“Iron Fist” exercise to showcase air force’s war readiness - Broadsword by Ajai Shukla - Strategy. Economics. Defence.

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Thursday 10 March 2016

“Iron Fist” exercise to showcase air force’s war readiness

IAF claims its bases and equipment are 52 per cent “made in India”

By Ajai Shukla
Business Standard, 11th March 16

Next week, at the Pokhran firing ranges in Rajasthan, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will let Pakistan and China know it is ready for war at short notice. In a massive firepower display, some two hundred IAF fighters will rain bombs and missiles on targets spread across the desert. Watching this will be a flock of defence and air attachés, flown down from Delhi for the spectacle.

This is Exercise Iron Fist 2016, a once-in-three-years firepower demonstration that is part of what strategists term “deterrence signalling”. It is a shot across the bows of potential adversaries, to dissuade them from harming Indian national interests.

Briefing the media in New Delhi on Thursday, IAF vice-chief, Air Marshal Birender Dhanoa, cited former US president Theodore Roosevelt’s famous exhortation, “Speak softly and carry a big stick”.

Said Dhanoa: “Exercise Iron Fist 2016 demonstrates the business end of the IAF; the Big Stick; our capability to deter.”

The same message is sent out by the Iron Fist 2016 logo, which is: “Demonstrating the capability to punish. Weapons…On Target…On Time”.

The IAF says Iron Fist 2016 will involve 181 aircraft demonstrating 69 missions. There will be 103 fighters, including the Tejas, Mirage 2000, Sukhoi-30, Jaguar, MiG-29, MiG-27, MiG-21 and the Hawk advanced jet trainer. Also on display will be 59 helicopters including the Mi-17V-5 transport helicopter, Mi-35 attack helicopter, and the Dhruv and Light Combat Helicopter.

Synchronised waves of fighters will fly in from different IAF bases across the western sector. This involves close coordination by the Integrated Air Command and Control System (IACCS), which would similarly direct fighters into various combat theatres during wartime.

Says Dhanoa: “The IAF will demonstrate in Exercise Iron Fist, its capability to fight an adversary’s army, navy and air force… and to win a war both during day and night. [This] capability [has been] demonstrated only by our air force in the sub-continent. This is a major change that has taken place in the last ten years.”

Curiously, given the exercise’s aim of deterrence signalling, the Pakistani and Chinese defence attaches to India will not have front row seats for Exercise Iron Fist 2016. In fact, the IAF confirms that neither country’s representatives will even attend.

Defence ministry officials explain that Pakistani and Chinese attaches were not invited because those countries did not invite Indian defence attaches for their air exercises, even after New Delhi expressly conveyed interest in having them attend.

IAF sources confirm that, in December, the Indian air attaché in Islamabad was kept away from the Pakistan Air Force’s firepower display at the Sonmiani ranges, near Karachi. Similarly, the Indian air attaché in Beijing was not invited to the Chinese air force’s elite Golden Helmet exercise.

Unusually, the IAF is playing the international spotlight over indigenous platforms. The Tejas light combat aircraft will display its excellent “swing role capability” by, in a single pass, delivering a laser-guided bomb to a ground target and firing an air-to-air missile at a simulated enemy fighter.

The Defence R&D Organisation’s (DRDO’s) Akash surface-to-air missile, which is being deployed to defend IAF bases from enemy fighters, will demonstrate firing. So too will the DRDO’s well-regarded Astra air-to-air missile, which a Sukhoi-30MKI will fire at a simulated enemy that is “beyond visual range” (BVR).

The indigenous Light Combat Helicopter (LCH) will fire rockets at tank targets. The airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) system, which the DRDO unveiled at the Bahrain Air Show last month, will also be on display. This features Indian radar and command software, mounted on a Brazilian Embraer aircraft.

Dhanoa, walking the “Make in India” line, stated: “The IAF, contrary to popular belief has achieved significant indigenization. If you take an IAF base as a platform to project air power, akin to a naval ship, its total indigenous content is 52%. This includes all its aircraft, its missile systems, radar, communications network, infrastructure, and the IACCS that is indigenous developed, right from the design stage. This compares reasonably with a (war)ship having about 55% indigenous content.”

While demonstrations like Iron Fist serve a deterrence purpose, the real training takes place in internal exercises like the IAF’s recently concluded “Live Wire” exercise; or next summer’s Red Flag exercise in the US, a major international event for which the IAF will be flying across four Su-30MKIs, four Jaguars, two C-17 Globemaster IIIs and two air-to-air refuellers.


  1. Hahaha...Imported Air Force claiming its air base is 52% indigenous..sure the people, land, tables, chairs, chai and biskoot are all indigenous. The vice fart marshall wants us to believe this BS.

  2. What the Head Honchos do not admit is that all the indigenization achieved in IAF is only after they have been forced to accept the realistic equipment and not because they have lead the national efforts.

