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COIN: Offensive fighter ops in North East

[v1.0][18.Feb.2009][© VayuSena]

Introduction:

India has faced a number of insurgent groups in the North Eastern states since the 1950s, each with their own agenda. Though the region is still plagued by several such groups, the number of terrorist incidents has significantly decreased compared to the initial years. Indian counter terrorism forces have stoutly stuck to the principle of minimum force - only small arms are employed to fight the terrrorists.

For most part Indian Air Force and Indian Army Aviation Corps restrict themselves to helicopter or transport aircraft missions for material and troop movement, communciation, CASEVAC and reconnaissance. Whlile the larger debate of using fighter aircraft in COIN is beyond the scope of this article, it is pertinent to record the rare occasions when India has used offensive air power in COIN missions on Indian soil.

Operations

These rare missions saw use of sub sonic fighter aircraft of the time – Toofani (Ouragan), Vampire and Hunters fight the insurgents using guns and air to ground rockets.

In 1956 Nagaland witnessed the rise of insurgency in India launched by the NSCN. Even though the IAF was mostly involved in flying milutary supplies, air strikes were carried out at Purr. No. 4 Sqn (Oorials) was based at Tezpur since the 1962 war. Equipped with Toofanis, the squadron would escort Dakotas and attack militant positions to protect the transport aircraft as it landed or dropped supplies. No. 4 also discovered militant camps in Burma when a fighter accidently flew into Burmese airspace.

North Eastern Frontier Agency (NEFA). During the early 1960s, the No.24 Squadron (Hawks) took part in COIN missions in NEFA (now known as Arunachal Pradesh). Hawks was then based at Chabua for air defence and reconnissance missions and equipped with Vampires. While NEFA did not suffer from any insurgency; these missions were possibly against groups that had setup camp there.

Mizoram has seen the largest employment of fighter aircraft in COIN ever. On 28th Feb 1966 the Mizo National Front (MNF) captured the government treasury at Aizwal and beseiged the 1st Assam Rifles (AR) HQ at Aizwal and posts at Champai, Darngaon, Vaphai, Lungleh/Lungleigh and Demagiri. Mi-4 helicopters of 110 Helicopter Unit attempted to fly in 18 AR to Aizwal garrison but were fired upon by MNF fighters who had acquired good vantage points. A Caribou of the 33 Sqn on recce was also damaged by small arms fire.

It was decided to fly in troops into the HQ with fighter escorts. Accordingly, seven helicopters and four French built Ouragon fighters, nicknamed Toofanis in the IAF, were used for this operation. The RV was in the Turial valley East of Aizwal. As each helicopter turned onto the final approach to the makeshift helipad in the AR Post, one Toofani on each side of the chopper fired rockets at the MNF elements sitting on the North and South of the post. Suffering casualties, the MNF cadres fled the scene and the siege of the post was thus ended.

Toofanis operating from Kumbhirgram and Hunters operating from Jorhat, were subsequently used over Champai, Darangoan, Vaphai and Demagiri. These operations were not coordinated with any helicopter activity and were undertaken to keep the MNF at bay and to ease the pressure off the surrounded posts till they could be reinforced by flying in troops by helicopter.

On 4th March tragets were attacked in Aizwal by Hunter and Toofani formations.

Conclusion

Over the decades, the brunt of the insurgency has been bourne by the Indian Army and central para military forces on the ground. The IAF, and the Indian Army Aviation Corps have flown a variety of missions to support the troops including air maintenance, SHBO, CASEVAC, connaissance and armed roles with transport aircraft, helicopters and even UAVs - but the above instances remain in the only known cases of fighter air strikes against insurgents.

Revision History :

[v1.0][18.Feb.2009] - First Upload

References :

  1. History of the No. 24 Squadron, Air Force (Official IAF website)
           http://indianairforce.nic.in/
  2. “Helicopter Operations in the Indian Air Force” by Air Vice Marshal HS Ahluwalia (Retd) YSM, VM
           http://www.bharat-rakshak.com/SRR/2006/02/53.html
  3. C I Operations in the Northeast By Brig SP Sinha
           http://www.indiandefencereview.com/?p=70
  4. Post by Samir Chopra on Bharat Rakshak Forum dated 06.09.2002
           http://forums.bharat-rakshak.com/
  5. “Memories of inferno still remain fresh”
           http://www.zoram.com/index.php?module=pagesetter&func=viewpub&tid=3&pid=2864

IAF Ouragan/Toofani

Dassault Ouragan - known in the IAF as the 'Toofani'.

Indian Air Force Vampire

The Vampire was the first jet powered fighter in the Indian Air Force.

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