In February 1971, the Indian Air Force established an elite school for the top one percent of its pilots. Its purpose was to teach the lost art of aerial combat and to ensure that the handful of men who graduated were the best fighter pilots in the world.
Today the Airforce calls it the "Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment".
The flyers call it:
TACDE is possibly the only other comparable faculty to the fighter weapons school of the United States Air Force(USAF) and the combat school of US Navy, known as "Top Gun".
(screenshots from the Hollywood blockbuster movie "Top Gun")
Aerial warfare is fast, fluid and extremely demanding. The advent of high-tech airborne and ground based sensors has cut down reaction time to mere seconds. In order to coordinate the working of several systems in short spells of time, there is a need for precision team work. Such team work calls for immense skills, and can only be achieved with meticulous planning, precise coordination and relentless practice.
It is the responsibility of TACDE to produce such highly efficient and professional teams which are ready to accomplish the most demanding task. Only experienced and skilled crew are selected to undergo the course. TACDE's quest for high standards has led to constant improvements in its training curriculum. Specific role oriented training enables combat crew to attain the highest professional standards in their operational role. The standards laid down are indeed exacting and no compromises are made. Finally, only the best get through.
The growth of this unique institution of the Indian Air Force(IAF) is a saga of professionalism, foresight, unflagging fighting spirit and unrelenting quest for perfection in tactics, strategy and planning in air warfare.
It's history forms a brilliant chapter in the annals of the IAF.
During the IAF's early days the pilots followed the tactics and doctrines inherited from the Royal Air Force (RAF). As the IAF grew and expanded, it had to evolve doctrines to suit the available resources, technology and the geo-political reality. The need for an institution devoted purely to the development of combat tactics for modern fighter.
After independence from Britain in 1947, this requirement gathered momentum due to wars in quick succession. This led to the formation of Tactics and Air Combat Squadron(TACS) on 01 February 1971. The primary task for TACS was the study and evolution of tactical procedures for various aircraft, their implementation in the form of standard operating procedures and training of pilots in these operational doctrines and tactics. The Establishment was also entrusted with the task of conducting seminars for senior officers of the IAF who were to be involved in tactical planning of air operations.
Wing Commander A. K. Mukerjee VrC, VM, became the first Commanding Officer of TACS in February 1971. He had under his command eleven pilots, two technical officers, one medical officer and one air controller. There were eight aircraft consisting of four MiG-21S (Type 77) and four Sukhoi Su-7s in its inventory, which at that time were the most modern fighter aircraft in the IAF. The squadron was soon relocated to Ambala.
The squadron had barely settled down at Ambala when dark clouds of war loomed on the horizon. The original plan of entrusting the squadron with development and training work with no burden of operational commitments, were quickly shelved, and the squadron was assigned an operational role.
The requirement was to carry out single aircraft night counter air strikes over major Pakistani airfields. To equip themselves the pilots carried out extensive night flying training with accent on proficiency in operating at low levels.
On the 3rd of December 1971, the Pakistani Air Force (PAF) struck a number of Indian airfields in northern India. By midnight, India was officially at war with Pakistan.
The squadron was quick to react and launched counter air missions against enemy air fields in the early hours of 04 December 1971. For the next three nights, the squadron continued to attack enemy airfields at
Chander, Risalewala, Sargodha and Chaklala. These daring single aircraft missions required extreme
courage and skill as they were carried out without use of any navigational aids or marker flares to guide the pilots to their targets.
The attacks had a considerable demoralising influence on the Pakistani pilots as confirmed by a captured MiG-19 pilot. The accuracy and effects of these attacks were also subsequently confirmed by an article written in a leading journal, International Defence Review(IDR), where it was alleged that the night strikes were flown by Russian pilots and controlled by an Airborne Warning And Control System(AWACS) aircraft! During these missions, not a single aircraft was lost or damaged.
From 08 December 1971 onwards, the unit's operational role was changed. The night counter-air strikes were abandoned and day counter-air strikes, interdiction and close air support missions were flown. The MiG-21s were mainly utilised as escorts while the Su-7 were utilised in the strike role. By the end of the 14 days of hostility, the squadron had flown 174 sorties by day and 119 sorties by night.
