The Air Force on Saturday carried out a mega exercise involving 140 fighter jets and attack helicopters, in a firepower demonstration close to the border with Pakistan that came two days after the Pulwama attack.
As India plans options to avenge the strike by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terror group, Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa said the Air Force was prepared to deliver "appropriate response" as assigned by the political leadership.
At the inauguration of the day and night Vayu Shakti exercise, he, however, did not either mention Pakistan or the Pulwama attack. "I wish to assure the nation of the IAF's capability and commitment in meeting national security challenges and defending sovereignty of our country," he said.
Top Air Force sources said though the Vayu Shakti was planned in advance, the drill was a demonstration of the force's capability to hit targets with "pinpoint accuracy" and carry out missions at short notice.
Forty CRPF personnel were killed in a suicide attack in Kashmir's Pulwama district by Pakistan-based terror group Jaish-e-Mohammed on Thursday. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said security forces have been given full freedom to retaliate against the attack. India has also said it will ensure "complete isolation" of Pakistan internationally for its support to terror groups.
"While wars are fought few and far between, we have an ever present sub-conventional threat as the enemy knows it cannot defeat us in a conventional conflict," the IAF chief said, in a clear reference to Pakistan.
"So, today we showcase our ability to punish, our ability to insert and extricate troops from hostile territories," Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said.
In the Vayu Shakti exercise, the IAF showcased firepower capability of indigenously-developed platforms like Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas, Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) and efficacy of Akash surface-to-air missile and Astra air-to-air missile.
"We are showcasing our ability to hit hard, hit fast and hit with precision, hit during day, hit during night and hit under adverse weather conditions," the IAF chief said.
Fighter jets and helicopters hit targets during day and night. It was for the first time, the ALH and the Akash were deployed in a military exercise.
The IAF also deployed the upgraded MiG-29 fighter jet in an air-to-ground role during the exercise. A total of 137 aircraft including Sukhoi-30s, Mirage 2000s, Jaguars, Mig-21 Bison, Mig-27, Mig-29, IL78, Hercules and AN-32 aircraft participated.
Army chief General Bipin Rawat, defence attaches of several countries and top officials of the Defence Ministry also witnessed the exercise. Cricket legend Sachin Tendulkar, who is an honorary group captain of the IAF, was also present.