Tactics and Combat Development and 
Training Establishment (TACDE)

Tejas Tejaswi Namaham - I am the glory of the glorious

by Group Captain Kapil Bhargava (Retd)

Early Years
Operations in the 1971 War
Training begins for Fighter Leaders
FCL Training
Enhancement of Training
Crest and Motto

Early Years

One-to-one air combat was first seen in World War I. The early fighter pilots were gentlemen gladiators. They fired at each other with their revolvers and were perhaps a little sorry if they hit their opponent. With the advent of guns on aeroplanes, the combat became between aircraft. If the enemy were shot down, and hopefully bailed out, the victor would make sure that his adversary was basically safe before flying away to claim a kill. Since then aerial combat has become fast, furious and fatal. The major change came with fighter aircraft powered by jet engines.

Gloster Meteor of the Royal Air Force (RAF) was the first jet fighter to take part in World War II. It later also served in the Korean War (1951-53) especially with the Royal Australian Air Force. But by then it was considered inferior to MiG-15, though RAAF claimed three kills. It was relegated to ground attack roles. The RAAF pilots complained that they would have done much better against the MiG-15 if they had been trained for air combat rather than only for ground attacks. The other famous aircraft in that war was the first swept wing fighter of the world – the F-86 Sabre. Sabres did very well against the MiGs.

After the Korean War some, Sabres were stationed in the UK. It was usual for them to hassle the Meteors. They were in for a shock. While F-86s were superior to the Meteors and won most low altitude air battles, some RAF pilots managed to best them each time. Both aircraft types had poor performance at high altitudes. The RAF had developed tactics to engage Sabres around 20,000 feet. At that altitude Meteors had a small advantage, which was effectively exploited by well-trained British pilots. The Central Trials and Tactical Organisation (CTTO) carried out the research into aircraft capabilities, and tactics to be employed. Similarly, early trials on MiG-21 FL aircraft had helped develop a combat climb with full reheat thrust and a continuous 2.5G turn. The USSR Air Force claimed that no other contemporary fighter aircraft could keep up with it. The moral is clear: capabilities of aircraft must be investigated to the full. Pilots, and other supporting staff need to be trained to exploit them for defeating the enemy.

The Indian Air Force (IAF) started as an adjunct of the RAF. For almost four decades it followed the practices inherited from the UK. The RAF trained all our early fighter leaders and many pilot attack instructors (PAIs). The last IAF pilots attended the Day Fighter Leader School at West Raynham around 1957. Coincidentally this was the year in which Britain did its defence review. Secretary for Defence Duncan Sandys (pronounced Sands) conceived “The Way Forward” to provide UK with affordable defence. He believed that conventional warfare was outdated and only nuclear weapons would be needed for future wars. A corollary of his concepts was that air combat was no longer necessary. Only defence against missiles would be needed. Fighter Leader training soon stopped (as did CTTO’s work) and the avenue for training IAF leaders was also closed. For almost fifteen years no IAF pilots qualified as fighter leaders.

When in early 1950s IAF started an Armament Training Wing, it soon discovered that PAI training could just as well be carried out in India, and at a fantastically lower cost. Indigenous development of tactics and training of fighter leaders took a while to get going.

Operations in the 1971 War

Having fought a war with Pakistan in 1965, IAF was perhaps not satisfied with its air combat tactics. Repression and wholesale killing of East Pakistanis by the West Pakistan Army in 1970-71 resulted in an influx of ten million refugees into India, the highest displacement of a population ever (more than Rwanda, Burundi, Kosovo and Afghanistan, combined). It soon became clear that India would need to settle the problem on its own to repatriate the refugees. War clouds for the second Indo-Pak conflict began to gather fast.

After approving it in December 1970, IAF raised a Tactics & Combat Development & Training Squadron (T&C D&T Squadron). To a large extent this was the brainchild of Director Operations (Offensive), Gp Capt (later Air Marshal, now retired) Denzil Joseph Keelor – himself a hero of 1965 war. In August 71, T&C D&T Squadron started with sixteen officers and other supporting personnel on February 1 1971 at Adampur (near Jalandhar, Punjab). Its commanding officer was a West Raynham graduate Day Fighter Leader, Wing Commander AK Mukherjee. He had five pilots each for Mig-21 (Type 77) and Sukhoi-7 aircraft. Sqn Ldr OP Sharma was Flight Commander of the MiG flight. Its pilot’s list reads like a roll of honour of IAF: PS (Ben) Brar, Philip Rajkumar, VK (Frisky) Verma and Teshter J Master all became Air Marshals. Ben Brar and Frisky were AOC-in-Cs of Eastern and Central Air Commands respectively. Air Marshal (Retd) Rajkumar today heads the Aeronautical Development Agency, which is developing the LCA. Air Marshal TJ Master is the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief of the Training Command. Sqn Ldr DK (Dice) Dhiman was in charge of the Su flight. His pilots included Vinod K Patney, Darshan Singh Basra - both as Air Marshals were AOC-in-Cs of Western and Southern Air Commands respectively. At the time of his retirement Vinod Patney was the highest decorated officer of IAF. Other Su pilots were Ratan Lal Bamzai and Gary Garewal. Squadron’s fighter controller RC (Bill) Mahadik is now an Air Marshal and Air Officer in charge Administration of IAF. The squadron settled down in Adampur into tents.