  3. The indigenous content of the IAF will only be respectable when the MCA, Tejas, HTT-40 and Tejas Trainer will all be inducted. Then the foreign content will be less than 40$, which is good start. 70% should be the target over the next 20 years.

  4. Finally IAF is showing its local planes. It is good. They need to be more aggressive in indianization.
    No point in wishing top of line for every nut & bolt.
    Local stuff will always work, can be optimised . Use lower costs to build quantity, have quicker improved version s?
    Quantity has a quality of its own
    We need to learn from china.

  5. It is telling that the AVM had to compare to a warship. The Navy is way ahead of the 3 forces. The IAF has be brought kicking and screaming to talk to the HAL/ADA - and once it is done, IAF goes off and buys basic trainers from the Swiss!! It goes without saying that the comparison is false and misleading. The IAF has to borrow fig leaf of indiginisation by saying its buildings, hangars and roads are all build in India. LOL.

    Just two or three Rafale are probably more costly than all the buildings and roads on any airbase it will ever be based. The IAF has a long long way to go before it can call it self 'Indian'.

    I would recommend that we ditch the Rafale. I am sure the sweeteners that the French threw in like helping with nuclear arms simulation, advanced technology etc etc can be sourced from other nations.

    Let us divert the money from the Rafale to buy 3-4 squadorns for Sukhoi and a lot more Tejas. In military terms, quantity has its own quality. Once that is done, the rest of the funds should go towards improving the serviceability of Sukhoi from 50% to atleast 75%. National radar coverage is still less than 100%, and our national SAM / anti- aircraft coverage needs a lot more work.

    There is a lot of work to be done for hardening of AFS across the nation, post Pathankot.

  6. Mr. Dhanoa's likeness of an IAF base to a naval ship is silly. An airbase's naval counterpart would be a port, not a warship. A warship's counterpart would be a fighter jet.

    So, how much of Dhanoa's fleet is indigenous? Apart from the solitary Tejas and Dhruv squadrons, everything in the IAF's zoo is imported (yes, even the Su-30s copy-pasted at HAL must be treated as imported).

    That apart, he must demonstrate an unwavering commitment to the Tejas and AMCA. He must NOT call for any more global tenders of more fighter jets like F-18 or Gripen or MiG-35 (of late, their manufacturers are dangling carrots these days through the media and their ambassadors stationed at Delhi).

    The IAF must now formulate a strategy to induct local fighter jets ONLY and not call for global tenders at the drop of a hat. It must seek to reduce the fighter types it has, which is one of the highest in the world. One strategy to fighting a 2-front war is to have a lean and mean inventory, so that logistics are serviced better. To this effect, the Tejas must replace all MiGs in the IAF i.e. MiG-21, 27 and 29. Tejas must also replace the Jaguars and Mirage-2000s.

    The PAK-FA must be abandoned and the AMCA must be made a top priority.

    All in all, Dhanoa could take a leaf from his rival air-forces from across the border on how to SUPPORT the indigenous industry in thick & thin, instead of bad-mouthing and behaving truant. A small study on the excellent support given to the JF-17 by the Pakistani Air Force will do him good.

  7. I'm shocked as to how our chiefs and senior military leaders are sucking up to modi.....52% made in india... Who are we kidding.

    Wars are not fought by imported machines... Its fine by the man inside..... And that guy is 100% made in India... There is nothing wrong in demanding the best!!!

    And ssenior Air force brass... Don't sell your souls and accept any aircraft under assumed pressure just for some more brass on your shoulders... Give your guys the best.... They deserve it..
    Till now the IAF had held their own but they're not doing enough these days.... By all means but Indian.... But not if its sub standard... Do the right thing.

  8. Wow the Pro PSU babus are in full strength on this comments section : )

    Never seen a cockpit in real life, they are Super Duper Air Marshals, with intricate knowledge of fighter jets (derived from the latest news articles from NDTV), and many years of experience (of surfing blog posts and comments for information), they are the true experts of aviation.

    "Who cares what IAF has to say, what must IAF know about aviation, fighter aircraft, military aviation deployment and combat any way...IAF air marshals must have also gotten their information from reading brochures like we have, so when we say F-18 is better wonder why IAF keeps insisting on Rafale. Its not even as big as F-18. how can IAF be so careless and not pick F-18 for its size. have they not seen hollywood movies of F-18 ?..."

    Pro PSU babus are Made in India fanatics but also believe that Made In India is to be bought by India.(notwithstanding nobody wants to buy this stuff). The Fact that IAF has already placed an order for 106 LCA- Mk1A After literally bullying and cajoling HAL to meet the minimum standards required, has no impact on their thought process. Nor does the fact that HAL's production line is up to the brim till 2020.

    But What does "Mr." Dhanoa ( Air Marshal Dhanoa, VM) and his other IAF top brass know. A life time spent in the profession of air combat and its preparation, does not make you a domain expert or knowledgeable, only scouring through blogs does.

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