Wednesday, May 24, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

IAF resources stretched
Maintaining supplies to Kargil
By Vijay Mohan
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, May 23 — A year after the Indian Air Force undertook massive airlift of troops and equipment, inducted in the Kargil Sector to counter incursions by Pakistan-backed elements along the Line of Control, the IAF continues to be saddled with significantly increased commitments even as its fleet serviceability is back to pre-Kargil days.

Sources say that whereas there has been a three fold increase in the number of troops and human resources being transported by air to the forward areas vis-a-vis pre-Operation Vijay days, the cargo factor has gone up by two.

Though there is no fresh induction of troops along the Dras-Kargil axis, the post-Kargil raising of a new formation — 14 Corps with 3 Infantry Division and 8 Mountain Division on its ORBAT — has necessitated an increase in air maintenance operations.

The post-Kargil increase in troop deployment and increase in military operations along the volatile LoC following the raising of 14 Corps (about 50,000 troops) translates into an increase in troop rotation, rations and petroleum products, ammunition and ordnance items as well as medical evacuation.

‘’There is a significant increase in flying hours as compared to pre-Kargil days,’’ an IAF officer commented. ‘’Average flying hours per squadron in a month touches 550 as compared to less than 400 hours in a month during pre-Kargil days,’’ he added. Flying hours had peaked during the Kargil operations, when squadrons logged an average of 650 flying hours in a month.

All air maintenance to the Northern Sector is out of Chandigarh airbase. Two squadrons, one equipped with the AN-32 medium transporter and the other a composite of the AN-32 and the IL-76 strategic freighter, bear the prime responsibility of maintaining the airbridge to the ‘’roof of the world’’.

This apart, these squadrons have to perform other task allotted to them, including scheduled cross couriers to the south and the North-East, as well as need-based communication duties or special sorties. 

The increase in flying hours means carrying out, at times, two or three extra sorties in a day.

While the air maintenance task has increased considerably, the number of aircraft and the aircrew strength has remained the same. The serviceability of aircraft has, in fact, gone down from about 95 per cent during the Kargil conflict to ‘’about 60 plus per cent’’ at present due to non-availability of spares. Further, with the IAF facing a shortage of auxiliary power units — meant to start the aircraft’s engines — aircraft engines have to be kept running at forward bases resulting in additional wear and tear of engines, besides additional fuel consumption. The operational cost of an AN - 32 is estimated at above Rs 2 lakh per hour, while that of an IL - 76 is about Rs 13 lakh per hour.

IAF sources say that though the strategically vital Srinagar-Leh land route (National Highway 1-A) is open to traffic at this time of the year and an alternate land route to Leh via Manali in Himachal Pradesh has been developed, there are little indications of their tasks reducing in the near future.

Till Operation Vijay, which brought about a drastic shift in deployment and operations, air maintenance had been mainly confined to support Siachen operations. The area of operation of two divisions of 14 Corps and some specialised elements have now been stretched to include the area north-east of the Siachen, up to the Zojila Pass.

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