The Air Headquarters directive for the T&C D&T Squadron permitted it to explore operational capabilities of its aircraft without necessarily adhering to Air Staff Instructions or most other restrictions. Air Officer Commanding Adampur, Air Commodore Randhir Singh was not impressed. Squadron pilots used to say only half in jest that the AOC ran the RAF – Randhir’s Air Force. He did not agree that a squadron should be permitted such leeway in flying. For two months the squadron flew to develop tactics, such as two aircraft hi-lo attack and a bouncer, with No.1 and No. 26 Squadrons on the station. It then moved to Ambala. At this stage Gary left to join an operational squadron. Rajkumar went off to France to fulfil his ambition to become a test pilot.

Meanwhile the war over East Pakistan was creeping ever closer. Air Headquarters then decided to task the Squadron to undertake counter air missions at night when required. AOC-in-C Western Air Command, Air Marshal MM (Minoo) Engineer spoke to the Squadron and asked it to prepare for night counter air operations. He advised the pilots to practice and pace themselves to develop expertise in carrying out single aircraft counter air missions at night during moon as well as dark night phases.

Pacing themselves well, the pilots individually started night flying practice at 5 km height including aerobatics. Within four or five sorties they came progressively down to 200 metres above ground, still including some aerobatics. While flying low, Type 77’s altimeter would usually read minus 150 metres due to pitot-static pressure error. By mid-October, fully ops pilots were attached to the Squadron to augment its strength. These included SR (Deshu) Deshpande, NR (Natty) Nadkarni (both now retired Air Marshals) and CS (Doru) Doraiswami (now retired Air Vice Marshal). Pilots of both types did night flying practice including navigation on moonless nights. Soon enough they graduated to simulated night attacks over own radar units and airfields.

From early October 1971, pilots of the T&C D&T Squadron began simulated long-range attacks over own airfields at night. A typical sortie would imply low-level navigation from Ambala to Hindon (standing in for a forward base) where the aircraft would be refuelled. They would then attack Adampur before returning to Ambala. The routing was usually straight to the target for ease of navigation. Linear features such as canals, roads and railway lines were found to be good for time checks. Innovative aids were fabricated to create “head up displays” – a stopwatch and a torch were mounted at appropriate places. The map had to be held up to the torchlight and the stopwatch could be seen with the pilot’s head up and looking out. Pilots used to fly over the runway and then carry out a timed turn to line up with it and simulate bombing it. Apparently this technique worked rather well.

The Squadron carried out live attacks at Sidhwan Khas range near Halwara. It was obvious that shallow dive attacks would lead to bombs skipping off the target. Apart from firing rockets and guns, steep dive-bombing was practiced, especially for M-46 bombs. By November 1, the Squadron was ready for actual operations. With the war over East Pakistan imminent, in October itself, Punjab had night blackouts. This gave the Squadron realistic practice for night counter air missions even in moonless dark nights.

On December 3 1971, hostilities broke out with Pakistan Air Force (PAF) dropping bombs over Ambala (missing its runways), Amritsar (damaging the runway) and over other airfields. IAF reacted swiftly. Squadron pilots were divided into two groups so as to operate on alternate nights. Three MiG and Sukhois each were sent to Adampur by 19:30 hours the same night. With these aircraft solo night attacks were planned at ten-minute intervals on just one enemy airfield to damage it substantially. In case the airfield of departure was not available or damaged, returning aircraft were to land at one of three nearby airbases. These airfields were identified by the nicknames of three pilots; Dada Deshmukh, Popo Sahay and TO (Trevor) Osman. A one word R/T call would tell the returning pilot where to land: Dada, Popo or TO (Tee-oh).

