Hindon (Uttar Pradesh): It was a plummeting debut... the all-woman skydivers team of the Indian Air Force (IAF) announced their arrival with a 8,000-foot parajump from a transport plane flying over the air base here on the 79th Air Force Day. Though IAF women have been part of the skydiving team, called Akash Ganga, for over a decade, this was the first time six women jumpers have come together to become a team, IAF officers said.

This achievement comes close on the heels of three women officers of IAF scaling the Mount Everest earlier this year.

'The scaling of Mount Everest by three of our women officers earlier this year as well as the spectacular debut of our six-member all-women skydiving team this very morning are indeed befitting tributes to the indomitable spirit of the air force,' IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Norman Anil Kumar Browne said in his address to the air warriors on the occasion.

The IAF has also planned to give a name for the all-women skydivers team, to differentiate them from the Akash Ganga team that usually comprises of men and women skydivers.

The leader of the all-woman team, Wing Commander Asha Jyothirmai, is a 560-jump veteran with 13 years of experience in parajumping.

An accounts officer in the IAF, having joined the force in 1997, she was introduced to the adventure sport by her husband Wing Commander E.K.N. Swaroop, an IAF skydiver himself.

The other members of the team are Squadron Leader Sangita Paulraj, Flight Lieutenant Priyanka Shadangi, Flight Lieutenant Nisha Goverdhan, Flight Lieutenant Rupal Thakur and Flight Lieutenant Priyanka Hooda.

Five of the IAF women officers, after their jump out of an AN-32 transport plane from 8,000 feet  altitude, Saturday came together to form a 'star' in the sky before opening up of their parachutes to land in the air base, in front of a cheering crowd gathered to witness the parade.

Sqn Ldr Paulraj is one who handles the camera for the team during the jumps and she captured the 'star' formed by the other team members on Saturday too. She is an education officer in the IAF and has over 200 jumps to her credit.

The team was picked up in 2009 after this idea of an all-woman team germinated and Wing Cdr Jyothirmai was the obvious choice to lead the team, which then flew to Car Nicobar Island to train. The team has also done a 45-day specialised training in Arizona, US.

Its performance was lauded by many.

'All these achievements only go to prove that Indian woman are not just confined to the kitchen but now have reached the skies. I am confident that they will soon be flying combat planes too,' said 45-year-old Alka Kaushik, who had participated in the Army-organised Siachen trek in September this year

IAF to finalise billion dollar deal

The Indian Air Force is in the "last lap" of finalising its multi-billion dollar combat aircraft deal for which commercial bids of two shortlisted vendors would be opened by October 18.

"We are in the last lap of Medium-Multirole combat aircraft project. We should be able to open the commercial bids in ten days from now," Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne said in his address at the Air Force Day parade here.

The Defence Ministry had cleared the way for opening the commercial bids of Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon by approving their offset proposals.

After the bids are opened, the Defence Ministry will be able to determine the lowest bidder in the deal and decide who will ultimately get the contract described as the 'mother of all deals'.

Defence Ministry officials had said that all the spade work for the opening of bids was over and the bids will be opened in the presence of the two vendors.

Eurofighter and Rafale were shortlisted for the tender after four companies including American Lockheed Martin and Boeing, Russian MiG 35 and Swedish Saab Gripen were ousted from the race in April.

Speaking on other important IAF modernisation programmes, the IAF Chief said, "The C-130J Hercules and the Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AWACS) have been inducted and operationalised in good time".

Appreciating the capabilities of American-origin C-130J, Browne said, "Just last month our aircraft spearheaded the relief effort in Sikkim by landing at Bagdogra air base with disaster relief material and personnel within hours of being activated".

The IAF has already inducted five of the six C-130J ordered from the US under a USD one billion deal in 2007 and is looking to place orders for six more in the near future. It is also planning to deploy the additional six aircraft at the Charbatia air base in Orissa.

