The first edition of the exercise was held on July 21, 1953, at the Tilpat range in New Delhi. After 1989, the event was moved to Pokhran, close to the Pakistan border.
In the past, India had conducted its nuclear tests at Pokhran — the first one (codenamed “Smiling Buddha”) in 1974 followed by another test in 1998, codenamed “Shakti”.
The last edition of the Vayu Shakti exercise was held on February 16, 2019, soon after the Pulwama terror attack and 10 days before IAF bombed Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) targets in Pakistan’s Balakot.
This airstrike pushed the two nuclear-armed South Asian neighbors to the brink of a full-scale military conflict. The exercise Vayu Shakti over the years has emerged as an effective platform for training and honing combat skills of IAF.