The first night attack over Pakistan was launched on the night of December 3-4 and the next batch on December 5. Dice Dhiman, Doru, Bamzai, RG Kadam and other Su pilots attacked Sargodha and Chander. MiGs with OP Sharma, Ben Brar, Frisky Verma, Teshter Master, Deshu and Natty piloting them were launched against Risalwala, Rafiqy (Shorkot Road) and Chaklala. One night, Deshu en route for a solo night raid over Chaklala found that his compass was unserviceable. He flew towards the Himalayan foothills and followed the terrain contour to Pathankot where he landed safely. The really scary part of the mission was launch and recovery. Pilots would taxi by moonlight and ask for runway lights to be put on only after lining up and selecting full power with afterburner. For landing, controllers put on the lights only after pilots called short finals. However, out of desperation this call used to be given much earlier.

After midnight on December 6, Sqn Ldr CS Doraiswami had an exciting adventure in his refuelled and armed Su-7. At Amritsar, Doru was taxiing to line up for take off when the air defence radar network reported that a B-57 (PAF’s Canberra) was heading towards the airfield. He was asked to return to his pen. At this time the runway lights were off. Doru decided that he had no time to taxi back or find an empty pen. He decided to take off. At his request, the lights were put on for his departure. Even though these were switched off while he was still rolling, they and the flame of the afterburner obviously assisted the Pak bomber’s aim. Just as Doru got airborne, the B-57 dropped a pair of bombs behind him. The bombs exploded in the middle of the runway damaging both its lanes. Doru’s aircraft juddered due to the shock wave of the explosion. But he got away safely and completed his mission of attacking Sargodha. The runway was back in service before dawn sorties needed to be launched.

The single aircraft raids were done for 5 nights, only during moon phase. As the moon waned, night attacks were no longer feasible. Also it became obvious that these were not yielding enough results. IAF gave them up and by December 9, the Squadron was moved to Amritsar to operate only in daytime. During the night missions not a single aircraft was lost or damaged. But they had rather unnerved PAF Even when Pak Mirages tried to intercept the night raiders, they did not follow them down to lower heights. On two occasions, the Mirages were spotted well above silhouetted against the skyline. An article in International Defence Review concluded that a Russian AWACS was controlling the aircraft to facilitate night attacks. Apparently PAF also believed this. Perhaps the strange calls, Dada, Popo or TO, were mistaken for Russian code words. Even if these night attacks damaged some Pak runways, they were easily repairable in three or four hours. However, the raids surely prevented PAF personnel from sleeping peacefully through the nights.

Pilots of T&C D&T then did some interdiction missions even with the MiGs. The Squadron was tasked to give close support to the Army especially in the Chhamb sector, which was a main thrust of Pakistan. Usually Sukhois did ground attacks while MiGs escorted them. They hit areas west of Munnawar Tawi River, Shakargarh and other opportunity targets from Narowal to Pasrur. On a search and destroy mission with Doru and Vinod Patney in Sukhois and Ben and Teshter escorting them, the formation was bounced by four Sabres. In the ensuing combat, Ben’s aircraft got a bullet through its tail. While the Sabres were retreating after joining up, Teshter in pursuit was able to launch his Ka-13 missiles, one of which hit the wing of an F-86. The kill was not confirmed but later it was reported by a PAF combat unit that a Wing Commander had ejected around that time in the same area. In a daytime counter air mission Kadam, who was flying as Patney’s No.2 was shot down – the only casualty of the Squadron in the war. The 1971 War ended on December 14.with the surrender of 90,000 Pak Army personnel in East Pakistan. Thus Bangladesh was born.

Training begins for Fighter Leaders

For one year thereafter, T&C D&T Squadron explored various types of formations and tactics to be employed. Till December 1972, the main thrust of the trials was to learn relevant lessons from the 1971 War and eliminate shortcomings. The Squadron was officially named Tactics and Combat Development and Training Establishment but with its acronym as TACDE. Wg Cdr A Sridharan took over TACDE from Mukherjee as its Commandant and moved it to Jamnagar. Wg Cdr Allen Alley was posted in to head the Development Wing. The ongoing trials and explorations were formalised. The staff investigated various combinations of formations and bouncers. These included three aircraft vs two bouncers, four vs four combat, and even a ten aircraft melee of four attackers, two escorts and four bouncers. Strike sorties were also practiced extensively. Frisky Verma and Teshter Master especially investigated low speed handling of the MiG-21 down to zero on the air speed indicator. They found this to be safe if handled correctly, except with drop tanks. The Russian Pilots Instruction Manual had laid down the minimum speed for the aircraft as 400 kmph. But combat often required low speed handling. Mike McMahon (now an AOC-in C) and Owen D’Senna similarly explored the handling of the Sukhois. Vinay Kapila (now a retired Air Vice Marshal) also joined TACDE staff.