The IAF has also inducted all three AWACs aircraft procured from Israel and has started using them in exercises," he said.

India has recently signed a USD 4.1 billion deal with the US for procuring 10 C-17 aircraft, which will be alongside the C-130Js at the IAF base here.

Fragile security in neighbourhood

Voicing concern over the "extremely fragile" security environment in India's neighbourhood, Air Chief Marshal Browne said it warrants close monitoring and air vigilance.

He also noted that inimical intentions of the country's adversaries are being strengthened by radicalism.

"Security situation in the immediate neighbourhood is extremely fragile and it is a major concern for us... the need of the hour is air vigilance," Browne said.

In his Air Force Day message, the IAF Chief said the "present environment in our neighbourhood is a serious cause of concern and warrants close monitoring and eternal vigilance."

"Today the inimical intentions of our adversaries are further strengthened by radicalism and infusion of technology," Browne said.

The IAF Chief had recently said that Pakistan continues to reel under relentless terrorist violence and stabilization of internal security situation there appears a distant dream.

He had also said that increasing presence of China in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) warrants India's "attention".

"We need to upgrade our knowledge and awareness to counter this threat," he said.

MiG crashes due to pilots' inexperience: IAF Chief

The Indian Air Force (IAF) on Saturday said most of the recent MiG-21 crashes have been caused due to inexperience of young pilots in handling the aircraft.
"Unfortunately except for one case, the other cases point towards inexperience of young pilots who were not been able to handle the landing and approach (of the aircraft)," IAF chief N A K Browne said here.
He was asked to comment on recent crashes of MiG-21 fighter aircraft this year including the one which crashed in Barmer district of Rajasthan on Friday.
Out of the six air crashes involving IAF planes this year, four belonged to the MiG-21 series. Of the total 976 MiG-21s inducted in the service since 1960s, over half of them have been lost in the crashes.
On training young pilots, Browne said, "The present batch is going to be the last course of pilots who would be flying the MiG-21s. We are not very happy about their going directly for the Stage-III training on the MiGs. But we actually have no alternative."
On training rookie pilots on Hawk Advance Jet Trainers (AJT), he said, "Presently we have only 52 of these (Hawks), and from 187th course all the pilots will be flying Hawks in their Stage-III training."
Referring to procurement of Basic Trainer Aircraft, Browne said the matter was before the Finance Ministry and expressed confidence that the contract to procure these aircraft will soon be signed with the Swiss firm Pilatus.
"The basic trainer aircraft is in the final stage (of procurement) and the case is with the Finance Ministry. I am extremely confident that by the end of this month ... we should be able to sign the contract with Pilatus," he said.
The last course of young pilots flying on MiG-21 as part of their Stage-III training will be over by December 2012. 

IAF to have radar system in mountains for better security

As part of a major security upgrade, the Indian Air Force (IAF) will put in place a comprehensive radar system in mountains and other places to plug gaps and deploy fighter aircraft at Delhi and other metro cities for quick response to any possible threat.
"I think by 2014 we would have a very comprehensive and complete radar coverage network in the country. The most difficult part is the mountainous areas and that may take about a year longer," Air Force Chief Air Chief Marshal N A K Browne said here.
He told reporters on sidelines of Air Force Day parade here, "We have certain plans, which looks after the air-defence of all the important metros, starting from Delhi.

This network comprises radars, early warning systems, missiles as well as the air-borne fighters."
On securing the air-space of National Capital Region (NCR), he said, "Since Hindon is the closest base, it could actually be the right place to base the air-defence fighters."
He said the type of the aircraft to be deployed here has yet not been decided.
"Whether it would be Sukhois or M-MRCA class of aircraft, that decision is not taken but certainly these would be highly capable air-defence fighters," he said.
On the forthcoming army exercise codenamed Op Sudarshan Shakti, he said, "Participants would be the strike corps i.e. 21 Corps from the Indian Army and the South Western Air Command (SWAC) from the IAF.