IAFâ€™s Innovative use of Transporters as Heavy Bombers Published April 23, 2013 | By admin SOURCE: India Strategic The bombing by the transport aircraft was a scheduled event, indicating that the Indian Air Force (IAF) has been working at this concept steadily, ever since 1971 when it first deployed An-12s to bomb the hell out of Pakistani formations attempting to cut Kashmir from the rest of India. Although no confirmations of the damage caused by these bombing were officially available, a western news agency had reported several thousand Pakistani casualties and heavy losses of their armour. The bombings were done at night, after IAF achieved air superiority in the western sector (and air supremacy in the eastern sector) in the Bangladesh Liberation War. It is interesting to recall the development and successful execution of this concept, and the contribution in this regard of 44 Squadron, which is now equipped with IL-76 aircraft. It was on board an aircraft of this squadron that I flew along with media colleagues and defence attaches from various embassies to Jodhpur towards the Pokhran range. Pakistan of course would not have given out any operational deployment details or those of its losses. But western press reports indicated that the then Pakistani martial law administrator General Yahya Khan had deployed around 30,000 troops in his offensive to cut Kashmir, and that the IAF raids had crippled those forces. According to Air Marshal (Retd) Ashok Goel, an authority on transport aircraft and India Strategicâ€™s Aviation Editor, IAF had toyed with the idea of using the An-12s for bombing when Wing Commander VC Mankotia, VM & Bar, took over the command of IAFâ€™s 44 Squadron in 1967. The innovative idea was encouraged by the then CAS (Chief of the Air Staff), Air Chief Marshal Arjan Singh. However, while IAF is keeping up with the practice, Air Marshal Goel believes that it would not be possible to use transport aircraft in todayâ€™s hi-tech air defence environment. Nonetheless, it is worth recalling the inspiring effort that IAF made in this direction, surprising the Soviet officers who observed that the An-32 was normally not meant for bombing missions. They did indeed compliment the Indian pilots. Wing Commander Mankotia got some cradles built locally to store and roll out the bombs and crews were trained for low-level night missions. His successor, Wing Commander AK Bhattacharjee continued enthusiastically with the training; unfortunately, he perished in one night training mission near Pune along with the crew. On May 25, 1971, Wing Commander VB Vasisht became the Commanding Officer of No. 44 Squadron . He selected seven crews while his flight engineer, Warrant Officer Rangaswamy, mathematically worked out the sequence and timing of each bombâ€™s fuse. The aircraftâ€™s rear 35mm turret gun was activated and a rear radar was installed. The aircraft was configured to carry 28 to 36 500-pounders for carpet bombing, and the day the war broke out with a Pakistani attack on December 3, 1971, six aircraft of the 44 Squadron led by the Commander himself bombed Pakistan Armyâ€™s Changa Manga ammunition depot in the forests for two days. In the next round, a Pakistani artillery concentration around the Haji Pir pass was attacked, and based on intelligence inputs, the GOC-in-C Lt General Sartaj Singh congratulated Wing Commander Vasisht and later told him that a Pakistani artillery brigade had been wiped out. The aircraft, based in Bareilly, were then tasked to attack Pakistan Armyâ€™s 18 Division at Fort Abbas across Ganganagar, then Suleimanke head works, and then other installations around Bhawalnagar. In one operation, Wing Commander Vasisht flew at about 200 ft, provoking the Pakistanis to open their air defence guns and disclose their positions. Other aircraft in the formation were at about 6,500 ft and they were able to deliver fire with pinpoint accuracy. Wing Cdr Vasisht, who was awarded an MVC (Maha Vir Chakra), Indiaâ€™s second highest gallantly award, also attacked Pakistani formations three more times. Interestingly again, in the last attack, he led from an An-12 while the other pilots were in Canberras. Several other officers immensely contributed in these bombing missions, some of whom are Squadron Leader GS Ahluwalia, (Vr C â€“ Vir Chakra), Squadron leader AKM Bhide and, Warrant Officer Godfrey (VM- Vayu Sena Medal) who requested to put off his retirement in November to take part in the war, Flight Lieutenants Balasubramaniam, Flight Lieutenant NN Arora, Flight Lieutenant Kalra (Vr C), and Squadron Leader Nagpal. Flight lieutenant Kalra, a navigator, has an interesting tale to tell. It may be remembered that in 1971, modern day navigational aids were non-existent and night navigation was, by and large, done by astral means or on â€˜mentalâ€™ DR (Dead Reckoning). Kalraâ€™s aircraft was not able to designate the target due to darkness in his last mission, and there was no question of going wrong due to the proximity of Indian troops close by on the border. He asked the Captain for a decision when the aircraft was on its 4th round over the target. The Captain literally responded with deadly humour by switching on all the aircraftâ€™s lights. The Pakistanis opened ground fire, and the aircraft was able to shower hell from its massive load of bombs in retaliation. Notably, 44 Squadron is the only transport squadron of the Indian Air Force to be conferred the Battle Honours, a feat otherwise reserved for active operational combat units and Wing Commander Vasisht was the first of the two transport pilots in the IAF to win the MVC.