President Pranab Mukherjee on Saturday said India is committed to peace but will use “all its might” if its sovereignty is threatened.
Speaking at Haismara air base in the eastern sector, Bengal, the President, who is the supreme commander of the forces, also lauded the India Air Force’s role in humanitarian operations.
President Mukherjee earlier presented President’s Standard to two IAF squadrons based here. The squadrons which have been honoured are the 18 Squadron and the 22 Squadron.
“Though we remain firmly committed to peace, we will use all our might to protect the sovereignty of our nation. I am confident that our valiant men and women in uniform will rise to the occasion,” the president said.
The air base, which is around 15 km away from India-Bhutan border, is considered critical given its proximity to India’s border with China, Bangladesh and Bhutan.
Lauding the IAF’s role in recent humanitarian operations, Mukherjee said: “The IAF, besides safeguarding the sovereign sites of our nation, has also been at the forefront of all humanitarian aid and disaster relief operations.”
The 18 Squadron initially flew the Gnat fighters, getting the nickname ‘Flying Bullets’. It was was formed in Ambala in 1965.
The 18 Squadron was also the first fighter squadron to operate from Srinagar after Independence, making maiden sorties in 1968. It came to be known as ‘Defenders of Kashmir Valley’ during the 1971 India-Pakistan war.
In the 1971 war, the 18 Squadron flew in escort duties with Mystere and Vampire across the Pir Panjal mountain ranges. In 1989, the squadron converted to MiG 27 fighters.
The 22 Squadron was formed in 1966 in Bareilly, and is known as ‘The Swifts’.
In the 1971 Bangladesh liberation war, the squadron drew first blood by shooting down three Pakistani F-86 Sabre jets. It was flying the Gnat Mk-1 aircraft at that time and got the MiG 27 fighters in 1990.
The 22 Squadron was involved in Operation Vijay and Operation Parakram as well.
The award of President’s standard is one of the highest honours bestowed upon an air force unit or a Squadron in recognition of exceptional service rendered by it to the nation, both during war and in peace.
Hasimara is an important air base of the Eastern Air Command in northern West Bengal. It was set up after the India-China war of 1962. It has two MiG 27 squadrons and Akash missile systems.