Indian Air Force is the Air wing of the Indian defence forces, which compliments and helps Indian Navy & Indian Army in safeguarding the nation.
With a mission to secure Indian airspace and conduct aerial warfare during armed conflict, IAF has been serving nation since 8th October 1932. IAF was incepted by the British Government as Royal Air Force.
IAF’s 1st Squadron was commissioned on 1 April 1933. It consisted of four Westland Wapiti biplanes and five Indian pilots, who were led by British RAF Commanding officer Flight Lieutenant (later Air Vice Marshal) Cecil Bouchier.
After Independence, it was named Royal Indian Air Force & kept to serve under ‘Dominion of India’. In 1950, after the formation of the government, the ‘Royal’ was removed from the name.
IAF’s mission is defined by the Armed Forces Act of 1947, the Constitution of India, and the Air Force Act of 1950. Since 1950, IAF has been involved in a total of 4 wars with Pakistan & 1 war with China, including several other operations with other countries and within India. This includes Operation Vijay that took place in Goa (1961), Operation Meghdoot in Siachen Glacier, Kashmir (1984), Operation Cactus in the Maldives (1988), Operation Poomalai in Sri Lanka (1987) & many other missions with UN’s Peacekeeping Forces.
The President of India is the Supreme Commander of all the three defence forces including IAF. Followed by him is Chief of Air Staff, an air chief marshal, a four-star officer who is responsible for all the operational command of the Air Force.
Even though the highest post in an Air Force is ACM, only one person has been conferred with a 5-star post of Marshal of Air Force till date. On 26 January 2002, Arjan Singh was conferred with the highest-ranking post of IAF. A 5-star rank is a topmost post, which is given to the most senior personnel in the forces, universally. Arjan Singh is the only IAF personnel to hold this rank.
World War II (1939-1945)
IAF had played a significant Role under British rule as RAF, during World War II (1939-1945). The 5 pilot squadron carried out strikes, close air support operations, aerial reconnaissance, bombers escort and pathfinding missions for RAF and USAAF heavy bombers, trying to Halt Japanese Army in Burma, Arakan, Mae Hong Son, Chiang Mai, Chaing Rai & Thailand.
During the war, many new aeroplanes were added to the fleet & because of their valiant service during the war, IAF was conferred with the Royal title by King George IV in 1945.
Kashmir & Pakistan (1947-1950)
After the Independence of India & Partition of India Pakistan, Kashmir was attempted to be annexed by Pakistan. Indian Air Forces extended their support to the Princely state by sending its forces & Air support for travel & close air encounters. This was Indian Air Force’s first major operation after the Independence.
Further, after the formation of the Indian Constitution in 1950, the name Royal was removed, and it became ‘Indian Air Force’ only. The conflict is also known as the First Kashmir War
The annexation of Goa (1960-61)
IAF extended their support to the UN Peace Keeping forces to control the widespread Violence & rebellion conflicts in Congo in 1960s. Further, IAF played a significant role in the annexation of Goa from Portuguese rule under Operation Vijay. It was IAF’s 1st battle with Portuguese Air Forces.
Sino-India War 1962
A war escalated between India & China in 1962, after the Chinese Army sent some of their troops to cross the border. However, the event was not very much successful as the Indian Armed forces could not deploy their troops efficiently, resulting in loss of a major part of J&K state to China.
Second Kashmir War 1965
3 years later, Pakistan launched Operation Gibraltar in Kashmir, to infiltrate the state and start a rebellion movement. This was the 1st time that IAF engaged in combat with enemy Air Forces. IAF carried out independent raids on Pakistani Air Force. Although Pakistan had an edge in the situation with the better technology & diplomatic supports from USA & Britain, IAF played its game with precision & prevented PAF from gaining air superiority over conflict zones.
IAF lost 60-70 aircraft, while the PAF lost 43 aircraft by the end of the conflict. 60% of IAF’s aircraft losses were due to Ground Attack missions to enemy ground-fire.
According to, the then Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh, despite having been qualitatively inferior, IAF achieved air superiority in three days in the 1965 War over Pakistan.
The 1965 war proved to be a lesson for the country and since then, it has faced several improvements in terms of Capabilities. India also started to manufacture Indigenous fighter planes and procuring firepower from superior nations like the USA & Russia.
Bangladesh Liberation 1971
India entered into another War with Pakistan in 1971 after they carried out multiple preemptive air attacks against IAF in Srinagar, Ambala, Sirsa, Halwara and Jodhpur. IAF assisted Indian Army & Navy while conducting multiple airstrikes, ground support operations and sorties within a very short period. After the month’s long conflict and a significant role of IAF in the war, Bangladesh (Formerly known as East Pakistan) got liberated from Pakistan’s Dominion.
Operation Meghdoot 1984
India conducted a series of operations between the 5 years. With the help of IAF’s Mi-8, Chetak and Cheetah helicopters, hundreds of Indian troops to Siachen to capture the Siachen Glacier in the Kashmir region. The forces successfully took over the region & gained more than 1000 square miles of the territory with the operation.
Operation Poomalai 1987
Indian Government decided to carry out an airdrop of the humanitarian supplies in Sri Lanka after the failed attempts to negotiate an end to the Sri Lankan Civil War. IAF carried out supply drops in the area as well. The government was able to restore peace with the help of IAF.
UN Peacekeeping operations 1987
IAF supported the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in northern and eastern Sri Lanka under Operation Pawan. About 70,000 sorties were flown by the IAF’s transport and helicopter force in support of nearly 100,000 troops and paramilitary forces without a single aircraft lost or mission aborted. It was IAF’s first successful & key role in the UN’s peacekeeping operations.
Operation Cactus 1988
IAF undertook special operations to airlift a parachute battalion group from Agra, non-stop over 2,000 kilometres to the remote Indian Ocean archipelago of the Maldives. This was in response to Maldivian president Gayoom’s request for military help against a mercenary invasion. This was called Operation Cactus 1988.
Kargil War 1999
IAF was called in to participate & provide close air support to the Indian Army at the height of the ongoing Kargil conflict between India & Pakistan. IAF’s helicopters conducted the operations & the strike operation was coded as Operation Safed Sagar. Over the month’s long conflicts between the two nations, many encounters gave the IAF opportunities to prove their blood in the battle.
Apart from this several incidents followed even after Kargil where IAF played Key role. It has been improving its squadrons and fleet of aircraft, air-transporters & helicopters.
India Pakistan Stand-off 2019
IAF carried out an air bombing strike in Balakot
2019 Balakot airstrike was conducted by India in the early morning hours of February 26 when Indian warplanes crossed the LOC & entered POK Airspace to drop bombs in the vicinity of the town of Balakot to destroy terrorist camps & a large number of terrorist training groups habituated in the area. The very next day Pakistan retaliated in response and launched another strike on Indian Land. In this battle, one plane of IAF was shot down by Pakistan & the pilot was taken prisoner by Pakistani Army.
Since then the situation has been under a stand-off
IAF has served the nation at every single time we needed. It has been immense proud for all of us to have been guarded by such great forces. On the 88th Indian Air Force Day, we sincerely hope that IAF reaches newer heights of success and proud around the world.
Author: Keshav Kothari
A young CA Aspirant who is a writer and a photographer with the zeal to convey a positive perception through his work.