Unfortunately it suffered the loss of one pilot and aircraft. On December 8, 1971, Flt. Lt. R G Kadam's Sukhoi-7 fighter jet was on a strike mission over Risalwala air base, Pakistan. He was shot down by PAF Wg. Cdr. M. H. Hashmi and killed.
Flt. Lt. R G Kadam(back row wearing shades)
The unit earned one Vir Chakra (by Wing Commander A. K. Mukerjee VM), thirteen Mention-in-Dispatches, one Vayu Sena Medal(VM) and four commendations by Air Officer Commanding in-Chief (AOC-in-C) during the war. This tally does not truly reflect the squadron's outstanding performance during the war, as at that time the Air Force lacked night photo reconnaissance capability.
Having played a valiant role in the Indo-Pak war, the squadron got down to gleaning the lessons learnt during the operations and suggesting remedial measures to overcome some of the shortcomings experienced during the conflict. TACS continued to operate at Ambala till 01 December 1972. By then, the necessity to have such a unit in the IAF was finally accepted by the Government of India and a formal sanction was accorded.
The unit, now designated as an Establishment, was to be under the functional control of Headquarters South Western Air Command (HQ SWAC). The unit was relocated to Jamnagar AFB in December 1972 under the new name of TACDE -Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment.
The dissemination of tactical doctrines formulated by this Establishment began in September 1972 with Flight Commanders from various operational squadrons undergoing ad-hoc courses. These ad-hoc courses proved to be a great success and formed a stepping stone towards formulating a syllabus for training of Fighter Combat Leaders(FCLs).
It took four months of hard work, discussions, planning, trial sorties, writing and re-writing briefing notes and procuring training aids, and finally the Fighter Combat Leader(FCL) course commenced in May 1973 with an intake of five pilots. This marked the first step towards fulfillment of the primary aim of improving the combat potential of the fighter force.
In July 1974, a significant change in the organisational set-up of the unit took place. The command of TACDE was upgraded to Group Captain and Group Captain S.K. Mehra(Later to become Chief of the Air Staff) took over the command of TACDE.
In February 1978, His Highness, the Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, the former ruler of the erstwhile princely state of Jamnagar and honorary wing commander, Shatrushailya Sinhji Jadeja, presented a diamond studded sword and a diamond studded shield to TACDE. The sword and shield is now awarded to the trainee officer who stands first in the overall order of merit in the FCL course.
The middle of 1982 saw the phasing out of Su-7s and the Establishment was re-equipped with the later versions of the MiG-21- the bis and M/MF. This change was brought about with a view to evolving and developing air combat and air-to-ground weapon delivery techniques for the backbone of the front line fighter fleet.
The introduction of armed helicopters in the IAF inventory, prompted the higher authorities to suggest that tactics for these aircraft also be formulated after trials by TACDE. Thus was introduced the first Helicopter Combat Orientation Course(HCOC) at TACDE, though the Establishment had only fighter pilots in its strength. Nevertheless, the course proved to be an outright success and since then regular helicopter courses are being conducted by this Establishment.
In addition to the helicopter courses, TACDE has been regularly conducting Dissimilar Air Combat Training (DACT) courses every year for the Sea Harrier pilots of the Indian Navy.
In August 1989, there came about a major change in the curriculum of the FCL course. The change followed the induction of high performance and role dedicated aircraft in the IAF There was a need to revamp the operational training syllabus towards role-oriented combat training. This resulted in the course being split into two streams for fighter pilots and the introduction of a third stream with fighter controllers
The new curriculum basically consisted of two phases - the first phase deals with training patterns which hone the trainees' skill in the basic art of air combat, weapon delivery and intercept controlling. The second phase deals with operational solutions. A higher degree of realism is introduced and mission accomplishment forms the primary goal.
During this phase, the trainees are exposed to operating with and against air superiority fighters like the MiG-29 and Mirage 2000 aircraft. For this a detachment of these aircraft were inducted to operate as part of the course and are flown by the type qualified staff.
The nature of threat in any air environment varies with induction of new equipment, advancement in
technology and political situations. TACDE is always alive to such changes and has regularly updated the tactics to keep the IAF at its peak operational efficiency. The task of developing and formulating tactical
procedures is translated into training patterns and simulated in near-real-time scenarios.
Today, TACDE conducts two major courses a year. The trainees at TACDE go through the most comprehensive and rigorous course of training the Air Force can offer. With the changes in the training pattern, the course syllabus has been expanded. This has increased the duration of each course to twenty weeks.