In September 1972 ad hoc courses were conducted for Flight Commanders of various operational squadrons. These were a great success and helped formulate training syllabi for formal courses to follow. Optimum flying techniques and tactics to be employed in each type of combat or attack were meticulously recorded. Extensive work went into preparing briefing notes and acquiring training aids. Two main documents were created: the Blue Book contained tactics to be employed and the Red Book had instructions for pilot attacks. Perhaps due to the aircrew flying day and night, wives of three TACDE pilots typed the two books - a voluntary yeoman service! On May 1, 1973 pilots of TACDE were officially authorised to instruct trainees to qualify as Fighter Combat and Fighter Strike Leaders (FCL and FSL).

FCL Training

Training for the FCL course began in June 1973.The first course had five pilots each from MiGs and Sukhois. They were all Flight Commanders of their own squadrons and were qualified PAIs. They were also senior to most of the staff. Sqn Ldr AY Tipnis (later Chief of Air Staff) won the trophy as the best fighter leader of the first course. Vinod Patney and P Rajkumar who had gone abroad on courses had to do the full training back in India to get their FCL qualifications.

Fighter Combat Leader Trainees who completed the Fighter Combat Leader course were entitled to wear this FCL patch with the motto "Learn to Lead - Lead to Fight"

This patch was the first ever from TACDE and is from the Overalls of Air Marshal Teshter Jal Master, AOC-in-C Training Command.

In June 1974 Group Captain SK (Polly) Mehra took over as its Commandant. He eventually became Chief of Air Staff and retired as an Air Chief Marshal (in fact well ahead of ACM Tipnis). Jamnagar was the capital of the former ruling prince, His Highness the Jamsaheb of Nawanagar, SD Jadeja. He was an Honorary Wing Commander of IAF and always had a soft corner for the service. In February 1978, he presented a diamond-studded sword and a diamond-studded shield to TACDE. These are now awarded to the trainee standing first in the FCL course. During this period, Denzil Keelor took over as Commandant of TACDE and took it to greater heights Of the founding members of T&C C&T Squadron, only Frisky Verma became Commandant of TACDE and later its Commodore Commandant.

Enhancement of training

By July 1982, Su-7 aircraft were retired from IAF. The inventory of TACDE was modernised with new MiG-21 types: BIS, M and MF, and later with MiG-27. With IAF acquiring armed helicopters, a Helicopter Combat Orientation Course was conducted even though all instructors of TACDE were fighter pilots. It was judged to be a great success Today courses for Helicopter Combat Leader are regularly held under the guidance of type experienced directing staff. These courses instruct helicopter crews in air combat, manoeuvring and enhanced situational awareness. They are also taught how to instruct others after returning to their units. TACDE runs a special training capsule of Dissimilar Aircraft Combat Training (DACT) for the Indian Navy’s Sea Harriers. For these, and other training, concerned aircraft types are brought to TACDE for the required duration.

In an annual cycle, separate courses, mostly of five months duration, are now run for air combat, weapons delivery and to qualify as PAIs. By 1996 a six-week course for Master Fighter Controllers (MFC) was started. TACDE keeps up with advances in technology. Relevant tactics are constantly updated. Although Surface to Air Guided Weapons (SAGW) crews regularly took part in exercises, the debriefing at their conclusion was not always satisfactory. For the last ten years, SAGW crew along with their Combat Vehicles are integrated into the final six weeks of FCL and FSL courses. The very high quality of debriefing is a special feature of TACDE. Thus even SAGW crew get to realise exactly how a pilot fights a war and how to enhance their own proficiency.

With the acquisition of the Air Combat Manoeuvring Instrumentation (ACMI), monitoring and debriefing by the staff made a quantum jump in the quality of training. All TACDE’s own aircraft carry ACMI pods. It soon became possible to show and explain to each pilot his achievement, or lapses if any. Any doubts or confusion in the mind of a pupil for any phase of combat can be effectively cleared.

Over a period of seven days, at the end of each set of FCL, FSL and MFC courses, TACDE conducts Exercise Akraman (Invasion). Pupils get to apply all that they had learnt during the training. This trial by fire gives them confidence to undertake realistic missions with confidence if and when required.

TACDE today

Jamnagar is not an ideal place for long-term operation of fighter aircraft. With strong salt-laden sea breezes and occasional tornado like storms, aircraft and other precious equipment are always at risk. In June 2000, TACDE moved to Gwalior along with all its assets including ACMI. The transfer was executed with great proficiency and in record time. The move has helped in that the base also houses Mirage 2000 aircraft, IAF’s electronic warfare range and an all-aspect air-to-ground range. This gives TACDE the opportunity to practice very realistic air combat and strike missions.

