How India Got Her Top Guns

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Context: In 1940/50s Indian Air Force (IAF) undertook air combat tactics and training through the Royal Air Force.

Evolution of IAF Training

In the post-independent India, The Indian Air Force (IAF) has sent pilots abroad (like the UK) to undergo the Pilot Attack Instructors (PAI) course. These pilots were required to pass on their knowledge to squadron pilots.

Although, Maharajpur, Jamnagar, Bhopal, Amarda Road & Cholavaran were established as centres. But, training courses like air to ground weapon delivery, air to air combat and tactics were continued to take place overseas.

During the 1960s, no IAF Fighter Leader was trained for nearly 15 years, till 1972 due to lack of funds and approvals coupled with the 1962 and 1965 wars.

Measures Taken to develop tactics and training more suited to Indian needs

The Directorate of Offensive Operations was established to give a fillip to training and tactics in the IAF

The Tactics and Combat Development and Training Squadron (TCDTS) was set up as a one-year experiment. Initially, it was moved to Ambala. Later it was renamed as the Tactics and Air Combat Development Establishment (TACDE).

Further, the establishment was moved to Jamnagar. In 2000, TACDE was moved to Gwalior because the location was geographically better.

The TCDTS has been given the task of conducting low-level night strikes on Pakistani Air Force (PAF) bases. Therefore, TCDTS has executed night-time raids at major PAF bases.

In 1973, the course for the first Fighter Combat Leader (FCL) was started. It had three pilots each from MiGs and Sukhois fleets, who were all Flight Commanders of their various squadrons and qualified PAIs from the pre-TACDE era.

The PAI course was reintroduced at TACDE. It was instituted as a subset of the broader FCL Course.

The Fighter Strike Leader and Master Fighter Controller courses were added in 1989. Further, Surface to air guided weapons (missiles) combat crew were also integrated.

In 1997 the Helicopter Combat Leader course was added.


More than 500 pilots and over 100 Fighter Controllers had graduated from the above said unit.

What are the challenges?

The MiG-21 would remain the only aircraft at TACDE for the next 12 years.

Source: The post is based on an article “How India got her top guns” published in The Times of India on 11th June 2022.

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