These courses cover a wide range of combat operations and ground studies which constitute formalised training for combat pilots, who graduate as Fighter Leaders in specialised roles. Fighter Controllers, whose task it is to control interceptor aircraft on ground radar systems, also go through the extensive training
The syllabus builds up from simple aerial engagements and basic weapon delivery missions, to intricately planned and coordinated multi-mode attacks on ground targets defended by large packages of adversary aircraft, ground forces and ground based defence systems. All operational air defence systems of the IAF are integrated into the training pattern.
Teams from all the ground based air defence systems are trained to detect and destroy intruders while employing electronic counter-measures. The crew of these defence systems hone their skills to exploit the equipment and cause unacceptable attrition to the intruders. At the same time, strike pilots are exposed to various techniques to be applied in order to achieve an element of surprise and defeat the terminal defence systems.
In 1992, TACDE stretched its tentacles even further to undertake and conduct courses for Surface-to-Air Guided Weapon(SAGW) operators. This course is for a duration of five weeks and is integrated with the main course. This gives an ideal opportunity for all the operators to understand each other's operational capabilities and work together as a cohesive team.
The final phase of the course is the applied phase, wherein the trainees of all the four courses get an opportunity to operate in a real war-like scenario. This is done during a major exercise which is conducted at the end of each course. In this exercise, known as "Akraman", the trainees get an opportunity to plan and put into practice all tactics taught to them during the course with the emphasis being on integration of different facets of air power with mission accomplishment as the final goal.
The exercise involves 30 to 35 aircraft getting airborne at a time. This gives trainees an exposure to the planning required to undertake such missions. To carry out unrestricted training, this exercise is held at Gwalior twice a year. The successful trainees are given the symbol of Fighter Combat Leader(FCL), Fighter Strike Leader (FSL) and Master Fighter Controller (MFC).
In June 1994, the establishment replaced the MiG-21M/MF with MiG-27ML strike aircraft for role-oriented FSL training. However courses on MiG-21M/MF and Jaguars are conducted on an, as and when required basis.
TACDE at its present location is known as the mecca of fighter pilots. In this business of air operations, team work and an optimum employment of weapon system are the pre-requisites for fighting a war and winning it. The pilots and controllers trained here act as extensions of the establishment in conveying operational
doctrines to the combat units.
At this premier institution, the instructors are all the "pick" of the Air Force, chosen for their outstanding professional skills. They are specially selected for their ability to impart combat training in the air and on the ground. They are drawn from all the different types of fighter aircraft and from the best radar controllers.
The motto of the Establishment "Tejas Tejasvi Namaham" (I am the Glory of the Glorious) has been derived from the Bhagvad Gita. These words uttered by Lord Krishna glorify the fighting warrior and his omnipotence. The TACDE graduates carry, throughout their flying career, the aura of this glory.
Over the years TACDE has produced some very distinguished pilots. The best known is the current Air Chief A.Y. Tipnis, who was awarded the "Sword of Honour" for being the best Fighter Combat Leader (FCL) at TACDE in 1973. Another was Air Marshal M.S. "Mini" Bawa, PVSM, AVSM, VM. Bawa was a Fighter Combat Leader(FCL), Qualified Fighter Instructor and the first Squadron Commmander of a Su-7 Squadron. Bawa commanded TACDE at Ambala & Jamnagar in addition to being the Air Attache in the UK and the Air & Ministry Adviser in Sweden. He retired as AOC-in-C, Central Air Command.
In February 1996, TACDE celebrated its Silver Jubilee anniversary. A quarter century of dedicated service
to the IAF and the nation. The inimitable words of the late Air Chief Marshal L.M. Katre aptly defines its operational eminence: "From this establishment flows the wealth of operational experience and future promises for air power employment."
Sqn. Ldr. Harpreet Singh Basra
In May 2000, Air Chief Marshal Tipnis took the salute at the passing out parade of 49th fighter combat course of the TACDE at the Jamnagar AFB. The Air Chief awarded the prestigious diamond-studded sword & shield to the trainee officer, Sqn. Ldr. Harpreet Singh Basra who stood first in the overall order of merit.
(Adapted from an article in Bharat Rakshak : FIGHT TO WIN: TACDE)