Pokharan (Rajasthan): It started with a sonic boom, a Mig 29 breaking the sound barrier, sending a shiver down the spine of those witnessing it.
The Iron Fist 2016, held in the barren desert at Pokharan test range in Rajasthan was a showcase of the past, present and future of the Indian Air Force (IAF).
Pokharan is a name synonymous with nuclear tests for most people. This weapon testing field, with a vast expanse of desert land in the middle of nowhere, had a different aura on Friday when the IAF set out to display its day and night attack capabilities.
The horizon was filled with fire, dust, and clouds of smoke, and the sky buzzed with compact fighters and grand transport aircraft, sturdy helicopters, and lethal missiles and air warriors.
The Mig 29 caught the spectators unaware, but it was just a precursor to the event. A sonic boom is the sound that comes when shock waves are created as the sound barrier is broken. This happens when an object moves faster than the speed of sound. The waves are known to even damage buildings around.
There was the vintage Tiger Moth, the aircraft from the past which also has a place in the Iron Fist logo. Also on show were soon-to-retire Mig 27 — which has its non-upgraded jets retiring this year — Mig 21, set to retire between 2017 and 2025, as well as the upgraded Mig 29, Jaguars, mighty Su-30s, and trainer Pilatus.
When the debutante Tejas entered the show displaying its fire power, the future of the force was in view.
The IAF, facing a dwindling number of fighter jets, shone in the desert, as it flexed its muscle, a showcase of capability that IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha called the ‘tip of the iceberg’.
For the spectators, who included President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, along with several defence attaches and personnel from the three forces, the precision of the attacks was wondrous.
The fighters were swift, while the transport aircraft were majestic.
Air-to-air refueling by IL-78 FRA along with two Su-30 aircraft, assault landing capability of versatile C-130 J aircraft and the fire fighting capability of the Mi-17V5 were witnessed with awe, the mere size of the whole show was enough to instill a sense of fear in the war machines.
As the combat demonstration got under way, the sight of missiles and bombs hitting successive targets, a few kilometres away from the spectator stands, was not for the faint of heart.
From several kilometres away, the sound of blast travelled to shake the chairs of the visitors. T clouds of dense smoke and fire were clearly visible in the open desert, dissolving in the air slowly only to be replaced by a bigger, fiery cloud as more bombs hit their targets.
The display of night time capability came as a visual delight, as the sky was lit bright with flares and missiles.
The grandest of all was, however, the Akash surface-to-air missile, which drew a line of fire, as it was launched, in the dark sky, the target far from the view of the spectators. The missile has beyond-visual range capability.
The event started with a bang, and ended with the sky illuminated with air warriors jumping from an aircarft in a combat freefall, which was also showcased for the first time in a night operation.
An air warrior, present at the event, summed up the display as a dedication to the spirit of serving the nation.
“It is the spirit that wins wars and when you are sure of your capability the spirit can never be low,” the warrior said.