TACDE01.jpg (63099 bytes)
An Instructor at TACDE giving a lecture

TACDE may soon be tasked to evaluate and develop combat tactics for the newly acquired Su-30 MKI aircraft with vectored thrust. With recent advances in simulation technology, including virtual reality, TACDE may include some combat and strike training on ground and make pupils practice the very sorties they have to fly in the air. An obvious saving in costs and enhanced safety would result from this

The directing staff for TACDE is chosen from the very best professionals from various fighter aircraft, helicopter types and radar controllers. They excel not only in combat but also in imparting instruction both in the air and the ground. It is their dedication and professionalism that has made TACDE a revered name in IAF.

Crest & Motto of TACDE

Pilots of T&C D&T Squadron designed their own unofficial badge to wear on overalls. After much deliberation they adopted a badge showing a MiG-21 and a Su-7 depicting air defence and ground attack, separated by a flash for controllers, and background colours of day and night. The motto, “Learn to Lead – Lead to Fight” was perhaps inspired by the Empire Test Pilots School (UK). Later a third command, “Fight to Win”, and a star for the instructors was added in the centre of the flash.

The official crest of TACDE designed by the then Commandant MS (Tiger aka Minhi) Bawa (who retired after becoming an AOC-in-C) has two crossed swords (to represent combat) on a blood red background (for the bloody battlefield) and a winged burning torch to symbolise air combat training, Its Sanskrit motto means "GLORY OF THE GLORIOUS". It is said that a leader not only leads but also creates more leaders. TACDE has already created many exceptional leaders and many future leaders of IAF shall surely continue to emerge from it.

The above article was written by Group Captain (Retd) Kapil Bhargava for INDIAN AVIATION Magazine. The same article was published in an abridged version in Air Forces Monthly. It is reproduced here with the permission of Gp Capt Bhargava.

List of Commanding Officers
Gallantry and Service Awardees of TACDE
Aircraft Types Operated by TACDE
Locations of the Squadron

Commanding Officers

Name of the Commanding Officer S. No. From To
Wg Cdr Arun Kanti Mukerjee VrC VM 4416 F(P)   1970-72
Wg Cdr Ayyappan Sridharan VM 4761 F(P)   1972-74
Gp Capt SK  Mehra AVSM VM     1974-77
Gp Capt MS Bawa AVSM VM      
Gp Capt Denzil Joseph Keelor VrC 4805 F(P)    
Gp Capt KN Pillai AVSM      
Gp Capt AP Shinde VrC VM   &nnbsp;  
Gp Capt Vinod Kumar Verma VM 6528 F(P)    
Gp Capt Jayendra Sukrutraj VrC VM      
Gp Capt Ajit Bhavnani AVSM VM      
Gp Capt Raghu Rajan   22-Jan-92 17-Apr-93
Gp Capt P S Bhangu AVSM VM   18-Apr-93 16-Jun-96
Gp Capt S Mukerjee SC VSM 12925 F(P) 17-Jul-96 29-Jul-98
Gp Capt KK Nohwar VM   30-Jul-98 22-Feb-01
Gp Capt Ravinath Gururaj Burli VM 14667 F(P) 23-Feb-01 24-Nov-02
Gp Capt B Suresh VM   25-Nov-02 Till Date

Gallantry and Service Awardees of  TACDE

Name Award Date/Year
Wg Cdr A K Mukerjee VrC 1971
Sgt P Sivan VM 1971
Gp Capt S K Mehra VM AVSM 1976
Sqn Ldr O J D'Sena VM 1976
Sqn Ldr S K Mitroo VM 1976
Gp Capt DJ Keelor VrC KC 1976
Sqn Ldr Bharat Bhushan Soni VrC VM 1982
Sqn Ldr S Damodaran VSM 1982
Wg Cdr J D'Souza VM 1984
Gp Capt A Bhavnani VM AVSM 1991
Wg Cdr P S Bhangu VM 1991
Wg Cdr A Chaudhary VM 1993
Gp Capt P S Bhangu AVSM 1996
Sqn Ldr V M Chaudhary VSM 1996
Gp Capt S Mukherjee SC VSM 1997
Wg Cdr A K Shrivastava VSM 1997

Aircraft Types operated by  TACDE

Aircraft Type From To
Mirage 2000    
Other Types operated by the Squadron as trainer and hack aircraft: MiG-21U, Su-7 U, Mirage 2000

Locations of the Squadron

Locations Post 1947 From To
Adampur 1970 1972
Jamnagar 1972 2000
Gwalior 2000 Till Date