RE­SPECT THE FORCES

Time and again, In­dian armed forces have proved their ca­pa­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing speedy re­sponse to nat­u­ral or man-made disas­ter. For the stel­lar role played, they de­serve ut­most re­spect from all.

SP's Aviation - - LAST WORD - By AIR MAR­SHAL B.K. PANDEY (RETD)

When­ever a disas­ter strikes, whether nat­u­ral or man-made, in that mo­ment of dis­tress and disas­ter the Govern­ment of In­dia in­vari­ably sends out the our armed forces (Air Force, Army, Navy, Coast Guard and other bodies) to help the state ma­chin­ery in their res­cue and relief ef­forts. Go­ing be­yond their call of duty and risk­ing their life and stretch­ing the equip­ment to their op­er­a­tional lim­its, work­ing round the clock ig­nor­ing ex­haus­tion, In­dian men and women in uni­form per­form like a well-oiled ma­chine not just sav­ing lives and pro­vid­ing much needed relief and sup­port but do­ing such in a way that wins the heart of all and sundry along the way.

In the re­cent years, the in­volve­ment of the In­dian Air Force (IAF) in Hu­man­i­tar­ian As­sis­tance and Disas­ter Relief (HADR) mis­sions both within the coun­try and abroad, has been on the rise. Whether it was Op­er­a­tion Ra­hat in June 2013 in the wake of flash floods in Ut­tarak­hand or when River Jhelum broke its banks af­ter heavy down­pour and wreaked havoc in parts of Jammu and Kash­mir in Septem­ber 2014 or the man­made disas­ter in Tamil Nadu that flooded the city of Chennai in De­cem­ber 2015, the IAF re­sponded in all cases with alacrity, char­ac­ter­is­tic speed, re­solve and for­ti­tude to pro­vide suc­cour to the sec­tions of the pop­u­la­tion in dis­tress.

Disas­ter relief op­er­a­tions un­der­taken by the IAF in­volves both fixed and ro­tary-wing plat­forms. He­li­copters are re­quired to land on very small, hastily im­pro­vised he­li­pads and fly sor­ties to vil­lages that had been re­duced to rub­ble and are in­deed dif­fi­cult to lo­cate and iden­tify. It is un­doubt­edly a daunt­ing task; but de­spite the ad­ver­si­ties, the IAF ren­ders yeomen ser­vice. Apart from fly­ing in relief ma­te­rial and fly­ing out of stranded per­son­nel, largely civil­ians, IAF trans­port air­craft are used to de­liver avi­a­tion tur­bine fuel at he­li­pads in re­mote ar­eas from where he­li­copters were re­quired to con­duct res­cue op­er­a­tions in the hilly ar­eas. In Op­er­a­tion Ra­hat, the IAF flew 3,536 sor­ties, evac­u­ated 23,892 per­sons and de­liv­ered 797 tonnes of relief ma­te­rial. This mam­moth task was un­der­taken by a fleet of over 50 he­li­copters and trans­port air­craft. Dur­ing the dev­as­ta­tion in J&K, the IAF flew around 3,000 sor­ties, air­lift­ing 4,500 tonnes of es­sen­tial sup­plies both by trans­port air­craft and he­li­copters. The trans­port air­craft evac­u­ated about 35,000 civil­ians, while the he­li­copter fleet res­cued about 17,000 per­sons who were stranded in iso­lated and in­ac­ces­si­ble ar­eas.

What is of essence in such disas­ter man­age­ment op­er­a­tions is the in­her­ent ca­pa­bil­ity of the IAF for pro­vid­ing swift re­sponse. It has a fleet of ten Boe­ing C-17 Globe­mas­ter be­mas­ter III four-en­gine strateg strate­gic air­lift air­craft that can lift pay­load of around d 75 tonnes and has a range of around 4,500 km. This en­ables the air­craft to reach ach a any part of the globe in the short­est pos­si­ble time with heavy pay­loads con­sist­ing of relief ma­te­rial or per­son­nel. This fleet is ad­e­quately backed up by a fleet of 12 four-en­gine Lock­heed Martin C-130J Su­per Her­cules tac­ti­cal trans­port air­craft that can carry a pay­load of around 20 tonnes over a dis­tance of over 3000 km. Both th­ese air­craft can carry large num­ber of pas­sen­gers or stretcher pa­tients as well as com­bi­na­tion of the two when de­ployed for emer­gency evac­u­a­tion. The IAF is now left with just one squadron of the Rus­sian IL-76 MD strate­gic air­lift air­craft that can carry around 50 tonnes of pay­load over 5000 km. Then there is a large fleet of the medium lift Antonov An-32 twin-en­gine trans­port air­craft to aug­ment the ca­pac­ity of the fleet of the two heavy-lift plat­forms. It is ex­pected that in the near fu­ture, the IAF will re­ceive 56 or more of the ver­sa­tile Air­bus C295 twin-en­gine mil­i­tary trans­port air­craft that will fur­ther en­hance the ca­pa­bil­ity of the trans­port fleet of the IAF to un­der­take HADR mis­sions with greater ef­fi­ciency. Apart from the fixed-wing fleet, the IAF has a va­ri­ety of he­li­copters, medium-lift to light util­ity plat­forms.

The air­lift ca­pa­bil­ity of the IAF came in very handy when in March 2015, the State of Ye­men landed up in a cri­sis on ac­count of a war im­posed on the State by a coali­tion of Arab forces that launched ae­rial strikes. The Govern­ment of In­dia as­sessed a re­quire­ment of im­me­di­ate evac­u­a­tion of over 4,000 In­dian na­tion­als based at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in the State of Ye­men. Along with ships of the In­dian Navy, the IAF de­ployed three C-17 Globe­mas­ter III to ferry back In­dian na­tion­als from Dji­bouti to Kochi in Ker­ala and Mum­bai. As many as 11 evac­u­a­tion flights were un­der­taken by the IAF air­craft fa­cil­i­tat­ing the safe re­turn of 2096 of the 4000 In­dian na­tion­als in the short­est pos­si­ble time.

The lat­est disas­ter to which the IAF re­sponded speed­ily and ren­dered yeomen ser­vice, were the floods in Ker­ala. The IAF re­sponded im­me­di­ately res­cued the stranded, winch­ing ladies, chil­dren and the el­derly from rooftops of sub­merged houses, dropped packed food and wa­ter to those trapped in the floods.

The In­dian Armed Forces are not only well equipped for the task, but its per­son­nel are well trained, highly mo­ti­vated and ded­i­cated. Time and again, they have proved their ca­pa­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing speedy re­sponse to nat­u­ral or man-made disas­ter. For the stel­lar role played, the Armed Forces de­serves ut­most re­spect from all.

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