Chandigarh, November 19
The first bomber unit to be raised by the Indian Air Force (IAF) is the No. 5 Squadron, the Tuskers. It is commemorating its 75th anniversary at its home base in Ambala. It is also the first IAF unit to use jet aircraft in combat.
A series of events, including a ceremonial parade, home-paying to martyrs, aerobatic performance by the Surya Kiran Aerobatic Team, skydiving by the Akash Ganga Team, and flypast by Rafale and Jaguar fighters are being organised to mark the milestone.
The Squadron was raised as part of the erstwhile Royal Indian Air Force in November 1948 at Kanpur on B-24 Liberator propeller-driven heavy bombers under the command of Wing Commander (Wg Cdr) JRS ‘Danny’ Dantra.
This was the first time an Indian squadron was taking over the task of bombing. Heretofore, Indian units had operated only fighter-bombers, basically fighters equipped to carry a small payload of bombs, in the strike role. It was also for the first time that the IAF inducted a four-engine aircraft.
The squadron was initially equipped with six Liberators that were restored and refurbished by the IAF and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. These were among a large number of Liberators left behind by the British in a severely damaged condition. The B-24 fleet expanded as more aircraft were made operational.
In January 1949, the Squadron moved to Pune, where it was based for the next eight years and carried out regular exercises at the Jamnagar range to develop and refine bombing concepts and techniques. It also carried out fighter affiliation duties, acting as targets for IAF fighters practising interception techniques.
In January 1957, the IAF selected the jet-engine English Electric Canberra for its bomber and strategic reconnaissance units. In September 1957, No. 5 Squadron, under the command of Wg Cdr WR Dani, became the first squadron to re-equip with the aircraft’s B(I)58 bomber-interdictor variant. By then, Agra had become the squadron’s new home.
As the IAF’s senior bomber unit, No. 5 Squadron, along with other Canberra units pioneered and developed operational doctrines and tactics for high-altitude horizontal bombing while keeping in mind the emerging threat from surface to air missiles.
In 1961, a detachment from No. 5 Squadron was deployed to United Nations Operation in the Congo. The Canberra was selected because of its long range and endurance, and the on-board availability of a navigator and airborne navigation aids which were considered necessary because of the frequent tropical storms and lack of ground-based navigation aids and infrastructure in that area.
The Canberras were the only long-range attack capability available to the UN for its military mission in the Congo. Six aircraft were sent which carried out several attack missions against rebel strongholds as well as undertook recce operations. The Congo operations, where the squadron earned two Vir Chakra for gallantry, marked the IAF’s employment of jet aircraft in combat for the first time.
The 1971 Bangladesh liberation campaign saw the Tuskers back in action, though by now the fleet was aging, and undertook sorties in the eastern as well as western theatres. Among the first units to retaliate to Pakistani pre-emptive strikes, the squadron had a greater involvement in land battles, particularly in the Chhamb Sector.
They also attacked the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) bases at Chander and Risalwala to counter Pakistani air support to its ground troops. The squadron was among the few units to have received Battle Honours on both the Eastern and Western fronts, with its Commanding Officer, Wg Cdr MMBS Talwar being awarded the Maha Vir Chakra.
The Tuskers were awarded the President’s Colours in April 1975 by the then President, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, the first IAF bomber unit to be so honoured.
The squadron operated the Canberra at Agra till 1981 and re-formed at Ambala in August 1981, under the command of Wg Cdr JS Sisodia, moving on to a new generation of aircraft the Anglo-French SEPECAT Jaguar strike aircraft. It was the second unit to induct the Jaguar after No.14 Squadron. In addition to the primary strike role, it also assumed reconnaissance duties.
In July 1988, the squadron participated in Operation Pawan as part of the Indian Peace-Keeping Force in Sri Lanka, flying long-range reconnaissance sorties over Jaffna from India and being on stand-by for strike missions if required. During the 1999 Kargil conflict, the Squadron operated a Detachment at Halwara.
In 2005, the IAF began to upgrade the Jaguar fleet with advanced avionics and weapons suite and the operation capability of the squadron was enhanced. Apart from wars, the Tuskers have been a part of major exercises and operations.
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