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IAF and India’s Air Power

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

“Air Power is the most difficult of military force to measure or even express in precise terms.” ~ Winston Churchill

Illustration by The Geostrata

The year was 1932, and the geopolitical environment on the eastern front concerning Japan was already on the boil with Japan invading Manchuria a year ago. Then the colonial British empire took various steps to deter plausible Russian or Japanese attacks on British India.

One of the instrumental steps they took was the establishment of the Indian Air Force as an aerial force of British India and as an auxiliary force of the Royal Air Force (RAF) on the 8th of October. To commemorate the establishment of the force, every year we celebrate October 8 as Indian Air Force Day.

The first flight of the IAF took off on April 1, 1933, with six RAF-trained officers, 19 Havai Sepoys and four Westland Wapiti IIA aircraft.

The force played a key role in World War II and because of its valour and bravery in March 1945, the force was honoured by the bestowal of the prefix "Royal" on its title, becoming a Royal Indian Air Force.

After Independence, when India became a republic in January 1950, it became the Indian Air Force, dropping the prefix "Royal”. At that time, in terms of numerical strength, the IAF possessed one B-24 bomber squadron, six fighter squadrons of Spitfires, Vampires and Tempests, one C-47 Dakota transport squadron, one AOP flight, a communications squadron, and a growing training organisation.

Since then, the IAF has evolved into having 33 active squadrons, with the plan to raise it to 42 squadrons with the equipment of state-of-the-art aircraft and choppers.

As we celebrate Indian Air Force Day today, it gives us an opportunity to analyse how, over the years, the concept of air power has morphed into a holistic aerospace power with the IAF equipping and adapting itself to counter novel threats.


The updated doctrine of the Indian Air Force released earlier this year provides a close look into the future of the IAF in establishing itself as an Aerospace Power leveraging the IAF’s dominance of Air Power for larger national security goals.

Highlighting the continuum of air and space domains, the IAF doctrine necessitates establishing space capabilities not only for civilian purposes but also for military purposes.

Development of capabilities such as navigation, mapping, surveys, exploration, weather and communication can be leveraged by military establishments for the transit of military vehicles, weapon passage, and guidance; secure military data links and communication other than strengthening ISR (Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance) mechanisms.

Further, the doctrine provides strategies for the IAF in three situations: i) war, ii) peace, and iii) no war, no peace (NWNP). The inclusion of the No War, No Peace situation in the official doctrine signifies the strategic foresight of the IAF, which can provide adequate directions in small conflicts against adversaries such as Doklam and Tawang.


Defence forces in general and the IAF in particular have recognised the changing nature of warfare, thus preparing themselves for emerging non-kinetic warfare. The IAF doctrine mentions the augmentation of the favourable asymmetric potential of the forces, with all the forces enlarging their operational readiness in domains such as information and cyberspace along with conventional domains of Land, Air, Sea and Space.

Modern wars will see the amalgamation of all the available means to achieve desired outcomes, with state and non-state entities being utilised for the same. During wartime, the IAF’s power projection capability will be supplemented by necessary offensive cyber and information operations, multiplying kinetic lethality.


In the next few years, it is very likely that we will notice the operationalization of the military theatre commands that will have the elements of tri-services. Many retired officers and chiefs are of the opinion that, although theaterisation is a need of the hour, the division of air assets of the already resource-stretched Air Force into different theatres may not be the smart strategy to pursue when having active border conflicts with both of our adversaries.

As the Chief of the Air Staff ACM V. R. Chaudhari rightly puts it, “Flexibility, one of the characteristics of air power, gives a planner the freedom to swing roles depending on the air situation, and this must be capitalised on.”

The proposed theaterisation will have to somehow find a way to maintain such flexibility while simultaneously working towards jointness and joint operations.

Experts have repeatedly highlighted how air defence is as important as maintaining deep strike capability.

IAF DAY 2023

The 91st anniversary day celebration of the IAF in 2023 will go down in history as a momentous one due to the unveiling of the new IAF ensign. After Independence, the IAF ensign consisted of an Indian tri colour IAF tri colour roundel, replacing the erstwhile Union Jack and RAF roundels.

The new ensign has the Air Force Crest in the top right corner, towards the fly side. The IAF Crest consists of the Ashoka lion on top with the words “सत्यमेव जयते” below it. Below the Ashoka lion is a Himalayan eagle with its wings spread.

Encircling the Himalayan eagle is a ring in light blue with the words “भारतीय वायु सेना” written in it. Below the Himalayan eagle, the motto of the IAF, "नभः स्पृशं दीप्तम्" is inscribed.

 CAS Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari unveiling the new IAF ensign On the sidelines of the Annual Air Force Day Parade.

Photo Credit: Indian Air Force - CAS Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari unveiling the new IAF ensign On the sidelines of the Annual Air Force Day Parade.

With this new ensign and spirit of “Radiant Thou Touchest Heaven,” the IAF has reaffirmed its commitment to secure the aerospace domain from all threats. With the inclusion of advanced aircraft and air defence systems, the IAF will play a pivotal role in plausible conflicts in the future.





Digvijay Singh
Digvijay Singh
Oct 15, 2023

This article is an epitome of the Aerial superiority that the Indian Air Force possesses


Sumedh Desai
Sumedh Desai
Oct 10, 2023

Darshan has articulated the nuances beautifully.


Anusha Shrivastava
Anusha Shrivastava
Oct 08, 2023

Wonderfully articulated!


Vishudh Jain
Vishudh Jain
Oct 08, 2023

Amazing piece


Ayushi Chaudhary
Ayushi Chaudhary
Oct 08, 2023

very well written by Darshan

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