Walk the Talk: Indian Air Force


With Air Vice Marshall S K Sonpar


Retired As: Air Vice Marshall in 1996 

Years in the Air Force: 35

Medals, Awards and Achievements:

- Commissioned as a fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF) in 1961 after five years of training at the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla, Pune, and the Air Force Flying School.

- More than 3,000 hours of fighter flying experience on all the fighter aircrafts in the IAF.

- Commanded a fighter squadron for three years.

- Commanded two separate forward operational airbases along with numerous senior policy-making appointments in the Air Force Head Quarters in Delhi.

- Piloted the MiG-21 fighter aircraft during 1965 and 1971 air operations against Pakistan.

- Decorated with a gallantry award.


How has the role of the Indian Air Force changed over the years?
The changes over the last 60 years have been dramatic. From the relatively simple, propeller-driven aircrafts, aeroplanes are now powered by more reliable jet engines. Consequently, the envelope of operations has also expanded. We now have the capacity to protect ourselves from the ground level to near space. Aircrafts now carry an almost unbelievable variety of weapons with enormous destructive capabilities. Weapons that are called 'fire and forget' are common, making them more accurate and safe from the point of view of a pilotís safety. Helicopters have entered the inventory of all modern air forces. Their ability to take off and land without the need of long runways gives added flexibility to operations, both for defensive and offensive purposes. The introduction of radars that "see" well beyond the visual range of a human eye has helped by giving a few extra seconds of time in terms of providing early warnings against hostile air acti-vities. Advancements in electronics and computer-isation have enhanced the potential of the IAF in its primary task of providing credible defence capabilities. The task of the IAF has thus become easier over the last 60 years, but more demanding for the men that operate these technological innovations.


Tell us about your experiences on the warfront.
The IAF has been offensively involved in wars during the Second World War and thereafter, immediately after independence, in Jammu and Kashmir. It was actively engaged against Pakistan in air operations both on the western and eastern sectors in 1965 and 1971 and in helping Bangladesh get its independence. Though all the engagements were short in terms of time, they were very intense and vital to the final outcomes of these victories. The IAF also played a pivotal role in the Kargil operations. Not withstanding the role of the Indian Army, the success in Kargil would not have been possible, but for the innovative and imaginative use of airpower in ejecting the intruders.


What are your thoughts on the important changes that the Indian defence units have seen over the last 60 years?
The basic changes in India over the last 60 years are reflected in the changes in the IAF, the nation's pride. The wide and welcome use of scientific advancements and economic progress have enabled the IAF to induct ever more sophisticated and expensive weapon systems into its inventory. These new inductions have enormously enhanced the defensive and offensive capabilities of the IAF in this dangerous atomic age. The repeated use of the IAF for relief work in times of peace is also well known.


Do you think people from the Armed Forces can help in the governance of our country? if yes, what are the changes they can bring about?
The Armed Forces not only provide us with a guarantee of a peaceful environment against external threats, but also give the entire country an example of what discipline can do for a nation. Its soldiers, sailors and airmen stand out for the example they provide of good citizenship, dedication and selfless sacrifice to the country.  The excellent facility of the National Cadet Corps in most schools and colleges must be encouraged so that the education of the youth is fully rounded and complete in order to make them better citizens.


What are your thoughts on how children can contribute towards a better today and tomorrow?
Children are the future of the nation. Education is the only tool they need to maximise the development of their natural abilities. Better educated children will automatically make better citizens. Better education will also produce dedicated and disciplined grown-ups who are socially responsible and sensitive to good social etiquette and behaviour.


What role does discipline play in shaping an individual's future, and thus a nation's future?
The role of discipline in the overall development of the character and thus the future of the nation is well known. The sad spectacle of bad behaviour by our leaders and the cancer of corruption are best corrected if education and discipline are imbibed by one and all. A few aberrations apart, the Armed Forces stand out for what discipline can do for an individual, society or nation. Jai Hind!