KOLKATA: The Indian Air Force and Navy plan to re-enact an exercise performed off the northern coast of Gujarat nearly 40 years ago in the next few days. It will not only test the country’s defences in the western front but also be an attempt to display India’s strengths in the air and sea. Nearly 50 years ago, in September, 1965, the Pakistan Navy bombarded Dwarka in an attempt to shift focus from the raging air war that was taking a heavy toll on its aircraft. On that day, no Indian Navy ship was in a position to respond. Though there was no damage to the Somnath Temple or a radar station at Dwarka, Pakistan continues to gloat over ‘Op Dwarka’.
“In 1965, Pakistan was already losing the war in the air and on land and it was a strategic decision not to engage the ships that bombarded Dwarka. Many Indian Navy ships of the Western Fleet were then being re-fitted or repaired. There was no point in reacting as the shelling did no damage and any shift of focus would have only served Pakistan’s purpose. The exercise planned in the end of December has nothing to do with Dwarka. However, it will be somewhat similar to Ex Opposed Arrival that was held in 1976,” a senior defence official said.
In 1976, India’s first aircraft carrier INS Vikrant had participated in the exercise with other ships in its carrier group. This year, the INS Vikramaditya will take its place. The 44,500-tonne carrier along with accompanying ships will approach the Gujarat coast from the Gulf of Oman region. Air Force Station Jamnagar will have to react when the flotilla reaches Indian Territorial Waters and scramble fighter jets to meet the challenge. In 1976, Jamnagar had Mig-21s, Su-7s and Hunters. It is likely to send in Jaguar long-range maritime strike aircraft or even Su-30MKIs this time round. The Mig-29Ks on board the INS Vikramaditya will respond to the defence put up by the IAF.
“The idea is to test the level of preparedness and skills of our frontline ships and aircraft. The air force will treat the ships as an invading force while the carrier group will take on the land-based aircraft as aggressors in neutral waters. It will be an interesting exercise with a lot of learning for everybody,” the official added.
The Naby has been taking the INS Vikramaditya through its paces ever since it was inducted. According to sources, there are still some issues with the boilers due to which nearly 40 Russian technicians continue to remain on board. After the exercise, the carrier is likely to sail for an overseas deployment before returning to the eastern coast in time for the Presidential Fleet Review at Visakapatnam in February, 2016.